Food and Mood

The gut-brain connection

In this blog, I’ll unpack some of the exciting new research about the link between gut health, mood, and stress. We’ll explore the importance of your friendly resident gut microbes, probiotic foods, and supplements, to improve your mood and energy. 

And, just because I love you, I’ve included simple recipes to keep your gut and taste buds happy.

 

GUT MICROBES

There are trillions of microbes that happily live in our gut. These friendly microbes do more than help us digest foods, make vitamins, and protect us from the not-so-friendly microbes – they have mood-boosting and stress-busting functions too!

Our microbiome is a hotbed of research right now and we’re finding out more about gut bacteria’s awesome health and mood/stress benefits every day. And, while the research is just beginning to decipher the many gut microbe-brain connections, it’s an important topic that I couldn’t wait to share it with you!

Did you know that there are more microbes inside our gut, than all of the human cells that make us? That’s right, we’re more than half microbe!   So, how could they NOT impact our health?”

 

GUT MICROBES AND PROBIOTICS

The microbes that live in our guts are known as our “gut microbiota”.    The microbes that we can ingest are known as “probiotics”.

“Probiotics” are live organisms that you can eat, drink, or take as a supplement. They turn milk into yogurt, and cabbage into sauerkraut; and they are great for both your gut health and mental health. 

Special probiotics that have mental health benefits are called “psychobiotics,” (psycho = mental health, and biotics = live). They are live organisms that can benefit our psyche.

 

PROBIOTIC-RICH FOODS AND SUPPLEMENTS
Probiotics can be found in yogurt, sauerkraut (and other fermented veggies), miso, tempeh, and kimchi. You can drink them in kefir or kombucha. 

Be sure to choose unpasteurized ones that will be refrigerated in your local grocer. Unpasteurized foods are not recommend if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, so please check with your healthcare provider.

Of course, there are a number of probiotic supplements available too. Check with your healthcare provider to identify which one is best for you.

Generally, we look for one that’s refrigerated and has at least 10 billion active cultures. I also suggest you look for one that has been “third party tested,” which means someone outside the company has tested it and says it’s a quality product.

Also, be sure to read the label before taking any supplements. The probiotics with the most research are of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus types. There’s still not enough known about the psychobiotic effects to make specific mood-boosting recommendations yet.

 

SIMPLE, PROBIOTIC-RICH RECIPES

Try some of these delicious gut healthy recipes.

Confetti Vegetable Salad with Miso Dressing

Cauliflower Olive Salad with Yogurt

Strawberry Almond Chia Pudding

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Confetti-Vegetable-Salad

GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION

It may not seem obvious or intuitive, but your body is interconnected in a myriad of surprising ways.  New research is focusing on the “microbiota-gut-brain axis.” It’s the very complex connection between your gut, its microbes, and your brain. This new field has been called a “paradigm shift in neuroscience” (Dinan, 2017).

There are a number of ways we’re beginning to understand how our gut microbes affect our brain. One is via the “vagus” nerve, which is the nerve that directly connects your gut to your brain. 

Other ways are through “biochemical messengers” that are made in your gut and travel throughout the body to communicate with other organs, including your brain.  

Examples of biochemicals include short chain fatty acids, cytokines, and even tryptophan (the amino acid that the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin are made from). 

You may have heard about seratonin as it is the main target in antidepressant medications to improve mood.  But 90% of our seratonin is produced in the gut.  Recent studies indicate taking anti-depressants can hurt the gut microbiome which only further compromises mood.  The focus needs to be on keeping our gut healthy; not simply treating the symptoms as a cure.

There’s a lot of research surrounding the microbioate-gut-brain axis that may one day prove helpful for  conditions like autism and Parkinsons.

MOOD, STRESS, AND YOUR MICROBES

Several studies show that stressed rodents not only have increased stress hormones and stressed behaviors; but, they also have different gut microbes! This has also been studied, to a small extent, in people too.

One study showed that moms with high levels of stress hormones during pregnancy had infants with more of the “bad” gut microbes.

But, can it work the other way around? Can changing our gut microbes affect our moods and stress responses?

Studies of rodents that grow up without any gut microbes at all (in a “bacteria-free” environment) respond to stress more than mice with normal gut microbes. Then, when they’re given either a probiotic or gut microbes from non-stressed mice, their stress responses often go back to normal.

“Gut microbiota and probiotics alter behavior and brain neurochemistry.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. (Ait-Belgnaoui, et. al., 2012)

Many animal studies show positive effects on behavior when they get probiotic supplements. For example, after a probiotic, stressed rats had lower levels of both stress hormones and an inflammatory molecule associated with depression (“LPS” – lipopolysaccharide). Human studies show that after a few weeks of taking probiotic foods or supplements, healthy people have reduced stress hormones, feelings of stress, negative thoughts, and sad moods.

One fascinating study showed that when people took probiotics, brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests showed reduced brain activity for negative and aggressive thoughts!

There is some exciting research on the positive effect that probiotics can have on moods and stress. So, what can you do to nurture your own healthy gut microbes?.

PREBIOTICS

We’ve already discussed the benefits of consuming probiotic-rich food.  Once the gut microbes take up residence in our guts, we need to feed them!

PREbiotics are food for gut microbes and, when fermented in the gut, produce specific changes in bacterial composition or activity. 

They’re your friendly gut microbes’ favorite delicacies so they’ll happily grow, and multiply.

Prebiotics are basically foods that contain fiber. Things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Even dark chocolate (preferably with at least 70% cocoa).

Foods that are particularly high in prebiotics include jicama, asparagus, avocado, whole grains, and allium vegetables like onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots.

Giving animals prebiotics has shown to reduce stress hormones, and anxiety-related behaviors. In people, studies show that taking psychobiotics along with prebiotics can improve both the microbes in our gut, as well as our mood.

The new research clearly supports our interest and maintenance of a healthy gut.  Adding probiotic and prebiotic foods (or quality supplements) is a first step towards that goal.

Do remember, no two people have the same microbiome and your response is most important.  If you feel bloated, anxious or gassy after adding fiber, probiotics, and prebiotic foods to your diet, it may be a sign your gut health needs further attention.

If that’s the case, please contact your health coach or provider for more individualized guidance.  Our gut affects every aspect of our physical and emotional health.

What is Metabolic Health?

Understanding Your Metabolism Is A Key To Better Health

Even if you’re in the middle of a deep sleep, or quietly reading a book, your body is always active. It never quite “shuts off,” because it’s always storing and consuming energy (from the food you eat) – and building up and breaking down molecules necessary to maintain your health.

This always-on process is called metabolism, which literally means “a state of change.”

Your body relies on metabolism to carry out all its functions – whether it’s storing or burning fat, regulating sugar levels, or keeping your neurons firing – so metabolism has a huge impact on your health.

When your metabolism is working as it should, you’ll have much more energy throughout the day – you won’t feel so sluggish and fatigued. You’ll also find it easier to gain muscle mass and lose fat because your body will be sending the right hormone “signals” to your metabolic system. Even your mood will be brighter if your metabolism is well-balanced. On the flip side, scientists have discovered that metabolic disturbances are linked with major depressive disorder – a testament to the mighty effect metabolism can have on all aspects of your well-being.



Not surprisingly, then, your body tightly controls its metabolism. It does this through swarms of small-but-powerful signal molecules known as hormones – which travel throughout your body in different amounts. So by checking in on your hormone levels, you can get a good gauge of how healthy your metabolism is – and, ultimately, how healthy your whole body is. This is why understanding your metabolism is key to better health.

If it weren’t for metabolism, all the good nutrients you eat wouldn’t do your body any good. Metabolism is how your body turns the nutrients in a delicious casserole or a tasty smoothie into energy – and into the raw materials your body needs to build muscles and repair tissues and organs.

Since metabolism has such a powerful impact on your body, you may be wondering what affects your metabolism. What factors can cause shifts in your metabolic health?

Without a doubt, your diet is one of the most important things that can alter your metabolism.



Because many nutrients serve as the building blocks for the hormones that regulate metabolism, if you have a well-balanced diet – you’re getting the nutrients you need and in the right quantities – then your metabolism will most likely function properly. But say you’re eating lots of foods that are high in sugar. This excess sugar will disrupt your metabolism, and put you at risk of developing metabolic diseases.

Exercise, too, has a profound effect on your metabolic health. In fact, some research suggests that long-term physical training makes your metabolism work more efficiently – so you burn more calories even when you’re not being active.

Something else that affects your metabolism is your age: your metabolism “slows down” as you age, so your body accumulates fat more easily. Certain behaviors can also cause changes to your metabolism. For example, if you’re not getting enough sleep, then your metabolism will be negatively affected – which can contribute to weight gain.



You may recall that earlier we said that metabolism is controlled by signal molecules called hormones – and that you can gain insights into your metabolism and health by understanding your hormone levels. Hormones tell your metabolic system when to store or use energy – and when it should build or break down important nutrients. While your body produces many hormones, there are 3 hormones in particular that can give you incredible information about your health. These three hormones are the thyroid hormones, testosterone, and cortisol.

THYROID HORMONES

Nestled at the front of your windpipe is a gland called the thyroid. And although it’s small – only a few inches in length – it plays a big role in the body’s metabolism. This gland is responsible for secreting two important hormones: T3 and T4.

These two hormones travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolic system in many ways (for example, they let your cells know when to either break down fats or store more fats). Production of thyroid hormones is controlled by a tiny gland situated in your brain – the pituitary gland. This gland squirts out a hormone of its own – the aptly-named thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

If you have elevated TSH levels in your blood it’s very possible that your thyroid isn’t making enough hormones. (Your pituitary gland releases more TSH to send a strong signal to your thyroid that it’s time to make more thyroid hormones. When your thyroid hormone levels are too low – which can be caused by diseases of the thyroid gland, for instance – then your body starts making more fat than necessary. You’ll start gaining weight, and you might also experience fatigue and hair loss.

What happens if your bloodstream is flooded with way too much thyroid hormones? As you may have guessed, in this case your body will start rapidly breaking down fat. A healthy body requires some fat, but if your thyroid hormone levels are too high, then your body will eliminate too much of its fat. The result? Weight loss – along with some other not-very-desirable effects, such as higher blood pressure and sleep problems.

TESTOSTERONE

Though many people think of testosterone as only a male hormone, it’s incredibly important for healthy metabolism in both men and women. Testosterone is crucial to well-balanced fat metabolism and muscle production. In fact, lower-than-normal levels of testosterone prompt your body to increase its fat mass.

On other hand, if a man has too much testosterone coursing through his body, then he may be more irritable and have a lower sperm count – among other negative consequences. Women with too much testosterone may gain more weight, have excess acne, and even male pattern baldness.

Testosterone also helps regulate sleep and mood, so for all these reasons (and more) it’s important that your testosterone levels are within a normal, healthy range.

CORTISOL

Cortisol – dubbed the “stress hormone” – is released into your bloodstream when your body senses a threat or emergency. Cortisol causes your body to dump glucose (sugar molecules) into the bloodstream, providing you with the fuel you need to respond to the perceived threat. For example, if you’re out hiking and you suddenly encounter a fearsome predator – a bear, perhaps – then cortisol sparks a surge of glucose that gives you the energy to “fight or flight.”

But what if you’re always under stress? Maybe deadlines are always looming over your head, and the traffic congestion en route to the office doesn’t help matters. In situations like these – where you’re always stressed – cortisol will continue pumping you full of glucose. (Cortisol, after all, can’t distinguish the difference between a bear and an important deadline.)

Since your body won’t use all this excess glucose, it’ll turn the glucose into fat. Thus, chronic stress can lead to unhealthily high levels of cortisol – and result in weight gain.

Since your metabolism underpins so much of your health, it’s important to get a good understanding of how well your metabolism is functioning.

My upcoming Metabolic Reset will give you the support and plan to help reset your hormone balance and heal your metabolism.


Sign up here for your FREE 6-WEEK Metabolic Reset Hormone Balance Email Series.


Nine Mindful Eating tips for the Holidays

Mindful eating is deliberately paying full attention to what you are eating or drinking, without criticism or judgment.”

Jan Chozen Bays

Mindful eating isn’t about making a list of rules. It is not about judging ourselves for what we consume, nor is it about following a certain ‘healthy’ diet. Instead, consider these simple tips for mindful eating this holiday season:

1. Savor the flavors.

Be fully present to the wonder of your tastebuds. Let the attentive mind join in on the festivities as you note the sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, sour, and pungent notes in the foods you consume.

4. Practice gratitude.

Cultivate thankfulness by offering gratitude for your food. Note all that there is to be thankful for on your plate: the food itself, the seeds, the soil, and the hands that helped along the way from farm to fork.

5. Practice self-compassion.

Over the holidays, many of us indulge a little more than we normally do. This can stir thoughts of guilt and self-judgment. Notice where you might be judging yourself and see if you can tend to yourself with loving-kindness instead. Consider mindfulness exercises for self-compassion to help you  Here’s a great meditation to honor our changing rhythms and cycles from Insight Timer.

6. Be mindful of your needs.

It’s equally important to be mindful of our needs. What foods don’t sit well with us? How do different holiday beverages impact our sense of wellbeing? Become mindful of what nourishes you, and what distresses you. Use this awareness to guide your choices.

2. Play with all your senses.

Beyond savoring the flavors, you can tune into the food you eat with the other senses. What does the food look like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? The full spectrum of your senses brings a richness to your eating habits.

3. Eat slowly.

When in doubt, slow it down. Take your time to really savor this wonderful meal that has found its way to your plate.

7. Be mindful of your mood.

Mood and food are inextricably linked. Since the holidays can stir a range of feelings such as anxiety and frustration, mindfulness of our emotions can help us to address these moods most optimally. Note how different foods affect your mood.

8. Notice your hunger and fullness cues.

Often, we let our mind dictate our eating habits rather than listening to our bodies. So, it can be helpful to consider: What does it feel like to be hungry? What sensations tell me when I have had enough? When it comes to feelings of fullness, eating slowly can support our ability to notice these cues.

9. Observe your body – and don’t forget to breathe.

During the holidays, our digestion needs extra support. One of the best ways we can do this is to notice where we are stressed or contracted. Coming back to the breath through mindful breathing help. Here’s a quick breathing meditation from insight timer.

Source: Sean Fargo, Mindfulness Exercises


Need a little more help to navigate the Pandemic Holiday?

Get my FREE Holiday to Holiday Guide.


Thanks all and have a happy, safe and healthy holiday season! Tina


A Different Holiday Season

Our first (and hopefully last) Pandemic Holiday Season!


My usual concerns, like how many places we can fit around one table, how much I’ll eat, and what my thighs will look like come January 2021, seem trivial now that the holidays are overshadowed by the pandemic, rising COVID cases, and a country so divided.

Oh, how I long for the simple joys of pumpkin pie and belly fat.

My name is Tina, and each year, as a gift to my clients and friends who share my desire to remain healthy through the holidays, I create a Holiday to Holiday Handbook.



I thought about skipping it this year and diving straight into a vat of dirty martini’s but realized this year, more than any other, we need strategies to stay sane if not lean through the holidays.

So I’ve updated this year’s F#&K the Pandemic Holiday to Holiday guide to include tips for sanity, self-care, and making the most of our ZOOM Christmas experiences!


Your FREE 2020 (F#&K the Pandemic)  Holiday to Holiday Guide includes:

  • A Treasure Trove of Holiday Recipes (Vegan, Paleo, Pegan, Low Carb and Keto)
  • Tips to Maximize Your Virtual Holiday Experiences
  • Stress Relief and Sanity Resources
  • Free (30) Minute Stress Relief Stretch Workout
  • The Truth About That Holiday Pig Out
  • Booze and Fat Loss – What’s Happening There?
  • Post-COVID Relief: Retreats, online workshops, coaching, and more!

Enjoy and Happy Holidays.
Stay healthy.

Tina


 

Why Eating Clean Isn’t Enough Anymore

I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for nearly forty years which either means I am very old or very wise; (I am very old.)

During that time I have survived the low fat, high carb craze, the long slow distance theory of fat loss, and countless wasted hours planted on a spin bike, stair climber, treadmill, all in the pursuit of a better, leaner, healthier body. The rub? I was taking a huge detour, but, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Going Paleo changed my life and my body.

Nine years ago I discovered a better approach to exercise, (variety), and changed my eating habits (Paleo) which finally helped put my body back in balance, helping me lose those last 10 lbs. At 50, I looked and felt better than I had in my 30’s! (I’d still just as soon be 30, with my life experience now, but we don’t always get what we want, right?)

Just as my slightly older friends had warned me, with age comes change; that not so subtle metabolic ‘clunk’ that signals another shift in your body composition, energy, and mobility.

You’d think after three hip replacements I might have a clue, but my persistently positive attitude always makes me susceptible to naivety.

Denial notwithstanding, recently, the reality of time’s passing has shown up in my ability to, well, MAINTAIN.

And I am certainly someone you might call pro-active! I eat clean, workout regularly, meditate and try to be kind to others. I practice gratitude, dammit! But all of those things still added up to this:  my back hurt,  I felt shitty, fat, stiff and old. Furthermore, I just noticed dimples on my biceps! WTF????

Of course, I am aware of the source: inflammation.

That’s essentially what aging is. As we get older, we “rust out,” sooner than later if we don’t watch our sugar intake, alcohol consumption, or choose to stop moving. Other things play a role too, like sleep, attitude, staying connected and engaged, and having a faith of purpose.

What I didn’t understand until very recently was also how much our environment plays a role. To be specific, I’m referring to the (literally) thousands of toxic chemicals we are exposed to daily.


The minute we step out of bed in the morning, the Toxic Party begins.

We wash our hair with them, brush them on our teeth, slather them on our bodies and apply them to our eyes, lips, and cheeks. Toxic irritants are present in most commercial shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies.

Our food, air, and water supplies are also loaded with chemicals; chemicals largely sanctioned as “acceptable” by our governmental agencies; the same organizations that were designed to protect us.

In a 2003 study performed by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, researchers found an average of 91 industrial chemicals, heavy metals, or other significant toxins in test subjects. These chemicals included PCBs, commonly used insecticides, dioxin, mercury, cadmium, and benzene. At least 53 of these are known to suppress our immune system.

In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing a much bigger sample of 2,500 people, detected an average 116 chemicals in subjects and finally, in 2005 a third study found traces of 287 chemicals in test subjects. These toxic chemicals create inflammation and disruption of our T cells, often setting us up for inflammatory disease and/or triggering an autoimmune response.

Autoimmune dysfunction is when the body gets triggered somehow to turn our own immune systems to “fight” and resist us.  This can affect one organ or multiple organs which causes a myriad of diseases.

The Bottom line? We feel bloated, stressed, wired and tired. That’s not the quality of life we aspire to.

So what can we do? Thankfully, there’s a lot. Here’s what I’m doing:

Eating clean. This means taking a closer look at what I have been eating and getting real about my protein sources and selections. I still avoid dairy, grains, glutens, sugar and processed foods, but have been a bit lax of late with my travels and eating desserts and drinking way too much. That’s gone, NOW. My belly is my reminder: Booze = Bloat and I ain’t digging it. I’ve also taken a look at my medications and supplement list and with the help of my Naturopathic doc, Alicia Johnson, I am taking only what I need and flushing the rest (more on this in another blog).

 

Moving More.  Truthfully my back has been a big hindrance to this. I know what you are thinking- how does a freaking Pilates instructor wind up with a herniated disc? I know! It’s bullshit. But it’s real and it’s cramped my style for several weeks. Thankfully most injuries of this kind tend to take care of themselves in time and that is the case with me. I have been able to return to teaching Pilates and Inversion Therapy, maintain my walking but need to add in some more 20-minute resistance training via weights and the reformer. All of these things I call “supportive” exercises as they provide variety and support instead of breaking me down.

 

Making Sleep a Priority. This has never been my strong suit but lack of sleep is a huge detriment to our health. Skimping on sleep not only affects our energy and the way we feel, it affects us on a cellular level. Sleep scientists say sleep deficiency is associated with problems with concentration, memory and the immune system — as well as with shorter lifespans. Caffeine, alcohol, stress and sleeping pills all undermine the quality and quantity of our sleep and therefore, our health.  I am not quite Benjamin Franklin, but I did ask Herb the other night if it was bad that we were in bed before the sun went down. His answer? “Nope.”

 

Toning down the toxins. This has been eye opening and truthfully, I never gave it much thought until recently. I’d been so focused on my diet and exercise that I must have thought I was somehow immune to the toxins I was ingesting and slathering on every day. I was wrong. Why would I go to all those lengths to detox my body and then simply ignore the toxins in my food, home, and makeup? This, after having to remediate my home for mold last year when Herb got sick with not one but two autoimmune diseases.  His sickness from mold toxicity triggered Lyme’s disease which had previously been latent.

 

All I can say is denial is a powerful thing.

Today we are installing a new whole house water filter to decrease the toxins in our water; getting a small freezer so we can purchase grass-fed beef and afford it; replacing our soaps, shampoos, deodorants, detergents and other cleaning supplies with chemical free options; and buying organic ALL the time instead of MOST of the time- especially those fruits and veggies on the “Dirty Dozen” pesticide list.

Why I’ve Decided Not To Age

Recently Herb and I went out on a date.  We wanted to try a new, hot restaurant called 1900 so we made a reservation.  Good news?  We got in.  Bad news?  The only thing left open was at 6:00 pm.  Now that might explain what happened next, but it was still shocking, and unwelcome, and altogether uncalled for.

The restaurant tucked discreetly off the street, was beautiful and sophisticated, decorated in austere gray and white with floor to ceiling windows.  The elegant atmosphere was just quiet enough to make it seem extra special. We followed the hostess (who looked like she was twelve) to our table and sat down, grinning because we were so excited to be out together.

We giddily nodded as our waiter delivered water, took drink orders, and recited the specials, so we didn’t immediately notice where we’d been seated.  It was a corner table, one of the best in the room where we had a lovely view of everyone in the place.

It wasn’t the table that bothered us, it was the company!  It looked like we were dining in an upscale nursing home! Everyone in that room was OLD! 

I looked at Herb and asked, “Did we cross over to this status without our knowledge?  What’s with the all the raisins?”

He smiled and said, “Well, we are eating at 6:00 pm.”   Leave it to Herb to be positive.

Unconvinced, I looked suspiciously around the room.  This, I thought to myself, seriously sucks.  Then I had a drink.

This morning I woke up with a stiff back.  It’s been stiff for about three weeks, but it went rogue on me this weekend after a particularly shitty week.  Undeterred, I woke up at 5 am, thudded out of bed and stubbornly did my morning meditation.  Mind over matter, you know.

I then packed a bag to drive with Herb to the Mayo clinic for the third and final visit in three weeks.  It was to be a good day- at 2 pm he was scheduled to get his arm out of the straight cast he’s been wearing since having elbow surgery last month.

Living with the one arm bandit has had its challenges and we were both looking forward to his emancipation.

Although my back was killing me I was determined to be a good partner and make the six-hour drive. I packed my Yamuna balls, back support pillow, ibuprofen, ice packs, and favorite healing crystal to help me make the journey.

We made it as far as the county line before he turned the car around and brought me home.  “This isn’t going to work,” he said, ” let’s be logical.  You’re miserable and I can’t worry about you.”

So, I thought, maybe I am old. 

Tomorrow I turn 59 and that’s a number an awful lot like 60, which I used to think was old.  In fact, when I was a kid, my friend Duonna House told me her parents were 30, and I thought they were ancient.  I also remember watching middle-aged women put lipstick on in the bathroom at Putsch’s cafeteria, wondering why they even bothered.  Didn’t they know they were old?  Jesus, I was brutal.

Now, when I hear my kids talking about feeling old in their 30’s I want to laugh, but really, why should I?  Age, like time itself, is a construct, so who’s to say who’s “old” and who isn’t?

Age never bothered my client Rae Block.  A diminutive force of nature, Rae’s power as a woman only increased as she aged because she only grew more into herself.  She was funny; she was intense, she was smart, and she was irreverent.

I knew the moment I met Rae that I was in the company of a unique woman.  What I didn’t  know at that moment was how lucky I was that our lives had crossed.

One of the first things my new employer said to me was, “I hope you’re better than my last trainer.  All she did was walk me to get ice cream,” and she laughed that ornery laugh. “I knew how to manipulate her.  I hope you are going to be tougher on me than that.”

Classic Rae- being herself was never a problem.

Rae was bold.  She wasn’t about to take an ounce of grief from anyone and you knew it.  She had lived a life of her choosing and she took responsibility for it.  That’s why she abhorred anyone who didn’t do the same.  She did not suffer fools… or victims… or weaklings.  I loved Rae and I never wanted to disappoint her, so I learned to be someone she could respect and that helped me in my own life.

As the months and then years passed, my time with Rae became one of the highlights of my week.  She’d roll her eyes during wall squats, protest about the treadmill speed, feign weakness on the abdominal curls, but she was as lithe and energetic as a 20-year-old (she often looked like a 10-year-old rolling around the floor), and I marveled at her ability to be completely ageless in mind and body.

One day after training, Rae mentioned that she had a spot on her lung and that her son was taking her to the Doctor to have it biopsied.  I went cold inside. 

I said, “You’re going to be fine.  You feel great!” and she agreed.  She felt fine; she felt great.  Nonetheless, I asked her if I could call her after she went to the oncologist to see how it went.  I also told her she didn’t have to pick up (Rae valued her privacy), but that I would call anyway.

I was with friends for dinner but snuck away to the ladies room at the appointed time to call her.  I was relieved when she picked up.  I thought this was a good sign.

“Hi, Rae.  How are you?”

“Fine darling.  Fine.”

“How did it go at the Doctors today?”

“Well, I went, and David went.  And I have lung cancer.”

“Oh, Rae.  I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, well I asked the Doctor about it and it’s spread to several places.”

“Oh, Rae.  I’m sorry.”

“Well then I asked what stage it was, and the doctor said 5.  Then I asked her how many stages there were, and she said 5.”  (with humor!)

I said nothing.  I couldn’t because she didn’t want tears from me.

“And so,” she continued,” I asked how long I had to live without chemo and I didn’t like that response… so I guess I’m going to have chemo.  We’ll just see.”

“Well you know I’m here for you.”

“I know that darling.”

I think she sensed I was going to say something schmaltzy so she interrupted, “But Dr. Holt called today, and I got some good news.”

“What was that?”

“My mammogram came back, and I don’t have breast cancer!”  and we both laughed.  That was Rae.  She died in 2009.

When I begin to feel sorry for myself because my back hurts, or my hip hurts, or my butt or face is drooping, I think of Rae. 

Because Rae never cared about age.  She never seemed like a woman of 75 or 80 or 82.  She was beyond it.  She was simply Rae and that example was only one of the magnificent gifts she gave me.

Thank you, Rae.

One Soul. One Source.

I’m guilty. Maybe you are, too.

When someone we care about is having trouble, we want to help them, intercede, solve their problem.  This presents itself in many ways- rescuing, enabling, justifying, or appeasing them.  Alternatively, it may be distancing, judging them, and becoming impatient. Either way, we forget one fundamental truth: each of us is fully capable and wholly responsible for defining the course of our own lives.

Instead of viewing this as the very essence of our time on Earth, a remarkable gift and opportunity for learning, we often choose to suffer, resist, eradicate or deny the issue.  This is what causes pain.

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to help others.

Without hesitation, I offer advice, remedies, strategies, and solutions.  I see pain and I know how to fix it- why wouldn’t I explain how?

On a recent trip, I met a young woman who’d been in a horrible car accident several months before. She’d been near death, but not ready to die, had pleaded with God to return her to life.

Her wish was granted and she woke up to find her pelvis shattered requiring multiple surgeries, inscrutable pain and months of physical therapy. She was returned to life, but it was a much different life than before. 

When I heard her story, it was hard to believe she’d had to learn how to walk again because she looked completely whole.

On a day trip to Tikal, she quietly shared her worries about being able to handle the rigors of the day. She was apprehensive, and at that moment seemed fragile to me.  Aware of this, I worried about her as we hiked, climbed and ascended staircase after staircase to view the ruins. Many times I checked myself, wanting to ask her if she was all right, but I didn’t. I realized my worry was not required- in fact, it would have disrespected her experience that day.

Instead of hovering and reminding her of her challenge, I simply asked, “How’s your butt?”

As it turned out, her butt was just fine and we all had a magical day together in Tikal. As we sat in our circle the next day, telling our classmates about our adventure, my friend, near tears told the group about her surgery and concerns about going to Tikal.

She also told them how wonderful it was to discover she was up to the task, stronger than she believed, marking a significant milestone in her recovery.

As I listened, my eyes welled with tears. Her story not only inspired me but shed a huge light for me as well.  In the guise of helping others, I’d often overstepped my boundaries by either giving unsolicited advice, urging a certain outcome, or secretly judging, withholding compassion, and distancing myself.

It’s natural to want to help others. The issue isn’t the help itself but the intention behind it.  

Now when I hear myself giving advice or providing an agenda, I check in with myself to see if it’s triggering some need within me to fix, control or make the world right.

As a child, I learned early that pleasing was a way to feel loved, safe and accepted.  That meant being hyper-vigilant, always ready to remedy, repair, or make better. This wasn’t all bad as I’ve gone on to create a business centered around service and helping others. But as an adult, I also realize, it’s not my responsibility to fix, cure or change anyone else.

Who am I to think I know better what is best for someone else? The arrogance has been so well disguised I didn’t recognize it. When I give advice, suggest solutions, urge action, whose agenda am I really invested in- theirs or mine?

This isn’t just a boundary issue.  This is a spiritual issue.

And so, when I am triggered, I remember a long night when I was suffering, feeling lost and hopeless, desperately wanting to help someone who would not be helped. Crying, I heard a voice. The voice said calmly, “Stop. This isn’t yours. He’s fully capable. He’s able to choose. It’s not about you. Remember, ‘One Soul. One Source.’ ”

I took that to mean that we are all one Soul connect to one Source.  But each Souls journey to Source is entirely their own.

What is Source?  I think it is LOVE.  And Love simply IS.  

It has no need to attach, make right, insinuate or adjust.  Love is not attached to an outcome. Outcomes, agendas, judgment, needing to feel helpful… that’s something else altogether- that’s Ego, the real cause of our separateness and suffering.

Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places

The truth about body obsession, self- loathing, and longing…

As someone who has worked in the health and fitness arena for over thirty years, I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of body obsession and all its incarnations. By body obsession, I mean our endless pursuit of a better body, weight loss, and perfection, based on the misconception that once we lose that last 10 lbs we will somehow be “better” “more acceptable” “more powerful” or “more loveable.”

You might think this is ironic since as a trainer and fitness guru, I’ve spent my entire life talking about self-improvement via weight loss, exercise, and nutrition. 

We say want to “be healthy” to “feel better,” but really, what does that mean? I’ve seen clients lose and then gain hundreds of pounds, not because they were weak, lacked motivation or were unprepared.  Their heads were totally in the game- the part that was missing were their hearts. It’s impossible to take good care of yourself when you’re at war with yourself.  Fear, self-judgement, procrastination, apathy, sarcasm- these are just a few of the ways we sabotage, prolong, or deny ourselves true health, joy and happiness. 

 

At War…

One of the most common expressions of this war is a pre-occupation and dissatisfaction with our bodies. We don’t  like our thighs, our bottoms are too big or too small, the skin on our belly and arms is beginning to sag. 

Tom, a friend of mine, refers to his body as a “Meat sack.”  A deeply spiritual person, Tom encourages others to simply appreciate the miracle of our body and cherish it as our physical home on Earth.  Our bodies and consciousness are deeply connected and yet, we act as if they weren’t.

When we lack respect for the body’s tireless service to us (despite our abuse and misuse), no amount of “application” (ie. dieting, exercising, and wardrobing) will change how peacefully or joyfully we live in them. Accepting and valuing our bodies, imperfections and all, is the first necessary step toward healing that hole in our heart; that pit we feed with our fear, shame and feelings of unworthiness. 

In her book, The Answer is Simple- Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit, Sonia Choquette writes about the body, “To love yourself, you must love your body as well- it comes as a package deal. No matter what kind of body you ended up with, it’s the only one you have, so you must live with it whether you want to or not. Realize how important your physical self to your life’s journey- not for the approval it wins from others, but for the service it provides for your Spirit. It’s your vessel, your carrier, your means of experiencing life. Like a car that gets from point A to point B, it’s your mode of transportation on Earth and will work much better for you if you treat it with a little respect and care.”

 

 

The Struggle is real…

As someone who has struggled for years with my weight, body image and self-acceptance, I was constantly looking for love in wrong places. This has included desperation dieting, over-exercising, obsession with perfection and punishing myself for my repeated “failures.” My only real failure was to deny the fact that I was already loveable, whole and okay. Once I set about doing the inside work, the impetus to care for my body fell right into place. That’s because mindset and motivation, like our body and spirit, are inseparable.. we can’t have one without the other.

 

Letting go to have more…

As I’ve gotten older I am learning more about my body and appreciating it more for the amazing home it is. It’s no longer about losing 5 lbs, or fitting into the size 2 or feeling “acceptable”; it’s about being able to cherish the moments of my life, doing the things that I want to do, with the people I love, in a healthy, strong, 59-year-old body.

It’s respect for the little moments which add up to the big moments which define the quality of this life I have. I don’t want to miss another moment because I’m feeling “fat” or “depressed” or simply “less than.”

That’s a decision- that’s an agreement that I no longer entertain nor accept. Life is short and amazing. I don’t have time to waste making choices that don’t support me, my dreams, my relationships or feeling freaking fantastic.

Come to think of it, none of us do.  So why not choose to celebrate?  It’s so much more fun.

Exercise, Calories and Fat Loss

fitness_101In our last T School Intensive discussion about the importance of keeping track of your food, exercise and sleep, one of our participants asked how best to record our exercise calories burned in the MyFitnessPal app.
She asked for a simple way to record calories burned through common activities, like walking, weight training, High Intensity Interval workouts, and our classes at Pilates 1901, etc, as there are no preset activities in the app to make this simple.It was a good question, so I followed up on her request. (Thank you Lisa K.) But before I continue, I need to preface my finding with two
pre-requisites.  When considering the effects of exercise, it’s important to not focus solely on the total calories burned during the activity, but to consider the overall metabolic effect on your body.IS IT REALLY ABOUT CALORIES IN AND CALORIES OUT?  NOT EXACTLY.

While more calories may be burned in cardio session than a resistance training session, the long term results of that resistance training session may have the greater impact on fat loss because you are building and maintaining muscle mass, your metabolic furnace.  The best fat burning workout option is interval training which combines cardio and resistance exercises performed at an intensity level that takes you outside of your comfort zone with periods of rest and recovery.  This creates what is called the EPOC effect.investment
EPOC STANDS FOR EXCESS POS-EXERCISE OXYGEN CONSUMPTION.
Similar to how a car’s engine remains warm after being turned off, once a workout is over and you’re back in your daily routine, your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories than when at complete rest. This physiological effect is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Also known as oxygen debt, EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function (called homeostasis). It also explains how your body can continue to burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout.

Your metabolism is how your body converts the nutrients you consume in your diet to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel your body uses for muscular activity. ATP is produced either with oxygen using the aerobic pathways or without oxygen relying on the anaerobic pathways. When you first start to exercise, your body uses the anaerobic energy pathways and stored ATP to fuel that activity. A proper warm-up is important because it can take about five to eight minutes to be able to efficiently use aerobic metabolism to produce the ATP necessary to sustain physical activity. Once a steady-state of oxygen consumption is achieved, the aerobic energy pathways are able to provide most of the ATP needed for the workout. Exercise that places a greater demand on the anaerobic energy pathways during the workout can increase the need for oxygen after the workout, thereby enhancing the EPOC effect.

 

HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT) IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO STIMULATE THE EPOC EFFECT.
The body is most efficient at producing ATP through aerobic metabolism; however, at higher intensities when energy is needed immediately, the anaerobic pathways can provide the necessary ATP much more quickly. This is why we can only sustain high-intensity activity for a brief period of time—we simply run out of energy. HIIT works because during high-intensity exercise ATP is produced by the anaerobic pathways; once that ATP exhausted, it is necessary to allow ATP to be replenished. The rest interval or active-recovery period during an anaerobic workout allows aerobic metabolism to produce and replace ATP in the involved muscles. The oxygen deficit is the difference between the volume of O2 consumed during exercise and the amount that would be consumed if energy demands were met through only the aerobic energy pathway.

 

EPOC IS INFLUENCED BY THE INTENSITY, NOT THE DURATION OF EXERCISE.
Higher intensities require ATP from anaerobic pathways. If the ATP required to exercise at a particular intensity was not obtained aerobically, it must come from the anaerobic pathways. During EPOC, the body uses oxygen to restore muscle glycogen and rebuild muscle proteins damaged during exercise. Even after a HIIT workout is over, the body will continue to use the aerobic energy pathway to replace the ATP consumed during the workout, thus enhancing the EPOC effect.

 

RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT RESISTANCE TRAINING CAN PROVIDE A GREATER EPOC EFFECT THAN RUNNING AT A STEADY SPEED.
In an extensive review of the research literature on EPOC it was concluded that resistance exercise produces a greater EPOC response than steady state cardio exercise. For example, one study found that when aerobic cycling (40 minutes at 80 percent Max HR), circuit weight training (4 sets/8 exercises/15 reps at 50 percent 1-RM) and heavy resistance exercise (3 sets/8 exercises at 80-90 percent 1-RM to exhaustion) were compared, heavy resistance exercise produced the biggest EPOC.

 

fitness-reformerSO HOW TO KEEP THIS SIMPLE IN MY FITNESS PAL?
At this point, we are not able to share set kcal burn for different workouts in the myfitnesspal app, but you can each individually import the estimated kcal burn in the attached “cheat sheet” that I created.  Please keep in mind that this is just an estimate of kcal burned as I used the following parameters to run the calorie burn calculations:
The participant is female, 50 years old and weighs 145 lbs.  To get a more accurate count for your personal workouts you will need to visit one of the calorie calculator sites listed below and enter your personal stats.

You will notice the greatest number of calories might come from cardio and interval training classes but all resistance training (ie Mat, Ball and Pilates equipment workouts) are helping you build and maintain muscle which determines your ability to burn calories not only during exercise but at rest.  Further, over training, or doing too much exercise in the name of burning more calories undermines your ability to maintain muscle mass and may actually sabotage your best results.

 

DON’T FIGURE EXERCISE CALORIES BACK INTO YOUR TOTAL DAILY CALORIES
The other thing that people are tempted to do when looking at calories burned by exercise is to think they can add them to the total number of calories they consume per day.  This is incorrect and most folks only slow down or sabotage their fat loss goals by “eating them back on.”  Do not make this mistake; instead look at the exercise calories your burn daily as a way to propel your progress and not simply a way to justify eating more food.

To calculate your own kcal burn doing different types of exercise, explore the following resource links:

 

facebook_Happy Woman jumping shutterstockTHE BOTTOM LINE
It all comes back to journaling about the kind of exercise that you LIKE and WILL DO, and HOW YOU FEEL after doing it.  Consistency in your habits, including the foods you choose to eat daily, the movement you engage in and the commitment to getting quality sleep is what matters.

Your body isn’t a math calculation and although it’s important to have guidelines to work within, your awareness and connection to your daily choices is what will transform your body, body composition and your life.

The Truth About Fat in Your Diet


Many thanks to my friends Michelle Davidson and Joel Nichols for welcoming me every other Thursday morning to discuss what we can do each day to be proactive, healthy,  and happy!   I am so grateful for the opportunity to share!

 

Is Eating Fat Bad for You?

Over the past thirty years, it seems dietary fat has been demonized as responsible for leading to heart disease, diabetes, and strokes.  But is that assessment still accurate?  Fat is a macronutrient that we, in fact, need in our bodies for optimal cell function, nerve function, brain function, healthy skin and hair, joint cushioning, and the transport of fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K.
So why the bad wrap?  Take a moment to learn more about the benefits of eating fat and the real health costs of eating one type of fat in particular:  Transfats.

To take a closer look at the risks of eating fat, it’s important to know there are different kinds of fat: Healthy, Bad and Benign.

“Healthy Fats”

include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which often come from plant-based sources and are generally liquid at room temperature.  Walnuts, avocados, olive oil, and peanuts are examples of monounsaturated fats;  Flaxseed, vegetable oils, fish oils (in salmon), almonds and seeds provide us with our poly unsaturated fats, which contain heart-healthy Omega 3 and Omega 6’s.

 

“Saturated Fats”  found in animal products like milk, meat, cheese, lard, and butter may also be found in plant sources like coconuts.  Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and have been credited with increasing our risk for heart and cardiovascular disease.  That’s because the research showed that eating saturated fats increased our blood fats and cholesterol which was associated with greater risk for heart disease.
But what the research did not show was that it focused on TOTAL Cholesterol rather than examining the ways it affected both our “bad” cholesterol (LDL- low density lipo proteins) and our “good” cholesterol (HDL-  high density lipo proteins).

 

Further, scientists have discovered that our LDL lipoproteins come in two sizes and consistencies, small and dense and large and fluffy,

Small dense particles can pass through arterial walls easily and contribute to plaque build up and coronary artery disease.  They also are easily oxidized which raises the risk of disease.  But the large molecule LDL is large and fluffy and are too large to pass through cell walls and is therefore benign.

Low carb diets higher in saturated fats help enlarge the LDL particles and low fat diets have been linked to increased small particle LDL. This research shows that saturated fat does not have the same detrimental affect on blood lipids as it was thought in the past.  That said, you shouldn’t make a steady diet of bacon and steak, but there is now evidence that saturated fat is not as bad as we once assumed.  In fact recent studies have show that diets high in protein and saturated fats can increase our HDL (the “good”cholesterol) and increase the production of large density (rather than the riskier small density lipo proteins) associated with risk for heart disease.

 

The real enemy in fighting fat is avoiding Transfats at all cost.  Trans fats are  man made hydrogenated oils that were designed to help extend shelf life of processed foods.  Trans fat is often found in margarine, baked goods, prepared cookie dough and biscuits, and commercially fried foods and snack chips
When you read a label and see the words, “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” please know that the fats in this food have been chemically altered by a high heat process which alters the composition of the fat in a profound and dangerous way.  Transfats drastically increase small density LDL and risk for heart disease, obesity, insulin resistance, belly fat and metabolic disease.

In fact the fat has been found to be so harmful that the FDA has put out a mandate that all trans fats must be out of all foods in America by the end of 2018.   But until then avoid transfats by avoiding processed foods and reading labels.

A simply way to stay on top of all this information is to remember, if it comes in a box and has more than five ingredients (or ingredients only a chemist could pronounce), it doesn’t need to go into your body!