Why Stress Is the Leading Killer: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Combat It

I’m so stressed out!! And now I have a head ache from pulling my hair out.

I’m so stressed out!! And now I have a head ache from pulling my hair out.

It seems like lately, all I hear from clients, friends and family is how “stressed out” they are.  

“I can’t go to that meeting. I am too busy and I’m totally stressed out.”

“The end of that basketball game really stressed me out.”

“I’m always in the car fighting traffic, and it stresses me out.”

“My boss is so demanding; she is stressing me out.”

Even my 10-year-old son says it.  “Don’t tell me to clean my room, Mom. It stresses me out.”

It’s on everyone’s lips, so I often wonder if we mis-judge our reactions to these everyday demands.  

If we are stressed out all the time, how do we “calm in?” 

I’d like to take a look at the science of stress.  What exactly is this thing that plagues us daily?

Stress is our nervous system’s response to “perceived threats.”  

In caveman days, those threats were things like running from a bear, fighting another caveman over food, keeping our family and offspring alive—real life-and-death stuff.

When we felt threatened, our sympathetic nervous system responded. This is known more commonly as “fight or flight.” We chose to fight the other caveman or run from the bear. How does our body do this? Any perceived threat will trigger the sympathetic nervous response. Our brain sees danger and sends signals via neurotransmitters and hormones throughout our body to respond. The diaphragm, the muscle in charge of our breathing, pushes up on our heart wall. The heart then starts to pump more blood, and the brain sends the signal to distribute that blood to our muscles and to shut down production from other organs until the threat is over and we can relax. 

Once the threat is over, our body goes back to a normal response. When we feel relaxed, things like digestion and sleep can occur. Essentially, our parasympathetic nervous system takes over. 

The beauty of our body’s systems is that these two opposing yet essential aspects of our nervous system are constantly balancing each other to maintain homeostasis. 

“If I could just be in traffic instead!”

“If I could just be in traffic instead!”

However, that is not the case for most of us. Most of us are operating on the equivalent of hyper-drive for our sympathetic nervous system. 

The fight-or-flight response can happen in an instant, with no ramp-up time. It takes just a second for the body to go from calm to panic. 

When our vital organs are being ignored and the blood that carries oxygen, nutrients and life prioritizes our muscles instead of our gut, that’s when things can go bad in the long term.  Chronic stress causes not only high blood pressure but also digestive problems and a suppression of your immune system. You know your immune system—the thing that fights off infections? Basically, chronic stress leaves all your vital organs vulnerable to disease.

And right now, you are thinking, “Oh shit, this is me. I’m vulnerable! Oh God, no…” and here we go again.

There is more to this riveting scientific story; if you want to dive deeper, watch this.

When it comes to our day to day, there really isn’t much in the category of caveman threats. In comparison, we live in a fairly safe society. However, our brain is a busy-body and an equivalent to a high-strung border collie with an intense need to be working.  The brain is a problem solver; it’s the main reason we have the society we do. We made tools, we created fire and learned to tend to it. We built huts then homes, then cities….the iPhone and Buzzfeed.

It has served us well; perhaps too well. In fact, the brain has over-taken our bodies. It has tirelessly worked us up into various scenarios and horrific details of what could go wrong, what needs to be done, which problems have to be solved. Events that haven’t arisen, problems that aren’t there. Even worse, when we run out of problems in our lives, we start to obsess about other people’s problems or possible problems. Just look at the checkout stand at your grocery store. 

All the while, the brain says, “WE ARE IN STRESS……FIGHT OR FLIGHT?” “My team didn’t win, my homework isn’t done, and another main character was killed off on Game of Thrones.” Basically, these physiological responses to non-immediate threats are the same as if we were running or fighting for our lives. 

It has gotten so bad that even tying our toddler’s shoes can be stressful. We’ve all been there. 

What can we do about this?  Here are five simple strategies to get started:

“ I am so chill, you can tell by the way I am sitting except now I think I am getting a cramp in my legs.”

“ I am so chill, you can tell by the way I am sitting except now I think I am getting a cramp in my legs.”

1. You can start with one of those lovely mindful apps. They teach meditation and give insight into how our mind chatter works against us. There are many to choose from: Headspace, Calm, Breathe, Mindful. Pick one, if you don’t like it, try another. I have 3 and use all of them at different times. Sometimes, I use them to start my day or other times, right before bed. You can set up timers to remind you to breathe or relax, which can be helpful during stressful times. 

2. Take an exercise class that isn’t competitive or strenuous. YES, I am looking at you, CrossFit and Orange theory. These are great exercise trends but they don’t put you in a state of calm. They are built to put you in a competitive mode, which fires up your fight-or-flight response big time and feeds the cycle. Try a yoga class or a Pilates class that focuses on the mind-body connection and on deep breath. You can still get a great workout and you will be doing your body a huge service in teaching it to exercise differently.

3. Take a long walk daily. Walking is by far one of my favorite activities. I am like that border collie and my mind and body need a lot of activity. When I go for a long walk, I get that energy out. I listen to music or a podcast. Fresh air is so relaxing, and so is looking out on the horizon, which uses different muscles in the eyes to look long distance. Our short distance eye muscles are governed by the sympathetic nervous system which runs our fight-or-flight responses. So, take a break from your screens and get up and go for a walk. 

4. Sleep. Our bodies need rest to recharge and reset. Every morning we wake is a new opportunity to get it right. When you have restful sleep, the world looks very different in the morning. I love to sleep. I have an enormous comfy bed with lots of pillows, and I look forward to getting in to it every night and relaxing and falling asleep. Keep the blue light and electronics away from your bed. If you have problems sleeping, it usually means you are over-worked and over-stressed, but if you do the 3 things above, it will start to help and put your mind at ease so you can have a restful sleep.

5. Get to know your triggers and do something about them. Not everyone gets stressed over the same things. We are all different, and you can’t tell someone to relax; that doesn’t work. They have to tell themselves. Each person has to learn his or her triggers, and that can take some time. If it is your boss or traffic, can you change that? If you can’t change the outside, you have to figure out how to change your response to it.  No one can do that but you. If you need help, seek a therapist who works in mindfulness training to get your started.

Most importantly, have perspective. Remember, it’s your perception, not reality. Your mind will pull you into the cycle time and time again if you let it. Give yourself a break by letting go and looking at the bigger picture. It’s a way to teach your mind to relax. As my dad used to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”




Why I love exercise trends - and why you should try something new this year.

The year is 1999. I am working at a small art and animation studio in Los Angeles. I’m sitting at a desk all day and I feel like poo! A new gym just opened down the street from my apartment and my boyfriend and I decide to join.  

At this gym they have the latest equipment and classes. They have racquetball and squash courts, trendy exercise classes and fancy equipment along with a pool and towel service. It’s called a Sport Club, rated higher than your average gym I guess because they offer spa type services and greeters at the door that call you by name. Not sure. 

One of the new classes is Pilates reformer. I’ve heard of this Pilates thing, so I decide to sign up. There is a guy teaching the class who has long red hair and looks like JP Sears…before there was a JP Sears. The reformers are these contraptions on the floor with springs, straps, and pulleys that resemble some kind of torture device. The teacher, Keith (not JP Sears), gives the Pilates instruction, speaking some mumbo jumbo I barely understand and breathing heavily, telling us to take deep relaxing breaths along with him. If this is an exercise class why I am focusing on relaxing? He describes in vivid details our pelvic floors and saying we need to engage our kegels. HEY! Dude! Keep your ideas about my pelvic floor to yourself. 

I think I like this Keith guy. This is kinda weird, but I am into it!

I think I like this Keith guy. This is kinda weird, but I am into it!

It’s like he is speaking a foreign language, saying things like “neutral spine,” “grow tall like a tree,” “roll over a ball,” and “pretend your a giraffe.” … What is this, exercise or an acting workshop?

It is LA…so it could be both. 

Now, luckily my interest was peaked, so I decided to go back. Maybe because I am not a quitter and I felt like I missed something? Maybe because the JP Sears guy was quirky enough to keep my interest? Or possibly because they were offering this class for free with my gym membership, and after my initial trial period, I would have to pay for it,  and it’s hard to say no to free? Yep, that’s why.

So I went back and I kept going. In fact, I got hooked.  I even started paying extra for it because I was sold on this Pilates thing. You know what happened? My body started to change, I began to understand the weird vocabulary, and overall, I felt better. I was accomplishing something and learning something new - growing like a tree and rolling over a ball and all. 

Forward to 2019. I am a Pilates Master instructor and I use more crazy images and vocabulary than Keith ever did. I quit my day job over 14 years ago to do this for a living. Albeit, it doesn’t pay as much as my former job, but I get to do something I love everyday and I get to help regular people instead of working for “the man” - take that corporate America!

But that is NOT why I love exercise trends. I love them because if you are willing enough to try something new, you never know where it can lead. 

For me, it led to a new career, but for many people that walk into my studio for the first time, it can simply change the way they feel about themselves. I am not just talking about change on the outside, but also change on the inside.

I Love the 80s exercise trends! Plus the outfits are amazing….wait….I think I feel that leotard riding up my butt.

I Love the 80s exercise trends! Plus the outfits are amazing….wait….I think I feel that leotard riding up my butt.

I remember when Yoga was a new trend - it’s possible that it has had several versions since its beginnings thousands of years ago.  HIIT, Crossfit, Zumba, Barre, Orange Theory, BeachBody -  these are some of the latest, but I have been around long enough to remember some old ones. I remember doing Jane Fonda on a cassette tape in a boom box with my mom. Cassette tapes…remember those?  I think those high-cut leotards actually might be making a comeback. 

Exercise trends keep things fresh.  They dazzle us with new approaches, science, buzzwords, music, hype….Instagram feeds…  It’s all packaged together to keep us moving. They keep us from getting bored with our routines and they also challenge some of the older models - like Yoga and Pilates -  to evolve, sometimes for better (hello Piyo) or worse (Goat Yoga). One of the most popular trends of late, Barre, came from a combination of Ballet, Yoga and Pilates. Even Pilates is a version of Zen, yoga, martial arts and gymnastics. Everything comes from something else and exercise trends often build off each other.

Before Pilates, I pretty much did a little of everything but not one thing exclusively. If I didn’t take a chance on that Pilates class, who knows where I would be now. I remember talking to a Zumba instructor years ago and she said she lost over 50 pounds swiveling her hips and dancing to loud latin music. She told me that she never exercised before - it changed her life.  She loved it so much she became an instructor.  Who knows maybe now she’s on her way to South America to learn Spanish and the beginnings of the Rumba.

So many exercise classes…so little time! I might need to quit my day job.

So many exercise classes…so little time! I might need to quit my day job.

Now, people can get a little zealous over their exercise programs. They found their thing, it’s changed their life, and they think everyone, and I mean everyone - neighbors, family, friends, frenemies - should be doing what they do. They want everyone to join in and feel what they feel. I have news for you: it doesn’t work like that.  I know some people who hate yoga, but love Pilates. I know some people who don’t like Pilates and want to do Orange theory or Crossfit. I don’t take it personally. Even yogis talk about different styles and which one is better. No new ideas come from conformity.  

What does it matter? Do what resonates with you. Not one exercise trend is the answer for all, but it is the answer for one person. I may be shooting myself in the foot here by saying that Pilates is not the end all in exercise or movement therapy, but I’m just not that dogmatic. I am happy when someone comes in and loves it, but for those who don’t, I hope they keep at it. Keep trying new things. Something is about to click.  

So in this new year, I challenge all of you to try something new. Me too. Get out there and see what happens. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Have some fun.  You never know where it may lead. 

I tried the Keto Diet for a month and this is what happened.

When people are trying to diet or lose weight, they often ask me what I do, how I stay in shape, and what I think about the latest diet trends. 

Over the past year, I have been asked about the Keto diet. Even though I have read quite a bit—and it’s hard not to with Instagram, FB, and Twitter spoon feeding this new diet trend to us in “fat is your friend” hashtags—I have never actually tried it. I don’t do “diets” because I don’t need to lose weight, and when I hear the word diet, I think restriction and self inflicted punishment. However, I do try to attain and promote a healthy lifestyle. The word lifestyle encompasses a combination of common sense, mindfulness, and whole body health. 

However, you can’t knock it till you try it, and for the benefit of my readership and sheer curiosity, I thought I’d give it a go. 

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Before I stepped on to that Keto train, I spent some time reading and researching. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find an abundance of resources to help me on this “fat” journey.  Does anyone see the irony in this? To lose fat we have to eat fat. But haven’t the dietitians or doctors or whoevers are in charge of the food pyramid been telling us to avoid fat?

Ketosis is defined as, “a normal metabolic process.” When the body does not have enough glucose for energy, it burns stored fats instead. This results in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body.

So the Ketogenic diet is founded on the idea that one can eat in such a way or in some cases not eat to produce this natural metabolic state. The key is to go low carb and high fat. Sounds easy right?  

The first week I decided to restrict all carbs in the forms of grains and fruits. I held on to veggies and upped my healthy fat intake. To be clear, healthy fat is coconut oil, avocado oil, avocados, grass fed butter, cheese, and organic heavy whipping cream, along with nuts and seeds. I also forsake my glass of wine at night. There were too many differing opinions about whether you can partake in alcohol or not. Poo!

Result: I immediately lost 3 pounds in the first week. I learned carbs like to hold water. I can only assume those 3 pounds were water weight. I also noticed that any bloating I was feeling before the diet went away—another indication that water was the primary loss—a major bonus in my book, plus I felt less fatigue mid-afternoon. 

The second week, after reading this article from Popular Science about how hard it is to achieve Ketosis, I went a little more hard-core. Just eating more healthy fat and eliminating carbs was not enough. I had to do some testing. 

I bought some urine strips at Rite Aid and started testing my urine to see if I was actually in Ketosis. Guess what? Nope! I had only trace amounts in my urine. There are other ways to test, like the Breath Keto Meter and Blood Ketone meter, but the urine strips were cheap and easy.  

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I also started reading labels to count my carbs. I had to keep my net cards lower than 20g.  Just to give you an idea of how many carbs can be consumed, there are 19g of carbs in a Starbuck’s double shot espresso latte. I had to keep making sure fat was the primary ingredient in all my foods.  Each of my meals had to be 60-75% fat and only 15-30% protein.  Is your head spinning yet?

Result: Urine strips say I have trace amounts of ketones. Total pounds lost: 5. 

The third week: I felt I was getting the hang of it. I was having an easier time with foods because there was so much support online and I found plenty of recipes to try. My morning consisted of bulletproof coffee. I drank lots of water with electrolytes and I kept my net carbs under 20g. I felt trim and still not bloated. My sleep was great and I was under no fatigue. But, and this is a big but, I had to work hard to keep all this up and I missed eating fruit. It wasn’t just craving fruit, it was grabbing an apple or a banana on the go. I found it hard to find snacks other than cheese, avocados or nuts. I could go to my local health food store to get some Keto bars, but I am also on a food budget and a $3+ dollar Keto bar adds up. I looked forward to my cheat nights (because I love Dwayne Johnson and even Mr. Giant biceps gives himself a day off).  

Result: Urine strips indicated moderate amounts. I felt like I hit the jackpot.  Who knew a urine strip could make me so happy! If anything, I think this diet was testing my discipline. 

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Week Four: I was on the home stretch. I was pretty sure my kids thought I was a bit crazy as they watched me prepare separate meals each night. They enjoyed the creamy chicken and omelets, but our regular pizza, popcorn and a movie night gets tricky for mom. I found a Keto friendly chicken crust pizza dough recipe. Yes, the crust is made from chicken and cheese … I told you that you can find anything on the internet. So as the boys worked their flour carb-loaded dough, I threw chicken pieces into my Vitamix and pulverized them until they looked like something you would spoon-feed a baby. 

Result: I was consistently between small to moderate amounts of ketones in my urine … until it just stops. None, zero, zilch.  

What happened? I followed all the rules. Why did my levels go down? After more investigation, I found a little known thing called Keto Adaptation. It turns out my body is a burning fat machine….uh, I think?

According to an article in HMVM, “Once you are keto-adapted (or fat-adapted), you may get a negative test result on your urine ketone strips, even though blood ketone levels may indicate that you are in ketosis. Over time, urine testing is less accurate than blood testing.” 

So, without pricking my finger, I had to assume that this is the state I achieved. Plus, I had come to the end of this experiment….

What have I learned? To start, it isn’t easy, and I am still not sure if my small to moderate amounts of Ketones were really enough to put me into a state of Ketosis. I found a lot of great and yummy recipes online. Eating more than my usual amounts of fat made me feel more satisfied after meals. It curbed cravings and increased my energy. I slept better and woke up easier. I usually get some kind of indigestion or bloating weekly, which hardly occurred the whole time I was on the diet. 

The set backs were that I couldn’t eat on the run easily. I had to read more labels than I wanted. I had to make sure I prepared all of my meals, as eating out was difficult. I had to say “no” to a lot of options just because it didn’t fit in with the program. I spent a lot of time thinking about my meals and peeing on urine strips. This does not fit in with my lifestyle criteria. I prefer intermittent fasting, which is the not eating other side to this whole thing, as a more long term lifestyle solution. 

In conclusion, I believe there are parts of the Keto diet that can be adapted to a person’s current regime. I like to think of the Keto diet as the new “cleanse”—something you do to get back on track, but not a long term eating solution. In the end, it’s about making healthy choices that you can follow and still enjoy life.  Dieting shouldn’t make your miserable, it should make you feel good about what you are doing for your health. 

Now, I am going to go eat a banana!

For those of you who want to try it, these are the sites that I found most helpful:

https://hvmn.com/blog

https://ketocycle.diet

https://www.marksdailyapple.com

It’s not about the end game in life, it’s about how you play it.

Just recently I got some serious news. The kind of news that can alter your life in many ways. My dad, who I considered one of the strongest and healthiest people I know had been diagnosed with stage 4 Renal cell carcinoma.

WHAT? How is this possible? My dad..teacher…coach…pioneer and all around do it all guy has cancer?  Dad was never over weight, never had a serious illness, no heart problems except for a bit of high blood pressure in his later years. He ran eleven marathons in his lifetime, cycled thousands of miles on his road bike, built a cabin on an island from scratch. He water-skied in the summer, walked everyday, traveled, retired early, spent time with his grandchildren.  One of his favorite sayings was Carpe Diem. Still, how is this possible? He wasn’t unhealthy.

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Before this, I touted that eating well, staying fit, keeping your mind and your body healthy was the way to a long and happy life. I seriously had to reconsider my theory here. If my dad can get cancer, anyone can.

As things go when you get this kind of news, you first try to find out how. My sister and I started wondering, how did dad get cancer? They lived in an old house, was radon an issue? What about toxins, were my parents exposed to something in their earlier years? What about all those hotdogs dad likes to eat with the yellow mustard? Was it the nitrates? How about that old green shag carpet that lived in my parents house forever until they remodeled? Maybe that was housing some kind of super bad bug? The more we talked, the more outrageous our theories got.  

Does it matter though? We can’t go back and take away the thing or the reason because we are here now grieving over a lost life. We can only go forward.

I got quite deflated. No matter what we do, we can still get sick.  We can suffer some hard disease be it cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and the host of other illnesses that do not have a cure. 

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Then one day as I am relaying this story to a long time client who is in the medical field, she says to me, “It’s not what happens at the end but how you are living your life while you are here.” And with this simple comment, I was shaken out of my depressed daze. 

YES! She is right. It’s every day making a choice to be healthy in mind and body so we can live fully in each day and in each moment being the best we are. That is exactly how my dad lived.  

The older we get, the more important it is to do this. We are all walking into every day with a choice to be good to ourselves and the others around us. We cannot predict tomorrow nor can we keep ourselves free from everything that could possibly make us sick or injure our body.  We can’t fret constantly about every possible danger. I think we sometimes have too much information. I am reminded of an old Joe Jackson song in the 80s called “Cancer” and as he said, “Everything gives you cancer.”  Anything and everything has the potential to either heal or harm. 

So I’d like to take a moment here and say that my dad lived every day with gusto. He lived one adventure after another. He was always generous with his time and enjoyed life fully. I hoped he would still get a chance to keep doing that, but he did it up till the end and that is what is important.  

It’s about how we live. How are you living? Are you taking care of your mind and your body?  Are you spending time with those you love? Do you try new things?  Do you laugh a lot?  Do you run just for fun?  Do you mediate? Do you draw or paint? Do you take a regular exercise class because it makes you feel good not because you have to? Do you cook for yourself?  Do you dance in your house when no one is watching?

All of these things matter. Living fully matters. Anything that is good for the mind is also good for the body and vice versa. It’s important to find those things for yourself. Everyone is different and as we get older those things will change.  My dad went from teacher, coach, marathoner, to super grandpa and traveler.  He was always looking for new experiences that would improve his life. 

This story isn’t over. We don’t know how it will end, so let’s play the game of life fully because we never know how or when it will change or end. 

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What's better for weight loss Diet or Exercise?

It’s that time again.  The start of a new year and a new you.  With that come the revelations of what we need to do in the next few months to make our lives better and our bodies trimmer.

There is a little secret that I would like to share with you, something that I have known for a while. In fact, it might be something that we have all known, but just aren’t willing to accept into our current conscious of living better. 

So here it is.  Drum roll please. 

Exercise is not the leading factor to losing weight.  YIKES!  Yes, I said it.  I will probably lose all my potential clients in the new year, but it is true.  I recently attended the Spokane Health and Fitness expo where I saw lots of hopeful people out there looking to sign up for Barre classes, cross fit, personal training, Pilates, Yoga etc.  Many of my friends and colleagues from their own studios were busy chatting these potential clients up on their latest classes, prices, and promotions.

It’s what we want to hear. It’s what we are hoping for. “If I join a gym and get moving, I will lose weight.”  It sounds good and it definitely has merit, but here are the facts. 

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When it comes down to it exercise does burn off calories but not as much as you think and the leading factor to weight loss is diet and lifestyle changes, not exercise.  

Maybe you have seen some of the research out there that is now finally coming into mainstream media.  At the start of the new year, one of these articles showed up in my inbox and I really knew it was time to set the record straight.  Just read, Exercise myths. 

The way to take off the pounds is to eat less and eat healthier more nutrient rich food.  Simple huh?  Well, not so simple. 

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No one wants to immediately give up their comforts because our relationship with food can be complicated.  How many of us have had a hard workout and reward ourselves with an extra little something, like a cookie, a snack, a drink - because we think we’ve earned it or have burned enough calories to warrant it.  I am a person who loves food as a reward.  I like to eat and I like to eat well.  I may not be a fried food junkie but put a cheese board in front of me and I am all at it.  

Often times when you start a new training program you tend to get hungrier.  Your body might be used to fueling a certain amount of calories each day and when you add in exercise it’s wants to maintain that amount.  So the real caveat here is whether we are ready or willing to put our will power to the test and really start changing our eating habits.  Sometimes it’s easier to start doing something than to stop doing something. So we tell ourselves we will start exercising, but we aren’t going to give up our chocolate, glass of wine, or mid-afternoon cookie. 

But don’t fret.  It doesn’t mean that exercise isn’t a part of a healthy lifestyle, but the “why” we exercise is more than just keeping pounds off. 

In a recent article in Time Magazine they put exercise to the test and showed that it is linked to less depression, better memory, and quicker learning.  It helps circulation and enables the body to burn more fat for energy.  It keeps our blood flowing and triggers the release of chemicals in the brain that dull pain and lighten mood. These are just a few of the benefits.  There are so many more.   Exercise can also be social and we enjoy seeing friends at the gym or joining them for a Yoga or Pilates class.  We build relationships through exercise.  When we feel better we have a better attitude about our lives. I have often worked out my worries or problems on a long hike outdoors. My parents go for long walks and talk about their worries, their day, the things that might not come out in conversations at other times.  

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So if you were to take exercise and a more healthy diet and combined them, you have the equivalent of the wonder twin powers!  One really doesn’t work well without the other.  

So in the new year, we can alter our diet and exercise.  We will have a better chance at keeping the pounds off and also keeping a healthy mind and body. 

Good Luck!

The process takes as long as it takes

I recently read a great post by one of my favorite nutritionists Jonny Bowden.  He was talking about the holiday season and how many of his clients are predicting weight gain and already looking for their next training program for the new year.  It happens every year, doesn’t it?  The first of the year always brings a rush of people to the gym and an onslaught of weight loss ads flood social media and TV commercials.  

I’ve already given up on trying to change the cycle; I hope you have.  The thing that really struck me in his latest article was that many people ask him how long it will take for them to get back into shape or to lose the weight.  Time is client’s biggest concern. 

What you will hear with any new program is an estimated amount of time.  If you are on a weight loss program you may hear you can lose up to a pound or two a week.  For an injury maybe your doctor will tell you it takes 6 to 8 weeks to heal.  And if you are looking to get back into shape you might read that it will take about 6 weeks to feel the changes in your body. 

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Even our beloved Joseph Pilates had a time table;10 sessions and you will feel the difference; 20 sessions you will notice the difference; and in 30 sessions you will have a whole new body. 

Well, none of this is a guarantee.  These are just numbers, estimates, and averages.  They don’t factor in our mental states, the uniqueness of our body and it’s structures, as well as our lifestyles or our will power.  

One of my closet friends is a psychologist and she once told me that when trying to make a significant change in your life, the process will take however long the process takes.  But no one wants to hear that.  Everyone wants an end date, a timeline so that we know exactly when we will be thinner, healthier, and moving better.  The grey area and the ambiguity of it all is what kills us, but as Mr. Bowden pointed out, you just need to give whatever you are doing enough time to work and that there are no unrealistic goals, only unrealistic timetables.

This is something I can really relate to because not only can we apply that to our health and general well being but also to ourselves in any endeavor we take on.  Are you trying to change a habit?  Are you trying to get stronger?  Are you trying to build a relationship?  Whatever the goal is, it takes as long as it takes.  Yes, we can create estimates and predictions that might help us get a general idea, but I would hate for someone to come into my studio and start working with me and give up too soon. 

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A client I was working with for several years, told me one day, “You know what Pilates really is? It’s using your core all the time in every exercise…its core all the time!”  I looked at her and smiled.  The light bulb went on. It took 2 years, but she got it.  It didn’t matter how many times I told her the same thing. It didn’t matter the amount of exercises I taught her or how long she had been working with me. She got it, when she got it. The process was her own and it took as long as it took.

Maybe in this day and age with all the instant gratification and our ability to connect in an instant to the internet or reach friends and family immediately with a quick text, we aren’t used to waiting.  Maybe we have lost that sense of patience and acknowledging that the process is the journey.  So much learning takes place and so much change happens along the way to any goal.  Why not appreciate the subtleties that come along with it instead of our need to get there in a certain amount of time. 

Now all that being said, we all eventually have to get there and know when to switch our goals or possibly acknowledge that we may not reach them, but I think that topic of discussion is for another time.

For now stick with your goals, remember to keep at it and enjoy the ride

 

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Holiday Blues?

Am I the only one who gets down around the holidays?  I think it might be a combination of the days getting shorter, the lack of sun, and the general malaise of colder days.  The holidays tend to shine a light on things in our lives, mostly our family connections and our waistlines.  While these two things seem mutually exclusive they really aren’t.  These are the two things that contribute to making us feel the worst.  Relationships with our families are tricky and I am saying this even though I love and feel very close and connected with mine.  There is something about those you love knowing all about you.  They can make you feel like you are the most special person on the planet or the worst in an instant.  Food is kind of the same way.  I love to cook and feed those close to me, but over indulging or drinking too much can make me feel depressed and guilty about not taking better care of myself. 

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So here is to food and family - the best and worst of the holidays and my advice on how to make it through in one piece

Traditions - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous

Growing up we had a lot of traditions around the holidays.  For Thanksgiving it was the type of food everyone was expecting, such as turkey with the mashed potatoes, or the candied yams, or, God forbid, the weird green casserole made with canned beans and fried onions on top.  I have to say, some of it I loved, but some of it I wouldn’t touch any other day of the year. So why are we feeding ourselves things we wouldn’t normally eat?  My dad grew to dislike turkey and it wasn’t until several years ago we chose another meat dish to go along with the traditional bird.  Why do we torture ourselves with things we don’t like, or even worse why do we get so disappointed when we don’t have something we expect?  If we don’t open ourselves up to new things, how will we form any new traditions or experiences?  I say the tradition should be to experiment every year with something new.  This year, we may be having Tamales for dinner.  YIPEE!!

Eating - Too Much or Restricting

If you read my blog, you know I love food and cooking.  This time of year brings a smile to my face because I get dirty in the kitchen.  I pop open the wine, play the tunes and start cooking.  I eat as I cook, I eat during the meal and I go for seconds because it’s good, right? Then I lie on the couch and beat myself up.  I feel so horrible.  Why did I do that?  It’s the epitome of the binge - the food binge.  

There are two sides to this as I see it.  Binge and get over it. Don’t beat yourself up but give yourself a pat on the back for indulging in your favorites. Or the second is, don’t over do it at all and use your best will power and focus only on you, not everyone else.  Over eating tends to be done is social settings, so while uncle Jim is going for his 3rd helping doesn’t mean you have to.  Choose the one that is easiest for you.  

If you binge, just do it for that day don’t keep it going.  Don’t go on a holiday bender.  Choose the day, have fun and don’t beat yourself up.  No one is going to gain ten pounds in one day.  You have to over eat for several days or weeks to put on the lbs.  So if you go back to your normal life style you will be fine.  

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I can attest to this as this is my technique every year.  If you choose will power, don’t complain and don’t make others feel bad for your choice.  Find something to occupy your mind, choose healthier options and still enjoy.  Surround yourself around those who might be on this same path.

Family - Love and Hate

I have a client that says she doesn’t look forward to the holidays because the dinner conversations tend to get gross.  There is always that relative, that either says wildly inappropriate things, drinks too much and acts obnoxious, or brings up politics or bad family drama. I think dinner conversation is an art form and the canvas for the art is the people that are there.  You aren’t going to paint a colorful landscape if all you have are charcoal pencils.  Be mindful of the people around you, their quirks and their personalities.  Be kind even if you can’t stand the person.  Allow yourself time to enjoy and leave when you feel it’s too much.  Lastly, if it’s really that bad, choose to surround yourself by others.  It’s not the end of the world if you skip a holiday with family and find some friends you enjoy hanging out with.  In my family we like to play music and sing while getting dinner ready.  It helps get us all in a good mood and keeps the conversation light.  

The Spotlight - Not Always a Good Thing

Every year it seems like someone is on the hot seat, either with some family drama, some illness, job, etc. There is something uncomfortable that makes us not want to spend time with family and friends.  In recent times I’ve felt that weight on me.  The spotlight can be great if it’s an engagement, a new baby, a new job.  Everyone is all smiles and wants to congratulate, but sometimes the spotlight is not so great, divorce, separation, illness, death, etc. 

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For this I will repeat the advice my mom gave me when I was 10.  “You are the only one that is in charge of your feelings, no one can make you feel any way you don’t want to.”  I repeated this to my 8 year-old son just the other day and even though I think this concept might be beyond his grasp, one day he will understand.  I did and I remind myself when I feel the heat, that I am standing proud and tall and that I am in charge of my feelings, my choices, and the people I surround myself by.  

So take charge this Holiday season, eat, be merry, have fun, and enjoy!

How to build muscles as we age.

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One of my clients came into the studio after the summer and was discouraged that she had lost most of her muscle tone during her hiatus . She took a break from Pilates to manage a home remodel, and when she returned she felt she was back at square one.

Her concern was that she just didn’t believe that you could build muscle past a certain age.  And of course in typical fashion, I took on her challenge to prove her wrong.  

Here is the thing.  YES, it gets harder the older we get to build and maintain muscle mass and strength but not impossible and far from as difficult as we think it to be. 

So let’s first review what our lovely muscles do for us.  They are the primary movers of our skeleton and provide support to keep us upright and balanced.  Something you may not know is they are the main heaters for our body. Yes, our muscles create most of the heat needed to keep our body temperature at a 98.6F.   

Now how do we build and maintain our muscles?  Without going into a large anatomy lesson here, I will simplify.  Muscles grow when we use them and more importantly when we strain them.  After we work out with weights, or bands or your own body resistance (all of which are considered resistance training), little minor tears occur in the muscle fibers.  So the body sends in the medics to repair them and then also make them stronger. So when we are resting after our workout the body is repairing the tears and building stronger muscles for the next onslaught of training. 

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Muscle strength, muscle growth, stamina, and endurance are all different; and personal trainers will set your program depending on your goals.  Strength training is being able to increase the load of the contraction for lower number of reps, basically working at your highest capacity for a shorter amount of time.  Muscle building is lowering the weight to a moderate load and increasing the repetitions.  Stamina is being able to stay at a higher contraction for a period of time.  Endurance is moderate to low contraction of a muscle group for a longer period of time.  Think about the difference between a sprinter and a long distance runner. 

Don’t worry there won’t be a quiz after all of this.

Now most people who aren’t training for a specific sport or event just want to stay fit.  So luckily if you do any of it you’re pretty much working on those muscles and hopefully you can mix things up a bit so that you make sure you are building both muscle and strength.  Because unless you are a professional athlete or training to be a powerlifter, it won’t really matter.  

In the case of my client who is a 60 plus woman, she just needs to keep moving and straining those muscles because as we get older, it gets harder to maintain it.  Which brings me to the familiar quote “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Just like anything else in our body cellular growth slows down as we age.  However, the research shows that older muscles will continue to grow and strengthen as long as we keep training them.  The more often the better.  The main difference is that in our 20s and early 30s we could take a few weeks off without losing a step but that changes every decade we get older, hence the reason to keep moving. A recent post from the NY Times wellness blog states that the age in which muscles can actually start to lose their fiber mass isn’t until age 80 where it decreases 30 to 40%.  So there is really no reason why this 60+ woman can’t strengthen and build muscles.  Check the research on this website: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/can-you-regain-muscle-mass-after-age-60/  

As we get older we all just want to be able to move and enjoy our lives.  We want to be able to pick up the grandkids, take them to the park, and be physical with them.  We want to lift the heavy bags of groceries and move some furniture around the house.  These are real things that don’t have anything to do with youth.  They are just part of living but as we age we have to work out to keep those muscles in the best health so that we can do those things. 

I’m reminded of a story my father told me of my grandmother. She passed just before her 95th birthday and this story was many years back when she was only in her young 70s. She wanted to go skiing one winter while visiting us in Spokane. My father didn’t think this was a good idea because all he could think about is how old and frail he thought she was (ironic that now my father is in his 70s) He postulated that if he took her out in the snow she would clearly slip and fall and break a hip.  She insisted and he caved.  You know what happened? She didn’t fall at all and my dad fell several times!

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What is important here is to keep moving.  Put your muscles through some strain regularly. Challenge yourself because as we get older it becomes harder to maintain that muscle mass and strength.  We just have to be more diligent about doing it.  So for my client, yes over a long summer away from the Pilates studio, she did lose it, but it doesn't take much to get it back.  My recommendation is to keep at it, work out regularly, mix it up, and be sure to rest.  This is what keeps you healthy and strong.  

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Approaching wellness

The health and wellness industry is one of the largest growing business in America.  The Health care debate is in the throes of political policy and rhetoric.  Yet here we are, Americans, trying to take care of ourselves, trying to live, survive, and just feel good with so much of our health being decided in government. 

Everyone complains about what they want or what they don’t have. It is a basic human need to survive.  We are born into this world to procreate and sustain the species.  But after, it is all about survival.  Everything we do is about getting through another day and living to see the next. 

However, somewhere along the line of human existence we have lost sight of our humanness.  We’ve compartmentalized our life.  Fun is here. Work is there. Exercise is here. Family is there.  Vices go in a closet.  Food is over there. And we all have our strange relationship with food.  Each part of our life is in a box and we live it like we are visiting different states, or dare I say, planets.  It's almost to the point where we become different people in each place.

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We ignore and don’t communicate with all that makes us whole.  We ignore signs in one area that will eventually lead to a serious break down in another area.  When there is stress it affects all aspects of our lives, our relationships with people and within our selves.  An infection cannot be contained.  

How do we change this?  

I think it’s easy for me to say all this as my entire career is based on staying healthy, both body and mind.  I teach people to move freely in their bodies and hopefully have fun doing it at the same time so that their two little boxes of fun and exercise can come together.  I talk about life and learning about ourselves to hopefully get clients to see that they can’t turn off the physical part of their bodies when they are at work or home.  Just because they have left the studio doesn’t mean they can’t still be present in their bodies for the rest of the day.  I ask about how people feel when they come in, so they know to not ignore their emotions when they are choosing to move or exercise. I do this because I hope -really hope- people will start to get the connections and start to choose to bring all of those boxes of life together. They are all an essential part of our survival. 

I have friends that teach Yoga. I have friends that are life coaches or therapists and you know what?  We all struggle.  The yogis aren’t perfect and the therapists need their own therapy.   We are not perfect nor do we have it all figured out.  We just keep at it.  

I recently read an article from Michael Stone who was a teacher, writer, and facilitator of this very subject, who recently passed.  In an essay about grief, he talks about his own struggles with an end to a partnership.  He also had bi polar disorder and worked on relief through meditation and practical uses of Buddhist teachings.  His approach to health was very tangible and accessible, but he was willing to be open about his own struggles realizing that yoga and meditation were key but that his body also at times needed medication for support.  

You can’t put it away in a box.  Everything affects everything.  Our approach to wellness should be a full approach where we incorporate all aspects of our lives.   It almost sounds cliche to say “balance,” but what other word is there?  Sometimes when we are sick or have a chronic condition, we just treat it in one way and one way only.  We don’t see how something as simple as joy, or movement, music or connecting to another human being can help heal.

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It really is that simple. Let it out and let the little boxes open up and bleed together so that not one thing is completely by itself.  In this balance we can also reach out to others because surviving as one is a lonely world.  We all need each other to see it to the next day, to make our lives full.  It’s a community of health and wellness that lifts us all up  

It’s an approach to wellness that I hope this country will take.

Why I don't eat Gluten - My IBS story

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Recently I posted a recipe of “Maria’s Get up and Go Coffee Shake."  In that post I mentioned I have eliminated foods from my diet that don’t work for me,  such as gluten.  This was not just an arbitrary decision, but rather a long and somewhat gut wrenching (literally) journey. 

Over the past decade gluten-free has become a bit of a trend with new research and testing that has shown 1 % of people suffer from Celiac disease and 6 times more people have what is called “Gluten Sensitivity.” 

I know there are many skeptics out there, so I would like to share my personal journey full of some embarrassing moments in my life. 

I am tall and thin, but I wasn’t always this way.  Most people when they get older develop a belly from sedentary life styles and bad eating habits, but I already looked that way as a kid. I was a little thing with a huge belly.  I had long skinny arms and legs and a round protruding mid section.  My mom used to say I was growing skin and that I was going to sprout up which I did eventually, but I didn’t lose the belly.

My first memory of horribly wrenching gut pain that would be most of my life was in high school.  Always sometime after lunch, my stomach would tie into knots and my gut would distend.  When I say distend I mean unbutton the jeans and wear a baggy shirt distend.  With the bloating would come a twisting and knotting sensation in my belly.  The only thing that seemed to alleviate this was lying in the fetal position, which didn’t go over well in 4th period English. 

This didn’t happen every day, but like I said I have a clear memory of it happening often enough in my teens.  This was the 80s, some time right before the fat free craze.  At this time most of my diet consisted of flour products.  Breakfast was toast or cereal; lunch was a sandwich; snacks were crackers, bagels, or quesadillas with flour tortillas; dinner always included bread.

The gut wrenching pain continued throughout college. I would have periods of time where there were no problems - actually months- but when it came on, it would take me down and it would last for weeks.  You’d think I might have tried to see a doctor about this. I sometimes look back and wonder why I had waited so long. 

By the 90s, I was convinced I was lactose intolerant with the other half of the population.  So I stopped eating dairy and started choosing soy. BIG MISTAKE!  Oh, and I also became a vegetarian….also BIG MISTAKE.  As a vegetarian, my diet of gluten increased.  More bread, pasta and the like.  I had a constant puff on my body, plus the intermittent gut pain. The beer drinking probably didn't help either.  What can I say, I was living in Seattle during the Grunge era….we all drank a lot of beer. 

The tummy problems only got worse during this time.  And now I was having what new mom’s refer to as “Blow outs.”  I needed to make sure that a bathroom was close at all times and God forbid if someone was in it.  

My best friend at the time thought I might have an eating disorder with the way I was always going to the bathroom.  At this time I actually was seeking help. I started seeing a naturopath who said that I had an overgrowth of candida and not enough good bacteria in my gut.  I went on probiotics, among some other fancy herbs she prescribed for me.  This did absolutely nothing.  

Fast forward to Los Angeles in the late 90’s and by now the blow outs were intermittent with constipation and a few trips to the emergency room because the pain was so excruciating.   I am now seeing a gastroenterologist after yet another failed attempt with a naturopath and a Chinese herbalist who had me stick out my tongue and read my future…I did think he was fascinating though.  The Gastroenterologist was actually the most helpful…yes, western medicine people!  He ran all the tests including a Sigmoidoscopy and a Barium swallow because by then I hadhorrible heart burn as well.  He concluded that this was diet, but what was triggering it?  I have to mention here that people weren’t talking about Celiac disease yet and effects of gluten on our gut health.  There was no testing at this time. 

 

So when you have these issues, you don’t make them particularly public.  It’s not a topic of dinner conversation asking across the table about someone else’s bowel habits.  So who could I really talk to about this but health professionals and yes some close friends, who probably know entirely too much about my gut health. 

Solace came when I started my Pilates training and I met a gal who had the same symptoms and was suffering as I was.  She asked me “How much soy do you eat?”  I thought I was being healthy, I was still drinking soy lattes and buying health bars stuffed with soy protein.  She said that many of her symptoms went away when she eliminated soy from her diet.  At this point I was trying everything.  If someone said I needed to stand on my head for 10 minutes a day, I would do that too.  

So I took out the soy and guess what.  RELIEF!  The Gut wrenching pain went from a 10 to about a 5.  The heartburn went away and the -“ahhem”- blow outs decreased enough for me to not always be looking for a bathroom close by.  

And now some important information on soy…..

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/soy-health_b_1822466.html

So I thought I cured myself.  I really was feeling a whole lot better.  

By the early 2000s I was doing pretty good for the most part.  I was no longer a vegetarian, I still had occasional constipation and gut issues but compared to before they were really manageable. I had concludedthat the rest of my symptoms I just had to live with.  What woman doesn’t complain of bloating or constipation now and again, right? 

Life went on and 4 years ago, 2013, I started seeing a skin doctor. She was giving me a facial peel and we were just chatting.  I told her that I have IBS, because that is what they labeled my condition some 20 years ago.  She asked me if I considered eliminating gluten from my diet as she is one of those 1% with Celiac. I thought, “I don’t eat that much gluten,” so that is not the problem, because I was eating more vegetables, meats, fruits etc.  I altered my diet during this whole process trying to find the right foods for me. I went on occasional cleanses and exercised regularly.  I though I was as good as I was going to get, right?  

I WAS WRONG!   

On her advice, I took gluten out of my diet for about 6 weeks, maybe to prove her wrong or just for my own curiosity.  

This is the part of my blog where the skies part and there is this high note of hallelujah.

This is what happened:

  • I was no longer constipated
  • The bloat I experienced everyday that I thought was normal - gone
  • My belly started shrinking for the first time ever
  • Pounds melted 
  • I felt light and awake.  It was like a fog lifted from my brain. 
  • My mood changed
  • My life changed.

I have been gluten free since then.  I have never gone back.  I have tweaked my diet still looking for the balance.  I have determined that I am not Celiac and I can have a little gluten here and there. It’s the amount and how often that really affects me.  Another doctor said I could just have a wheat allergy and not all gluten.  Possibly, but honestly, I don’t miss it.  I am probably in the 6% of Americans with the non celiac gluten sensitivity.  All of that belly was gut inflammation which my poor body was trying to tell me for years. 

 

What astonishes me is that I spent most of my adult life with this problem.  I tried everything. I listened to countless medical professionals, read hundreds of different articles and books.  I kept searching and now in my late 40s I am lean, light, full of energy and just plain happy.  It took a while to get here but I am so happy I did, and I learned so much about myself along the way.  I was my own lab rat.  

If you think you might have gluten sensitivity or celiac, here is a great resource for all things gluten, including information on different gluten disorders, recipes, support, etc. 

https://www.gluten.org/resources/getting-started/

This is just my story and every single person out there is unique. One size does not fit all. I have many friends that don’t have issues with gluten or being vegetarian. Some can’t tolerate coffee, others can’t eat nuts.  Seriously, why do we think we are all the same?  I say, just keep finding that thing that works for you.  Whether it’s the type of exercise you do, the things you eat or who you spend your time with.  It’s your life and your body, be kind to it!

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