It’s the summer. During it, we find a multitude of excuses as to why we need to do something else besides exercise. The kids are out of school. Work is hectic. It’s hot. (This is a big reason right now. Remember to hydrate regardless of what you are doing!)

 

The problem most often is that we do not compensate for the lack of time spent moving. Nor do we look for alternatives to continuing our healthy diet, exercise regimen, and successes in our goals. For a lot of people, life bowls us over. We get derailed by vacations, kiddos, and our own personal surrender to the inevitable thought, “It’s summer. I need time off.”

 

The truth is that there are ways of helping yourself through those weeks of vacations, kids home, etc. In the Marine Corps, there is a phrase: adapt and overcome. My husband was trained to figure out methods of getting around obstacles. In health and wellness, this has become very easy. There are a multitude of resources at our fingertips. I’m a part of a group that encourages its members to take control of their health by any means possible. A lot of them are stay-at-home moms. They cannot necessarily afford, or get to, a gym. So they have opted for an easier, equally accessible method: DVDs! Some of them start seeing visible results with as little time as 2-3 weeks.

 

But we don’t just discuss and encourage exercise in this group. A large part of well-being stems from a proper diet. A girlfriend of mine recently confided in me that she was having issues with this. Her pants were getting too snug (and the next size up too comfortable), she felt absolutely emotionally terrible (and experienced feelings of self-hatred), and had no idea where to start. It was time that she seek help and she was scared to turn anywhere else.

 

I’m really proud of her for finally reaching out, for taking the first step toward a healthier lifestyle. It is the hardest step you will ever take. As an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, I can help redirect her attention toward positive thinking and reinforcement of behaviors, setting goals, and developing new habits that will transform her body and mind. Some of the first things I plan on asking her to do include keeping a food log (for at least two weeks), considering how she would like to feel and what she would like to see happen to her body, and establishing a pattern of positive self-talk to replace the cynical mindset she had developed. I am excited to help her establish her first goals and see her succeed. Having taken weight training class together in high school, she knows that I’ll push her enough to keep her going ūüôā

 

One of my friend’s biggest trouble areas, and a huge stumbling block for many people, is overeating. On the group forum, the moderator posted this great thought:

 

You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.

 

I grew up in a household where both my parents struggled with food issues, so this thought hits close to home. My dad tended to work all day and eat huge meals at night. Other people grab the quickest thing possible, which is often fast food. At most fast food restaurants, we inhale portion sizes that are 2-8 times the actual portion size without a second thought. And then we wonder why America’s waistline is growing, why marketers have to change pant sizes from a Size 16 to a Size 12 so that people feel good enough to buy clothes, why physical and mental diseases run rampant throughout our society.

 

There are two key causes of overeating, though there are many more. The first is ignorance as to actual portion sizes. The second is emotional eating. The first is more easily combated than the second. The reason why may be obvious. When we are under stress, experiencing emotional mood swings (either positive or negative), depressed, etc., we reach for something that comforts us. For a lot of people, this is food, and not just any food either. If it were as easy as grabbing a handful of carrot sticks, we’d all probably be in great shape. No, we grab our favorite kinds of foods: sweets, salty snacks, things with crunch, mama’s home cooking…and we eat them in massive quantities.

 

How do you tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger? Here are the most common things to look for:

 

Complied by a team of health experts and shared via Nutrition Solution Lifestyle. For more information, check out their Facebook group, linked to photo.

 

This becomes more of a problem when people are reducing their food intake. In fact, lifestyle modifications can compound emotional eating. In the fitness industry, we understand that eating less causes stress, and that it is a pervasive habit for people, overweight or not, to reach for their favorite snack when stressed.

 

If this is the case, how then do we combat it successfully? There are a lot of tools we use. ACE suggests these when talking about lifestyle modifications and behavioral changes (ACE Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual, Second Ed.; p. 333-337):

 

  • Set small, realistic goals as stepping stones to reach large, overall goals.
  • Modify your environment. If a certain food is a problem for you, try not purchasing it in favor of better, healthier foods. (For me, it’s sugar. As long as I don’t have it in the house, and I have fruit instead, I am okay.) If it is exercise, try keeping your gym bag at the door or in the car; there are stories of some people even wearing their sneakers to bed so they will do their exercise first thing.
  • Remember that it is okay to have your favorite food on occasion. The idea is not to cut the food out of your diet entirely. This creates more stress than a cure for stress. Instead, reward yourself with a treat once a week or bi-weekly (or whatever time frame you give yourself) for doing such a great job.
  • Find a buddy to help keep you on track. A social support network enhances self-efficacy, the perception of the ability to change and perform a particular habit.
  • Learn how to combat negative mood and cynicism with cognitive restructuring, which is defined as changing the way one perceives or thinks about something. Scientific studies show that the more negatively one looks at a situation, the worse the situation (and your self-perceptions) become. This is not a permanent mindset. It can be changed. The first step is to simply become aware of yourself thinking in this way. The second requires you to consciously change those counterproductive thoughts into productive ones. This, while it requires a great deal of practice and self-monitoring, is possible if you can observe your own thoughts, and not immediate accept them as reality.

 

As you can see, I just mentioned self-monitoring. This can be complex but I believe that the principles are accessible to everyone. With food issues, the best way to monitor yourself is with a food log. These days, smart phones have apps like MyFitnessPal (which I have used and like). If you do not have a smart phone, or the program is not enough for you, I recommend writing it down. Regardless, I recommend this. There is something about the action of writing that directs your attention more successfully to what is happening than a mere phone application. Try doing so for two weeks, being brutally honest with yourself (no one else is going to look unless you want them to) so you know exactly where your problem areas are.

 

Once these are known, change one poor behavior at a time. Tackling everything at once will only cause frustrations, stress, and relapse into the old habit. It is better to focus on dealing with one habit (my sweet tooth, for instance: I started by removing processed sugary candies from my diet instead of everything I liked). You will find that the new behavior you seek to instate in your life will happen quicker, more easily, without the added stress of another or others.

 

Of course, if you have self-monitored and don’t know where to go from there, do not hesitate to ask help from professionals! Seek out a trained medical or fitness professional for advice. Not sure where to look? Start by asking your physician. They have a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Be aware that seeking out help does not mean you require permanent assistance. Use the resources for as long as is necessary for you to learn the tools needed to combat unhealthy habits. In the long run, this will save you money and give you a greater sense of self-efficacy.

Low Back Pain

June 21, 2012

Lumbago, or low back pain, affects around 80% of people sometime in their life. Wikipedia states that it is the second-most common neurological ailment, and first in the job place, with headaches alone beating it out. Most often, the pain stems from benign, or non-specific, musculoskeletal problems such as sprains or strains. Classification of low back pain includes acute (less than 4 weeks), subacute (4-12 weeks), and chronic (12+ weeks).

 

There are many reasons people suffer from low back pain. Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are two main causes. Sitting long hours at a desk, hunched over work, hunched over in the car to and from work, and hunched over while sitting at home in furniture that promote poor posture are some of the most common, repetitive habits that induce and/or exacerbate low back pain. As we age, the fibrocartilege discs between the vertebrae thin and diminish in size. Prolonged sitting further compresses these spaces as gravity exerts its force upon the body; as one goes throughout the day, one shrinks.

 

Other forms of injury include, but are not limited to, lifting heavy objects without properly developed muscles/core and/or lifting posture, exerting too much force on the lumbar region of the spine (or anywhere else for that matter) which cause herniation of the intervertebral discs, and the development of chronic disease such as osteoporosis, arthritis, degenerative discs, the shifting of the vertebrae more than they ought from spondylolisthesis, fracture of vertebra, and even tumors. My husband injured his low back several years back from sprinting in frigid temperatures. I know many people who suffer from chronic pain due to a sedentary lifestyle coupled with overweight and obesity.

 

One of the main ways to combat low back pain is exercise. As in the case of those who are overweight or obese, simply shedding that weight makes worlds of difference. Numerous studies have shown that excessive weight is, at the very least, a contributing factor to a multitude of diseases, the most obvious of which are heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; chronic low back pain is another. Those who make the commitment to lose 20 pounds over a period of six months have told me that they feel worlds better all-around. One of their most commonly cited complaints, low back pain, lessens or disappears completely. For more “sure-fire” tips, see here.

 

This, I believe, is because they begin to develop their core muscles, the most integral part of one’s body. Joseph Pilates said that the core is responsible for holding you erect, protecting your pelvis and lower back, shielding your internal organs, connecting your legs to the rest of you, and stabilizing you for any and all movement you are about to do. The transverse abdominus, the deepest muscle of the core, contracts in preparation for movement microseconds before the movement actually occurs.

 

With this said, there is hope of alleviating or curing low back pain. For those who suffer from temporary, or acute, cases, careful exercise focusing on strengthening the core (the abdominal muscles–transverse, obliques, and rectus abdominis; back muscles, including those of the upper back; gluts; hip flexors and upper quads) and proper posture can eliminate the pain. For those suffering from chronic injury or disease, exercise can still assist in moderating the pain. Strengthening the core helps support and hold up your weight.

 

I have found when talking to students that posture plays a huge role in low back pain. Rounding of the shoulders not only caves in the chest, making it more difficult to breathe and worsening self-esteem, but it places extra stress on the middle and lower back, which tighten and contort to help hold you up. Improper posture also softens the belly, making it harder to stabilize and contract the core. By rolling those shoulders down the back and away from the ears, you lift the chest, activate the whole core, which draws you up out of the waist and better supports the spinal column, and feel better about yourself.

 

There is another part to combating low back pain. In the latest edition (July 2012) of the American Council on Exercise’s Certified News, Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, M.D., states that the key to treating this epidemic is not only exercise, but the “baggage” the patient brings into the doctor’s office along with them. He goes on to talk about how orthopedic surgeons are changing the ways they handle patients and their treatment.

 

We’ve seen the same studies every other doctor has that unequivocally connect stress with immune dysfunction and disease, but we haven’t connected all the dots on how to help patients who are stressed out. Mind and body are seen as two completely different and completely separate realms. We, as surgeons, all to often just deal with the physical; we don’t get the patients to the right person, or incorporate a team approach, or, perhaps most important of all, call on them to help themselves emotionally. The result is suboptimal healing and/or recovery and recurrent frame-related (or other) ailments.

 

That’s beginning to change in a big way. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a medical discipline, still in its formative stages, that was established to clarify the complex hormonal and biochemical triggers that alter the immune response and other physiological systems. Either these triggers allow your mind and central nervous system to give you a boost, or they set off a downward spiral.

 

The mind affects how you feel and how you heal.

 

Low-back pain, or any kind of physical pain for that matter, can either be exacerbated or alleviated by our mental and emotional responses to it.

 

He goes on to cite some methods that are beneficial to stop the impact of stress on the body, including implementing a relaxation breath (deep breathing), identifying stress “buttons,” and positive thinking, perhaps through guided imagery. (See article for more information.)

 

Dr. DiNubile’s article strikes a cord with me. Regardless of what you are facing, the most important thing one can do to help minimize stress and its related factors is to connect one’s mind and body. To become aware. Awareness is the first step toward healing, for when we can figure out what is going on inside of us, we can verbalize our needs.

Articles: June 2012

June 14, 2012

It’s that time again! Time to leave you with some great tips and articles from the American Council on Exercise Fitness Journal! I hope you enjoy them. Think green! Think creative! Be motivated! And when you slip off the horse, get right back on! The exercise horse may be a feisty guy, but he’s also patient. Once you fall off, he will wait for you to get back on his back.

Green exercise

Combating emotional eating

Green, leafy pre-workout foods

Yoga: Hazardous or Helpful

From Ancient Greece to Zumba: Part One and Part Two

And just because I love so many of the thoughts TED brings, here are some thoughts on happiness:

For whatever reason, I am feeling somewhat empty-headed today. Eh, it is one of those things. You go along, writing and teaching, to wake up one morning and have nothing to say on a day that you really need it. So, I looked elsewhere for something that spark my sleepy mind this morning and this is what sparked it:

 

May promises, found on a closed Facebook group I am a part of. Not entirely sure where the group “leader” found it…now that I say that, I see a web address (HAHA!)

 

This got me thinking about goal-setting. Do you have goals for your health and fitness routines? If so, can you name them? Are they reasonable? If not, why not? Is it because you are not ready to take the next step (which is perfectly acceptable; only those ready to help themselves will see lasting results)? Or is it because you put it off until “later”?

 

Setting SMART goals is vital to the success of your overall aim in healthy. SMART goals keep you motivated. They keep you focused. They keep you seeing what you want to see: results.

 

What does SMART stand for?

 

  • Specific: ask yourself the following questions: Why is this goal being created? What are the benefits? Who is involved (does it involve one or more

    Don’t forget these wonderful benefits of a healthy lifestyle! goalltogetherfit.tumblr.com

    persons)? What needs to be accomplished? What are the eventual outcome or steps that are desired? Where will the goals be accomplished (gym, work, home, etc)?

  • Measurable: this is more than just what the scale reads. Make sure you notice how you feel, what good behaviors you are/have developed, how your clothes fit, and the positive reinforcement give by others when suddenly, out of the blue, they say “Wow, you look great!” (Caution: don’t go seeking praise; you’ll only be disappointed.)
  • Attainable: assess your abilities, skills, and attitudes toward the outcomes you desire and determine whether the goal is within reach. If it is realistic, you will be able and more willing to reach for it; if not, consider breaking it down into smaller steps or reassessing what may be completely unrealistic. Remember, belief is everything!
  • Relevant: pertinent to your unique needs, interests, and abilities; helps with motivation!
  • Time-bound: keeping a schedule or time frame in which you want to accomplish a reasonable goal enables you to take incremental steps in the right direction toward your overall, biggest goals.

 

So, again, what are your goals? Perhaps you aren’t yet ready to start a diet or exercise regimen. No worries! You’ll get there. What are you ready to do?

 

It can be anything. I know several people who, as of recently, have decided to tackle the rut of negative thinking that they’ve fallen into. They find something to be thankful for each day. Others take one unhealthy behavior and work on it until it becomes a healthy, satisfying, easy habit. Then there are the people who have outlasted their New Year’s resolutions and are thriving in their workouts.

 

The most important fact to remember about setting goals is this: the power to control your health rests within your hands. Seriously. No matter how hard anyone else tries (and trust me, I’m a fitness instructor and I want to help everyone who enters my classes), no one can help you unless, or until, you are ready to help yourself.

 

There are a few ways of surveying yourself to see if you are ready to take the next step (whatever it may be):

 

  • Ask yourself: am I ready? Perhaps you aren’t. There are other external factors going on in your life at the moment that prevent you from focusing on a new regimen. Take care of these antecedents (emotions or situations that precede a certain behavior…these are not always bad) that block you from setting your goals.
  • Ask yourself: do I really care? This makes a huge difference. Everyone comes at health and wellness regimens with different mindsets. Some are in what we call a precontemplation stage, where they have no desire to change, or a contemplation stage, where they are weighing the pros and cons of changing one or more behaviors. Preparation stage mindsets include getting ready to make the change, even starting the routine, but sporadically; while action and maintenance mindsets practice and incorporate new behaviors into your lifestyle. It is always important to keep in mind that anything can cause a relapse, or a discontinuation of the current healthy behavior being practiced. Don’t beat yourself up over it. If you can, continue as you have as soon as is possible. If you cannot, deal with the stressors in your life before resuming your behaviors.
  • Ask yourself: is it worth it? If you perceive more cons than pros of a certain behavior, you are less likely to do it.
  • Ask yourself: why am I doing this? Many people seek acceptance and start regimens that are too tough. If this is you: stop! Self-worth does not come from others; it comes from yourself.

 

I would like to leave you with a bit of cognitive restructuring: the ability to turn negative thoughts into positive, reinforcing ones. I think this is possibly the most important aspect of healthy lifestyles. If you believe you can do it, even if you fail the first few times at the behavior,you will succeed. Sometimes, we have to help ourselves in this process, of course. It is nice to have that pedicure after a month’s long, hard work in which we attained our reasonable goal of losing 8 pounds.

 

But extrinsic rewards are not the point to developing healthy lifestyles. Intrinsic rewards, those positive feelings of self-worth and genuine happiness over the way our bodies (and minds and souls) feel, are what really count. When you feel great, when you feel happy, when you notice that you are not so negative or down on yourself (and, by extension, others), you have really gotten the gist of cognitive restructuring. We all fail. We all fall flat on our faces. It is those who laugh and get back on their feet, who refuse to let their failures conquer them, who succeed. They are the happiest, healthiest, most positive people living.

 

Another inspirational visual from IShapeMe.

 

Resources:

American Council on Exercise. ACE Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual, 2nd Ed. USA, 2008; p. 283-284, 330-331, 337.

 

A special “THANK YOU” to Amanda Easton for finding all these great inspirational pictures and words, and posting them for the rest of her group!