Fitness, Wellness

The mind-body connection

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Our minds and bodies are so deeply connected, but most of the time we are so unaware of it. When many of us workout we zone out and daydream without really paying attention to what we’re doing. The workout ends up feeling like a chore that we dread and then we just go through the motions without really any second thought. Ultimately this leads to half-assed effort with very little results. How often have you exercised without really making any progress or really feeling the benefits of it?

I can’t tell you how many people that I see at the gym going on and on every day, doing the same thing looking pretty bored, but still having that glimmer of hope that they are going to reach whatever goal they have set in front on them. Think about it this way: How many people do you see regularly at the gym, or group classes or training outside whose body hasn’t really changed at all? They’re still going, but there’s no change, no progress. When you mindlessly exercise, your body can’t connect to the movement and when that happens, there’s really no point in training. You run risk of injuring yourself because you’re not paying attention, your form could start to go and your body could give out without your even noticing. What’s more is that everything at the gym and even with at-home workouts, is a hazard. You could easily have some kind of misstep that could lead to some sort of accident. It can be pretty scary. And yet, I see countless people with their headphones on, blasting their music, getting all up in my space as I’m lifting and all I keep thinking is “get out of my way dumbass, I will drop this barbell on you and it will hurt!”. Now I’m resorting to literally yelling at people to push over or watch out. When you’re bored and not paying attention during training, accidents will happen. But that’s just one part if this story.

When you train, your body is constantly sending you signals to how it’s doing and how it’s feeling. If you bring your awareness to your body you’ll be able to feel when the weight may be too light and you can handle a greater load, or when your form is off and it’s time to adjust. If you’re not paying attention then you could easily be lifting too light and won’t see any gains, or be lifting too heavy and won’t feel it until the next day when you can barely move. Mindless exercising will get you nowhere; you’ll just be wasting your time and money on being bored.

The first step in changing this up is to start considering your workouts as your ‘you time’. Most people I know, especially parents, always say that they never have time for themselves. So for now, look at the time at the gym or outside, as time you get to have all to yourself doing something positive for YOU. This will not only help change gears from viewing workouts as a chore to, but it will also give you something to look forward to. When I started doing this, massive changes started happening and now, I love being at the gym and being immersed in that environment. It gives me the chance to disconnect from my day and my endless to-do list, and instead shift my focus to something positive and in the present moment.

The next step is to bring your attention to your muscles as you exercise. This mind-muscle connection is a huge component for how your body will ultimately end up looking. What you are basically doing here focusing on the working muscle as you move. For example, in a squat, ideally you want to focus on shifting your weight so that you dig your heels into the ground as you rise up. This puts all of the resistance into your glutes, making the area stronger and eventually firmer. Another example that is sooooo common that it makes me mad, is actually cardio based. The elliptical and stepper are two very popular cardio machines, but most people are doing it all wrong. On the elliptical most tend to hold on to the handles that move. Now this may seem great for cardio because you end up moving faster, but what actually happens is you end up using the momentum to move while taking all of the resistance out. So you might be moving fast, but you’re also bouncing around not really engaging your muscles and ultimately hindering any potential progress. Another thing to note is your foot placement. Most tend to lift up their heels as they move, coming up onto the ball of the foot. This moves all of the weight onto the calves instead of the glutes and hamstrings, and you will never get rid of that cellulite by working out your calves and bouncing around. On the other hand, with the stepper the pattern in to hold onto the bars and lock the arms completely taking the entire load off of the legs. You might as well just go for a walk outside instead at that point because you are not doing anything to sculpt your muscles. Yes, it will feel a lot easier to exercise in that way, but you’re also cheating and not ding a whole hell of a lot for your body. Remember that your workout is supposed to be challenging and you are meant to feel the resistance. That’s how we get stronger, leaner and firmer.

All of this is to say that the more in tune you are with the working muscle, the greater the body will respond to the movement. The greater the response, the greater the results. It’s all interconnected. All of this makes it far simpler to shape and sculpt your body. So if you are really ready to firm up and slim down, start paying attention and bring your mind to your body as you train.

 

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Nutrition, Wellness

The Scarcity Diet

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What’s the most common thing that people do right before going on a diet? Binge eat. That’s right, when most of us decide that it’s time to take control of our health we also decide to go all out for one last hurrah. The thinking here is that you will never get to eat these things ever again so you might as well enjoy it while you still can. This is the scarcity mindset and it is the most counterproductive thing that you can do that will ultimately sabotage your resolve before you even get started.

Most of us equate dieting with deprivation and restriction. We see it as a fad that is totally ineffective in the long run, and yet we still get on board. Billions of dollars are spent every year in the diet and fitness industry and so many of us embark on this journey with the best intentions, while subconsciously feeling skeptical. This thinking is all based on past experiences where it was really hard or too intense and restrictive or it cost a fortune and you just didn’t get the results you wanted, or someone close to you experienced these things. As the saying goes “everybody’s got a story” and this case is no different. Whether you’re aware of it or not, these issues dictate your entire experience and outcome.

When we choose to overeat leading up to a new diet plan we’re already in that state of mind where we’re thinking that this is it and we’ll never get to eat anything tasty again. So instead of being upper jazzed up about starting something healthy, we’re going into it kinda bummed out, thinking that this is going to totally suck. Mindset really is the key to long lasting change and continuous progress. Your willpower alone will not get you there, otherwise you’d already be a size 4 with a 6-pack of abs! If you at any point feel restricted or feel that sense of food scarcity, the diet will fail you.

All of this doesn’t mean that you’ll never reach your goal, because countless people have turned their lives around and kept the weight off. In order for this to work, you have to truly want to do this and have to fully believe that you will succeed. Understand that it will take work on your part and make peace with that, but keep your eye on the prize and focus on that vision of constant progress towards a lifetime of great health.

Another key component to getting your mind right is to not plan too far in advance. For example, many people during the holidays decided that starting in the new year they are going to finally start exercising and losing weight. The problem is that in this case you are relying on the timing being perfect in terms of not having events to go to where there will be decadent food at your disposal. However, there will always be holidays, gatherings, work events, dinners, luncheons, cocktail hours and all kinds of other social events that will occur and that you will take part in. That stuff doesn’t just end. So waiting for the time to be just right is actually never going to happen. What are you going to do come Easter or come your birthday or vacation or girls night out? Stop waiting and start doing. Start right now and go at a pace that works for you. ease yourself into it by slowly incorporating healthy habits into your life as it is at this moment. Go to bed a little early (even if it’s just 5 minutes earlier), have a glass of water when you get out of bed (before you start knocking back the coffee), walk up the escalator, add a little more veg to your dinner. Simplicity is your best friend for lasting change.

Instead of the all or nothing approach, look at what you have right in front of you and start to make some simple changes. This has been huge for me and it is exactly what has prevented me from getting into that scarcity mindset. In the past, I’ve gone ahead and stuffed myself before any new regiment, but last year I started approaching it differently and I continue to do so. It’s what has gotten me through 3 contest preps and my first photoshoot prep as well and has allowed me to maintain my results after the fact. Keep in mind that there will always be an abundance of food and food-related social gatherings in your life, so there is no need to eat everything just because it’s there or just because this may be your only time to try it. eat the food that actually looks good to you and that you know tastes great. And most of all, eat when you’re hungry (not starving!), when you’re full just stop or slow it down and pack up the leftovers for another time.

Wellness

What Self-Care Really Means

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Chronic stress is a huge problem. Everyone gets it, everyone feels it. Our lifestyles are busy, our days are jam packed all the time and when we’re not on the go, we’re usually caught in the endless cycle of scrolling through social media instead of hitting the hay. I get it, I’m pretty much there all the time, but there are some things that we can all do to take the edge off. This is where self-care comes in and just like a diet, there’s no “one size fits all” solution.

Self—care has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially with all of the wellness coaching programs coming out. People are slowly starting to understand the importance of taking the absolute best care of yourself all the time, especially during times of stress. Self-care is also one of the hardest things to do when the shit hits the fan. As much as you may want to just wrap yourself up in a blanket and shut out the world, it may not be the best solution, although sometimes I must admit that it definitely is.

Think about the last time you were under some serious stress or you got thrown a massive curve ball with no warning. Chances are you probably weren’t getting much rest, the gym was out of the question and nutrition consisted of grabbing a couple of Oreos as you ran out to whatever you were dealing with. Again, that’s pretty much been me; in a time of crisis or super busy workdays where there’s a lot on the line, everything else stops and all of your focus goes into dealing with this big problem. It’s rough and it’s hard to see beyond that when you’re fully immersed in it. Whether it’s a love one who is suddenly unwell or work takes a turn for the worst and your job is on the line or you’re raising your kids and trying to take care of your household, or you’ve suddenly got some scary financial stuff come up, it’s all very intense and it weighs heavily on us.

Apart from the aforementioned raising kids, I’ve experienced all of the above so I totally get it. In the last couple of weeks, things have gotten so stressful for me; I’ve come home practically in tears on the verge of a meltdown. Just last week during my weekly mastermind group session, the woman who runs our group spent 20 minutes guiding me through a meditation and trying to talk me down from the proverbial ledge. In the midst of all of this craziness, I’ve still been going to the gym regularly, but my nutrition is still something that I struggle with (a bite of chocolate here, a little extra pasta there and maybe an extra spoonful of peanut butter) and sleep has been non-existent. But an interesting thing happened yesterday. I had the choice to either go home or go to the gym and I chose the latter, which was without question the smart move for me. A few sets into my workout and I started to feel better, calmer and clear headed. When I did go home, my mood had improved and I was able to enjoy the evening with my hubby and our two baby rabbits that we adopted about a month ago. I ultimately knew that what I needed was to go to gym, not to workout my frustrations or channel all of my anger into weightlifting, but to get some movement in and shift my focus away from the stress. Had I gone home, I would have probably spent a big part of the night bawling my eyes out and letting the stress take over, and that was something that I knew I didn’t need. I knew that that wouldn’t serve me in anyway or resolve anything, in fact it would only amplify it, so I chose to do something healthier instead.

This is not to say that the answer is always hit the gym and grind it out, because sometimes it’s the exact opposite that you need. Although you may hear a lot of fitness gurus say that in times of stress that’s when you really need to hit the weights hard and push yourself. However, if you’ve been training hard consistently and for a long time, then it might be a good idea to take in an extra rest day (don’t worry, your physique won’t suddenly turn to mush). Or maybe you’ve been dieting down for a while and have been losing lots of weight and the thought of steamed veg with grilled tofu is just not gonna cut it. In that case consider eating a treat meal or just having something a little bit heartier and comforting like a warm stew with some sprouted grain bread or some lasagna made with brown rice noodles and tofu ricotta, or even some oatmeal with a little drizzle of maple syrup and some walnuts. Maybe it’s sleep that you really need, so try taking a hot shower and having a warm cup of chamomile tea in the evening before curling up in bed.

The idea here is to tune in to your emotions and do what you really need and what will serve you best. Self-awareness is a big component of that and it does take some time to gain that, but gradually with time you will get there. So if your day is tough or you’re dealing with a lot, take a step back and see what you are in need of and take it from there. Always keep in mind that before you can truly take care of anyone else and really give your best to something or someone, you have to take care of yourself. You have to be healthy as this is what allows you to be in the right mindset and with the right energy to approach whatever is coming your way. Always prioritize your health and your overall well-being above everything else, and then the rest will just happen and fall right into place.

Denise K

P.S. In case you missed it, check out this morning’s FB Live where I went into extra detail on the importance of self-care.