Be Stress Free for Free!

I've been working in the health and fitness industry for years. Between selling gym memberships and coaching clients to use stress management for overall health, I hear one complaint over and over again:

"It's too expensive to get healthy!"

Between the gym membership, personal trainer, heart rate monitor, $100 sneakers (when did kicks get so freaking expensive?!), an organic/whole foods diet... I get it and I completely validate that getting healthy can feel like a MAJOR money suck.

Truth be told, slowly changing habits makes it way easier to adjust, but sometimes getting big change requires making big changes and I'm happy to tell you, stress management exercises are as cheap as cheap can get.

How cheap, you ask?

I'm talking that Thursday before payday cheap. Most of them fall under my favorite four letter word: FREE!

And thank goodness for that because stress is taking a HUGE toll on our health. Both Eastern and Western practitioners both agree that chronic stress can make you sick (or sicker) and cause weight gain. Plus, we all know how exhausting it feels to constantly be jumping through those stressful mental hoops and it's a lot easier to get healthy when that's not (as much as) a factor.

Stress management has physiological, mental, and emotional benefits. Just to name a few - it reduces inflammation, food cravings, and improves clarity and focus. Stress management truly is the missing piece to getting focused, hitting your goals, and luckily enough, it costs absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G to add it to your wellness plan today!

All you've gotta know is where to begin so I picked my favorite stress management technique and broke it down into simple, basic steps to get you on the road to a stronger mind, body and soul in 2018 (that won't break the bank!)

STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUE: DEEP BELLY BREATHING

Deep belly breathing is such an easy and effective method of stress management, it seems crazy to me that I never used it before. We spend so much time stressed and wandering in thought that we start breathing in shorter breaths that stay in the torso and chest. This is because stress is activating your fight or flight state (sympathetic nervous system) which shortens your breath. When you get very stressed or angry and someone reminds you to take deep breaths, it calms you down and switches you into your rest and digest state (parasympathetic nervous system). We all have this reaction, but it seems strange that we don't use this tool all the time to quell our overworked brain.

Now, don't get it twisted., this isn't meditation. Meditation is amazing, but it's advanced and a lot to take on if you've never kept a practice before. Deep belly breathing is less about the soul connection and more about calming the body and focusing the mind.

Step 1: Schedule 5-10 minutes every morning (start with 5 and build) to simply breathe and keep this appointment with yourself. You wouldn't miss an appointment with a doctor, don't miss one with yourself.

Step 2: Sit in a comfortable seated position with your posture straight and your shoulders back and down. If this position is uncomfortable for you, start by laying down on your back. Whichever position you choose, place your hands palm side down on your lower abdomen.

Step 3: Set a timer for the amount of time you want to focus on breathing and set an alarm.

Step 4: Take a deep breath in and allow the air to fill your belly. Watch it expand. If your belly doesn't expand, don't worry, this will come over time as you practice.

Step 5: When you exhale, allow your belly to contract as you let all the air slowly escape your body. Repeat at a comfortable pace until your alarm goes off.

This is my favorite technique because it's not only free and instantly effective, you can do it anytime, anywhere with no negative side effects! Doing it daily allows for mental clarity and focus to begin your day which is ALWAYS helpful for setting up a healthy routine.

If you try this technique or you already use it, comment and let me know! I'd love to hear your experience!

Peace, love & light,

Carolyn

 

Holiday Mindset

Okay, it's here. Christmas is this week, NYE next week, and even as a Jewish woman, I can't help but get caught up in a little of the madness. 

A few years ago, I loved this time of year. Party after party filled with friends, alcohol, and FOOD GALORE fueled my social butterfly spirit and I always allowed myself to indulge. Cheating was too easy and everyone else was doing it too. It was a time for celebration and with New Years on the horizon, I felt like I had an excuse to eat whatever I wanted because, come January, I was starting fresh. 

It's a dirty trick my mind plays on me and, considering that "holiday weight gain" is a recurring topic of conversation, I have to assume I'm not alone. 

When I spent my first year on the Overcoming MS plan, the holiday season was torture for me. I couldn't have any of my favorite peppermint chocolate bark, pigs in a blanket, or baked brie. I went to parties and watched everyone else enjoy the sugary high of cookies, cake, and brownies while I drowned my sorrows into a glass of red wine. It was hard and miserable, but it was worth it. 

I got to feel good during the holiday season. I got to dress up in cute clothes, wear heels, drink wine, celebrate with my friends, and have no sluggish, self hating side effects.

The next year, I felt a little more prepared. I came with tupperware filled with desserts I could enjoy too. I made sure to eat a full meal at home before parties and make sure to drink lots of water while there. I made clear guidelines for what I could eat and I stuck to it. I practiced mindfulness about my eating and I noticed that this year was significantly easier than the last. There will always be sugar cookies, there's no emergency to eat them (all lol) tonight. 

I don't want to pretend like I've never cheated on my diet. I have and I still do occasionally. It's a process I'm working on still and just like anyone else, I'm still human. What I do want to express is that, if you give yourself the holidays to go wild with your diet like I used to, just remember to breathe and be conscious. Indulging a little bit during the season isn't going to throw you off your health journey, but things like buying that entire bag of chocolate because it was 50% off after Christmas is taking it too far. 

Take 10 minutes to sit down and write out a holiday road map for yourself. Set up guidelines to get you through celebrations (ex: stick to 2 glasses of wine, only eat the dessert you brought, stick to one plate of food, etc) and then stick to it! Following through on your plan will help you curb holiday weight gain and will make you feel stronger mentally and emotionally.

If you resonated with this article, just remember: You've got this. No one will die, the food won't go to waste, and there will always be other opportunities to cheat so don't be afraid to skip the buffet table and enjoy the other parts of the holidays. The people you don't usually get to see, the pretty decorations, exchanging gifts, and feeling grateful for all the warm, wonderful experiences you've had this year. 

Love, light & peace.  

Five Free Ways to Take Care of Your Health

I hear it all the time: taking care of yourself is too expensive. 

In a way, it's true. Organic, whole foods, gym memberships, exercise clothes, and hiring a coach can really add up! No joke, all my money goes to it. 

That being said, there are a lot of things I do that don't cost me a dime that are crucial to my wellness plan. I know how expensive the holiday season is so I wanted to give you a couple of free  exercises to focus on that helps reduce stress and strengthen your mindset muscle (an important part of any health, weight loss, or symptom management plan!)

When we stress mentally, physically, or emotionally, we're triggering the fight or flight stress response. That response puts us into a state where our only concern is survival so we start burning sugar instead of fat, creating inflammation to protect cells and tissues, and we're creating inflammation around the frontal lobe which affects decision making. If you're trying to slow down symptoms or lose weight, you're setting yourself up for failure when you constantly trigger your fight or flight but luckily, there are a few completely free ways to take you our of your fight or flight and put you into your rest and digest state. The goal is to align your mind and body to set you up for healing. 

Exercise 1: Practice deep belly breathing

Have you ever gotten really stressed out and then sat down to take a few deep breaths? You feel better within a few minutes and thats because stress has a huge impact on our physical body. To get the most benefits from deep breathing, you want to sit in a comfortable position, put your hands on your belly, and breathe in until your belly fully expands. Then breath out. 

This isn't meditation, it's simply to learn how to breathe effectively to put your body in it's rest and digest state so that your nervous system can be working in your favor. 

Exercise 2: Spend time in silence

This is a busy time of year and it's a time where you tend to focus on everyone else BUT you. Instead of allowing the season to overwhelm you, carve out a little time each day to be silent. That means no phone, no distractions, just a couple of minutes to be quiet and give your brain a stimulus rest. 

This allows your brain to rest and relax so it can make clear, focused & effective decisions instead of exhausted and "fried out" ones. 

Exercise 3: Monitor your heart rate

Continually stressing the body puts you at risk for increased inflammation and late night cravings and by not checking your heart rate, you don't know if your workouts are working for or against you. This can easily be achieved by monitoring your heart rate. 

And I know, those heart rate monitors on the market right now are cool, but crazy expensive and wearing a chest strap looks annoying. I get it. But you're forgetting something.... humans have been tracking their heart rate far before technology. 

Every 5 minutes, stop your workout and take your pulse with your fingers on your wrist. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4. Keep your workouts in your fat burning range and not only will you see the scale drop, you may have a reduction in those workout provoked symptoms. 

Exercise 4: Stretch your body

Real talk, it's crazy that we don't stretch more. Especially considering that most of us sit at desks all day, stretching could do us a world of good but few of us do it! Taking 10-15 minutes in the morning to stretch will release tension, increase flexibility, and helps you feel "less tight" through your day. 

Try a yoga class or the yoga studio app to learn all the best ways to stretch and release your muscles. 

Exercise 5: Write in a journal every morning

This exercise (Morning Pages) was developed by Julia Cameron and is incredibly powerful. Basically, each morning, you write 3 pages of whatever you want. In the beginning, 3 pages may seem like a lot, but even if you're just clearing out the cobwebs in your brain (what you ate yesterday, how you feel about work, etc), that's just making space for inspiration and creativity to flow. Soon, ideas will start coming out and 3 pages won't seem like enough room to get it all out! 

Remember, these are all just suggestions (and there are so many more things you can do!) and by no means do you have to do them all at once. Pick one and make it into a routine. As that gets easier, you can always add more! 

If you try any of these, already do them, or have your own free mindfulness practice - leave a comment below to let us know about your experience!

Peace, love & light. 

The Goal Behind the Goal

Who's Goal Is It Anyway?

I've been obsessed with losing weight since I was about 8 years old. There was pressure from everywhere - the media, my doctors, and my family all threatened an unhappy existence if I didn't lose weight and I wanted nothing more than to live the life they were insisting I'd be missing out on.

They told me I had to. They told me I was at risk for diabetes and heart problems. They told me I should be bullied, that I wouldn't have friends, and that men wouldn't want to date me if I was heavy (sidetone: this was absolutely untrue). They flaunted the idea of bikini's and short shorts and skimpy outfits that I didn't really care about fitting into in the first place. They told me all of this, but the only thing I wanted was to prove to them that I was worth being loved and accepted and being called attractive but I knew that until I lost weight, I wouldn't get that validation. 

Over the years, as my weight continued to increase, despite my efforts, I became frustrated. I was trying so hard to get the weight loss part over with so I could finally live my life. I was mostly happy. I had great friends and family, a boyfriend, and was going to college in Boston but I felt like my life was on pause because I needed to accomplish the weight loss goal before investing time into a new goal. Instead of traveling or exploring the life I wanted to live, I was putting all my mental energy and stress into the number on the scale and I hated every minute of it.

Now, after losing 140+ lbs, I can look back and see what I was doing wrong and why my efforts weren't producing results. I was chasing a goal, not because I wanted it, but because everyone else told me I had to want it. I wanted validation, not weight loss, and because of that, I never resonated with their reasoning. 

It took designing a plan aligned with my own desires to finally have success in my weight loss journey and it all started with finding the goal behind the goal. 

How I Figured Out My Real Goal

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (and googled it because I didn't know what the heck it was), I was devastated. Being 20 years old and thinking about being in a wheelchair filled my brain with panic and as I stressed over the idea of physical paralysis, I didn't realize I was putting my mindset into a state of mental and emotional paralysis.

In 2014, just shy of 5 years post diagnosis, I had an MS flare that left me unable to walk more than a short hobble to the bathroom and back. I had no choice but to slow down and think. I didn't want this life. I didn't want to be obese, I didn't want to have MS, I didn't want any of it! It was a low moment, but it was that exact moment when everything changed.

I knew, I wanted to feel healthy and strong. I wanted to travel and be able to dance, run, jump, walk, all without assistance. I wanted to live my life where I wasn't constantly fearing my future, but instead, being excited and inspired by the opportunity to create it. 

That was the moment I realized that I'd been so caught up in trying to change who I was for everyone else that I wasn't thinking about the person that I wanted to be.

Where To Begin

If you're in a similar boat as I was, trying to accomplish goals that someone else set up for you, don't get overwhelmed. I know it feels daunting, but this is the beginning of the fun part. This is creating your happiness based on what YOU want, and what could be better than that? 

Step 1: Create a Health/Wellness Bucket List

Writing down a list of things you want to do instead of focusing on a goal you're told you need to do makes putting in the work much more meaningful. Take a few days and start jotting things down. The more you think about it, the easier it will be to think about what you want to do. 

If you've always wanted to be able to salsa dance or run a marathon or hike a mountain, pick one of those as your 2018 goal and then use a mind map (see step 2) to find the most effective path to achieving it! 

Step 2: Create a Mind Map

There's a reason you were taught how to make a brainstorm map in elementary school. The adult version seems to be called a mind map, but real talk, it's the same thing (which is cool, because that means you already know how to do this!) 

Just put your goal in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. Then extend 3-4 lines from that circle and write what you need to do to get there. After that, break it down into even smaller details (and you can continue that process for as long as you need). Once you do that, you can set up small actionable steps (see step 3) based on what you need to hit your goal in 2018!

Need more information? Here is a website dedicated to mind mapping and how to use them effectively.

Step 3: Take Action

Once you've got everything in front of you, it makes it a lot easier to see the steps you need to take to get to your goal. Remember, this is about you doing something that you want to do, so let it be fun and exciting! Just because you're growing doesn't mean it has to be a miserable journey. 

If your goal is to learn to salsa dance, maybe your extensions were:

1. Increase flexibility.

2. Take a salsa class each week.

3. Practice 3x a week.

Based on your mind map, you can look at what you need to do and then create 1-3 realistic steps you can start taking to hit your goal each week. Perhaps start with a goal to stretch (or better yet, foam roll) for 15 minutes each morning and simply sign up for your first class. These steps seem small, but they are just the beginning and you can always grow from here. 

Let your health and happiness be side effects to healthy living. Just because you aren't focusing directly on weight loss doesn't mean that you won't lose weight if you shift your goal, it just means that you won't be driving yourself crazy in the interim. 

My 5 Tips to Avoid Binge Eating During the Holidays!

My main coping mechanism is definitely binge eating.

It's something I've been doing since I was a kid and, just like lots of other people, it's a habit deep ingrained in my psyche that looooovvvvveeessss to feed on this time of year. Pun intended because I'm kinda lame like that. ;-)

I'm the girl that doesn't eat dairy, chocolate, gluten, or coconut (and hasn't for years)... yet I still find myself lost for hours in the deep trenches of Pinterest holiday dessert boards.

I'm the girl who lingers by the food table at a party trying to convince myself that one tiny piece of that homemade "chocolate toffee crack" won't lead to me eating a giant piece of chocolate cake, 3 cookies, and a brownie right after.  

I'm the girl who wanders the candy aisle at the supermarket, staring at the Reeses trees (why are these so much better than the cups!?) that are on "super sale" for the season.

I know I don't need it (or really even want it), but it's there in my face over and over again and my willpower works like a muscle, it gets fatigued with overuse.

So what can I do?!

If any of this sounds like you, you're not alone, and luckily, there's lots of tricks to getting through without completely ruining your plan or feeling like you're missing out! I've spent a lot of time working on my stress management and coping issues and now, while it's still tough, I no longer feel like I'm trapped on a runaway sled filled with chocolate and shame.  

TIP 1: Develop a mantra or an affirmation and don't be afraid to use it constantly.

I use "Why not you" as my mantra and I use it ALL THE TIME. In the morning, when I'm exercising, when I don't feel like meal prepping, or even while I'm standing at the doorstep of a binge. I say it over and over through the day and now, when I'm faced with a decision of cheating, the mantra grounds me back to my goal. With my goal in mind, it's a lot easier to say no and that will continue to get easier as you continue to use it.

TIP 2: Track your food.

Knowing how much you're eating day to day is a fantastic tool to use any time, but it's key to not getting carried away for the holidays. Use an online tracker (I like MyFitnessPal) to calculate how many calories and nutrients you're getting. Once you realize how much you're taking in, you can be more mindful and exercise a bit more control when you find yourself in a tricky mind warp. 

TIP 3: Practice Mindfulness

This piece of advice used to drive me crazy. How do I practice mindfulness when my brain is already 50 thoughts ahead of itself? It has to be built up. Just like every other routine, it's important to start small and go slow, but if you start incorporating more mindfulness into your routine now, you'll build that willpower muscle a bit more before the parties begin.

Pick something that you do every day that only takes a couple of minutes (brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, etc) and bring your focus to the activity at hand. If your mind wanders, don't get upset... just notice it and bring it back to the present moment. Bringing your attention repeatedly back to the present is like weight lifting for your brain and starting with just a few minutes a day will set yourself up for the holidays and beyond.  

TIP 4: Bring your own.

I refuse to skip dessert, especially on a holiday. I want to eat well and feel good but I also REALLY don't want to miss out on the fun of indulging. That's why I always bring my own. Bringing your own dish or dessert (or both) does a few things. First of all, it's considerate to your host, so kudos on you! Secondly, it takes away the stress of what you'll be eating. You planned ahead and have a go to option every time someone asks you to hit the buffet line with them. Third of all (and probably not the last, but I'm only including three), it allows other people to try the food that you eat to show them how delicious and satisfying healthier options can be! 

TIP 5: Be kind to yourself.

This is the season of giving and sometimes we get so caught up in being kind to everyone else, we forget to give that love and positivity to ourselves as well. Realistically, even with all these things, you may still "slip up" on your diet. Don't let it get to you, one unhealthy night isn't going to outweigh all the hard work you've done. You ate some food that you shouldn't have and instead of letting that snowball through the month, you can just jump right back on your plan. It's not the occasional indulgence that's the problem, so enjoy one brownie, log it in your tracker, and get up the next morning and hit the gym. 

 

I hope these tips will help you set up your defenses so you don't go completely overboard this season. If things get too hard, take a deep breath, go outside for a breath of fresh air, and remind yourself that all of this will get easier if you keep putting it to practice. 

With love & light,

Carolyn