Exercise, Self-Care, and Finding the Right Balance to Boost Your Overall Wellness

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

Please check out this excellent article by Shiela Olson which explores the delicate balance between pushing yourself to the next level and nurturing yourself at the same time.

– By Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com

You’ve decided you’re ready to stop perpetuating a cycle of sleeping in on weekends, spending weeknights slumped over in your couch, and eating out at greasy burger joints every other meal. You’re ready to live a healthier and happier lifestyle, and you’ve known the answer all along — diet and exercise. Diets aren’t very effective when practiced every other week, and fitness requires you to keep up and even build up the intensity over time.

So, what’s the secret?

The Importance of Prolonging Good Fitness

When someone decides they are ready to start running every day, or some other form of exercise, they typically feel this fire within themselves to keep it up. You go in for your first day, and you feel exhausted, but you also still feel pretty good knowing that you’ve taken your first step at getting healthy. After a few more gym sessions, you notice that you aren’t just tired but also sore, and that goodwill for better living starts to feel a little less compelling.

It’s natural to give it your all the first few times before your mind and body start to naturally resist the transformation that is occurring. It’s the kind of transformation that people from all walks of life seek to make their lives better. It’s why so many recovering addicts start running and bodybuilding. Exercise not only changes how we look on the outside but how we feel on the inside. It reduces stress and boosts positive self-image and confidence.

The process of transformation can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, especially when you’re just starting out, which is why it is important to not overdo it. If you work too hard or put too much emphasis on your physical fitness, you run the risk of burning out and not making the kind of progress you are looking for.

The Meaning Behind Self-Care

Right now, the buzzword of the day seems to be self-care. People are starting to collectively realize that we don’t need to punish ourselves to live our best lives. Exercise shouldn’t be something you dread to do but something you look forward to. To remedy this natural resistance to living healthier and a fitness-oriented lifestyle, people are turning to self-care as a way to supplement diet and exercise and avoid burning out during the process.

One of the ways you can practice self-care is by leaving plenty of rest days in between workouts to give your body time to recover. Recovery is essential to practicing good physical fitness and ensuring you have enough energy to keep going back to grind week after week. Self-care also addresses showing yourself love in alternative ways. Exercise is important for our physical health, but we also need to consider our mental and emotional health as well. Beyond exercise, there are a number of activities you can do, such as meditation, reading a book, or pursuing a hobby, that can all fill a specific need you have in your life.

The Need for Balance in Your Life

When you approach your physical fitness as just one piece of the puzzle, then you can start looking at other ways to enhance your life, while not overdoing your diet and exercise. You won’t just be working hard, you’ll be working smart. You’ll know that there are many activities you can work on to improve your overall well-being. By balancing out these different self-care activities, you will always make yourself better while also keeping a very diverse routine. Some days, you will be focused on your physical fitness, but when you need to rest and recover, you can then switch gears and focus on your mental and emotional health as well.

Once you decide it’s time to make a change, you’ve already started your journey to improve your wellness. You may have attempted to change your life a few times now, but all of those past experiences were just the lead up to this one moment where you finally committed to achieving personal wellness and living your best life.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

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My Experience With Food Intolerance

Before I began competing in 2009, I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted without any digestive or reactive consequence. All that changed by the time I earned my IFBB Pro Card in 2013, when I developed a number of food intolerances which forced me to change the way I ate and what I consumed. It was so bizarre for me to mount reactions to healthy foods which had never caused an issue in the past. During one particular contest prep regimen, I began to notice that every single time I ate broccoli, I would get severe abdominal cramps and a headache which persisted for an entire day (now they last for 3-5 days if I am stupid enough to eat even one small floret). I honestly believe that the extreme and repetitive meal plans which I consumed while competing were major factors in the development of my food intolerance issues.

I retired from competing in June of 2014, yet I developed even more food issues. I noticed that other foods were aggravating my gut, my skin, my head and my mood, so I decided to eliminate them. In January of 2015, I had an ALCAT food intolerance test, and discovered that broccoli on the list of offending foods for me. I also had SEVERE gluten intolerance, as well as intolerance to coconut, flaxseed, mangoes, casein, blueberries, and a number of other foods which are considered healthy. In an effort to allow my body to calm down, I eliminated every food which I had any intolerance to (there were about 30 foods) for close to a year. To this day, I am very careful about the foods which my body rejects, and keep my exposure to a minimum.

I will allow myself to have blueberries, coconut, mango, lobster, cashews, bison, and spinach on rare occasion, and have noticed no reactions. However, I mount strong reactions to other foods and food combinations. For example, within two consecutive days of eating flaxseed, I develop one or two deep, painful, cystic pimples on my face which will not resolve until I stop eating flaxseed. When I eat gluten, I become irritable and emotional, I get headaches, my belly aches, and I don’t sleep well. Of course I didn’t know that this was the case until I did an elimination diet and gradually began feeling better, then tried eating gluten after many months of avoiding it. Every time I ingest gluten containing foods, I notice symptoms which can be mild or severe depending on the food and the quantity eaten. Pizza is VERY dangerous for me now, so if I am faced with the prospect of eating the cheesy, gluten filled meal, I have to take a Glutagest (which breaks down gluten in the food eaten) if I want to avoid the ugly consequences of allowing gluten to enter my body. The combination of pizza and wine is even worse. I might as well forget about functioning like a normal person for a couple of days if I dare to consume this food and drink duo.

I agree that the whole gluten-free trend has gotten a little out of hand, but I also strongly believe that there are many people walking around with gluten intolerance and other food intolerances who have no idea that the foods they are consuming are affecting their health and well-being. I have personally benefitted from going gluten free and avoiding foods my body rejects, and have been rewarded with more luminous skin, thicker hair, better digestion, better overall mood and energy, and much better sleep.

If you suspect that you have food intolerance, try eliminating the suspect food to see if it makes a difference. Trust your body’s signals. And if you want to get a food intolerance test, check out ALCAT.com and Everlywell.com for the kits they offer.

Do You Have Food Intolerance?

What Is Food Intolerance?

Have you ever noticed that when you eat a certain food, such as tuna, blueberries, avocado, asparagus or broccoli, that you get extremely bloated to the point that you are extremely uncomfortable? Since the foods I mentioned are celebrated for their many nutritional benefits, it might not occur to you that you most likely have an intolerance to that food. Up to 80% of the U.S. population has some form of food intolerance.

Most people are aware of food allergies, but food intolerance is a different phenomenon which can have a tremendous effect on a person’s quality of life. Food allergies appear quite suddenly, from seconds to minutes after ingestion of the offending food, and can be life-threatening, whereas food intolerance is a more gradual process (taking hours to a couple of days for symptoms to emerge), not life-threatening, and may only occur after a large amount of the food is eaten. Food allergies and food intolerance can both cause similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea, but food intolerance is notorious for causing bloating, heartburn, irritability, headaches and general malaise. The most common food allergy triggers are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, wheat, milk and eggs, while the foods most commonly associated with food intolerance are dairy products, gluten-containing grains, eggs, citrus, beans, cabbage, and broccoli.

People who are allergic to certain foods know that even a small amount of the food can trigger an allergic response, and the response occurs every single time the person is exposed. The immune system reacts to the food by causing a release of IgE antibodies, which then cause a release of histamines and cytokines designed to attack the offending agent. Sometimes the entire body is affected by this response, and symptoms such as shortness of breath, hives, rash, or a sudden drop in blood pressure can occur. Food intolerance, in contrast, is more insidious, and may only occur if a large amount of the triggering food is eaten or if it is consumed frequently. Trigger foods will cause a rise in IgA, IgG, and IgM antibodies, causing the body to mount a delayed reaction which is characterized by mostly gastrointestinal symptoms, but which can cause other symptoms as well. Regardless of how the body reacts, the discomfort caused by poor digestion of the food can be enough to make the sufferer miserable.

Why does food intolerance occur? There are several explanations. One cause is enzyme deficiency. All enzymes are specific to one type of molecule, such as lipases which break down fats. Sometimes an individual can be deficient or completely lacking in a very specific enzyme which is required for digestion of a particular food. A common example is found in lactose intolerant individuals who do not have enough lactase to break down the milk sugars into their constituent parts for absorption in the intestine. The lactose cannot be broken down so it sits in the intestine, causing bloating, spasm and diarrhea when it sits in the digestive tract. Approximately 25% of the U.S. population suffers from lactose intolerance, which amounts to a lot of bloated bellies from the consumption of dairy products.

Another common type of food intolerance is to gluten. Gluten is highly resistant to digestion as it is, and in some individuals, the gluten cannot be broken down at all. The problem with gluten is that it is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut, so avoiding gluten can be challenging to say the least. Approximately 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, while about 15% have gluten intolerance. Regardless of whether someone has celiac disease or gluten intolerance, ALL gluten must be avoided. However, if there are occasions in which completely avoiding gluten is impossible, digestive enzymes, specifically DPP-IV, can help individuals to digest meals containing gluten.

The list of substances which people may have an intolerance to doesn’t stop there. Some individuals cannot break down phenols, including salicylates, due to insufficient amounts of xylanase, and suffer from behavioral and learning disorders, including ADHD and autism. Some individuals are unable to break down disaccharides, an intolerance which is closely linked to irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Candida overgrowth and autism. As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about, there are chemical substances in foods which can spark intolerance, such as caffeine, aflatoxins in undercooked beans, amines in cheeses, artificial colorings and flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers, nitrates, MSG, sulfites and salicylates. Salicylate intolerance can cause a susceptible individual to react to large amounts of salicylate-containing foods, particularly citrus fruits, teas, mint flavoring, berries and processed foods with flavor additives.

The digestive tract regularly takes the brunt of foods, medications, hormones, and chemical additives which can interfere with repair of the gut lining, causing increased intestinal permeability which is more commonly known as leaky gut. Leaky gut is characterized by the loosening of tight junctions between the cells which line the gut, thus allowing food molecules to pass through. These free floating food molecules are viewed by the immune system as a threat and will mount an immune response which manifests as the signs and symptoms of food intolerance. Think of all that food sitting in the gut, undigested. Pretty unnerving, huh?

How To Diagnose Food Intolerance

Diagnosing food intolerance can be extremely difficult since the signs and symptoms often mimic those of food allergy. One method of ferreting out which foods are involved in a food intolerance is keeping a food diary in which all foods eaten are recorded, along with symptoms and their time of onset. After suspected trigger foods have been determined, an exclusion diet can be implemented, in which those foods are removed from the diet for weeks to months. If the symptoms disappear during the exclusion phase, potential trigger foods can be re-introduced after this phase is completed in order to determine which substances are problematic. If the food intolerance is mild, a small amount of the food will not trigger symptoms, and in many cases may still be consumed, especially if enzymes are taken to aid in digestion. Essentially, many people can return to foods which they were mildly or even moderately intolerant of after avoiding it for a period of time.

Blood testing is considered the most reliable and comprehensive form of testing for food intolerance, but there are only a few laboratories which specialize in this type of test. ALCAT, Pinnertest.com and HEMOCODE Food Intolerance System are laboratories which offer food intolerance testing via serum analysis, with ALCAT considered the largest food intolerance testing group in the U.S. We offer ALCAT testing at the facility where I work (Urban Med) because it is considered the gold standard method for laboratory identification of non-IgG-mediated reactions to foods, chemicals, and environmental triggers. Some insurance plans will cover part or all of the expense of the testing, so it is always worth inquiring about insurance coverage, especially since these panels run from $675 to $850. Here’s the thing: though the testing is pricey, it is very specific. In addition, you get a detailed rotation diet for reintroduction of the foods which you have intolerance to after you have eliminated them for the recommended period (3 months for moderate intolerant foods, 6 months for severe intolerant foods).

Stuck In Mud Types

Have you ever met someone who always comes up with a reason why he or she can’t do something that would be beneficial to his or her well-being?

I honestly can’t help people like this, because they aren’t where they need to be in order to embrace true change. They shoot me down every single time I make a suggestion, and it my quarter decade of experience as an exercise scientist and coach, my 13 years of experience as a physician, and my nutrition certification don’t matter at all to them. It takes every bit of self-restraint I can muster to refrain from berating them for their idiotic reasoning. Their thought patterns are so circuitous and toxic that sitting through a consultation with them (FYI they will usually demand more time than what is allotted for the visit) makes me want to get up and walk out the door.

These are the same people who will blame others who genuinely try to guide and help them in their wellness and fitness efforts when they fail to do their part in following sound advice. I can spot them from a mile away, and when they come to me, I absolutely cringe.

If you are one of these types, I have a suggestion for you. If you’re so miserable with where you are at health-wise or fitness-wise, and your methods haven’t worked, then CHANGE IT UP. Allow others to guide you without you attacking them and naysaying them. Try the foods you insist you can’t stand.

I have had clients tell me that they refuse to eat anything except a small handful of foods. Here are a few examples of food items which former clients insisted on eating daily (note that they refused to eat anything other than the food items listed):


1. Kale, hard-boiled eggs, wheat toast

2. Bagels, eggs, cheddar cheese, guacamole

3. Tortillas, hummus, Yoplait yogurt

4. Cottage cheese, dark chocolate, oranges

All four people who reported these diets were upset that they weren’t meeting their fitness goals. However, when I suggested to them that they needed to increase the variety of foods consumed to ensure proper nutrition, they shuddered, stating that they didn’t like ANYTHING else. Talk about stubborn…and foolish!

Why Diets Don’t Work For Weight Loss

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Please check out my latest article for Sports Nutrition Supplement Guide! You can access the article directly here:

http://www.sportsnutritionsupplementguide.com/eating-plans/tips-for-a-healthy-diet/item/1577-why-diets-don-t-work-for-weight-loss

Of if you prefer to read it here, I have included it below.

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If you are like many people, you probably have been led to believe that the only way to effectively lose weight is to practice severe caloric restriction. However, if you are always struggling to lose those last 5, 10, or 15 pounds, and are frustrated because you tend to lose some weight, only to gain all of it back plus some extra fluff, then it is highly likely that you have damaged your metabolism via severe calorie restriction.

There is a very good reason why the weight loss and diet industry is so successful, and why certain well-known weight loss programs keep their customers coming back. Most diet plans doom their clients to failure, because they don’t provide enough caloric fuel to keep the body happy, so it becomes sluggish, and the metabolic rate drops in an effort to make the body more efficient at running on low fuel.

When you consume a very small amount of calories in an effort to create a significant caloric deficit, you can potentially wreak havoc on your metabolism by causing it to slow down. Why does this happen? When there is no food to break down, the body’s furnace slows down and becomes so sluggish that when you actually do eat something, your body is less equipped to break down the food quickly, and instead stores it as fat. Depriving yourself of food also causes sharp drops in blood sugar, robbing you of energy and increasing insulin resistance. Increased insulin resistance over time can precipitate the development of diabetes.

Other consequences of skipping meals include the following:

• Malnutrition – If you do not feed your body regular, balanced meals, it is highly likely that you are depriving it of essential nutrients. Malnourished states can lead to weight gain, poor health and progression of disease over time.

• Poor concentration – This is due to the depletion of glycogen stores which occurs. The brain simply does not have enough fuel to run on, resulting in fogginess.

• Hunger pangs – When you skip meals, you may experience intense feelings of hunger along with anxiety, dizziness or nausea. In addition, such feeling may lead to overeating when you finally sit down to eat something. Loading the body with a large meal is overkill, and leads to poor digestion and absorption as well as increased storage in body fat stores.

Do yourself a favor and practice the following guidelines. If you do, you will be rewarded with a healthy weight for a lifetime.

1. Don’t skip meals.

2. Make sure to eat enough protein to sustain your energy levels and satisfy your hunger.

3. EAT BREAKFAST.

4. Commit to healthy meals.

5. When you turn to snacks, make sure healthy alternatives are available so you aren’t tempted to reach for a nutrient-poor convenience food.

A Nibble Here, A Nibble There (Repost)

young-woman-eating-chocolates
It is human nature to allow ourselves little nibbles of so-called “forbidden” foods from time to time. The danger arises when such nibbles become so frequent that a pattern of rationalization over the dietary transgression begins to set in. Bear in mind that even a small indulgence on a regular basis will most likely end up on your waistline. The more control you have over your daily food intake, the greater the chance that you will reach or maintain your fitness and weight loss goals.

Those of you who do not compete can follow a clean diet 90% with the occasional treat and suffer minimal consequences. However, for those of you who are planning on hitting the stage, you need to take your meal plans seriously and follow them as much as possible. Every time you take a small nibble, you risk derailing your contest prep efforts, sometimes enough to push you considerably behind. If you know you are 3 weeks out from a contest, why mess with anything other than your scheduled cheat meal? The best thing to do is tough it out and stick with the program.

Many competitors ask me about condiments and sauces, and whether it is all right to use them on their meals. What I do not like about many condiments is that they contain high fructose corn syrup. Generally, I have competitors (I also advise the same for regular folks) avoid anything containing sugar at all costs. Another issue with condiments and sauces is that they add more calories to your meal. Add such things to a couple of meals a day, and this all adds up.

I have also had competitors ask me which alcoholic beverages they can indulge in on the weekends. Of course my response is along the lines of “none”, but if one insists on having ONE drink over the weekend, vodka based drinks are the cleanest option. You may be wondering if I indulge in libations from time to time, and the answer is yes. I have a particular fondness for wine and sake. What I do is confine my consumption to one weekend evening per week with my cheat meal. Everything in moderation is truly the key.