When Body & Mind Don’t Agree: Four Things My Injury Is Telling Me

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The best laid plans…. There is nothing more frustrating, when training for an event, than to do everything as prescribed and get injured anyway. I have been struggling with a recent injury after 5 months of a perfectly laid out running plan for my latest 1/2 marathon, only to get completely derailed three weeks prior to the event. As this has happened to me several times before including summit attempts up Mt. Whitney (3) that had to be aborted 1 mile from the peak, or other adventure type challenges where I had sob inducing spasms 8 miles in…injury is a part of the process of pushing your body, getting older, and being stubborn. It happens to everyone who tends to push themselves at some point or another.

The stubbornness comes into play from my sheer unadulterated ability to be in denial when something starts to go south in my body. The most distressing part of the entire struggle for me is that I tend to get injured only when I feel at my complete and total best. Like a true ATHLETE (love this word). There have been three different times in my life when I have really felt strong, fit, and able, that are perfect examples of this phenomena. These moments are pinnacle training times in my life where all of the hours, sweat, and focus came together and I felt unstoppable. Ironically, these are the exact three times I have gotten the most injured. The first time I had been working out hard as a gym rat and cross training like a professional and I felt great. So I decided to return to my childhood sport of soccer (for the first time in 15 years) in my early thirties. I joined a local women’s league, bought myself some cleats, and went to my first practice (seriously the FIRST one). Running (as if my life depended on it) to save a ball from rolling back into our practice goal, I stepped into a gopher hole and blew out my ACL, tore my meniscus, and bruised my femur. I was in surgery 2 days later. I was laid up on modified exercise for 6 months. Did get this cool leg stretchy machine I got to hook up too, but I digress…

The second time I was doing our bootcamp program every morning and pushing my cross training and fitness to the test. I took on every workout as if it were a personal challenge against myself. I was on fire. One particular morning I was doing burpee circuits and I threw my heart into atrial fibrillation and ended up in the ER with probes strapped onto my chest. Instead of surgery, this got me a hypothyroid diagnosis and many heart tests (was told my heart is healthy as an athlete!). Had to go on thyroid medication (for the rest of my life). This final time was two weeks ago. As some of you readers know, I am training for another 1/2 marathon after my training partner (and dear friend) asked me to celebrate her Birthday with her by doing her first 1/2. Being a good friend, I created the most thoughtful, slow, gentle training plan to get her and I ready to go injury free…and it worked amazing (right up until it didn’t) and I got injured. But it wasn’t the plan that caused the injury, it was my head deciding that I felt like a real runner for the first time in my life and I was the fastest, strongest runner I had ever been. It was literally to the point that I was thinking I could pull off a full marathon a few months post 1/2 if I kept training. I felt unstoppable. I kept speeding up my pace because it felt SO good to my body (coincidentally, this was NOT on the plan). My new speedy running attitude worked right up to a 10K we did together as a charity race where I ran the fastest 10K I had ever done (by A LOT). Got a PR! I was so fired up….and that’s what did it. I pushed too hard. I messed up my TFL and piriformis. Now I cannot walk without pain. Sigh.

Those of you who do not love working out may be confirming your suspicions right now that this is why exercise is evil and you should just stay on the couch! But this is not at all the case. Do not be fooled…it is still the best thing for both mind & body. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of seeing what my body can do through exercise. Sometimes, however, my head and my body don’t agree. When this happens I get injured. I have learned a few things from my injury that I would like to share with you:

1) Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – There is no point in stressing out about missing a race I have signed up for, or even worse, needing to walk. I’m not Lolo Jones, I wasn’t going to win. I can go out there on race day and do my very best…whatever that looks like that day. There will ALWAYS be other races/events/challenges.

2) Keep Perspective – Your healthy body demands to be your number one priority. You realize this the minute something happens where you get sick or hurt; however, maybe being mindful of this when things are going well is equally (if not more so) important.

3) Don’t Always Power It Out – You shouldn’t ignore the small little twinges and warnings that your body is telling you along the way. Injuries can happen out of nowhere (like in an accident such as my gopher hole scenario), but often your body is talking to in little whispers before it starts to yell. This is where my head tends to tells my body to be quiet and keeps running, when maybe I should have slowed down my pace, took a few days off and rested my injury two weeks ago when I first started to feel it. Instead I tried to push through. Just because your head may be able to do this, does not mean your body can pull it off.

4) Get Help – I am ridiculously STUBBORN when it comes to seeking medical help for injuries. Yes, dear spouse, I can admit this. I have no idea the root of my absolute certainty that I do NOT need to go to the doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist to work it out and get help when I am hurt. My cocky, ego ridden, personal trainer self is just sure I can use the tools I already know to get better. If you are like me, save yourself a few extra weeks (or months) of injury and seek expert help. Anti-inflammatory drugs and R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) do NOT cure everything. Trust me..wish they did, but they do not.

I imagine an injury as a little monster messing with your body. I see it as a little black scrunchy thing with a wicked smile and a pokey spear. It can feel like it is mocking me..right when I feel my best. The truth is, getting hurt is your bodies way of telling you to back off, change what you are doing, or slow down. I don’t tend to pay attention until it is too late and I end up hurt pretty bad. I have been getting frustrated with my body because it won’t do what I want it to do; when the truth is, my head is what needs to change. My body is doing an amazing job keeping me alive and allowing me to do everything I love. My head needs to understand how to be patient, compassionate, and mindful of what my body is telling me along the way. The little monster can really my friend if I learn how to embrace it.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139 where she is layed up on ice.

Mindful Eating: 5 Simple Ways To Be Mindful At Your Next Meal

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If you’re anything like me, I have to pay attention while I am eating or I taste the first 2-3 bites of any given meal, and then check out. If you are not present when you are eating the foods that you have prepared for your body to enjoy, you can end up feeling less than satisfied which will in turn cause you to eat more than what your body truly needs. Many of us share in this habit. In fact, recent studies show that in America, at least 20% of our meals are eaten in the car alone on a daily basis. I imagine it is safe to say that there is not a lot of mindful eating going on in the car while driving, watching out for the texter in the car next to you, or trying to fight traffic during rush hour. The truth is that we are stressed out and unable to find the time to take part in one of life’s greatest pleasures: mindful eating.

There are a myriad of reasons we don’t eat mindfully. The number one reason is we claim we don’t have time. We also like to say that we’re tired, we want to relax and eat in front of the TV, or we just plain don’t want to. So why does it even matter? It matters because when we don’t eat mindfully, we end up eating way too much food, we have no idea what our body is craving from a nutritional perspective, and we eat foods that are not good for us. When this happens, we end up overweight, we have digestion problems like acid reflux, and we never experience full satiety with our meals which leads us to grabbing those after meal snacks of a high sugar nature…which leads us to overeat (and continue the cycle).

What does it even mean to eat mindfully? There are several definitions of what it means to eat mindfully. The most prevalent definition states that mindful eating is defined as “eating with attention and intention”. That’s pretty clear, but I really like one I came across in FitWomen, which states, ” mindful eating is a means of feeding yourself in a manner that supports your health and weight goals”. Semantics aside, to eat mindfully is to be completely focused and present in the moment while eating. Not just to hold on to being in the moment for the first two or three bites that you ingest, but to hold on to the focused intention of eating mindfully all the way to the very last bite of your meal.

Mindful eating is a skill that takes patience and practice. I enjoy teaching my clients how to eat mindfully during their sessions because it is almost always an entirely new experience for them. We are not taught from an early age to be mindful of what we are putting in our mouths. In fact, many of the early messages we are fed have more to do with what are “bad” or “good” foods, or that we must finish all of the food on our plates. Messages like this take us away from mindful eating by their very nature. If we are going to base our understanding of food on the fact that it is fuel for our body and meant to provide us with everything we need to sustain health, then it allows for us to set up the platform to celebrate eating as if it is a tribute to our sense of self and the very basis for how we care for ourselves and respect our body.

Ready to get started? I encourage you to practice these five simple tips on the next thing you put in your mouth. It can also be fun to do what I do with my clients in my therapy office when I teach these skills. Go get 5 or 6 different texture/taste/sensory food items and place them on a small plate. They should all be single, small items. An example of what I have set up for a client include: 1 blueberry, 1 raisin, 1 pistachio nut, 1 raspberry, 1 small ball of blue cheese, all on a plate together in little piles. We then practice these skills going through the items on the plate one by one. Don’t be surprised if you try this and realize how long it can take you to eat these 6 items in the manner I outline below.

Step 1. Create Space – Make sure when you are going to eat, it is ALL you are doing. This means you get yourself into a place where eating is all that is going on for you. No TV, cell phone, email reading or checking Facebook. When you are eating, practice JUST EATING.

Step 2. Show Gratitude – Give a silent moment of thanks for the food you are about to eat. We are surrounded with convenience on every level to such a degree that we have no concept of the man hours it took to grow and harvest even just the lettuce bed that our meal may be served with. A dear friends daughter who is serving in the peace corps in Africa just recently learned a hard lesson first hand when she spent hour after hour tilling the dry hot African soil in order to plant sunflower plants. She was hoping to make sunflower oil to use in cooking. After spending numerous hours and waiting many hot dry days she harvested the crop of seeds and took it into town to be ground into fresh oil. She literally was able to make 3 tablespoons of oil from all of her hard effort. She shares this as one of the most humbling experiences of her life in the peace corps. It is a lesson for all of us in the disconnect we have from how our food is grown, harvested and shipped to the market for us to purchase. Appreciate this.

Step 3. Sensory Orgasm – Place a small bite on your fork. Smell it. Most of what people perceive as “taste” is actually a result of their sense of smell. You need to rev up those nostrils and get them on board for what’s coming up. Smell your food and imagine that it is acting as a “teaser” for what’s coming your way. Get excited about how that bite is going to taste by considering exactly how it tantalizes you. See if you can recognize the different spices or scents that are being released by the small bite on your fork. The human nose has over 400 different scent detectors that can detect over 1 trillion different scents. How many can you detect in your bite?

Step 4. Titillating Texture – Place that small bite on your tongue (finally!) and just leave it there. The average human has 10,000 taste buds but did you know they are all not on the top of your tongue? They are also under the tongue, on the side of the mouth, the roof of the mouth and even on the lips (which are especially sensitive to salt). So once that bite is on the tongue, move it around and activate those taste buds! See what flavors and salivary glands get spritzing when you do! Your whole mouth can join in the experience as you feel the texture, experience the taste, and get your digestive juices flowing in preparation for swallowing. Enjoy this bite you have given your body and when you have really spent time with it up down and around…chew and swallow.

Step 5. Repeat – But wait you scream! I want another step to this simple process. I have this as your final step because I promise you, it is the hardest one to do. For you to be able to mindfully eat your meal following the process above until your very last bite is a patience that you may find outside of your reach when you first get started. Mindful eating is a practice. It pays off, but you need to work on it. Keep at it. If you find your mind wandering off, bring it back. Try it again.

Food is a sensual sensory experience that is meant to be celebrated, honored, and enjoyed on every level. We are taught so many negative messages about food that sometimes we have negative relationships around meal time from the time we are small. Learn to fall in love again with food by enjoying the many sensations and joyful emotions that can arise when you are present and in the moment with your food. Make everything you put in your mouth worthy of your health, your body and also your complete focus. So what are you having for dinner?

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

smart goal setting concept

If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

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I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

Why Dieting Has Always Made Me Fatter

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Want to gain weight, get angry, frustrate yourself, and mess up your metabolism potentially forever? Go on a diet. As many of my readers know, I grew up overweight. I weighed in at higher than 160 pounds in 4th grade. I remember this clearly because I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled (at an ungodly young age) and I lied to the dentist about how much I weighed so my dad wouldn’t know. This caused him to not use enough numbing medicine and I began to feel all of the cutting, pulling and tearing midway through the surgery. I will admit, as much as that sucked, I was still glad my dad didn’t know how much I weighed because even by age nine I was fully aware of the stigma associated with being the “fat” girl in my school.

My doctor at the time told my mom that I needed to go on a diet and put me on The Peanut Butter Diet. Seriously. No joke. Peanut Butter. I had ton’s of peanut butter for each meal. I remember being seven and trying to measure out a tablespoon of peanut butter into a little plastic spoon. That’s hard as you know if you have ever tried to do it. It’s also a really small amount of peanut butter and it leads you to want to suck the remaining smears of leftover peanut butter off the spoon if any clings on. Sure, this doesn’t lead to food cravings and feelings of deprivation. This is how food obsessions are born. My little girl self was dutiful. I measured, logged, counted calories and tracked everything I ate. I didn’t like the fact that my parents needed to order “pretty & plump” size clothing for me. It was humiliating. At the time, this was the early seventies, I just wanted to be able to get my clothes at Sears like everyone else. If you have ever been overweight, you understand that to buy clothes “off the rack” is highly desirable when you haven’t been able to do so in the past. Stores didn’t use to have attractive, cool, fashionable clothes for larger women like they do now. I ended up hating peanut butter for about 10 years. And I gained weight once I cried and told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore.

Next I went on Weight Watchers with my mom (who used to have those delicious Dexatrim chocolate caramels under her bathroom sink when I was growing up) by around the time I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Dieting as a young girl makes you bitter. You watch your friends (who at the time had ruler shaped bodies and no curves whatsoever) eat whatever they want from chips to cookies to soda, while you are eating carrot sticks, celery stalks and dry bread. Nothing makes you feel worse than being so obviously flawed at a young age that you need to eat different foods then your peers. If it wasn’t already obvious that you were overweight and “not like everyone else” (which by the way it already was) then you certainly didn’t fit in when you pulled out your little veggie packets during recess. I didn’t lose any weight during this diet either and had to hear my grandmother ask me each time she saw me at the holidays, “How is your diet dear?”. My diet? What I wanted to say was, “It sucks Grandma, and the minute you turn around I’m going to sneak into that candy jar and eat as much as I can hold in my mouth before you walk back in the room.” But of course I am a nice polite little girl (back then) who doesn’t speak to her grandmother like that. I did however learn how to steal candy from her jar when she wasn’t looking in my very own “silent lid removing” skilled way. That’s how my diet was. Dieting just made food my obsessive enemy. A feared necessary evil that I apparently was unable to control. I mean look at me, the evidence was right there. And yet, I was persistent in my quest to lose weight…and would be for 35 years.

The point of my historical dieting memoir is that I have been on just about every diet that has come out since back in the seventies. I am here to tell you that what I have learned in my history of eating: only protein, no carbs, fat free, low fat, SouthBeach, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystems, liquids only, fasting, and bordering on anorexic deprivation – is diets do NOT work for me. They only make me fatter. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to make myself eat “this” or “that” particular food and stop considering foods as “bad” or “good” that my weight was able to stabilize. Granted, I am still in no way a small woman, but I am able to take the power away from my obsession with food that dieting only encouraged. I have finally been able to let my dieting goblin go and not have food rule my every thought, action and feeling about myself. As a woman who can tell you it used to be easier for me to not eat at all then to eat healthy, I have found freedom.

When you are taught at a very young age that you are not “allowed” (internalized as “good enough”) to eat ______________ (insert any delicious off limit food a young girl wants), you really mess up your relationship with food from the get go. Food is not understood to be energy for your body to utilize in order to be fit, strong, and healthy. Food becomes public enemy number one. The surest way I know to make an individual obsessed with and yearn for a particular food is to make it off-limits. When food is off-limits it becomes ALL POWERFUL. All you think about. Dieting by its very definition is, “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” That is the definition for the verb form of the word and I assure you for anyone who knows what it takes to diet, it is definitely an “action” word verb, not a (person, place, thing) type noun. Love the term “special kinds of food” by the way…. I think food should just be food. Not special, or bad, or holiday themed. Food is fuel…delicious, nutritious, scrumptious fuel.

I work with my clients who are interested in losing weight by following a very simple principle….and for those of you who work with me on this, you know I am always insisting you call your meal planning a “lifestyle change” and not a “diet”. There is more to this phrase than simple semantics. A diet implies deprivation by it’s very definition and if you want to successfully implement a healthier eating method in your life, you need to make sure you can follow whatever you roll out with yourself for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously. Forever. Because if you take something away that you love from your daily food intake in order to lose weight, you need to never eat it again for your weight to stay off. It makes more sense to try and incorporate balance and smaller portion of foods that you love on a daily basis so you can maintain whatever changes you have made long-term.

This is pretty simple actually. If you take a bunch of foods away from what you like to eat and lose weight, you are creating a new pattern for your body to follow of eating. This is the principle of a diet. As long as you diet in this way forever, you can maintain the weight loss, but if you cannot keep yourself following whatever plan you put yourself on that is causing you to lose weight, you will inevitably gain the weight back. Add to that the new brain science that is being discovered around our bodies desire to fight weight loss at all costs by changing our hormones, brain chemicals, and metabolism when our body goes into starvation mode or caloric deficit. Your body does not know you are overweight and fights any weight loss you try to achieve as a means of saving its’ life. Our bodies are super machines. To lose weight in the caveman days meant sure death and your body has not yet changed it’s thinking in this regard. It does not realize we have fast food and processed super connivence items at every street corner. Evolution did not get the memo.

So what works if you are looking to eat healthier and be fit? Moderation, mindful eating, balance, and exercise. Moderate your overall calorie intake. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite your put in your mouth and balance out foods by eating a diet full of rich colors and grains that are as close to the earth as you can (i.e. not processed). Exercise. Do this by finding your way to an exercise program you can maintain because you enjoy it. Eat foods you enjoy fueling your body with (mindfully and slowly) and then…and this is really important…accept the body you end up with as a result. If you are eating healthy wholesome foods most of the time and exercising in a way you enjoy, you can give yourself permission to let go of what you think you are supposed to look like and instead celebrate your best self as you are. Stress kills. Tearing yourself up all the time because you aren’t as thin as you want, or because you ate that brownie at the pot luck, is just going to make your life miserable. A miserable life is a life that is no fun. Life is hard enough without having to move through it without accepting and loving yourself as you are. You are so much more than your looks, your body, and the size of clothes you wear. Let go of your materialistic expectation and just do your best. Live fully and with pleasure.

Shhhh…The Secret To Finally Starting an Exercise Program

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My clients ask me all the time about exercise programs. As a Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist, I tend to meld both backgrounds into my transformational work with my clients incorporating the importance of moving your body, practicing mindfulness and also looking to implement positive change in dealing with struggles that individuals face with anxiety, depression, loss, or trauma. Exercise is amazing for many aspects of well-being that go far beyond physical health and include re-wiring the brain.

Scientific studies are finally beginning to catch up with my soapbox preaching around the importance of exercising to overcome mental health issues. Now you can pull up your favorite search engine and type in “the benefits of exercise for mental health” (I tried Google) and get over 78 million responses. I believe that every Doctor and Psychiatrist should have a section for “exercise prescription” on the medication pads. I don’t think medication should be prescribed without a discussion on the benefits of exercise to go along with your chemical cocktail of symptom relief. If you are going to take pills to feel better (and often that is absolutely necessary) it is equally important to get that body of yours moving.

So what makes it so hard for all of us to grab our bodies and begin an exercise program when we know it is SO good for us? In my experience with clients it boils down to a feeling of overwhelm. There are so many individuals who are mass marketing programs that guarantee you results in “3 Months”, “30 Days”, “14 Days”, or even (believe it or not) “The 3 Minute Exercise Solution” that it is impossible to know where to start. To add even more confusion to the mix is the conversation around what you “should” be doing as a part of a complete exercise program such as the baseline debate over which is better: cardiovascular exercise “cardio” or strength training. In addition, once you even whittle down past these two main categories, there are literally hundreds of different exercise options available.

As a prospective new exerciser begins to look into how to work out, what exercises to do, or how to plan a program – worries begin to arise. The opposite of positive thinking occurs, and instead the only increase that comes up for someone is a spike in his or her stress levels. I have heard these concerns. Everything from: “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I am too old”, “I am going to get hurt”, “I’m too overweight to do that”, etc. pops into consciousness as attempts to find the best possible excuse to forget getting started on a new program in the first place arise, and going to the pantry to get a snack begins to sound like a much better idea instead.

I know it’s intimidating because I hear it from clients all of the time. That’s why I want to share the number one secret that I have learned to getting started on any exercise program. The best thing you can do to assure that you are going to get started, and more importantly, stick with an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. This cannot be overstated and does not need to be more complicated. If you find something you enjoy doing, you will stick with it. If you like to walk in the evenings with your dog, go out for a walk starting for 20 minutes and work your way up to 30. Don’t like dogs? Grab a bike, go for a swim, try a class, take a hike, or find a friend to join you. Hire a Personal Trainer to explore ideas with you if you want. But try something. If you don’t know what you like, give yourself permission to try a lot of different things. There is no perfect science to finding out your likes and dislikes other than having the courage to give it a shot.

I promise you that if you are able to find something you enjoy you can begin to create a new healthier habit. This takes 6-8 weeks to do, so you may find yourself needing to self motivate until the habit gets established, but this will become routine, and your body will start to look forward to whatever activity you begin to practice. Yes, there are ways to change the way your muscle structure looks through exercise, or lose weight, or even improve upon you metabolism; however, this is not necessary to focus on, when learning how to get your body moving. What is important for improved health is as simple as it is stated below in the American Heart Association Recommendations.

AHA Recommendation

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

-At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.

OR

-At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes

(You can visit http://www.heart.org for more information on this)

If you enjoy walking your dog in the evening and want to make this your exercise routine, you can make sure you are going at a moderate-intensity if you can still talk but have increased your breathing rate. Maybe you need to take Fido up the hill for a stroll to accomplish this, but you can make this the only exercise routine you need if your exercise plan is to walk according to the guidelines above.

It can be overwhelming to listen to all the fitness programs available, and at times having access to so much information can lead us to shut down instead of take charge. Fitness professionals are master marketing moguls and typically have killer bodies to boot. From Beach Body, to Jillian Michael’s Fat Shredder, to P90X; the options for exercise promises and benefits are numerous, but rest assured that for you to improve your mental health, relieve depression, and feel happier and healthier, you just need to find something enjoyable to you.

So get out there and ride a bike, join the Y, rescue a pet that needs to be walked, or take a class. Check in with yourself after a few days and see if you can feel the difference in your mood, you self-esteem, and sense of well-being. Becoming mindful of this feeling of accomplishment and improved health will keep you going. Good Luck On Your New Plan!

Stacey Neil is a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Food Logging: A Necessary Evil

log food cartoon

There are few things that strike fear, and cause a client to physically flinch, like the dreaded words, “Do you keep a food log?”. This term doesn’t discriminate and could care less what your age, gender, weight, or goal is – I know of no one who loves to food log. I myself hate food logging. It doesn’t matter if I go to the high quality paper store and treat myself to a brand spanking new journal covered in powerful self affirmations in hopes of motivating myself. Buying myself the special colored pen I see next to the register upon check out doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t matter if I use a free on-line phone app (Lose It), a computer based weight loss tool, or a white board on the refrigerator. There is truly no way I have learned to improve upon my distaste for and utter dread of food logging.

Don’t get me wrong. If you are my client and have ever mentioned wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, improve upon your energy, or balance your mood – it is a certainty that I have discussed and encouraged (maybe a bit aggressively at times) that you MUST keep a food log of everything single thing you put in your mouth. Every tiny little morsel. The creamer in your coffee? Yep. The cinnamon Altoids that you keep in your car to get rid of the coffee breath? Still yep. How about the almond slivers in your salad? Yep, those too. It’s interesting how the words every single thing you put in your mouth can cause some room for discussion or confusion, but they do. They do because we are generally not fond of feeling like 5 year old little children who have to act like we can’t freely eat what we want to when we want to. We are biased about being watched – it goes against the very freedoms that this country holds dear, right?

So then why do it? I’ll tell you why it is THE necessary evil and is mandatory for any of the above stated goals. I will even go so far as to claim it is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do if you have any of the above mentioned goals….why you ask? It’s the dreaded “A” word that makes it matter so much. ACCOUNTABILITY. There, I said it. It’s out in front of you in black and white. We do not like to be held accountable to what we chose to do all of the time in regards to how we want to feed ourselves; because we eat for a variety of reasons each and everyday and often it has nothing to do with hunger but more to do with being lonely, unhappy, happy, celebratory, empty, or bored.

Why is there so much resistance? We do not want to have to be held accountable and thus conscious of every single thing we put in our mouth because we are afraid of what we will learn. Most of us do not really want to know how much, or how bad, our food choices are everyday; however, I suggest to you that this is critical to begin to understand how to make smarter food choices whatever your goals. If you want to improve your mood as you are suffering from a bout of depression it is incredibly important how well you balance your protein/carb combinations and how often you eat. If you are hoping to lose weight, you must first understand a true picture of what you are actually ingesting on a daily basis that is maintaing or increasing your current weight. Food logging is the background information that can point your trainer, wellness coach, or intuitive self, right to the underlying culprit of what is really going on with you when you can’t reach your goals. It is invaluable information and creates a road map to break you out of your habits and into a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s a challenge. If you have never food logged, or it’s been awhile, start today. Write down everything you put in your mouth for 3 days. Don’t lie. You would think I wouldn’t have to mention such a simple agreement with you, but for those of you who have food logged before, you might have a small smile on your face right now because you know who you are and just what I’m talking about. I bet if you begin to log today, you will notice something really cool. Just the act of food logging often will cause you to pause for a split second before you mindlessly put something in your mouth and ask yourself if it’s worth it because you’re going to have to write it down afterwards. Sometimes, this alone will help you to make smarter choices all on your own.

Once you have your log you can begin to use the data to see if there are opportunities for improvement. You can always talk to a Wellness Coach, Personal Trainer, or medical professional who can help you modify your food for the specific goals you may have, but the crucial first step is to begin the process on your own. I food log everyday…well okay, most days…and sometimes I completely quit doing it. I’ll admit it, I get resistant, I fight it and I decide I don’t need to do it anymore because I already know what I am doing… Um no. Every time I fall off the food logging path, I veer over towards mindless eating. I do this slowly, over time. For the first week, I notice no changes in my eating and weight. Then it never fails that a after a few more weeks I am again grabbing handfuls of yummy (unhealthy) snacks out of my pantry without even considering them. It’s a slow digression, but it happens over and over and get’s me back on the wagon.

I would love to hear your comments on your own challenges of food logging.

Log On!

Growing Up The Fat Girl

 

My parents always used to describe me as a “big boned” girl, but I didn’t start needing to shop in the “Pretty & Plump” size clothes until I hit second grade at which point I started really packing on the inches eating my way up to 155 pounds by 4th grade. As a therapist, I can spend time telling you all of the reasons I decided to eat my way into a protective fat cocoon, but that isn’t really the point I want to share in this blog. I feel compelled to write this blog in the hopes to reach those of you who may still feel it is helpful to make overt and painful comments to others in hopes of shaming them into losing weight. I work with clients in my private practice who suffer daily under the hurtful “jokes” other kids make; or even the comments their parents make on having “such a pretty face if only you could lose a little weight sweetie”. If only. There is no tough love approach to a young adolescent or teenager that will help them make smarter food choices, get their bodies moving, or not want to eat what their friends eat at parties. I know because I was one of them.

I proudly put a lock on my door when I was 8. I told my mom it was to protect my “stuff” from my two older brothers, but the truth was much simpler than that. I wanted to eat without anyone watching. I became really good at this. I hid like a shame filled drug addict and ate food obsessively and without joy. I would sloppily lick hot chocolate packets I hid under the socks in my drawer eating the powder straight out of the foil when I was sad. Or hurt. Or lonely. One of the highlights of my early years was when it was time to do the candy bar fund raiser because I knew I had a supply of at least 15 candy bars that came in their own cardboard carrying case for my closed door pleasure. I would eat guiltily and quickly forcing myself to lie to the school fund raiser committee about already turning in my money, or explaining that it was stolen…again.

I was constantly self conscious about my developing body. The more body fat I put on my body as an adolescent the more quickly I hit puberty and grew larger parts that just attracted the unwanted embarrassed attraction of the boys I went to school with. The taunts came at me tinged with equal parts jeering fat comments and fascination with my blooming chest. This combination of negative and positive attention was very confusing for me as it is for my current clients in private practice. I found myself caught between excitement that someone (anyone!) is noticing my body and horror because they’re criticizing what they’re attracted to and it left me feeling dirty.

I want to tell you as siblings of overweight family members, parents of young children, and friends of overweight kids in classes; be kind. It is unbelievably hard to want to fit in so bad and yet feel so different. This internalized “difference” can set someone up for a lifetime of longer term problems like low self esteem, substance abuse, addictive food patterns, and negative attention seeking behaviors. It makes you feel lonely surrounded by others.

When someone uses food to soothe, cope, or hide, it is a form of self harming behavior. No one is forcing an overweight person to eat. No one who is overweight is not fully aware that they are. When they find themselves eating a second portion, hiding in their rooms or cars while shamefully eating, or constantly thinking about food, there is typically something larger going on in their life.

I believe that we are a fat shaming society that attaches all kinds of unhealthy, not supportive, labels on fat people. Some of these labels are: lazy, smelly, disgusting, gross, unworthy, less than, ugly. I suggest an alternative approach to considering another person who has a weight challenge. Ask yourself what may be going on with them. Challenge yourself to stop judging…be a better friend. We are not kind to one another most of the time regarding this issue. We are competitive, judgmental and cruel. I believe that women are some of the harshest critics of all. We are constantly criticizing ourselves along with slapping our labels on others.

I see the suffering this brings on each day in my private practice when I work with the shell of some of my clients who are suffering so greatly they have lost self respect. When this happens there is only one place that brings comfort: food. This cycle is destructive in ways that you cannot imagine if you have not been judged for your weight or for any other perceived characteristic that makes you “different”.

I tell my clients who come to see me for weight challenges, “Sure I can help you learn about healthier eating habits and self control”. “I can help you understand how to work out”….but then I need to tell them the truth. I tell them that their weight problem is typically the frosting on the forbidden cupcake. The tip of the iceberg. The larger issue is always the cake underneath that really needs to be addressed. I believe we walk around in bodies that represent how we feel on the inside. The work lies in finding out what my client is trying not to feel. Typically when a client learns how to feel their feelings, accept their truths, and learn to become empowered in their life; they then can have a body that represents their authentic nature. This process is not a journey for the weak of heart and can be some of the hardest work to do in therapy; however, I stand beside the belief that uncovering your best self is always worth the fight.

Yours in Health,
Stacey Neil