Give Your Lower Back and Hips Some Love Today

If you sit for long periods of time throughout the day, then chances are you’ve experienced or are experiencing lower back discomfort or pain.  I know if I sit for longer that a couple of hours at a time, my lower back tightens up and I need to take care when standing up from a chair, or especially with getting out of a car so that I don’t torque my back from the combination of turning and rising.

One of my strategies has been to alternate between sitting and standing more often and even as I type this, I’ve got my computer propped on a pedestal on my desk and I’m standing.  It’s also good for circulation, helps burn more calories, and I often add in some isometric exercises as I type to give my muscles a workout.

If you don’t have the option to stand while you work, Judi Bar, a certified yoga therapist at the Cleveland Clinic demonstrates three simple stretches in this two minute video that you can do right at your desk to give your lower back and hips a good stretch.  There’s no need to change your clothes, take off your shoes (unless you want to), or even get up from your chair, although after the stretching, you may be motivated to stand up and stretch your upper body too!

If you’re not used to stretching, begin by moving slowly in and out of shallow movements and use the rhythm of your breath as a guide.  Over time, allow yourself to go into deeper stretches and hold them for more breaths.   Not only will you be giving some love to your back and hips, you’ll be taking a moment to slow down and get present, and that will help to reduce stress and at the same time energize you!!

Starting the day w/good intentions and ending it w/a pint of Haagen Dazs

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Courtesy of -Marcus-

Does this sound familiar?  You wake up in the morning ready for a day of healthy eating.  You eat a small bowl of cereal or a slice of toast for breakfast, or grab a banana and head off to work.  Lunch rolls around and you sip on a cup of soup or eat a vegetable salad – and all is well.   By 3 or 4 o’clock, though, you’re suddenly craving chocolate, you stop to pick up a pizza on your way home from work, you graze while you’re cooking dinner, or after dinner, you polish off a pint of ice cream.

If any of these situations sound like you, you’re not alone.  So many people I talk with begin their day with good intentions and end it forgetting all about them – over and over again.  Although there are many factors that can play into this scenario, one has to do with our bodies’ natural cycle of brain chemicals like serotonin that’s functions in appetite control, depression and anxiety relief, pain tolerance, and sleep.

For example, in the morning, levels of your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin are high and as the day progresses, they begin to dip.  And so by the afternoon, if you’ve depleted your supply without replenishing it, your cravings will begin – for foods like ice cream and chocolate, or a bowl of cereal with milk, or a gooey cheese pizza.   Why?  Because dairy (and cacao) is a good source of protein, and specifically tryptophan, the building block of serotonin.

As you’re probably well aware by now, though, concentrating these heavy, fatty foods later in the day will not only pack on the pounds, it will disrupt your sleep, impact your digestion, and ultimately lead to more serious health issues.   And if you’re like many people who have inherited less serotonin-making capabilities, then you’re much more sensitive to a diet that hinders its production.

If you suspect this is you, then here are some dietary/lifestyle habits that may help maintain your serotonin levels:

Eat regular meals that include protein.   If you’re skipping breakfast or lunch, or going light on them, you’re probably not getting enough protein during the day.  In addition, in most protein sources, tryptophan is low compared to other amino acids and in plant proteins, it’s levels can be up to ten times lower per serving than in animal proteins.

Even with animal proteins, wild game and animals that are raised on their natural food sources (like grass-fed beef) are higher in tryptophan than animals raised on corn so making the shift to cleaner sources of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy can help.  Some of the plant sources of tryptophan include legumes like beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, whole grains, bananas, winter squashes and sweet potato.  This page provides a list of a variety of tryptophan sources.

Include healthy fats in your meals.  Fat helps tryptophan become available to the brain so it’s important to include it at every meal.  Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil are all sources of healthy fats to include regularly.  In one study, researchers found that decreasing fat in people’s diets correlated with increases in low serotonin symptoms like anger and hostility.

Cut back on caffeine and artificial sweeteners.  If you’re beginning your day with a cup of coffee, you’re working against your serotonin stores early since as a stimulant, caffeine works in exactly the opposite way of serotonin’s calming capabilities.  In addition, according to Julia Ross in The Mood Cure, the artificial sweetener aspartame can also have an overstimulating effect because one of it’s components, the amino acid phenylalanine converts to the stimulants tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.  And it’s second component, the amino acid aspartic acid is also highly excitatory.

Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates that are naturally low in tryptophan and wreak havoc on your blood sugar and insulin levels that also promotes stress in the body and interferes with your good mood!

Get regular exercise because it increases oxygen in the body, which is important for serotonin production in the brain.  It also helps divert amino acids necessary for muscle building and repair to the muscles, freeing up some of the competition from tryptophan for crossing the blood brain barrier (remember, its supply is already low compared to other amino acids in dietary protein).  In fact, regular exercise helps to balance all brain chemicals naturally.  The important point here is ‘regular’ exercise because like everything else, it’s benefits are temporary.

If after trying these strategies, you still suspect your serotonin levels are still low, there are additional supplements that can be taken, even temporarily to help raise them. Contact me for more information and we can determine if you’re a candidate for them.

Why You May Never Arrive at Your Destination and Why That’s a Good Thing

ID-100132826“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions.  It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” ~Tony Robbins

One day many years ago, I was leaving my place of work to go home for lunch and I saw a woman running down the street.  From my best guess, she was in her late forties and had accumulated excess weight in her abdominal area­, which we all know by now is dangerous.  She was running at a slow pace and appeared to be struggling with her breath.  Except for what I saw, I knew nothing else about her.

Over the course of several months, I would continue to see her pounding the pavement on my way home for lunch and what I began to witness was astounding.  Gradually, her step got lighter and quicker and I could see that she was breathing easier.  She also lost a considerable amount of belly fat, her face got thinner and she had a glow to her skin that wasn’t there before.  And the look of struggle was eventually replaced with a look of pure joy.   It didn’t take a genius to see that this woman was transforming her health.

Fast forward two decades.  I’ve been working out at the same gym almost daily for a little over a year.  When I first started going, I noticed a woman who came in regularly too and each time I ran into her, she was focused on her workout.  The last few times I’ve been, it dawned on me that this woman had lost a significant amount of weight.  Her hips, thighs, and arms had shrunk and she now had a waist.  She’s also more energetic, her complexion is pink, and she smiles a lot.  I also spoke with her the other day and she said that after years of putting herself last and feeling the effects of that, she put her foot down and decided that her own self-care was a priority. Yay for her!!

Yes, both of these women have lost weight.  AND their improved health is showing up as increased energy, healthier skin, and better moods.  Both women are examples of what you can accomplish when you make the commitment.  It’s like anything else, right?  If you commit the time and effort to furthering your education, working on your relationships, spending quality time with your kids, packing your own lunch, or maintaining your home, it will eventually pay off.  Often times in ways that you don’t anticipate.   For both of these women, their commitment, consistency, and determination was paying off.  Not overnight, but over time. 

If you agree with the expression, it’s the journey, not the destination, then you get that the transformation that happens along the way is what gets you there.  Where it really gets interesting, though, is that you may never actually arrive ‘there’, because as you change and grow, so does the destination.

My most successful clients are the ones that make a commitment to themselves and are consistent with their actions.  That doesn’t mean that they never splurge at a birthday party or holiday, or that they never miss a workout.  It just means that their new normal is healthier and they are much quicker to get back on track and move forward than they were in the past.  And this is in part because they’ve adopted new habits.

I was talking with one of my clients recently and she agreed that with everything she’s learned, she can’t really go back because she’s inherently changed.  She’s equipped with information that has changed the way she see things and she’s tried and experienced new things that have expanded her toolbox and her habits towards better health and she now knows what it’s like to feel good!

Not long ago, I saw the same female runner again – running of course.  Still looking amazing and still on her journey, and once again inspiring me…

If you’re motivated and ready to make a commitment to yourself but unsure where to begin, I’d love to help.

A Weight Loss Strategy You May Not be Aware of

top of montserrat“Sitting has become the smoking of our generation.” ~Nilofer Merchant,  TED2013

There are many aspects of our lifestyles today that could be compared to smoking, like a diet high in processed and fast foods, and the fast-paced, stress-filled schedules we create for ourselves.  And there is also one habit that we’ve settled into that we don’t often think about as harmful and that is long periods of sitting.

For many of us, sitting comes with the job.  You may spend your days in front of a computer or in a vehicle.  And if you’re at all concerned about your health, you probably think more about how to change your diet or fit in more exercise.   As important as exercise is, it’s often not enough to offset the many hours you may spend in a chair.

As much as I make efforts to get out of my seat more during the day, this topic really came to the forefront for me last week when I was on vacation in Barcelona.  I knew that I wouldn’t be working out at the gym and so I initially thought about how I would incorporate exercise in everyday.  What I quickly realized was that it wasn’t that difficult at all.  Here are three ‘activities’ that I believe made it possible for me to maintain my weight while sampling the local, traditional foods, like paella, bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil, egg frittatas, Catalan crème, and lots more. I’m not suggesting that you adopt strategies so that you can eat with abandon on a regular basis, but rather as a means for you to get to an ideal weight or keep the weight from creeping up over time.

1.  Walking - Sounds so obvious, but it became very clear to me how little I walk!   And even with a daily workout, it’s not enough if you’re sitting for the rest of the day.  But in Barcelona, we walked everywhere.  Even if we chose to use the subway, there was plenty of walking through the system to get to and from the trains.  I actually went through a bit of a withdrawal when I got home.  Moving outdoors in the wide-open spaces was energizing and relaxing at the same time.  Think about where you can incorporate more walking into your daily routine.

2.  Stair climbing - We were staying on the top floor of an apartment building which meant climbing seven flights of stairs (if I chose to) to get there.  So I climbed them two to three times per day for the entire week.  Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, I was surprisingly winded when I got to the top, so it was well worth the effort.  I also chose the stairs in the subway system and the airport, which was also often faster than taking the escalator.  Not that I was in a hurry ; )

3.  Spending time in the cold - The temperature for most of the week was a ‘balmy’ 50-60 degrees F (when compared to CT), yet it was still cold enough to feel a chill after several hours.  It was also cooler at higher elevations, like at Montserrat, a mountaintop monastery (pictured above).  You may not often think about it, but if your body has to work harder to generate heat, you’ll burn more calories.  This article posted recently about using the cold for weight loss supports the idea through your body’s use of brown adipose tissue, or BAT, to stimulate your metabolism.  Although I don’t think it’s necessary to submerge yourself in an ice bath, but if you ski or ice skate, then you are probably already reaping the benefits.   If not, begin with spending more time walking outdoors in the cool weather or keeping your house at a cooler temperature.  It’s also a great way to save on your heating bill ; )