Could This Be The Best 2-Week Eating Plan?

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I’ve read several books that have left an impression on me regarding nutrition. The majority of the authors are doctors, and though there are several common themes, for example: broccoli yes; Dorito’s no, they do differ in their minutia. (Note: I recommend consulting a Registered Dietician to help determine what is the best eating plan for you. )  That said, my goal with this two week program is to give you an eating plan that fits into the parameters of all these experts.  Surprisingly that was not easy to do.  When I broke with the guidelines of a particular author, I noted so next to the recipe. Below I give an Executive Summary of each of the books, a link to the authors website, and a recommendation as to who should take a deeper dive into each book, i.e. go buy the damn thing.

The Books

 

The Better Brain Solution by Dr. Steven Masley

Dr. Masley is a believer in managing your blood sugar to control cognitive decline.

Who does best on this eating plan: Those who are (or have a loved one) suffering from a brain injury, memory loss, cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimer’s.  This is also an excellent protocol for anyone who has a familial history of dementia, has tested positive for the ApoE4 gene variations or is otherwise at increased risk for accelerated cognitive decline.

Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan

Dr. Shanahan’s dietary recommendations are summarized in these four bullet points:

  • Consume meat with the bones
  • Eat from hoof to tail (this includes the “icky” parts, e.g. liver and kidneys)
  • Fermented foods (Started making my own Kombucha and Saurkraut after reading this book.)
  • Lots of greens

Who does best on this eating plan:  Those interested in living an “ancestral” (not paleo) lifestyle, who don’t mind eating a wide variety of foods and have no illnesses, autoimmune disorders or allergies.

Glow 15 by Naomi Whittel

Ms. Whittle’s diet recommendations center on intermittent fasting to promote autophagy (cellular clean-up), but she does have some interesting nutritional tips:

Who does best on this eating plan: You are healthy but have a few pounds to lose.

Clean Skin from Within by Dr. Trevor Cates

Dr. Cates’ diet recommendation are summarized by ELIMINATING the following foods:

  • Sugar
  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Eggs
  • Corn
  • Nightshades
  • Peanuts
  • Soy

Who does best on this eating plan: those with acne or skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis or keratosis pilaris.

The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry

Dr. Gundry believes that plant lectins (gluten being the most familiar lectin) are the cause of most modern illnesses.

Who does best on this eating plan: those with undiagnosed medical issues, autoimmune disorders and gut issues.  Note: folks suffering from autoimmune disorders need to consult with a registered dietician.

 

Planning Your Two Week Reboot

Before embarking on this two week eating plan, prepare to tell family and friends that you will not be going out for dinner, drinks or desserts. It’s only two weeks!! You can do this, and I encourage you to get family and friends to join you. I’ve picked recipes as written in the books, but additional ones can be found on the authors websites. I suggest you make several servings so you have plenty for leftovers. I’ve tried to choose recipes that have fish, chicken, red meat and vegetarian options.  When shopping chose the best quality products available.  To quote Dr. Gundry, “You are what you ate, ate.”  If you choose animal proteins such as farmed fish or industrially raised pork, you are eating the same crap those animals ate.  I know the rules governing organic produce, grass fed beef and pasture raised eggs, leave a lot to be desired, but do your best to pick high quality foods.

 

Beverages

 

Morning Replenishing Cocktail:  DRINK THIS EVERY MORNING UPON RISING!!!!

16 ounces Pellegrino or Gerolsteiner Mineral Water

Squeeze of half lemon

1 to 2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar

¼ teaspoon pink Himalayan Sea Salt

 

Other morning beverages:

Black Coffee (unless you’re trying to clear up skin issues such as acne)

Bulletproof Coffee (This is Dave Asprey’s variation, though several authors had their own interpretation.)

  1. Make your coffee. Brew 1 cup (8-12 ounces) of coffee using filtered water with 2 ½ heaping tablespoons of freshly ground Coffee Beans.

2. Add Brain Octane Oil. (You can substitute another brand of MCT oil, but this one seems easier on the gut.) Add 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of Brain Octane Oil

3. Add grass-fed butter or ghee. …

4. Blend.

Tea:  Black, Green, Earl Grey

Atopha Tea (Naomi Whittel)

1 green tea bag

1 whole citrus bergamot Earl Grey tea bag

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon raw coconut oil

1 teaspoon trehalose (optional, can be bought on Amazon)

  1. Steep tea bags in large mug with hot water and cinnamon sticks for at least three minutes (longer is better). Remove and discard tea bags.
  2. Add the coconut oil and stir it in using the cinnamon stick.
  3. Mix it all together for 20 to 30 seconds. You can also blend the tea to help mix the flavors and emulsify the oil.
  4. If desired, sweeten the tea with trehalose.

Kombucha

If you want some help in learning how to make your own, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help you get started. Otherwise, look for bottles that have less than 2 grams of sugar per serving. Don’t drink more than a bottle a day.  I tend to drink a bottle every other day, e.g. slightly less than 8 oz a day.

Bone Broth

  • 2 pounds (or more) of bones from a healthy source (i.e. grass fed beef)
  • 2 chicken feet for extra gelatin (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  1. If you are using raw bones, especially beef bones, it improves flavor to roast them in the oven first. I place them in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes at 400, along with the vegetables which I liberally coat with avocado oil. I stir up the mixture 15 minutes into cooking time.
  2. Place the bones in a crock pot. Pour (filtered) water over the bones and add the vinegar. Let sit for 20-30 minutes in the cool water. The acid helps make the nutrients in the bones more available.
  3. Cook on low for 24 hours.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain using a fine metal strainer to remove all the bits of bone and vegetables.
  5. If there’s bone marrow, remove it and crush it or blend it, along with the veges, and add back to the broth. When cool enough, store in a gallon size glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.

Note: You can drink this bone broth anytime of the day with a nice sprinkling of Himalayan Sea Salt.  It will be oily and rather bland.  It can also serve as soup stock for another recipe.  

Breakfast Foods

 Green Smoothie (Dr. Gundry)

Makes one smoothie

1 cup chopped romaine lettuce

½ cup baby spinach

1 mint sprig, with stem

½ avocado

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 to 6 drops stevia extract (optional)

¼ cup ice cubes

1 cup water

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend on high until smooth and fluffy.  Add more ice cubes if desired.

 

Very Veggie Smoothie (Dr. Cates)

Makes one smoothie

1 cup organic unsweetened coconut milk

1 cup organic mixed greens

½ cup chopped cucumber (not allowed on Dr. Gundry’s plan)

½ cup chopped carrot

½ cup organic apple

1 tablespoon fresh herbs of choice, e.g. mint, cilantro or parsley

1 tablespoon chia seeds (not allowed on Dr. Gundry’s plan)

1 tablespoon spirulina or chlorella (optional for extra green)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or lime juice

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

In a blender, combine all the ingredients, including the spirulina (if using), and blend until smooth. Pour into a small glass and enjoy.

Sausage, Kale and Onion Egg Muffins (modified from recipes by Naomi Whitttel and Dr. Gundry) Note: Dr. Cates believes those trying to improve their skin, should avoid eggs.

6 servings

2 teaspoons tea seed oil (can use extra virgin olive oil)

4 ounces Diestel Farms Turkey Italian Sausage or Turkey Chorizo

½ onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 ½ cups very thinly sliced kale leaves

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

9 large pastured or omega-3 eggs (if you suspect egg allergies, use 6 to 8 yolks and one to three full eggs.)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease six cups of a muffin tin with 2 teaspoons of the oil.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat ½ teaspoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks, until evenly browned.  Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, cook the onion and garlic over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the kale. Gently cook until the kale wilts. Let cool.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and salt and pepper.
  5. Evenly divide the sausage among the greased muffin cups.
  6. Evenly divide the onion-garlic-kale mixture over the sausage.
  7. Use a 1/3 cup measure to divide the egg mixture among the muffin cups, being careful not to overfill them.
  8. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the eggs are set.
  9. Serve immediately, or let cool completely and freeze.

 

Thoroughly Modern Millet Cakes (Dr. Gundry)

Serves 4

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

½ cup millet

2 cups vegetable stock or water

¾ teaspoon sea salt, preferably iodized

¼ cup chopped red onion

¼ cup chopped carrots

½ cup chopped basil

1 cup chopped mushrooms

1 clove garlic chopped

¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or perilla oil

1 pastured or omega-2 egg, beaten (Dr. Cates believes you should avoid eggs if cleaning up your skin)

1 tablespoon coconut flour

In a large dry saucepan, toast the millet over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring or shaking frequently, until golden brown and fragrant. Do not burn. Slowly add the vegetable stock and salt, being careful not to get burned from the rising steam. Stir and bring to boil. Lower the heat to simmer, cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes, fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile place the onion, carrots, basil, mushrooms, garlic and Italian seasoning in a food processor (I used a chopper) fitted with the S blade and pulse into fine pieces.

Plane one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the vegetable mixture and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until tender.  Transfer to a bowl. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel.  Add the millet, beaten egg, and coconut flour to the mixing bowl.  Stir to combine and thicken.

With greased hands, form the mixture into 2-inch balls, and then press down with the palm of your hand to form into 12 patties.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet.  Add the patties and sauté over medium heat for five minutes per side. Drain on a paper-towel-covered plate before serving.

 

Lunch or Dinner Recipes

Romaine Lettuce Boast Filled with Guacamole (Dr.  Gundry)

Serves one, double as needed

½ avocado

1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pinch sea salt (Dr. Gundry likes iodized)

4 romaine lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry

Place the avocado, onion, cilantro, lemon juice and salt in a bowl. Mash with a fork until smooth,

To serve, scoop an equal amount of the guacamole into each lettuce leaf.

 

Smoked Salmon with Endive or Nori (Dr. Masley)

Serves 2

8 medium endive leaves or 3 x 4” Nori (seaweed sheets)

½ pound wild smoked salmon

1 medium Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 8 slices

2 tablespoons fresh Italian Parsley

Juice of one lemon to taste

Separate the endive or nori leaves and place on a serving plate. To each endive leaf, add a slice of the smoked salmon and a slice of the avocado, top with parsley and drizzle of lemon juice.

 

Salad with Chicken and Vinaigrette (Dr. Gundry and Dr. Cates)

Serves 1 (double or triple as needed)

CHICKEN

1 tablespoon avocado oil

4 ounces boneless, skinless pasture-raised chicken breast, cut into ½-inch strips

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

Zest of ½ lemon (optional)

DRESSING

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pinch sea salt

SALAD

1 ½ cups Organic Greens (arugula, kale, spinach, etc. Feel free to combine)

Make the Chicken: Heat the avocado oil in a small skillet over high heat.  Place the chicken strips in the hot pan and sprinkle with the lemon juice and salt. Sauté the chicken strips for about two minutes; turn them and sauté for another two minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Make the Dressing: Combine the ingredients in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake until well combined.

To Serve: Toss the arugula in the dressing and top with the chicken, adding the lemon zest, if desired.

 

Roasted Lamb and Vegetables (Dr. Masley)

One of the nice things about lamb, is that it is relatively easy to find reasonably priced, organic, grass-fed lamb.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Baking Time: 40 minutes

Serves: 3

1 pound lamb chops (preferably French cut)

1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter), at room temperature

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, thyme and sage (or a similar combination) finely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ medium sweet onion, chopped into chunks

1 medium fennel bulb, chopped into 1-inch chunks

2 medium carrots, chipped into 1-inch chunks

1 medium beet, peeled and chopped into ¾ -inch chunks

1 tablespoon avocado oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Rub the lamb first with the ghee, then the herbs, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a roasting pan, mix the chopped vegetables with the oil.  Place the lamb, fat side up, in the center of the roasting pan with the vegetables surrounding it.  (As beets bleed red juice, either roast them in a separate ovenproof container or place them to the side of the roasting pan.)  Roast for 40 to 50 minutes on the medium rack.  (The USDA recommends for health safety that the final internal temperature of lamb should reach at least 145 degrees F for medium to well-done, although those who prefer it medium rare would stop at a temperature of 130 to 135 degrees F.)

When the internal temperature is 5 degrees less than your desired temperature, turn the heat to broil, cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes to render the fat crispy. Remove from the oven, transfer to a serving platter, put in a warm place and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

 

Wild Salmon (Dr. Masley)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Marinating Time5 minutes

Grilling Time: 8-10 minutes

Serves: 4

1.5 to 2 pounds salmon fillet (likely skin covering one side)
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
½ teaspoon paprika
Garnish: 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed or parsley and 4 lemon wedges

Preheat grill to 450° (F).
Rinse salmon fillets in cold water. Marinate in a bowl with lemon juice for 5-10 minutes. Lay fillet skin side down on a plate, and sprinkle sea salt, black pepper, dill weed, and paprika over the fillet.

Grill salmon fillet initially skin side down for 6 minutes. To turn, separate the skin from the meat with a metal spatula. Flip the fillet, keeping the skin on the grill and placing the flesh over the skin. Grill another 2-4 minutes until cooked.

The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145° (F), which is medium done. Most chefs prefer 125-130° (F), with the center a bit translucent and it will flake easily, as it is more moist and tender. Whichever temperature you choose, don’t overcook past 145° (F) or the fish becomes dry.

To serve, garnish with fresh herbs and lemon wedges.

 

CHIPOTLE FLANK STEAK RECIPE (Dr. Gundry)

  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oiil
  • 3 Tablespoons lime juice
  • Zest of one lime
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sauce from canned chipotles en adobo OR 1 tablespoon pure chile powder
  • 1 cup plain goats milk yogurt
  • 1 grass-fed flank steak (about 1 ¼ pounds)
  • Sea salt to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients except the steak and sea salt in a resealable zip-top plastic bag. Seal bag and shake to mix well.
  2. Add steak and press air out of the bag, making sure the meat is well coated in marinade. Let marinate AT LEAST one hour, or as long as 8.
  3. Preheat a grill or skillet over high heat.
  4. Remove steak from marinade, pat dry, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. Grill to desired doneness — medium rare is about 4 minutes per side — and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  6. Slice steak against the grain into thin, diagonal slices. Serve 4 oz of meat per person.

And there’s your steak! Now, the best thing about this particular recipe is its versatility. Since you’re making a larger piece to start, you’re sure to have plenty of leftovers… and since this recipe tastes good hot OR cold, it’s as nice on a salad as it is hot.

For a simple weeknight meal, serve the steak over a bed of riced cauliflower, along with grilled asparagus (with a healthy drizzle of olive oil, of course!)

 

Snacks

Though Ms. Whittel’s is the only plan that includes intermittent fasting as part of its protocol, all the authors are fans of some sort of time-restricted eating. For this reason, I recommend you avoid snacking and strive to go 12 hours between eating dinner and breakfast.  If you finish a meal and believe it wasn’t enough to tide you over, you can try adding the following:

  • A handful of raw macadamia nuts (Most of authors recommend soaking raw nuts to optimize digestibility.)
  • Olives
  • Coconut Yogurt
  • Berries (In moderation. Dr. Gundry is not a fan of any fruit, except avocados.)
  • Dark Chocolate, 90 percent cocoa

 

Desserts

The authors do include dessert recipes, but for two weeks, stick with small quantities of berries or chocolate.  You can always go on-line and find some dessert recipes if you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO!

 

Alcohol

If you’re goal is to clean up your skin, avoid alcohol for the whole two weeks.  Otherwise, no more than one glass of high quality red wine (if wine costs $3.99 a bottle, odds are it has fillers) or vodka/per day.

 

Post Two Weeks

All these eating plans eliminate processed sugar and vegetable oils.  And, except for Dr. Shanahan, they also eliminate grains and dairy.  If you feel better after eating this way, you can continue to do so and follow the protocol that best suits your needs. (Insert third disclaimer about working with a registered dietician to fine tune your diet.)  Here are a few tips on adding back “suspect foods”:

Beans:  Not all the authors were anti-legume, but they can be an irritant to some people.  Make sure to use dry beans, soak them well and cook them in a pressure cooker.

Dairy:  Add-in whole fat, organic fermented sources first, e.g. goat kefir.  Dr. Shanahan is a huge proponent of clean, raw dairy, though this can be hard to find.

Grains:  Start with fermented grains, such as sourdough made from ancient Einkorn wheat (and yes, I make my own sourdough bread from Einkorn).  Rinse and/or soak items such as Quinoa to remove irritants before preparing.

Nightshades: Peel and seed peppers and tomatoes before using. Slowly add in things like cucumbers, squash, etc. i.e., anything with the seeds.  Note: I personally don’t think lectins are a problem for most people.  Any reaction we get from consuming them is more of a hermetic stressor that make us stronger.  That said, I also don’t suffer from gut issues or brain fog.

 

Good luck my friends! Please share your experiences in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress Management

Stressed Out
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STRESS!  It’s not always bad.  I’ve had good stress: being super busy finishing up school and opening my own studio, all the while still working as a free-lance Personal Trainer and Group Ex instructor   Despite my sleepless nights, I still viewed this as good stress:  I was growing professionally and embarking on a new chapter in my career.  Then there’s bad stress:  a job you hate, a stalled marriage, or a horrible boss.  The pain of making a change in this situation is real and the fear of making the wrong change even worse.  Then there’s the super bad stress:  a sick spouse, dying parent or God forbid a terminally ill child.  The latter stress is the absolute worst and will probably require mental health therapy, but the following self-care and stress management techniques might still prove valuable.

 

Inflammation

Mindset is an important variable in your reaction to stress. Some people manage stress better than others.  An interesting theory by Dr. Charles Raison is that high levels of inflammation lead to increased stress responses.  If you are consistently depressed and anxious, one of those people who ALWAYS see’s the glass half-empty, you might be interested in Dr. Charles Raison’s study on using hyperthermia (i.e. heat exposure)  to alleviate depression.   His work goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but suffice it to say, if you’re suffering from depression and feel achy and inflamed (depression and pain pathways are similar), Hot Yoga might be an excellent protocol for you.  Please check with your doctor before embarking on any strenuous activities.

Exercise

Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants in reducing moderate stress.  This makes total sense as when you are stressed your body is in “flight or fight mode”. Our ancestors usually got into this mode only when they were faced with physical challenges, e.g. running from a lion or fighting an unfriendly clan.  Unfortunately, we go into this mode today because of a traffic tie up or work deadline. Not exactly a life or death situation. Your best course of action is to get in some activity. Quickly walk the length of the parking lot, do squats (go to the bathroom and do them over a toilet seat if you don’t have any privacy).  Just. Get. Moving.!!!

It’s also a good idea to incorporate several formal workouts a week.  Mode matters less than frequency.  Mix things up to avoid injury: spin, Zumba, Cross Fit.  Many studies also suggest there are huge benefits to mind body modalities like Yoga and Tai Chi as they incorporate meditation into their practice.  I’ll discuss these modalities in more detail below.

Breathing

There’s a reason we say, “take a deep breath” when you’re stressed.  Studies have shown breath focus can be especially helpful for people with  eating disorders.  Note: breath work may not be appropriate for those with health problems such as respiratory ailments (even allergies and a common cold can make some of these modalities difficult) or heart failure as they can make breathing difficult.   Here are several breath work techniques.  My personal favorite is box breathing, but you do what works best for you. Take at least six deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation.

Belly Breathing

This is the basis for the other two breaths I’ll be sharing with you. When we are stressed and anxious, our breathing becomes shallow.  In order to relax and activate our para-sympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), change your breath as follows:

  1. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Take an inhale and feel the breath go into your belly.
  2. Let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax down as you exhale.
  3. Pause for a few seconds before you begin the next inhale.
  4. Keep your mouth closed and inhale again gently pushing out your tummy. The movement of the belly precedes the inhale by a fraction of a second. When you’ve inhaled as much as you can (without shrugging your shoulders), stop.
  5. Slowly exhale, through nose or mouth as you draw your belly in and allow the air to leave your body.
  6. Repeat

Box Breathing

In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep belly breaths as outlined above.

  1. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full and the air moves into your abdomen. (Feel free to increase the count to five or six if needed, just match that count for steps 2-4)
  2. Hold your breath and slowly count to four.
  3. Exhale through your nose or mouth for the same slow count of four. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
  4. Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

A little more complicated than box breathing, but also more powerful in realigning the mind-body and bringing balance to scattered emotions.  The instructions below are borrowed from Chopra Center Website, a great resource for meditation and yoga.  If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a You Tube Video demonstrating the technique.

The fingers you’ll be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.

  1. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
  2. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
  3. Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
  4. Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  5. Inhale through the right side slowly.
  6. Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
  7. Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
  8. Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.

Meditation

It’s beyond the scope of this post to take a huge dive into meditation.  It’s a complex, powerful modality with many formats, that can take years to perfect.  The ones I’m outlining below are best for beginners or those struggling to quiet their mind while breathing.

Body scan

I like to listen to an on-line guide or take a class for this technique, which blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation to boost your mind body connection. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally release any physical tension you feel there. This technique might not be as effective for people with body image dysmorphia or those recovering from a painful injury or surgery.

Guided imagery

For this technique, you conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. There are lots of free on-line recordings. Make sure to find a scene that you find peaceful.  If you have difficulty conjuring up mental images or have lots of intrusive thoughts, this format might not be the right for you.

Repetitive prayer

For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.

Mindfulness meditation

This practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This technique is often very difficult for people to master. Be kind to yourself and don’t strive for perfection.  It’s okay to start with one minute bouts several times a day.  The struggle is worth it as this form of meditation, and its more structured cousin, Transcendental Meditation, has been shown to be helpful for people experiencing pain, anxiety and depression.  It’s also been linked to a longer healthier more productive life. 

 

Yoga, tai chi, and qigong

 These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. There are many forms of these arts and some are definitely more physically challenging than others.  If you are stressed from extreme physical activity, e.g. training for an Ironman Triathlon, use a gentle practice to release physical stress and help with recovery.  On the other hand, if your stress is more mental, e.g. divorce, you might benefit form a more robust routine.  Note: if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.

Supplements

It’s pretty reckless to start randomly supplementing with vitamins, minerals and herbs without a full workup by your Doctor. If you don’t have insurance, you can go to a site like WellnessFx for by mail blood work.  (You go to Quest Labs to have the blood drawn).

Because most of the bodies serotonin is made in the gut, many folks take probiotics for a healthy microbiome and by extension, a stress-free mind.  This sounds great, but what is the right probiotic for you?  I think it’s worthwhile to have your poop analyzed. UBiome used to do it for free, but they might be charging a small fee now.  It tells you if you have parasites and what bacteria are flourishing in your gut.  This is useful information, as some bacteria have been linked to health risks such as obesity.  It’s a one-time snapshot, and your gut can change hourly.  If you want to take a deeper dive, try Viome.  It costs about $399/year, but the report is more detailed and you can repeat the test multiple times to see how your diet, supplements and stress management techniques are effecting your gut microbiome.   (Note: I have no affiliation with either site.)

Now that I’ve given all my disclaimers, here are a few stress management supplements that might have flown under the radar and have some clinical trials under their belt to prove effectiveness.  These come from a listing found at Examine.com , my favorite site for unbiased reporting on nutrition.

  1. L-theanine: Naturally found in green tea, especially matcha.  Easy to add to your diet by replacing your afternoon cup of coffee with matcha green tea.
  2. Ashwagandha: An adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s often found in green super food powders.  I put a scoop in my morning smoothie.
  3. Rhodiola: This plant grows naturally in the high altitudes of Europe and Asia. This might be good supplement to increase energy in the event of a stressful situation.
  4. Saffron: An expensive spice, that gives food a beautiful hue and also appears to confer antidepressive properties.
  5. Lavender or Rose Essential Oils: This isn’t really a supplement, but studies show putting these oils in a diffuser will reduce the stress of those in the room.
  6. Reishi Mushrooms: This didn’t come from Examine.com, but it’s an ingredient in my favorite nighttime de-stressing beverage Organifi Gold. I have no affiliation with this company, but it appears to be the cleanest “golden milk” product on the market.

Conclusion

Life is filled with stressful events.  How you respond to these stressors is huge component to not only quality of life, but also longevity.  If you find yourself having a hard time functioning through activities of daily living, get professional help.  Try to find a functional practitioner who will help you incorporate movement, diet and mindfulness techniques as you journey to a calmer more centered person.  Stay chill my friends.

Let’s Get Some Sleep

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How’s your sleep?  Are you getting enough? Is the quality of your sleep good?  I see so many of my clients struggling with sleep.  Many have been taking sleep medications for years.  Others have developed extremely dysfunctional sleep habits.  Sleep is very important.  There are a few folks who have a DEC2 genetic variation that allows them to get by with less sleep, but for the vast majority of us, not getting enough proper sleep is associated with weight gain, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  (Note: too much sleep is also associated with a lack of wellness.)

Some of the habits I’ve developed to help me sleep better include:

  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day of the week.
  • Exposing myself to sunlight early in the day.
  • Using blue light blockers after the sun goes down if I’m in front of electronic devices.
  • Replacing bedroom light bulbs with the Good Night bulb by Lighting Science. These bulbs have depleted blue spectrum light to help lull you to sleep.
  • Candlelight in my bathroom when I get ready for bed.
  • Keeping my bedroom reserved for sleep and sex. No watching TV or eating in bed.
  • Turning of my EMF router at night.
  • Doing my best to keep my room cool and dark at night.
  • No more than 8 oz of wine (or equivalent liquor) a night.
  • Avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m.
  • Turning my alarm clock away from me so I can’t see it when I wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Use of melatonin or CBD oil when I travel or experience sleep disruption due to an unusual event such as a hospital stay or hurricane.
  • Napping for about 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

These are pretty vanilla recommendations that I give to my clients, but I was inspired to write a blog post  that takes a deeper dive into sleep disorders after listening to an excellent podcast called “A Better Night’s Sleep” produced by the Defense Health Agency and hosted by Dr. Jon Olin (Director, Evans Army Medical Center Sleep Lab) and Dr. Julie Kin (Defense Health Agency). And guess what, they back my plain, vanilla advice and even explain the science behind these recommendations.  They also give you an introduction to what goes on in sleep labs and how sleep disorders are diagnosed and treated.

As this blog is being written, nine episodes of “A Better Night’s Sleep”  have been released. They’re all relatively short (no longer than 20 minutes) and chock full of valuable information.  If you have issues sleeping, take a listen as you drive around town, walk/run the neighborhood or exercise at the gym.  I’m going to go over some of the highlights of what I’ve learned listening to the podcast and why the validate my sleep routine recommendations.

As much as I love the “A Better Night’s Sleep” podcast, I haven’t heard an episode yet that addresses shift workers.  There are many people who have careers, airline pilots, ER nurses, for whom getting eight hours of sleep is just a fantasy.  The good news is there has been some research done on sleep cycles that indicates how much you sleep a night is less important than how many sleep cycles you get in a week.  I’ll go over that in more detail after I cover some basic information about sleep and tips for non-shift workers.

Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN)

I don’t want to get too geeky, but there’s a small part of your brain called the Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), that is a master circadian rhythm controller.  The SCN is your brain’s internal clock. It is located in the hypothalamus, situated directly above the optic chiasm and is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms.   The circadian release of the hormone melatonin is regulated by the SCN.  Your SCN gets disrupted with jet travel, shift work and self-imposed bad sleep habit. To cure insomnia, you need to get your SCN to work better. For example, set yourself up to produce more of your own natural melatonin by avoiding blue light at night.

Use of Sleep Medications

There are no good sleep meds for long-term use to combat insomnia or other sleep disorders. They can be used temporarily, for example melatonin to help you with jet lag.  If you are taking meds to sleep, work with a sleep disorder specialist and slowly taper off your meds. In studies, people given medication vs those not given medication, un-medicated subjects had better sleep  after six months. (from a Ep 4 Better Night’s Sleep podcast).

Bad Habits

Many of our sleep disorders are caused by bad sleep hygiene. Common culprits:

  • Too many stimulants during the day: Cut back by 10-20% per week and avoid them in the afternoon. Caffeine has a half-life of three to six hours, depending on how fast you metabolize it. Even if you’re a fast caffeine metabolizer and have a strong cup of coffee at 6 pm., half of that caffeine is still in your system at 9 p.m.
  • Not adhering to a regular bed time: Work on getting yourself within an hour or so each day. Make small adjustments of 15 to 30 minutes every week.
  • Working too late at night on your computer or phone. If necessary wear blue ray blockers or use a blue light blocking program like Flux
  • Watching TV in bed: If you want noise, try a background noise machine.
  • Eating in bed: Do. Not. Do. This.
  • Alcohol: A known sleep disrupter.

If you have a hard time falling asleep, and entertain yourself with TV or phone when you go to bed, your SCN will start thinking bedtime is associated with wakeful activities.  You need to control the stimulus to re-set your brain.

What works?

No one has the same sleep requirements or the same natural circadian rhythm.  Rather than fight your natural inclinations, you can work with them.  I suggest you take the Power of When Quiz , developed by Michael Breus, PhD and author of the book “The Power of When” to determine your chronotype:  Morning Lion, Evening Wolf, Balanced Bear or Insomniac Dolphin. (For a better definition of the four chronotypes check out my blog post  “How Do I Motivate Myself to Exercise” . )

Regardless of your chronotype, you can use Cognitive Behavior Therapy to help you sleep better:

Relaxation

  • Breathing Exercises
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Meditation

    Sleep Hygiene

    • Avoid stimulants after noon.
    • Easy exercise (walking, stretching) in the morning.
    • A light meal when you wake up to jumpstart your circadian rhythm.
    • Get natural light during the day.
    • No naps (Note: naps can work great for folks once they make it part of their natural circadian rhythm, which tends to dip 6 to 7 hours after waking.)
    • Establish a regular bedtime.
    • Create a conducive sleep environment that is cool and dark.
    • Don’t stay awake for a long time in bed. If you don’t fall asleep after 15 or 20 minutes, get up and go to a different area of the house.  Look out the window or at a picture.  When you feel your eyes get heavy, go back to sleep.  Repeat if necessary.

If you are in bed for eight hours, but only sleep for five, you can try sleep restriction:

  • Only spend five hours in bed. If you sleep more than 90% of the time, increase the time spent in bed until you get to seven or eight hours.  If you find yourself sleeping less than 80% of the time, reduce your time in bed, but don’t go below 4.5 hours.  It is highly recommended you work with a sleep disorder specialist to implement this plan.

Shift Workers

If you have a profession, e.g. airline pilot, or lifestyle situation, e.g. newborn, that makes getting a solid eight hours of sleep per night, a pipe dream, I have some good news for you.  Nick Littlehales, aka the Sports Sleep Coach,has developed a plan allowing you to hack your sleep schedule to your advantage.  First a little biology lesson on the five cycles of sleep:

Stage 1 is called light sleep. This is when your eye movement and muscle activity slow down.

Stage 2 is when your eyes stop moving and brain waves slow.

Stage 3 is when you’ve entered deep sleep. If someone were to try and wake you up they’d have a difficult time doing so. If they succeeded, you’d feel disoriented and groggy.

Stage 4 is very similar to Stage 3, except by this point in the cycle, the majority of your brain waves would be delta waves.

Stage 5 is REM. The name stems from the rapid eye movement that occurs. The rest of the muscles in your body, meanwhile, will be nearly paralyzed. This is the stage when your dreams occur.

It takes about 90 minutes to pass through all five stages of sleep.  Littlehales uses that figure to guide the entire evening, with each 90-minute block equal to one cycle. So, two cycles is three hours of sleep, three cycles equals four and a half hours of sleep, and so on.   Littlehales recommends you do the math before you go to sleep each night to avoid waking up in middle of a cycle.  For example, six hours is preferable to six or seven.  In addition, Littlehales focuses on getting in 35 cycles per week.  Per his protocol, you can make up sleep if you’ll be deprived for a night or two by sleeping longer and adding on cycles later in the week. He is also a fan of napping.  Ideally for a full sleep cycle, but he finds benefit with naps as short as twenty minutes. If you more information on this particular sleep management routine, please buy his book Sleep.

Conclusion

Take time to implement sleep changes.  If you’ve had insomnia for six or more months, you will not reset your SCN in a few days.  Work with a professional to help you tackle the behavior changes that are the only proven remedy for insomnia and dysfunctional sleep. If you have a weird schedule, give yourself permission to ditch “eight hours a night” and focus on 35 cycles per week.  Whatever you do, make sure to make a sleep a priority to maximize your health and longevity.

 

 

Time Restricted Feeding and Intermittent Fasting

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I’ve been helping people get healthier, fitter and happier for over fifteen years now.  One area that has continued to frustrate me is helping people lose weight.  I know my clients try:  they eat less and move more, but though the weight comes off at the beginning, they often plateau or the pounds creep back on as they get discouraged and revert back to a more sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits.  This problem is well documented in weight loss studies.  For example, Biggest Loser contestants almost all gained the majority of their weight back and saw their resting metabolic rates plunge.  However, there are individuals who have lost weight and kept it off.  Across the board these folks have attributed lifestyle changes to their success.  I’ve been on a quest to research what lifestyle changes will help my clients lose weight and improve their health, while being relatively easy to implement and most importantly, easy to maintain. I’ve written about hacks such as  Thermogenesis and Behavior Changes but there are two other concepts that show promise in the weight loss battle, and also appear to improve general health markers: Time Restricted Feeding (TRF) and Intermittent Fasting (IF).  Though these protocols sound similar, there are key differences.  I’ll go over the differences below and introduce you to two people whose research work I’ve been following.  DISCLAIMER:  This post is for information purposes only and not designed to be a diet recommendation.  Please consult with your doctor before embarking on any type of TRF or IF program. 

 

Time Restricted Feeding (TRF)

TRF is eating within an 8 – 12 hour window that begins when the first food or non-water drink enters your mouth. Though coffee or herbal tea may not have calories, they are metabolized by the liver and start your “circadian metabolic clock”.  A leading expert in the field is Satchin Panda, a regulatory biology professor at the Salk Institute and an expert on “the genes, molecules and cells that keep the whole body on the same circadian clock”.  Dr. Panda believes our societies chronic diseases (heart, cancer, respiratory, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc.) can be reduced by paying attention to our natural circadian rhythm, which has been disrupted by modern living, e.g. too much exposure to blue lights from electronic screens and junk fluorescent lights in buildings.  He’s not saying go back to 1800, but he is trying to help us live healthier lives by paying attention to our natural circadian rhythms when it comes to sleep and food.

One of Dr. Panda’s more intriguing studies is where mice were fed unhealthy chow (the equivalent of humans eating doughnuts, pork rinds and pizza).  One group of mice was allowed to eat at their pleasure and predictably gained weight and became insulin resistant.  The other group of mice ate the same amount of unhealthy chow in time restricted windows of 8 to 12 hours.  Surprisingly these mice avoided obesity and insulin resistance and even managed to put on some muscle mass.

Now mice aren’t human, but Dr. Panda has also been working with humans to see if they get the same results from TRF.  I listened to an interview with him on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Podcast, where he talked about putting his type II diabetic mother on TRF when she came to visit him and despite her initial reluctance, was pleasantly surprised to learn her blood sugar levels and other health factors improved.  Dr. Panda’s research  has demonstrated that TRF has health benefits that may include:

  • reductions in fat mass
  • increases in lean muscle mass
  • lower inflammation
  • improved heart function with age
  • increased mitochondrial volume
  • ketone body production
  • improved repair processes
  • aerobic endurance improvements

I’ve listened to several podcasts with Dr. Panda and he seems extremely genuine in his desire to help people.  In order to get as much data on people’s eating habits (times and portions) as well as their sleep and exercise regime,  he created an app https://mycircadianclock.org/ to help him gather data and further his studies:

  • Phase 1: The first week or two you record a baseline, determining the what, when and how much you normally eat, sleep and move around.
  • Phase 2: After receiving a report summarizing your lifestyle based on the baseline period, you self-select an 8-10 hour feeding time window.

As I type this, I’m in Phase 1 of the study.  I find it very exciting to be helping this awesome research.

Here are a few things Dr. Panda learned through his research:

  • Though almost all people told him they ate within a 12 hour period, virtually half actually ate within a 15 hour window.
  • He had eight participants, who were eating for 14 hours or longer, eat within eleven hours or less. The participants were allowed to self-select their eating window. After 16 weeks, participants lost about 4% of their body weight. They also reported feeling and sleeping better.  Data indicated these folks ate 20% fewer calories, though they weren’t asked to change what they were eating.  Study was small, and inconclusive, as the weight loss could be due to the calorie reduction or TRF.
  • As a follow-up to the last bullet, people drink most of their coffee in the morning and most of their alcohol in the evening. If you TRF in the morning, you generally will improve diet as alcohol and desserts are reduced.
  • Insulin sensitivity changes with time of day. Panda has discovered a relationship between melatonin and insulin sensitivity indicating your eating is impacted by circadian rhythm.  Late night eating might reduce weight loss.
  • A nine-hour feeding window seems to enhance endurance. I will remember this next time I’m training for a marathon!

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

IF differs from TRF in that subjects are encouraged to restrict calorie intake for periods (even days) at a time. With IF you are allowed to consume non-caloric items such as coffee and herbal tea, which start your metabolism, but don’t give the body energy.  A leading researcher in this field is Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist (kidney expert) and co-author of the book The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting .  Dr. Jason turned to IF to help his Type II diabetic patients with weight loss when the standard calories in/out model wasn’t working.  (Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease.) In researching how to better help his patient’s he realized the standard protocol of giving them insulin (which they already had, but were unable to utilize) was only making them fatter.  He decided he had to reduce their blood sugar and initially prescribed low-carb diets, but found his patients had trouble complying to the eating plans.  Then he stumbled upon fasting, a dietary therapy that had been followed for millennia (virtually every major religion observes some form of fasting ritual) but had fallen out of favor.

If you want to geek out on the metabolic changes in fasting, here are the transitions from fed state to fasted state (or burning glucose to burning fat) as described by George Cahill.   Feel free to skip this section if you don’t feel like putting on your propeller hat.

  • Feeding: Blood sugar levels rise as we absorb the incoming food and insulin levels rise in order to get energy into the cell
  • Postabsorptive Phase: Six to twenty four hours after feeding blood sugar and insulin levels begin to fall. Liver starts to break down glycogen to release glucose. Glycogen stores last for 24 to 36 hours.
  • Gluconeogenesis: When glycogen stores run out, gluconeogenesis happens. It is the process by which the liver starts to manufacture glucose from amino acids and occurs twenty four to forty eight hours after beginning a fast.
  • Ketosis: Ketosis has become very popular as a weight loss method.  People are eating high fat diets or taking exogenous ketones to get into ketosis.  My recommendation: do it by eating a healthy diet, coupled with fasting.  Here’s a breakdown of this process as outlined in Jason Fung’s, Complete Guide to Fasting Book,:  Low insulin levels stimulate lipolysis, the breakdown of fat for energy.  Triglycerides, the form of fat used for storage are broken into the glycerol backbone and three fatty acid chains. The glycerol is used for gluconeogenesis, so the amino acids formerly used can be reserved for protein syntheses.  The fatty acids are used directly for energy by most tissues of the body, though not the brain.  The body uses fatty acids to produce ketone bodies which are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and are used by the brain for energy.  After four days of fasting, approximately 75 percent of the energy used by the brain is provided by ketones.
  • The protein conservation phase: Five days into a fast, high levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissue. The energy for basic metabolism is almost entirely supplied by fatty acids and ketones.  Blood glucose is maintained by gluconeogenesis using glycerol.  Increased norepinephrine (adrenaline) levels maintain metabolism.
Fuel Metabolism with Fasting

Fuel Metabolism with Fasting, Source: Cahill

I’ve been following a 12-14 hour IF cycle for years, but after reading Dr. Fung’s book, I shortened my feeding window to eight hours and then six and finally adopted a one-day a week 24 hour fast.  I am also experimenting with 48 and 72 hour modified fasts (I still drink bone broth and Kombucha).  My goals, aren’t weight loss, but improvement in general health markers and anti-aging benefits such as:

  • Increased insulin sensitivity.
  • Less blood sugar volatility.
  • Improved cardio-vascular blood markers. For example, Lp(a) (Lipoprotein a) a risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease is known to plummet with fasting.
  • Increasing blood ketones helping my body become more metabolically flexible, i.e. being able to use both ketones and glucose for energy.
  • Naturally increase levels of HGH (human growth hormone), which naturally drop as we age resulting in more body fat, less muscle mass and decreased bone density.
  • Improved atophogy, the process by which the body cleanses itself by breaking down junk cells, i.e., those cells that might cause trouble by becoming cancerous.
  • Reduced inflammation.
  • A better understanding of what “hunger” really is. Have you ever noticed that if you get hungry, but don’t allow yourself to eat right away, the hunger dissipates?  Maybe the impulse to eat can’t be taken seriously?
  • By fasting I’m forcing my body to become better at burning fat. This is important for a long-distance runner like me.  I probably have only 2,000 calories worth of glucose (sugar) to burn, but about 40,000 calories of fat.  I want to tap into the fat to improve my performance.

However, if weight loss is your goal, Dr. Fung has some science backed studies as to why reducing calories is less effective than fasting, especially if you’re still eating carbs.   In a nutshell:  if you reduce calories your body will still rely on glucose vs burning fat.  However, if you stop eating, your body thinks no more glucose is coming and it will start to burn your fat.  This is why people who consistently eat only 1200 calories a day (which should allow for weight loss) end up plateauing.  In addition, with prolonged fasting (>48 hours) ghrelin (the hunger hormone) drops.  The hormonal signal between calorie reduction and fasting is different to the body. As long as insulin is elevated the body can’t get rid of fat.  This is why Dr. Fung is a huge proponent of low-carb and ketogenic diets. That said, he’s not opposed to all carbs or a fan of all fats.  For example, kale and grass fed butter are great, while Cheerios and margarine should be avoided.

Most people are aware that carbohydrates are absorbed and quickly turn into glucose, raising blood sugar levels and though protein doesn’t raise blood glucose it can stimulate insulin. On the other hand, fats are directly absorbed as fat and have minimal effect on insulin. Dr. Fung recommends clients stick to a good, nutrient-dense low-carb diet and get fat adapted for a while before experimenting with fasting.  Once you’ve adapted, balance fasting with feeding.

There are some tips in Dr. Jason Fung’s book for successfully fasting, and I highly recommend the book.  Since I’ve already borrowed heavily from his work, and want to give back, I’ll encourage you to pick up a copy to learn his tips directly.  However, here are words of advice:

  • Stay busy. If you’re bored you are more likely to crave food.
  • Do low levels of activity. For example, easy walk, swim or sauna.
  • Drink liberal amounts of mineral water (e.g. Pellegrino or Gerolsteiner).
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Be careful with too much coffee as it can make you jittery. Matcha and tea (regular or herbal) are better options in the afternoon.
  • Anticipate that you will be hungriest around your normal eating times. This is because your body is used to being nourished at that time and will start anticipating food.  Think of Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of a bell. Make sure your busy during these feeding times!
  • If you’re competitive, use a timer to count down to the end of your fast.
  • Continue to take your vitamin and mineral supplments.
  • For fasts longer than 48 or 72 hours, you might want to consider ingesting some Kombucha or bone broth with sea salt to keep electrolytes in balance.
  • Fasting should be a hermetic (beneficial) stressor to the body, if it’s not discontinue. Especially if there are other life stressors at play.

Conclusion

I’ve been a full-time fitness professional since 2002 and the message on weight loss that I’ve given my clients has changed dramatically. In the early years I was all about five to six small meals a day to keep the “metabolic furnace” stoked; a calories in/calories out model of weight loss and high carb, low fat, moderate protein eating plans.  This is what the experts said worked and I passed the information on verbatim.  As I’ve gained experience, I still believe that calories matter, but so does quality of food, eating timing, stress management and sleep.  Those are the big rocks and my goal is to help you optimize those factors so you can function, look and feel your best.  Stay well my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benefits of Thermal Therapy

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What if I told you one of the healthiest things you can do is subject yourself to temperature extremes?   Studies show there are huge benefits to our health, well-being and longevity by either hanging out in a sauna, exposing ourselves to cold or better yet, doing both.  Our ancestors had to deal with temperature extremes and many cultures still incorporate heat and cold into daily lives, think of American Indian Sweat Lodges or Finnish Sauna’s.  What can we learn from these activities and what can we do to incorporate more thermal extremes into our daily lives?

If you live in an advanced economy, you probably lead a comfortable life.  It’s very rare for you to be exposed to extreme temperatures.  Your office, home and car are climate controlled.  However, this is a relatively new phenomenon.  From a biological stand point your body is used to being exposed to temperature extremes and it appears making ourselves too comfortable is not the best thing for body or mind.  Though chronic stress is bad, it is a good idea to expose yourself to short bursts of stress to help your body activate stress adapting pathways and prepare for future stressors.  This process is defined as Hormesis: “a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.”  One of my favorite stressors is exercise, but for this post we will focus on passive stressors, e.g. cold showers, sauna’s, ice baths, etc.

 

Heat Stress

Muscle

Heat elevates our core body temperature and activates Heat Shock Proteins, which function as intra-cellular chaperones for other proteins. They play an important role in protein–protein interactions such as folding and assisting in the establishment of proper protein conformation (shape) and prevention of unwanted protein aggregation. Role of heat shock proteins.  This means sauna helps reduce skeletal muscle catabolism (breakdown), which is very important as we age.  According to WebMD, at some point in your 30s, you start to lose muscle mass and function. The cause is age-related sarcopenia or sarcopenia with aging. Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Exercise is the best way to prevent muscle loss, but heat exposure is also beneficial.  A Study on mice  showed that those exposed to sauna increased their myocardial (heart muscle) protection by 30%.

Longevity

One of the longest and best documented studies on sauna exposure and longevity was conducted by Finnish cardiologist, Jari Laukkanen.  He studied 2,315 middle-aged Finnish men for twenty years and discovered that those who did a twenty-minute sauna, four to seven times a week with a temperature of 174 degrees had a 40% reduction in all mortality compared to men who only used the sauna one time a week. Dr. Laukkanen’s study controlled for obesity, smoking, alcohol, cholesterol, Diabetes, physical activity and socio-economic status.  Long term sauna use did the following:

  1. Lowered Blood Pressure
  2. Balanced the autonomic nervous system, which is the unconscious nervous system that controls our internal organs.
  3. Improved endothelium (cells that line our blood vessels) function.

Dr. Laukkanes is currently working on studies to determine the optimum sauna exposure dosage.  He believes benefits could increase with exposure longer than 20 minutes as the increased heart rate from heat leads to myocardial stress adaptors (much like exercise).  In the meantime, it appears 20 minutes on most days of the week is a good start. 

 

Benefits of Cold Exposure

Increase Base Metabolic Rate

For my weight conscious and esthetically driven readers, cold exposure is a proven calorie burner.  It takes a lot of energy to heat up your body. Cold increases your brown fat stores, which are dense with mitochondria, which make them a calorie burning powerhouse when compared to white adipose (fat) tissue.  It used to thought that only babies had brown fat (to help keep them warm), but scientists have proven that adults still have some as well.  And the good news is researchers have proven you can up your brown fat content by exposing yourself to cooler temps.    The ICEMAN Study , directed by Endocrinologist Dr Paul Lee, aimed to determine if brown fat could be manipulated to grow or shrink.  The study was small, only five healthy men who were exposed to four month-long periods of defined temperature. Results of the study showed that lowering temperature from 24 degrees to 19 degrees resulted in an increase of brown fat by around 30-40%.  The reverse was also true as warmer temperatures decreased brown fat stores.

Brain Protection

It is also believed that cold is neuroprotective and may have benefits in combating Alzheimers.  Old mice exposed to cold had less brain degeneration than their counterparts exposed to a more temperate climate. Mice Study: Cold Keeps Dementia Away

In addition, cold releases norepinephrine which is an anti-inflammatory agent that strengthens your brains synapses (communication) and can help you remember better.  Take away tip: Try a cold shower before a stressful presentation, speech or test.

Boost Your Immune System

Studies have shown that cold exposure increases levels of circulating white blood cells (the cells that rid your body of nasty invaders) and natural killer T cell’s, also a key player in your body’s immune defenses.  (Note:  Killer T-Cells were discovered in 1973 and shout out to the researchers who came up with the bada$$ name.http://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jappl.1999.87.2.699The study indicated this increase in white blood cells was heightened when cold exposure was preceded by exercise.

Assist in Recovery

Cold exposure is great for reducing inflammation.  However, if your goal is hypertrophy or muscle adaption of some kind, I recommend you wait an hour before exposing yourself to cold as you will blunt the growth and adaption response provided from inflammation. In addition, if you are aiming to assist muscle recovery, as well as boosting immunity, I recommend cold water as you get extra benefits from water’s hydrostatic pressure, which is absent with an ice pack or cryo chamber. For example, I’m currently training for a marathon and after my long runs, I take a cool shower, eat and then go sit in 50-degree water. This gives my muscles time to get stronger from the activity without letting the inflammation outstay it’s welcome. I had my daughter video me taking a “plunge” in our unheated swimming pool in February. Me Taking a Cold Plunge

Conclusion

Remember when you feel uncomfortable for a short period of time, your brain will look to increase its “feel good” pathway. And let’s face it extreme heat or cold is uncomfortable, and potentially deadly. You should always have a physical to make sure you can withstand stress and to confirm you have no contraindications.  If healthy, short bouts of thermal extremes will help make you more resilient to everyday stressors, such as an angry boss or disgruntled kids.  So, get out there and make yourself uncomfortable! Take a cold shower, turn down the heat and turn up the air conditioner.  Sweat and shiver your way to a leaner, healthier you.

 

 

Recovery Hacks

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One of the most important parts of an exercise regime, or just a healthy lifestyle that involves exercise, is recovery. I recently posted a blog on the strategies I’m using to stay healthy while training for a marathon at the age of 52. One of my friends, asked me to write about my recovery methods which, next to a great training program, are a key element in making sure I enter and finish my marathon healthy and happy.

  • Compression: As a Yoga instructor, I’m well aware of how binding poses temporarily inhibit blood flow to a joint and allow fresh, oxygenated blood to flow into the joint when the bind is

Voodoo Flossing

released.  This is a great way to get rid of inflammation that is “stuck” in a joint.  (Note:  Muscular stress is supposed to cause inflammation which is then removed through rebuilding and renewal, but sometimes the inflammation outlasts is usefulness.)  Because it’s not easy to go about ones daily activities in a Yoga pose, I’ve invested in some Vodoo Floss (Kelly Starrett’s brand of bands) to bind my knees or ankles if the inflammation outstays its welcome.

  • Magnesium Lotion: Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the

Magnesium Lotion

human body and plays a role in over 300 essential metabolic reactions. In addition, to taking a daily Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc supplement, I’ve stared to apply magnesium directly to my knee, hips and lower back to make sure I don’t get unwanted muscle aches and pains. I like the Ancient Minerals brand, because it has a texture that makes it ideal for massage applications.

  • Fasting: I didn’t realize this was a recovery technique until I listened to a podcast with Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist and huge proponent of fasting.  He spoke about a study that showed fasting limited inflammation in patients with Alzheimers, Type 2 Diabetes and other auto-immune disorders and how this could carry over to athletes.  I’ve practiced what some call intermittent fasting for years (I eat within a 12 hour window) and this year started to fast for 24 hours once a week.  I do this for health reasons: helping to kill weak cells that could go rogue and potentially cancerous; give my gut a break; teach my body not to go into a craving mode if I don’t eat for several hours (so helpful when stuck at an airport with overpriced, bad-for-you offerings). Now I’ve learned it can help lower inflammation.  Please note, I do not fast for weight loss and would not recommend this protocol for someone with a history of anorexia or forced starvation eating disorders. Here’s the study Jason mentioned in the podcast https://news.yale.edu/2015/02/16/anti-inflammatory-mechanism-dieting-and-fasting-revealed#.WLiuA6tj2nk.twitter.
  • Massage or Myofascial Release: The benefits of massage and myofascial release are very well documented. I’m in massage school, and we practice on each other, so I get plenty of massages, but I’m still very proactive and start each day with a quick five minute foam roller and Yumini Foot Walker and/or acupressure mat routine.  My hack when I need to get extra benefits during a hard training period is to take an anti-inflammatory (large doseage of curcumin or tart cherry juice) thirty or sixty minutes before a big myofascial release or massage session.
  • Avoiding anti-inflammatories when trying to build strength. Studies show that popping NSAIDs such as Advil or Naproxen cut the muscle building signal.  If you are downing Advil after a long-run or hard strength training session, you are blocking your bodies strength building and repair signals.  The study wasn’t done using natural anti-inflammatory compounds like the ones I mentioned above, but I have decided to take my tart cherry juice and curcumin the night BEFORE my long runs instead of after.  Can’t find studies to back up this strategy, but it works well for me.  I’m not sore after my long runs (note: endurance training does have less of an inflammatory response than lifting heavy weights) and I feel like my legs are getting stronger and adapting to the additional mileage rather effortlessly
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (T.E.N.S): These units are used by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world for the relief of physical pain. There are two prevalent theories as to how this device works:
    1. The Gate Control Theory which suggests that there’s a neural mechanism in the spinal cord that acts as a kind of gate, shutting down or opening up the flow of signals from the periphery to the brain. Whether the gate is open, closed or partially closed depends on what sort of signal it receives from the brain to change the perception of pain in the user’s body. T.E.N.S frequencies interfere with the transmission of pain messages at the so spinal cord level, and help block their transmission to the brain.
    2. The Endorphin Release, which suggests that electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins and enkaphalins in the body. These natural morphine-like substances block pain messages from reaching the brain, in a similar fashion to conventional drug therapy, but without the danger of dependence of other side effects

Don’t use a T.E.N.S. if you have an acute injury, e.g. newly sprained ankle. However, it’s great if you have a nagging issue that is probably healed but there are still pain singles emanating from the site. For example, my most common area of concern is my lower back.  I was diagnosed with herniated disks at L4-L5 over ten years ago.  At the time, the pain was excruciating. I’m healed, but the area is still a weak chain in my body and if I feel it tightening up for no apparent reason, e.g. I wasn’t’ just deadlifting 300 #’s, I’ll bring on the T.E.N.S.

TENS Unit

They range in prices from $20 to $300.  I’ve tried the more expensive versions at trade shows and not noticed a difference.

I have his one from Amazon.

 

  • Cold Therapy: The granddaddy of anti-inflammatory tactics has been given a high-tech upgrade with cryotherapy.  Huge fan of cold therapy, but haven’t tried cryotherapy yet.  There are literally three businesses within two miles of my house offering the service now.  Maybe one of them will read this blog and let me try it for free?? I promise to blog about it!

 

Train smart and recover smart, my friends.

Exercising While Pregnant

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According to WebMd, it is perfectly safe and even advisable to maintain an exercise program while pregnant.  Evidence suggests working out relieves stress, improves posture and reduces the chances of gestational diabetes. If you were physically active before getting pregnant, you can certainly maintain a workout regime while pregnant.  You will probably have to scale back a bit, but I’m always amazed at how strong and resilient pregnant women can be.  Here are a few feats that amaze me:

  • While thirty-four weeks pregnant, Alysia Montano ran the 800 meters at the 2014 U.S. Track and Field Championships. The five-time national champion finished last with a time of 2 minutes, 32.13 seconds.  Though 35 seconds slower than her personal best, she still got a huge roar of approval from the crowd and a great story to tell her baby.
  • In April 2017, a six month pregnant Dana Vollmer placed 55th in the overall Arena Pro Swim Meet after finishing the 50 meter freestyle in 27.59 seconds.   This is her second pregnancy.  She won three medals at the Rio Olympics, which occurred 15 months after the birth of her first child.
  • Kerri Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnant when she and teammate Misty May-Treanor won their third consecutive gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics. She didn’t know she was pregnant at the time.
  • In January 2017, Serena Williams won the woman’s title at the Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. Williams found out she was pregnant just days before she was set to play at the Australian Open — and made the decision to go ahead with the tournament.

Personally, I worked out during both my pregnancies and was on my way to the gym with my first when my water broke.  I’ve also trained countless women during their pregnancies and only one (with twins) ended up on bed rest.  Please check with your doctor, especially if you’re new to exercise, but otherwise feel free to break a sweat, just modify your intensity.

Now that we’ve established it’s okay to exercise while pregnant, there are still a few precautions:

  • Don’t let yourself overheat.  I saw a highly pregnant woman jogging outside on a hot day by herself.  I was seriously worried that she would faint from heat exhaustion and followed (not in a creepy manner) until she returned to her car.
  • If you’re a flat lander and find yourself at high altitude (above 6,000 feet) go easy.
  • Don’t do anything were falling can be dangerous: aggressive mountain biking or downhill skiing.
  • Any pregnancy or health scares such as  amniotic fluid leaking, bleeding,  preeclamplsia, etc.
  • Always check with your doctor.

Core Exercises

One of the areas that give woman who exercise during pregnancy the most problems is their core.  Positions can get uncomfortable as your belly grows and you can get pelvic ligament strains and pains.  Here’s a view of visual of the main abdominal muscles:

Abdominal Muscles

During pregnancy, the internal and external obliques generally do okay.  The rectus abdominis is the most superficial ab muscle (the “six pack”) and will generally be stretched out during pregnancy.  The transverse abdominis is your core’s built-in girdle.  Unfortunately, pregnancy will stretch out this muscle and it is the most important muscle for maintaining core stability. The exercises listed below are generally safe, effective and comfortable. The videos are all about 30 seconds or less. If anything feels uncomfortable, please discontinue.  I am modeling the exercises for the first and second trimester and my client Deirdre, who happens to be 34 weeks pregnant with her second child, is demonstrating the exercises for the third trimester.

Core Exercises for 1st and 2nd Trimester

Core Exercises for Third Trimester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Core Exercise Programming

You don’t have to do each exercise every time you workout and you can certainly do the third trimester exercises while in your first or second trimester.  I would pick three or four to do during each workout.  Try to pick exercises that put you in different positions.  For example:

Set 1: Plank or Opposite Arm Leg Extension; Rotation with Tubing; Seated Side Bend

Set 2: Down Dog to Plank or Opposite Arm/Leg Extension; Seated Bicycle; Overhead Reach

Stay healthy, fit and glowing my pregnant friends!!

 

Skincare Chemicals

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When it comes to wellness, we need to focus on what we put on our bodies as well as what we put in our bodies.  Though far from exhaustive, this is a list of common ingredients in skin care products that should be avoided.  Much of this information, I got from Dr. Trevor Cate’s book “Clean Skin from Within: The Spa Doctor’s Two Week Program to Glowing, Naturally Youthful Skin”. If you want to take a deeper dive into holistic skin care, I strongly recommend this book.

 #1 Ingredient to avoid: FRAGRANCE

The word fragrance covers a cocktail of ingredients which may include dozens of potentially harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the word “fragrance”  can be found in nearly half of all personal care products.  This is because we like to smell good and manufacturers know it.  The problem is most skin care products contain synthetic fragrance, which is where many harmful ingredients are hidden. Fragrance contains a number of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are a class of chemicals that, in studies, are associated with conditions such as thyroid problems, infertility, early menopause, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (such as prostate, testicular and breast cancer).

My advice is to avoid all products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.  Better to have clean, functional merchandise than a pretty smelling concoction.

#2 Ingredient to avoid: Formaldehyde Releasers.

Look on the label for quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Bronopol, or imidazolidinyl urea. These ingredients are called formaldehyde releasers because they release formaldehyde into the surrounding air and liquids. In other words, when you rub skin care products containing these chemicals onto your skin they can go into the air you breathe or possibly be absorbed into your skin.

Formaldehyde is known to cause DNA damage and cancer. It is most dangerous when inhaled, and in liquid form can be absorbed through the skin. In addition to being carcinogenic, formaldehyde and its releasers can cause “allergic” reactions including skin irritations and asthma.

The FDA says that the small amount of formaldehyde found in personal care products is safe, but I’m not convinced. We’re exposed to formaldehyde thru pressed-wood furniture (most furniture in people’s homes), building materials, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings, glues and adhesives, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust. We are already surrounded, and we know they’re carcinogenic, so why add more when we don’t have to? 

In skincare products, formaldehyde releasers are used as preservatives.  Preservatives ARE important, and they can be formulated with products such as alcohol, Tea Tree Oil, Copper Salts, even honey.

#3 Ingredient: Mineral oil (untreated and mildly treated)

Mineral oil is derived from crude oil and is in a variety of skincare and cosmetic products.  In addition to being a non-renewable source and not environmentally friendly, there are concerns about its safety. Untreated and mildly treated mineral oils have been classified as a known human carcinogen. They contain harmful impurities such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic.

While most mineral oils in personal care products are refined and considered “safe,” they’re still derived from crude oil, so I’m not convinced we should be slathering them on our bodies. They do accumulate in our bodie fat, lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and lungs. And, that accumulation appears to be from skincare products.

So, until we’re 100% sure the mineral oil we’re using is 100% pure, I would steer clear. There are much healthier, eco-friendly and effective alternatives derived from nature!  I like Alba Botanicals Non-Petroleum Jelly.

#4 Ingredient: Parabens

Parabens are known xenoestrogens, which means they have estrogenic activity in the body. Parabens have been found in breast tumors, yet many skincare companies deny this means anything for your health.

It’s time for skincare companies to stop denying the concerns about parabens, and, as consumers, it’s our job to read labels and demand change. Here is what you’ll find on labels: propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben.  I’ve noticed whenever I buy something from Sephora, it clearly states that it doesn’t contain Parabens.

#5 Ingredient: DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine)

Studies have shown a link between exposure to high doses of these chemicals and liver cancers and precancerous changes in skin and thyroid. Canada and the European Union classify DEA as harmful and toxic.

These ingredients can also react with other chemicals in cosmetics to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

DEA, MEA and TEA are used as emulsifiers to make skin care products creamy (such as moisturizers and sunscreens) and foaming agents in cleansers and soaps to make them foamy.  They also help increase the pH of the formula. A safer alternative is Some natural emulsifiers are beeswax, vegetable wax, and lecithin from plant sources. Castile soap and soapwort are natural surfactants, and decyl and coco glucoside are much safer than ethanolamines.

Conclusion

If you are in doubt about a beloved product in your skin care regime, check out the following apps or websites:

Think Dirty https://www.thinkdirtyapp.com/ 

Skin Deep https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/#.WfON8RNSzq0

Good Guide https://www.goodguide.com/#/

This sites will rate your personal care products for safety and toxicity. Stay beautiful inside and out my friends!

 

 

Injury Free Marathon Training

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I’m training for my third marathon.  People often tell me, “You are so healthy because you run” and my answer is “I can run because I’m so healthy”.  If my diet, sleep, stress levels and training regime weren’t dialed in, there is no way I could run a marathon at 52.  To optimize my wellness and performance I eat a wide variety of real foods; manage my stress levels via mind-body techniques; make high-quality sleep a priority and finally have an optimized training plan.  Let’s break these down individually.

Diet

There are few things we have as much control over as what we put in our mouths, but if you look at the standard American diet, as a nation we are doing a horrible job of eating for health.  If you’re training for a demanding endurance event, like a marathon, you need to make your calories count.  In addition, if you have a few extra pounds, you also need to count your calories as extra pounds on your frame will cause extra stress on your joints.

Standard diet advise for endurance athletes is carbs and more carbs, followed by a side of carbs.  I’m not a member of the “carbs are bad” club, but I do believe most endurance athletes can perform better if they become somewhat fat adapted.  A body can store roughly 2,000 calories of glycogen, enough for 90 minutes of activity, while it can store 30,000-100,000 calories of fat. If you can pull on your fat reserves, you will be able to run longer, harder and faster without bonking.  Here are a few tips for a healthy fat adapted diet.

  • The standard American diet is about 400 grams of carbs per day and a low carb diet is around 30 per day with keto below 10. Though it is definitely possible to perform well in endurance activities on a ketogenic diet, I believe for most people this transition is tough and can even cause health issues such as triglyceride level spikes and thyroid hormone level drops.  I generally don’t go below 100 grams, unless I’m fasting, and will even go up to 200 the day before an 18+ mile run.  I encourage you to track your macros via an app like MyFItnessPal and see what works for you.  Remember, if you’re used to eating a lot of carbs, you are more likely to feel a “crash” as you’re not used to calling on  fat reserves for energy.   It takes work to become fat adapted but for most endurance athletes, the pain is worth the gain.
  • Try some runs in a fasted state. It’s one of the best ways to get fat adapted. If you’re not used to this, start off with going out for 20 to 30 minutes.  I’ve built myself up to 2 hours.  Note:  On race day I’ll eat a breakfast with 100 grams of carbs, as studies (and observation) show eating (especially carbs) does help performance.  If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, here’s a study done on race walkers. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/JP273230/abstract
  • Eat healthy carbs. In addition to copious amounts of vegetables, I eat lots of sweet potatoes, qinuoa, legumes and my delicious homemade einkorn sourdough bread.
  • Avoid ALL processed foods. These hyper-palatable, fake sustenance edibles are typically found in cafeteria vending machines, boxes and the frozen food aisle. These items will inflame you and you can’t afford to have inflammation in your body when you’re logging 20 mile runs.
  • Make a batch of bone broth every week and use it as a base for soup, chili or stew. Any extra can be frozen. Here’s my basic recipe:  Place carrots, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a slow cooker. Place roasted bones over vegetables; pour in enough cold water to cover  Add apple cider vinegar and kosher salt. Cook on Low for 24 hours.
  • Make sure you get enough protein from healthy sources, such as wild caught salmon or grass fed beef. Not sure it’s necessary to supplement, but if you’re vegan, you might want to think of doing a vegan protein powder.
  • If inflammation is bothering you, rather than taking NSAIDS, supplement with the following:
    • Curcumin (found in Tumeric)
    • Tart Cherry Juice
    • Ginger
  • Stay hydrated. I don’t recommend Gatorade, but missing electrolytes are a concern.  Make sure you are getting enough Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium and Calcium. On super sweaty days, I make a concoction of filtered water, coconut water, with a pink Himalayan sea salt and Natural Calm Magnesium/Calcium powder.

Sleep

This is probably the most common issue middle-aged, physically fit people have.  The answers are complex, but of one thing I’m certain:  Ambien is not the answer.  Here are a few tips for helping you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Once the sun goes down, put on some blue light blockers to avoid artificial light. Especially useful if you watch TV or on your computer for hours in the evening.
  • Get your core temperature down by taking a cool shower. When bathing at night, I use candles vs electric lights to illuminate the bathroom.
  • Get your bedroom DARK! You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face.
  • Make sure all blue, green, etc. LED lights are blocked.
  • Turn off your WiFI router.
  • Try to get to bed and get up at the same time.
  • Some natural supplements that can help include:
    • 3 to 5 mg of melatonin
    • 500 mg reishi mushrooms
    • 350 mg magnesium citrate Note:  It’s easy to build up a tolerance to these supplements, so don’t just up the doseage if you feel the effects wearing off.  You are better off trying another supplement.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and stimulants HOURS before bed

Stress Management

Even if your diet and exercise is dialed in, you won’t be successful running an injury free marathon if you can’t manage your stress.  Many folks are addicted to endurance sports because they get an endorphin rush from the effort.  Ironically, these exercise endorphin junkies are the often the exact same people who shouldn’t be running marathons.  They’d be better off with Yin Yoga.  Here are some tips to manage stress:

  • Meditation: If you’re new to the practice, try some guided meditation programs or relaxing to the sound of binaural beats.  Both can be explored for free via YouTube videos.
  • Positive social interactions: Nowadays I look forward to running solo as I’m intrinsically motivated and look forward to listening to my favorite podcasts as I’m running.  However, for my first marathon I buddied up with two other women and though we were all running different races, we definitely kept each other motivated and accountable. Also, don’t neglect your family and non-running friends during your training.  Nothing is better than seeing your loved ones at the end of a race and if they feel slighted they might not show up to celebrate with you at the end.
  • Gratitude Journaling: Wake up every day and be thankful you get to run vs being stressed that you have to run. Be thankful for a family and friends that support your efforts and the job that allows you to buy $150 running shoes.
  • Massage: I believe in the modality so much that I’m currently getting my massage license. Schedule regular massages, at least once a month, during your training. I also recommend daily five to ten minute myofascial release sessions using tools like a foam roller or lacrosse ball to address your “trouble spots”.

Training Program

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to put on junk miles. Unless running is your job, less is more. My previous training programs all involved cross training with four runs a week, but this time around, I’m only running three times a week.  Here are the key runs:

  • Long Run (Sunday): I don’t care how fast I go, I just need to cover the distance. My longest run will be 22 miles.
  • Tempo Run (Tuesday or Thursday): Generally a third of my long run, and run at a pace that is a minute or more faster than my desired marathon pace.
  • Speed Work (Thursday or Thursday) about an hour of 440 or 880’s done at the track at an all-out pace, with full recovery between sprints. This is VERY hard for me, and the most important part of my training program as I’m a natural endurance runner, with little power and speed.

I’ve also schedule in some races, 5k to half- marathons, to help me with race jitters and execution strategy.

I will incorporate one day of biking (probably indoor as I’m a spin instructor), two to three days of strength training and two to three days of Yoga, Pilates or Barre.  I will not run and bike on the same day (not training for a triathlon), but will brick the other modalities.  For example, the day of my long run I will take a Yoga class.

Note: If Yoga is “not your thing” you still need to do some mobility sessions.  Here’s a video link of my clients doing  a quick mobility routine you can easily incorporate into your training program any day of the week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLoppDs4KXE&index=4&list=UUrewpMDL8kqjWM2Q6nBlUbA

Conclusion

The oldest woman to complete a marathon was Harriette Thompson who in 2015, at 92, completed the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon. Not saying I want to beat her record, but I’d like to be healthy enough to know I could. 

Fitness Industry Bull$hi+

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The fitness industry is fraught with products, pitches and dogmas that are completely false.  People are forever hopeful that they can just take a pill to lose weight or find one piece of exercise equipment that will make them look like a bikini model with just 20 minutes a day.  Buyer beware: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are several trends and “dogmas” that make me want pull-out my hair!   Since I don’t want to go bald, I decided to do the next best thing and rant about them in a blog post.  Enjoy!

Waist Trainers

Popularized by Kim Kardashian and other celebrities with hour glass shapes, these garments purport to “train” your waist to be narrow.  This is absolutely ludicrous and there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that you can make your waist smaller by wearing a corset.   It is true that while you’re wearing it, your waist will be smaller, and the change can even be semi-permanent as floating ribs and organs get moved, however, once no longer worn your waist will return to its normal size.  Also, you are liable to eat less while wearing a trainer, though this is not guaranteed as pregnant woman have less room in their stomachs due to a growing baby, yet many still manage to eat copious amounts of food.

Wearing Spanx or a corset for a few hours to look good in a dress is one thing, but wearing a trainer for hours on end to try to train your waist small, is bad for your organs, posture, breathing and abdominal muscles.  The big trend in wearing these garments while working out is ridiculous, as you are putting your natural core muscles to sleep, which will only make your abdominals weaker. If you are wearing a waist trainer, your natural core muscles are not supporting you! It’s like trying to make your arm stronger while wearing a cast. Have you ever seen someone’s limb after they’ve been in a brace or cast for a few weeks? It is noticeably smaller as the muscles have atrophied.   If you train your core properly you can use your own natural corset muscles, the transverse abdominals, to keep your posture strong and stable. Of course, if you have a layer of adipose tissue covering your abs, you won’t have a lean waist.   Eat appropriately and exercise to naturally trim your waist.  I’m a huge fan of Pilates exercise protocols for teaching you how to properly activate your core muscles.  I don’t even do traditional ab work (e.g. crunches, planks, etc.) when I do my own workouts, though I do them when teaching Group Ex classes, as I engage my power house muscles whenever I lift, and I like to lift heavy.

Note:  There is one time where I approve of waist trainers or corsets to “shrink” a tummy and that is post childbirth.  After both my pregnancies, I wrapped my torso very tightly to help shrink my uterus.  This, coupled with the fact that I only gained about 30 pounds with each pregnancy, allowed me to wear my jeans within a few days of giving birth.  However, in this instance I wasn’t “training my waist”, I was shrinking my uterus.

Pre-workout

When I started in the fitness industry back in the early 1980’s there was no such thing as “pre-workout”.  The body building legends of the 1970’s, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane, drank coffee before they trained. In researching this post, I also learned that some people at the time also used Niacin (B3), which helps your blood vessels dilute, to get an extra pump for demanding workouts.  Then sometime in the late 80’s I became aware of some of my fellow gym rats taking a product called “Ultimate Orange” which was basically ephedrine mixed with Tang. This blend gave you a carb boost coupled with a strong stimulant.  The next phase I remember was body builders taking creatine before workouts to get water into the muscle cell.  In the late 90’s manufacturers started to blend creatine supporting nutrients into pre-workouts to enhance the creatine effect of pulling water into the muscle cell.  This helped give body builders the “swole” look.  From there I remember ever more elaborate blends, that used amino acids such as Arginine designed to deliver more nutrients to the muscle cells by opening up the blood vessels.   This delivered a “pump in the gym”.  Next up, manufacturers decided to add caffeine to boost energy and (hopefully) the quality of your workout. Unfortunately, this stimulant craze led to pre-workouts that were pretty much legal meth, flavored with artificial sweeteners.  It is the opposite ofhealthy, and though unhealthy is pretty much embedded in the professional world of body building (as is the case with many sports), I’m hoping amateur athletes are focused more on health and longevity than chasing the pump. Here are some natural ingredients to use for making your own pre-workout. I’m also including a few formulations I use for endurance sports, such as running.   Some I’ve tried, and some (for legal or other reasons) I’ve only heard about.  The goal here is to provide you with supplements that help you meet your training goals and minimize harmful additives and extremely high quantities of stimulants.

  • Caffeine: You can go as basic as having a strong cup of coffee (my favorite) or make a smoothie with cold coffee and some other ingredients listed below.  Finally, you can also, just take a caffeine pill.  I recommend 100 to 200 mg (depending on your body size).
  • Nicotine: Nicotine gets a bad rap because of its delivery system, cigarettes, but the substance itself can give you an energy boost.  I tried chewing some gum before a lifting workout (2 mg) and had great energy without jitters, but I still preferred caffeine.  Then I coupled nicotine (2 mg) with coffee (100 mg).  This left my heart beating a bit too fast and also killed my appetite for a while. Not good if you are trying to bulk, but definitely a handy hack if you’re trying to lose weight.
  • CBD: I have not tried this as I live in Florida and though medical marijuana was legalized, our legislators are imbeciles and haven’t made the process easy. Once the kinks are worked out, I want to experiment with high-quality CBD oil, which doesn’t cause the “high” of THC, for endurance exercise, such as my long runs.
  • Niacin (B3): Helps your blood vessels dilate, which increases the flow of blood in your body. This will help you get an extra “pump” in your demanding workouts. I take a B complex daily, which includes B3 so I don’t use it in a pre-workout. Note:  Niacinamide is NOT the flushing form of vitamin B3, rather niacin (nicotinic acid) is the FLUSHer.
  • Creatine: I take 5 grams daily as creatine has been proven to boost mental sharpness as well as physical performance. I make it part of my morning smoothie, but it can also be used in your pre-workout regimine.
  • Taurine: If you are an endurance athlete and take electrolytes (magnesium, sodium, potassium and calcium) consider including the amino acid taurine in your mix as it is vital to the proper functioning of the electrolyte minerals. Here’s my special conconction for long runs on hot days:
    • Coconut water (I read it was similar to the fluid used in IV rehydration)
    • ¼ teaspoon of salt per 8 oz of coconut water
    • 1 tablespoon per 8 oz Natural Calm Calcium/Magnesium Powder
    • Approximately 2,000 mg of taurine (note recommended dosage is 27-58 mg per kg of body weight)

Running is Bad for Your Body

I would be rich if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say running is bad for your knees.  Humans are meant to walk/run.  We have a better endurance capacity than virtually all other mammals.  However, it is true that almost half of all runners report an injury at least once a year making it statistically one of the most dangerous sports.   My personal belief is that these numbers a deceptive.  Because running is a relatively easy activity: You put on shoes and go.  In meta-analysis studies on running injuries, novice runners were two and a half more likely than recreational runners and TEN TIMES as elite runners to get injured.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4473093/

De-conditioned people are more likely to try running as an exercise than say CrossFit, which in my opinion is WAY more likely to cause injury (and it does have a fairly high injury rate). Also, the reporting of running injuries can depend on medical coding.  For example, you get bit by a dog while running.  Is that a running injury or a dog bite or both?

At the end of this section I give you tips on how to embark on a running program without getting injured.  First, here are several studies to prove how good running is for you:

If you have no physical limitations, and are just scared of running because of the danger “myth”, start by walking four minutes and running one minute for 30 minutes.  Once that is easy, walk for three minutes and run for two minutes.  Keep going until you can run for five minutes total.  After that you can decide if you want to stay with a walk/run interval program or attempt to get up to running thirty minutes non-stop. In my opinion, running more than a 5K (3.1 miles) isn’t necessary for health reasons, however, some people are naturally adept at running and might want to go for longer distances.  You can actually get your DNA tested to determine if you have the endurance gene (ACE I/D) variant.  Finally, make sure to add one to two days or strength training and/or Yoga to your weekly routine to minimize repetitive stress injuries.  As I noted in my blog post http://bewellwithmel.com/whats-the-perfect-exercise/ , there’s no such thing as a perfect exercise routine and variety reduces boredom and risk of injury.

Conclusion

Many products sold in the name of health, fitness and wellness are backed by entities with no desire other than to make money.  However, if you do your research, you will find supplements, equipment and information created by people who have a passion for well-being and want to improve the world.  Find those people and support them.  They will give more than take and be very transparent as to how they make their money.  I strive to be one of the good ones my friends.