Self-care is about self-preservation

Self-care: man receiving aromatherapy treatment / Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
Self-care: man receiving aromatherapy treatment / Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Self-care is about self-preservation

With all those instagram posts tagged #selfcare and showing lovingly curated avocado toast and bubble baths, it’s easy to mock self-care as a millennial trend. However, the fact is that self-care isn’t just about getting massages and meditating in the sunset.

Self-care is how you take care of yourself. It’s the daily process of making sure you prioritize your emotional and physical needs. It’s how you manage demands on yourself and your time — from work to friends and family to ensuring you get in that workout. It is not selfish. It’s putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those next to you.

Self-care is not just about your mental health. It’s also about caring for your physical self, by eating healthy, taking adequate sleep, caring about your hygiene, exercising regularly, etc.

Sometimes it’s easy to know what we need. However, some of us are so depleted and disassociated from ourselves that we don’t even know where to start. Unless you are really good as establishing boundaries, shutting down technology, and saying “no,” you may need help acknowledging that you need to find time for yourself in your schedule.

Do you regularly:

  • Skip meals when you are busy
  • Use food to cope with stress
  • Cancel workouts to meet work deadlines
  • Automatically say “yes” to requests without thinking about how it will affect your schedule
  • Multitask when eating — working or watching TV, checking emails, or reading
  • Feel guilty if you are not productive

If you’ve said “yes” to any of these, it’s time for you to incorporate self-care in your routine. Easier said than done, right? There are many small ways you can start appreciating yourself immediately. Look for small ways you can include self-care in everyday life.  From getting up a little earlier to go for a run to spending time on the weekend preparing meals, these are not tasks but ways to show you that you value yourself.

We need to condition ourselves to take breaks and moments for ourself. The idea that lunch is for wimps that fuelled the 80s culture should be left in the 80s. Being overscheduled and always on doesn’t lead to more productivity. It leads to burnout, heart attacks, and unhappiness.

Don’t take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.
Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.

Don't take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

This post originally appeared March 18, 2019.

I remember being at an airport a couple of years ago and seeing a sign that made me laugh and think. “Vacation calories don’t count!” it exclaimed. For so many of us, vacations are a break from the routine. This doesn’t just include work but can extend to diet and exercise. We can see vacations as a free-for-all, a magical time period where calories don’t count and exercise is an inconvenience.

I get it. When on vacation, you want to indulge in the things that you normally wouldn’t touch when you’re at home. So how can you find a healthy balance? Here are three things you can do to make the most of your holiday while staying committed to maintaining your health goals:

Avoid the buffet — if possible

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive, on a cruise, or at a hotel, the lure of the buffet is an on-going temptation. Because of the choices on offer, it can be easy to go back and overindulge. But the days of the 99-cent buffet are long gone.  Today, buffets can be just as expensive as eating in a proper restaurant.

If a buffet is your only option, use smaller plates and focus on the foods you will really enjoy. Don’t look at a buffet as a FOMO experience — much of the same food will be available the following day. While there may be slight variations, by day two or three, you will know your buffet’s offerings by heart. Also, take advantage of the chefs to prepare fresh choices.

Eat local

As our world becomes increasingly commercial, it’s not surprising to see a familiar restaurant chain on the main street of your vacation destination. Instead of gravitating towards what you know, a holiday can be the opportunity to try something different and local. Find those little restaurants and eat like a local. This may require venturing off the resort, so get a recommendation from your hotel. People are eager to share their regional cuisine and culture. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had was in Cuba.

Eating local also means eating at different times of day. When in Spain, head out for dinner at 10 PM and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you peruse the menu. Eating is an adventure and while you might not like everything, you’ll definitely come home with one or two unexpected new dishes that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your routine.

Keep active

While you may not want to spend 30 minutes a day of your holiday on the treadmill at the hotel fitness centre, there are many ways to stay active on vacations. If you’re on a city break, walk as much as you can. You’ll see more and uncover hidden gems that you never thought you would experience. Walking immerses you in a new place and slows you down to take in your surroundings.

The same goes for exploring nature. Hiking, rock-climbing, zip-lining, discovering ruins, or paddling a canoe lets you experience different environments and landscapes — and reminds us all why we need to protect these places.

If you’re on a beach vacation, swimming can get your heart rate up. We’re not talking about mindless laps in the pool while dodging an unruly game of Marco Polo. Snorkelling can introduce you to a beautiful undersea world and the strange creatures that live there. Even walking along the beach provides resistance which can turn a leisurely stroll into an activity that raises your heart rate.

A vacation can be a break but it’s not an excuse to return to bad habits and destroy all your good work. By making sure that each indulgence is deliberate and taking the time to get some well-needed rest, you can come back home reinvigorated and ready to commit to yourself.  

When time is crunched, HIIT and Tabata can help you work out harder rather than longer

Tabata workout / Image source: 8fit.com
Tabata workout / Image source: 8fit.com

When time is crunched, HIIT and Tabata can help you work out harder rather than longer

I have so much free time. It’s easy for me to schedule my workouts and still juggle my to-do list. My first priority? It’s spending an hour on the Elliptical a day. I never miss a yoga class. It’s not something I would ever do.  

Well, a trainer can dream. 

Our lives are busy and fitting in full workouts can be challenging. When we are overscheduled, working out and eating mindfully drops to the bottom of our list — when it should be right at the top. Taking care of these essentials will keep you strong for those difficult times. Physical activity helps you release stress and improve your mood. 

But what happens when you’re so overbooked and overstretched that even the idea of getting to the gym is creating anxiety? First of all, it’s time to rethink what a workout is. You don’t need to spend hours and hours on a piece of equipment to get results. There are many ways to maximize your workouts so they are an effective stress reliever instead of an added cause of concern. 

When time is short, you need to work harder, not longer. Even a fifteen-minute circuit can get your heart rate up, clear your head, and achieve results. Both centered around intervals of high intensity exercise paired with periods of complete rest, HIIT and Tabata can inject a short burst of energy in minimal time

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is exactly what it sounds like. HIIT promises the best workout in the least amount of time. By alternating high intensity exercise for 30 seconds with a recovery period of 90 seconds, the goal of a successful HIIT workout is to reach 80% of your maximum heart rate. No matter how long you rest, the key is that you bring everything to your intervals. Whether it’s sprinting or upping the resistance for 30 seconds, followed by recovery, going all in is essential for this streamlined workout. 

Tabata training is one of the most popular forms of HIIT. It consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval. It may only take four minutes to complete a Tabata circuit, but those four minutes will  push your body to its absolute limit. Tabata is a shorter workout where one activity is repeated. 

Both HIIT and Tabata can maximize your workout time when you have a lot on the go. These under-30-minute workouts are effective and efficient. Like most workouts, results may vary, but just making the time in your busy schedule and committing to making the most when you’re putting on your running shoes can help you prioritize yourself and manage stress. 

Your gut’s connection to your emotional state makes it your second brain

Gut outline on chalkboard / image source: healthbeat.spectrum.org
Gut outline on chalkboard / image source: healthbeat.spectrum.org

Your gut's connection to your emotional state makes it your second brain

This post originally appeared November 12, 2018.

Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? If not, you’ve definitely experienced it. It’s that nervous feeling in your stomach when you’re in an unfamiliar situation or that full feeling when you’ve received unexpected sad news. Emotions such as happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness can all cause a physical reaction in your gut.

The gut includes every organ involved in digesting food and processing it into waste. The gut or “second brain” can operate on its own and communicates back and forth with your actual brain. The vagus nerve controls messages to the gut and runs all the way from the brain stem to part of the colon. Hormones and neurotransmitters also connect your gut chemically to your brain.

Many contributing factors affect how your body digested and eliminates what you eat and drink. They include diet, food intolerances, lifestyle, hormones, sleep, and medications.

To maintain or restore gut health and support good overall health, it is important to maintain a strong balance of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Eating a diet that includes foods with probiotic or prebiotic ingredients support a microbial health by restoring balance.

What are Probiotic Foods?

Probiotics contain live beneficial bacteria grown during carefully-controlled fermentation processes. You may already have probiotics in your diet: plain yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and miso.

What are Prebiotic Foods?

Prebiotics do not contain bacteria. They contain indigestible fibers that ferment in the GI tract. There, they are consumed by probiotic bacteria and converted into other healthful substances. Prebiotic foods include artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, cabbage, asparagus, legumes, and oats.

Are There Other Foods that Benefit the Gut-Brain relationship?

The following foods have also been shown to balance and improve the gut:

  • Omega-3 fats
  • High-fiber foods
  • Polyphenol-rich foods
  • Tryptophan-rich foods

If you’re experiencing indigestion or even if you are prone to depression or anxiety, you may want to look at your diet. By incorporating gut-healthy foods, you can begin to nurture your second brain.  

Fat-shaming response to Nike’s plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com
Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com

Fat-shaming response to Nike's plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

It’s been almost a month since London’s flagship Nike store unveiled its new mannequins. Displayed alongside more traditional ones, the new mannequins showcase Nike’s plus-size clothing line. Nike, unlike a number of mainstream fitness brands, carries a range of sizes from XS (0-2) to XL (14-16). As the average American woman wears a size 16, it is more necessary than ever to provide all body types with stylish, flexible, high-quality exercise wear.

However, not everyone celebrated the unveiling of the new mannequins as a sign of progress, inclusivity, and acceptance of body diversity. In an editorial published in the Telegraph, a columnist berated Nike’s move as delusional. She went on to shame the mannequin and make dangerous assumptions about health. Because I don’t want to contribute to the many clicks this article has already received, I will not directly name the so-called journalist or include a link. If you want to be disappointed in humanity, all you need to do is google “Nike mannequins Telegraph.”

Should we be surprised that this opinion exists? Not really. It’s just one of many negative voices that athletes who do not conform to traditional sizes and shapes have come to expect when they look for clothing that fits properly, offers enough coverage and support, and looks great. From athletic-wear CEOs casually saying their clothing isn’t for all women to incredible female athletes being criticized for what they wear to compete, the athletic-wear industry is a battleground. With the rise of athleisure, casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and general use, it is more critical than ever that companies embrace body diversity if they want to make profits and set trends.

While so many amazing women of all sizes have shattered the assumptions that there is a specific size and shape for an athlete, the idea that only certain types of people should even participate in exercise is pervasive in our culture. Yes, it is changing — but progress is slow.

As much as we may not want to admit it, many of us are still prisoner to this idea that overweight means unhealthy. Our society still looks at BMI as an easy way to classify and put people into groups. We look at the outward presentation of thinness and the numbers on the scale instead (link to How to Measure Your Progress) of celebrating our own accomplishments every time we lace up our running shoes.

The truth is that we all need to stop making generalizations about health and even berating ourselves for what we look like instead of what we can achieve. There are slender people who pass cardio benchmarks effortlessly. However, there are larger people running marathons and achieving the perfect balance of healthy and unhealthy cholesterol. Being limited by out-of-date biases will only keep us hating ourselves and reinforcing negativity. Change is slow, but if we want to all move towards acceptance and kindness, we need to start with ourselves.