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

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

Your gut is your second brain

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.  

Image: healthbeat.spectrum.org

Video: Ghulam Ali

Diet tracking and the need to separate why we eat from what we eat

Woman eating fruit and using food tracking app / Image credit: mdslim.com

Diet tracking and the need to separate
why we eat from what we eat

There are many reasons we eat. We eat for pleasure, for boredom, for comfort, or for reward. We eat to be social and connect with our friends and family. We eat to celebrate our achievements and to build family bonds. Food is also our friend. It never rejects us or judges us harshly.

Food is so much more than fuel. If it wasn’t, we would simply ingest a grey, tasteless substance with a minimum required amount of calories.

When clients come to me and want to lose weight, they often defend their food. They refuse to believe their current challenges are because of diet. They cite stress and lack of exercise. But the truth is, food is often the root of our problems.

And it can be tricky untangling the reality from perception. What do I mean by that? People think they eat healthy. They believe they make correct choices. They prepare their meals in advance and describe balancing their plates with greens.

What they don’t remember is the cake wheeled out for a co-workers anniversary. It’s the extra helpings and the fortune cookies they reached for automatically at the end of a meal. It’s the french fries they stole off their partner’s plate during lunch when they were having a salad. All of these little bites add up. So while they think they are eating healthy, the truth is that they are not.

And the only way to break the cycle of mindless eating is to track everything. It’s a thankless task, but it’s essential.

There are many apps, notebooks, and tools designed for food tracking. Some apps allow you to easily scan your food barcode to break down nutrients. Others will allow you to log your meal by photographs. Depending on the app, you may be emailed weekly results or win rewards. Many will give you a calorie target to hit and show you how much water you still need to drink.

No matter how it functions, the best tool is the one that you will use. Every single day. Every single meal — and in between. Track everything — and look for patterns. Consider your emotional state and why you’re eating. This is just as important as what you are eating.

There’s no judgement in capturing what you have been consuming. If you are not completely honest, you will never be able to acknowledge your own eating patterns. Tracking food is the first step. Only through knowledge and self-acceptance can we start making positive changes — so it’s time to be real. To get healthy, you need to arm yourself with your own history and awareness. Once you take judgement out of the equation, you’re ready to evaluate and assess. And only then you can make informed, positive changes that will help you reach your goals.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Laura Rantin working with a partner.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Working out is frequently seen as a solitary pursuit. If you’re not taking a group class — aerobics, yoga, dancercise — chances are you’re following an individual program, or at least making it up as you go along. If you’re not under the guidance of a trainer, getting all sweaty and out of breath doesn’t seem like the most social thing to do.
 
But what if that’s not always the case? What if you’re comfortable or familiar enough with someone that you’re OK letting them see you as a work in progress — or vice versa? We’ve all heard the stories of gyms as singles cruising grounds, places where you’re just as likely to get hit on as you are to perfect your lifting technique, but what about established couples? What about couples who work out together?
 
There’s plenty of evidence that two partners working together can achieve cumulative results greater than the sum of their parts. Your spouse / partner / significant other can encourage you. They can spur you to better results than you could achieve on your own by holding you accountable and giving you that extra bit of motivation. Whatever the goal — losing weight, building muscle, increasing flexibility, cranking up endurance — working with a partner can help you go harder, longer, and with more dedication.
 
And there’s no shortage of fitness-related activities that couples can enjoy together. You don’t have to tie yourself to the gym. Try: 
  • going for a bike ride
  • taking a dance class 
  • hitting the tennis court
  • renting a canoe
  • rock climbing (if you’re OK with heights)

Not only are you burning calories — you’re getting in some quality time and (hopefully) building intimacy!

Doing things together can be great for relationships. As with most things, of course, a lot depends on clear communication. You want to be sure you’re sharing similar goals and similar approaches to achieving them. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, as long as you’re both on the same page. It’s important to work things out ahead of time, as much as possible, so you can avoid awkward situations or at least know how to deal with them if they arise. Will you be OK critiquing each other’s technique? What if one of you does well and the other doesn’t? Will you discover something that only one of you enjoys, and if so, will the other be supportive? 
 
As long as you and your partner approach these things with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds, there’s nothing but upside. Partners discover things they never knew they had in common. They can try things they never thought they were capable of. Better physical fitness never hurt anyone, and it can take a relationship to new heights. Now grab your partner, get out there, and get active!
 
Further reading:

Don’t let over-hyped evaluations get you down

Trainer discussing evaluation with client. Image credit: Youfit Health Clubs

Don't let over-hyped 'evaluations'
get you down

When you join a gym, many of them offer you a “free evaluation.” Fuelled with images of your new body and setting the record of pull-ups, you make an appointment with a gym personal trainer to see how close you are to your goal.

I have very rarely heard of these appointments going well. As a personal trainer, I am often confronted by my own clients following their initial evaluation. They could not perform the activities. They were called obese. They were pushed to perform exercises that damaged their body.

They felt like failures.

What my clients don’t realize is that there’s no such thing as a free evaluation. These one-on-one sessions are designed to sell personal training sessions. The gym environment is extremely competitive, and personal trainers often have to fight for clients. Offering new clients an evaluation is a trick to make them feel like they are extremely out of shape and can only be rescued by a personal trainer.

The fitness evaluation is a tricky thing. As there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training, there is also no one-size-fits-all fitness evaluation. Instead, personal training is a give-and-take relationship with clients opening up about what they want from a session (or long-term plan) and a trainer constantly refining what exercises will help them achieve their goal. The trainers at most gyms quickly use a series of tests to gauge where they think a client is at — and select the exercises that will best highlight the weakness.

Evaluation as sales technique

I am not saying that personal trainers at gyms are unprofessional or unqualified. The truth is that they are under extreme pressure to retain their jobs and build a clientele. In a numbers-driven sales environment, trainers are pushed to make a hard sell to potential clients. These environments do not prioritize the trainer-client relationship. Instead, it’s about the numbers.

If you do join a gym and are offered a free evaluation, there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a try. Do not take the experience personally and remember the real reason behind the evaluation. However, there’s a simple way to test your fitness at a new gym that doesn’t involve the hard sell: take a class or try out a new piece of cardio equipment.

Instead of feeling badly about yourself, why not start your gym relationship positively? The potential to build a new skill and a challenge to conquer will keep you coming back to the gym — not feeling badly about yourself.

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you’re getting closer to your goal

woman holding scale and screaming because she's hit a plateau. Image credit: diyhcg.com

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you're getting closer to your goal

We’ve all experienced this: you step on the scale after a week where you rejected the office “it’s Thursdays so let’s have cake” celebration and swapped after work socializing for a killer run…only to find the numbers remain the same. How is this possible, you ask yourself. Why didn’t I indulge? And the whys and the hows just keep on coming.

Plateaus are extremely frustrating when you’ve been focused on your goal and find yourself stuck. But here’s the thing… if you weren’t moving towards your goal, you wouldn’t be stuck. A plateau is not failure. It’s the indication that you are moving towards your healthier life and away from your starting point.

I encourage my clients to start with a measurable goal in mind — whether it’s a number, a size, a rep count, or a weight amount. We make a plan and emphasize small changes along the way. Every week is an opportunity to make small modifications to the journey. Whether it’s logging food in a journal or adding an extra weights session, one change a week is not overwhelming and provides a sense of accomplishment. The following week, we’ll add another small change.

All these little changes add up to eventual results. I always emphasize that slow progress is about changing the behaviours … and making a lasting impact. Like all changes, at first this can be uncomfortable. Shaking up the routine and taking yourself off automatic can be tough. Finding yourself saying “no thanks” and putting yourself first is difficult. But we have to remind ourselves that we are doing this so we can be better and take care of others.

A plateau is when you get comfortable. It’s a signal that your body is getting used to these positive changes. If you want to keep moving towards your goal, you need to feel uncomfortable again.

To get back on track, we need to assess what’s going on with your diet and exercise by ….

Switching up your exercise 

Try a new class, activity, or ask for heavier weights. You need to feel challenged again — even if that’s holding a yin yoga pose for five minutes and just breathing through it.

Checking your food diary

It’s time to take a critical look at your food journal. Are there any trends that you’re noticing? If you thought you would give that food diary a break, it’s time to get back into writing everything/recording everything.

Although it might feel like you’re starting all over again, go back to the one change a week philosophy. What will you do this week to challenge yourself? How will you get yourself out of the plateau rut? Instead of being frustrated, it’s time for a reset and a celebration. A plateau is just a rest that reminds you that you’re on the right track … and you can keep going.  


Laura's question of the week

Have you ever hit a plateau? (Hint: the correct answer is always “yes.”) Was it weight loss? Strength? Flexibility? Aerobic endurance? How did you get past it? Let us know in the comments!

Plateau Point trail sign in the Grand Canyon. Image credit: artoftall.com

Trigger foods: the obstacles to our weight-loss goals

Woman eating chocolate, a common trigger food. Credit Pixabay.

Trigger foods: the obstacles to our weight-loss goals

I’ve had clients come to me in tears wondering why they haven’t achieved their weight-loss goals. It’s hard,  it’s frustrating, and it can trigger exasperation. As we always say, gaining weight is easy — losing it is hard. With the amount of food-tracker apps on the market and quick solutions, education about food density, and devices that calculate calories … we should be better at shedding those impossible pounds.

So what do I tell clients who are devastated by non-moving numbers on the scale? Well, we always start with being realistic. The healthy way to lose weight is 1-2 pounds a week. That’s it.

And then we look at trigger foods. These are the foods that you have an unhealthy relationship with. For some people it’s sweets. For others it’s salty. And I’ve had clients devour portions and portions of spaghetti bolognese. These are meals or snacks where there is a bottomless quality to your consumption. You can eat and eat without ever feeling full. Eating becomes an avalanche and you can’t stop until it’s all gone.

When you look back at your week, can you isolate those moments where you experienced a craving so severe that you couldn’t focus on your work? For so many people, the emotional component of eating undoes all their good work of exercise. Wanting a treat for finishing a project. A vending machine run in the middle of the day to break up boredom. A salty snack that is chemically designed for you to eat the entire bag in one sitting.

Honesty is key

Pasta, beer and bread are also common trigger foods. Credit: Stokpic.comSo, what should you do about these foods? Personally, I recommend avoiding them altogether. If you are honest with yourself, and identify a trigger food, keep it out of the house or desk drawer. Knowing yourself is the first step. And don’t lie. Being honest is hard, but it’s essential.

Does that mean that you’ll need to be on a sugar-free, no-salt diet for the rest of your life? No, it doesn’t. But if it means that you will never purchase a certain type of rice-cake flavour because you will consume it all in one sitting — that’s a fair trade-off to hit your weight-loss goal. By being as specific as possible about the item that causes you to want to consume in mass quantities, you can sever the relationship with this food. And keep on track to towards your goals.


What foods are red flags for you? How have you dealt with them? Let us know in the comments!

Finding your trainer soulmate​

Personal trainer coaching client on stationary bike. Image credit: Universal Training Academy

Finding your trainer soulmate

So, you’ve decided to get a trainer because you’ve heard that a trainer is what you need to reach your goals. And yes! Working side-by-side with someone who “gets” you is often the first step. At TrainingSpaces, we have a roster of in-house trainers who each have unique specialties and expertise. When you contact us, we’ll try to  match you with the trainer we think will be the best fit.

But there are also some things for you to consider:

What do you want to achieve? What are your expectations from this relationship? Do you have a clear goal in mind or is it just overall well-being and improved fitness? The more specific you can be, the better it will be for us to match you with the right trainer.  

Be honest about past experience. It might be difficult to admit that you haven’t stepped into a gym since Canada Fitness was handing out participation pins. Maybe you were an all-star athlete but were sidelined by an injury — one that still plays up when you do squats. Everyone has a background in exercise experience and being upfront is essential. It’s a baseline and a reality check. Your history is what makes you unique and allows your trainer to customize the best plan to achieve your goals.

Be realistic. How many hours can you commit to training? Often we want to jump into things and commit ourselves to the process. However, promising to train like Chris Hemsworth before shooting the next Thor movie is completely unrealistic — unless you are Chris Hemsworth and Marvel is paying you to work out 24/7. On the other hand, suggesting that you want to train every two weeks to lose 20 lbs by Labour Day is equally unrealistic. Think about how much time you can really afford to train and set small goals.

Prepare to experience mental and physical achievements. Part of the beauty of working with a trainer is building a relationship with someone who really knows and understands you. Being comfortable being yourself is so important to this relationship. In the mix of repetition and physical exercise, I’ve seen clients figure out their next career move, relationships, and sort through family dynamics. Go with the process and don’t be scared if something triggers that emotional release. It’s not frightening. It’s human.

Speak up. I’m not talking about the “it’s too heavy” complaint — I’m talking about the “I can’t do this because I will damage myself” feedback. Throughout your workout, it’s our responsibility to keep you strong and safe. If you are uncomfortable, you need to let us know. If you cannot tell your trainer how you are feeling, this is the wrong person for you. There’s no shame in admitting that you just don’t click with your trainer. Let us know as soon as possible. This way we can rematch you as quickly as possible.

Finding a trainer can be a daunting experience so take your time. Your trainer soulmate is out there!


How did you find your trainer? What was/is the best thing about him/her? Let us know in the comments!