Debunking Collagen: Is there Science Behind Collagen and Skin Health?

There has been a big focus in the media and among health consumers about collagen and its benefit for skin health recently. This blog post is to break down the science behind collagen so that YOU the consumer can decide if it’s the right choice! We get bombarded by the next “great thing” for our health on a daily basis and it can be overwhelming to separate what is worth it from what is just marketing.

 

So, what is collagen exactly?

Collagen is a protein made up of several amino acids (the building blocks of protein) – these are proline, hydroxyproline and glycine. These amino acids join to create our connective tissue – think skin, hair and bones to name a few. Collagen itself is a strong structure that is difficult to digest and is too large to be absorbed through our intestinal wall. Companies have found a solution around this by hydrolyzing the collagen to create collagen peptides, which are easier to absorb.

 

Does research support the benefit of collagen for skin health?

Overall, research does show that there is a benefit to skin health of consuming collagen, however, this benefit may be not be as significant as you think. You will see many companies or articles promoting that collagen can improve the barrier function of your skin, induce synthesis of new collagen, increase hydration, improve skin sagging and wrinkling, and so on. All of this is true! However, what is failed to mention is that while these changes occur they may not be as significant as you would think.

Here are some research highlights:

  • Women taking 10 grams of collagen peptides for 8 weeks had a 12-28% increase in skin hydration (1).
  • Women taking 10 grams for 12 weeks had a 9% increase in the thickness of the collagen layer of the skin (1).
  • Individuals taking a mixture of several vitamins and nutrients plus 5 grams of collagen for 8 weeks had a 20% increase in collagen density where crow’s feet develop and 37% increase in skin firmness (2). Similar effects were seen among eye wrinkles in women taking 2.5 grams (rather than 5 grams) (3).

To give you an idea of what a 20% change looks like, if you had $100 dollars, and somebody offered you a 20% increase, you would get an additional $20, to total $120.

Now, I am not saying that this is not a valid change or that these results aren’t meaningful, HOWEVER, it is important that individuals know the amount of impact their products can have.

What other factors should be considered for optimal skin health?

Whether you choose to take collagen or not, there are many other factors that can influence a person’s skin health to consider:

Diet: Increased intake of fruits and vegetables, especially those high in antioxidants (think the bright yellow or orange, or leafy green vegetables) is beneficial in reducing oxidative stress on the skin

Exercise: Allows for increased blood flow to the skin, PLUS has the added benefit of stress relief

Stress reduction: Stress can have BIG impacts on our skin – from causing dehydration contributing to wrinkles and fine lines, to the inflammation caused by our stress hormone (cortisol) that allows for increased breakdown of collagen

Your Skincare Routine: While there are so many fancy products on the market, sometimes simple is better! This could not be more true for your skincare routine. Too aggressive of products can make the skin too alkaline, damaging the skin’s ability to act as a barrier.

Smoking: Stopping smoking is likely THE best thing you can do for your skin (as well as so many other health benefits)! Smoking causes the skin to prematurely age, leading to increased wrinkles, as well as speeds the rate at which collagen breaks down in the skin

Sleep: You know how they say beauty sleep? Turns out it is true! During sleep your body produces growth hormone, which allows for repair of the skin, as well as melatonin, which is an antioxidant that protects the skin of oxidative stress

UV Exposure: While a tan may have your skin looking temporarily nice, UVA exposure contributes to DNA damage and causes premature aging of the skin

Hormone balance: As females age our estrogen naturally declines (with the biggest changes over 40 and at menopause) which results in our collagen synthesis declining and therefore thinner, drier skin. One of the ways this can be buffered in menopause is through bio-identical hormones.

Healthy Oils: GLA, evening primrose oil and fish oil all have benefits in improving skin health. Check with your Naturopathic Doctor or other healthcare provider to see if these treatments are right for you!

 

Author’s Note:

It is great to see that as a society we have shifted towards a focus of skin health originating from inside the body. I have seen too many times individual’s make changes to their skincare routine or topical treatments, without considering the affect their diet and lifestyle can be having on their skin health. However, I caution people to realize that each aspect of your health, skin included, is made up of so many factors; ONE supplement, such as collagen, will not make up for a poor diet, history of smoking and lack of sleep. It is important to consider ALL of these factors when optimizing your skin health!

Yours in Health,

Dr. Stephanie

Naturopathic Doctor and Co-Owner of Abaton Integrative Medicine

www.abatonim.com

 

REFERENCES

 

  1. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12174. Epub 2015 Sep 12.

 

  1. Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging. Borumand, M, Sibilla, S. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2014 Oct 13. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S65939

 

  1. Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology. Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Proksch E. J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1340-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2015.0022. Epub 2015 Nov 12.

 

8 Tips to Get Back in Shape

If you blew off your workout routine for a few weeks (or the whole summer…it’s ok, we get it!), getting back to your pre-hiatus fitness level can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry, we got you! Whether an injury, illness, vacation, or overbooked social life is to blame, having to start back at square one is never fun—but here are 8 tips to make the transition back to fitness a smoother one.

  1. Practice Self Love. Perhaps most importantly, do NOT berate yourself for having taken a break from working out. Be kind to your body and know that you 100% will get back in shape – it may take a month or two, but it’s going to happen.
  2. Cut out Sugar.  If you have to have it, no more than 15 grams a day and stay away from artificial sweeteners. (No diet sodas).
  3. Challenge yourself to break a sweat at least 5 days a week for an hour. This can be in the form of a group fitness class, a brisk walk or run, soccer game, swimming, cycling – anything you want!
  4. Drink More Water. Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Try a big glass lemon water first thing in the morning, and all throughout the day. Lemon water also helps liver function to detox your body and shed extra pounds.
  5. Eat Soup. Have a vegetable based, low sodium soup as dinner every other night for a week. Homemade it best! Make it Sunday night and enjoy for several days. You can always freeze the excess. Here are some recipe ideas from Oh She Glows that we love!
  6. Prep Snacks. Wash and chop carrots, celery, and peppers and place in tupperware or baggies for easy fridge access when hunger strikes. Add hummus dip for an extra satisfying snack containing protein.
  7. No white bread, rice, flour or pasta. Switch to quinoa, millet, brown/wild rice and buckwheat. Bonus: these are all gluten free which means easier to digest, and delicious!
  8. Breathe and Let go. Turn off your devices and meditate for a few minutes at least once a day. Close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply in and out. Visualize yourself healthier, happier, sexier, feeling good, and taking care of you.

Enjoy the last 2 weeks of summer! We’ll see you back on your mat this September 🙂

How to Sleep Better

Counting Sheep?  Here’s how to fix it

 

Feeling exhausted and frustrated because you can’t get some shut eye? Have you lost track as to how many sheep you’ve counted over the week?  I know many people turn to an over-the-counter sleep aid or even medication to help fall asleep.  During stressful events in my life, especially when studying for exams in university, I also turned to over-the-counter sleep aids. Upon waking I found I had severe brain fog (similar to what happens when I eat gluten) and was slow to start my day.

When it comes to lack of sleep and insomnia, one of the biggest issues we overlook is determining what the root of the problem is. While an over-the-counter sleep aid is a band-aid solution, dealing with insomnia or sleeplessness (the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep) can be what’s ailing you, and can be a culprit to weight gain.

Sleep is necessary for hormone balancing, cellular rejuvenation, stress management and brain health.  Ideally, health and wellness practitioners suggest getting seven to nine hours of sleep.  Anything less will interrupt your sleep cycle and imbalance your hormones.  Lack of sleep can also inhibit your body’s efficiency to rest, repair and eliminate wastes.

As a holistic nutritionist, I strive to treat the problem not the symptom.  I recommend my clients re-set their sleep patterns.  If you feel you are experiencing sleepless nights, assess how you are feeling.  Increased levels of  pain, anxiety, stimulants and your bedroom environment can be major culprits. Stress (high levels of the hormone cortisol), depression, hypoglycemia and sleep apnea (interrupted breathing) can also lead to insomnia.

To help get a better night’s sleep, and have a relaxed and restful night, try incorporating these tips:

1.Exercise early into your day.  This helps give you an outlet to release tension and running thoughts that are going through your mind.  Plus it also releases endorphins, so you can mellow out your nerves and anxiety.  A great way to incorporate exercise into your day is trying an early morning Pilates or Yoga class.

2. Avoid coffee and stimulants.  Learn to wean yourself off of coffee, caffeinated beverages and sugar. These are big NO-NOs.  Change your habit of drinking warm coffee or tea in the morning by substituting it with warm water and lemon. You’ll feel better and have a little mini cleanse every morning.  Now that’s a win-win!

3. Don’t drink and eat a big meal late a night.  Alcohol combined with a big meal late and night may initially make you feel bloated, stuffed like a turkey and sleepy. Plus it leads to indigestion or heart burn (even weight gain) and can cause you to wake up during the night.

4. Reduce your exposure to electronics – including laptops and your cell phone before bed.  Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can lead to sleepless nights.  Instead, make it a habit to shut off all electronics and unwind at least an hour before bed.

5. Add a few drops of organic lavender oil to your pillow before bed.

6. Create a wind-down routine at night, so your body has a natural rhythm.

7. Try a few yoga poses in the evening like viparita karani pose (legs up the wall). Place your gluts right up against the wall with a rolled up towel or pillow behind your lower back. This will slow down your heart rate and calm your nervous system. 

8. Meditate.  Close your eyes and sit in stillness for a few minutes before going to bed. Download the Headspace app for free easy guided meditations.

9. Do a brain dump.  Got so many thoughts, ideas and feelings going through your head? Write it all out on a piece of paper or notebook then go to bed.  Upon waking, look at the notebook.

10. Try taking a Magnesium supplement at night. Magnesium is a natural relaxant and tranquilizer.  It relaxes skeletal muscles and smooth muscles of the blood vessels and GI tract. A recommended dosage per day ranges from 310 – 400 mg.

Assess your diet and sleep patterns.  Do you usually eat your meals late at night? Do you frequently have coffee and or other stimulants mid to late day?  Do you wake up every night at the same time?  Track your patterns for a week or two.  You may be surprised at what culprits in your diet and lifestyle can be preventing you from getting better sleep.

Did these simple sleep strategies work for you? Sweet dreams!

 

10 Tips for Better Gut Health

digestive health - photo via tumblr
Restoring balance to your body takes time, but with a clean diet and proper supplementation, you can dramatically improve your digestive system.  It is important to remember that if we are unable to digest and absorb fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, poor health will definitely follow.  From an energetic standpoint, if we are unable to digest our food, our reality on the outside, then we are unable to digest our reality on the inside.
As a Digestive Health Coach and Holistic Nutritionist, I’ve met so many women who struggle with IBS, Crohn’s disease, constipation, excessive gas, heartburn and reflux.  While there is no quick fix for curing these issues, there are several holistic remedies that can help heal your gut.
Through years of struggling with IBS, I’ve found that changes to both my lifestyle and food choices worked in synergy to help me heal.
Below are my top 10 tips to help keep your gut in good health:
  1. First thing in the morning, drink at least 8 oz of warm water with lemon juice in the morning.  This allows the liver to begin dumping toxins accumulated during the night and will help produce a bowel movement in the morning.
  2. Eat breakfast 20-30 minutes after drinking lemon water.
  3. Incorporate 1 tbsp of Omega 3, flax seed or borage oil in your morning smoothie or shake.  Oils help lubricate the colon, heart and joints.  They also help reduce inflammation in the body.
  4. Take a probiotic!  Multiple strains of probiotics help restore proper micro-flora in the small intestine.
  5. Avoid eating raw foods, as they are hard for the body to breakdown, and can lead to excess gas and bloating.
  6. Drink water at least 20 minutes before a meal, and again 1 hour after a meal.  I caution my clients to avoid drinking with their food, to prevent them from diluting digestive enzymes which are needed to breakdown food.
  7. Avoid sugar and high glycemic foods as these foods are nutrient void, raise blood sugar and cause inflammation.
  8. Drink a minimum of 2-3 litres of water a day!  Add a few tablespoons of liquid chlorophyll, lemon or cucumber to your water. This will help alkalize yoru body, cleanse your body of toxins and reduce acidity in your body.
  9.  Follow proper food combining rules.  A good rule of thumb is to remember that vegetables and salads should be eaten with meats, or vegetables and salads should be eaten with carbohydrates.
  10. Get a food allergy/food sensitivity test.  We are usually allergic to the foods we constantly crave.  In Energy Medicine, and in many spiritual healing modalities, food allergies are connected to fear, while food intolerances are connected to judgement or inadequacy.  Food allergies and food sensitives contribute to many diseases including high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.  Known as “silent inflammation,” food allergies and food intolerances can damage your immune system.
Eating clean, wholesome foods, managing stress, exercising and embodying a powerful mind-body connection will help lead you to a path of gut bliss. Be mindful of what you eat,  how you eat and take the time to chew your food.  Savor every bite – as you truly are what you eat.  Most importantly,  extend gratitude and kindness to yourself.  Be kind to your body and be kind to your gut.
xoxo

Fertility Tips from a Naturopathic Doctor

 

Rachel 2

What are your top 3 overall tips for increasing fertility? 

  1. Know your cycle. Most of us are in the dark about our menstrual cycles. We’ve spent our peak fertility years as women trying not to get pregnant and even trying not to have our periods. Then, when the time comes to try to conceive, we are in the dark. I really encourage my patients to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. It’s a mind-blowing read – it’s the stuff your mom was supposed to tell you, but didn’t. Get to know what your normal menstrual cycle is for at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
  2. Understand the most harmful measures that need to be eliminated. Whether you’re a smoker, a heavy drinker, coffee-addict, a stress-a-holic, an over- or under-exerciser and/or an over- or under-eater, it’s going to drastically affect your ability to conceive. These measures need to be under control before beginning your journey. Both partners need to be engaged in cleaning up their diet and lifestyle.
  3. Take out the junk. The toxic junk, that is. Clean out your home of endocrine disruptors like phalates and PCBs, reduce your exposure to heavy metals like lead and mercury, pesticides, radiation, and air pollution. I even recommend patients speak with their prescribing physicians or pharmacists about the risks their medications may have on their ability to conceive.

We know folic acid is important to prevent neural tube defects in babies. Can we increase folic acid levels enough through nutrition alone?

This is definitely a hot topic these days, especially with new research coming out that we can overdo folic acid. Overall, the answer is, yes, you likely could get enough folic acid from diet alone if you are extremely diligent about it. We can get folic acid from whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, and legumes. However, the reason supplementation is recommended is because of just how important it is to get the right amount. With natural fluctuations in soil levels, food quality, etc. it’s better to rely on a good-quality supplement to ensure adequate levels of folic acid, as opposed to risking not getting enough. Currently, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Motherisk Program recommend 0.4-1mg of folic acid taken in supplement form, along with getting more folic acid in the diet. It is recommended this supplementation begins a few months before conception and is continued throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

 

What are your favourite Naturopathic Doctor recommended foods for future mamas? 

FAT! The right kinds of fats. Stick with organic coconut oil and milk, sesame oil, macadamia oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds. Avoid deep-fried foods, trans fats, heavy amount of saturated animal fats, and manufactured fats, like margarine.

Filtered water. Lots of it. Stay extremely well hydrated. Consuming coconut water can help with this, too.

Protein. We’re trying to grow a human here, after all. We’re going to need protein (aka. the building blocks of life) to do that. Animal sources (including eggs and fish) will provide wonderful complete protein, but be impeccable about your choices. I recommend sticking with organic, grass-fed animal products. This may be hard on the wallet. If so, have it some meals as opposed to all and use a combination of plant-based proteins to achieve complete proteins at other meals.

Carbohydrates. Yes, you need to eat carbohydrates. No, I’m not talking about bingeing on white bread. I’m talking about loads and loads of vegetables, fruit in moderation, and grains in moderation. We need carbohydrates as a fuel source for us and baby. Upon conceiving, beta-hCG will completely adjust how we metabolize carbohydrates to benefit the develop fetus. Get comfortable with healthy, whole carbohydrates now.

Do you have any recommended resources or books?

As mentioned above, I love Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. It isn’t just about conception, it’s also about natural family planning, and general menstrual cycle information.

Once pregnant, I highly recommend Dr. Aviva Romm, MD’s Natural Pregnancy Book. It’s a fantastic resource for nutrition, exercise and natural remedies for common pregnancy complaints.

From a parenting perspective, one of my patient’s recommended And Baby Makes Three by PhDs John & Julie Gottman, which my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed as a way to understand how to maintain our marriage after baby.

Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan is totally fabulous. This is actually a really wonderful pre-natal course to take to prepare for birth. I call it Lamaze on steroids. The book is the recommended resource to go along with the course.

For your partner in birth, whomever that may be, I recommend The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It’s a very informative book to read prior to delivery to get prepared for labour.

 

Is there any food women should avoid consuming besides caffeine and alcohol? 

Oh my! There is a whole list of foods. You could make yourself crazy over avoiding things like parsley, cured meats, soft cheeses, sushi, etc. It’s not to say that learning about the commonly problematic foods isn’t important, but I really encourage women to focus more on the really terrible foods that they should be avoiding. A lot of women tend to see pregnancy as a time to let go and not worry about weight gain, since it’s going to happen anyway with baby. This is so not true. Gaining too much weight is equally as problematic because risks for their developing fetus, and risks for mom during and after pregnancy. Consider the end-goal. We are growing a human here. This is the ultimate time to eat well. Why would we use this time to eat ice cream, soda and chips until the cows come home? Cravings happen. I totally get that and have been there – there is nothing standing in your way. But constructing a pregnancy diet entirely of crap food is only going to create problems for you and for baby.

Stay away from:

  • soda
  • fruit juices
  • deep-fried foods
  • processed sugars
  • hormone- and antibiotic-filled animal products
  • processed grains

What’s the biggest mistake you see women make when trying to get pregnant? 

Stressing to the max. Once fully engrained in the world of basal body temperature, cervical mucus, cervical position, ovulation predictor kits, etc. it’s very very easy for women to become completely obsessed, which takes all of the fun out of trying to conceive. I have been this woman. When my husband and I first conceived in the spring of 2015, it was actually unintentional and occurred on my very first cycle after having my copper IUD removed. As such, we had an ectopic pregnancy and miscarried at 5 weeks. This began a stressful of “can I ever get pregnant again” and “if I get pregnant, will it end tragically again”? It’s no fun. It literally took major lifestyle shifts including job changes and relocating out of the city for us to successfully conceive. I highly encourage women to care enough, but not to stress to the max. Look at your lifestyle factors and your mental/emotional factors – are there things standing in your way. Look into fertility meditation programs like those by Belleruth Naparstek to get yourself in the right headspace to conceive.

What is the number one piece of advice you want to give women reading this who are trying to conceive?

Understand that this process can take awhile. 6 months to a year is considered normal. But, if you are planning to conceive let your naturopathic doctor know early on and you can work together to optimize your chances.

Womb Wisdom: Connecting to your Monthly Cycle

In particular cultures throughout history, a woman’s cycle has been deemed as shameful, disgusting, and dirty. It is considered taboo. Today, some women feel as though their menstruation is a nuisance – dreading the time of bleeding and the days leading up to it.

The truth is, our womb carries tremendous wisdom if we choose to tap into it. In some cultures, the female menstrual cycle was welcomed as a blessing and celebrated as a great gift of fertility and femininity. Our ancestors honoured menstruation by sitting together in a circle, reconnecting to the Sacred through prayer, meditation and communion.

As women, we are biologically connected to the cycles and rhythms of the moon. Many women even refer to their menstruation as their ‘moon -time’. The words ‘menses’, ‘moon’ and ‘month’ all come from the same root word meaning to measure. For centuries, humans measured time by the light of the moon. Each lunar cycle is 29.5 days – roughly the average length of our female cycle. When we connect to our cyclical nature, we are able to better understand our natural fluctuations – physically, mentally, and emotionally. This rhythmic blueprint is the source of all creation and a doorway to healing, transformation and growth.

wombwisdom 2

Like the moon, our cycle can be broken down into four main phases: the beginning (new moon), rising (waxing moon), peak (full moon), and dissolution (waning moon).

While every woman’s cycle is a bit different (menstruating and ovulating during different phases of the moon) – below is a general outline of the four phases. In each phase I have described what is happening physically in our bodies, how we may be feeling mentally, emotionally and sexually, as well as recommending yoga postures to support each phase.

The Beginning  (Days 1-7: Menstruation)

Like the new moon, this phase symbolizes the deep, dark and mysterious parts of ourselves. Although it is considered the beginning of a new cycle, it is also an ending. It is a potent time to draw our attention inwards and connect to the depth within. During this phase, it is important to take time to be still, relax and reflect. In the resting of our body and mind we create space for rejuvenation.

Physically:

On day one, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. The belly and breasts are swollen and the uterine lining sheds (menstrual blood) as a way to purify the body from toxins that may have built up over the last month. The discarding of our menses symbolizes the release of what is no longer serving: thoughts, ideas, emotions, ways of being, expectations, etc. Our body is literally letting go of old energy so that we can create space for the new. Restorative and yin yoga along with yoga nidra and meditation are suggested during this time to support the experience of moving inwards.

Mentally:

We may feel tired and lack overall drive. This is a great time to reflect on what you would like to leave behind and well as what you would like to bring forward. Accessing other realms is easier during this phase. Intuition, sensitivities and insights are heightened. This is a period of gestation. During this cycle phase it is important to reduce external distractions (social media, computer work, TV, social events, etc.) and to carve out time to dream. It is a time to ask ourselves what we want to bring forward and to set intentions for the next cycle.

Emotionally:

Self-care is extremely important during this cycle phase. If we do not take time to be alone, feelings of irritability and distress will arise. The need to clear away the past may become transparent through a desire to clean our spaces and enjoy hot baths. Journaling and giving ourselves permission to let emotions flow can help clarity.

 

Rising (Days 7-14: Pre-Ovulation)

Physically:

This phase starts after bleeding has stopped. For some, it may be felt during the final days of menstruation.  Estrogen levels are building, eggs are maturing and the uterine wall is thickening. Our body feels lighter and renewed. Because our body has the capacity to do more, it is a great time to start a cleanse or a new workout.  Stronger yoga practices are encouraged to regain strength in the body- especially inversions as they increase circulation to the abdominal region, including the uterus, and restore the endocrine system.  We tend to feel sexiest during this time, so wearing tighter and more playful attire can boost your confidence as you step into your power.

Mentally:

Because our energy is starting to move outward, we have an opportunity to be incredibly productive during this phase. This is the time to take action on the intentions set during the previous week.  This is a period of inspiration and motivation; when our mental acuity is sharp.  It is important to stay focused on the projects you are creating but be careful not to over commit!

Emotionally:

As our light increases, we also feel more attractive and willing to connect with others. It is a great time to be social, attract a lover or collaborate with potential business partners. Because we tend to be more positive during this time, communication and heart to heart conversations can be powerful.

 

Peak (Days 14-21: Ovulation)

Physically:

There is a shift happening at this time. Our eggs are being released from the ovaries into the fallopian tubes for fertilization.  Our body is open and ready to create! We may feel very primal, sensual and full in our beauty. Dress in a way that accentuates your body and makes you feel beautiful. In your yoga practice, standing poses and backbends help support the overall feeling of abundance and totality.

Mentally:

During this phase, our ability to create and bring something into the world is at its peak. As much as possible, allow projects to unfold naturally.  Mental activity may still be high, so engaging in intellectual conversations is important.

Emotionally:

There is a slight shift happening in our energy. In some way, our energy is still moving outwards – making it a great time to make new friends and nurture and support your loved ones. However, at the same time, our energy is starting to pull inwards – so we may feel vulnerable. Make sure to honor your emotional needs during this time.

 

Dissolution (Days 21-28: Pre-Menstruation)

Physically:

If womb fertilization does not happen, estrogen and progesterone  levels begin to drop. Women experience different physical symptoms during this time depending on their unique hormonal makeup.  Some may feel tired, sluggish and bloated. Try to eat light. Practice meditation and restorative inversions like legs up the wall, shoulder stand, and plough pose to nourish and refuel your body.

Mentally:

This is a powerful and potent time to tune into the esoteric realms. Our intuition is incredibly high. It can be a great time to acknowledge what is and isn’t working – but do not make any major decisions. Use the active mind to stir inspiration and creative ideas for the future.

Emotionally:

Emotions range depending on your unique balance (or imbalance) of hormones. Anxiety, depression, irritability and moodiness are common indications that this phase has begun. Practice patience and honor your emotions by creating space for self-care. Stick to your daily routines and spend time alone.

Month by month – listen, observe and tune into your natural ebb and flow. Remember, every woman’s cycle is different. If you are taking birth control or are postmenopausal – this wisdom is still accessible! As you become more aware of your energy during each phase, you can gain insights into your innermost Self and increase understanding of the ancient wisdom of your body.

If you are interested in learning more about your cycle, here are a few suggested readings/teachings that I have found helpful:

  1. Red Moon” by Miranda Grey
  1. The Feminine Design Course” with Ashleigh Sergeant

LADIES: Do you know that your cycle can be a doorway to deep healing and transformation? The source of all creation, the womb is exquisitely designed to carry profound information and insight. When we tap into the natural rhythms of our body we unlock ancient wisdom and feel more in sync with the Divine.

The single most important exercise for your health

Are you ready? This basic move (when done correctly) is the most transformative for your overall health, body strength, pelvic floor function and even digestion. Studies also show that repeating this position throughout life leads to greater vitality as we age. Allow me to explain.

The Deep Squat.

From a historical prospective, the squat has been around a long time.  The squat as a natural primal movement pattern is all around us. Look no further than babies who naturally squat in almost perfect position.

baby squat (2)

 

Many of the world’s healthiest people live in places deemed “Blue Zones” – places where there are the greatest proportion of centenarians ( people who live beyond the age of 100 years).  For example, Okinawa, Japan is a Blue Zone. Here people eat from low tables with no chairs. They consequently squat up and down from the floor over a dozen times each day, building strength, bone density and preventing injuries from falls. Studies show a strong correlation between a strong lower body and longevity.

The trouble in the Western World where we tend to chair-sit daily for long periods of time is we’ve lost the ability to squat properly. We sit at work, we sit on toilets, we sit in the car and we sit on the couch. Our butt rarely (if ever) gets below 90 degrees! And PS, wearing high heel shoes is bad news for your postural alignment and greatly hinders your functional squat ability (so sad, I know). Our muscles have become so tight and weak that we look like the below image on the right. Pelvis tucked under, heels lifted and spine rounded.

birth-squat

Get back to your 2-year-old self ( you used to do squats beautifully!) and aim to look like the image on the left above. Straight and untucked lumbar back, crease of hips below knees, knees over toes, weight on heels and feet at least shoulder width apart.

Don’t attack the exercise right away. Getting to this position will take some stretching and prep work. Biomechanist Katy Bowman has written an incredible step-by-step exercise guide on how to reclaim your squat.

Here are some of the deep squat benefits:

  • Stronger lower body
  • More functional/less tense pelvic floor
  • Squats have long been criticized for being destructive to your knees, but research shows that when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue
  • Better waste elimination for bowel movements as colon is more open
  • More power ( you can jump higher!)
  • Increased bone density
  • Easier birth for pregnant women (lying on your back during delivery is not helping get that baby out!)
  • Squats also help you to burn more fat, as one of the most time-efficient ways to burn more calories continually is by developing more muscle

For the vast majority of the squatting world, squatting is a way to pick stuff off the floor (this is what they meant when said “lift from your knees” and don’t throw your back out), deliver a baby, wait for the bus, go to the bathroom, or chill out.

So, let’s drop it like a squat my friends! It’s time.

Why Your Wrists Hurt in Plank

If there is one issue that students consistently mention class, it’s wrist discomfort.  By nature, our wrists are particularly prone to injury.  Holding plank on your elbows instead of your palms tends to be the go-to modification to avoid the pain, however, many positions (eg. Downward-Dog Pose, Bird-Dog, Knee Hovers ) cannot be done correctly from the forearms. Making a fist and holding positions from your knuckles is also an ineffective solution.

Besides, avoiding the exercises that trigger the pain doesn’t solve the issue, and you’ll be constantly modifying and hindering the development of your practice!

The solution? Learn how to protect your wrists during exercise.  And, maybe don’t text and type so much – but that’s another carpal tunnel story!

I’ve been teaching Pilates workshops and classes for the past decade to instructors and students alike. They almost always admit to experiencing wrist pain at some point. When you explore the wrist anatomy, it’s easy to see 
how these vulnerable structures might suffer from improper weight transfer and repetitive movement.

Wrist Anatomy
Your wrists have a lot of moving parts. They start where your two forearm bones, the radius and ulna, meet with three of the eight carpal bones on each hand.  An array of ligaments connect the many bones, and muscles and tendons lie above and below the bones to move the wrist and fingers.
With all this complexity, misalignments in bones, ligaments, and muscles 
during weight-bearing poses are very common, which can trigger wrist pain and two conditions in particular. The first, called ulno-carpal abutment syndrome, indicates pressure where the ulna meets the carpal bones on the little-finger side of the wrist. This may occur if the ulna bone has an unusual shape—something just a small percentage of us are born with—or if the wrist is repeatedly turned outwards to the baby 
finger in weight-bearing poses like 
Downward-Facing Dog.wrist

The second syndrome, tendonitis, is characterized by tendon inflammation, often due to misalignment and weight transfer in poses such as Chaturanga 
(push ups for the Pilates folks!), where the wrist joint is in 
full extension. Chronic wrist injury is also common in yogis and dancers with hyper-mobile ligaments, which can cause inflammation, pain, and ultimately arthritis.
The key to protecting your wrists is—surprise!—a strong core and shoulder girdle (you knew this was coming folks). Evidence shows that a strong core can increase the efficiency of the rotator cuff muscles (we cue “squeeze your arm pits” during plank and pushup all the time in class for this reason). These muscles stabilize the shoulders and decrease the load that is transferred to your wrists. On the flip side, low core strength or failure to engage the core/shoulder girdle can lead to decreased trunk 
and shoulder stability. If the core is weak, strong shear forces transfer across the wrist, especially during transitions. Picture the ubiquitous Down Dog-Plank-Pushup sequence. Each time you repeat it, your wrists bear weight throughout. Over time and without proper support, this can lead to the injuries described above. But when effort is well dispersed throughout the core and shoulders in practice, that force in the wrists is minimized.

So, the moral of the story? Don’t simply avoid what hurts and chalk it up to “weak wrists”. Look at the bigger picture. Look at your alignment. Look at how you can support your wrists by strengthening your core, shoulder girdle and rotator cuff muscles.

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Here’s to you and your practice! See you on the mat.

More spinach more problems: Rotate your Greens

Green smoothies are all the rage for those looking for healthy eating options. There’s no question that smoothies can be an excellent way to start your day, refuel after a workout and keep your clean diet on track. HOWEVER, DO NOT do what I did and make the same 2 cups spinach, 1 banana, 1 cup frozen berry, protein powder smoothie every morning for two years.

Newsflash: you can overdose on spinach.

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What?! It’s true. Too much of a good thing is, well, not good. Spinach contains oxalic acid, which in large doses over time, can mess with calcium absorption and be problematic for people prone to kidney stones. Many foods contain oxalic acid, especially leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, parsley, collards and beet greens. Spinach has the highest levels of oxalic acid – 750 milligrams per 100 gram serving.

Popeye-Spinach

Popeye wasn’t lying to us however. Spinach is still a very healthy vegetable! Just be sure you’re not eating it every day.  I used to single handedly eat one of those big plastic containers of organic baby spinach every 3-4 days. I’d have spinach smoothies in the morning, spinach salad at lunch and often throw that same spinach into my veggie stir fry for dinner. Here I was thinking, “I’m so healthy! I’m getting my iron and antioxidants!” Meanwhile, I started getting a strange “burning scratching” sensation on my tongue and teeth when eating it, especially the raw spinach salads.

I didn’t think anything of it until I did a food allergy test with Naturopathic Doctor  Suzanne Ho through Rocky Mountain Labs. I was straight up allergic to spinach. Turns out I’d developed a hypersensitivity to the leafy green, likely as a result of eating too much, leading to excessive levels of oxalic acid.  Lesson: Don’t ignore those messages from your body. A food that burns your throat, tongue or teeth is not beneficial!

Solution: Rotate your Greens

All leaves contain small amounts of toxins as a defense mechanism to protect the plant from predators. In addition to the problems of excess oxalic acid from spinach, goitrogens in kale and other brassicas like broccoli can interfere with thyroid hormone function. This is NOT to say you should stop eating green vegetables. Just don’t eat the same damn green vegetable every day of the week!

Some symptoms of alkaloid buildup are nausea, tingling in finger tips and fatigue.  But before you dump your green smoothie down the drain, you should know that this isn’t anything to worry about as long as you are rotating your greens. Throughout the week, use a variety of leafy greens in your smoothies— like kale, spinach, romaine, herbs and carrot tops.

Start out rotating between two different leafy greens per week. And then another two different leafy greens the following week. So one week you might buy spinach and kale, and then on your next shopping trip, you might buy romaine lettuce and swiss chard.

There are several “families” of leafy greens. The leafy greens in each family have similar “DNA” including their own minor amount of toxins. By rotating family types with your greens you’re preventing any kind of toxic build-up, but you are also feeding your body a wide variety of nutrients that you would otherwise be missing out on. To help keep you making healthy smoothies here’s a list of greens separated family groups so you can easily rotate!

CRUCIFER: Kale, Arugula, Collard Greens, Bok Choy, Cabbage

AMARANTH: Spinach, Swiss Chard, Beet Greens

ASTERACEAE: Dandelion Greens, Romaine Lettuce

APIACEAE: Carrot tops ( don’t throw em out, blend them!), cilantro (amazing with lemon/lime)

Happy blending! Yours in Good Health. Check us out on Instagram to see new smoothie recipes each week!

 

 

Fitness Lessons from the French

What follows are merely musings after a recent trip from Toronto to Paris to visit friends and relatives. My company name, “The Belle Method” is partly inspired by my French heritage and it seemed à propos to share observations on French habits as they relate to fitness and lifestyle.

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Several years ago the release of a book entitled “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” garnered lots of attention. Love it! French is très sexy. French is also paradoxical. They eat croissants, drink wine, love butter sauces and chocolate and are…skinny?

Here’s what I intuitively know contributes to the health and vitality of French women.

  • They walk more, bike more etc. Working out isn’t compartmentalized to gyms. In many cases, they don’t “workout” at all. Gasp! They just move their bodies more throughout the day because it’s built into their lifestyle. They haven’t failed if they haven’t made it to the gym that week.
  • They eat excellent quality food: the EU has some of the strictest policies limiting the use of GMOs, irradiated produce, food additives and hormones in meat. Food is higher in nutrients than the usual conventional fare in North America. Period.
  • French women take time to enjoy meals. It’s actually very difficult to get take-out. And you will be hard pressed to see anyone eating or drinking in a car. Yes you see the occasional fast-food/McDonalds in larger cities but I’m convinced these establishments are primarily busy because of the free Wi-Fi. For real. Taking time to savor your food is proven to increase levels of satiation in the brain, meaning you are satisfied with less. Another point for the Frenchies.
  • They don’t obsess over calories and fat. This is a similar case of enjoying food more and therefore being satisfied with less. If they want chocolate or cheese, they’ll have it. French women don’t suffer from the same tortured relationship with food as North Americans do. We have “guilty pleasures” and “cheat days.” French women are liberated: there’s no guilt. There’s just chocolat, and it’s a part of life to be enjoyed, regularly. Have you ever just wanted some cheese but instead you ate a whole bag of cheese flavoured rice cakes? (Confession: yup, that was yours truly in university before my enlightenment. I was also 15 lbs heavier then. No surprise there). There’s a better way. Ditch the deprivation and eat a little piece of what you want. It may seem impossible to eat “just a little piece”, but once your relationship with food becomes healthier, so too will your body. Your cravings will no longer hold such power over you! Truth bomb. I’ve lived it folks.

France still has its health issues, not the least of which is the country’s significantly higher smoking rate among women. Some might argue that fact alone could be the reason French women are thinner on average than in North America. I disagree, but it begs to be noted. Additionally, there is still a problem of obesity in France, however not remotely close to the rates we see in Canada and the US. In North America we live in a land of extremes with respect to fitness and food. Here we have a growing culture of super-buff paleo cross-fitters, raw foodists and gluten free vegan yogis contrasted with an arguably equally pervasive culture of all-you-can-eat rib buffets, supersized drive-thru meals and processed diet snack food. People here are either healthy and “in-shape”, or they are not. This dichotomy makes being fit and healthy feel unattainable for so many North Americans. You either succeed and you’re a chia-seed eating, yoga/gym-going Whole Foods shopper or you’re a chubby buffet lover with no willpower. There is a clear lack of middle ground.

Furthermore, our North American culture of polarizing health extremes perpetuates the need for “cutting out bad food” (again with the guilt)! We often diet by depriving ourselves of food that tastes good and replacing it with manufactured food products designed to taste good, but with fewer calories and fat. Jenny Craig anyone?

Impossible! (Read that with a French accent)

The biggest fitness lesson from the French is this: You can still be healthy and enjoy excellent decadent, real food. Butter over margarine folks. Real truffles over chocolate flavoured fat-free cookie snacks. Food isn’t something to be conquered. It’s something to be celebrated. Wine and croissants are part of enjoying life. Choose quality over quantity. Relax, slow down, savour and enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a “cheat day” – a notion completely foreign in French culture. Drink some wine in the park, but take your bike. Life is good, la vie est belle.

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How to Travel Proof your Healthy Diet

Let’s face it; traveling can be hard on the body. Long flights with jet lag, extended periods of sitting, a lack of exercise and prolonged eating on the run. Don’t get me started on plane food and the general airline proclivity for serving micro-waved nutrient-deficient-sodium-jacked mush. (Side note: did you know that pressurized cabins affect our taste buds? This is why airlines spike in-flight meals with sodium and extra flavouring agents). For those of you travelling by car, highway service station fast food dining options are not much better.

What’s a health conscious traveler to do? Prepping tupperwares full of holistic meals and bringing them along is fantastic, but not always an option, especially when you’ve been without a kitchen for weeks on end. And frankly, some people just don’t have the time or desire! I get it.

I’m writing this piece en route home from a 2.5 week trip to Asia, currently in the air flying from Bangkok to Tokyo to Chicago to Toronto. As a celiac, I’m highly allergic to gluten (one bite of bread, sip of beer or spoonful of MSG flavoured food and I’m vomiting in agony for 36 hours). Fun times! Dealing with this allergy has forced me to become super conscious of all I consume when eating in airports, hotels and restaurants. The result (besides not getting sick anymore) has been increased energy, less jetlag and no weight gain despite much less exercise than usual. Sure, for those of you with no allergies, grabbing a bowl of ramen or a slice of pizza is easier, but I truly believe your body (and waistline!) will thank you.

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versus

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Here are some tips on travel-proofing your diet.

  • Eat local fruit. And if “local” means you’re buying that banana at Starbucks near your departure gate, so be it. Pick the banana or boiled egg over the breakfast muffin. Once you arrive at your destination, pick up fruit at the local market or grocery store. If concerned about cleanliness, get fruits that must be peeled like mangos, oranges, papaya etc.
  • Hot water meals. In this picture above you’ll see my in-flight meal of “Holy Crap” cereal and the remnants of a fruit plate purchased at the Bangkok airport. I asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water and presto – instant healthy and filling meal. While it’s not as delicious without yogurt, a green smoothie and fresh raspberries, it does the trick when in a pinch. The alternative menu option was white pasta with “basil flavor chicken” mmmmm. No thanks!
  • Ziploc bags of trail mix. Make your own or pick a ready made healthy unroasted, unsalted kind. Be careful about ones with chocolate chips as they tend to melt in hot climates and make a nasty mess. I like the larger freezer bags as they don’t rip as easily.
  • Drink when you’re not thirsty. So what if you have to stop a few more times on the highway or bug the guy sitting in the aisle seat; drink way more water than you think you need. Your skin will thank you after the super dry recycled plane air and you’ll stay more satiated and avoid snacking on junk.
  • Prunes. Ok don’t laugh. SO many people tell me they get constipated while travelling. It’s a thing. A big, very common thing. If you suffer from this horrible affliction, never underestimate the power of the mighty dried prune. They’re healthy, full of fiber and go well in that “Holy Crap” cereal mentioned above. Go figure.
  • Probiotics. At home I recommend the capsules that must be refrigerated, after all these are live bacteria. Look for capsules that contain at last 10 billion parts per dose. However, when travelling I use the shelf stable kind – no fridge needed. While not as strong, they do the trick. Probiotics are a godsend on the road as they help protect your gut from foreign invaders. Eating local yogurt is also a great way to help your tummy adjust to new local bacteria and prevent both constipation and diarrhea.
  • Plan for Protein. Bring a bag of protein powder from home. I use a vanilla flavoured gluten free vegan brand when travelling. Vanilla goes well in both plain water as well as fruit juices, which are easy to find on the road. Adequate protein keeps your energy levels up and hunger levels down, and powder is especially handy when you’re short on options.
  • Ask for “No Sugar”. Like in many tropical countries, the fruit smoothies, iced coffees and juices in Thailand are delicious. Then I saw how much liquid sugar they use in making just one glass. Woah. Same goes for poolside mojitos and pina coladas. Ask for less, or no sugar syrup. Your taste buds will adapt, and you may even start to prefer it.
  • Melatonin. As far as sleeping meds go, I’ve tried my fair share. Nothing wrecks a diet faster than sleep deprivation. Tired people are often hungry people (or “hangry” – hungry and angry – if you ask my husband about yours truly!), and they usually gravitate towards the fatty, sugary and salty snack variety. If you’re taking a long flight, dealing with time zone changes or just sleeping in a new uncomfy bed, melatonin can be the difference between a restful and fitful night’s sleep. It’s a naturally existing hormone in our body and won’t cause drowsiness the next day. A few rules though: take it 30 minutes before bedtime and don’t take more than 2 or 3 mg at a time. More can make you sleepy and depressed the next day!

Above all, enjoy your travels, indulge in what makes you happy and keep your health in mind next time you’re served up some salty plane food mush!

Spice up your Life: 10 spices for Better Health

No this isn’t a Spice Girls reference, although we were big fans in the 90s….Here are 10 spectacular spices that can boost your health while making your food delicious. Explorers have gone in search of them, wars have been sparked over them, and at times they have been worth more than gold.  Spices have been valued for millennia for their flavour and ability to cure all that ails.  Today researchers continue to uncover evidence confirming the disease-fighting and health-promoting abilities of many spices.

spices

Cinnamon
A traditional holiday spice, cinnamon is not only a yummy addition to hot apple cider, but may be an effective defense against metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Studies have shown that as little as 1 g of cinnamon consumed daily maybe able to improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe the flavonoid procyanidin, which may increase insulin sensitivity, is behind these powerful effects.

Ginger
Used for over 2.000 years in Chinese medicine to treat nausea, scientists are discovering that ginger may have pain-relieving qualities as well.  Researchers from Georgia College and State University found that when participants consumed 2 g of either raw or heated ginger for 8 days prior to performing strenuous exercise, post-workout pain was reduced by 25%.  Although results are mixed, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger may also be beneficial in treating arthritis. One study found ginger to be nearly as effective as the drug Ibuprofen in treating osteoarthritis pain. Ginger is available in capsules.

Garlic
Fables for its ability to ward off vampires, garlic has been used since ancient Egyptian times to protect against disease and illness.  Garlic’s disease-fighting qualities appear to come from its sulfur compounds that are responsible for its pungent smell. Studies have found that these sulphur compounds allicin in particular, may prevent a wide range of illnesses including heart disease, cancer and even the common cold. Aged garlic is available in capsules.

Turmeric
Traditionally used to reduce inflammation and disinfect wounds, this yellow spice that gives Indian food its distinctive flavour is proving to be a health superstar.  Turmeric’s multitude of health benefits appear to come from curcumin, the powerful polyphenol in contains.  Researchers have found curcumin molecules may be able to increase cell resistance to infection and disease by inserting themselves into cell membranes, making the cells more stable.  Preliminary studies suggest curcumin may be useful in reducing inflammation, increasing cognitive function, and preventing cancer and diabetes. It is available in capsules.

Oregano
Colon cancer rates among cultures that traditionally eat a Mediterranean diet tend to be low. Scientists believe the use of oregano has something to do with this.  Preliminary evidence suggests oregano may be able to induce death in cancer cells!  Oregano’s health benefits don’t stop there.  Research is showing that the chemical beta-caryophyllene found in oregano may inhibit inflammation.  Researcher believe this anti-inflammatory effect may be useful in treating osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, and Crohn’s disease.

Rosemary
Another popular Mediterranean spice, rosemary is a good source of free radical-fighting vitamin A, immune-boosting vitamin C, and bone-building calcium.  In addition to its nutritional value, rosemary contains carnosol, a powerful antioxidant that has shown promise in inhibiting the development of breast cancer and leukemia.  Studies have also found carnosol to be an effective defence against oral bacteria, including the cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans.

Cloves
A good source of vitamins C and E, dietary fibre, calcium, and iron, cloves are not only nutrient dense but also antioxidant rich.  When compared to four other popular Mediterranean spices, Spanish researchers found that cloves came out on top in terms of antioxidant activity.  One antioxidant found in cloves, eugenol, has been shown in numerous studies to control pain and inflammation and to have antibacterial effects.  Because of this, clove oil is often used topically to relieve tooth pain.

Cayenne Pepper
Recognized for over 9,000 years by Native Americans for its medicinal properties, cayenne pepper contains a high concentration of the health-promoting compound capsaicin.  Often used to treat muscle and arthritis pain, capsaicin appears to inhibit the body from sending pain messages to the brain when applied topically.  Often heat wraps have this in them.  Researchers have also found this heat-producing chemical may be a useful weight loss aid.  When consumed, studies have shown capsaicin to decrease appetite and increase fat oxidation, especially in the abdominal region.

Saffron
Traditionally used in Persian medicine to elevate mood, research out of Iran suggests this popular Asian spice may be just as effective and the drug fluoxetine in treating mild to moderate depression.  In one study, participants took either a 30 mg dose of saffron or a 20 mg dose of fluoxetine daily for 8 weeks.  At the end of the study period, both groups showed significant improvements in depressive symptoms, with no noticeable difference between the 2 groups.  Like fluoxetine, extracts from saffron are thought to increase levels of the feel good chemical serotonin in the brain.

Sage
In 1597 herbalist John Gerard wrote that sage “is singular good for the head and brain:, it quickeneth the senses and memory”. British research suggests Gerard was right.  Scientists from Northumbria University found that when healthy young adults were given a 25 or 50 mcl dose of sage essential oil, the participants performed better on memory tests and also reported sense of calm and happiness.  Evidence is also emerging to suggest that the brain-boosting power of sage may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease as well.

So, spice up your life and food!

6 Signs You Need a Break

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Life is busy. Crazy cray busy. Between the constant repetition of work, family time, nurturing friendships, projects, birthday parties, fitness classes, grocery shopping etc, it’s easy to get caught up in the vortex of the “I-must-always-be-productive” mindset. I sometimes catch myself saying, “if it’s not in my Google calendar, it doesn’t exist” or “I wish there were more hours in the day.” What the eff is that?! For me, that’s a sign its time to unschedule, to turn off the phone, take a deep breath and de-clutter my brain. There comes a critical point when doing more doesn’t lead to more; happiness, success or productivity.  That’s when it’s time for a break. Here are 6 signs you need to step away from the madness, for your own sanity!

1) You hate your alarm clock: When the sound of your alarm clock induces feelings of dread and anxiety, and all you want to do is stay in bed.

2) You can’t fall asleep at night: When your mind is spinning with all the tasks still left on your “to-do” list, sleep is slow to arrive. Restless, broken sleep and nightmares are also a sign that your mind is trying to cope with overload.

3) You’re on a short fuse: When everyone is irritating, no matter what they say.  When you find yourself snappy and low on patience, it’s often a sign you’re coming to resent all the demands put on your time.

4) You avoid your fav things: When you find yourself skipping that yoga fusion class, brunch with the girls, and saying no to your good friend’s party because “you’re too tired”.

5) Your diet starts to unravel: You start eating food you know makes you feel like crap. When green smoothies become too much effort and you revert back to drive-thru bagels, life has gotten too crazy.

6) You mentally check out: You stop caring about the things that used to matter – you space out at work, flip mindlessly through TV channels at home and ignore messages from friends, all in the name of “downtime”.

So how can you give yourself the break you need,  even if you don’t have any more vacation time? Try turning off your devices and explore a new part of your city, take a day trip, do a local weekend retreat, laugh at a comedy show, or plan something to look forward to.

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Remember: if you sacrifice yourself to make others happy, you won’t have any meaningful energy, the energy that matters, left to share with those around you. Taking a real break and putting your needs first again is truly the best thing to do if you want to show up as your most powerful, productive self.

Why you hit a weight loss plateau

photo cred: Everyday Health

Sometimes, more isn’t more. In our harried world of to-do lists, burgeoning inboxes, traffic jams and a driving need for more productivity productivity productivity, the common advice on making time for a healthy lifestyle is to schedule it in. “Set your alarm for 5 am and get your workout done.” “Respond to emails by dictating to Siri on your run.” ( For real?!?). “Blog while you’re on the elliptical.” “Text while planking on your mat.” It gets crazier.

Please. Stop.  This is why people plateau.

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It’s easy for us goal-directed Achievers to get caught up in the need to be MORE productive, to do more in less time.  You’re successful, you get sh*t done, you make things happen, you get results…BAM. When it comes to your body however, you have to slow down. You have to. 

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in class with people zoning out in class. These folks usually arrive a bit frazzled and late (perhaps from horrendous Toronto traffic) and set up with their smart phone on their mat. Shoulders are tense, breathing is shallow and movements are rigid. They’re not mentally present. It’s almost like they needed to check “exercise” off their to-do list but feel guilty for stepping away from work. So, their mind stays racing in work-mode and their body just copies the group class choreography, not really feeling the movement. 

Sometimes (often) they’ll start doing a completely different version of an exercise from the rest of the group. They’re literally just going through the motions.

One of my fav yogi sayings is: “If you’re not here now, you’re nowhere.” 

When it comes to exercising our bodies, we need to show up, be present and stop multi-tasking. Your brain cannot properly connect with your muscles when you’re thinking about too much other crap.  Just as you can’t deliver an excellent presentation while thinking about your ass (try it – it’s really hard), you can’t get a kick-ass workout while thinking about that presentation.

Bottom line – think about the muscles you’re working as you’re exercising. Put down the phone.

Hitting a plateau with your training results is always a sign there needs to be a change. Recently a client’s steady 25 lb. weight loss tapered off, still 10 lb. away from her goal. She asked if we should meet for an additional 4th session each week, or if she should cut more foods from her otherwise super clean diet.  Perfect example of the more more more productivity mentality.

The answer I gave was no. How was she sleeping? How much stress was she experiencing at her job? How was her digestion? I sent her to get checked out by a Chinese doctor friend. It turns out that her liver and kidneys were not optimally functioning and after a week of TCM ( Traditional Chinese Medicine) supplements and only two training sessions, she was down another 4 lb.

Moral of the story, you need to reconnect with your body. Listen to its signals. Never underestimate the power of sleep. Support your internal organs ( especially if you have high stress!) Lose the phone during workouts. And when you’re exercising, think about your muscles and bones to get the most out of your precious time!

Your body deserves it.

 

Toning with Tracy Anderson

I caught up with celebrity fitness trainer Tracy Anderson, recently in town at the Toronto Four Seasons to promote the launch of Samsung’s Gear Fit ($219) wearable fitness tracker.

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Tracy is fascinating. She is Gwyneth’s bff, has trained Madonna, Kim Kardashian and a slew of Hollywood hotties too many to mention. She is a queen of personal branding and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it means putting herself in the media hot seat (here she is on Good Morning America getting in trouble for saying too many women “let themselves go” during pregnancy). She’s also a believer in attachment parenting and is a huge breastfeeding advocate, reminding us that while nursing isn’t a weight loss tool per se, many people will burn more calories than they consume if they nurse on demand, which can aid their weight loss.

Tracy takes a stance, even if people don’t like what she has to say, and I respect that. It also makes her pretty interesting.

As for the workout, it was fun and certainly unique! It brought me back to dance rehearsal days as we spun and popped and tried to get the choreography. Tracy doesn’t do 8-counts, she doesn’t talk – you just gotta “figure it out”. I did notice that while no one was getting the proper choreo, we were ALL sweating, hopping up and down like cardio bunnies. We used the Samsung GalaxyS5 heart rate tracker ( it’s right on the phone itself). Mine went from 84 to 158 beats/minute during the cardio dance part.

The “no cueing” the moves threw me for a loop, but Tracy later explained in our Q n A session that new, confusing choreography opens up neural pathways in your brain. These pathways help get you in touch with your body and essentially wake up dormant muscles. So you see, it was by design! Gotcha.

A big take home message was that part of great achieving in life involves creating balance. Shut everyone else out and go workout for an hour. By using a mobile fitness tracker like the Gear Fit you can still get emails but program in a message saying “I’ll back to you”. This way you don’t need to have anxiety about stepping away for an hour.

If we take care of ourselves we are setting a good example for our children, we will perform better in all areas of our life and we will look awesome in jeans ( Tracy said the first two, I said the last one).

Thanks for the inspiration Tracy! Keep blazing trails for female fitness entrepreneurs!! xoxo

 

Sleep isn’t just for Beauty

Sleep may be the most underrated weight loss aid and overall health booster out there. Do yourself a favour and ditch the eye brightening concealer, venti Starbucks and (my personal fav), the masochistic compulsion to brag about “getting up at 4:30 am” for a workout. Here’s a too often overlooked health tactic: sleep more and sleep better.
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Not convinced? Here are some more reasons to make sleep a priority:

Metabolism: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite. You WILL eat more crap on the days you get less than 7 hours.
Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
Mood: Sleep loss often results in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness.
Cardiovascular health: Sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s cells. Getting enough sleep may also help fight cancer.

Side note: It’s not always easy to get enough shut eye, especially for those of us with young kids. All I can say is hang in there, and read this book on sleep training. Apparently Gina Ford, author of “The Contented Baby” is THE baby whisperer and can teach you “freeekin magic” as one of my mommy friends attested.

So, cranky babies aside, here are some tips on how to get high-quality rest. Spoiler alert: they all require discipline. Well-rested people prioritize sleep the same way as diet and exercise. You can’t be answering emails, watching Game of Thrones or having “one more round” with friends at 11 pm and expect to hit your 6 am Bootcamp class in full form.
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No Electronics in the Bedroom: Artificial light exposure between dusk and bedtime at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin which shifts circadian rhythms — making it more difficult to fall asleep. So turn off those screens at least an hour before bed and DON’T turn your bedroom into an office.

Learn to Nap: Done correctly, a 30 minute snooze between 1 and 4 pm can optimize alertness, productivity and creativity, and reduce stress. If you weren’t able to achieve your optimal number of hours the night before, or if you’re just dragging, a short nap can be exactly what your body needs to reboot. Don’t nap much after 4 pm however, as that can leave you tossing and turning at bedtime.

Prepare to sleep: Just like warming up before a workout, preparing to sleep can be immensely helpful to getting good rest. About an hour or so before bed, prepare your body to sleep by powering down electronics (they are clearly sleep enemies!) and downshift your brain by reading a book or taking a bath. Eventually, a regular nighttime routine can automatically send signals to the body that it’s time for zzzz.

Avoid certain foods at night: We all know not to drink coffee late in the day, however, it would be wise to also avoid chocolate, spicy foods and large meals late in the evening. Eating a big meal late at night can kickstart your metabolism in overdrive, and as your metabolism wakes up, so do you. In addition, researchers have linked alcohol to disrupted sleep cycles. So, in the name of looking and feeling fab in the morning, skip the nightcap.

Cheers to your health, happiness and sanity!

How to do proper crunches

First off: crunches suck!! This is the number one thing we tell students to learn. If you’re going to remember ANYTHING from class, let it be this: stop doing “gym crunches”. Doing 100 crunches (or 500) a day won’t get you any results if you’re recruiting the wrong muscles.

I’ll never forget my first Pilates private session many many years ago. I couldn’t believe I had been doing abdominal crunches completely wrong. I did about 20 reps the correct way and was sore for days. I was humbled; and totally hooked.

Here’s the game changer: your hip flexors (specifically the “iliopsoas” for the anatomy nerds).

Most of us have tight, shortened hip flexors. If you run or bike a lot, they get shortened. When you wear high heels, they get shortened. When you sit at work, in traffic or anytime (you guessed it) your hip flexors shorten. Basically, no matter what you do, those babies are probably getting tight.

So why is this a problem? When muscles are tight, they have a hard time knowing how to relax. When you do a traditional crunch, your hip flexors take over for your abdominals and your pelvis “tucks under”, flattening your lower back into the floor. If you’ve ever done 100 crunches a day and wondered why you’re not getting flatter abs, this is why!!! Instead of allowing your hip flexors to grip and your belly to puff out during a crunch, you need to learn to “shrink wrap” your abs and work from the inside out. transversus Here is a before and after shot.

Here’s what to do:
1) Lay on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Relax your glutes and keep a neutral S-shaped spine (there may be a space between your lower back and the floor).

2) Find your hip flexors by placing your index fingers just under your pelvic hip bones. It should feel like the crease where your leg meets your torso.

3) Lift your legs into the air, keeping knees bent. If you feel a rope-like muscle kick in under your index fingers when you lift your legs, you’re on the right spot.

4) Put your feet back on the floor and try to relax the muscle under your finger tips. Relaxing your butt and keeping a small curve ( ie. a neutral spine) in your lower back will help!

5) Now that you’ve found your hip flexors and you’ve relaxed them, you must KEEP them relaxed! This may take some practice.

6) GO FOR IT: Place hands behind your head, inhale to prepare, then exhale to curl your chest off the floor, keeping your butt cheeks and hip flexors relaxed. NOTE: don’t lift as high as you can. You’re looking to see your stomach flatten, not puff out like a loaf of bread rising in the oven. TIP: pull up on your kegels as you exhale to engage your deep internal lower abs called your transversus abdominus.

And remember, you can’t “spot reduce”. That means you can’t expect to chisel out your abs by doing just crunches! Learn to engage and stabilize your core during all your activities. And don’t forget…80% of abs are made in the kitchen!!

Here’s to your future 8-pack 🙂 See you in class!!

Tabata Training: a “4 minute miracle” you’ll love to hate

“It’s sucky!!” That’s what I always say when introducing it to clients. Any eye makeup you may have been wearing will make its way to your towel by the end. Don’t even bother. Get ready for sweaty.

Tabata is an intense fat-burning workout that is basically the grandaddy of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I truly hate it (makes me want to hurl). BUT recent research shows it can burn a whopping 13.5 calories a minute — and double a person’s metabolic rate for 30 minutes post workout. Ok, now we’re back to love.
It started in the 1990s by Japanese professor Izumi Tabata who used the training method to get speed skaters in shape for the Olympics. Tabata protocol consists of short, four-minute rounds of explosive moves done for 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. That works out to eight 20 second segments of exercise within a 4 minute time frame.

Tabata is an extremely effective way to boost metabolism fast. To put it into context, it would take five times the amount of typical cardio exercise, like a 20-minute brisk walk, to shed the same number of calories that result from a 4-minute Tabata.

The trick to getting all these benefits is the level of intensity. Just pick an activity such as jump squats, burpees, pushups, jumping rope, or even running and biking and go HARD. And when I say “as hard as you can go,” I mean 100-percent maximal intensity. By the end of the 4 minutes you should feel like you’re going to collapse into a pile of mush and proclaim “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

The beauty is, it’s low-tech, low-cost and convenient. You really only need a timer to mark your eight rounds (each with 20-seconds of intense effort plus 10-seconds rest). Search for “Tabata Timer Apps” and you’ll get tons of options available for a free download.

So if you decide to do Tabata, make sure you have epsom salts at home for that muscle soak in the tub you’ll be needing after!

Here are some tabata ideas:
Burpees
Jump Squats
Frog Jumps ( like playing leap frog)
Push Ups
Box Jumps (like jumping up onto a high park bench or street curb)
Skiiers (split jumps in a lunge alternating feet forward and backward)
Jumping Jacks
Running Hills

9 Signs you have a Leaky Gut

Your gut is the gateway to health. I’ve learned this first hand! No amount of abdominal work will fix a puffy, bloated stomach. It comes down to the food you put into your body, and making sure that food is right for you.

The gut is naturally permeable to small molecules in order to absorb nutrients from your food. In sensitive people (and the number of sensitive people is growing), gluten can cause the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that breaks apart tight junctions in the intestinal lining. You basically get tiny holes in the lining of your intestines – a condition called “leaky gut”.
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As a consequence, some bacteria, toxins and incompletely digested food particles “leak” out of the intestines into the blood stream. Your immune system marks these “foreign invaders” as pathogens and attacks them, causing autoimmunity (your body attacks its own tissues). This over-response of your immune system causes you to eventually become sensitive to the environment and leads to malnourishment because your body no longer has the capacity to absorb minerals and nutrients from your food. Here is an AMAZING video of an MD explaining leaky gut (it’s worth watching!)

Here are 9 signs you have Leaky Gut:

1. Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

2. Seasonal allergies or asthma.

3. Big hormonal imbalances ( PMS etc)

4. Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease.

5. Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.

6. Mood and mind issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD.

7. Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema.

8. Diagnosis of candida (yeast) overgrowth.

9. Food allergies or food intolerances.

WHAT CAUSES LEAKY GUT?

In addition to gluten, other inflammatory foods like dairy, sugar and excessive alcohol, are implicated as well. The most common infectious causes of leaky gut are candida (yeast) overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Toxins come in the form of medications, like Motrin, Advil, steroids, antibiotics, and acid-reducing drugs, and environmental toxins like mercury, pesticides and BPA from plastics. Stress and lack of enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach also contribute to a leaky gut.

HOW DO YOU HEAL A LEAKY GUT?

I have clients follow an elimination diet which removes the toxic and inflammatory foods for a certain period of time. Here are some excellent tips. In addition, I have them follow a 4R program to heal their gut. The 4R program is as follows.

1. Remove.

Remove the bad. The goal is to get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the GI tract, such as inflammatory and toxic foods, and intestinal infections.

2. Replace.

Replace the good. Add back the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption, such as digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and bile acids.

3. Reinoculate.

It’s critical to restore beneficial bacteria to reestablish a healthy balance of good bacteria.

4. Repair.

It’s essential to provide the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself. One of my favourite supplements is L-glutamine, an amino acid that helps to rejuvenate the lining of the gut wall.

Cheers to your health! Once you find what works for your body, you’ll feel like a million bucks!

“Gluten Free” doesn’t always mean Healthy

Originally Published by The Belle Method in The Purple Fig

Full disclosure: In January 2013 I discovered through several genetic lab tests I am highly sensitive to gluten. Basically indigestible gluten proteins had been creating little holes in my intestinal lining causing massive inflammation, immune deficiencies and a host of icky symptoms that I’ll spare you. No amount of Pilates could fight the bloat and discomfort. Many days I’d wear baggy t-shirts when teaching to hide the protruding hard-as-rock belly. After years of popping digestive enzymes, Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids, I finally got to the root cause.

 Eliminating gluten has been life changing to my digestion, energy levels, skin, and overall health.  It has also served me up a slice of humble pie. No one, not even “organic smoothie obsessed” Pilates instructors like me are immune to genetic food sensitivities.

Oh yeah, I’m also allergic to eggs (hardboiled eggs were my #1 snack), casein/dairy (no more Greek yogurt) and soy (no more soy protein shakes, tofu, edamame or stir fry sauces). Turns out that people with undiagnosed gluten allergies can develop additional food allergies over time because gluten essentially acts as sandpaper on their digestive tract, making it hypersensitive to foods they eat most often. All this creates inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the underlying cause of MS, Osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Thyroid disorders and my favorite, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And that, my friends, is just a short list.

Different bodies react differently to gluten. One person may have IBS, another may feel extreme fatigue, and another may develop thyroid problems or arthritis. Symptoms are truly all over the map. And therein lies the problem. We live in a medical community that prefers to take individual symptoms and prescribe drugs as treatment. Not only does this approach fail to address the root cause, it also negates the notion that there IS a root cause.

brownies

The truth is that there could be an explanation for the previously “unfixable” health issues you may be facing. I turned to Enterolab, a clinical lab based out of Texas that specializes in analyzing intestinal specimens for gluten sensitivity. You can select to have several different tests run on your samples. Be sure to do the Anti-TTG test (anti tissue transglutaminase IgA) which is the best test for celiac because it determines whether your body is autoimmune (recall that being “autoimmune” is a precursor to most diseases).

This experience of radical change has also made me 100% more empathetic to the clients I coach through extreme diet and lifestyle transformations. It IS possible to turn your health around. Part of that is learning to read food labels.

My issue with “Gluten Free” labels is that people are being misled into thinking their gluten free organic $7 chocolate covered pretzels, cereal puffs, tortilla chips and brownies are “healthy.” Newsflash…they’re not. Food producers have gotten savvy and are capitalizing on confused consumers’ growing demand for healthy products. Bottom line: “Gluten Free” is good marketing, and often commands a higher price – especially on packaged foods. Putting a GF label on boxes of Rice-a-Roni and cupcakes psychologically lessens the guilt of consuming foods we know aren’t good for us. It’s a trick people!! These GF foods often contain refined starches and high fructose corn syrup – ingredients that ironically contribute to health problems and obesity.

Here’s an example of the two main ingredients of Glutino’s Organic Chocolate Banana Breakfast Bar: ORGANIC BROWN RICE SYRUP, ORGANIC RICE CRISP(ORGANIC RICE MEAL AND ORGANIC RICE BRAN, WATER, ORGANIC CANE SUGARCORN STARCH, ORGANIC RICE EXTRACT, ORGANIC CARAMEL COLOR). We basically have processed rice, corn and sugar. Not exactly a breakfast of champions.

The real solution? First off, get tested for food allergies if you have any nagging health complaints or have hit a plateau in your fitness goals. I wish I’d done mine 10 years ago! Next, commit to trying a GF diet for 30 days. Take note of how you feel using a food journal. And above all, avoid the snack and cereal aisle and stick to the perimeter of your grocery store for fresh veggies, (grass fed) meats and (wild/sustainable) fish. These items that are naturally gluten free and don’t require labels at all.

Cheers to taking control of your health!

 

Tina Turner Inspired Leg Workout

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Tina Turner insured her legs for $3.2 million. That’s a fact.  At 73 years old, Tina’s thighs are still rockin’! To pay homage to those gorgeous gams ( we should bring that word back from the 50s…”gams”), here’s a four-minute thigh workout that will tighten every inch of your legs. Want results? Do this every day for a week…it’s only four minutes!

Tina, we love you!!

Belle on Rogers TV

Here’s a peak at us on a Rogers TV show called “Culture Conduct”! It was shot during class at our High Park location in the beautiful Boomerang studio on Roncesvalles.  This episode aired in late 2012, and I’m thrilled to say we have grown since then! Even MORE classes being offered this Fall 2013! Here’s a link to our Fall schedule. 

The woman from Rogers TV interviewing me was lovely! We did a whole rehab thing off camera for her knee. I wanted her to do the class so badly but she couldn’t get too sweaty before her next shoot later that night. Next time!

Pass the Butter Please

 

Here’s a little tidbit of info that everyone ought to know!  It’s gross…get ready. Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put invested into the research wanted a payback so they brainstormed to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back…

butterIt was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. Don’t be tricked into those “heart healthy” proclamations on Big Brand packaging. It’s all a crock. Truly.    

Here’s a short video ( nutrition geeks we love you for this!) explaining why margarine is NOT a good choice.

The moral of the story is learn to read food labels!

Margarine is but one molecule away from being plastic.     HINT: Anything that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance, ie what they do to make margarine solid like natural butter) increases the risks of heart disease by raising bad cholesterol. In fact, a recent Harvard Medical Study showed that eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter.

Still not convinced?  Try this little experiment. Open a tub of margarine and leave it open on your balcony or backyard. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things:

1) No flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something)

2) It does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to  grow. Why? Because it is nearly plastic .

And to those people who say that butter is “bad” because of its high saturated fat content, we say…no way!

Many of butter’s saturated fatty acids are short and medium chain lipids that our bodies use up quickly and easily and that don’t get stored as fat on the body. Butter’s butyric and lauric acids boost our immune systems while stearic and palmitic acids lower our LDL cholesterol. Lastly, butter contains vitamins E, A, K and D, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium and lecithin.

It’s not the butter, it’s the refined carbs (cinnamon bun, bagel, raisin toast, etc) you’re slathering it on that’s the issue.

So pass the butter please!

Pilates for Breast Cancer Recovery

Exercising after breast cancer surgery is often the last thing you may feel like doing. Cancer wreaks havoc on the body and between weight gain, muscle atrophy, fatigue and premature bone loss women are left feeling physically challenged by even normal daily activities. Nonetheless, recent studies prove that moderate physical exercise can be incredibly beneficial for breast cancer survivors.

When it comes to choosing a safe and effective exercise program for survivors, Pilates covers all the bases. The exercise method has its roots in physical therapy and was created by Joseph Pilates during the 1920s to rehabilitate bedridden soldiers from WW1. The principles of Pilates were, and still remain, focused on breathing, core strength, shoulder and pelvic stability.

 

Pilates both during and after treatment can help to alleviate pain and restore energy, joint mobility, tissue integrity and overall strength. In particular for breast cancer survivors, Pilates breath-work can encourage proper lymphatic drainage.

The benefits of Pilates go beyond the physical – many women report feeling emotionally recharged after class.  Movement after invasive surgery is empowering and can help alleviate feelings of depression, getting you back to a feeling of normalcy. It is well documented that exercise releases endorphins or “happy hormones,” which elevate mood.

In sum, here is a list of benefits from participating in a Pilates program during and after breast cancer surgery.

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  • Improved lymphatic drainage with proper breathing techniques
  • restored postural alignment and balance
  • improved shoulder girdle mechanics to help breakdown scar tissue and frozen shoulder
  • restored overall range of motion, flexibility, strength and endurance
  • enhanced core strength and endurance
  • improved overall body awareness
  • re-established muscular firing patterns
  • reduced both physiological and emotional stress
  • increased self-confidence and overall well-being