On movement: too much of a good thing

On movement: too much of a good thing

I absolutely need to move and this is something that is non-negotiable for me. My mental health depends on it. I manage anxiety and depression and it went unrecognizable to me for over 25 years. The nervous feeling in my stomach, the tightness in my chest, along with the dark thoughts, insomnia and headaches are just a few ways anxiety and depression show up in my body. In my case, I normalized these feelings and found a way to cope. It looked like exercise and lots and lots of it! 

When I was a young teenager, I am talking 13 to 14 years old, I started to get up early and run around the block a few times before school. I did not really understand why I was doing this but I knew that it made me feel better. Something about this movement changed my perspective, the days I ran were easier, lighter and more manageable. 

Like any good thing, more is not always better but I did not have this awareness yet. My thinking being if going for a 15-minute run makes me feel this good, how amazing will a 45-minute run feel? The worse I felt mentally and emotionally the faster, longer and harder I ran.

So became my addiction to high-intensity exercise as a way to ease my mental and emotional pain. Sounds like a perfect solution with awesome results hey? but this scenario only works when my body (and life) are in line to access this, which of course is not always a possibility. I have learned over the years (the hard way) that having only one remedy to manage those difficult days is not ideal and comes with a few obvious flaws. Let me share:

Flaw #1: Misunderstandings and missed opportunities 
A misunderstanding from loved ones including family and friends as to why I had an insatiable quest for movement. For many finding the motivation, focus and energy for exercise is a struggle. I have zero issues with that. When I am up and out the door before 6:00 am to hit the gym on a Saturday morning or I am going for a run during downtime in our family vacation I know it is difficult to understand. So often I have heard: why don’t you just relax with us?  What I will share is it is not personal. I am not doing anything to make you feel bad or because I am obsessed and can’t let go of my goals. No this is mental health for me. I need to move to feel better and keep my soul centred. That being said, I have and continue to at times, missed out on that sunset or early am morning snuggle session with loved ones. Something I am now trying to lean into and receive is the benefit that those connection choices offer. The wonderful healing that most times is as impactful or possibly more as boot camp class.

Flaw #2 Aggravating the situation
Pushing your body, hard 100% all of the time is not a long term option, especially if you are already feeling tired and burnout. I attended a CE course this weekend and was offered insight from one of the top sport’s medicine doctors in the country. He reframed the idea of overtraining syndrome to actually be about recovery. That all symptoms related to over-exercise actually have more to do with the inability to recover from the activity than overdoing it. So this becomes an issue when your only coping option is high-intensity workouts with little space physically as well as mentally/emotionally to recover. You see when you have been running from a bear or fighting a bear, in your everyday life, then you go to a hardcore boot camp class, you will only further aggravate. Your body does not actually know that you are not still in the woods. Sure you feel amazing post-class with all your worries, darkness and exhaustion pushed to the side until the next morning when you wake up and feel fatigue and those negative feelings come back with a vengeance.  

Flaw #3 Disconnection 
Disconnection from yourself. Running, lifting or jumping away from feelings is a wonderful distraction but if you are not able to sit with the feelings then you will never move through the feelings. I went through a divorce in my late twenties. It was painful.  During this time I got into the best shape of my life.  Makes sense right, I mean if exercise was my medicine for mental and emotional discomfort and divorce causes suffering and lots of it, you can only imagine how much I had to move, in fact, I could not sit still.  Exercise got me through this time or so I thought.  In hindsight, I never sat with the pain and negative emotions. Anytime I felt discomfort like anger, grief or fear I hit the gym. It became a bandaid that only kept the pain at bay while I was doing it and never allowed me to fully process what had happened. It was not until years later that I discovered meditation and I truly stopped and unpacked the emotions, trauma and wounds from that time in my life. 

Flaw #4 Lacks a plan B
Injuries, illness, exhaustion. Because no one in life is immune to these things. Although I am a highly resilient person, the body will ultimately have times of breakdown.  This is the body telling us that we need more recovery and restoration time. Like an addict who can’t get their fix, a person who’s only tool for self-care is exercise will move into a state of panic when you can’t get the feeling.  Injury and illness were no longer about a message to rest, these times became days of extreme darkness and panic as I was unable to deal with the flood of emotions that would hit the surface when I could not access the relief through exercise.  

Flaw #5 Loss of joy and play 
Our bodies are meant to move.  Have you ever danced in your kitchen or skipped through the forest? It feels so good and is fundamental to a healthy body and soul.  When movement becomes rigid, punishing and without flow we lose that joy. For most of my life, I thought activities like yoga and expressive dance was a waste of time. I mean really you want to call lying around on a mat or flowing to the music with eyes closed exercise? Yes, yes and more yes. I was ignorant of the subtle benefits of moving stagnant energy or qi as well as the beautiful lightness that comes with free-flowing movement.  So now I dance in the kitchen or move organically on my yoga mat without attachment, judgement or outcome. It’s so much fun and surprisingly healing. 

So don’t get me wrong my body, mind and soul still absolutely desire movement and my need for exercise still very much a part of my self-care regime. The difference is my ability to pause and become aware of the time, intensity and intention of the activity I am thinking of doing and ensure it is in line with my true needs. Instead of going to the hills and doing repeats perhaps a walk in the woods is more nourishing or enjoying a slow-moving Saturday morning may offer more self-care than a run. On the flip side sometimes I need to go lift heavy weights instead of having tea with a friend. I want to move always, I hope to be 85 first in line at the shuffleboard game but what I also desire is to have the wisdom to choose what is most caring for that moment.

Take your tired for a walk 

Take your tired for a walk 

Studies show that exercise improves mood and energy.  You can thank me now for that inspiring and motivating fact.  I am sure that makes you want to jump up and go for a run.  Not so much hey?  Well let’s talk about that and what that actually means for you.

Okay, we all get it.  Exercise is good for us.  If we know this then why don’t we access it as part of our self-care routine especially when we are feeling blue?

Well, of course, we don’t because we are tired and down and going for a swim in a cold pool or doing 30 minutes on the stepper is the last thing we want to do.  Hence this vicious cycle, needing to move our body but not being able to jump over these feelings (both mental and physical) to get the job done.  

Let’s be honest grabbing a coffee and a donut is such an easier and quicker choice when it comes to a short term mood improver.  Even though we know from experience that the “good feeling” only lasts for about as long as it takes to eat the donut and down 1/2 a latte whereas the benefits of a 15-minute walk can last a whole day we still choose quick and easy.   There have been so many times that I have felt stressed, tired and down and abandoned my work out for Netflix or mindless scrolling on my phone.  At the moment it feels like the right thing to do but ultimately I always, 100% of the time regret it.

Let me clarify if you come home from a tough day at work and step over your shoes and make your way up to the bathtub for a warm bath or you lie in bed for a 15-minute rest that may absolutely be the better choice for you.  Listening to your body is never, ever wrong and your self-care is always on rotation as far as what you the choice to do.

Typically that is not what happens though, we by-pass our intention and move into something that does not actually offer relief fromthe low mood or the extreme stress.  We move into distraction, avoidance or mindless activities that have zero return on investment.  In fact, it aggravates the very feeling that we are trying to soothe ourselves from. No one wants to feel bad so any distraction is a welcome visitor.  The challenge in these moments is choosing support over sabotage. 

So what’s the answer? I am actually not one 100% sure but you know I have a theory that I am going to share.  I believe the key here is awareness and experience.  

Let’s start with awareness.  This sounds oh so simple yet is so crazy hard.  We spend most of our days in automatic, have you ever had one of those commutes where you get to work and think I don’t even remember turning the car on.  That’s why we all love routines and that’s one of the reasons behaviour modifications aka changing habits is so difficult.  We cling to what we know and feel fearful for what is new.   So what you want to understand is the feeling that is going on in your body.  Awareness does not have to mean meditation and journalling, it can, but there are many ways to become aware in the body.   Understanding what you are feeling physical, mentally and emotionally is key to this learning. We don’t have to analyze or attach too much meaning to the sensation we do however want to be aware of the sensation.  For example, I am feeling tired can be translated to my body feels heavy and my mind overloaded or I am feeling anxious can be translated to my chest feels tight and my thoughts are racing.  Once we become aware of what we are feeling we can identify what may make us feel better and move into that direction.  So the next time you step over your runners and make a b line to the freezer for ice cream ask yourself two simple questions 1) what sensation am I feeling 2) is this behaviour truly self-care.

Now on to experience. It is not going to be easy, it isn’t for anyone.  Even those 6:00 am joggers that you see every morning while you are sitting on your couch drinking coffee (I am the coffee drinker in that scenario) had to talk themselves out of bed when their alarm went off.  The big difference with those people and the ones that hit snooze and turned over in bed is the experience of “just doing it”.  Once your body, mind and soul have the taste of movement it craves more.  It becomes its own positive feedback loop and the more you do it the more you want it.  The mind will always say Nah let’s skip today but if the body is like hey wait I know how this feels and I want to move then you have won the battle here. 

Connecting into your bodies needs is also hugely important in this process.  Through awareness, you will be able to understand your bodies state and with experience choose movement that is reflective of that need.  So often we think long, hard and faster is better.  No this is not 1995 folks, no pain, no gain went out a long time ago. This is where all or nothing syndrome comes in.  If I can’t hit the gym for 60 minutes and do an intense boot camp class, I am going to go home and eat chips.  Hmmm, where is the middle ground in that thinking? Perhaps a kinder and more motivating thought is my body is tired from not sleeping well last night: I am going to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes, stretch for 10 and then have a warm shower.  Can’t you already connect with how good you would feel from me just saying that? So instead of not at all, think about adjustments.  A little goes a long way and 15 minutes counts. 

Inevitably we don’t want to do it and even when we become aware and understand from experience that movement we will feel better we just still don’t want to.  So a little phrase that I have found incredibly helpful is – take your tired for a walk.  What this means to me is waiting for yourself to feel energized to move your body may never happen so instead of expecting this to be your general state or starting point lean into the fatigue, stress, low mood and move your body.  Ironically, it will be in the act of movement that these stagnant and heavy sensations lift. 

Why do you move (or not?)

Why do you move (or not?)

For the longest time, I told myself I was that classic Type A person. I prided myself on my ability to set goals and achieve them. Never was this more present than in my fitness. Even as a tween, I remember getting up early to run around the block in preparation for the upcoming school track meet. I was focused and directed when it came to exercise.

This behaviour was celebrated by my coaches, teachers, family and friends everyone thought I was an exceptional athlete except for myself. You see all of these things about my relationship with exercise was true but there was one thing hidden, the motivator behind these lofty goals.

You see, what the truth was, from a very young age, I believed I was fat, stocky -my shape being less desirable than those around me. I internalized every passing comment or comparison as not enough, that I needed to be altered or changed. I was not enough as is! To begin a very long and tortuous journey with exercise. It offered an escape from my body a possibility to alter how I look. With enough drive and force, I could be free. Therefore the backdrop goal for every minute spent in the movement was to lose weight and get that body that would make me feel whole. 

Don’t get me wrong I always loved sport, I was competitive and I lived for being part of a team. This is not one of those throw the baby out with the bathwater (whoever came up with that expression anyway) kind of situations.  At school I played basketball, field hockey, ran on the track team and was always a leader on these teams. I went on to play varsity squash at university and continued with competitive play for most of my 20’s. 

Some of the benefits of an active and sporty life have shaped who I am today and made me into the person I am. I would never want to rewrite my history and the things I did, no I would however love the opportunity to go back and hug that 13 year beautiful, fragile, perfect girl and tell her go play, laugh, run, jump for joy and to stop giving a shit about whether or not this is the thing that will finally make you skinny!

I wish I could tell you that at this point, I saw this wound and wrapped myself in a blanket of compassion that looked like moving my body with love and kindness and setting fitness intentions from a place of heart’s desire not a premeditated motivation. In truth, that journey would take another decade and continues to reveal its ugly head at times when I feel vulnerable. The difference is that I can now see the pattern and stop that demon in its tracks.

I am currently lifting weights, jogging, practicing yoga and taking my pouch for long walks. I am still very active and always will be. It is part of me but what I have healed is my why, no longer is my drive from a place of not enough rather I choose my activities based on the power and strength I feel in my body, the presence and connecting I have with self and the joy I access when I am in movement.

So dear ones, I ask you to take a moment to ask yourself why do you move? What brings you joy and what excites you? Let go of the should and could and set your intentions based on your heart’s desire. You are enough exactly as you are. The true gift of movement with its mental/emotional and physical benefits can only be received when you are in a place of enough.

Sign up for smoothie duty

Sign up for smoothie duty

Smoothies have changed my life! It sounds very dramatic but is so true. I am a person who likes to jam pack my day. I am full of ideas, projects and excitement about so many things that one has to be focused to make it all happen. I plan my days with the precision of an air traffic controller, to ensure that I am able to move through the activities of my day in a way that brings me satisfaction, efficiency and joy. 

There is one exception to this organization and that comes in the area of food. I have tried. Believe me as a nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, mom, wife, just all-round go-getter women you would think that food prep would have made the priority list years ago. It started near the top and then work it’s way down as other things spark more joy. Don’t get me wrong I am 100% board with eating nourishing foods, this neglect does not result in trips to MacDonalds or drive-thru breakfast sandwiches (except on occasion). I just don’t meal plan, grocery shop based on Pinterest supper ideas and definitely don’t spend my Sundays preparing my food for the week.

I am more of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of gal when it comes to our meals. One of the huge benefits of studying Nutrition and Naturopathic medicine is the knowledge and experience that can be practically used in your own life. I can go into a grocery store and mindlessly purchasing equal ratios of protein, fat, carbs and all my fruits and veggies. I even go as far as to organize my food by these categories at the checkout. Good bless the lucky ones who get to wait behind me in line. 

One thing that has been a huge lifesaver for me is daily smoothies. They are nutritionally dense, super tasty, kid-friendly and the best part… effortlessly easy.  I say that with oh so much confidence but let me reveal the truth to you. My husband is on smoothie duty! Every night before bed, he gathers the 5 to 6 ingredients and creates out family smoothie for the next day.  All that we have to do in the morning is add almond milk and we are good to go! This habit started when I was nursing my daughter and has stuck. I can certainly craft my own delicious smoothie and have done so many times for my crew but it is nice to have an allocated person for this very important nutritional hack. Thank you, dear husband, for taking this one on!

So what’s involved in the perfect smoothie:
A good blender, I am talking about a high horsepower industrial style blender, you know the kind you would find at Starbucks or Booster Juice. We resisted for years, purchasing 3 runs of the mill blenders before investing in our Vitamix. It now sits on our counter like a proud peacock when you have a $600 blender, you show that baby off).

For the carbs:
A liquid base – I prefer nondairy alternatives like almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk.  I am not cow’s milk adverse (a blog for another day) however, I do think we can reduce our load. Milk alternatives are a great way to do that and you (nor your kids) will not know the difference. This saves our cow’s dairy for more important items like cheese and yogurt

Frozen Fruit – We always have a Costco sized bag of frozen fruit cued up for this important addition

Ripe Bananas – I seriously think we go through 25 bananas a week

Greens – this is where we get sneaky, my daughter has no idea that spinach and kale are getting into her morning drink. My husband has perfected this addition my ensuring there is enough that we get the benefits from these nutrient-packed vegetables while not turning the smoothie green (game over if you are trying to get that into your kid)
Okay so we have take care of all of the carbohydrates, let’s make sure we get in some protein and fat.

Protein powders – I am loving collagen powder these days but pea proteins, hemp proteins, rice proteins and whey proteins (if you can tolerate) have certainly made it into our smoothies. If you are not into protein powders add hemp hearts, chia seeds or Greek yogurt.

Fats – Try nut butter, coconut oil or avocado (you can purchase frozen avocado now!)

Regarding sizes and variety – just play with it, everyone has different preferences for texture and consistency.  You can jazz it up and keep it interesting by simply using different milk alternatives or frozen fruits. You could have a new smoothie taste for each day of the week.

Voila, simple, on the go, meal solution that involves minimal preparation and maximum benefit. 
A smoothie a day will keep mid-afternoon chocolate away! 

What if I was a girl who knew what I wanted

What if I was a girl who knew what I wanted

A few years ago, I was out for an early morning breakfast with a group of professionals brainstorming ideas about a health program collaboration. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I was feeling incredibly grateful for the wonderful opportunity that was being presented to me. I will admit I also was feeling slightly overwhelmed and intimidated amongst this incredible group of go-getters. 

I knew we would be ordering soon and I was trying to find that delicate balance of looking at the menu as well as ensure active listening and engagement in the exciting conversation. As is always the case in these situations, the waitress made her way over to the table before anyone really had a chance to decide on what they wanted. No one seemed to be that phased, and got straight to the business of ordering their breakfast, after all, we are all a group of very busy people. 

There were orders of over-easy eggs with bacon, eggs Benedict with rye toast and pancakes with a side of fruit. Then it was my turn and my order looked something like this:

Could I please have the veggie omelette with no onions and is it possible to replace the cheddar cheese with feta?
Could I please substitute home-fries for tomatoes slices?
Do you have gluten-free bread? No, you don’t then is it possible to choose a side of fruit? Extra cost no problem? One quick question is the fruit fresh or in a syrup? Oh no, thank you then.
To drink? Can I please have a 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular coffee? Do you have a milk replacement? No thank soy milk will not work it has to be almond or coconut milk. Perhaps just a green tea instead? Oh and a glass of water, no ice.

Phew, I looked around the table and felt a wave of heat go over my body. Placing my order had taken as long as the other 4 people’s combined. With a 1/2 smile, I said “typical naturopathic doctor order, that’s what you get for going out to breakfast with me” (insert awkward laugh).

The meeting continued, the breakfasts arrived and I left with feeling full, excited but still a little shameful of my high maintenance tendency. 

Later that day, back in the office I received an email from one of the people at breakfast. He is a high-performance personal coach and someone I have respected for years. It was a simple and impactful message that has stuck with me not only around food but so many other areas of my life.

It read something like, “I really sensed how uncomfortable you were after you ordered your breakfast and I want to offer you thought, instead of being a difficult you were women who knew what she wanted”

Wow! Right huge, monument-us wow. I had been apologizing for years for my needs and wants around food. Family dinners, friend BBQ’s and work meeting went 1 or 2 ways. I either compromised and felt the discomfort both mentally and physically (gluten really makes me bloat, dairy results in instant acne and I literally need to know where a bathroom is 10 minutes after consuming soy) or I would get what I wanted but feel shameful and embarrassed in doing so.

This simple phrase “what if you were a person who knew what you needed and wanted” has come up in practice too many times to count. So many people are challenged with the social and societal pressures of accepting what is presented despite how it makes them feel because they don’t want to appear needy or difficult or different. I say, embrace yourself and the wisdom that you have about your own needs. Stand up in this truth and get what you want, the people around you will get over it, I promise!