Five Free Ways to Take Care of Your Health

I hear it all the time: taking care of yourself is too expensive. 

In a way, it's true. Organic, whole foods, gym memberships, exercise clothes, and hiring a coach can really add up! No joke, all my money goes to it. 

That being said, there are a lot of things I do that don't cost me a dime that are crucial to my wellness plan. I know how expensive the holiday season is so I wanted to give you a couple of free  exercises to focus on that helps reduce stress and strengthen your mindset muscle (an important part of any health, weight loss, or symptom management plan!)

When we stress mentally, physically, or emotionally, we're triggering the fight or flight stress response. That response puts us into a state where our only concern is survival so we start burning sugar instead of fat, creating inflammation to protect cells and tissues, and we're creating inflammation around the frontal lobe which affects decision making. If you're trying to slow down symptoms or lose weight, you're setting yourself up for failure when you constantly trigger your fight or flight but luckily, there are a few completely free ways to take you our of your fight or flight and put you into your rest and digest state. The goal is to align your mind and body to set you up for healing. 

Exercise 1: Practice deep belly breathing

Have you ever gotten really stressed out and then sat down to take a few deep breaths? You feel better within a few minutes and thats because stress has a huge impact on our physical body. To get the most benefits from deep breathing, you want to sit in a comfortable position, put your hands on your belly, and breathe in until your belly fully expands. Then breath out. 

This isn't meditation, it's simply to learn how to breathe effectively to put your body in it's rest and digest state so that your nervous system can be working in your favor. 

Exercise 2: Spend time in silence

This is a busy time of year and it's a time where you tend to focus on everyone else BUT you. Instead of allowing the season to overwhelm you, carve out a little time each day to be silent. That means no phone, no distractions, just a couple of minutes to be quiet and give your brain a stimulus rest. 

This allows your brain to rest and relax so it can make clear, focused & effective decisions instead of exhausted and "fried out" ones. 

Exercise 3: Monitor your heart rate

Continually stressing the body puts you at risk for increased inflammation and late night cravings and by not checking your heart rate, you don't know if your workouts are working for or against you. This can easily be achieved by monitoring your heart rate. 

And I know, those heart rate monitors on the market right now are cool, but crazy expensive and wearing a chest strap looks annoying. I get it. But you're forgetting something.... humans have been tracking their heart rate far before technology. 

Every 5 minutes, stop your workout and take your pulse with your fingers on your wrist. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4. Keep your workouts in your fat burning range and not only will you see the scale drop, you may have a reduction in those workout provoked symptoms. 

Exercise 4: Stretch your body

Real talk, it's crazy that we don't stretch more. Especially considering that most of us sit at desks all day, stretching could do us a world of good but few of us do it! Taking 10-15 minutes in the morning to stretch will release tension, increase flexibility, and helps you feel "less tight" through your day. 

Try a yoga class or the yoga studio app to learn all the best ways to stretch and release your muscles. 

Exercise 5: Write in a journal every morning

This exercise (Morning Pages) was developed by Julia Cameron and is incredibly powerful. Basically, each morning, you write 3 pages of whatever you want. In the beginning, 3 pages may seem like a lot, but even if you're just clearing out the cobwebs in your brain (what you ate yesterday, how you feel about work, etc), that's just making space for inspiration and creativity to flow. Soon, ideas will start coming out and 3 pages won't seem like enough room to get it all out! 

Remember, these are all just suggestions (and there are so many more things you can do!) and by no means do you have to do them all at once. Pick one and make it into a routine. As that gets easier, you can always add more! 

If you try any of these, already do them, or have your own free mindfulness practice - leave a comment below to let us know about your experience!

Peace, love & light. 

The Goal Behind the Goal

Who's Goal Is It Anyway?

I've been obsessed with losing weight since I was about 8 years old. There was pressure from everywhere - the media, my doctors, and my family all threatened an unhappy existence if I didn't lose weight and I wanted nothing more than to live the life they were insisting I'd be missing out on.

They told me I had to. They told me I was at risk for diabetes and heart problems. They told me I should be bullied, that I wouldn't have friends, and that men wouldn't want to date me if I was heavy (sidetone: this was absolutely untrue). They flaunted the idea of bikini's and short shorts and skimpy outfits that I didn't really care about fitting into in the first place. They told me all of this, but the only thing I wanted was to prove to them that I was worth being loved and accepted and being called attractive but I knew that until I lost weight, I wouldn't get that validation. 

Over the years, as my weight continued to increase, despite my efforts, I became frustrated. I was trying so hard to get the weight loss part over with so I could finally live my life. I was mostly happy. I had great friends and family, a boyfriend, and was going to college in Boston but I felt like my life was on pause because I needed to accomplish the weight loss goal before investing time into a new goal. Instead of traveling or exploring the life I wanted to live, I was putting all my mental energy and stress into the number on the scale and I hated every minute of it.

Now, after losing 140+ lbs, I can look back and see what I was doing wrong and why my efforts weren't producing results. I was chasing a goal, not because I wanted it, but because everyone else told me I had to want it. I wanted validation, not weight loss, and because of that, I never resonated with their reasoning. 

It took designing a plan aligned with my own desires to finally have success in my weight loss journey and it all started with finding the goal behind the goal. 

How I Figured Out My Real Goal

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (and googled it because I didn't know what the heck it was), I was devastated. Being 20 years old and thinking about being in a wheelchair filled my brain with panic and as I stressed over the idea of physical paralysis, I didn't realize I was putting my mindset into a state of mental and emotional paralysis.

In 2014, just shy of 5 years post diagnosis, I had an MS flare that left me unable to walk more than a short hobble to the bathroom and back. I had no choice but to slow down and think. I didn't want this life. I didn't want to be obese, I didn't want to have MS, I didn't want any of it! It was a low moment, but it was that exact moment when everything changed.

I knew, I wanted to feel healthy and strong. I wanted to travel and be able to dance, run, jump, walk, all without assistance. I wanted to live my life where I wasn't constantly fearing my future, but instead, being excited and inspired by the opportunity to create it. 

That was the moment I realized that I'd been so caught up in trying to change who I was for everyone else that I wasn't thinking about the person that I wanted to be.

Where To Begin

If you're in a similar boat as I was, trying to accomplish goals that someone else set up for you, don't get overwhelmed. I know it feels daunting, but this is the beginning of the fun part. This is creating your happiness based on what YOU want, and what could be better than that? 

Step 1: Create a Health/Wellness Bucket List

Writing down a list of things you want to do instead of focusing on a goal you're told you need to do makes putting in the work much more meaningful. Take a few days and start jotting things down. The more you think about it, the easier it will be to think about what you want to do. 

If you've always wanted to be able to salsa dance or run a marathon or hike a mountain, pick one of those as your 2018 goal and then use a mind map (see step 2) to find the most effective path to achieving it! 

Step 2: Create a Mind Map

There's a reason you were taught how to make a brainstorm map in elementary school. The adult version seems to be called a mind map, but real talk, it's the same thing (which is cool, because that means you already know how to do this!) 

Just put your goal in the center of a piece of paper and put a circle around it. Then extend 3-4 lines from that circle and write what you need to do to get there. After that, break it down into even smaller details (and you can continue that process for as long as you need). Once you do that, you can set up small actionable steps (see step 3) based on what you need to hit your goal in 2018!

Need more information? Here is a website dedicated to mind mapping and how to use them effectively.

Step 3: Take Action

Once you've got everything in front of you, it makes it a lot easier to see the steps you need to take to get to your goal. Remember, this is about you doing something that you want to do, so let it be fun and exciting! Just because you're growing doesn't mean it has to be a miserable journey. 

If your goal is to learn to salsa dance, maybe your extensions were:

1. Increase flexibility.

2. Take a salsa class each week.

3. Practice 3x a week.

Based on your mind map, you can look at what you need to do and then create 1-3 realistic steps you can start taking to hit your goal each week. Perhaps start with a goal to stretch (or better yet, foam roll) for 15 minutes each morning and simply sign up for your first class. These steps seem small, but they are just the beginning and you can always grow from here. 

Let your health and happiness be side effects to healthy living. Just because you aren't focusing directly on weight loss doesn't mean that you won't lose weight if you shift your goal, it just means that you won't be driving yourself crazy in the interim. 

My 5 Tips to Avoid Binge Eating During the Holidays!

My main coping mechanism is definitely binge eating.

It's something I've been doing since I was a kid and, just like lots of other people, it's a habit deep ingrained in my psyche that looooovvvvveeessss to feed on this time of year. Pun intended because I'm kinda lame like that. ;-)

I'm the girl that doesn't eat dairy, chocolate, gluten, or coconut (and hasn't for years)... yet I still find myself lost for hours in the deep trenches of Pinterest holiday dessert boards.

I'm the girl who lingers by the food table at a party trying to convince myself that one tiny piece of that homemade "chocolate toffee crack" won't lead to me eating a giant piece of chocolate cake, 3 cookies, and a brownie right after.  

I'm the girl who wanders the candy aisle at the supermarket, staring at the Reeses trees (why are these so much better than the cups!?) that are on "super sale" for the season.

I know I don't need it (or really even want it), but it's there in my face over and over again and my willpower works like a muscle, it gets fatigued with overuse.

So what can I do?!

If any of this sounds like you, you're not alone, and luckily, there's lots of tricks to getting through without completely ruining your plan or feeling like you're missing out! I've spent a lot of time working on my stress management and coping issues and now, while it's still tough, I no longer feel like I'm trapped on a runaway sled filled with chocolate and shame.  

TIP 1: Develop a mantra or an affirmation and don't be afraid to use it constantly.

I use "Why not you" as my mantra and I use it ALL THE TIME. In the morning, when I'm exercising, when I don't feel like meal prepping, or even while I'm standing at the doorstep of a binge. I say it over and over through the day and now, when I'm faced with a decision of cheating, the mantra grounds me back to my goal. With my goal in mind, it's a lot easier to say no and that will continue to get easier as you continue to use it.

TIP 2: Track your food.

Knowing how much you're eating day to day is a fantastic tool to use any time, but it's key to not getting carried away for the holidays. Use an online tracker (I like MyFitnessPal) to calculate how many calories and nutrients you're getting. Once you realize how much you're taking in, you can be more mindful and exercise a bit more control when you find yourself in a tricky mind warp. 

TIP 3: Practice Mindfulness

This piece of advice used to drive me crazy. How do I practice mindfulness when my brain is already 50 thoughts ahead of itself? It has to be built up. Just like every other routine, it's important to start small and go slow, but if you start incorporating more mindfulness into your routine now, you'll build that willpower muscle a bit more before the parties begin.

Pick something that you do every day that only takes a couple of minutes (brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, etc) and bring your focus to the activity at hand. If your mind wanders, don't get upset... just notice it and bring it back to the present moment. Bringing your attention repeatedly back to the present is like weight lifting for your brain and starting with just a few minutes a day will set yourself up for the holidays and beyond.  

TIP 4: Bring your own.

I refuse to skip dessert, especially on a holiday. I want to eat well and feel good but I also REALLY don't want to miss out on the fun of indulging. That's why I always bring my own. Bringing your own dish or dessert (or both) does a few things. First of all, it's considerate to your host, so kudos on you! Secondly, it takes away the stress of what you'll be eating. You planned ahead and have a go to option every time someone asks you to hit the buffet line with them. Third of all (and probably not the last, but I'm only including three), it allows other people to try the food that you eat to show them how delicious and satisfying healthier options can be! 

TIP 5: Be kind to yourself.

This is the season of giving and sometimes we get so caught up in being kind to everyone else, we forget to give that love and positivity to ourselves as well. Realistically, even with all these things, you may still "slip up" on your diet. Don't let it get to you, one unhealthy night isn't going to outweigh all the hard work you've done. You ate some food that you shouldn't have and instead of letting that snowball through the month, you can just jump right back on your plan. It's not the occasional indulgence that's the problem, so enjoy one brownie, log it in your tracker, and get up the next morning and hit the gym. 

 

I hope these tips will help you set up your defenses so you don't go completely overboard this season. If things get too hard, take a deep breath, go outside for a breath of fresh air, and remind yourself that all of this will get easier if you keep putting it to practice. 

With love & light,

Carolyn

The Big Secret

Thanksgiving couldn't have come at a better time for me this year.

For the first time in my life, I feel good. I feel good every day and after 8+ years of suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, I'd say this time in my health is something to be really thankful for. 

If you've been following my journey, you know I can't stop talking about my progress. I've been losing weight, feeling energized, and I haven't had any MS symptoms in weeks! I've mentioned repeatedly that it has to do with stress management and happiness exercises and you're probably wondering what that means. Today, I'm going to tell you.

When I came back from Peru last year, I felt stressed.
While I was away, I focused on stress management and healing. I practiced being patient with myself and focusing on feeling calm and it was the first time in years that I actually felt physically good. I came back feeling healthier and thinner than I'd ever been and I was afraid to go back to my old routine. That fear turned to worry and worry turned to stress. I turned to my old coping mechanisms, cheating and binge eating, and I panicked that I was losing my self control. 

Here I was, well educated about food and illness, already having lost almost 160 lbs, yet still lingering in the candy aisle of the supermarket. Cheating and binging led to more stress which inevitably led to an MS flare up and a 30 lb increase on the scale. 

It took over a year to bounce back from that flare and I've kept the weight on as well. I struggled to emulate all I could about how I ate and exercised in Peru, but I couldn't figure out what the secret was. Was it that I only ate 3 meals per day without snacks? Was it the low impact cardio all through the day from sightseeing? Was it the fact that I ate mostly vegan? None of it worked and I've been driving myself crazy wondering why the scale wouldn't budge or why my symptoms keep flaring. 

Finally, I decided to go back and read the journal I kept in Peru.
As soon as I opened it, it was like my past self was screaming at me.

I highlighted over and over again how I need to stop stressing.

How I feel better when I'm calm.
How happy I am when my mind isn't racing.
I knew the answer the whole time, I just had to remind myself. 

According to stress.org and the APA, about 48% of Americans lie awake at night because of stress which affects us physiologically, mentally, and emotionally. Chronic stress creates imbalances in the nervous system and has a direct impact on our ability to lose weight, manage symptoms of inflammatory illnesses, and could potentially be the reason why more symptoms are popping up! We're taught that being stressed is just a part of life but most of us haven't learned the tools on how to manage our stress and we're getting sicker and heavier every day. 

I've done the research and a few months ago, I decided to put my hypothesis into action. If I can strengthen my stress management defense physically and mentally, infuse positivity into my routine and use brain training (daily mental exercises) to change my mindset - I should be able to balance my nervous system and regain control of my health and happiness. 

I was right. 

It feels like a dream. Every day, I feel a little better and, especially within the last few weeks, it is clear to me that this is the missing piece to my puzzle. By monitoring my stress levels and patiently taking action steps to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed with stress, I've lost 15 of the 30 lbs I gained and haven't experienced any MS symptoms in the past few weeks! Even though I knew how to eat and exercise, I needed to build the muscle in my brain to more effectively combat stress and I feel confident that I will continue to feel better as long as I continue on this path. 

I'm starting my newsletter and blog now because, in my gut, I know, I have to share what I've learned with people who are suffering. I spent years trying to find the answer and it turns out, slowing down and becoming mindful of my actions was the answer I needed to finally find relief and hope for a happy healthy life. I'm excited to continue writing about my experience, tangible ways to reduce stress in your life, and different facts, features, and stories to help you understand how stress is impacting your health. 

There is hope.

It's time to start feeling better and live your life, without the weight. 

Is Weight Loss Really Your Goal?

I’ve never been this happy. What a shame that I didn’t put the work into myself before.

Think about WHY you want to lose weight, why you need to get healthier, and then work towards that goal. 

I wanted to lose weight because I wanted to be thinner. I wanted to be thinner because I was told it would make me more attractive, more successful, and as a result of that, I would be happier.

See? My goal wasn’t weight loss. It was to feel happy.

Weight loss was simply the vehicle I needed to get me to the goal. Of course, my car takes nutrition and fitness to get it moving but eventually, I find myself stalled out, lost, and feeling desperate. 

I get frustrated but stay the course. Shoving food and exercise down into the gas tank but since I don’t realize that I’m not going to weight loss land and if I don’t know that I need to end up at happiness city, how will I ever know how to get there?

So if you have the fuel, the ability, and you’re still feeling stuck, look at the big picture. Are you stressed? Are you angry? Are you depressed? Your feelings are the speed bumps, pot holes, and road blocks to life and if you can’t get through them, you’ll never be able to reach your final destination.

I want you to reach your true destination like I have. Stop making weight loss your goal and let it simply be your ride.