December 2015 Health n Fitness

Under the hood articles from the past.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Macro Mama - Laura Carson

Eating right helped Laura Carson lose 32 pounds, shake her inhibitions and ditch her eating disorder.

Name: Laura Carson | Hometown: Nashua, New Hampshire | Age: 47
Height: 5’6” | Old weight: 160 lb | Current weight: 128 lb | Occupation: Vice president, customer advocacy
Best advice: “Live by the ABCs: Always take it one day at a time; Be accountable; Consistency is key.”
Ice cream, cake, candy, pizza, cereal — these were the staples for Laura Carson, who spent a lifetime struggling with an eating disorder: She would binge on hundreds of calories and then purge by doing hours of cardio. “I became an avid runner and tried to outrun a bad diet,” she says. She was also painfully shy and could not give presentations or even engage with strangers in conversation.
Her binge/purge cycle continued for decades, but all that exercise could not combat the glut of unhealthy, empty calories she would take in during her binge. One by one, the pounds crept on. In 2013, she had had enough. “I was sick of waking up every Monday morning, vowing to make a change, then doing nothing,” she says. She had seen a friend compete in a bikini show and was inspired to do so herself.

Carson hired an online coach who introduced her to macrobiotic-based eating and helped Carson determine how many carbs, proteins and fats she needed every day in order to reach her goals. “I was addicted to sugar and the wrong types of carbs and didn’t even know what protein was,” she says. “Macro-based eating was easy to understand and live with. I didn’t want a diet; I wanted a lifestyle.”
She cut out all the processed junk and used MyFitnessPal to track her food to ensure she was getting exactly what she needed. “The hardest part was killing my sugar addiction,” she says. “It took about three weeks for the cravings to go away completely. It was also difficult to get used to eating every few hours and consuming more food than I ever had.”
Carson also swapped her cardio-centric training for more focused weightlifting to add muscle and shape to her frame. Slowly, her body fat dropped and her new physique began to emerge.
In 10 months, she lost 32 pounds and stepped onstage in May 2014 for her first bikini competition. “The girl who could not do a school presentation or speak in front of co-workers was onstage in a teeny-tiny bikini in front of 1,500 people!” she says. “It was very empowering.”
These days, Carson is part of a group of fit women from Best Fitness in Nashua, New Hampshire, who inspire one another and organize activities such as dinners, movies, hikes and zip lining. She has become certified as a specialist in fitness nutrition from the International Sports Sciences Association and is planning on getting her training certification. “I also started a Facebook blog called 40somethingfitness, and we have more than 1,000 followers,” she says. “We share tips, tricks, recipes and more.”
As for public speaking — bring it on. “Needless to say, I am over my fears,” she says. “I now speak regularly for my job with no hesitation and get onstage to compete at least once a year.”

Michelle Kruk Recruited Her Family

Weight before: 160 lb
Weight now: 123 lb
Age: 37
Height: 5'7"
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Occupation: Teaching assistant and personal trainer
Tip for newbies: “Plan ahead!”

For Michelle Kruk, it was her then¬–eight-year-old son that inspired her to shape up her physique 37 pounds ago during a shopping trip. “Mommy, you have jiggly arms like a grandma!” he told her. After that, there was no going back for Michelle.

She ditched her membership at a women’s-only gym, where she previously stuck to cardio and half-hearted machine circuits, and split the cost of a personal trainer with a friend. After losing the first 20 pounds with her pal, Michelle joined a local running group, ran a half marathon with friends, and spent more time getting active with her kids.

As a working mom, Michelle says that planning skills can make or break fit family habits. That’s why she spends one day per week pre-cooking healthy meals and snacks, and jumps out of bed “before the rooster crows” every morning to fit in a 5 a.m. weights sessions.

Between cleaning up her children’s lunches (“I learned how to make healthy Pizza Pops so they wouldn’t feel deprived!”), taking part in family 5K runs, and participating in “any activity that doesn’t involve sitting on the couch,” Michelle has taken pride not only in her own transformation, but in the love for movement that her kids have picked up. “Having my 12-year-old daughter, Julia, understand that looking skinny does not mean you are healthy is so rewarding,” she says.

Strutting on stage during her first fitness competition, Michelle couldn’t imagine placing first in her category without her family’s support, understanding and even their brutal honesty. “I am so proud of who I have become. And I know that my family and friends are proud of what I have accomplished as well.”

Michelle’s Clean Chocolate Mousse

Mix together:
  1. 3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  2. 1 tbsp natural cocoa powder or carob powder
  3. 1–2 drops caramel Stevia

Zain Jamal Broke Through with Mindfulness

Weight before: 145 lb (89 lb during anorexia)
Weight now: 105 lb
Age: 33
Height: 5'3"
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Occupation: Nutritionist/yoga instructor/fitness model

Weighing 145 pounds after a period of binge eating that followed years of anorexia (her lowest weight was 89 pounds back in 2005), Zain knew it was time to commit to a lifestyle of consistent, healthy habits rather than bouncing between two extremes. “When I started practicing mindfulness, everything changed,” says Zain.

Spending time with herself was the first step. After some reflection, Zain realized that her body image was a wreck and that her eating habits stemmed from a desire to be accepted by others. Applying mindfulness techniques she had learned through yoga and meditation, she decided once and for all not to succumb to her own “mind games.” Zain began to practice deep breathing, boosted her motivation by repeating inspiring mantras, hired a personal trainer, and began to educate herself in clean eating.

To combat emotional eating, she stopped having meals while working, watching TV or chatting on the phone. “When I didn’t focus on the meal, I would get to the end and never feel satisfied,” she says, which led to late-night snacking.

“I faced my fears and worked through them,” says Zain, who lost 40 pounds the healthy way and now teaches private workshops for women recovering from eating disorders. “Mindfulness has taught me to cultivate humility, maintain discipline and choose love rather than fear.”

Zain’s Mindfulness Mantras

Getting her mind and body in sync was monumental to Zain’s success. Her tips?
  1. During a meal, savor each bite, chewing slowly while admiring the colors, textures, aromas and flavors.
  2. Dine outdoors or near a window to calm your body and mind.
  3.  Before your workouts, perform a mental “body scan.” Ask yourself, how are you feeling that day? Are you energetic? Tired? Stressed? Are any of your muscles sore? Are you carrying tension? Every time you scan your body, become familiar with its needs for that workout.
  4.  While weight training, pay attention to your breathing.

Lynn Lester-Howland Went From 'Skinny Fat' to Muscle Mom

Weight before and now: 126 lb
Age: 37
Height: 5'7"
Location: Dubuque, IA
Occupation: Optometrist
Words of Wisdom: "If you don't make an ugly face, you are not lifting heavy enough."

Lynn's breast cancer diagnosis back in 2009 propelled her towards fitness and taught her to get tough. "I made the decision that I was in control," she says. Despite feeling lost in the weights section at first, Lynn cut back on endless cardio and got serious about building muscle. She knew having a lean, toned body was one of the two things she could count on to make her feel stronger.

The second thing? Her kids. She got her son and daughter on board, teaching them about the benefits of eating clean and exercising. "I have to laugh now because my children will ask me if they can come to the gym and tell me to feel their muscles as they flex their biceps," she says.

Cancer free and more confident than ever, Lynn is putting her muscle into shaping up her future with her family. No longer skinny fat but fit, she welcomes new challenges with strength and focus. "I feel like I own the gym now," she says.

Lynn's Tips
  1.     Do weights before cardio so you're not depleting your energy before you start lifting.
  2.     Go heavy. "If I can do more than seven reps, I bump the weight up."
  3.     Perform intervals instead of steady-state cardio. "I go as hard as I can, then recover and repeat. If I get to 20 minutes, it's a rare day!"
  4.     Immediately after your workout, consume a whey isolate protein shake and a fast-acting carb.
  5.     Eat! "If you don't eat enough, you won't build muscle."

Jenna Dunham Dropped 70 Pounds Post-Pregnancy


Weight before: 203 lbs
Weight now: 133 lbs
Age: 36
Height: 5'4"
Location: Florence, KY
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Most embarrassing song she works out to: Copacabana by Barry Manilow - "A great cardio song!"

After her third pregnancy, Jenna found motivation in an unlikely place: the "F" word. "I was 203 pounds and 'frumpy,'" she says. Jenna felt discouraged, but relied on a personal mantra to get back into the gym. "I can do anything for one minute," she told herself before stepping on the treadmill or walking over to the weights area. Soon, she was up to sprints and advanced strength-training circuits.

A desire to become a fit mom - not just a skinny one - was Jenna's driving force. Within six months, she lost 70 pounds, reduced her body fat from 31 to 17 percent and increased her strength. As for those abs, she stuck with a clean diet, returned to Pilates and fell in love with circuit training.

Between her three pregnancies, Jenna has now lost a combined 180 pounds, which is more than she currently weighs! In her closet, she keeps the XL maternity pants ("the largest pair of pants I've ever worn!") to remind her of how far she's come. With a stronger body and mind, she's become a happier mom.
Bounce Back Like Jenna

"Some women make it look so easy to get back into shape after having a baby, but it takes a ton of hard work!" Jenna's top three tips to bounce back:
  1.     Rely on a good support network of friends and family
  2.     Try new workout classes and routines.
  3.     Write down your goals for the day/week/month.
- Kasia Kurek | Photo by Rick Lohre

6 anxiety strategies

 1. Self-Talk

Trying to block the anxiety out when it’s coming at you doesn’t work, says psychologist Eric Lyleson. Instead, you need to work with it, even though that’s the last thing you want to do.

“It’s the opposite of blocking it out that really works,” he says. “Face the original feeling, notice what happens when you just allow that feeling to be there. When you open up to it more you naturally relax a little bit and become more friendly with that fearful feeling. In a way it’s like learning to be a better parent to yourself. The best thing to say to yourself is ‘It’s okay to be scared, I am not afraid to be scared, everybody gets scared’,” Lyleson suggests.

It’s also helpful to identify untrue or damaging self-talk. “With anxiety, your mind is normally lying or exaggerating what might happen,” says Lyleson. “A good intervention is to treat your mind like TV. You don’t believe everything you hear on TV, do you? When you’ve got some guy shouting at you that you need a carpet, that you must come down and buy a carpet this weekend, do you really jump into the car and go and buy a carpet? Not likely.”

2. Breathing

The simple act of breathing correctly can help prevent and manage anxiety, says breathing specialist Tess Graham, director of BreatheAbility.

“One of the most damaging myths out there is that the more air you breathe, the better; that we should all be deep breathing. But that’s the complete opposite of what we should be doing. That’s the way you set off an anxiety or panic attack and it’s one of the main reasons there is so much anxiety out there.

“We should be only breathing five litres of air per minute – around 10 breaths. The average person today is breathing 12 litres per minute.”

Aim to breathe gently through the nose, says Graham.

“First of all, become aware of your breathing,” she says. “Understand that anxiety is related to an over-breathing habit. You might notice that you’re sighing, yawning, or gulping air when you’re talking or mouth breathing.

“Number two is to try to breathe more gently and the best way to do that is to breathe through the nose whenever comfortable. This in itself is so calming.

“The third is to sit more upright. When people slouch, they are actually folding over their solar plexus-diaphragm area and that makes them more likely to breathe faster, with the upper chest. These three things can transform the way you feel.”

3. CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy offers many strategies for working with behaviour and emotions. One useful practice involves planning how you’re going to behave before an event.

“Occasions such as weddings, examinations or holidays tend to be fixed and we can suddenly find them almost upon us,” says Dr Helen Kennerley, therapist and author of Overcoming Anxiety. “Whatever the situation, being faced with an immediate problem can trigger panic and then it becomes even more difficult to plan how to cope.”

So get a pen and paper out, define the problem, list several solutions (including panic if you must, but make sure you cross it out), evaluate the pros and cons of the solutions and choose one. Then construct a plan of how you’re going to put that into action.

“Be specific about the task ahead and try not to confuse several tasks,” says Dr Kennerley. “Where possible, distinguish the different aspects of your problem and separate it into a collection of more manageable tasks, then make a plan for each.”

After the event, review the outcome.

“If your solution works and is sufficient, congratulate yourself and remember this successful experience for the future,” says Dr Kennerley. “But whatever conclusion you reach, remember that you did not fail. Expect some disappointments, but commend yourself for having tried. Learn as much as you can from the experience and go back to your solution list and select the next one.”

4. Natural medicine

The nutraceutical that has been studied most in terms of anxiety is South Pacific medicinal plant kava, says Dr Jerome Sarris, a specialist in integrative and complementary medicine at the University of Melbourne.

“There have been several clinical studies conducted, the majority positive and certainly the last two clinical trials we’ve conducted using kava root extract in tablet form have shown that it’s quite effective in treating anxiety,” he says.

“It has an effect by relaxing the muscles and has an anxiety-reducing effect mentally, via the brain’s GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) pathway. But it’s different to benzodiazepines or alcohol in that it doesn’t have a cognitive-impairing effect.” Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed tranquilisers.

Several herbs also get a look-in, including the humble chamomile.

“There is some evidence for passionflower, skullcap and ginkgo biloba,” says Dr Sarris. “A study of chamomile on general anxiety disorder showed that it could be effective in some instances. It used a standardised form of chamomile in capsule form, but you can get the same effect from tea, you just need to use a few teabags and put them in a teapot so the volatile oils don’t escape.”

Taking a regular magnesium supplement may also be of benefit, but only if your levels are low.

“Magnesium has a critical neurochemical role to do with nervous system function and is important for relaxation of the muscles,” says Dr Sarris.

5. Exercise

It’s well known that physical activity boosts your mood and can even relieve pain, with the release of all those feel-good endorphins. But where do you find the time to exercise when part of anxiety is feeling like you’re under the pump? Perhaps you could ponder that question during a run.

“The role of exercise in helping people adapt to stress is particularly important given that stress plays a key role in both the development and the continuation of depression and anxiety disorders,” says Dr Michael Otto, psychologist and author of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety.”

“Choosing not to exercise because you are feeling down is like choosing not to take an aspirin because you have a headache. The aspirin is for times when you have a headache, and exercise is most effective when you are feeling down.”

Also, unlike exercising for physical results, the mental benefits are immediate.

“If you can just get yourself started on an exercise session, you can feel very differently within a half hour,” says Dr Otto.

6. Meditation

Meditation is the natural enemy of anxiety. Instead of playing into the hands of anxiety as the brain likes to do, meditation provides you with much-needed perspective, says Dr Edmund J Bourne, author of Natural Relief for Anxiety.

“Meditation allows you to expand your awareness to the point where it’s larger than your fearful thoughts or emotional reactions,” he says. “As soon as your awareness is larger than your fear, you are no longer swept up by the fear but are able to stand outside of it.”

Contrary to popular opinion, developing a regular meditation practice needn’t be hard work, says Lyleson.

“Bring your attention out of your thoughts, away from the TV set of your mind and come back into your body and then into something neutral, like your breath coming and going, or feeling your feet on the ground, or just looking around and seeing what’s in the room,” he says.

“We start to see that the mind is actually not the stuff that’s in the mind but the space in which thoughts come and go. Traditionally, we talk about peace of mind. That’s always there. You already have peace of mind, the rest is just content.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock; Author: David Goding

7 health perks of cycling

1. Improved cardiovascular health (the ability for your heart to efficiently pump and regulate oxygenated blood in your body)
2. Low impact on joints
3. Fat burning: Uses the biggest muscle group (legs and gluteus) thus aiding fat burning, promotion of lean muscle mass and overall toning, and get buns of steel. Really.
4. Ideal for low levels of fitness: Not about strength but technique
5. Builds strength: Once you build up your technique, you can work on adding extra resistance for strength
6. Works your core: If you cycle correctly, you will be using your core muscles at all times
7. Fun: When exercise is fun it sends even more endorphins through your body as you're not punishing your body. The social aspect adds to the time you can spend exercising; it creates a moment to connect physically and mentally that increases your emotional wellbeing.

A healthy heart = a happy heart.