Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Body Image: A Snapshot Into My Story

This blog post is not an easy one for me to write, and has been one long in the making.  However, I feel like I really need to express some personal experiences that I have had concerning the topic of body image.  I am not always very open about this topic, probably because I find it somewhat humiliating to talk about, but I hope that these experiences might be able to help someone. So here goes...

I want to start out by saying that something I have learned over the years is that your body size is not a predictor of happiness.  This has not been an easy lesson to learn, and I feel that I am having to still remind myself of this, and internalize it constantly(several times a day).  Now let me see if I can explain.

As a child, I was always really healthy.  My mother says that I ate well, and that I was always in the "normal" size category.  However, I have a sister who has always been very, very thin, due to genetic discrepancies, and throughout my life I have been constantly compared to her.  One of my earliest memories is that of an aunt commenting on how skinny my sister was and then turning to me and saying, "Oh, and Annika, you're just big boned."  Other times I would hear adults commenting to my parents about how tiny my older sister was and then they would turn to me and make comments like, "Oh... you must have fed her more." Ouch! Even though I was very young when this happened, the message that I took away from these encounters was... "I must be HUGE!"  Now looking back, I know that I wasn't huge, and that I was, in fact, closer to the skinny side of normal.  However, because of the comparisons others made, I developed a very distorted body image.  This continued to develop into my teenage years, as I rapidly grew taller then most girls my age.  In 8th grade, I was my full height of 5'8" and weighed about 118 pounds.  Because I was taller then most of my class mates, I thought that I must be an elephant.  It was hard to be taller than most of the boys and to feel like all of my friends were so tiny.  High school happened, and even though most of the girls caught up with me or passed me height-wise, I still perceived myself as huge, due to past events.  I remember the day that my eyes were opened to the truth, when I was a senior in high school.  I was looking at some pictures of myself and some friends and realized that I wasn't as big as I had thought.  In fact, I was tiny just like them. I mentioned this out loud to my mother in a very shocked voice, and she looked at me as if I had been crazy to think anything different.  However, even though this was an eye opening experience, I still struggled with body image.  Because I had experienced body image challenges at a young age, I decided that I wanted to study something that would give me the skills necessary to help others be healthy and recognize their worth, despite body size.  I started studying nutrition and then switched to Exercise and Wellness.  I had a passion for what I studied, but that didn't change the fact that, due to my chosen major, I was surrounded by picture-perfect girls who were very concerned about the numbers on the scale, and about whether statistics said that they were healthy.  This was hard, because in this environment, I was constantly labeled again as "normal" while others were "thin"and "skinny."  I know many of you may be thinking, "What is so wrong with being called normal?  It could be a lot worse."  And you would be right.  But it doesn't matter what people said to me since I was struggling with being happy with who I was.  Even when people called me skinny, I still shrugged it off as that they didn't really think that, or that they were just being nice.   I had to, and still have to, constantly remind myself that the most important thing is to be and feel healthy.  It doesn't matter what other people think about my body.

Now, as a health professional, I still have to choose to focus on what is really important.  If I thought it was bad how people judged my body as a child, it is nothing to how it can be judged now.  Because of my chosen field of study, people feel that they are free to judge and comment on my body.  When I am talking with someone, and they find out what I study and do, often their eyes automatically leave my face and look at my body, judging it according to their own standards of what a health professional's body should look like.  And it leaves me feeling sick.  It still hurts.  But the truth is... This is never going to stop.  Because of our society's inappropriate association with health being synonymous with body size, there will always be people out there who will find fault.  No matter how skinny I become, I can never please everyone, which is ultimately why I am even sharing these experiences.  I want to help people understand that there is so much more to health than what reaches the eye.

 I found a quote on Pintrest recently that said: "Your fitness is 100% MENTAL.  Your body won't go where your mind doesn't PUSH it."  I am not sure who originally said this quote, but I love it.  I feel like there are many ways you can interpret this quote, but the way I see it is that we need to find health in our minds before our bodies will follow.  Again, I would like to repeat, your physical size is not a predictor of happiness.  Be healthy in your mind, and your body will follow.  We need to accept ourselves as unique and beautiful before we will feel and become so.  A favorite quote that I remember hearing in my childhood from the movie "Wives and Daughters" is: " Believe you are beautiful, and you will be."  I want to follow this with the disclaimer that being healthy in your mind is not a "cop out" for not working to have a healthy body, but the opposite.  As you have a healthy mind, you will want your body to achieve a similar health, based on appropriate expectations.  You are now not limited to what others expect, but can now achieve something unique to you and your body.

I know my experiences may seem simple to some, but I hope they are helpful to others.
Below I have posted some pictures of me experiencing things with my body that bring me joy.  The first is one of me and my son hiking, which is something we love to do together as a family.  The second is one of me after running a half marathon that I had the privilege of putting together.  The third is one of me and my small family enjoying the holidays.  Our bodies are such blessings. Instead of criticizing and finding fault with them, we need to love our bodies and show them our appreciation through being active and experiencing life.  My invitation to all is to find someway, every day, to show your body that you are grateful for it.  I would love to hear about your experiences.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Exercise 101

And it is another beautiful day!
Hey all, I know it has been a while since I have posted a challenge, and for that I am regretful, but I am really excited about today's blog and this weeks challenge.  First off, I wanted to remind you all of my last challenge of "loving who you are."  How did this go?  I know it has been a few months... do you feel different?  If you are like me, you maybe had some really great and positive days and maybe some not so positive days.  That is okay.  Remember that what we are trying to accomplish is healthy living, not just a temporary one time solution.  So our goal is not to be perfect tomorrow, but to improve everyday.

Well, remember in my first blog how I told you how "I LOVE EXERCISE!!!!" well, this blog is going to be about that.  Now before you think that this blog may not be for you... give me a chance.  I want to rephrase that and say instead, " I LOVE that I have a body and that I can MOVE!!"  It is so fun to be able to DO things!  I have been super blessed the last year to have the time and desire to train for and run a half marathon. I love running and I get excited everyday for the opportunity to use my body to RUN!  Now, I know that all people don't love to run and that is totally okay.  You don't have to.  I just wanted to tell the world how grateful I am to have a body and one that can MOVE!!!  I love it!  Whenever I have those unmotivated days where you don't want to get off the couch( and they do come sometimes)  I just try to remember how not everyone has the opportunity to run... I need to take advantage of it.
Now, running might not be your thing, and that is okay.  Maybe you love to dance( and let me remind you that you don't have to be good at something to love it).  Maybe it you just like to walk around the block.  Maybe you love to get on your bike and go for a leisurely bike ride.  Whatever your movement-love is... do it.  Now is the time.  Your body is not getting any younger and you can feel good now.
                                                             My most recent half marathon


I know that this can sometimes be quite difficult.  In fact, I have recently been working to overcome a new hurdle that is in my life.  It is the hurdle of, "I have a 16 month old baby and a husband who is in school, and am working through some newly discovered health problems that make me feel sick and exhausted pretty much all the time."  Even with these hurdles, I know that using and moving my body is one of the best things I can do to help myself through this.  Life can be hard, and gets busy, but we need to remember that without a body, we couldn't do what we need or want to every day, so it is important to take care of it.

Okay, so then to start out, we need some guidelines.  First off, remember that all health is cumulative.  This means that even though we might have hiked 8 miles a week ago, we still need to exercise today.  Just like we wouldn't want to eat only one day a week everything that we need for the week,(talk about making you feel sick), we can't just exercise one day a week and expect to have it last for the whole week.  We need to make sure we move/exercise frequently(as in everyday)  In fact, we need to do moderate intensity to intense exercise/movement 5-6 days a week for at least half an hour.   For example, moderate intensity would be a fast walk.  Now the cool thing is that this doesn't have to be all at once either.  If you absolutely have to, you can break it up into 10 minute sections.  Can you do this?  YES!!!

You can do this.  Lets say you have a break at work... you could walk around the block a few times, or you could even walk to work if your location allows it.  Do you work at home?  No problem!  Take a break and go dance with your kids.  Kids make great resistance weights too!  Run around the back yard with them, lift them up, do the stairs!  ANYTHING!!!  Just move!  You will be surprised how much better you feel when you move during a break from work.  It will help you be more productive and it will increase your confidence.

Do you spend much time watching TV, or sitting at the computer?  What if you changed all that time into productive movement time?  While watching TV, do some jumping jacks or some push-ups.  Get a exercise ball to sit at your computer desk with instead of a chair.  This requires you to use your abbs more then you know.  I have a dear friend who likes to set a goal before watching TV to do specific exercises when she hears different words being said.  For example, if she is watching the TV show "Once upon a time,"  She would say that anytime "Emma Swan's" name is mentioned, she has to do ten push-ups, or anytime the evil queen hurts someone she has to do 20 jumping jacks.  This allows her to be active and still watch her shows.  Make it fun and it will be fun.

 Remember, any change is hard, and sometimes we are not as successful as we want to be.  Sometimes when we don't see success right away, or when we miss a day with our goal, we get discouraged .  That is okay, just always remember that this is not an "all or nothing" experience.  If you mess up, "tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it"(Anne Shirley).  We should be setting our goals daily.

If you are having some struggles, remember that this is normal.  It takes a while for your body to get used to change.  I would recommend making daily evaluation notes in a day planner or calendar on how you feel about your success each day.  What did you accomplish and how did it make you feel?

So, here is your challenge.  MOVE!!!  Everyday this week.  Find something you like to do that gets you breathing faster and your heart pumping and go and do it!  Move at least 30 minutes everyday in some kind of moderate intensity activity.  I know you will gain more confidence in yourself, feel better and just want more.  You CAN do this!  Love your body.  Show it how much you appreciate it by using it to move!  Good Luck!

I would love to hear your comments about how this goes for you!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Redefining Health---This is not your typical health blog

This blog is dedicated to those of you who really want to be healthy... not just look it. 

It is amazing sometimes what we can learn from different life experiences. My life has dramatically changed over the last few months with the event of my son's birth.  It was an incredible miracle that would take too long to tell here but I would like to share that my son seems to be doing fine.  The circumstances of his birth caused him to spend a month in the NICU and to revisit the hospital several times since he has been home.  I am so grateful for his sweet spirit in my life.  Needless to say, my life has changed significantly since. I have had several experiences over the last few months that have helped me to re-evaluate my understanding of what it means to be truly HEALTHY.   I feel the need to share what I have learned about how health is more then just eating right and exercising...

I will never forget the joy I felt the day my son was born.  I have never felt so much happiness.  Even the prospect of him having to stay in the hospital for a time couldn't detract from the special feeling I felt in bringing life into the world.  He was beautiful.  His tiny hands and feet were so perfect and holding him gave me a peace that nothing in the world could compare to.

After his birth, when I could finally stand, I remember looking in the mirror.  I would be telling a lie if I said that I wasn't a bit disappointed with what I saw.  My body still looked pregnant!  You couldn't even tell I had had a baby! Not only that, but I was tired and hunched over with soreness.  The IV they had put in my arm had made my face and hands swollen and huge!  I was pale and could barely walk down the hall supported by a wheel-chair. Then I looked into my eyes... I could see reflected there the joy I felt and the peace that was in there.  I could see my own new-mother glow...and I felt beautiful. In the world's standards I was falling apart and had little beauty to offer.  Gone were the nice muscles and the flat tummy, but I had gained so much more.

Health is about this kind of love, this kind of living.

The peace from my baby's birth carried me for a while as I dealt with the struggles of having a baby in the hospital.  However, recovering from  a c-section, spending all my time at the hospital, staying up all night to make sure my baby got fed, and worrying about my baby's health, finally started to take a toll.    All of this caused me to stop taking proper care of myself and my needs.  My emotions started to struggle too.  I began to allow outside influences to take away my happiness.  I felt pressure from sources like pinterest, and movies that made me feel that I my body wasn't beautiful anymore.  Despite the miracle that my body had accomplished, I began to feel frustrated that my body would never be the same again.  I was unhappy as I tried to please these outside sources.  I didn't feel good.  In fact, I was in constant turmoil over how my body had changed.  I hate to admit this, but I feel like I should, just in case someone out there feels this way.  It is rough sometimes to always keep a good perspective on life... and that is what happened to me...and my health was suffering because of it.  I was sacrificing health for superficial vanity.

I want you to all know that it isn't worth it.

I decided it was time for me to really evaluate what was happening to me.  At only six weeks postpartum, I realized that I expected my body to already look like my pre-pregnant body.  I was so anxious about the changes my body had been through and was worried about getting my body back to my "old self" right away.  I was embarrassed whenever people would stop by to visit and see that my body was still "looking" pregnant. I felt like everyone was staring at me and making negative judgments about my body.  I felt ashamed about my looks, when just six weeks earlier I had been proud of my cute tummy and growing body.  Now, I was embarrassed by it.  However, six weeks was not enough time for much of anything to happen and I was obsessing over unrealistic expectations.  I felt that something needed to change... and it wasn't my body... It was my attitude.  I had just experienced a special miracle and created another human being!!!! This kind of thing is so incredible, yet there are so many sources telling you to forget the miracle of it all and feel ashamed.
Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who has stood by me throughout this whole thing.  He helps me to look at the blessings.  He also helps me to see that the real beauty is in the fact that my body HAS changed.
It has done, and is doing a lot of work, and I am growing in gratitude for the evidence of that work.  

When my baby was in the NICU, I would tell him that mommy had a big smile on her tummy where he was able to come out.  A miracle smile.  Some might say it is a scar, something I should feel has disfigured my body... But it isn't. It is a beautiful miracle.  Without it, my baby boy would not be here.  I am so grateful for that.
I am grateful for the beauty of sacrifice.
I am grateful for the beauty of change.
I am grateful for the sore limbs and tired eyes that remind me of my part in playing part of a miracle.
I am grateful for the sweet smiles my baby brings to my face and the pure laughter he has brought into our home.
This is where health and beauty really are. 
This is where life and love originate... and it is sooooo worth it.
It has been 4 months since my son was born, and my body is still not quite what it used to be, but I am grateful for these little reminders of loveliness and miracles.
I had a great friend remind me that "it took 9 months for your body to get the way it is, it will take at LEAST that to get it feeling put back together." I would like to add to her statement that I hope to embrace the changes that I have experienced because they have made me a better person.  Health is more then skin deep or the absence of cellulite.  It is about living a life of beautiful moments and loving who I am because of these moments.
I have learned from experience that health is about loving yourself and others despite imperfections and challenges.  Health is about living a life of purpose, and feeling that purpose fulfill you.  Health is about ignoring those less-then-helpful Pinterest posts about " to get back your pre-pregnant body eat this!" or "these five exercises will give you the perfect abbs!"  Our health is about finding joy and spreading it, not about feeling and spreading the discontentment the media and commercial enterprises want us to feel.  We are all human.  There is no perfect body and because of this we are unique and beautiful.

In the past, I have added a weekly challenge to try.  This week, I invite you to start to love who you are by reminding yourself what it is you love about yourself and your life.  Try finding at least 10 new things everyday.  I promise that it will put you on the road of finding TRUE health and happiness.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Eating: A small perspective change

All right everyone, Let's do this!

So, to start out, I want to talk about some simple tips in adjusting our diets to be more healthy.  Remember how I talked about how I don't Diet... It is true! (Ask my husband!)  In fact, I think I heard somewhere that diet is a four letter word...  So the things I want to talk about will help you to eat healthier without all that groaning and hunger that often accompany dieting.

First of all,  if any of you are like me, you like to eat a lot of food.  If this is true, I want you to tell yourself that this is natural.  Our bodies like to eat.  In fact, every time we eat, we have some special chemicals in our brain that tell us "good job"  and give us a psychological pat on the back.  Eating helps us survive and is therefore not a bad thing. However, while eating is good, we need to be aware of a few things about the food we eat.  Just like a car runs on gasoline, food is the fuel that feeds our body.

Our bodies are very economical with this fuel/energy.  In fact you might say that it is the perfect machine.  Unlike your car, which often changes on how efficiently it uses the gas you put into it, your body is very efficient.  When the energy we put into our bodies, equals the amount of energy we expend, we will maintain our weight.  If the energy we put in is greater then the amount that we expend then we store that extra energy to use for later in what is affectionately known as "Fat."  When we put less energy in then we expend then we will tap into our energy stores and generally lose weight.

Now, lets go back to the fun topic of eating.  If you are wanting to eat a lot of food, then I want to share with you a simple principle that will help you to do this and either maintain or lose weight.  You want to be able to eat the largest volume of food that contains the least amount of energy.  Foods that have this characteristic are foods with high water content such as fruits, veggies, and clear soups.  These foods are ones that don't make you super thirsty after you eat them.  Also, there are certain foods that can help you feel full faster with fewer calories.  These foods are foods with whole grains, protein and low fat.  These foods help your brain to be satisfied faster.  Now let me demonstrate how this works...
Below I have two different meal options... Notice the size and the quantity of food.  The calories of each meal are listed after them in parentheses.

Meal option number one:
1 cup 2% milk(120), 1 glazed doughnut(250)
Total Calories=370

Meal option number two :
17 grapes(60), 1 vanilla Yogurt(fat free)(80),  1/4 Cup Fat free Cottage Cheese(45), 3/4 Cup canned peaches(75)  1 slice whole grain toast(80)(no butter),      1 cup water,
 Total Calories=340

Crazy the difference, but interesting how much more food is in the meal number two.  Now, not everyone eats the same.  In fact, picture number two is a picture of MY lunch.  I don't expect you to eat exactly that way.  I never want to limit your creativity and taste! This is why I am going to share with you the first step in helping your body go through the adjustment of changing your diet.  You can still see some changes in your diet by eating foods you love and being healthy.  Here is the secret... Eat your fruits and veggies first!  Seriously!  It will help your body to feel full and you will be less likely to eat too much of the higher calorie foods you so much enjoy.

Did you know that we should eat at least 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies a day to get the proper nutrition you need?  Now a serving of fruit is about the size of a small apple, while a serving of vegetables is 1 cup raw and 1/2 cup cooked.  Try planning to eat a couple servings with each meal.

Okay, now that you have read all of this, you are ready for your challenge for the week...  Your challenge is to eat at least 5 servings of fruits or veggies each day this week and to eat them first in your meal.  You know which fruits and veggies you enjoy most, so I will give you the liberty to pick the ones you love most, but you have to eat at least five servings per day to complete the challenge.  In addition to this, try to eat these servings either raw, steamed or baked(not fried or sauteed(so no french fries!)).  Also, smoothies don't count(WHAT???  I know... let me explain).  Don't get me wrong, smoothies are great and are packed with so much nutrients, but remember we are trying to monitor our energy intake.  So, the reason for no smoothies is because smoothies can often trick our brains to think that we haven't eaten very much when really we had a whole banana, orange and apple in one sitting.  Our brain also likes it more when we chew our food instead of drinking it.  And we want our brain to give us that psychological pat on the back remember??!  Try it for the week.  See how you feel.  If you are missing your smoothies too much, try adding more veggies in them like carrots and spinach.  Vegetables have fewer calories then fruits and so they can keep the energy content down.  Now this doesn't mean 5 servings of Fruits AND veggies, but they are addititive such as: 3 servings fruit, 2 servings veggies etc... and FYI, Veggies do usually have fewer calories...

Well Good luck everyone!   Below are some helpful tips to make this an easy transition:

  • Keep track of how many servings you ate in a day in a day planner or calender.  Then you can see your success and progress and you can notate if you feel any difference in your hunger or not.
  • Keep the fruits and veggies more visible( ex: on the counter in a bowl or on the most visible shelf in the fridge)
  • Measure out serving sized veggies into snack baggies to take with you for a snack
  • Using plastic storage containers can really help transport and store salads and other wet veggies(like tomatoes or cut up cucumbers)
  • Remember to eat your colors!  each color signifies that there are different nutrients in each fruit or veggie and eating a variety can help your body stop its cravings.
  • Have a friend do it with you so that you can keep each other on track!

When you have done a week, DON'T STOP THERE!...You are doing so good. One week is just the first step.  After two weeks of 5 servings, we want to move up to 7 servings a day of Fruits and veggies. So keep on going.  Remember, we don't do diets, we do life style changes.

Have fun with this!  You are taking a step in a life-changing adventure!  Be sure to check back for our next challenge!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting Started! Healthy and Happy

Hello all!  To start this blog off, I wanted to share a little bit about who I am, and why I even wanted to create this blog.  So here it goes...

First off, I want to admit to two very important things about me...  First off, I LOVE food!!!  I have always been this way.  You can ask my mother.  She always says that I have been one of the easiest of her children to feed.  She meant this in two ways.  Not only was it easy to get me to eat, it was easy to get me to eat my vegetables!  Yup!  you read that right.  I have always had a love for good fruits and veggies.  My Mom loves to tell the story of how when I was young and if she would put a cookie or a fresh veggie in front of me to eat, I would always choose to eat the vegetable.  Now I hope that you don't misunderstand this story... I do love cookies!!!  More then I probably should, but I grew up on a small farm where the produce was fresh from our garden or small orchard, and no cookie can ever beat the taste of fresh yummy produce.  I also enjoy eating LOTS of food.  I have never been one for being nit picky about counting my calories or dieting. Because of this, I want to assure you that the things that I want to talk about in this blog will emphasize how to live a healthy and happy lifestyle without having to hurt your brain with all of that counting.  I hope instead that we can look at how to enjoy eating in a way that we can eat foods that we love, in moderation.

Now, this brings me to the second thing I wanted to tell you about me... I love exercise!  Okay... so let me explain before you stop reading because you are thinking, " wow!  this girl is crazy!" or  "I can't relate with this girl at all!"  Please hear me out.  I do love exercise, but I love it in the non-traditional way.  When I say exercise, I mean that I love to use my body to move.  I think that there are so many ways that we can find to keep our bodies healthy and fit without having to groan our way through.

This brings me to the purpose of why I am even creating this blog.  Recently, I have been placed in a situation where both of these things that I love have been, in a sense, taken away from me for awhile.  What I mean to say is that I am pregnant and it has not been an easy ride.  I was sick from the very start.  From the very beginning, food became one of my biggest enemies.  I couldn't even think about food without wanting to throw up.  Also, at about 12 weeks pregnant, I had some serious complications with my pregnancy that put me on bed rest for almost a month, and then limited activity for almost two months afterwards.  I am currently able to move more, but now I am almost six months pregnant, and have to be cautious.  Not only am I pregnant with all of these complications, but I also recently found out that I have gall bladder complications.  These complications put me into terrible pain for hours if I eat foods with much fat in them.  Now, for the first time in my life, I am having to eat a special diet.  Not only that, but I am unable to move as much as I would like. Two of my most favorite things have been yanked from me, and I am having to learn to adjust my life to these changes, but still be healthy.  My experiences have created a desire in me to reach out to others who are trying to be healthy in their lives, but are having complications with finding ways to manage it.

I want to help.  Many of the things I write in here may have a pregnancy twist to them, but my hope is to talk about things in such a way that everyone who reads this can find something to help with their situation.  I want to discuss how to be healthy(in mind and body) and happy no matter what our current situation in life is.

I will be updating this blog regularly to post healthy hints, and fun exercise routines to try.  Also, if any one as any requests about something in particular they would like to try or learn about, please comment.  If you have any questions, ask those too.  If you have questions about my credentials, check out my "about me" section.  STAY TUNED!!!