My Fitness Journey

Fitness versus wellness... is there a difference? I think I have always strived for fitness but haven’t always been focused on wellness. To me, wellness includes having a healthy routine that fuels your body AND your mental wellbeing.

For nearly all my life I have been an athlete. I played ice hockey since I was in first grade, and through those years I was also dedicated to softball, cheerleading, and dabbled in soccer, basketball, and volleyball. These sports involved a lot of strength and endurance.

I was a bit more “thick” than other little girls. I had leg muscles from long and intense hockey practices, and I remember one time telling my mom that I thought I was fat. She showed me a picture of Serena Williams on a magazine cover and told me, “look at her. She is so muscular, and she is strong and beautiful, like you!” Looking back, I can’t believe I felt this way about my body when I was a child. Once I got to high school, I began focusing my time on cheerleading. I think after many years of being a tomboy, I wanted to focus my athleticism on something “cuter” and “cooler.” So, I dropped all my other sports, even my childhood favorite, which was being on the ice and kicking the boys’ butts in hockey.

Being a high school cheerleader was physically and mentally crushing. I pushed my body to the limits, all the while consuming less than 1,000 calories a day. Sophomore year, I was one of three girls my age to make the varsity team. The varsity squad was almost all seniors, and I felt intimidated and inferior. The team I was on was all about looking and being perfect, and it took a serious toll on my happiness. It also messed with my body. Our practices focused on tricks and stunts, and I was throwing tumbling passes that I was not fundamentally prepared to do. At the time, I weighed 100 pounds and was lifting senior flyers who were incredible athletes and were heavier than me. They were not happy, to say the least, when I couldn’t keep them up in the air. I developed aches and pains in every joint of my body, and my back was constantly aching. No one ever taught us how to be safe. They only wanted us to look perfect, at all costs. Long story short, I ended up  quitting cheerleading, and this was the unfortunate last experience I had playing sports. I was left with a feeling of defeat and a distaste for the shape and abilities of my own body.

For the rest of the year after I quit, I started hitting the gym to make up for the physical activity I was no longer getting. I strictly focused on cardio, spending excessive amounts of time on the elliptical or treadmill. I counted calories obsessively and restricted my diet in ways that were unhealthy for a growing teenager. This pattern was thankfully interrupted late in my high school career once I became active in the performing arts at my school. I finally began channeling my energy into something positive instead of being narrowed in on finding a way to make my body shrink. Being a part of theatre and competitive speech allowed me to grow into a mentally strong and confident woman. I finally felt that I had value as a person because I felt talented and respected. I belonged to a group of people who were accepting and loving of everyone.

In college, I didn’t continue to take part in the performing arts, but I will forever recognize that it saved my mental health in my late teens. I had a wonderful college experience and didn’t focus much on fitness and exercise, but the negative feelings about my body lingered. I went to the gym and went for runs occasionally, but I wasn’t very consistent. I gained weight throughout college, and graduated at the heaviest weight I have ever been in my life. My body did not look the way I necessarily wanted it to, and I didn't have a way to be active and athletic without falling back into a poor relationship with my self image.

This pattern continued for me until grad school, when I met my boyfriend. He is very into lifting weights, and he does it because he loves it. He has a healthy balanced life and enjoys his fitness routine because it makes him feel good about himself. What a concept! I had never experienced that before. I started lifting weights with him, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I began to really love it. Exercising finally felt good to me because it meant that I could become stronger. I could gain something from working out instead of always focusing on losing. I could set goals for myself and look at myself in the mirror and see that I was getting stronger! This was so exciting to me, and two years later, it still is. I can honestly say that lifting weights has saved my self esteem. I love walking into the gym and feeling powerful. I love seeing how my body can surprise me with what I'm able to do. And most importantly, I love my body. I love the way I look and I have never felt better in my own skin.

In the two years that I’ve been lifting, I’ve had different phases. Sometimes I go to the gym every day. Sometimes I only make it a few times a week, and sometimes I don’t make it at all. Either way, I’ve learned that it’s okay. Why? Because your body is your HOME, and it’s meant for feeling healthy, safe, and secure. Yes, there is pressure to strive for a certain aesthetic. Yes, I still have moments when I feel a lack of confidence and wished I looked like the fitness models I see on Instagram. I still feel moments of guilt and have bad days, too, but at the end of the day I can say I am thankful. Thankful that I am healthy, strong, and happy. As everything in life goes, finding wellness in fitness is a process. I am a work in progress, and overall, I’m still learning to love myself more with each passing day. 

Heath Trend: What the kombucha?!

Kombucha: you've heard the word. It's all the rage. It's the drink that has a name that makes it sound more like a witch's brew than a curative elixir. I wanted to uncover some facts about kombucha not only to answer my own questions, but to share my findings with you all. I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering why it's recommended that I drink this stuff. So, what exactly is kombucha and why does everyone claim that it's so good for your health? Furthermore, is it possible that this health trend could actually be harmful?



Kombucha is a fermented tea made from yeast and bacteria, plus a flavoring combination such as black tea and sugar. The colony of yeast and bacteria that gives birth to the fermented mixture is often referred to a "the mother." The mother, which kind of looks like a jellyfish (sounds appetizing, right?), sits in a glass bottle with the tea for a period of time, allowing the fermentation process to take place. The process results in the byproducts of alcohol, vinegar, and other chemical compounds. This explains why when you open a bottle of kombucha, you're greeted with the smell of vinegar. The way I've just explained it makes it sound like the least appetizing drink in the universe. As a tea-lover, though, I find that a good kombucha just tastes like a fizzy, slightly sour tea. So, if it's so funky smelling and has a weird blob floating around at the bottom of it, why do people drink this stuff?

The health benefits claimed to be reaped by drinking kombucha range from preventing cancer to curing cardiovascular diseases. It is commonly claimed to promote fat loss, detoxify the blood, and prevent diabetes and hypertension. Wow! Any skeptic would probably look twice at that list. Relieving the human race of some of our most common health ailments is a pretty lofty claim for any health food or drink. The bottom line about the known benefits of kombucha is that they are limited and certainly do not span as far as a surefire cure or prevention for any disease.

The benefits though, are similar to those of the tea that it is often made with (e.g. antioxidant properties may reduce free radical damage, but this conversation can be a whole other post of its own). There also is a small amount of caffeine from the tea in the mixture, which would result in the benefits one might get from any caffeinated beverage, including increased energy, focus, suppressed appetite, and let's be honest, you all know it: relief of mild constipation. There is limited evidence that kombucha provides probiotic benefits. Probiotics promote the health of our gut flora, which helps our digestive system work nicely. Although, again, there is limited evidence that kombucha is an effective probiotic. Aside from these and a few other very chemically-specific benefits that I don't have the capacity to begin to explain, the scientific jury is still out on this topic. Overall, there is a very small if any additional affect of drinking kombucha in the place of plain tea.

It's also worth mentioning that there are some health risks associated with this fizzy drink. If it is not brewed properly, it may become contaminated and unsafe to consume. Therefore, it is not recommended to brew kombucha in the home without doing extensive research and safety checks. In addition, the use of kombucha is contraindicated in pregnant and lactated women. No, you won't get drunk from it, but it does contain alcohol, after all. This may also mean that if you don't consume alcohol for religious or health reasons, you should avoid kombucha.

Bottom line

I'm not going to lie, I kind of believed that this drink was all it was cracked up to be before I did this search. I had a bottle of kombucha this morning, posted it to my Instagram story, and thought to myself, "Wow. I am the image of pure and perfect health." Now I feel kind of duped, yet I am reminded that there is always value in a bit of time spent flipping through the literature on any topic. I think unless I'm specifically craving kombucha, I might just stick to the tea from here on out.

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/kombucha-tea/faq-20058126

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/kombucha-a-symbiotic-mix-of-yeast-bacteria-and-the-naturalistic-fallacy/


Jayabalan, R. , Malbaša, R. V., Lončar, E. S., Vitas, J. S. and Sathishkumar, M. (2014), A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 13: 538-550. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12073

Caffeine: Friend or Foe?

Coffee is amazing. It's honestly the one true nectar of the gods. It is a miracle in a cup and the best pick-me-up when you're feeling bogged down. Coffee has many known health benefits. It is a potent antioxidant and coffee consumption has been found to have an inverse correlation (more coffee, less disease) with diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer's, and some types of cancer [a]. Drinking coffee before exercise can also help increase endurance and help you push out those last few seconds of a high intensity workout [b].

As I've started my new job, I've noticed my coffee intake dramatically increase, and with that, I've also started to notice that it's not so perfect all the time. With every cup I drink, I notice a slight edge of anxiety. It also messes with my sleep and leaves me awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering why I thought a quadruple shot of espresso was a good idea. This got me questioning what the evidence says about the downsides of coffee (if they even exist). So, what did I find out?

One of the negative effects coffee can have on its consumer is insomnia. Caffeine has a half life of about 5 to 6 hours [c], so even if you drink it early in the afternoon, it will still be in your system by the time you need to go to sleep. Here's an example of how to calculate that: if at 4 PM you consume 165 mg of caffeine, the amount in a grande iced coffee from Starbucks, you will still have 82 mg of caffeine in your system at 10 PM. This can leave you tossing and turning and unable to sleep, and lack of sleep of course has its own stack of negative effects on health. So, next time you reach for your venti quad espresso afternoon pick-me-up, you might want to think twice about what time you plan on falling asleep at night.
Not only does coffee have the potential to shake you up all night long like an AC/DC track, but it also can exacerbate anxiety and panic disorders [d]. In addition, people with anxiety and panic disorders have been found to have an increased sensitivity to the effects of caffeine [e]. Coffee consumption may also heighten psychotic symptoms and hostility in individuals with psychosis-related disorders [d]. If you're a health care worker, consider asking your patients about coffee intake so you can appropriately monitor and intervene with caffeine-related side effects [d].

Individuals with or at risk for hypertension should also be aware of the downsides of America's favorite beverage. Coffee raises blood pressure and heart rate, and caffeine consumers have higher blood pressure on average than non-caffeinators [f]. Individuals with hypertension should ask their doctor if it's safe to consume caffeinated beverages and should consider limiting coffee consumption to less than 2 cups per day [f]. Risk factors for hypertension include - but are not limited to - the following: age over 65, race (common amongst Black people even at early ages), family history, obesity, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, high sodium intake, stress, and chronic conditions such as kidney disease [g].
With this information taken into account, coffee should certainly be used in moderation. I say this as I sip my iced coffee at 7 PM, but since it's the weekend I don't quite have a bedtime goal I need to hit for tonight. Spoken like a true coffee addict. Do you think coffee's pros outweigh the cons? Comment below to join in the conversation.

4 Tips to Enjoy Your Fitness Routine

Balance.
If I had to choose one word to describe what I've learned through my fitness journey, it's balance. Without balance, physical health becomes a chore that can surely take a toll on mental health. There was a time in my life when I hated my body, and it caused me so much anxiety. During this time, exercise always felt like a chore that I forced myself into as some sort of punishment. I've come a long way and have learned to listen to my body and nourish it in the right ways. Living a healthy, balanced, life, has helped me to enjoy and appreciate my body more than I ever knew was possible.  Not to mention, physical fitness helps prevent a myriad of diseases and there is growing evidence that physical activity can help improve mental health (Strohle, 2009). Here are 4 simple and intuitive tips that have helped me strike the sweet spot that has kept me invested in my physical health in a mentally positive way.

1. Remember your reasons.
One of the keys to enjoying your fitness routine is to remember why you are doing it. Be intentional about thinking about your reasons for exercising. These reasons should be reflective of a positive attitude and should not be motivated by fear or self-hate. Otherwise, a negative connotation will always be attached to the activity, and unhealthy habits may form. If you struggle with anxiety and/or obsessive behaviors related to your body, eating, and/or workout routine, there are some really great  online resources for finding a professional to help you out. I'll be the first to admit it's not always easy for everyone to find positive reasons to exercise in a world where our bodies are under so much scrutiny. It took me a while to find mine and to let go of many of my anxieties related to having "the perfect body." Some of my reasons for engaging in physical activity are to have fun, to help myself relieve stress, and to invest in my future self's health.
2. Do what you love.
Doing exercise that you truly love and enjoy will help you keep a positive mindset about physical fitness, and will help you get moving more often (Jekuac, 2015). I never enjoyed my fitness routine until I started doing something I truly enjoyed. My boyfriend taught me how to lift weights when we first started dating, and it immediately clicked with me. I loved it because it felt like an activity that was meant to make my body stronger and to appreciate my strength. I also loved it because it was something he and I bonded over. Since I discovered this passion, I've been excited to get to the gym, put on my favorite music, and get my sweat on. It's also a great way to blow off steam! As you can see from the photos, on days that I'm not lifting weights, I enjoy doing yoga. I've found it to be another great way to appreciate my body's abilities.
3. Try something new.
Don't be afraid to try something new if what you are doing doesn't feel right anymore. Or, just try something new for fun! There are so many ways to move your body and get exercise that don't include hitting the weights or the cardio machines. If you hate the gym, treat yourself to the great outdoors and try hiking. If you hate weight lifting, try rock climbing. If you love to be creative, maybe try a dance class. There are so many fun ways to be active, and I would suggest checking out Groupon to find some unexpected activities.
4. Rest.
This is one of the big tips where balance comes into play. Your body needs rest in order to recover, and rest days feel just as rewarding as a good workout. You should never feel as if you are a slave to your workout regimen. If you do, that's a good sign that you need to take a rest, and then start over at number 1 on this list. And while you're at it, treat yourself to some Netflix and pizza. Like I said, balance is a great thing.

I hope these tips can help someone else the way they have helped me along my health and fitness journey. Remember that your mental health should never be compromised for the sake of an exercise regimen. Feel free to comment and leave your favorite tips for enjoying your fitness routine!

References

Jekauc, D. (2015). Enjoyment during exercise mediates the effects of an intervention on exercise adherence. Psychology, 6, 48-54. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2015.61005

Strohle, A. (2009). Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. J Neural Transm Vienna, 6, 777-84. doi: 10.1007/s00702-008-0092-x