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Hard Decisions, Heart Decisions

How many decisions will you make today? From the moment our feet hit the floor each morning, our minds are constantly churning through the many options in front of us.

“Should I have eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?”
“Do I have time to go for a run before work?”
“Could we budget for an extended family vacation this year?”
“Do I need a nap?”
“Should I quit Facebook?” (yes!)

While they take up a fair bit of energy, these daily cerebral dances rarely transform us, impact us or alter who we are (unless, of course, you’re in the midst of changing a habit- a different subject for another time).

And then, there are the decisions that we tend to keep hidden in the chest, throat, or pit of the stomach- “heart decisions” which penetrate our very being.  

We rarely talk about them, and in fact, if you Google “what’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make,” nearly all the top results have to do with professional choices. Yet, these silent “heart decisions” can make us ill or strengthen us. They can rob us of our peace or gift us with spiritual insight. Sometimes, these “heart decisions” feel incredibly painful and destructive and then we realize, years after taking a fork in the road, that we actually ended up being better for it.

Heart decisions like:

“Do we give this experimental cancer treatment a try, despite the risks?”
“Should I leave my unfaithful partner, or is reconciliation possible?”
“Is it best to shut down the business and declare bankruptcy?”
“Do I tell my supervisor that I need to take long-term leave for rehab and risk being terminated from my job, or should I try to beat this addiction on my own?”
“Should I sever ties with my dysfunctional family?”
“Am I ready to love and trust again?”

There are rarely any “right” answers to heart decisions, and the only person who knows best what to do is you.

Four weeks ago, my husband and I were blessed with our miracle baby boy after years of believing that becoming parents just wasn’t in the cards for us. Of course, I wanted his entry into the world to be perfect- a calm and drug free water birth- and I did everything in my power to make it so, from attending Hypnobirthing classes to practicing daily meditations and birthing exercises for months. When my water finally broke, I walked into the hospital steeped in confidence with my essential oils and visualization tracks in hand.

However, after nearly twenty three hours of excruciating labor, our son showed signs of fetal distress and became lodged in the birth canal due to his size. My amazing Ob-Gyn left me with a decision, one that only I could make. I could either continue pushing and try a vacuum delivery, with potential significant risk to the baby, or I could go in for an emergency C-section, with risk to my own health and life. It was the type of choice our brains are not equipped for. Following a pause to surrender, I picked the latter option. After our son arrived, my doctor confirmed to me that, had I taken the natural route and proceeded with my original plan, he probably would not have made it out.

Writing this, and revisiting my emotions around that decision, still breaks me. We all have our expectations about how things SHOULD be, and about what’s fair and just. There have been still other tough choices to make along the way over this past year, adding to the scars of the heart- a gentle warrior’s breastplate, perhaps- and through this journey, I have come out changed.

I think that many people are called to the helping professions after being faced with heart decisions throughout their lives and, with that in mind, it’s time to move forward. As I have decided focus solely on my family for the next six months and Anna will be taking leave soon to welcome her baby in May, we’ve decided to put our services at Tangram on hold, and we’ll revisit where we’re at in August. We’re still here to guide you and Tangram’s social media presence, website and email will remain as is for now. If you need a referral or you have a question, send us an email.

With that written, I can no longer dip a toe into the waters of my own calling and will be pursuing writing, coaching and psychotherapy for women healing from addiction and trauma wholeheartedly when I return to work while furthering my knowledge in the meantime. And, now that my husband and I are totally baby crazy thanks to our son, I’m also hoping we’ll be blessed with another child… or five… somehow.

That’s the thing about heart decisions- their rivers of tears carry you into the belly of purpose and onto the shores of who you’re meant to be.

As always, thanks for reading.


Light & lifting,

 

 

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Busting Myths for a Healthy Pregnancy

Staying active and enjoying the second trimester! 

Staying active and enjoying the second trimester! 

Over the course of pregnancy, it seems like we have so much to worry about. Between vastly differing opinions, old wives’ tales and pregnancy books dishing out contradictory information, it really can send your head into a spin! 

Many of these anxieties are centered around what we should be eating and how we should be exercising. The thought that your behavior could potentially be harming your baby is a mother’s nightmare. So, when it comes to fitness and nutrition, just what is considered safe? How do we know if we’re pushing too much and will that slice of cake really make it all better?

As a Pre and Postnatal Specialist, ACSM-certified trainer and expectant mom, I’m here to put your mind at ease regarding a few of these pregnancy myths: 
 

Myth 1: Pregnancy is a time to put your feet up.

It’s important to give your body adequate rest, especially since pregnancy fatigue can be so debilitating. However, resist keeping your feet up throughout your pregnancy unless it’s doctor’s orders- it’s so important to get up off that couch and get moving!

According to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, we should aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise most days of the week during pregnancy.

Exercise not only prepares you for labour and delivery, but helps keep you in shape, increases mood and energy levels, relieves constipation, swelling, and muscle aches and can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Remember, each woman and each pregnancy is different and there are contraindications to exercising for some people, so please consult your doctor if you’re embarking on a new exercise program, especially if you are having complications.
 

Myth 2: Exercising too hard will harm your baby.

It's a common belief that too much exercise will pull nutrients away from your baby. Don’t worry, your baby will be fine! Our bodies are great regulators and it’s you who will experience a dip in energy if nutrient stores are low. To avoid this, keep blood sugar levels balanced, eat small frequent meals and ensure you’re not exercising on an empty stomach.

Another similar concern is that exercising too strenuously will deprive your baby of oxygen. Again, it’s you who will feel the effects of this first. The blood containing oxygen will be shunted to baby before mom. If you’re pushing it too hard and feeling exhausted, then it’s time to stop and your body will tell you so. 

So how do you know if you’re overstepping the limits? This usually equates to gasping for breath or unable to talk.

 Health professionals recommend using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to measure intensity during pregnancy. This is a scale that corresponds with how hard you’re working based on how you are feeling. For example, are you able to hold a conversation? If not, it’s time to stop!

Try to avoid being fixated on target heart rate zones; there is no true fixed target heart rate for pregnant women as our exercising and resting heart rates are effected so much by the demands of a growing baby. 
 

Myth 3: Running during pregnancy is bad.

So many moms, myself included, love to run. The health benefits from running are immense and the release of endorphins can be addictive. The thought of giving this up for 9 months is depressing!

But, is all that jarring movement really ok for baby?

Yes! You can carry on running throughout pregnancy if you were a runner before, and some marathon runners maintain their sport all the way through pregnancy. However, if you did not run prior to pregnancy, now is not the time to take it up.

As always, listen to your body and take into account the many changes that you’re physically going through. Some women find it uncomfortable to run as they gain weight and the pressure of the growing uterus on the pelvic floor muscles can create some undesirable situations, including incontinence! Also, be aware of the added pressure on joints- knee and ankle injuries are not uncommon during this time. Keep hydrated and monitor exhaustion levels carefully. Now is not the time to press for that PB!
 

Myth 4: You should avoid all abdominal exercises during pregnancy.

Core training is SO important during pregnancy and will help with a speedier labour, delivery and recovery postpartum. You just need to be mindful of the type of abdominal work you partake in.

The muscles we need to strengthen during pregnancy are the deep inner core muscles, which comprise of your pelvic floor, transverse abdominals, diaphragm and multifidus. These muscles form a unit which work together to stabilize the spine and pelvis ahead of movement.

The main abdominal exercises we need to avoid are the abdominal crunch and front loaded plank. Both exercises can cause intra-abdominal pressure leading to a splitting of the recti muscles (Diastasis Recti). 

For more information on how to safely train your core muscles through each trimester, please see my blog:

http://tangramwellness.com/blog/2016/11/15/strong-mama-solid-core-a-trimester-by-trimester-core-training-guide
 

Myth 5: Pregnancy is a time to eat for two.

You’ve probably heard this expression a zillion times! While you do need extra nutrients during pregnancy- particularly additional protein and calcium- piling on the calories is not the way to go.

During the first trimester, your baby does not require additional fuel. Trimester two is a period of growth but nothing to get excited about- an extra 300 calories daily will suffice. Your intake should increase to an added 500 calories during trimester three to accommodate for your baby’s growth. 

The real issue here is how worthwhile those additional 300-500 calories are towards feeding your baby, so aim to choose your food sources wisely. As I mentioned, protein and calcium are essential for the growth of your baby. Try incorporating the following in your diet: Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, nuts, sweet potato, lean meat, eggs and salmon.

Pregnancy should be a time to think about eating smarter rather than just eating more.
 

Myth 6: It’s fine to indulge in sugary, fatty foods throughout pregnancy.

Unfortunately, like any time in your life, a diet high in fat and sugar can have disastrous health consequences, as well as contributing to unwanted weight gain. 

Remember, you don’t have to put on a ton of weight in order to have a healthy baby. If you’re starting out at an average weight and body fat percentage for your height and frame, a weight gain of between 25-35 pounds over the course of nine months is what’s generally recommended.

Putting on too much weight during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and varicose veins while making natural labour much more difficult.

And, before you reach for a bag of chips, some researchers have found that what happens in the womb doesn’t just stay in the womb. Women on high fat, high sugar diets throughout pregnancy are more likely to give birth to larger babies who are at increased risk of diabetes and childhood obesity.

 My bottom line advice: Be sensible during pregnancy and listen to your body. Try to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet and continue to enjoy any exercise which your body is already used to. Avoid sports by which you have an increased risk of falling or abdominal injury- for example, horseback riding, skiing, gymnastics or rollerblading. And, please consult a health professional if you’re concerned about any aspect of exercise in pregnancy.

Thanks for reading! If you're ready to embark on a pre- or postnatal exercise program or have any questions, email me at Anna@tangramwellness.com . I offer weekly small group classes and private sessions for both expectant and new moms.

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Five Things No One Tells You About Strength Training in Pregnancy

Seven months ago, in the midst of training for physique and powerlifting competitions, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. As an athlete and wellness business owner who credits exercise in transforming my life, I wasn’t about to let morning sickness keep me away from my sanctuary- the weight room. Strength training in pregnancy has many potential benefits for both baby and mom, including a shorter and easier labor, a lower risk of pre-term birth, and less physical discomfort throughout pregnancy. However, what I’d anticipated on my journey as a flexing mama-to-be has turned out to be quite different from the reality of lifting weights with a growing baby bump! Here are five things you should know about strength training while pregnant: 

1. No matter how closely you stick to your training plan, your body is going to do what it wants to do. 
So, you think you’re going to remain a shredded mama-to-be, maintaining your fitness level and lean physique throughout your pregnancy, save for a cute little belly? You may want to rethink that! Expanding hips, bigger breasts, growing glutes and thicker thighs tend to be the norm in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy no matter what your fitness level is. Athletes especially tend to see pretty dramatic changes, due to the fact that many are starting out with lower body fat percentages and can no longer follow the near daily strenuous training routines that they're used to. Instead of focusing on your changing body composition and inevitable weight gain, celebrate completing workouts, practicing self-care and being able to pull your pants up all by yourself. Strength train for your overall health and to prepare for the birth of your baby, not because you want to look a certain way when you’re pregnant. 

2. Weight training regularly in pregnancy will really rev up your appetite.

If you strength train regularly throughout your pregnancy, your appetite is bound to skyrocket beyond the hunger pangs of your less fit counterparts. Women with higher muscle mass tend to have better blood sugar level control and increased metabolic rates, making it easier for them to manage body fat. Add in pregnancy, which naturally boosts the metabolism while increasing daily caloric requirements in order to support baby's growth, and you may suddenly find yourself justifying those pre-workout donuts as “carb loading.” Proceed with caution, and plan accordingly! Excessive sugar intake during pregnancy can increase your chance of developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or unnecessary weight gain. Eat several well-balanced meals throughout the day and pack a few healthy goodies in your gym bag like mixed nuts, peanut butter and natural energy bars to avoid gorging on empty calories.

3. Drop it like it’s squat, but be sure to train your pelvic floor as well.

Final weighted squat session at 33 weeks. My alignment was off, my pelvis ached and I no longer felt stable and secure, so I knew that was a wrap! If you continue with the big lifts in pregnancy, be sure to listen to your body closely. 

Final weighted squat session at 33 weeks. My alignment was off, my pelvis ached and I no longer felt stable and secure, so I knew that was a wrap! If you continue with the big lifts in pregnancy, be sure to listen to your body closely. 

Weighted squats are possibly the best exercise to prepare for a natural delivery, strengthening the muscles required to open up the pelvic outlet and help baby descend during labor while getting you used to holding that position in a relaxed manner when the time comes to give birth. Squatting (or using a birthing stool) is also a preferred position to assume when delivering a baby naturally, lessening the chance for a C-section and easing contractions. 
However, when you’re under the squat rack at the gym, your chance of accidentally peeing in your training pants increases thanks to added pressure on the bladder from both baby and body mechanics. You'll also want to maintain a narrower stance during squat sessions as your pregnancy progresses to avoid pelvic girdle pain and instability (more on that in a bit). Be sure to practice those kegels regularly, wear a panty liner and bring along an extra pair of cotton briefs (not thongs, unless you’re gunning for a urinary tract infection)! I highly recommend investing in an Epi-No for pelvic floor and childbirth training.

4. Relax- no really. It’s the relaxin!

Image via: Pregmed.org

Image via: Pregmed.org

As pregnancy progresses, a hormone called relaxin increases its production in preparation for childbirth, softening and widening the cervix while relaxing the ligaments. If you’re weightlifting regularly, this can spell big trouble for your pelvic girdle, causing a painful and potentially debilitating condition, symphysis pubis dysfunction. If you continue to push through the pain in order to maintain your fitness level, you may soon find yourself in the physiotherapist’s office, or even in a wheelchair for a while. If you’re feeling increased pain and pressure in the pubic region or shooting pains throughout your hips and legs, you’ll need to bag the lower body weight exercises, including squats, deadlifts and even leg extensions. This is particularly true when it comes to single leg exercises, like lunges. Unfortunately, this condition is quite common, and has benched many a weightlifter in the third trimester, including myself. Listen to your body, relax, and know that if you take care of yourself now, you’ll likely be back in the gym in no time flat once baby arrives.

5. Just by showing up, you’re inspiring someone.
When your bump really begins to show, you may find yourself engaged more frequently in locker room conversations with random women who just happen to be mesmerized by the fact that you’re pumping iron while pregnant. The truth is, despite all we know about the many benefits of strength training throughout pregnancy, it’s still rare to see a woman working out with a protruding baby bump. In fact, fewer than 1 in 4 pregnant women meet recommended physical activity guidelines, and far less even consider lifting weights due to myths around bulking up, largely unwarranted safety concerns, and ignorant naysayers. So, indulge in some gym gab, keep it real (none of this, “I feel so glowing and gorgeous!” crap) and know that- even if you’re not feeling like your fittest and strongest self- you’re inspiring someone just by being there!

Thanks for reading! Do you have any tips for strength training in pregnancy, or any questions on exercise during this special time? If so, we'd love to hear from you- leave your thoughts in the comments section.

If you'd like some assistance in maintaining your fitness throughout your pre- and postnatal period, give us a shout at hello@tangramwellness.com !
Our pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, Anna, is taking on clients for private sessions and small group classes.



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What a Job Interview with a Pimp Taught Me About Setting Goals

Photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson

Photo credit: Caitlyn Wilson

In the late ‘90s and barely a year out of high school, I moved from a haunted Connecticut town to glitzy New York City with a few hundred bucks in my pocket and the wide-eyed dream of SUCCESS… whatever that meant. Like any young adult facing down an ever present threat of eviction and dwindling supply of ramen, I needed a J-O-B. So, when I saw an advertisement on Craigslist which read, “MODELS WANTED” and promised up to a thousand dollars a day, I immediately applied.

Desperation is the executioner of common sense.

In less than 72 hours, I waltzed into the lobby of a Times Square hotel sporting a freshly bleached pixie hairdo a la Annie Lennox with a résumé and a few amateur headshots in hand to meet my prospective employer. “Sam” loomed large at a glass table in the middle of the lobby bar, holding a flute of champagne with a well-manicured hand adorned by gold rings. Rhinestone cufflinks peeked out of a bright blue suit as he motioned for me to take a seat, offering me a bite from a plate of cheese while pouring me a glass of bubbly. Underage drinking at a job interview? Sign me up! I’d already realized that, once again, I’d sniffed out trouble without meaning to.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the job Sam had on offer wasn’t exactly as advertised. Is anything? Still, I listened to his proposal, mulled over whether or not he’d kidnap me if I tried to run out, and finally, after decimating the brie, told him that I’d like to give it a think. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Here are four lessons on goal-setting from my interview with Sam the Pimp:  

1. You’ve Got to See It to Be It.
Always have a clear picture of what it is you want… and don’t want. The main thing that saved my butt that day was my imagination- being able to see and feel the scenarios available to me. I pictured, in crisp detail, what would become of my life had I accepted the job with Sam as opposed to if I declined the offer and went back to where I started from, and since neither scenario was palatable, I was able to conjure up other options in my mind. I ended up taking a waitressing position a few days later at a swanky restaurant in downtown Manhattan and enrolled in a course at my dream university not long after that. That may not seem like much to you, but back then,  I would have been blasting Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” if I’d had the option.

2. Ain’t No Such Thing As Easy Street.
The easy way is usually the hard way. In hindsight, this is almost always the case. We live in an age of instant gratification, where most people insist on results in no time flat. This lazy attitude is one reason why things like fad diets, get rich quick schemes and diploma mills continue to flourish. Their simple promises are all too tempting in a society that focuses on the shiny prize rather than the process. If you want true, lasting success at a goal, you’re going to have to put in all the work by developing grit and resilience. If you choose the illusion that promises you the world for minimal effort, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll pay for it dearly to someone else’s advantage- like a pimp’s.

3.  Run Your Own Game.
Sam owned his time, his money, and his reputation. He’d also insisted that, if I accepted the opportunity he was offering, he’d assume the role of banker and boss, booking my appointments and pocketing my earnings.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” he’d said.
How often do we fall for that trap in life, expecting someone or something else to manage our future and assume responsibility over our outcomes in some way? We look to our higher ups at work to raise our salaries, inflate our titles, and tell us what needs to be done. We turn to our personal trainers and doctors to oversee our physical bodies, no questions asked.  We even rely on our gadgets to spit out the secrets to a meaningful life.
“Siri, how can I attain true happiness?”

Only when you assume full accountability for your life and your decisions while respecting your intuition and inner wisdom can you create the existence that you desire. Otherwise, you’ll be handing your power over to one kind of pimp or another.

4. Know Your Cheese.
We all have different motivations. When we set goals that aren’t truly in alignment with our values and motivations, we deny ourselves the energy to get much accomplished in our lives. Similarly, if we don’t know how we’re measuring our success at a particular goal, we’ll end up feeling shortchanged and deflated, as if we’ve been on the wrong path to begin with. As we move into the New Year, millions of people will set the resolution to get in shape and hit the gym. Some will go after this goal because they’re lonely and want to get a date, some will do it because they get depressed when they look in the mirror, and still others will do it because they have four kids, an awesome wife and sky high cholesterol. Name your cheese. Know your deeper “why.”

Since that day almost twenty years ago, I’ve often thought about my interview with Sam and the various trajectories life could have taken. Human beings in hot water are like sponges. We soak up our environment until it becomes a part of us and only later, much later, when we’ve been rung out, do we realize how much we’ve been shaped by what we’ve absorbed.

There are a million posts about goals and resolutions that will promise you the secret formula for a winning New Year. The truth is, you probably hold a lot of that wisdom within you from your own wild life experiences, and I bet you already know how to set and structure goals. Our goal-setting process is hardly ever the problem; we fail to reach our aims when we’re not clear on our WHY, when we overlook our history, when we forget what’s powered our surviving and thriving in the first place.

 When you know your “why” and your worth, baby, you’re that much closer to living the dream.

Happy 2017.

Listen, if you're having a really hard time figuring out how to execute a resolution or goal for the coming year, drop me a note at aimee@tangramwellness.com. But, I really believe you've got this. You just have to spend a little more time with your inner wisdom and personal history than you may be comfortable with. If you liked this post- or hated it- leave me a comment. If you loved it, share the love. Thanks as always for reading! 

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Strong Mama, Solid Core: A Trimester-by-Trimester Core Training Guide

TrimesterCore.jpg

Core strengthening during pregnancy is quite often an area of concern. We’ve heard about how a stronger core will help us throughout our pregnancy, but is it really safe to work the muscles of your midsection during this time of immense physical change?

The answer to this is, “Yes, absolutely!"

It’s actually beneficial to incorporate core strengthening exercises into your pregnancy fitness program. In fact, this is one of the most important ways of ensuring a healthy pregnancy, labour, delivery and recovery.

There are, however, certain moves we should avoid, including:

Deep closed twists, in which the abdominal area is compressed. We see this a lot in yoga poses and certain exercises recruiting the obliques, for example the supine bicycle twist. You'll want to avoid twisting your core too much during pregnancy, as your uterus is working hard to make optimal conditions for your growing baby and twisting motions can disturb this process. 

Abdominal crunches, which involve deep flexion of the spine should also be avoided, especially after trimester one. This movement can cause abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti) as the uterus grows in size. Another negative of the abdominal crunch, like any exercise which involves lying on your back, is that the weight of the uterus can compress the vena cava blood vessels leading to your heart. This can cause lightheadedness and may also reduce oxygen supply to the fetus.

There are certain core exercises by which the safety can vary from person to person depending on one's ability to be able to activate smaller and usually forgotten stabilizing muscles ahead of the move. 

A great example of what I'm referring to is the front plank. It's essential to engage the pelvic floor muscles and transverse abdominal muscles ahead of performing the plank. Failure to do so can put too much pressure on the abdominal wall and again, contribute to that dreaded Diastasis Recti. If you're unsure of how to engage these deep core muscles ahead of planking, then this move should be avoided.

We're all built differently, with different levels of experience- our training plans should reflect this!

Ok, so which core exercises should you be performing as a mama-to-be?

Below are 3 examples of exercises which will keep your core strong during each trimester of pregnancy and are generally quite safe to perform:

TRIMESTER 1: OBLIQUE SIDE PLANKS

Oblique Side Plank, with modified version at the bottom

Oblique Side Plank, with modified version at the bottom

Your obliques are often neglected, but these muscles are such important stabilizers throughout pregnancy and strengthening them will help you eventually push your baby out! What could be better than added strength on delivery day?

 Teaching points:

·      Remember to breathe throughout the hold; aim for 30 seconds and try 3 rounds.

·      Imagine a zipper running from your pelvic floor muscles to your ribs. Activate and squeeze your core tight as you zip up.

·      If this move is too difficult, then drop your bottom leg to a bent knee position, as shown in the bottom photo.

TRIMESTER 2: SUPINE LEG EXTENSIONS

Supine Alternating Leg Extensions with Elbow Support

Supine Alternating Leg Extensions with Elbow Support

This exercise activates your transverse abdominal muscle, which is a key player in preventing Diastasis Recti.

Teaching points:

·      This exercise should be performed on your elbows especially after trimester 1 to prevent pressure on the vena cava vein.

·      Try three sets of 10 slow reps and exhale deeply on each extension.

·      Push your lower spine downward and pull your knees closer to your body to avoid lower back pain.

TRIMESTER 3: SITTING WALL SUPPORTED SQUAT

Wall Supported Squat

Wall Supported Squat

You may not think of this a great core strengthener but remember that your core includes your glutes, hips and lower back muscles too. Performing this move will not only help strengthen all the muscles of your core during pregnancy but will also help with your labour. This squatting position can be one of the easiest delivery positions and practice will help a speedy delivery!

Teaching points:

·      Try and hold the squat for 30 seconds at a time and breathe throughout.

·      Aim to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle.

·      Remember to engage your lower back muscles against the wall and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles to help activate your transverse abdominals too.

Ok strong mamas-to-be, happy core training!  

If you would like further information on how to exercise safely during your pregnancy and postpartum period, please contact Pre and Postnatal exercise specialist Anna Kwan: anna@tangramwellness.com for both private and small group tuition. Thanks for reading!   

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Tangram's October Client Fitness Inspiration: Nell van den Ende!

Nell1v.jpg

When Nell first contacted me back in June, she was approaching the 6-week mark after giving birth to her gorgeous daughter, Nia. Once Nell had been checked by her gynae and given the all clear for exercise, she was keen to get going straight away!

Nia is Nell’s second child and, like many mums, Nell found it more difficult to make the time to exercise during her second pregnancy. She ended up gaining slightly more weight than the first time round. Nell was determined to lose this baby weight as quickly as possible but she was also aware that her tummy muscles were not in the best shape!

Nell knew of Diastasis Recti (DR) but did not suffer with it much after her first pregnancy. Bryn, her 3-year-old boy, was a smaller birth weight baby and, at that point, Nell's body was pretty strong after years of exercise. Nia however was a larger baby at birth and like many mums, this made Nell’s DR much worse the second time around.

Diastasis Recti (DR) is a splitting apart of the outer abdominal muscles. It's very common in pregnancy, especially with larger weight babies or twins, and in expectant mothers who have previously given birth to at least one child. The muscles are forced apart by an intra-abdominal pressure created by the growing womb. In many cases, if the connective tissue which surrounds the deep inner core muscles is weaker, this can herniate through the gap, causing a mottled effect, which some people refer to as the ‘mummy tummy’.

It’s very important that DR is managed immediately before a new mum embarks on any type of vigorous exercise. Failing to do so can cause chronic lower back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and a long-term lingering mummy tummy.

So, despite Nell’s desire to lose her baby weight fast, she knew we really needed to begin her programming at a low level, mainly encompassing DR recovery through inner core strengthening.

It took Nell 4 to 5 weeks to regain much of her inner core strength and in this time we did see a measurable reduction in her DR.

Nell took off to the UK over summer feeling stronger and happier in her body. As we’d taken the slow approach in healing her DR, it meant she was able to go jogging again without any lower back pain, or having to pee constantly!  Returning to Singapore in September, she was now determined to lose the remainder of her baby weight before going back to work.

We had 6 weeks of training and she’s really given it her all! Nell’s programming has progressed from low level DR regeneration to encompassing full body strength and endurance exercises. We’ve even added elements of HIIT to her workouts to shrink those fat cells!

HIIT training is very difficult in the postpartum period due to weakened pelvic floor muscles but as we managed her DR correctly, Nell now has the inner core strength to support her pelvic floor muscles during this type of exercise.

Her overall body strength and particularly her abdominal strength has improved massively, allowing her to really push herself in our sessions. She’s lost a lot of her baby weight and inches all over her body. Usually this type of training and progression would correlate with an increase in energy levels and improve quality of sleep but you’ve got to remember Nell is a mum of two. Nia is still breastfeeding and waking repeatedly through the night and Bryn is a 3-year-old boy…enough said!!

Super mom? Yep, I definitely think so!

Well done Nell, you should be very proud of your achievements, you work hard, smile throughout and have really taken on the challenges of motherhood! Congrats from the team at Tangram Wellness.

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PREGNANCY, DEPRESSION & EMOTIONAL RELAPSE: HERE’S HOW I’M DEALING WITH IT

Exposure therapy at work? Or, a good friend who coaxed a belly pic and smile out of me? A bit of both... Week 25, 12kg's gained so far, and today was a good day. 

Exposure therapy at work? Or, a good friend who coaxed a belly pic and smile out of me? A bit of both... Week 25, 12kg's gained so far, and today was a good day. 

As I type this, I’m now 25 weeks into marching alongside my scary monster, a once-imagined situation that I’d framed in my mind as “the most frightening thing in the world.” I’m not talking about public speaking or spiders or failure or the dark. I’m referring to a condition that many millions of women welcome and yearn for: pregnancy. Please don’t misread this- I’m elated to become a mom, and I consider my good fortune at conceiving naturally at this point in my life nothing short of a miracle. However, the concept of being pregnant has always terrified me. Whenever my husband and I discussed our options for potentially starting a family, including fertility treatment, I usually came to the somewhat illogical conclusion that I’d been dealt my hand of cards- which included a history of depression and less than fabulous hormonal wiring- for good reason, and one of those reasons was that I simply wasn’t meant to be a parent. As I mentioned in my last blog post, that line of thinking was never a huge deal for me, and I knew that I could be fulfilled as a person with or without children.

Since week 8, my “scary monster of pregnancy” has been all too real, beginning with a solid two months of morning sickness that rekindled some of my worst hangover memories and made me question my own inner strength. Regularly hugging the toilet bowl at 3am was hard; harder still was feeling like I was constantly letting people down because I couldn’t get out of bed some days, or worrying that my own physical and mental state might be causing harm to my baby. While the millions of pregnancy blogs all seem to view the second trimester as a golden and bliss-filled time, around week 14 I slammed into a steel wall of what appears to be antenatal depression, marked by persistent insomnia, obsessive thinking, and extreme irritability. Although an estimated 20 percent of pregnant women contend with antenatal depression, I didn’t even know it was a “thing” until I began investigating what the heck was going on with me- we only seem to talk about the postnatal kind. To compound matters, I became unable to look at myself in the mirror without feeling repulsed, which unfortunately continues to this day- quite an interesting conundrum for someone who regularly preaches self-love and works with women on their own journeys through body dysmorphia.

Yep. All the feels in the world for this. 

Yep. All the feels in the world for this. 

But, it’s not only my own head that’s been doing me in. The public commentary is also surprising.

“You’re pregnant!” some random guy exclaimed to me at the gym last week, as if I hadn’t noticed.  “Shouldn’t you be sitting down? Can’t exercise like that hurt the baby?” He openly and persistently doubted the expertise of both me and my doctor.

“A 10kg weight gain at this point in your pregnancy is a bit high. We’ll monitor it and do a test for diabetes later on,” the nurse said to me during a routine check. This is definitely not something a health fanatic wants to hear.

And, let’s not forget the various folks who decided to take a guess on the baby’s gender, based entirely on an old wives tale that a woman who’s become ugly must be having a boy…. or a girl... depending on your cultural lens. Yes, a few people actually said this to me.

In the parallel pink cloud universe that seems to have a particularly strong presence in Singapore, pregnancy is touted as a lady’s time to magically float and glow from one high tea luncheon to another- in luxurious silk kaftans, of course. “Cherish every moment!” they say. “Enjoy your pregnancy!” I don’t think it serves anyone to pretend that we all blossom beautifully in our ripening when the reality is often anything but. 

Thankfully, I tend to hang around some seriously awesome and refreshingly honest women who, rather than shaming me for expressing this unpopular narrative, were willing to open up about their own conflicted pregnancy experiences, doubts and fears, or at least just listen to mine without judgement.

As a coach and behavioral health professional and with their moral support, I can confidently (albeit very self-consciously) admit that after seven years of feeling mentally rock solid the majority of the time, I am no longer at that place since becoming pregnant, thanks in part to some pretty major hormonal shifts. What was beyond a doubt some of the happiest news of my life has also morphed into an anxiety-riddled roller coaster ride, and I’ve not yet figured out a way to quell the resulting cognitive cacophany. From a recovery perspective, I recognize this as an “emotional relapse.” In other words, I’m not thinking about drinking or restricting food again to deal with an uncomfortable state of being, but some of my emotions and behaviors are in line with what led me into addiction in the first place. No matter how long someone has abstained from their destructive behavior(s) of choice, whether it’s binge eating, pill popping or excessive drinking, most people in recovery will experience emotional relapses at various points in their lives, particularly during high stress situations or periods of great change. The signs of an emotional relapse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Intolerance
  • Rigidity and inflexibility
  • Isolating oneself
  • Insomnia
  • Rejecting intimacy and love
  • Poor eating habits
  • Shame and blame
  • Black and white thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Ruminating and living in the past
  • Refusing to seek help

Whether simply the side effects of a rough pregnancy or something more, I know that for myself and the people I work with, this potent psychological cocktail is nothing to mess around with. So, as I prepare for the third trimester, I’m assessing what I’ve been doing to support myself through this emotional relapse and life challenge. Here’s how I’m getting through my first big emotional relapse in nearly a decade while tackling antenatal depression head on:                                          

And, once in a while radical self-care means sitting on a beach when you're supposed to be at a conference.

And, once in a while radical self-care means sitting on a beach when you're supposed to be at a conference.

  • I’m not hiding. As hard as it’s been to be honest about my own experience of pregnancy in the face of so many myths and expectations, I’ve committed to speaking my truth. When I’m not ok, I say so. When I’m feeling really down, I do my very best to reach out to someone I trust. And, although it’s exceptionally tough for a person who works in the behavioral health sector to admit to their own weaknesses and rough patches, the fact of the matter is that coaches, counsellors, psychologists and other “helping” professionals can be particularly prone to depression, anxiety and addiction-related issues. The related sensitivity and experience is what brings so many of us into the field in the first place. Consider this- nearly 50% of practicing NHS psychologists in the UK currently have depression. We’re all human, bottom line.
     
  • I’m practicing RADICAL self-care. Radical self-care means saying “no” to anything and everything that totally stresses me out. It means making a pampering date with myself at least a few times a week, whether for a manicure, massage, physiotherapy or shopping for new bras. It means journaling and drawing and curling up with a good novel instead of focusing on an achievement-based “to do” list. It means forgiving myself for engaging in harsh self-talk and negative thoughts, instead of identifying with them. And, it means staying away from people who may be toxic for me at this time.
     
  • I’m fighting the urge to isolate by keeping the lines of communication open and asking for help when I need it. I knew the importance of being honest with my obstetric doctor about my personal history, and as a result I’ve been seeing a therapist every few weeks who specializes in pregnancy and fertility-related issues, including anxiety and antenatal depression. I also have a small yet strong support network of friends who I can trust and I’ve been making it a point to reach out to some of them, whether it’s just a text, a brunch, or a tea date at my place.

  • I’m making exercise and good nutrition a top priority. While I actually don’t feel like working out or eating much, I’ve been getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week and I also eat between 2,200 and 2,400 calories daily consisting of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. Despite the urge, I’m not bingeing on junk food because I know that the sugar crash won’t help my mood. When the cravings come, I’ve got some good snacks on hand, like sliced banana drizzled with honey and nut butter. Having a workout buddy I can lean on- usually my husband or Roz- has helped immensely during this time.
     
  • I’m taking a long sabbatical from social media. Uploading this blog will be the first time I’ve logged onto social media in over two weeks, and after it’s been published I’ll unplug again until the end of October. I’ve been using HootSuite to pre-upload posts for Tangram Wellness, and have it set up so that I’m not able to view anyone else’s feeds- it’s a fantastic tool! Social media can easily bring up a slew of negative emotions for people, as well as serving as a crutch or addiction when the going gets tough, which only compounds the problem. I advise many of my clients to curb their social media use, particularly if they find themselves comparing their own experience to that of others, and I’m taking my own advice here.

    I share this blog post in part for every woman who has experienced a less than stellar pregnancy, and for the millions in recovery who will go through an emotional relapse at some point in their lives. As the saying goes, "we are only as sick as our secrets." We free ourselves and others when we each speak our truth as women, as parents, as individuals in recovery, and as helping professionals. 

Thanks for reading! If you feel like this post would help someone you know, please share it. If you have a question or comment, leave it below or email me directly at aimee@tangramwellness.com

- Aimee

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Tangram's September Fitness Inspiration: Gloria

Gloria_Pic3.jpg

This month I’d like to give a massive shout out to my wonderful client, Gloria!

Gloria has been training with me for the past 7 months. She first approached me after she’d been unable to exercise for a few years following the birth of her daughter and a few medical issues over the years.

Gloria wanted to feel healthier in her body and get her life back on track. She’d suffered from a niggling lower back and neck pain for some time and, like many of us, she was concerned about the health issues that often arise with getting older.  

Gloria initially had poor energy levels. She rated her fitness ability, aerobic capacity and muscular strength very low. These factors, however, did not halt her progression. Gloria has proven to be a fighter; she works hard and shows determination in every session.

Over time we’ve seen Gloria’s lean muscle mass gradually increase. Her body composition has become trimmer and her ability to perform advanced compound exercises has improved tremendously.

Despite rating her fitness ability as low and claiming on her first session that she detests running, Gloria’s high intensity treadmill sprints are now a regular component of our sessions and she almost enjoys them…. almost!

It was apparent from quite early on in training that Gloria’s core muscle strength required attention. This is not surprising after enduring a difficult labour and subsequent complications. We therefore made core strengthening high on our list of priorities from the beginning. By progressing her workouts gradually week by week, Gloria has managed to reconnect her inner core unit which was shattered during pregnancy.

Learning how to properly activate her Transverse Abdominals during each exercise has not only strengthened her core and flattened her tummy but also means she no longer suffers from chronic lower back pain.

A true testament to Gloria’s determination with her training was made apparent over the summer. Gloria spent a couple of months back in her homeland of Italy visiting family and friends across the country.

Before leaving, Gloria voiced concern over the fact that she wouldn’t be able to train for two months. She worried that the progressions she’d made, especially regarding her core strength, would be lost. I devised a core strengthening workout plan for Gloria which she could perform anywhere, anytime…and she stuck with it! 

The hard work and consistency paid off. By sticking to this 20 minute plan, 3 times a week for the entire 2 months, Gloria has returned to Singapore in great shape. Her core strength is awesome and we can continue to push her in her sessions, without the usual holiday setbacks…this makes me a very happy personal trainer.

For Gloria, personal training has been a lifestyle change. She looks and feels so much healthier, her energy is high and she really enjoys herself in her training sessions! For her consistent hard work and excellent results, Tangram applauds her in being September’s client fitness inspiration! Well done Gloria, from all of us at Team Tangram. xx



 

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Tangram's August Fitness Inspiration: Cristina Bel Ascanio

Cristina is working it out! 

Cristina is working it out! 

My job as Fitness Specialist at Tangram means that I’m lucky enough to meet some pretty phenomenal women here in Singapore, ladies who balance full-on careers and families alongside gutsy and intense training programs. 

I’m constantly in awe of my clients. It’s truly inspirational to watch such strong progression and dedication on a weekly basis. Getting results in the gym requires hard work and real consistency. This is difficult enough for most of us, but try doing it after 10 hours at work or a sleepless night with two cranky toddlers!

Hats off to you ladies, you deserve to be applauded on so many levels. So, this month we're introducing a new feature here on the blog, highlighting some of the amazing fitness journeys we're fortunate enough to be a part of here at Tangram. 


This month I’d like to share one of my client’s stories, Cristina Bel Ascanio:

Cristina is a super committed lady. Despite working 10 hour days, 6 days a week in a stressful environment, she consistently comes to see me twice weekly at the end of her 10 hour shift and she’s never missed a session since we started training together over 8 months ago.

Cristina initially had very low energy levels and was highly stressed from work. She wasn’t sleeping well and generally felt quite lethargic. Cristina was very concerned with stubborn fat cells clinging to her midsection and really wanted to lose a few kilograms.

With training, we automatically noticed her energy levels improving. The exercise alone helped reduce her stress load and Cristina subsequently lost inches from her waistline. Her sleep has improved over time as has her overall strength and fitness. Although Cristina’s weight remains the same, her lean body mass has increased significantly giving her a lean and toned physique to be very proud of!

Stretch time!

Stretch time!

Cristina’s glory does not just lay in her stats; her ability to perform well over a variety of disciplines is really impressive. This super flexible yogi can really hold her own in muscular strength and endurance and also smashes a 10km run.

The benefits of Cristina’s multidisciplinary approach to fitness are that the various disciplines complement each other so that the sum of the parts are much greater than the whole. Yoga is her first love but, through consistent hard work in the gym, we have developed her core and strengthened the prime muscles of her upper and lower body to enable her to
really exceed at yoga and hold her body in positions she never dreamed were attainable.

Running was previously an activity Cristina didn't particularly enjoy but she’s worked hard at the HIIT components to her gym program, gaining speed and endurance along the way. She now enjoys running 10km along the East Coast parkway on her day off as the stamina she’s built in the gym makes running more about pleasure than pain.

So from myself and all the team at Tangram Wellness, WELL DONE CRISTINA!

You are a great example of a focused and disciplined attitude in the face of life's stresses.

High fives for all your hard work, Cristina! If you'd like to get in touch with Anna to see how she can assist you with your fitness goals, drop her an email at anna@tangramwellness.com . As always, thanks for reading, and may you have a fit and healthy month ahead! 

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Pregspo, Geriatric Wombs and Feeling "Complete": I'm Going to be a Mom!

"Congratulations!” I was sprawled out on a massage bed at a hotel spa in Istanbul, Turkey, when my bodywork therapist exclaimed this praise as she rolled her hands over my calves.

“For what?” I muttered, fatigued from a few days of touring the city on foot.

“You’re having a baby, pregnant, yes?” she asked.

“Nope,” I said.

“Are you sure?” she replied.

“Yep, I’m sure,” I answered, reflecting on all the yummy cheese I’d enjoyed during my European holiday.

“Well… how do you say? Something like, if God wills it,” she commented, wrapping up my massage. Waves of nausea and annoyance rippled through my chest and into my throat.

Not a week went by in Singapore without someone mentioning the “P” word to me, and now, on my vacation, I was confronted once again by my perceived “defectiveness”, my ambivalence, my fickle confusion.

“Yes, if God wills it, “ I replied weakly, eyeing the exit door.

As a 38 year old woman with endometriosis and a thyroid disorder who had been told that a natural pregnancy was probably not in the cards for me, I’d already lived for years with the idea that conceiving was the domain of other women- women with a healthy reproductive system, a big extended and intact family, or a sole mission to have a child. And, while my husband Ryan and I had talked many times about the prospect of adopting or seeing a fertility specialist, I’d reached a point of my life where I’d come to accept that what was meant to be would be. I had seen firsthand the incredible emotional pain some of my friends had gone through on their fertility journeys, as well as the havoc it created in their bodies and while I'm strong, I did not think I would be strong enough for that. With my existing health issues, Ryan and I decided that the turkey baster or IVF were not going to be a part of our future.

A week after we returned home from Istanbul, when I began experiencing relentless cramping and vomiting, I thought little of that awkward conversation with the masseuse, chalking up my body’s rebellion to more reproductive system troubles, the stomach flu, food poisoning… until anonymous infants began appearing in my dreams. Finally, I caved in and bought a pregnancy test- just in case. The next morning, two bright pink lines surfaced in less than the second it took to set that little plastic stick on the bathroom sink.

Frantic, I woke Ryan from his slumber, shrieking, “you’re going to be a Dad, I can’t believe it!” as I paced through the house. At that moment, we became two of the happiest yet most perplexed people in the world- our decision to become parents had been made for us and ever since then, it’s felt like the most “right” path we’ve ever come across in our nearly forty years on Earth.

Yes, it's finally hit us- we're going to be parents!!! 

Yes, it's finally hit us- we're going to be parents!!! 

At the time, I’d already started training again with my eyes on a figure competition, and had also hired a powerlifting coach. After a year of dealing with the energy-draining effects of hypothyroidism, my health was finally turning a corner and I’d reached a place where I felt confident about living as an athlete again. At around 17% body fat, I was lifting 4 to 5 days a week while employing a high fat Paleo-style diet recommended to me by my functional medical doctor for both endometriosis and thyroid issues. I’d also taken up yoga and cut back on my hours at work, as well as reducing my stress load significantly. I partially attribute these changes in my diet and stress levels as well as treatment adjustments for endometriosis and hypothyroidism to being able to fall pregnant naturally.

One of the first things I learned as a mama-to-be was that 17% body fat is not a healthy scenario for a little growing bean, so I immediately increased my carbohydrate intake while allowing myself to eat whatever I craved, which was surprisingly limited to pickles, beans, brown rice, peanut butter, coffee ice cream, and eggs. Meat made- and still makes- my stomach turn; the very sight of a steak was enough to send me bolting to the toilet.

Simultaneous to this, I was so focused on having a “fit” pregnancy, feeling both the pressure to be the best mom I possibly could well before our baby emerged into the world while being acutely aware that in the wellness field, women are often held to a somewhat ridiculous standard in terms of physical appearance- one that has perhaps fueled a trend of pregnant trainers and coaches with noticeable six packs, still lifting nearly twice their body weight into their third trimester. How do I know about this burgeoning “Pregspo” movement? Simple- I’d searched out every single “pregnant weightlifter” video available on YouTube and Instagram, trying to make sense of the space between the life I lived prior to conception and the new life I was going to have to build as a woman with a geriatric, high risk pregnancy. However, just as the decision to become a parent had been made for me, my “fit pregnancy” journey has been largely dictated by circumstances beyond my control, as the past six weeks have been organized around vomiting, migraines and incredible food aversions which have turned this Paleo-fueled athlete into a near-Vegan with a newfound love for caramel-coated popcorn.

Which brings me to the point of this post: it’s time to throw away these ridiculous expectations we place on women on account of their possession of a womb- that they MUST have children in order to feel happy and fulfilled, that if they do have babies they MUST eat a whole and natural diet throughout pregnancy, that they MUST- or MUST NOT- exercise regularly through each trimester, and that they MUST follow any sort of blueprint to "prove their worth." Let us each discover what is right for us as individuals- there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” diet or exercise plan or lifestyle choice or definition of wellness.

I’m just entering my second trimester and am feeling much stronger than I have in a while. I go to the gym when I feel like it now, and I lift about 40 to 60 percent of what I was lifting prior to that positive pregnancy test, although I hope to gradually increase the load, doctor approved. I can no longer run outdoors, and while a part of me envies those expectant women who continue to pound the pavement, I know that my own body doesn’t welcome it and that therefore, it’s probably no good for my baby and me. Alongside my daily morning egg whites and avocado is a tub of caramel-coated popcorn, which I enjoy as I please throughout the day. I haven’t weighed myself in weeks, and I’m guessing my body fat is around 20% now- the abs are disappearing and the shoulder caps are completely gone. 

And, just because I’m elated to become a mom despite being scared shitless about commencing this journey just shy of age 40, doesn’t mean that I suddenly feel it’s the right road for every woman, or that my new reality "completes me." I was already complete well before this angel showed up in my belly. 

Fit pregnancy, healthy body, fulfilled life- at the end of the day, it means something different to everyone, and that's A-ok. 

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Adrenal Fatigue: What It Is, Why It's Controversial, and How To Recover

Picture this: You begin feeling tired for no apparent reason and your weight mysteriously increases, especially around the midsection. So, you do what many people would do in this situation- you put your energy into a plan that will help you shed the weight and increase your energy. And yet, after a few months on this plan, you still find yourself exhausted and the weight- well, it ain’t budging! So, you change up your fitness plan, only to discover that no matter what you do, you’re still stuck on square one. Of course, you’re frustrated- the weight keeps climbing while your mood and overall outlook starts to plummet.

As a personal trainer & hormonal fat loss nutrition coach, I see this scenario on a regular basis in the many women who come to me struggling with various hormone-related weight issues, including PCOS, pre-insulin diabetes, cortisol irregularities and adrenal fatigue or dysfunction. Many fitness professionals focus on the external, paying minimal attention to the person’s overall well-being. And, the majority of medical professionals tend to focus on treating a person’s symptoms by prescribing medication without actually digging for the root cause of the issue. As adrenal issues become increasingly common in our modern, stressed-out society, changing this dynamic is going to be crucial.

What exactly is Adrenal Fatigue and why haven’t many heard of it?

Before we can understand what adrenal fatigue is, we first have to understand what the adrenal glands are. Our adrenal glands are known as our “fight or flight” control station, and are stimulated whenever we feel excited, threatened or anxious through the release of cortisol and adrenaline/noradrenaline. Our adrenal glands are also vital in maintaining healthy blood pressure through salt regulation via the hormone aldosterone, and help the body deal with change and other stressful life situations.  Abnormal physical issues start to arise when the adrenals are constantly stimulated over a long period of time- often through chronic emotional or physical stress.

Enter Adrenal Fatigue.

This is a state of suboptimal health caused by adrenal glands that are no longer working well. Cortisol levels are also impacted, with too high cortisol levels at night and low cortisol in the morning, leading to a “wired yet tired” feeling. Conventional medicine does not currently accept “adrenal fatigue” as a medical diagnosis, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, and many endocrinologists only test for “adrenal insufficiency,” which is when adrenal functioning has already entered an “emergency” zone. However, looking at adrenal functioning as a black and white issue, rather than on a continuum, does not make much sense when we take into account the way our bodies function naturally. As a parallel, consider the diagnosis of “high blood pressure.” Given that 120/80mmHg is considered a normal and healthy blood pressure, does 121/80 automatically put one into the category of high blood pressure? It is like this with the adrenals- our adrenals work along a spectrum of functioning.

So, what are some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

Understand that this list is not comprehensive and that each of us can show varying degrees of these symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:

·      Persistent tiredness in the early morning or mid-afternoon, despite sleeping well;
·      The need for caffeine or other stimulants to get you through the day;
·      Trouble getting up in the morning, even after a good 8 hour sleep;
·      Feeling overwhelmed by the smallest thing;
·      Difficulty in coping with life’s daily demands;
·      Recurrent infections, cough, lung-related diseases;
·      Struggling to bounce back from illnesses;
·      Craving salt in particular, sometimes sugar/ sweet snacks;
·      Feeling energetic after 6pm;
·      Unexplained back or knee or joint pain;
·      Heart Palpitations;
·      Low blood pressure / blood sugar;
·      Pronounced midsection weight gain;
·      Unable to focus and concentrate;
·      Decreased sex drive.

Generally speaking, the less the state of adrenal dysfunction, the fewer the symptoms are and subsequently, the road to recovery can be much faster with a couple of weeks of good restful sleep, eating unprocessed and nutritious food, and getting enough movement and sunlight.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms may seem confusing and contradictory but that is because they reflect the body’s way of working to returning any imbalances back to the norm -- also known as homeostasis.

Since the endocrine system is highly complex and adrenal functions are inter-related to other glands and hormones such as the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, and testosterone, it makes sense that when the adrenal glands are constantly stimulated, this will cause a cascading effect on the other functions of the body. It is not surprising then that a lot of women with hormonal issues such as PCOS, diabetes, hypothyroidism and auto-immune disease also show signs of adrenal fatigue syndrome. The conventional medicinal approach is to prescribe medicines to mask the symptoms, but this often a temporary solution, causing more damage in the long run. In some cases where the adrenals have not been functioning normally for a long time and are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol, the person’s mental health will also take a hit in the form of depression and/or anxiety.

If you feel like you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue, don’t be surprised to find that the majority of healthcare professionals will not accept this as a possibility. As I mentioned, there is currently a black and white approach to diagnosing adrenal issues, as well as limitations in adrenal function testing.

The standard method is to perform a blood test, which is not helpful when it comes to diagnosing Adrenal Fatigue. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to get a 24-hour salivary cortisol test (not a singular cortisol test as it does not tell the whole story). Some experienced medical doctors, as well as those trained in functional medicine, may order a series of 24 hour cortisol tests over several days to get a more accurate picture, alongside testing for DHEA levels.

What Options Do I Have For Recovery?

It may seem like a doomsday scenario with adrenal fatigue, but the first steps on the road to lasting recovery are:

·      knowing what your symptoms are telling you;
·      taking ownership of your health;
·      being patient;
·      and, getting well-educated with the right practitioner on how to manage your condition.

Because we are each highly unique individuals, the key solution towards adrenal recovery will be an integrative approach towards a comprehensive lifestyle plan that work optimally for you.

Ideally, the plan will encompass:

·      the right nutrition (carbohydrate to fat amounts);
·      the right supplementation (also in the right amounts);
·      the right form of exercise or movement plan for you (this will be different from the average exercise plan);
·      other lifestyle shifts involving sleep, mindfulness practices and stress-reducing activities.

I urge you to start waking up to the signs your body is telling you and start caring for your adrenal glands through proper nutrition, rest, mind-body practices and other stress relief activities.

Even though adrenal fatigue is not commonly accepted in conventional medicine yet, this will likely to change over the years as the medical community evolves with research and clinical trials. However, there is no need to wait to until the day when “adrenal fatigue” is accepted into the mainstream.  Start tuning into the messages of your body and make a commitment to self-care as you travel on the road toward optimal health.


Sources: 
Integrative Oncology Essentials, "Adrenal Exhaustion and Cancer: Is This Real?" https://integrativeoncology-essentials.com/2013/09/adrenal-exhaustion-and-cancer-is-this-real/

Dr. Lam, "Top 10 Adrenal Fatigue Facts Made Easy" https://www.drlam.com/articles/top_10_adrenal_fatigue_facts_made_easy.asp

Yan Huang is a certified personal trainer and hormonal fat loss specialist who focuses on complementary healing for hormonal imbalance through fitness, nutrition and self-care. If you have questions for Yan or would like to book a complimentary consultation, email her at Yan@tangramwellness.com . If you liked this post, share it! Have a comment? Leave it below- we always love to hear from you. 

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Navigating Italy... Without the Wine or Pizza

Watching other people exercise at La Vogalonga, Venice's famous boat race.

Watching other people exercise at La Vogalonga, Venice's famous boat race.

As I type this from my desk at the gorgeous new Woolf Works, a women’s co-working space in the heart of central Singapore, I am nursing a horrid case of jet lag which feels eerily akin to the hangovers I used to battle at least a few times a week. I’m usually zippy and fresh after a long flight now that I’m not downing the mile high cocktails, but this time, no such luck.

My husband Ryan and I have just returned from a blissful two week holiday in Italy, my favorite “old country”, where we embarked on a driving adventure in the North, commencing in Rome and ending in the delicious foodie village of Modena, with a few nights each in Bracciano, Venice, Florence, and Assisi. Italy is perhaps the oddest destination choice for a teetotaler who also happens to be a figure competitor with autoimmune issues (read: food restrictions & intolerances).

After all, aside from washing down copious amounts of cheese with buckets of wine while basking under sunlit grapevine canopies, what else does one do in Italy?

Thousands of wheels of cheese, oh my! A cheese tasting at the 4 Madonne dell'Emilia Dairy.

Thousands of wheels of cheese, oh my! A cheese tasting at the 4 Madonne dell'Emilia Dairy.

It was my second trip to Italy as a sober chick, and I still thank my lucky stars that I’d never visited as a card-carrying lush because my only memories of it would have likely been based on embarrassing vacation photos. And, I’ve gotta say, the rumors are true- this Mediterranean paradise is indeed the toughest place in the world to continue a commitment to health & sobriety, no matter where you are on your journey.

First, wine is offered everywhere, and the refusal to partake is sometimes met with quizzical glares. “Baby?” one waiter had asked me on my first trip there, rubbing his tummy with a smile.
Second, the food is RICH- think cheese, bread and cold cuts galore. I wasn’t once able to score an egg white omelette for breakfast, and I’ve yet to spot a sweet potato or protein shake there. Third, the concept of a “gym” is still quite foreign. Although they do exist, exercising with the aid of machines just isn’t Italy’s scene and the only heavy lifting you may see is the lifting of a 50kg wheel of parmesan cheese. Finally, the entire vibe of Italy reeks of leisure and indulgence- a lust for life- which may be why so many gravitate to the region, including me!

So, how does one thrive as a vacationer in Italy while staying sober or upholding other health & fitness goals in the process? Here are my 4 tips to loving your Italian vacation without hating yourself when the holiday’s over!

A Crodino Mocktail. Crodino is a non-alcoholic bitter apertif... and delicious! 

A Crodino Mocktail. Crodino is a non-alcoholic bitter apertif... and delicious! 

1. Get real. Accept that you’re not going to be able to stay on track 100% on all fronts without being miserable. Yes, you read that correctly! Italy is not the place to aim for perfection, and if you want to stay happy, you’ll need to make a few concessions. That means deciding the difference between your “non-negotiables” and your “wiggle areas” before you go. For me, remaining sober is a “non-negotiable”, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep it that way, which meant constantly refusing glasses of wine and grappa and even asking my hubby to enjoy a few meals without the booze when I started to feel fatigued by it all. In my nearly seven years of sobriety, Italy is for some reason the only place that I’ve been where I feel like I struggle a bit, mainly because the strong smell of alcohol is so pervasive, which is also a good reminder for me that recovery is a lifetime job. 

However, I knew that restricting across the board throughout the trip may trigger some depression or anxiety (as restricting is known to do for many), so I loosened the bodybuilding belt and allowed myself to eat what I wanted- including some things that made me feel a bit awful afterward- and I also made sure to get in at least 10,000 steps a day. I exercised when I could, but I didn’t make it a top priority. The result of this approach? Feeling balanced and content overall while encouraging my intuitive body to lead the way when it came to eating. For instance, after a bit of an inflammatory flare up from a few too many pastries I started not to want them anymore and that was ok.

2. Lace up those walking shoes. You may not be able to find a gym in your area, but you can certainly find a million reasons to tour around an Italian village on foot. Opportunities for walking and hiking are endless in Italy, and the best way to get to know the country is a “step at a time,” whether that’s winding through cobblestone streets, hiking up mountain peaks, or climbing a few dozen flights of stairs at one of the many stunning cathedrals, like Il Duomo di Firenze. If you have a smart watch like FitBit, decide on a step goal for each day ahead and don’t forget to bring your camera! Yes, you may not get to pump much iron or attend regular yoga classes in Italy, but there’s no excuse not to get the blood flowing. Many of the smaller villages are also great for running, and there are countless public parks as well, including my world favorite, the Villa Doria Pamphili.

Villa Doria Pamphili, I love you. 

Villa Doria Pamphili, I love you. 

3. Focus on all of the options you DO have, rather than the ones you don’t! Italy offers so much variety in the way of both food and beverage, and while you may have to miss out on a few things, your options for enjoyment are endless. Gluten intolerant? Then pastas and crusty breads are out for you, but all the succulent fruits, sun-drenched veggies and scrumptious cheeses are not! Does booze make you break out in handcuffs? So, wine’s not going to be your thing but you can still drink all of the Crodinos you want, as well as rich and frothy coffees and my all-time favorite, acqua frizzante with a slice of lemon. There are also AA meetings throughout the country and online groups like SMART Recovery if you need some extra support. Doing the Paleo thing? Then head to Tuscany for a sizzling grilled steak and some traditionally cured meats, or to the Amalfi Coast for some amazing seafood. 

If you want to feel deprived, focus on all of the things you can’t have. If you want to feel gloriously satiated, enjoy all of the things available to you. The same advice applies to everyday life, by the way. ;-)

I asked for egg whites- or just eggs- pretty much everywhere we went. This was the reality more often than not! 

I asked for egg whites- or just eggs- pretty much everywhere we went. This was the reality more often than not! 

4. Capitalize on the fact that we all need a break sometimes, and schedule your vacation to Italy accordingly. If you’re engaged in a regular exercise routine 4-6 days a week and you’re pushing yourself to the max most days, congratulations! Now, here’s the rub- you actually need to take a week off from training once in a while to get the most benefit out of it. A recovery or de-loading week is generally recommended anywhere from every 3 to 8 months, depending on your sport or intensity. This means dramatically reduced physical activity for a good week to let the body rest and repair itself. If you’re not engaged in a serious training plan and feel like you wouldn’t benefit from giving your body a break, focus on a mental “time out” instead. I doubt that anyone today reading this isn’t experiencing some form of stress in their life, whether in their job, marriage, finances or mental well-being. Use your vacation as a chance to reset, and maybe commit to a short daily meditation session or some time at a spa while you’re there. A holiday is meant to be just that! Give yourself permission to breathe and relax.

As a health & behavior change coach, addiction therapist and soberista, these are four of my tips for enjoying your holiday in Italy while upholding a healthy lifestyle. Health isn’t meant to feel rigid, so remember to make some space in your life for flexibility and flow!

Ciao for now,

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Beating Exercise Addiction & Overtraining for a New "Personal Best"

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Old habits don’t have to die hard! As you age, evolving your exercise habits to keep in tune with your body's changing requirements is vital for optimal health. 

Being fit and healthy doesn’t always have to mean slogging it out at the gym or running endless miles. As we go through life our body’s requirements and physiology alter. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to shake up your exercise routines a little to support this. Forcing your body to keep up with its 20 or 30 year old self can be punishing and could in time have massive negative consequences to your overall health.

I’ve exercised for as long as I can remember…literally! One of my first memories is running around our local park behind my dad, trying to get a PB (personal best) which resulted in an ice cream on the way home. As a competitive swimmer I trained before and after school, 4 hours daily. Falling asleep in lessons and stinking of chlorine was pretty normal to me. This escalated to triathlons, marathons and then I made exercise my career. No escape!

I’m not complaining though- I adore exercise! I love the energy and buzz it gives me, the way it clears my mind, keeps me focused and basically makes me feel alive. At that stage of my life I was constantly pumped high on endorphins and always wanting a new challenge. 

I was addicted to exercise and felt sluggish and awful if I had a few days off.

This was all fine for a time. I was young and my body could keep up. I was in my late 20’s and nothing could stop me! However, as I got older, gradually this heavy exercise regime started to take its toll on my body. My muscles constantly ached, and I remember being terribly moody at times as I was so, so tired, my sleep was awful and I constantly experienced bouts of insomnia. I was doing so much exercise that it was difficult to maintain enough nutrition to support it. I wasn’t eating enough to fuel my habit and so my weight and body fat dropped to unhealthy levels. Without knowing it, I was jeopardizing the one thing I’ve always thought my fit and healthy body would provide me with…my fertility.

I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Amenorrhea. 

This basically means my periods stopped and I was no longer ovulating. With excessive exercise and not enough nutrition to support it, my reproductive system was left with no energy to function properly. It went into a dormant state and stopped producing oestrogen, which is the hormone required for ovulation. Without oestrogen being produced, I had little chance of conceiving.

I’ve always prided myself on being healthy. I’m never sick, I eat a good "clean" diet and exercise regularly. But, can being "too healthy" or exercising too much at certain points of our lives can be detrimental? That's the question I've had to answer for myself and my future.

Since this diagnosis, I’ve had to work on turning my life around, changing up my diet and exercise routines and listening to what my body needs on a daily basis. I’ve had to learn to relax more. My adrenal glands have been worn down by the constant secretions of adrenaline! I’ve had to reset my goals and mindset. I desperately want children and so I need to give my body a rest and provide my reproductive system with the energy it requires to function again as normal. This means throwing out the long distance runs, the high intensity sprints and everything I’ve focused on for so long as those endorphins were causing me exhaustion. 

In some respects this transition has been really difficult. It involves changing a lifetime of exercise habits which I’ve more than enjoyed. Running along the river as the sun rises I would honestly say is one of my favorite moments! But, by focusing on what I really want from life right now, I have managed to change my exercise habits to benefit myself in my present moment. 

Instead of running endless miles to exhaustion, I now practice yoga 2-3 times a week, and I’ve found that I actually love it!

My body doesn’t ache all over anymore which is a strange yet amazing feeling and it really helps calm my mind too. I use bodyweight and light resistance work to maintain my overall body strength and place particular focus on my core muscles.

Strengthening the core muscles, particularly the muscles of the inner core unit, is so important at this stage of my life as I am hoping to conceive. The more work I do now to strengthen these muscles, the less chance I will suffer from Diastasis Recti (should I be lucky enough to fall pregnant). It will also help my abdominals recover far quicker postpartum and reduces my chances of suffering from lower back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. These chronic conditions are widespread yet often overlooked consequences of Diastasis Recti in new mums. 

As a Pre- and Post-natal Exercise Specialist with Tangram Wellness, I’m helping prenatal, postnatal and women on the fertility journey become more aware of the importance of specific core strengthening techniques which must be included in their present exercise routines. I see so many new mums who have snapped back into old exercise habits too fast, in a bid to lose their baby weight. This usually results in a protruding mummy pooch, a weak and very sore lower back and quite often, stress incontinence. This doesn’t have to be the case- don’t be scared to change your old exercise habits!

It's so easy to get addicted to endless exercise, push your body too much and never change up your routine. I’m urging you though to get more in tune with your body. Are you training with focus or simply pushing yourself to exhaustion each time? Overtraining is a common yet unnecessary problem. Take time to make sure that you recognize its signs and adjust your exercise accordingly before it effects your physical and emotional health.

The most common signs of overtraining are as follows:
 Increased fatigue
 Increased muscle soreness
 Recurrent injuries or illness
 Insomnia
 Lack of motivation
 Moodiness
 Loss of menstruation

It's been really challenging for me not to go running as it’s my passion, but I’ve realized it’s a worthy sacrifice. I’m so glad I’ve finally listened to my body and recognized my symptoms of overtraining and exhaustion. I’m optimistic that my body will thank me for making these changes soon.

- ANNA

Are you also on a fertility journey, and wondering how exercise fits into the equation? Have you ever ventured into the waters of overtraining or exercise addiction, and if so, how did you make the shift? Do you have questions on overtraining? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- we always love to hear from you. Anna Kwan runs several post-natal classes a week, and will be launching a pre-natal class soon. She also works with mothers one-on-one. Email her at anna@tangramwellness.com for a consultation or to book in.

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The Attachment Zoo: Are You Caging Yourself In Expectation?

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Picture this…

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning- an absolutely lovely day to go to the zoo! Sounds fun, right? Or does it…

A fun day out with two toddlers always runs the risk of becoming a complete disaster. You could be chilling with the orangutans then and suddenly one kid has a diaper blowout while the second one trips, scrapes his knees and declares that he now will never walk again (true story). Carsickness, temper tantrums, crankiness, the list of potential disasters are endless.

On the other hand, it could also turn out to be a perfect day - everyone well behaved (including the husband), snagging awesome seats for the seal show and getting home before anyone has a chance to fall asleep in the car. Score!

In mental preparation for such a day, you have three choices:

A) Ridiculously high expectations: This will be the BEST DAY EVER. 

B) Absurdly low expectations: This will be the WORST DAY EVER. 

C) Non-attachment to outcomes: This will be a day.

Yoga teaches us non-attachment or aparigraha (in sanskrit). Aparigraha is an important principle that we integrate into our yoga practice which also greatly benefits our lives off the mat. For example, in yoga we try not to get too attached to achieving specific asanas or poses. Obsessing over the perfect handstand does not lead to inner peace (believe me I’ve tried). 

Back to the zoo story: The problem with choosing A or B is that we are unconsciously setting ourselves up for defeat. But, Kat, aren’t yogis the eternal optimists? Isn’t "option A" the yogi’s choice?

If you’re an "option A" person with super high expectations, often times you’ll end up disappointed. Setting unrealistic expectations isn’t healthy - typically things don’t go exactly as planned (especially when children are involved!) and women especially feel like failures themselves if their plans fail. Accepting that sometimes, things go wrong and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it will set you free from perfectionism, which will open up a ton of space in your heart and mind for gratitude and compassion and all that good stuff. 

"Option B" people, on the other hand, believe that they’re setting low expectations so that they can be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t turn out to be the worst day ever. But in reality, they’re unknowingly bringing negative energy into the situation and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The day ends up sucking because subconsciously they only see the negative and miss out on the simple things that make life beautiful - like a cool breeze on a particularly stiflingly hot day or finding a decent parking spot.

Going to the zoo with zero expectations - what could be more freeing than that? If something goes right, cheer. If something goes wrong, laugh and move on. You’re at the zoo and it’s a day. Have that day. Appreciate every moment of it without attachment, and see how your life changes. 

So who’s up for a trip to the zoo? Make sure you pack sunscreen, bug spray, water bottles, and 7,000 snacks - but leave your expectations at home.
 







Ready to bring some non-attachment into your life? A good place to start would be a Forrest Yoga class. Email katheryn@tangramwellness.com to book in a class or private session. How are you handling life's unexpected bumps? What strategies or practices do you have in place to "let go"? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. We always love hearing from you! 

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Is Your Fitness & Nutrition Plan Working For Your Body? Here's How to Tell.

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

From the feedback I received about my first blog post on hormones and fat loss, I'm gathering that many women out there are frustrated and confused with all the wellness information available to them in terms of what actually works to "lose weight", particularly if one's battling with a hormone imbalance or autoimmune illness.

In the previous post, "Want to Lose Weight? Honor Your Hormones. Here's Why", I explored why we're looking at body transformation from the wrong perspective, as "weight loss" is often what's emphasized in the fitness & wellness community. But, focusing on losing weight is not the most empowering way to think about this journey and scientifically, it's not an accurate framework. 

In this post, I'm going to cover how you'll know if a plan is working for you and go over the general points of a successful approach that takes hormone balance into account. First, it's important to be honest with yourself about the reasons you've signed up for a fitness journey and nutrition overhaul. It's also necessary to shift away from an extreme dieting or "temporary" perspective, which only does the body harm in the long run. So, are you looking to lose 40 pounds in 4 months through extreme dieting and the "exercise more, eat less" approach, or do you want to adopt a sustainable way of healthy living and fat loss that lasts over a lifetime?

A successful "weight loss" plan is one that not only achieves overall fat loss, but that also keeps your hormonal system in check. Without access to high technology instruments on a daily basis, 
we can simply rely on feedback from these following 5 lifestyle factors:

1. Sleep quality: How has your sleep been in the last week, the last few months or even years? 
Your quality of sleep impacts how your body metabolizes glucose, which in turn will also
affect your insulin levels. It also impacts your hunger and appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which means that if you're not getting an adequate amount of sleep, you're more likely to reach for that bag of chips, ice cream or other late night treat. If your current nutrition and exercise plan is not supporting consistently good sleep quality, you've got to adjust the plan. If you aren't sleeping well, your efforts with exercise and balanced nutrition will be compromised. Get your quality sleep in. This means shutting off all blue light emitted from our phones or television sets at least 60 minutes before bed. You may wish to get yourself in the relaxing mood with some low frequency music, a soothing herbal tea, or diffusing relaxing aromas such as lavender essential oil.

2. Mood quality: Be honest with yourself here....

  • Are you truly happy and fulfilled daily? 
  • Does you go through extreme mood swings on a daily basis?
  • Do you feel like one day you are motivated and driven and the next day you are flat out?
  • Is your mood influenced by any type of addiction- food, iPhone, or alcohol, for instance?
  • Do you feel like your brain is not as sharp as you'd like it to be? 
  • Are you depressed for no apparent reason?
  • Are you in scarcity mindset- do you constantly worry that there is not enough?

Your mood can be a good indicator of what's going on with your hormones and brain chemistry, and it's also affected by your current nutrition and lifestyle regime. Easy changes can have a big positive impact on your mood, such as drinking chamomile tea, adding herbs like Lemon Balm and Kava to your diet, or enjoying a bit of cacao. 

3. Energy levels: Do you find that your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day? Do you feel you need your caffeine or sugar fix to get through the morning? Low energy levels will drain your willpower to eat well for your body, especially towards the end of the day. And, that equates to making poor choices in the nutrition and relaxation department, like bingeing on cookies in front of the TV set. If your energy levels are consistently low, it's worth looking into adrenal and thyroid function- important endocrine glands for keeping your metabolism in balance. If you suspect that your current fitness and nutrition program is zapping your energy, take a closer look at your macronutrient intake as well as the frequency and intensity of your workouts.

4. Hunger levels: Are you constantly hungry? Is your stomach always growling? If you're hungry all the time, then your nutrition plan is not sustainable, since your leptin and ghrelin are constantly going through extreme fluctuations, which will eventually lead to a resistance to either one of the hormones. Leptin resistance is now thought to be one of the leading drivers of fat gain in people, so this is important! Here's a little trick- if you find yourself going through the hunger games, eat your protein and fiber first, before consuming anything starchy.

5. Cravings: Whether it's PMS, pregnancy,  or being stressed to the max, we women know that when we have food cravings, all hell tends to break loose- typically at night, when alone, or over the weekends. Most cravings can be managed pretty simply by doing things like adding sugar-free cocoa powder to a healthy snack or by enjoying leucine-rich foods such as parmesan cheese, eggs, spirulina algae, red and white meat, and pumpkin seeds.

You might be reading this and thinking, "wow, I'm already overwhelmed!" Remember, sustainable change does not happen overnight. You've got to start looking at this from a long-term holistic perspective and treating it as a learning journey. 

So, there you have it- these are five indicators that will let you know if your current plan is working for you, and can be used to measure hormone balance and overall fat loss success moving forward. One note, when it comes to endocrine-related illnesses and autoimmune disorders, finding the proper nutrition and exercise approach is a delicate and somewhat experimental process. It's critical to be patient, and to collaborate with someone who is trained and experienced in working successfully with clients who deal with these issues. We're all individuals with our unique needs and challenges, and addressing fat loss from a hormonal perspective means creating a tailored plan and approach.

Thanks for reading this post- I hope you found it helpful! In my next post, I'll be detailing how to get started on a hormonal approach to fat loss. If you have any questions for me, just leave a comment here or email me at Yan@tangramwellness.com- I'm always here to help. If you'd like to set up a complimentary consultation with me, email and we'll schedule some time together. 

In Love, Health & Wellness,

 

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What Team Tangram REALLY Does to Stay Fit

It's commonly assumed that many fitness & wellness pros live in the gym, employing magical and gruelling workout routines to keep their bodies in tip top shape. The truth is, most of us work long hours, have families and responsibilities well beyond fitness, and generally try to make the most of the little spare time we have. This week, as part of our series on how we wellness professionals actually live, we're sharing our real deal weekly exercise routines with you. We all come from different fitness backgrounds, and we've also got individual priorities and goals. Our hope is that we inspire you to carve out some time for physical self-care while giving you a few new ideas! 

Yan Huang, Metabolic Trainer & Nutrition Coach

Routine, routine, routine - but don't let it bog you down! Humans thrive on routine to improve and reach the next level. Remember that our routines will have to depend on our priorities and current learning abilities. Find the one that works for you NOW at this stage in your life and then keep at it consistently until you're ready to reach the next phase.

My fitness routine has definitely changed a lot over the years, depending on if I am preparing for a competition, dance event or simply the lifestyle I am leading.

Currently, my focus is on my hip stability, strength and overall conditioning while keeping a close look at a few key signals. This will tell me if I am overtraining, under-eating or have found my hormonal balance sweet spot.

I do daily mobility work for my entire body, in particular the hips and back, including the joints and ligaments of my wrists, elbows and toes. If there is time, I will also include a Pilates sequence as the slow and controlled movements really energizes the entire body, through deep breath and core work.

A little Pilates action for Yan

A little Pilates action for Yan

My weekly routine will look something like:

  • 4 days of strength-based workouts in the gym;
  • 2 days of simply bodyweight/banded metabolic-based conditioning outdoors.

Don't underestimate the intensity of the metabolic-based workouts using just the bodyweight! When done right, they can really torch up lots of fat-burning hormones.

As I get bored easily, I like to keep my fitness routine fun and outdoor-based for the extra benefits of Vitamin D - known to raise serotonin and GABA indirectly as it raises oestrogen. These are all your feel-good, happy hormones. Depending on time, I will always include a 20 minute slow & relaxing walk by the beach or in the park, after all that intense exercise. The long walks are critical to lower stress hormones and stabilize the body for a more efficient and sustainable fat loss.

Some days I may include just simply a total body stretch or lots of slow, restorative activities like a swim in the sea or just trigger point release or any fun activity such as dance or acroyoga.

I have learnED to prioritize sleep and recovery over my workouts. if my body is just simply too tired or my mind is too wired, I usually will skip the workout and go for a swim in the sea, read and just relax, or catch on sleep!

Lastly, let's not forget the mental and spiritual fitness as well; having good reads and meditation are now part of my routine.


Aimee Barnes, Health & Recovery Coach

My routine is similar to Yan’s. We are both figure athletes and love the heavy lifting, as well as paying attention to the functional and recovery side of fitness.

I used to train in the gym 5 days a week, but I’ve cut it down to 4 now and just make my minutes there super efficient. I usually time everything on my FitBit, including my breaks between sets, and I also track all of my reps and sets in a notebook, keeping a close eye on progress and setbacks as I move forward. 

Two days a week in the gym I spend an hour powerlifting- mainly compound movements, squats, deadlifts and bench press at a 3-6 rep range for 3 sets plus 2 warm up sets. The other two days a week in the gym I focus on hypertrophy workouts, and I always change my exercises up. Pull-ups are one staple- I do them a few times a week, both at the gym and outdoors behind my home.

I’ve trained with different coaches over the past few years, and decided that this time around I would train myself, putting all of my knowledge to good use and using my intuition and power of observation to dictate how each week is going to go. I’m proud and happy to say that it's working out beautifully so far. 

What time you get your exercise in isn't so important- it just matters that you're doing it!

What time you get your exercise in isn't so important- it just matters that you're doing it!

 

Usually I will work out by myself, but when I’m lucky, my favorite workout buddy, PNBA PRO FIGURE ATHLETE Roz Alexander, is there to push me. We love motivating each other with a little healthy competition and geek out about physiology and training modes.

I go to yoga class 2-3 times a week- I take Forrest Yoga on Mondays with Katheryn and then I go to Pure for Restorative Yoga. It’s no secret that I don’t really enjoy yoga and find it extremely difficult, as Katheryn knows- I’m a big class whiner- but it’s what I need to be doing right now because my muscles are so tight and my mind could use some loosening up as well. So, I show up and leave what I can on the mat.

Cardio is an ever-changing landscape for me. Currently, I walk home from the gym, which takes me a good 45 minutes 4 days a week. I’ll run for 30-45 minutes once or twice a week around the Quays- it's so pretty at night and relaxes me instantly. Pretty soon, I’ll start training for the Yellow Ribbon Run which I'm doing with a friend for mutual support, which means my running will increase to 3 or 4 times a week on a progressive plan.

Exercise is my antidepressant. To me, fitness is miracle medicine and I’ll still be pumping iron when I’m 80. It keeps me healthy, sober and sane.

 

Katheryn Meadows, Yoga Instructor

My personal fitness routine centers on not having time to sit down during the day! Whether it’s teaching a class or running after a kid, I’m ALWAYS on the move. Being a busy mom is a great workout for the body, mind and spirit!

I devote a lot of time to my yoga practice and am a disciple of Hee Boon Tan and Marysia Do at Pure Yoga, practicing 5+ hours per week there. My home practice generally consists of developing sequences for my classes and then kicking up to handstand two dozen times.

Additionally, I work out twice a week at Level on Telok Ayer. I train with Lorne Peart, who is begrudgingly teaching me super fun Ido Portal movements despite my constant arguments that yoga is better (which, for the record, it is). I also work with the fabulous Casey Mathes who forces me to do squats and cleans while listening to my crazy stories (and endless complaints about how much I hate squats and cleans).

Katheryn's got those handstands down! 

Katheryn's got those handstands down! 

I am definitely the type of person who benefits from having a personal trainer - when I go to the gym by myself I half-ass everything, skip reps and generally don’t know what I’m doing (despite training with the Amazing Aimee for like three years!!!). I’m eternally grateful to my dedicated trainers for helping me reach my potential, despite my bitching, moaning and complaining!

Combining yoga and strength training is my personal fitness routine. Being a strong yogi means that I can do fun arm balances, inversions and thousands of boat poses (and my students just LOVE boat pose!). And yoga helps me let go of expectations and deepen my gratitude and appreciation for life, while also lengthening and stretching my muscles.

Both also come in handy when wrestling a cranky and slippery three year old out of the bath and into his pyjamas ;)

 

Anna Kwan, Health & Fitness Specialist

My daily fitness routines vary depending on my energy levels. If I have a heavy day with lots of clients then I'll tend to do a yoga class in the evening to relax my body and mind, a few laps of the pool or even just a walk along the river. 

I love exercising outside, so if i'm feeling up for it I usually go down to our little fitness corner in the condo and knock out a 30 minute circuit!

I just keep going for 30 minutes with as little rest as possible repeating a body weight circuit of a few different exercises back to back. I use 1 exercise as "active rest" and then start again! Its pretty knackering and 30 mins is plenty...I usually have to bust out some good tunes to keep me motivated!

Anna's squeezing in a condo workout outdoors

Anna's squeezing in a condo workout outdoors

This was today's little gem:

1 minute rope skipping
5 wide pull ups
10 press -ups
20 walking lunges
5 narrow pull ups
10 tricep dips on parallel bars
10 squat jumps
1 minute plank (active rest)

Afterwards i'll jump in the pool which always feels amazing!

What does your current fitness routine look like? Are you ready to change it up? What's working for you- and what's not? Leave your comments below- we'd love to hear from you. And, if you like this post, please share! 

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This New Viral Campaign Message Isn't Doing Women Any Favors. Here's Why.

Organic Valley YouTube commercial 

Organic Valley YouTube commercial 

Organic Valley has just launched a new campaign, “Real Morning Report”, detailing the busy woman’s typical morning routine, while asserting that we ladies actually have no time at all for the airy fairy business of sunrise yoga, journaling, or meditating over our artisanal kombucha cups. Before you give this post a read, I suggest watching the 90 second commercial so you too can have the opportunity to gleefully exclaim “this is awesome!”, which I also did for a hot second before giving the messaging further thought.

At the time of writing this blog, I’ve been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from working women- many of them mothers- who are burned out and physically ill, with concerns ranging from depression and anxiety, adrenal fatigue, thyroid and hormonal issues, and excessive weight gain. A few fellow business owners have recently admitted that the stress of their lives has taken a significant toll on their bodies and energy levels, which I can definitely relate to. And, my decade of burning the candle at both ends may have also caught up to me as I now contend with a suboptimal thyroid. 

Studies show that women are more deeply impacted by stress on a physical and emotional level in comparison to men, due to our body chemistry and our hard-wired impulse reactions. We’re more likely to try and negotiate or “fix” a stressful situation, whereas men respond with fight or flight. And, as more of us make the decision to have it all- kids, marriage, the high-flying career, as well as an enviable hobby or two- stress-related conditions are skyrocketing, including depression, suicide and substance abuse. In the US, women are reporting higher levels of stress at work; in Singapore, the situation is likely similar. From my view as a therapist and coach to many brilliant and successful women, I can tell you that what we’re doing is not serving us. It’s not working for our bodies, our mental health, our families, and our happiness.  My best guess is that we’re putting so much pressure on ourselves to taste those golden carrots that we’ve forgotten how to feed our intuition and thereby tap into what we truly need.  So, why the hell are we celebrating doing more of what is harming us?

Organic Valley is right. Most women won’t have time for a morning routine that allows them to reflect and nurture themselves… unless they actually make it a top priority in their lives.  However, what would happen if we stopped feeding the beast? What if we reclaimed our power to draw hard boundaries, say “No,” and care for ourselves instead of buying into the idea that, in order to succeed, we have to completely sacrifice our own needs? And on that note, why must we continuously subscribe to one definition of success anyway- that success is managing an outwardly perfect family, gaining career notoriety, and skipping breakfast most mornings? I’m sure a few of you reading this would like to push me off a ledge right now. “What do you know about real life- you’re a coach!” you may be thinking. Or, “just shut up, you don’t have kids- you have no idea!” Yeah yeah, you’re not the first. But, the fact is, I used to be that lady in the Organic Valley commercial, the one running to my corporate job in Rockefeller Center, eating my first meal of the day at noon- a deli sandwich and chips- behind my computer, feeling crappy and tired most of the time. And yes, you’re correctamundo- I don’t have kids, and I'm not going to pretend to understand all the complexities involved in raising babies. However, most of the women I work with do, as do many of my friends, and the biggest difference I see between the moms who set their alarm clocks a half an hour earlier so they can do their yoga and the ones who don’t is CHOICE & PRIORITIES.

I’m going to guess that most of you reading this are privileged enough to be able to design life as you see fit, to some extent. In Singapore, some of us have the massive bonus of live-in helpers to assist with the cooking, the housecleaning and the childcare. I could still be that lady in the Organic Valley commercial- completely harried, running to the office with a third cup of coffee in hand, pouring all my free time into wine o’clock. But, I made a really tough series of choices. I quit drinking. I got off my anti-depressants. I quit my job. And, I took a long, hard look at the difference between the life I desired having and the one I had been living. While my husband was supportive, I did not have a family I could rely on. I had hefty student loan debt. And, I carried all of the emotional baggage of a woman who operated in survival mode. With tough decisions, came a morning routine. When I began my health & recovery journey, I started journaling each morning, and running. For those first few months, I skipped a lot of days, slept in. But, eventually, my morning routine became a practice, a version of which still directs most of my days- not all, but most- six and a half years later.

Let’s not pit women against each other in regard to their choices. Just because some chick makes time for her tea ceremony or downward dogs in the morning does not mean that she is any better or worse than the one racing frantically to work, extra strength espresso in hand. It just means that she has different priorities, and that she’s designed another way of being. If you’re cheering on this brilliant commercial while simultaneously feeling drained, depressed and unfulfilled, I ask you to simply take a look at your own priorities, without judgement. What are you running toward… or away from? And, what will it take for you to actually make the time to honor yourself?

p.s. and yes, dry shampoo IS one of the best inventions ever.

What's your take? Have you tried to carve out a morning routine? Do you feel like this Organic Valley commercial is on the mark... or completely misses the point? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- as always, I'd love to hear from you. Did you love this post? If so, do share! 

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Overcoming Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

One of my biggest regrets in life is being blissfully unaware of the havoc I was wreaking on my hormones because I was on the contraceptive pill from the age of 16 to 33. Sure, I came off of it a few times and when my period didn’t return I wondered if I should be worried, but when I went to my doctor and voiced my concerns over not having a period for over a year, I was told I had polycystic ovaries and I should go back on the pill to manage it.

For years I thought, "I'll deal with this problem later."

What I now know is that long-term pill usage can cause as well as mask a whole host of hormonal disruptions. I came off the pill the final time when I got engaged, as I knew then that I wanted children with my future husband. No surprises, my cycle didn’t return naturally and for the next four years I battled what is known as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), quite possibly the most frustrating and infuriating condition for a woman in her mid 30’s desperate to start a family.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is the absence of your menstrual cycle caused by your Hypothalamus not doing its job. The Hypothalamus is the part of our brain that instructs your pituitary gland, and subsequently your ovaries, to produce the hormones that control reproductive function. When you are on the pill for many years, the hypothalamus doesn’t need to do anything because the pill is delivering the (artificial) hormones, so it goes to sleep.

It’s incredibly common for woman to come off the pill and have the hypothalamus take a few months to wake up and start functioning, but if you don’t get a period for more than 12 months there are most probably some other factors at play. In my case it wasn’t Polycystic Ovaries.

The other major cause of HA is when the super sensitive hypothalamus senses that there is too much danger/stress in your life and it decides reproduction is not a good idea, so it shuts down. The most common factors are physical stress from high intensity exercise, not fuelling properly, lack of body fat and psychological stress.

When I came off the pill, not only was I training to run the New York marathon, I was restricting my food with the plan in mind to look AMAZING in my wedding dress. You can imagine my horror when I was told by an endocrinologist that my super healthy lifestyle was making me infertile, and the course of treatment was to stop all exercise and EAT.

To most people, being told that you should stop exercising and eat more dessert would sound like a dream come true, but for many women who have conditioned themselves to exercise and diet religiously, it can be terrifying. Of course I wasn’t going to purposefully change my body shape six months out from my wedding, so I put it out of my mind and once again thought – "I’ll deal with it later."

After the wedding I made a real effort to cut down on my running and eat more, and I put on weight. I hated it, but my husband and I wanted kids and we wanted them NOW. Our impatience got the better of us and three months after the wedding with my period still MIA we saw a fertility doctor.

For some reason, doing fertility treatments made me think that I no longer needed to get my natural cycle back. The drugs I stuck into my belly every day were doing it for me – too easy! So I stopped focusing on overcoming HA and when round after round of IVF didn’t work I fell back into running as a form of therapy. It was the one thing that got me out of my head when I was devastated at our failures. In hindsight, running was also a subconscious way of proving to myself that my body was strong and able, because when it came to fertility I felt like it was defective. 

As time passed and our attempts at IVF didn’t work, I began to realise that having HA can hold you back reproductively even when you’re under the care of the best fertility doctors delivering the tried and tested treatment. It was time to slay this beast!

After we completed our final IVF embryo transfer, a perfect grade A+ embryo that resulted in our sixth negative pregnancy test, and I began the long overdue job of getting my natural cycle back. I’d been 3.5 years with no cycle after coming off the pill and I’d had enough.

This is what worked for me:

No high intensity exercise. I walked for 30 mins, three times a week and did yoga for 30 mins most days (not hot yoga!).

Increase calories to (at least) 2,500 a day. This was tough because I was trying to still eat healthy most of the time. After a couple of months I let go completely and ate ALL THE JUNK; pizza, pies, cake, ice cream - on a daily basis. It was a complete mind shift for me and I won’t lie, I felt awful. I was bloated, constipated and my face broke out BUT my closely monitored hormone levels were starting to increase, so I kept at it. I’m not advocating an unhealthy diet for everyone that is trying to get pregnant, but if you are at your wits end with HA then it’s worth a shot.

A positive and stress fee outlook. This wasn’t easy either, I was 37 and terrified I was never going to be a Mum. I used hypnotherapy to help ease my anxiety and deep breathing exercises helped calm me when work got stressful. I confided in my friends with total honesty and this helped to reduce the pressure I was feeling. I also joined an incredibly supportive Facebook group of women from all around the world on the same journey. The insight, knowledge and support gained from this group kept me going at the toughest times.

Four months after going ‘all in’ to overcome HA I went for my routine blood tests to check my hormone levels. I was absolutely floored when the nurse called back told me that not only were my levels were off the charts, but I should take a home pregnancy test.

And she was right, I was pregnant.

I had (unknowingly) ovulated naturally for the first time since I was 16, and this ovulation resulted in what I’d spent two years and thousands of dollars trying to create with fertility treatment.

Yes, my body shape is a lot different to what it used to be (and this is only going to continue!) but every kilo is worth its weight in gold to be able to overcome HA, regain fertility and start our family! 

Kristy Kong is an IIN-certified health coach specializing in fertility and our consultant fertility coach at Tangram Wellness, providing invaluable guidance to some of our friends and clients. You can reach out to Kristy directly at kristytkong@gmail.com. Was this information valuable to you, or could someone else use it? If so, share! As always, leave your comments below- we love hearing from you. 

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What the Heck is Forrest Yoga?

So, it’s official - no one in Singapore seems to know diddly squat about Forrest Yoga. 

The top three responses I’ve gotten from well-meaning folks after mentioning that I do Forrest Yoga are, in no particular order:

1. Is it doing yoga in a forest?

2. Does it involve trees or branches instead of blocks and straps?

3. It’s like environmentally friendly right? Hugging trees and whatnot?

Nope, nope and nope. Forrest Yoga has absolutely nothing to do with trees! Glad we got that out of the way.

Moving right along… so what is it exactly? Forrest Yoga is a lovely practice developed by the incredible Ana Forrest (hence the confusing name) thirty years ago in a land far, far away (the United States). Using her lifetime of experience in traditional Hatha yoga, Ana modernised each pose to suit our 21st century lives. 

I’m not passing judgement on traditional yoga... however, it was developed for and by men, thousands of years ago.

There’s been quite a bit of human advancement since then, and so Ana changed up the practice. No sanskrit names (who disagrees that "scissors" pose is easier to picture and pronounce than eka pada kundinasana?) some poses were altered, some discarded, and our focus became on how the pose made us feel rather than trying to achieve some standard of perfection that was actually hurting our bodies.

That aside, here are the top five reasons that I practice Forrest Yoga:

1. It feels amazing: Do you remember your first kiss? That feeling of champagne bubbles up your spine? When you closed your eyes you saw fireworks. Your entire being melted into it... And it was absolute bliss.

What if I told you that you could get these feelings from a yoga class??? The euphoria of youth, the wisdom of years, the strength of the dedicated. But most importantly, the PLEASURE of just being you. Just feeling your body. No matter what shape it’s in - feeling your breath flow through your body fluidly is an amazing adventure. THIS IS FORREST YOGA.

2. Have I mentioned Forrest Yoga abs?: At the beginning (and sometimes end) of every Forrest Yoga class, we practice Forrest Yoga abs, an intense core workout that wakes up your abdominals and warms up your entire body from there. Women in particular store so much tension in our core - we hate our bellies, constantly trying to suck it in or smooth it out. Forrest Yoga abs teaches us to relax this area while also building strength, which (along with proper nutrition) leads to the highly coveted six pack of abs. 

3. It’s better than sex. This is going to be controversial, but I stand by it. Forrest Yoga is better than sex because you don’t need anyone else to do it (yes, you can have sex with yourself but that’s a completely different story, and I will maintain that Forrest Yoga is WAY better than that as well). It feels AMAZING and it’s all just for you. No worrying about pleasing anyone else, how you look, or what the other person is thinking. Your focus is 100% inwards so the pleasure is all yours. 

4. It’s better than drugs. During my advanced teacher training, my partner came out of a challenging pose with stars in her eyes and exclaimed “WOW, this is better than drugs!!!” And, she was right! All you need is to step on your mat and you have access to the most powerful chemicals your brain can offer, which are miles more effective than those manufactured by humans. See answer to question number 1 for clarification. 

5. It will help you become a better yogi. Physically, Forrest Yoga classes are sequenced brilliantly, allowing you to go further into poses that you never thought possible. Our Guardians are amazing anatomists, and place tremendous focus on prep poses leading to the coveted apex pose, so that your body is fully warmed up and open enough to actually get your head behind your foot. I’ve been practicing for five years, and never came close to achieving such heights until joining a Forrest Yoga class. 

We spend our lives hunched over computers and smart phones, carrying heavy baggage- be it grocery or emotional. We have a choice - to just keep going, or to let it go. Even if you're still unsure of what it is, I urge you to give Forrest Yoga a try. Leave your baggage at the door (or foot of the tree) and who knows, maybe it’ll feel a bit lighter afterwards. 

Sign up for a complimentary yoga class with Katheryn and give Forrest yoga a try- just email her at katheryn@tangramwellness.com or check the schedule at http://tangramwellness.com/yoga Have you found a life-changing mind-body practice? If so, tell us about it! Do you have questions about Forrest yoga? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. As always, thanks for reading! 

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