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“I Want To Recover From My Eating Disorder and Look Hot While Doing It”

Of the coaching enquiries I’ve received over the past year, some of the most common ones read something like this:

“I’ve recovered from anorexia through an in-patient program, but now I’m overexercising. I’d like to raise my self-esteem, make peace with my body, and look really fit and lean. Can you help?”

or this…

“I’ve been binge eating for years and am finally ready to stop this bad habit, but I also want to reduce my body fat and weight.”

or this…

“I’ve been in and out of treatment for an eating disorder for many years, and nothing seems to work. Every time I start to get better, I gain weight. Can you help me overcome it while being able to maintain my current weight?”

Most months, I’ll receive a few requests along these lines, all from smart and determined women in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Their accounts are often similar, mirroring the traits and experiences of those who deal with eating disorders in other parts of the world, which include numerous failed treatment attempts, low self-esteem, pervasive perfectionism, and few social supports. Some of these women were raised in enmeshed or narcissistic families, where self-worth is gained through external achievement and little autonomy or emotional expression is allowed.  A majority deal with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic illness or other kinds of addictions in addition to an eating disorder. Some are in tumultuous relationships or are otherwise experiencing instability in their lives, and others have a history of trauma.

I know this story all too well because the narrative is also part of my own, one that I’ve gently held onto in order to alchemize it. I know the shame of having a nurse hover over you as you sit on the toilet because she’s got to make sure that you don’t throw up. I know what 800 calories a day does to mood and metabolism, what it’s like to try on a hundred outfits and still hate what you see in the mirror, and how empty if feels to live for the approval of others. 


It’s been many years since I’ve contended with an active eating disorder or addiction and since that time I’ve realized that we’re having the wrong conversation. Eating disorders are not about vomiting or starving or compulsive calorie-burning gym sessions. They’re not about reaching an ideal weight.

Eating disorders are about refusing to actually be IN our bodies. They’re about rejecting our true selves. They’re about seeking worth externally, and then battling with that external illusion in an attempt to regain control. They’re about swallowing big lies- that we don’t matter unless someone else recognizes our significance, and that a woman’s value is hinged on the way she looks. And, they’re about attempting to cope with emotional pain stored in the body- pain that is all too often “unspeakable.”

In Asia, we’re in the midst of a process addiction and eating disorders crisis, exhibited by the rapid rise in the number of people seeking treatment for gambling, sex and video game addiction, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. Due to the shame-based cultural underpinnings and the pervasive sociological concept of having “face” (mianzi) and protecting a family’s reputation at all costs, eating disorders and addictions are woefully underreported in this neck of the woods. To complicate things, careers serving this population aren’t generally desired due to the nature of the work, the low pay in comparison to glitzy financial service jobs, and a high rate of burnout. This ensures that many, many people who need treatment aren’t getting any because they’re too afraid to ask for it and even if they did, options are severely lacking. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people receiving treatment for eating disorders will relapse, and 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders will die from their condition. That’s what I’d call a serious public health crisis. ED recovery is hard work, and women on the path are true warriors. A quote I recently came across summarizes things quite accurately:

“Alcohol and other drug recovery is like dealing with a tiger in a cage. Recovery from eating disorders is like taking that tiger out of the cage three times a day and then taking it for a walk.”

When you couple this global health emergency with the fact that the societal perception of a person’s value has become increasingly commodified, it’s no wonder more women are saying, “I want to recover from my eating disorder and look hot while doing it!” Since today’s version of “hot” apparently equates to being impossibly lean and thin, the goal of solid recovery is in direct opposition with the wish to chisel a Fitspo body.

I should know- while competing as a bodybuilder in 2014, I noticed that as soon as I hit a low body fat percentage during my third competition prep, several eating disorder-related thoughts and obsessions began to resurface. Because I’d been on the recovery path for many years and had a great coach, I was able to view these thoughts objectively and avoid a relapse, but I now recognize the fine line I was walking in pushing body, mind and soul to complete exhaustion. In some ways, sports are an incredible option to overcome an eating disorder or other addiction; I’ve met a lot of other bodybuilders, powerlifters, and distance runners who became athletes on their journey of recovery.

One of the best ways to beat a bad habit, compulsion or addiction is to replace it with a healthier behavior. However, if the addiction or disorder is still active and the person’s secondary goal is focused on the external (to look a certain way) rather than the internal (to self-partner and generate positive inner energy), I can nearly guarantee that the person will not reach a higher level of self-esteem, make peace with her body, or find reprieve from her disorder- quite the opposite.

So, what can you do if you want to develop a better relationship with yourself, with food… and still look a certain way?

First, a focus on the true roots of the eating disorder and a method for releasing some of the internal pain is paramount and best done with a licensed counsellor or psychologist, as this is beyond the realm of coaching. Somatic psychotherapy and EMDR can both be helpful on this journey.

Second, reprogramming your inner messaging system to raise self-esteem, transforming your emotional hooks or vulnerabilities into strengths, and replacing negative behaviors with positive ones are all vital and require long-term commitment. A qualified coach can be highly beneficial here.

Third, relearning all you can about nutrition, food and exercise will provide knowledge, newfound self-respect and a sense of control. I personally find that intuitive eating approaches don’t work all that well for a lot of women with eating disorders due to an impaired interoception response (missed cues for hunger and satiation) and difficulty accessing their emotional barometer, particularly around something triggering like a food buffet. Add to that, ripping away control can actually backfire. Acquiring knowledge about how to eat in a healthy manner reinstills some of that control.

Fourth, cultivating an environment that supports your journey is important, which usually means severely limiting or deleting social media applications like Instagram and refusing to flip through fashion magazines, at least until you feel a comfortable level of confidence within yourself.

Fifth, returning to your body is essential- practices like yoga, mindfulness or prayer, journaling, and an exercise program can be incorporated as a part of your week to turn your focus away from the impossible ideal and toward learning how to love and appreciate yourself as you are.

By coaxing your body toward alignment and honoring your emotions, you’ll begin to feel deeply that you’d rather be friends with yourself than fight against the true you in your quest for the “perfect” body.

Over time, you might just find that you already have the body you’ve always dreamed of, because it supports and houses the authentic spirit of you.

Recovery is a lifelong journey and an unparalleled gift.

If you’re on the path to overcome an eating disorder or an addiction, that means you’re also on a path of self-realization and heightened awareness, which will give you the tools and vitality to build a life you can appreciate in the body you’ve been given while maintaining your integrity and cultivating peace of mind. Recovery lights up the BEING inside the BODY. Now, that’s hot.

I'd love to hear from you- is holding onto the ideal of the "perfect body" keeping you sad and sick? If you're in recovery from an eating disorder, what's helped you stay on track? Leave your comments below. And, if this helps you or may help someone you know, share it! 

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To Build a Better Life, Relocate. Or Not.

We’ve all heard the saying, “your problems will follow you wherever you go.” While the issues we wrestle with may have a profound impact on the external circumstances of our lives like an illness, the dissolution of a relationship, or financial problems, the seeds of those painful experiences are usually rooted within our thought patterns and behaviors. It’s no wonder that many people find themselves in the same types of situations even if they've moved across the country, or the world.

As an expat for a quarter of my life now, I’ve observed that people who relocate thousands of miles from their place of origin are usually attempting to leave hard things behind- not always, but often. It’s no surprise then that expats are at high risk for addictions and self-sabotage. Culture shock, demanding work schedules and a freewheeling lifestyle, coupled with first-class personal baggage, all tend to lead to undesirable habits and behaviors, particularly when an addiction or bad habit had already taking root before stepping foot into a new host country.

Relocating to another state, or even to the other side of the world, can be an excellent option if you’re seeking to transform as long as the circumstances are right and a foundation for better living has already been laid.

By creating a new life for yourself in new territory, you have an opportunity to wipe out many types of triggers, build a new social circle, and design a healthier lifestyle in a location that might be better suited for you.

 If cold weather brings on seasonal affective disorder and increases your alcohol consumption, for instance, it might not be a terrible idea to reconsider moving to a warmer climate. Or, if your entire social life revolves around your neighborhood bar which just happens to be right next to your home, starting over in another town could be the jumpstart you need.

Relocation also provides an amazing opportunity to flex your “can do” muscles by proving to yourself that you aren’t stuck and that you have the power to act in your own best interest. One of the most difficult truths to digest on any transformation journey is that, while you may change quite radically, your loved ones and acquaintances often only recognize you as who you once were when they formed a bond with you, and will treat you accordingly. This constant tug back into your past can make it nearly impossible to continue on your thoughtfully chosen path, particularly when self-sabotaging dynamics are at play, simply because many of those compromising and damaging behaviors were learned. Moving releases some of the rusty hooks, outdated expectations and external definitions of yourself.

Relocating to a new environment can be the catalyst to permanently shift a habit or beat an addiction. Conversely, it can hinder your growth and drag you down even further. So, before you pack your bags, here are five questions to ask yourself:

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1. Are the triggers, temptations and relationships in my current location compromising my ability to move forward as a healthier person and if so, is there anything I can do on my end to change that?

2. Concerning my mindset, am I primarily running away from something or am I moving toward building something new, exciting and grounded?

3. Can I visualize my life for the next five years in the desired new location AND then turn that visualization into a tangible written plan of action?

4. Do I have a reliable support system in my new desired location and if not, what can I do to begin to create one before I plan on moving?

5. Practically speaking, how can I figure out a way to financially and logistically make this relocation work- a way that will support a healthier lifestyle?

Growing into our true selves sometimes requires replanting. The soil we were originally rooted in no longer nourishes us. The sun’s too harsh, the wind knocks down our ability to grow. Weeds have obstructed our view. We can plant a new seed in another place and water that seed with the lessons we’ve collected from our past. Sometimes, this new environment provides us with the conditions we require to blossom into our best version.

Have you considered relocating in order to overcome self-sabotage, an addictive behavior, or to improve your health and well-being? Or, have you already taken the plunge? Leave your thoughts in the comment section- I'd love to hear from you! 

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To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get SELFish. Here’s How

Whether it’s an addiction, a bad habit, a harmful relationship, a self-sabotaging behavior or an inauthentic life- we’re often surprised to discover that letting go of the thing which has been dragging us down for so long doesn’t automatically coax out the rainbows and trumpets. In other words, a shiny new life won’t magically appear just because we’ve made space for it.  

The self-destructive mentality that we’ve been operating from for so long dramatically compromises our coping mechanisms and life skills. After we finally stop ingesting poison, we may realize that we don’t know how to engage in nourishing activities like cultivating healthy relationships, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, or supporting ourselves. Our sense of self is shaky, at best, and the shame that has underpinned our negative circumstances and poor decisions may still be running the show. When shame’s the director of our lives, it’s hard to know who we are and nearly impossible to assert ourselves or speak our truth.

No matter what our age, we’re bound to fall back into our intricately designed traps until we make a conscious decision to completely change how we think and relate with the world, and then seek support from mentors who can assist us in uncovering our life-affirming and creative gems from the dung pile of shame. Quitting a harmful behavior, substance or relationship provides us with clarity, but it doesn’t give us the tools we need to move forward in a healthy and wholehearted way.

Recovery teaches us to be of service and to release the habit of indulgent, destructive self-pity. Self-involved thinking is part of what got us into a mess in the first place! However, recovery also requires that we embrace SELFishness and reclaim our power by learning how to respect our own needs and health.

This can be an incredibly foreign concept to many women, who were taught from a young age to be selfless, accommodating and long-suffering- a character lesson passed down unconsciously through generations. Here are five SELFish practices that I recommend cultivating:

1. SELF-PROTECTION

Author Julia Cameron writes, “it is enlightened self-interest to be selfish enough to be self-protective. Being self-protective may not seem nice. We may say no to invitations that do not serve us.” A majority of women who engage in self-sabotage can easily be categorized as “too nice.” They are people pleasers to the extreme, and have little experience in standing up for themselves. No wonder- statistics show that women battling addictions, eating disorders, and abusive relationships overwhelmingly contend with early childhood trauma, which programs them for victimhood and low self-worth down the road. It’s these very same women who become easy targets for violence in their adult lives if they haven’t learned to protect themselves, as they consistently allow politeness and the need to be liked to override intuition and self-preservation. When we learn how to adequately protect ourselves, we gain the confidence necessary to show our true selves to the world while asserting our values and beliefs through our actions.

2. SELF-SUSTENANCE

Making a successful major life change usually requires the support of a trusted circle of people, as well as the humility to accept our shortcomings and ask for help. Being able to financially and emotionally support ourselves in some way acts as a counterweight in this process while preventing learned helplessness in what should be an empowering, freeing journey. Excuses and “I can’t” mantras are detrimental to recovery and, if uttered often enough, will undermine our efforts to improve our well-being. One of the most effective ways to legitimize our power is to make our own money through a pursuit that nourishes us, even if the paychecks are initially barely enough to cover a morning tea at Starbucks. It is the act of reaching toward self-sustenance that matters in those beginning stages. Through working, you are proclaiming, “I am committed to taking care of myself.” Similarly, by learning how to emotionally nourish ourselves rather than relying on external validation, we find our voice, our courage, and our self-respect.

3. SELF-CARE

In any major transformation, regular self-care is the contract we must make with ourselves in order to redirect attention to the parts of us that were once neglected and step into a more awakened way of living.

Initially, something as simple as taking time to meet with a coach or therapist, or read an uplifting book with a cup of soothing tea in hand will open up the space you need to trust yourself again. Self-care faciliates a romance between the body and the mind, integrating our practical needs with our higher desires and providing us with the energy we need to venture out into the world with our heads held high. Often, self-care is a sacred secret, a ritual that unleashes our childlike spirit. By doing something each day that is loving to ourselves, we generate a grounded and joyful energy which attracts supportive people and opportunities into our lives. Through self-care, we radiate the message, “I’m worth respect and love.”

4. SELF-CONTROL

Self-control is central to human evolution as a developmental perk of our prefrontal cortex. It’s also what allows us to move forward as individuals through conscious decision-making and behavioral regulation. No surprise- those of us who have struggled with an addiction or bad habit tend to be low on self-control, and once we’re able to admit this shortcoming, we’re likelier to develop more of it. Just like our physical muscles, self-control must be exercised each day in order to grow and flourish. This can feel painful and tedious at first! Because excessive self-control is tied to perfectionism, this SELFish skill may be the trickiest to master, particularly if you’re overcoming an eating disorder, exercise addiction or any other type of compulsive pattern. Often, controlling ourselves actually means riding the wave and letting go of insisting on a particular outcome. Instead, we focus on the moment in front of us and take actions aligned to our integrity and purpose. Self-control is considered one of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity, and mindfulness and prayer are two great ways to cultivate it.

5. SELF-DISCOVERY

At the heart of addiction is the belief that we should not be “feeling” creatures, that the emotions we label as negative are to be snuffed out and rejected. In our pursuit of non-feeling, we lose the essence of what it means to be human, to connect, and to love. Without a full range of emotions, we’re unable to understand who we are and what our purpose is. Self-discovery is a process of allowing once-forbidden emotions to resurface, and of tuning in to the wisdom of the body rather than processing everything through logic.

Being willing to rediscover the self means rejecting the dictates of our current society, which demands that we plaster on a happy face at all times and become masters at emotional perfectionism.

When we commit to self-discovery, our emotions flow without censorship, and we learn how to befriend them in order to uncover what we’re really about.

Although the world may tell us otherwise, every single one of us is worth self-respect. That self-respect must be generated from the inside first; once we treat ourselves well, we’ll begin to notice that other people show more kindness and consideration to us. When we put these five SELFish skills to work, we begin to refill the once empty well that drove us to self-destructive behaviors in the first place, and we eventually come to a place where we appreciate our lives enough to stop the cycle of self-sabotage for good.

How are you integrating a life of service, purpose and SELF-ishness? What's the most important thing you're doing to take care of yourself? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you! 

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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!

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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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