Tips for Building Confidence to Lift in the Gym as a Woman

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Each day was the same: I’d step onto the treadmill, kick up the speed, and fly through a few miles. Next up was another self-explanatory cardio machine (the StepMill – an underrated tool but that’s a story for another day!). Last, I’d wind through one of the less traveled areas of the gym to reach the colorful set of dumbbells tucked away in a quiet cove. A few sets of curls and lateral raises and the workout was complete.

Like many women, my workouts used to be mostly cardio punctuated by the occasional weights. This worked well to get my feet wet at the gym – and of course, promoted a healthy heart and overall athleticism.

But the more I learned about exercise and physical transformation, the more it became clear I needed to start lifting if I wanted to reach my goals (I wanted to look like I worked out, not just feel like I did). And I learned that the weights needed to be a lot heavier and more frequent than I’d ever considered.

For one, research shows that lifting has a whole host of mental and physical benefits (see this article for more). It’s the key to unlocking a more athletic-looking build and it improves balance, reduces the risk of some injuries, lowers the risk of osteoporosis, and increases self-esteem, just to name a few.

Even if this is all well and good, though, actually stepping onto the weight room floor can feel nerve-wracking. It’s usually a bunch of sweaty guys who at least seem to know what they’re doing. Where do you fit in?

This post is a guide to getting more confident lifting in the gym as a woman. This is one of the most common challenges I hear from my community, so I wanted to cover it in depth. Hopefully you’ll find something hear that speaks to you.

Three main obstacles to lifting

Many of the issues women face getting off cardio equipment and onto the weight room floor boil down to the following:

  1. Not knowing what to do during a lifting workout. This is a practical gap in knowledge that makes the distance between wanting to lift and actually doing it feel wider.

  2. Feeling intimidated about how other people perceive you. Maybe you’re worried that everyone thinks you don’t know what you’re doing or that they’re judging your body.

  3. Feeling timid about taking up space. It can be scary to navigate around people to reach certain equipment or carve out space to work!

Identify which obstacle most affects you – sometimes, awareness is all you need to set solutions into motion.

First, learn what to do

This might sound super obvious, but having tangible knowledge about how to fill a lifting workout will increase your confidence in itself. It’s kind of like preparing for an important meeting: when you have a game plan ready, your mind can focus on executing the plan rather than stressing out over the details.

To start out, I recommend learning a few exercises in whatever way you choose (perhaps something from YouTube or an experienced friend), implementing them for a few weeks, and evolving from there. Once you get started, you’ll gain traction and new knowledge – the important part is getting out there so the process can start.

Take the exercises you’ve learned and create a workout game plan before you walk into the gym each day. Know exactly how many repetitions and sets you’re doing. Specificity begets confidence! Keep in mind that you’ll want to be progressing each week, implementing gradual, methodical increases in the intensity of the exercises you’re doing. For example, in Week 1, you might do 4 sets of 6 reps of lateral raises, then move up to doing 4 sets of 8 reps during Week 2.

Overcoming intimidation

So once you know what to do, how do you grow the confidence to actually do it? Here are a few things to think about.

First, other people's opinions simply cannot hold you back from getting healthier. You deserve good health just as much as the next person, so try focusing on the importance of that above what Sally next to you might think. No one else has to live in your body, so why should they have a say in how you care for it? Go get what’s yours!

Second – and this is said with love – check your ego at the door. Our egos are the proud, protective voices that don’t want to see us shaking and quivering in our push-up position, giving the exercise our all even if we expose ourselves as beginners. Our egos don’t want to see us hanging from the pull-up bar, squeezing ourselves a quarter of an inch into the air, working on what will one day become a full-blown pull-up. Our egos want us to appear perfect and though that might fly in other areas of our lives sometimes, it will never help us improve in the gym. Lifting requires struggle. Check your ego at the door.

Third, let yourself be a beginner. We’ve all got to be beginners before we can be anything else, so why do we try to skip this step or expect ourselves to already be past it? It’s a logical fallacy. When we’re new and allow ourselves to be, we look at the world in a totally different way – one where we’re actually better at problem-solving.

Last but not least, consider every little moment of intimidation an opportunity to grow. Being intimidated at the gym isn’t a bad thing – it’s actually a gift that can be maximized for your benefit. Any time you notice yourself feeling intimidated, nurture the moment by walking yourself through one of the above mindset shifts. With time, these small moments of growth will add up to having more confidence on and off the gym floor.

Getting more comfortable taking up space

It’s easy to feel like people in the gym are operating under a whole other set of rules and you’d rather be a fly on the wall. But critical to getting more confident in the gym is learning how to assert yourself properly so you have the space and equipment you need to work out.

This all starts with having a plan (see the “what to do” section above!) because from there, you can mentally map out where you need to be in the gym and when. It’s much easier to take up space when you feel like you have a clear direction.

While there’s a lot to say about gym etiquette, it boils down to this: don’t interfere with people while they’re in the middle of something just like you wouldn’t do in other spaces. If part of your plan involves walking past someone lifting heavy dumbbells, wait for them to be done with their set before proceeding. If you need the equipment or space someone else is using but you aren’t sure when it’ll free up, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the person how many sets they have left while they’re resting.

When it’s time to interact with someone in the gym, I recommend taking a deep breath and doing your best to exude confidence. People tend to respond to whatever cues we give them so by trying to embody confidence, you’re more likely to produce a result that actually makes you feel that way.

Putting it all into practice

If you’re feeling inspired to pick up some weights, take a moment to write a little “to do” list to help you get going. It might involve asking a fit friend to teach you some new exercises or planning out your workouts for the week.

Have fun!

Xoxo
Valerie

Granny Power Walking

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I lace up my sneakers and slip into my coat. It’s been a marathon day sitting in front of the computer, so I’m excited to shake off the dust and move my body.

I get to the bottom of the stairs and set off for a lap around the apartment complex. It may take a few steps or a few minutes, but eventually I feel myself start to delight in the moment – both in moving my body and in the humor of doing what I affectionately call the “granny power walk.”

It might sound unassuming at first, and I’m the first to tout the importance of challenging workouts, but the granny power walk – or a medium-pace outdoor walk – gets a lot of bang for its buck.

For one, it’s time you spend moving rather than sitting, which in itself is helpful. But for another, it’s restorative, convenient, and free, making it a great complement to any strength training routine and especially useful for busy seasons of life. It even boosts creative thought.

Here are some ideas for getting started with granny power walks of your own.

What exactly is it and how do I do it?

I think of the granny power walk as a focused walk intended to help me reboot and get light exercise. (I never thought I’d find myself defining the term “granny power walk,” but I’m not mad about it!)

Ideally, I go for an hour, which is often doable since there’s no commute time involved. Sometimes I get warm and even break a little sweat, but my heart rate isn’t very elevated (it’s fairly flat around my apartment grounds). The point is to recenter, not to increase cardio capacity or build strength.

Walking is “me time, so I do what’s relaxing. That means minimal texting, phone calls, and email. Because walking often sparks creativity, I shoot off texts or emails here and there, but only when it’s truly inspired and not if it’s interfering with my peace.

What I do focus on is how my body feels. I’m not spacing out. I’m focused on having healthy posture and walking in a way that protects my joints. I believe one of the biggest joys of moving your body is feeling athletic and powerful as you do it!

Because the granny power walk should be relaxing, I suggest wearing comfortable clothing and shoes that won’t be distracting or restrictive, especially once you warm up part way into your walk.

When should I do this?

As you can tell, you can power walk during most times of year! Proper clothing is the key. I walk 9 months out of the year living in the Northeast.

There are 4 main times you might consider doing a power walk:

  1. During an especially busy stretch. It helps you move your body without spending essential time going to and from the gym – plus if you’re overstressed and underrested, it won’t add to those stressors like a tough workout might.

  2. As a complement to strenuous exercise. You might strength train and do cardio 3-4 days per week and power walk 1-2 days of the week.

  3. During your lunch break on a day when you can’t make it to the gym. Just make sure you have the proper footwear!

  4. After getting home late from work. When the day stretches on, you might find yourself hesitant to go to the gym in the late evening – especially if you’re worried it’ll interfere with your ability to sleep (which can happen!). This is the perfect time to come home and set out for a power walk, assuming it is safe to do so in your neighborhood.

As far as time of day, I recommend power walking whenever you need a boost of creative thought and brain power – for example before you need to write or sink your teeth into a big project.

I’ve personally found two times that work best for my needs right now: in the morning, on a day when I’m not yet clear on my priorities and feel overwhelmed, or in the late afternoon when I need to reboot and reassess work priorities before finishing for the day. In the first case, I use my walk to recenter and remind myself that I have time for everything, and then one by one make sense of how to best approach what I need to get done. I’m always amazed at how quickly an overwhelming day becomes doable when I take the time to reflect on a game plan. In the second case, I often feel my brain power start to peter out by late afternoon and know I won’t be able to work as efficiently if I don’t move my body first. So I use the walk to rest my mind and let decisions come to me rather than forcing them.

The bottomline

Walking isn’t a replacement for more challenging movement, but it is a great tool to keep in your back pocket for days that call for more proverbial space and less effort. Often the hour I spend away from screens and simply breathing fresh air is the most useful, fulfilling time I spend all day.

Budget-Friendly Wellness Habits

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I called one of my dear friends for advice. I’d just started my business and was living in New York City, trying every which way to piece together how to eat whole, healthy foods on my modest new business owner budget – and this friend had experience in that area.

“So, my question is, how do I eat organic?” I paused. “It just… doesn’t seem.... POSSIBLE...”

We both burst out laughing. It was funny because there was so much mutual understanding about the absurd struggle it can be to do very basic healthy things. So often, price is the elephant in the room when talking about wellness.

Here’s what I’ve learned both out of my own necessity and through my coaching practice, though. While some healthy products or services aren’t accessible to everyone – which in some cases is absolutely not okay – there are lots of free healthy habits that those at any income level should know about. And that’s what today’s post is all about.

As you’re reading the list, note which habits resonate with you the most and give them a try today. Pick and choose what works for you and adapt them to your own daily life if you’re inspired to do so.

Here are my top habits for well-being on a budget:

1. Journal.

Research shows journaling – especially by hand rather than typing – can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also improve your memory, boost your immune system, and better your mood.

You might decide to journal when you’re having a challenging moment and want to process your feelings, or simply as a regular daily check-in. Get creative with what you journal about, but an easy way to start is by doing stream of consciousness journaling – or getting still and writing the truest words you can find without worrying about the flow or mechanics of what you write. It can also be helpful to write about what you were grateful for that day, or about what you appreciate about yourself. As a last example, you could choose a relevant daily prompt to address a few days in a row.

Try to journal at least a couple days a week. The effects are cumulative, so the more regularly and consistently you do it, the better.

If you don’t already own a journal, writing on whatever paper you do have will work just fine. I’ve also found some amazing journals in the clearance sections of T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s – $3.99 for journals that last me about 5 months with daily journaling!

2. Keep your electronics dimmed and on Night Shift mode 24/7.

The writing’s on the wall – research shows blue light isn’t great for long-term eye health and it certainly disrupts our natural sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production, which can result in hormone issues, weight loss resistance, and even weight gain.

When you put your devices on Night Shift mode and dim the brightness, some blue light gets cut out, lessening the impact.

It can take a couple days to get used to the darker, warmer-toned screen and you’ll want to go back to “normal” whenever you’re doing something that involves assessing color, like reviewing imagery for work or editing photos.

3. Drink more water!

I know I mention this a lot, but it can’t be said enough. Drinking more water is seriously one of the cheapest, easiest ways to have more energy, feel alert, and promote weight loss, if that’s your goal. Three liters a day is a good starting place for people of many body weights. If you have trouble getting yourself to drink water, try using a cute mug or bottle!

4. Recharge by spending time outdoors.

You know when you find yourself walking in nature, maybe in the forest or on the beach, and feel yourself exhale with peace? Nothing stands in for the effects of spending time outside, whether that’s taking a hike or walking outside after work.

During particularly busy days, I like to schedule a walk outside to reboot my brain. I’ll accomplish as much as I can, then lace up my shoes and briskly walk around my neighborhood for 30-60 minutes. The fresh air and sounds of chirping birds helps me recenter, feel more creative, and assess the best way to finish my work for the day.

5. Be screen-free for the first 30 minutes of the day.

There’s a big difference between scrolling through Instagram or replying to emails just after turning off your alarm and taking a bit of time to wake up without any external inputs from technology. Of course, there are some instances in which you might need to get online first thing, but often it can wait 30 minutes until you’ve had a glass of water, made the bed, brushed your teeth, or otherwise kicked off the day. Many people see a direct relationship between when they hit the ground running and have a reactive day, and conversely when they center themselves before the day begins and have a more proactive day.

6. Meditate. If you don’t already know how, get started with free guided meditations.

Time in meditation multiplies your time in focus and effectiveness. It can also reduce stress and anxiety and improve decision-making.

If you’re new to meditation, I recommend checking out the Insight Timer app (not a sponsored mention), which has 15,000+ free guided meditations.

This is what Insight Timer looks like in the Apple App Store.

This is what Insight Timer looks like in the Apple App Store.

Here's where to find the library of free guided meditations.

Here's where to find the library of free guided meditations.

7. Dim the lights to wind down for bedtime.

One way to help keep a healthy body clock and get adequate, restful sleep is to create the conditions for good sleep before bed. In other words, dim the lights to help your body get the cue that it’s night time and start shutting down.This can also help you psychologically wind down from the day and get more restful sleep.

Putting it into action

Pick a habit or two that spoke to you and try it out. Chances are if it stood out to you, you’ll get a lot out of it! As always, keep me posted on how it goes for you.

Xoxo

Valerie

References:

  1. Journaling may improve memory, boost immune systems, and better moods:

    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/emotional-and-physical-health-benefits-of-expressive-writing/ED2976A61F5DE56B46F07A1CE9EA9F9F/core-reader

  2. Blue light can disrupt natural sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

  3. Sleep deprivation may result in hormone issues, weight loss resistance, and weight gain:

    https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825

All About Keto – And Why You Might Want to Skip It

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Necessary medical disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical condition. Consult with your doctor about making any changes to your diet.

I’ve been getting a ton of questions about keto lately that I wanted to address here on the blog – what is it, is it good for me, is it sustainable, will it really help me lose weight and allow me to feel my best, healthiest self?

This post will cover all of that. I’ll get into some of keto’s benefits and drawbacks and give you my overall take on whether you should give it a try. My main focus is always on helping you live a healthy lifestyle that you can do forever, so that’s the lens from which I’ll be looking at this.

Overall, keto’s got a certain appeal: legitimate science to back up *some* of its benefits and a clear cut methodology to follow. In fact, “keto” was the top health-related search term on Google in 2018 (in the U.S.).

But the bottomline is this: research suggests that keto is a helpful treatment for some medical conditions, including seizures, traumatic brain injuries, and diabetes. If you don’t have any of those health problems, however, I’d recommend passing on it without thinking twice. For most people, eating extremely low carb isn’t sustainable whatsoever – and even if keto’s used as a temporary weight or fat loss program, it doesn’t teach you best practices to keep up once you reach your goal.

At the end of the day, we all have to do what’s right for us. I hope this post helps you do just that.

What’s keto and how does it work?

If you’re already fairly familiar with keto, go ahead and skip to the next section.

“Keto,” short for “ketogenic diet,” is a nutritional protocol that calls for eating foods with very high fat, very low carbohydrate, and medium-high protein content. On the keto diet, carbohydrates usually make up around 5-10% of your daily calories, compared to the 25-50% that many other eating styles adhere to. (Are red flashing warning lights going off in your head yet? This is extreme!) There are a few different variations of the keto diet, but in general, they have that trait in common.

For example, if you were following keto, you’d expect to nearly avoid foods like grains, fruits, beans, and sugary foods in favor of meats, poultry, fatty fish, greens, non-starchy veggies, and nuts.

The goal is to enter what’s called “ketosis,” or a metabolic state in which you have heightened levels of ketones (compounds made from the breakdown of fats) in the blood. When you’re in ketosis, you tend to feel more mentally focused and you’re more efficient at burning fat because your body’s breaking fat down for energy. Being in ketosis also lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, which has a whole range of health benefits that go beyond the scope of this post.

Keto was actually developed about 100 years ago to treat epileptic seizures in children. These days, it’s made a comeback as a medical protocol, but also as a diet marketed to the general public… which is where things get a little sticky.

What does the research say?

There are three camps to consider here: keto’s benefits for medical conditions, weight loss, and general health. The research is still ongoing and relatively new, with some promising factors.

As far as medical conditions go, keto has been shown to be helpful for some cases of:

  • Diabetes and prediabetes

  • Traumatic brain injuries

  • Epilepsy

  • Neurodegenerative diseases

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Definitely work with your medical professional if you’re interested in exploring keto as a medical intervention. My education is in food and fitness – I’m not a doctor!

How about keto for weight loss? Multiple significant pieces of research (including a review of studies on the topic and a 600+-person research trial) have concluded that a low carb diet isn’t better than a low fat diet, or vice versa, for optimal weight loss. Why? Weight loss results from being in a calorie deficit, which can be achieved by eating either low carb or low fat. So the takeaway is to choose whichever type of diet you can maintain. Sustainable weight loss comes from being able to eat in a way that’s relatively healthy over a long period of time and improves your quality of life.

So why’s keto everywhere these days?

This chart shows the trends in Google searches for the term “keto” between 2010 and 2019, with a noted increase in the number of searches in 2016 and a greater increase in 2018.

This chart shows the trends in Google searches for the term “keto” between 2010 and 2019, with a noted increase in the number of searches in 2016 and a greater increase in 2018.

A few reasons:

  1. It plays into (unwarranted) carb phobia. Just like fat was villinized in the ‘80s, carbs have gotten an unfair bad rap. The truth is, they exist in nature for a reason.

  2. It’s extreme – and there’s an appeal to that. For some, that extreme might appeal because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be healthier. For others, the extreme could appeal because it promises instant gratification. In any case, intensity is often sexy.

  3. There’s solid science touting its benefits. This isn’t just your next made up magic pill – it’s backed up by convincing science, which makes it harder to recognize as a fad.

My take: keto doesn’t teach best practices and it’s not a way of life

As I mentioned earlier, the research showing keto to be an effective treatment for some medical conditions is pretty promising.

But would I choose eating around 5% of my daily calories from carbs as the first line of attack for losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, either as a short or long term strategy? Absolutely not. I’m wary of any approaches that nearly cut out entire categories of foods and I think you should be too.

As a short term approach, keto might work to lose weight and improve other health markers, like insulin sensitivity. But what happens once we lose some weight? How do we eat after that to maintain it? We’re sort of back at square one because keto doesn’t have any built in guidelines for sustainability or forever eating. There are better ways to lose weight short term that do teach us best practices for care and nourishment and that help us maintain them over time.

As a long term approach, it’s worth considering if eating severely low carb is truly a way of life for you. Ask yourself: is it really realistic to imagine spending the rest of my life eating almost all proteins and fats with hardly any carbs (remember, that’s not even just no pasta or sweets – that’s also little fruit and tons of protein and fats for life)? Then, there’s the question of whether it’s healthy to nearly cut out an entire category of food over the long haul. If you ask me, sure, there are some people out there who can maintain keto and have a high quality of life with great health markers over time. But that’s just not most people.

In general, many of keto’s benefits can be approximated with a sensible, healthy diet – and without all the drawbacks.

Consider the benefits of keto:

  • Mental clarity – can be approximated with adequate quality sleep; drinking enough water; eating meals of proteins, healthy fats, veggie carbs, and sometimes starchy carbs; and meditation.

  • Fat loss – can be achieved with a sensible diet and without cutting out entire categories of food.

  • Lower blood sugar and increased insulin sensitivity – again, can be achieved by eating mostly whole foods, adequate protein, healthy fats, veggies, and some starchy carbs.

And now think about some of the drawbacks:

  • Food obsession – we all know how it goes when we try to rigidly abstain from certain foods for a prolonged period of time. It takes up tons of mental energy and often results in us sacrificing other important areas of life.

  • Low energy and poor workouts – after a while, eating low carb will probably compromise your energy and your workouts will suffer.

  • Compensatory eating – feelings of deprivation often lead us to swing in the other direction and even binge eat. Even if you can maintain keto for months or years at a time, there’s still a significant risk of compensatory eating on the other side. Not worth it, if you ask me.

In sum, keto has recently and understandably been in the hot seat of many weight loss conversations, both for and against. But ultimately, if you’re looking for the most strategic, efficient way to lead a healthy lifestyle forever, I’d say skip keto and get back to the basics.

What are your thoughts on keto? Tell me below!

References:

  1. Keto was a top health-related search term on Google in the United States in 2018:

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/21/health/health-questions-2018-google-explainer/index.html.

  2. Keto may be beneficial for people with certain medical conditions, including epilepsy, diabetes, and gut imbalances:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581442

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633336/

  3. Carbohydrates usually make up around 5% of daily calories on the keto diet:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

  4. Keto diet basics, including what to eat and what not to eat:

    https://perfectketo.com/

  5. Keto was developed approximately 100 years ago to treat epileptic seizures in children:

    https://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-the-Ketogenic-Diet.aspx

  6. Low-fat and low-carb diets produce similar weight loss results:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035144

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679559

  7. Finding a diet that is personally sustainable is significant for weight loss:

    https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo20088

  8. Keto is likely not sustainable for the average person:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089

    https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/717451

  9. Food deprivation often leads to binge eating:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694569/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10942913

Making Peace With My Belly

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With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I’m sharing a story about my path to body love and deep self-acceptance. Especially my relationship with my belly, the part of my body that used to bear the brunt of my self-criticism and that I know many other women are dissatisfied with at some point or another. It’s a story of the path to unconditional self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance.

This winter, I was laying on the massage table, face up, with my masseuse Beth’s fingers working away at the tension between my hip and stomach when I got transported back. As she hit a certain depth, I flashed to a moment that was defining in terms of becoming friendly with my belly – after years of pain.

Remembering this moment not just intellectually but in my muscles was such a beautiful reminder that some of my richest, most healing moments came out of incredible challenges.

The particular moment I flashed back to was during an otherwise ordinary yoga class years before in which a tide turned. It was a dark, brisk evening and towards the end of class, our teacher Marti asked us to lay on our stomachs, rolling up a bath towel to place on the inside of our hips – right where Beth was working.

“Slowly rock back and forth to flush the toxins out of your liver,” Marti said.

It seemed easy enough.

“Now, as you’re working, ask what this area of your body would say to you,” she continued. “What would it say if it could talk?”

Almost before I understood what was happening, the words “you’re so mean to me” came from my belly.

You’re so mean to me,” over and over again. “You’re so mean to me.”

Tears started spilling out of my eyes and all over my yoga mat. But they weren’t tears of despair, with a heavy, difficult feeling. They were release and relief. Catharsis.

Finally, after years of scrutinizing my belly, looking at it in the mirror and always trying to make it smaller, I could hear what needed to be said to feel free. After years of overinvesting in outside wisdom, like how many calories and macronutrients to eat, and then letting go of rigidity in search of a routine I could do forever… I could feel exactly where I stood with my body. After trying to criticize my way into loving my belly for so long, I could see why my negative self-talk wasn’t working or creating the life I wanted. Perhaps more importantly, after releasing so much emotion, finding solutions felt like the easy part.

I walked out of the yoga studio into the darkness that night about 100 pounds lighter. And in the following months, I diligently worked to nurture that relationship with my body. Little by little, a small bit of confidence and growth had become a lot. It was novel – the most me I’d felt.

Here’s what I did (and still do!) that helped:

  • Regular yoga practice: I continued showing up on my mat regularly, eager to know myself better and better. Yoga helped me learn to relate to myself in a new, gentler way than other forms of movement. I think everyone can get something out of yoga, including a more peaceful relationship with their bodies.

  • Journaling: I’d sit down each night to journal and reflect on the successes from the day – and identify a solution for the challenges going forward. Research shows journaling can help you process emotions, which can decrease stress and help you form new, more loving patterns.

  • Digital detoxing: This was a big move, but I deleted my social media accounts to reconnect with my own opinions rather than those I was absorbing and mistaking for fact. For you, this might mean putting your phone on airplane mode on the weekend, deleting social apps off your phone, or installing a temporary social media blocker to spend less time on social.

  • Letting go of what wasn’t meant for me to make space for what was: I broke up with someone who wasn’t showing me respect in a (hopefully!) straightforward, yet loving way. This left me with more mental space and energy for other things that nourished me more, like new friendships and writing.

  • Proactive research: I studied a lot about the areas of my life I thought needed work. I spent dedicated time – a few hours a week, at least – seeking answers and knowledge. Healing takes time, learning, and effort.

  • Bringing love back into the kitchen: Instead of cooking in a distracted way, I slowed way down – chopping, stirring, and plating as an act of of love. It may sound small, but making your cooking time meditative and joyful shouldn’t be underestimated.

We’re all on our different paths, so our routes to body love will all have unique twists and turns, challenges, and joys. It can be so hard to remind ourselves that beauty has nothing to do with what our tummies or bodies look like and everything to do with what we define as beautiful. It’s an experience worth fighting for, and one that I only encountered in adulthood, because we all deserve to feel at home in our bodies and comfortable in our skin.

Sending you all lots of love this week and always 💓

Tackling the New Year the Forever Plan Way

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Since health is such a significant area of life, it’s likely some of your New Year’s goals involve working out or eating well – in all senses of the word.

So amidst new year diet “resets” and unnecessarily extreme workout routines – which might seem inviting if you’re feeling sluggish or frustrated after the holidays – here’s the 411 on how to tackle the New Year the Forever Plan way.

In case you’re new to the blog, when I say the “Forever Plan,” I mean a lifestyle you can picture doing indefinitely, regardless of any wellness struggles you might have previously endured. It takes proper guardrails, practice, and a little (okay, a lot) of tenacity.

Here’s the short list of healthy habits to devote your attention to, the characteristics of a sustainable routine, and what to do when – not if – you mess up.

But first: excitement vs. stress

If you’re anything like me, you find working towards important goals, like tending to your health, pretty exciting. But that excitement can easily turn into stress – maybe we can’t stop thinking about the thing we’re trying to change, we enter a cycle of self-doubt, or we feel clenched and tight-chested when that thing crosses our mind. We often place high expectations on ourselves and feel pressure to excel.

So before proceeding, it’s worth asking: “Am I excited or stressed about my New Year’s intentions?”

When it comes to living a Forever Plan, excitement is a big indicator that our approach will be sustainable while stress is often a sign that something in our approach, mindset, or goals needs tweaking before we proceed.

Excitement often means our desire to take care of ourselves comes from our own desire to be well rather than as a need to prove ourselves or compare ourselves to others – that we know we can succeed no matter what (a key belief for sustainability, to be sure!).

On the other hand, significant stress is usually an indication that we need to pause, examine our motivations, and adjust the sails. If you’re in that boat (pun intended), think about the following tips as things to work towards rather than as something to take on all at once. You might find that you’re already doing one or more of these healthy habits – or feel genuinely excited to get started – and see how that one thing evolves into the rest.

What are the characteristics of a healthy routine you can do forever?

Getting into a sustainable routine is about more than what you do. It’s also about how you do it. Many healthy lifestyle approaches teach you the what – what specific foods to eat, what kind of exercise you should be doing, etc. – but not how you’re going to build these habits and work them into your life.

So let’s get into the how. There are three big success principles here:

  1. Focus on the 20% of healthy behaviors that get 80% of the results. Have you ever tried to fill your day with healthy habits but then swung in the other direction, doing precisely none of them? Yep, me too. Instead of attempting to boil the ocean, living a Forever Plan is about being devoted to the biggest dial movers diligently and joyfully.  More on what those are in a second.

  2. Work on mindset, not just tactics. Making healthier choices the majority of the time is a matter of understanding not just what to do, but how you personally make decisions. It’s a mental game of being aware of your thoughts and redirecting them to stay focused on your goals just as much as it is about hitting the gym and eating greens.

  3. Use the 80/20 guideline, which is about eating whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time and having more indulgent items the rest. We simply aren’t designed to completely eliminate any food groups and so the goal shouldn’t be to cut them out, only to feel deprived and swing back to the other side of the pendulum. By allowing ourselves to indulge some of the time, we end up eating healthier a much larger portion of the time.

So how do we do that?

The 7 major dial movers

Certain behaviors have a much bigger bang for your buck than others. For example, regularly drinking 3L of water per day is way more impactful for how you feel, look, and think than eating a serving of goji berries. Both are healthy habits, but drinking water is a big dial mover.

The key behaviors to reach your “goal body” are simpler than we might expect. They include:

  1. Eat 3-4 meals a day made up of a protein, healthy fat, and veggie carb plus starchy carbs at some of these meals, depending on your goals. Implementing this well alone will transform how you look, think, and feel. This is a great habit to focus on by itself for a month or two before introducing more habits.

  2. Move your body at least 4 days per week. Weightlifting will help you change your body composition the most, but in the long term, simply moving more than not is what matters.

  3. Drink 3L of water per day. Being hydrated gives us more energy, makes us more alert, and helps all the systems in our body function properly. Simply drinking more water can be the energy boost I need for the day.

  4. Get enough restful sleep. For most adults, that means 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep with as few distractions as possible, especially the ones we can control. So try unwinding before bed, reducing exposure to blue light at night, sleeping in a cool environment, and not checking the phone during the night.

  5. Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day. Meditation aids in stress reduction and helps us think more clearly.

  6. Visualize your goal, including the obstacles it’ll take to get there. Life is busy, and so refocusing on your goal each and every day keeps you pointed in that direction.

  7. Journal at night. Process what went well and what didn’t during the day and lay out a schedule for when you’ll do your healthy habits the following day.

If all you did for the rest of your life was focus on these habits (barring any medical conditions), you’d probably be in very good shape (pun intended).

What to do when, not if, you make a mistake

I definitely struggle with accepting my mistakes in other areas of life and know how painful it can be to redirect the ship after making a healthy habit mistake. The fact is though that we’ll all make mistakes. So having a plan for what to do when that happens is key. It’s part of the whole game plan!

My approach to making mistakes comes down to three steps:

  1. Learn from it

  2. Move on

  3. Take your next healthy step.

Learn from why you strayed. Did an old decision-making pattern set in that should be replaced? Did you not plan enough in advance? It’s all information that’ll help you make more aligned decisions going forward.

Move on. Easier said than done – and this takes practice – but beating ourselves up about mistakes doesn’t actually get us closer to where we want to go. Next!

Take your next healthy step. Refer to the section on the 7 dial movers and lay out a little schedule for how each will fit into your day. Then, execute your plan for the first one and go onward from there.

I hope this sparks inspiration for your most fulfilling, healthiest year yet. Keep me in the loop about your progress by coming over to Instagram @valeriebisharat. I love hearing from you!

Predictions for the Biggest Wellness Trends of 2019

When I polled my Instagram community recently, 95% of the voters were interested in a post about my top predicted wellness trends of 2019. I could talk about this stuff all day, so it was fun to hear that many of you are into it too!

But here’s something important to keep in mind as you’re reading: if you’re dedicated to living your Forever Plan, or a fitness and food routine that you can picture doing indefinitely, spend time getting the basics down first and try not to get overwhelmed by bells and whistles. That is to say make sure you’re doing the simple things like eating whole foods, moving your body, and drinking water. Those alone will get you much further than chasing the latest and greatest trends without having a solid foundation underneath you.

So, let’s get to it. Here are my top predicted wellness trends of 2019.

1. CBD blows up, in part thanks to new federal legislation

Drinking coffee with drops of CBD oil in it at a cafe in Portland, Maine.

Drinking coffee with drops of CBD oil in it at a cafe in Portland, Maine.

Whether you’re at the grocery store, scrolling through Instagram, or watching the news, you’ll see a lot more about CBD – especially since the Farm Bill passed this month, making hemp legal at the federal level.

In fact, let’s put a number on that increase: according to market analysts, the American CBD market is expected to hit $20 billion by 2022. (!!)

In case you’re unfamiliar, CBD’s a compound that shows up in many forms, including oils, capsules, and gummies, and has been linked to decreased anxiety, decreased chronic pain, better sleep, and other pros. Though it may be extracted from cannabis or hemp, CBD isn’t marijuana and it doesn’t make you high.

CBD’s gotten buzz – and will in an even bigger way going forward – for a few reasons.

For one, CBD is wrapped up in a fairly new scientific discovery: that of the endocannabinoid system. This system helps regulate all different processes in the body and its discovery has sparked buzz about the potential for more successful treatment of issues like anxiety, depression, poor sleep, chronic pain, epilepsy, and even schizophrenia.

Personally, I think CBD is a breath of fresh air. For many people, it’s a reminder that these issues aren’t personal shortcomings and that, in many cases, the symptoms can be improved.

So, CBD can be a low effort way to see potentially significant results. Which is dope – unless you’re only looking for a shortcut :)

My take: CBD can be wonderful, but if your goal is to be healthier, stick to CBD oil instead of the zillions of offshoots you’ll see like gummies, cookies, and lotions. (Where there’s money to be made, there’ll be gimmicks and spinoffs galore!) Eating gummies to take CBD, for example, is like eating fruit tart to get the health benefits of fruit – for the most part, it’s healthiest to just eat the fruit itself. Also, buy from a reputable brand! This is critical since the CBD industry is under-regulated.

To learn more about CBD, check out “The ABCs of CBD Oil.”

2. At-home workouts continue to spread, fueled by our busy lifestyles and advancements in technology

In our busy culture, life is full – so sometimes it’s smarter to skip the drive to the gym and work out right in your living room.

And technology advancements are making it easier to do just that. The Peloton at-home spin bike which launched last year, complete with streaming and on-demand video-based spin classes, was one big example of how workouts are moving out of the gym/studio and into the home.

My take: At-home workout solutions, especially pricier ones, are best suited for four main categories of people. 1) Parents, whose time is usually the most strapped, 2) workout beginners, who want to ease into a routine, 3) people dedicated to their fitness who don’t necessarily enjoy working out and therefore wouldn’t miss the feeling of working out in a gym or studio, and 4) busy professionals who don’t have convenient access to a gym. If you’re not in one of these categories, I’d personally think hard about whether spending significant money on at-home workout equipment is the best use of your dollars. It usually takes just as much devotion to rally yourself to get moving at home as it does to get in your car and drive to the gym.

3. Dry infrared saunas – particularly the ones you can keep at home – have a moment

Infrared saunas use heaters to warm up your body from the inside rather than at the skin’s surface like with regular saunas and steam rooms. The goal is to sweat, which some people say helps lower blood pressure, hasten weight loss, improve skin problems, detoxify, reduce chronic pain, increase circulation, and boost cell health – although the science in many of these areas is still early. Infrared saunas have similar benefits to steam rooms, but because they create a dry environment, most people are able to stay in them longer and thus might see more benefits.

These days, for about $2,000, you can have a solo infrared sauna delivered to your door!

Why are these things getting more popular? Well, for one, who wouldn’t want to have a relaxing, spa-like experience right at home? Also, infrared saunas are part of a movement towards using newer technologies to remove harmful chemicals from the body and boost overall health.

My take: If you have expendable income, using an infrared sauna could be a nice way to relax – but if you’re on a tighter budget, don’t sweat it (pun intended). As for the other supposed health benefits, the science hasn’t quite caught up to the hype yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually does, but research takes time and until there’s a little more info, I’ll personally be spending my money in more proven areas.

4. Healthy food becomes more geographically accessible

Healthier food options are going to become increasingly available in gas stations, big box retailers, and grocery store chains. The focus on eating healthy has (finally!) become so popular, big brands are responding to the demand.

Here are some examples: in the past couple years, Starbucks started carrying Perfect Bars, Spindrift drinks, and sous vide egg bites, to name a few. Walmart launched Whole30-compliant frozen meals. Many gas stations now stock grass-fed beef jerky in addition to the typical grain-fed options. And this pattern will only continue for now.

My take: Obviously, I’m thrilled about this. As I think many of us know, healthy food becoming more geographically accessible is a huge step in the right direction – but making it financially more accessible is critical too. Also, bear in mind that most of it isn’t exactly farmer’s market quality, but in a pinch, is better than the alternative.

5. Indie healthy food brands continue getting snapped up by big food conglomerates

In the past few years, a handful of smaller health food companies like EPIC Bar and Primal Kitchen have been acquired by big food conglomerates like General Mills and Kraft. Since the healthy food industry is only growing and big food is very aware that consumers are increasingly trying to avoid their junk, they’re buying truly healthy food companies as a way to maintain their overall market share. Sometimes, the product integrity ends up suffering (which is obviously disappointing), and other times it doesn’t. I predict we’ll see at least a couple major healthy food company acquisitions in 2019.

My take: As long as product integrity is upheld, I’m fine with these acquisitions. If I can’t have a world without big food, I want a world where big food is desperate to make genuinely healthy brands widely successful.

6. Clean beauty gains traction

This year, I got a makeup lesson from an incredible clean makeup artist. I wanted to learn how to do a quick look that would go with my casual style and that I could wear to the gym on a busy day. This is what we came up with – I feel like myself in it and love that I can sweat during a workout with peace of mind that the ingredients on my skin are top-notch.

This year, I got a makeup lesson from an incredible clean makeup artist. I wanted to learn how to do a quick look that would go with my casual style and that I could wear to the gym on a busy day. This is what we came up with – I feel like myself in it and love that I can sweat during a workout with peace of mind that the ingredients on my skin are top-notch.

We know that what we put in our bodies should be healthy – but what about what we put on our skin? Enter clean beauty. If you’re unfamiliar, clean beauty refers to beauty products made without harmful chemicals. It’s kind of like eating whole, organic foods versus processed ones with pesticides. And it’s one of the fastest growing categories in the entire beauty industry.

We’ll see more Instagrammers plugging clean beauty products and media exploring the clean movement. Just a few weeks ago, Keeping Up With the Kardashians aired an episode that discussed clean beauty products. In a few years, I predict there will be popular awareness of clean beauty.

My take: I wasn’t a makeup person until I found clean beauty, and after falling in love with the ingredients and passionate companies making these amazing products, I’m hooked. So much so that as many of you guys know, I even blog for a clean makeup company called NakedPoppy. NakedPoppy makes it easy to buy clean beauty online by matching you with clean makeup tailored to your skin tone, coloring, and preferences. If you’re interested in making the switch to clean makeup, head to NakedPoppy.com and take the 3-min quiz.

This goes without saying, but I only recommend companies and products I’m obsessed with and am very particular about what makes the cut. This isn’t a sponsored post.

7. Mental health takes center stage alongside health and fitness

Thanks to the hard work of some brave activists, the stigma surrounding mental health is starting to lift. And given recent world events, I think everyone here is on the same page that tending to our mental health is a necessity, not a bonus.

I predict we’ll see more conversations about mental health in the national media, including how mental and physical health are deeply interwoven. A few years down the line, I particularly think there will be widespread awareness of the ways gut health impacts depression.

My take: Super excited about this development. I hope it continues to make seeking support easier and safer.

Excited to hear your thoughts! Leave any questions and reactions in the comments below.

References:

  1. CBD market value is expected to skyrocket by 2022: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarpenter/2018/12/20/legal-hemp-in-2019-may-be-a-boon-for-stressed-out-american-farmers/#370146568f3b

  2. Further reading on the functions of the endocannabinoid system: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17369778

  3. Further reading on the potential benefits of infrared light therapy: https://www.healthline.com/health/red-light-therapy

  4. Clean beauty is one of the fastest growing categories in the beauty industry:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardkestenbaum/2018/09/09/beauty-industry-biggest-trends-skin-care-loreal-shiseido-lauder/#47d50bf06982

  5. Further reading on the connection between gut health and depression:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

9 Ways to Give the Gift of Wellness this Holiday Season

Is it just me or have you spent the last few weeks strategizing the perfect holiday gifts? I love thinking through what each of my loved ones would enjoy and settling on the item that’s the right balance of joy, utility, and affordability.

To hopefully make your holiday shopping easier, I rounded up my favorite gifts that support a healthy lifestyle (p.s. – this is not a sponsored post. I’m just really enthusiastic about each of these items). Enjoy!

valerie bisharat wellness gift guide

1. bkr glass water bottle, $48

We all know reusable water bottles are better for the earth – but glass ones are healthier too. Plastic bottles can leach harmful chemicals into the water. The bkr glass water bottle is  designed to be durable and is dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. There are lots of colors and sizes available, but I recommend the 1ml version because it has a wider neck, making it easier to fill.

2. Maison Miru tiny crystal studs, regularly $29 with launch price of $6.99

Love these studs for everyday wear. They’re sophisticated but still simple enough that they match both gym and regular clothes. The posts are also short enough that they’re comfy to sleep in and to work out in. At the time of this writing, they’re available at the price of shipping as a promotion – check out the product description for more details. (Also, I personally got a pair this way and can confirm the company is legit).

3. Intelligent Nutrients certified organic hand sanitizer, $14.00

Enter the perfect stocking stuffer for the person in your life focused on using products free of harmful chemicals. Intelligent Nutrients is one of the cleanest companies in the game – but no need for skepticism, this sanitizer still works by using alcohol to kill germs. It’s become one of my top gym bag staples.

4. Vuori Performance Joggers, $84

Perfect for the gal who loves blending comfort with style, these joggers are great to wear while doing errands, working out, or practicing yoga. And they feel like butter. I prefer the heather gray version for its versatility with my wardrobe.

5. Stance Super Invisible 3-pack, $25

These are socks worth writing home about. They’re no show and stay firmly in place with no rolling or slipping. Such a relief for that active person who wants invisible socks that don’t distract you while you’re going about your day.

6. A day together in nature

For those less into material things, consider a (weather-appropriate) trip to the beach, hike in the woods, or day trip to a nature-y draw nearby. This can also be a creative option if you’re on a budget.

7. Cuyana leather tote, $175

I’ve worn this bag in black almost every day for the past two years and it looks as good as new. It’s casual enough to be used as a gym bag but dressy enough to take out to dinner. As you’ve probably picked up on, I love clothing that looks fab but that I can “set and forget” – this tote is exactly that.

8. Nike Free TR 8 in black on black, $100

The Nike TR 8’s look great with leggings while doing errands or with full gym gear for a workout. I find them super comfy too! (Check out my gym shoe-wearing guide for some other ideas on more specific gym and sneaker activities.)

9. CW Hemp Full Strength CBD Oil, $39.99

If you have a friend or loved one who’s working on de-stressing, getting better sleep, or overall taking better care of herself, I highly recommend picking her up some CBD oil. CW Hemp is my favorite top quality brand of CBD oil. Keep in mind that while CBD is legal most places, it’s illegal to fly with, so have it shipped. To learn more about CBD, read “The ABCs of CBD Oil.” PSA – everyone should check with their doctor before taking new supplements.

What’s on your gift guide?

Wishing you and your loved ones a great holiday season!

Overcoming Seasonal Depression

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Disclaimer: this is the story of my personal experience with seasonal depression. I hope the story inspires you in some way, but it’s not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical or mental health condition.

It was a biting-cold February day in Brooklyn. I was holed up at a coffee shop eager to check tasks off my to do list, but my plans slowly devolved into scrolling through Facebook – and feeling increasingly down. I eventually felt so unsettled that I called the work session a day and stepped outside to head home.

The two-block journey home somehow felt too much. A block in, I sat down on a neighbor’s stoop to collect myself and felt the tears welling up. I’m really sad. I think I’m depressed, I texted my boyfriend. Once the words rolled off my tongue (or rather my keyboard), I felt a bit of peace.

That day was a turning point. I recognized that my sadness had moved beyond a rough patch and crossed, for the first time, into depression-symptom territory (not clinical depression).

It was scary. While part of me secretly wondered if I’d ever feel better, the rest of me had a hunch there might be lifestyle steps I could take to improve my situation going forward.

Looking retrospectively at the prior months, I figured my symptoms had developed from a combination of seasonal depression, a disrupted body block (aka circadian rhythm), low vitamin D levels, and financial stress.

I took some radical, and some smaller, measures to hedge against each of these issues for a full year.

So it was a pretty cool feeling the next winter when I realized my seasonal sadness was a mere fraction of what it had been the prior year. I went through that second winter mostly confident, happy, and at peace.

Here’s what helped me identify the problems and what I did to *mostly* solve them.

The symptoms

There were a few red flags that something was off.

For one, when I’d wake up each morning, a wave of sadness would wash over me. This was distinct from anything I’d previously experienced and made me wonder if my sleep/wake cycle relative to the light/dark hours of the day was disrupted. Disrupted circadian rhythms can contribute to symptoms of depression.

Also, I realized I’d been spending 95% of the day inside and so I wasn’t getting much sunlight exposure to promote a healthier circadian rhythm. Since sun exposure only helps boost vitamin D when the UV index is three or higher, and I live far north of the equator, the little sun I did get during the long stretch of winter probably wasn’t helping me achieve adequate vitamin D levels.

I hadn’t gotten blood work done to check my vitamin D levels or supplemented with vitamin D in a while (I’m skeptical of supplements), so I assumed it was possible that my levels were low.

But here’s what really tipped me off to the fact that I’d been seasonally depressed: once the sunnier weather kicked in, which it did pretty suddenly, I felt like a new person within a matter of days. The contrast was striking and a good reminder that often we don’t know how good we can feel until something changes that allows us to see the difference.

Lastly, there was the personal side of the equation. I was early on in my business and money was extremely tight. I’m sure many of you can relate. This significant life stress – in my case, financial – made it harder to overcome the other issues.

Winter prep begins now

This might sound a little crazy, but I began prepping for the following winter during spring 😂. My symptoms and stressors didn’t appear overnight so they probably weren’t going to be solved overnight either. And I didn’t want to take chances.

Long story short, the following measures mostly cleared my symptoms. When the weather turned sunny the following spring, I felt like the same person I’d been all winter – happy but human, relatively joyful, and excited about the results.

Measure #1: bundle up and sit in the sunlight

To cue my body that it was daytime and to try to correct my sleep/wake cycles, I’d throw on my puffer coat, grab my laptop, and spend time outside in the sunlight. Most days, I’d do an hour. It was very cold and very worth it.

I obviously can’t say for sure, but I have a strong feeling that being surrounded by sunlight for an hour almost every day of winter played a big role in my positive mental health.

Measure #2: vitamin D supplementation

After that teary day on the stoop, I got blood work done to check my vitamin D levels and found out that they were, indeed, low. Depression symptoms are common in people with inadequate vitamin D levels. (FYI, the test that gets a better gauge on vitamin D levels is called “vitamin D 25-hydroxy,” not “vitamin D.” “Vitamin D” is a different, less helpful test.)

I started supplementing immediately with the goal of bumping myself into a healthier range before winter hit again. My levels are now back in an adequate range and to maintain them, I typically supplement about three times a week with a high quality brand of vitamin D (rather than whatever is cheapest at the drugstore – think whole, organic food vs. processed food) and I plan to retest my levels yearly. (Again, this is my routine and is not intended as a recommendation – consult with your doctor before starting any supplements.)

Measure #3: prioritize sleep

In the months after I recognized the depression symptoms, good sleep became a top priority to help correct my body clock and decrease stress. Sleep is always really important, but since all other areas of my life were being negatively affected by these issues, it temporarily got bumped to the very top.

Prioritizing sleep looked like:

  • Getting off my phone leading up to bedtime

  • Meditating regularly, even if it was just for five minutes, so I could fall asleep quickly (regular meditation, no matter what time of day I do it, helps me fall asleep more quickly at night)

  • Hydrating early in the day so I didn’t have to get up to use the bathroom

  • Going to bed as close to sundown as possible (yes, really)

  • Giving myself grace if I needed to sleep longer.

Other areas of life temporarily had to give, but it was well worth it.

Measure #4: lift weights

Exercise, especially lifting, is important for my mental health year-round, including in winter. Even when it was cold or rainy or snowy, I’d go to the gym four days a week. Some days I’d lift for 30 minutes, some for an hour. The important part was getting in the zone and moving my body to process any challenges or stressors.

Lessons along the way

If I had to say what I took away from the process, it’d be this: go be weird if it means taking care of your health. When I’d step outside in my winter gear to sit in sub-30 degree weather – or went to bed at 9:30pm – I often felt different from other people. But it was good practice advocating for myself and now, those habits have become a source of joy. They’re all still a part of my routine as maintenance, since I don’t ever want to play catch up again if I can help it.

I’d also say:

  1. Don’t forget to spend time in the sun. Your body needs those proper cues that it’s daylight!

  2. Sleep rhythms have a profound effect on your mental health. Maintaining a natural sleep rhythm is worth it.

  3. Know your vitamin D levels. Deficiencies can make you feel terrible, but it’s not “you” per se – it’s a physical need that’s not being met.

How do you cope with seasonal depression? Leave a comment and let me know!

References:

  1. Disrupted circadian rhythms are linked to depression:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612129/

  2. Sun exposure helps increase vitamin D when the UV index is three or higher

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/

  3. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to feelings of depression:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d

  4. Vitamin D levels are best determined by the measure of 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in the blood:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2912737/

  5. A useful introduction to seasonal affective disorder:

    https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear to the Gym?

Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

There are so many types of gym shoes out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’ve ever logged miles on the treadmill and been in pain or developed shin splints, you might’ve wondered whether your shoes were cut out for the job. Or maybe you want a cute new pair of sneakers that works well in the gym too.

Certain shoes are definitely better than others for different types of exercise like lifting, plyometrics, and machine cardio. Specifically, there are three main types of shoes gym-goers should be aware of and consider wearing accordingly.

If new shoes aren’t in the budget right now, no worries. You should still be able to learn tips here that’ll help you in the gym (including applying the shoes you already have to specific activities) and better prepare you for a future purchase.

So here are the three kinds of shoes:

  1. Cross-training shoes

  2. Lifting shoes

  3. Running shoes

Let’s get into the specifics! (P.S. – this is not a sponsored post, I’m just a fan.)

#1: Cross-training shoes

Used for: lifting weights, all cardio besides distance running

Characteristics: mostly flat sole but cushioned

Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcons cross-training shoes.

Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcons cross-training shoes.

Cross-training shoes are great for pretty much anything you’ll do in the gym besides treadmill running because they’re flat enough for your feet to properly grip the ground while strength training but cushioned enough that when you land on them, they’re forgiving on your joints. You can lace up cross-training shoes to lift weights, do a bootcamp, hop on the elliptical, do circuits, use the StepMill, do HIIT, go to CrossFit class, or do plyometrics.

If you’re on a budget and want a new pair of gym shoes – and don’t mind skipping treadmill running – these will cover most of your bases.

My top picks for cross-training shoes: Nike Metcon, Nike Free TR8, Reebok Nano

#2: Lifting shoes

Used for: lifting weights

Characteristics: flat with very little cushioning

Wearing Vans for an all lifting workout day.

When you’re lifting weights, especially heavy ones, you want your feet to be able to grip the ground – meaning you should be pushing your big toes into the ground and pressing your pinky toes down to stabilize. That’s only possible to do in shoes that are relatively flat and don’t have much cushioning.

For gym days when you’re lifting only, you could head to the gym in flat shoes like Converse. Cross-training shoes would work too but since many people already have Converse or Vans in their closets, it’s worth mentioning.

You definitely don’t, however, want to spend an extended span of time lifting in running shoes. They’re fine to use to get started with strength training but long term, they aren’t the best for stability and alignment.

My top picks for lifting shoes: Converse, Vans

#3: Running shoes

Used for: treadmill running

Characteristics: light, minimal heel height, some cushioning, wide toe area (enough to wiggle your toes), neutral (meaning no stability or control mechanisms that change how your foot moves)

Running for distance is a different beast because you’ve got to take into consideration what kind of shoes promote a healthy gait and allow your foot to move in a natural way. When you’re distance running, you definitely want specific running shoes rather than cross-training or lifting ones.

There’s a lot of info out there about the best types of shoes for running, but recent research shows that the best running shoes have the five qualities listed above [1].

If you’re really serious about running and logging more than a few miles at a time, head to a running shop to get specialized shoe advice.

Otherwise, here’s my top pick for running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33

Have any questions about gym shoes? Leave a comment below!

References:

  1. Recent research shows that the best running shoes are light and neutral with minimal heel height, some cushioning, and a wide toe area: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2015/09000/Five_Key_Characteristics_to_Consider_when.8.aspx