How Exercise Can Cause You To Gain Weight

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Are you exercising too much?

Being in the health and wellness world for over 17 years, I have seen my fair share of exercise advice — push harder, do this new program, slow it down, lift heavier — the advice goes on and on.

Yet, proposing the question of how much is too much is rarely asked or even encouraged. It seems that the fitness industry often speaks to and caters those that are in need of that extra push. That extra encouragement. That little kick you might need to move your body and better your physical health.

But what about those fitness enthusiasts that are regularly pushing themselves? Or, those in love with high intensity competition? What about those who are already living stressful lives and want to incorporate the right kind of exercise?

They are a special breed when it comes to exercise, at least exercising the right way for the best results.

It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed. It doesn’t stop there…

If you live a lifestyle that is high in stress, this is going to compound and add to the extra stress placed on your body from regular intense exercise. It doesn’t matter if your stress is related to  work, family, mental health, or emotional turmoil — it all equates to extra stress in the body.

How do you know if the exercise you are doing is placing too much extra stress on your body? It is not always so easy to spot, but there are a few signs that do begin to present. When your body can no longer take the over-exercising, signs of overtraining typically creep in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.

Overtraining shows up as —

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased weakness

Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!

How Over-Exercising Impacts The Body

Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body. With this onset, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).

Testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts. When excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormonal ratios.

With the body’s delicate hormonal balance upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.

If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may become imbalanced and cortisol levels drop below normal. This is when weight gain occurs.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient.  If you keep demanding too much from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning.  Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too many stressors.

What You Can Do

Here is where I want to emphasis the importance of looking at the stress in your everyday life. Not every day will be stress-free — every day shouldn’t be — but it is about the flow of how stress enters, exits, and dances around the moments in your day. When you step back and look at the big picture, this will help guide you in the right kind of and right amount of exercise for you and your lifestyle in this moment of your life.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how much stress do I realistically have at work, at home, and in my personal life? List out the stressors if this helps you see the big picture more clearly.
  • How am I feeling right now (i.e., tired, sore, heavy, sad, stressed, light, happy, so-so)?
  • Would pushing harder make me feel better or worse? Would slowing down make me feel better or worse?
  • Can I give my body what it really needs?

You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen. If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards longer cardio as a way to deal with stress — the inner push is already in their nature. Instead, try yoga or a stretching class to emphasis stress-relieving and add gentle movement that your body is craving.

If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin:

  1. Add in more energy balancing practices. Perform low to moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling. You could even sign up for a Reiki session or other energy work to help you get realigned. This allows your adrenal gland hormones to begin balancing and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar, both important for properly functioning adrenals.
  2. Stop doing long cardio sessions. If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem.  Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.  And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Not to mention that it can create imbalance in your blood sugar, opening you up to more food cravings and inflammation in the body. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts (i.e., HIIT programs).  These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat. It is important to mention that if you are already dealing with more severe over-training symptoms or adrenal issues, high intensity workouts may still be too aggressive for you at this time.
  3. Change the way you lift weights. Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
  4. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often more important than exercising.  If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy, do an active recovery such as an easy walk, hike, or a leisurely bike ride. If you’re really tired, take the day off! It’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself.  Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat.
  5. Feed your body (the right way). The foods we eat can place large amounts of stress on the body. A diet full of sugar, processed carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats can place a significant amount of stress on the body and increase systemic inflammation in the body. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!

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How To Stimulate The Vagus Nerve To Improve Your Health

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Are you feeling a little out of control? Like you don’t know how to calm yourself down? Have you ever felt stress so deeply that it feels overbearing and like you might be swallowed up into a black hole at any given moment? 

You try so many practices to calm the mind or lessen the grip of that stress, but it still feels like a black cloud hanging over your head. 

So, you turn on some music — sometimes your favorite song and other times a song that feels emotionally strong — and you start to hum. You start to sing. And then it happens…

A break in that black cloud. A lessened grip. You know the stress is still there, but something feels different and a level of relief fills you. 

That relief might be minimal or it might be gigantic. All you know is that there is a shift in how you were feeling.

You are not imagining your relief! The lessening of the stress is all so real and that is because of what you have physically stimulated. What you activated. 

What you might not know is that a simple humming or a singing of your favorite song stimulated a nerve that is critical to help you not only manage your stress, but to also help you boost your immune system, optimize your gut health, balance your blood sugar — along with a slew of other health benefits. 

The Vagus Nerve

Your sympathetic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that moves you into action. It is your fight or flight system and if it detects a threat, real or perceived, it will trigger your fight or flight response. If there isn’t a real threat, and you do not need to activate the sympathetic nervous system, then you lean in and recruit the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part that calms you down. 

The vagus nerve is the most influential nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system. It functions like your body’s natural reset button — playing heavily on both your emotional and physical body. The vagus nerve extends from the brainstem down into your stomach and intestines, through your heart and lungs, and connecting your throat and facial muscles. Movement or recruitment of these areas help to stimulate the vagus nerve so it can learn how to be more flexible (vagal tone). Healthy vagal tone can be thought of as an optimal balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system actions that allows you to respond with resilience to the ups and downs of life. Learning how to stimulate your vagus nerve allows you to bring the calm and feel more collected.

Vagal Tone

Chronic stress and unresolved trauma can be a real bummer! Not only do they impact your life deeply, but it can also create a great imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of your nervous system. Because we live in a world that is over-stimulating and activating for the sympathetic nervous system, many of us need access to tools that help us engage the parasympathetic nervous system on a daily basis. 

Like I mentioned, the vagus nerve has a calming effect on the sympathetic nervous system activity. But, it is also important to recognize that individuals with unresolved PTSD or trauma often resort to a primitive expression of the parasympathetic nervous system which can lead to symptoms of fatigue or depression. When left untreated, chronic stress and unresolved PTSD can disrupt your physical, mental, and emotional health. The good news is that practices that focus on stimulating the vagus nerve can help regain balance if you are either keyed up with anxiety or shut down with fatigue.

This is why the tone of the vagus nerve is so significant.  Higher vagal tone is associated with better general health — better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, improved digestion and a reduction in migraines. Most importantly though, it is associated with increased emotional stability, resiliency and longevity, that which helps to balance out every other area of your life. 

Curious what your vagal tone looks like? You can easily measure it at home! Heart rate variability is a way to measure vagal tone. Your heart-rate speeds up a little when you breathe in, and slows down a little when you breathe out. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone. The higher the tone, the more efficient you are at relaxing. 

An increase in vagal tone is linked to a reduction in overall inflammation and an increase in emotional health and well-being. Lower vagal tone is associated with mood instability, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. 

Activating Your Vagus Nerve

  • Do yoga, but specifically any yoga practice that stimulates the path of the vagus nerve can have a profound influence on the tone of the vagus nerve.
  • Meditation — especially loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Om chanting increased heart rate variability
  • Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. In studies, ujjayi breathing showed quite effective. This type of slow breathing involved 6 breaths per minute, which would be about 5 seconds per inhale, 5 seconds per exhale.
  • Humming, chanting, or singing — especially emphasizing the long, slow exhalation to stimulate the vocal cords.
  • Thinking positive thoughts of others and increasing social connection — this stimulates the heart center of the vagus nerve.
  • Using cold water. Take a cold shower or splash cold water on your face. You can also achieve the same effect by holding a ziplock bag filled with ice cubes against your face and holding your breath. Or submerge your tongue in cold liquid.
  • Laugh more and laugh out loud!
  • Practice the Valsalva Maneuver — Exhale against a closed airway by keeping your mouth closed and pinching your nose while trying to breathe out. It increases the pressure inside of your chest cavity thereby stimulating your vagus nerve.
  • Take your probiotic. Cultivating healthy intestinal bacteria improves the mind-gut connection and your vagal tone.
  • Get some mild exercise in — it stimulates gut flow and vagus nerve activation needed to initiate this response.
  • Do some gargling. It activates the vagus nerve by activating the muscles in the back of the throat while exhaling slowly.
  • Get a massage. Neck, foot, and pressure massages may stimulate the vagus nerve, as can gently massaging around the carotid sinus located on the sides of your neck.
  • Get enough zinc. This was shown to increase vagus stimulation and is a common mineral that some people don’t get enough of.
  • Eat more seafood — According to several scientific reviews, omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA increase heart rate variability (HRV) and lower heart rate. HRV is directly linked to vagus nerve stimulation.
  • Engage in prayer and pray out loud.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature is soothing and calms the nervous system, but some studies link sunlight to increasing vagal tone.

Stimulating the vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turns reduces your neurophysiological experience of stress — super important for optimal health and wellness. It reduces your heart rate and blood pressure, influences the limbic system in your brain (where emotions are processed), and stimulates digestion so your body can absorb the nutrients you are giving it. Start practicing the art of stimulating your vagus nerve to relieve anxiety, depression, tension and the general sense of unease when stress builds up. 

Try to practice daily as a preventive measure to ensure greater emotional resilience and improved health!

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7 Tips To Decrease Sugar Cravings

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Food cravings can mean the death of many of your nutrition goals. Even the most dedicated can find themselves slipping and giving into the gnarling voice of their cravings.

Sugar and salt seem to be the most craved, with sugar in particular, being so addictive that willpower and intellect alone have little to do with pushing it away. You can only willpower your way through a sugar craving so many times until you eventually give in and throw all caution to the wind.

There are many reasons of why sugar can feel like it has a stranglehold on you — stress, nutrient deficiencies, imbalanced blood sugar, food memories, poor relationship with food, not enough sleep, and not being mindful of what you are eating. This is only naming a few of the reasons.

There is a belly-mind connection and it is much stronger than your willpower in the long run. 

And because of this belly-mind connection, it is super important to address a layer of reasons of why you may be struggling with your cravings. Some of those layers may feel very challenging to move through, while other may feel a bit easier and more direct. 

When starting a successful habit change, you want to focus on those low hanging fruit layers — those easy to grasp and where you can see quick results. Not only does it help to get the ball rolling, but it is also super motivating to see quick results.

Changing your relationship with food and the memories associated with your cravings can prove to be a little bit more challenging and typically demand deeper mental and emotional work. You can start here, but it might be easier to make some simple nutritional changes. This will help to decrease the physical and nutritional issues that may not be associated directly with your relationship with food.

Here are 7 easy tips that can begin to ward off cravings and balance your blood sugar:

  1. Drink more water. Let’s start with a simple one. The more dehydrated you are, the more difficult it is for the body to metabolize glycogen (stored glucose) for energy, so our bodies crave sugar to provide us with a quick source of energy when we actually just need to drink a little more water. 
  2. Add in cinnamon. This spice helps your body control the amount of sugar in your blood, evening out the highs and lows that lead to cravings. One study found those who took 3g of cinnamon a day maintained lower blood sugar levels after a glucose-tolerance test than those who did not take the cinnamon. And, your sugar cravings can drop immediately after consuming something with cinnamon!
  3. Eat your bitter foods. Research has found that consuming bitter foods shuts down the receptors in your brain that drive you to desire and consume more sugar. Bitter foods and plants can help slow the absorption of sugar and regulate blood sugar levels. You can eat foods such as dandelion, citrus peel, artichoke leaf, licorice root, and even burdock root. Or, you can make it super simple and use a tincture of bitters either before or after your meals (this helps with digestion too!). My favorite bitter tincture is by Urban Moonshine.
  4. Try spinach extract. Spinach extract, also known as Appethyl, is actually a weight loss supplement. It contains thylakoids, which consist mostly of proteins, antioxidants, and chlorophyll. Spinach extract has been shown to delay fat absorption (but not total inhibit it) and increase the activity of the hormones that reduce appetite and hunger. 
  5. Say no to the small bites. Feel a craving coming on? Don’t eat the small bites here and the small bites there. Those first few bites are inevitably the most tasty and your brain is going to be triggered by indulging in just a few bites. Not to mention, this creates a mindset of deprivation and can actually make you crave harder and jeopardize your relationship with food.
  6. Avoid getting too hungry. Make sure to eat regularly and not allow yourself to get too hungry. Fasting is all the rage and everyone seems to be either doing it or wondering if they should do it. Fasting can be super beneficial to help with cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells (autophagy) but when you fast for too long, it can create a great imbalance in your blood sugar, causing hunger and cravings. If you are choosing to fast regularly, keep your time frames on the shorter side, aiming between 12-16 hours. If you are a woman, keep those time frames in the 12-14 hour range. 
  7. Make it hard to get. This is technically a behavior change, but it falls right in line with nutritional behavior changes. One of the first line of defenses when making a habit change is to make what you want hard to get. That could be by placing it out of sight and out of mind, placing it in the highest cupboard of the kitchen (needing a step stool every time you want to get it), or even not buying it at all and only being able to get it by going to the grocery store. When you create a challenge or obstacle and it is not so easy, this delays the food to mouth time AND it also gives you more time to think about the choice that you are making. Sometimes simply creating space and time can be enough to allow you to decide that the craving is just not worth it!

Getting rid of cravings can be super complex and has many layers attached to it. Often, you have to dig and uncover those layers to get to the root cause of what is causing your cravings in the first place. This is where a coach and support system can help guide you on your journey. Are you ready to finally uncover your layers? Click here to learn more about my signature “Break Your Plateau” health coaching program!

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Do these 7 Simple Steps to (Actually) Stick To Your Goals

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Ahhhh, setting goals…

Excitement fills you as you put pen to paper and dream of plentiful visions dancing in your head. Seriously, this time, you are sticking with your goals!

You set off excitedly proclaiming, “Monday, I am starting.” You have a twinkle in your eye, a fire in your heart, and a perfect plan percolating like the morning coffee that is going to fuel your start. Nothing is going to stop you this time.

Nothing!

You believe yourself fully and completely.

Monday comes and is filled with firey awesomeness. You get out of bed and you are excited to get started. Day 1? DONE! You feel like Super Woman.

Tuesday rolls in with motivation and heart. That [meditation, workout, healthy breakfast, etc] feels needed and refreshing. Day 2? DONE!

As Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday begin, you notice that something happens. 

Life.

Life happens.

You may stick with your plan, but that raging fire within begins to die down. **Is it the weekend yet?

Last minute errands to run and looming work deadlines consume your days (and your focus).  **And, why did little Johnny wait until 10 pm to tell me that he needed 3 dozen cookies for school tomorrow?!

In 4 weeks, that raging fire turns to a mere smoldering ash of broken self-commitments and long lost dreams.

Life happens and it can happen in a serious way. But, life happens to everyone. How is it possible that some rise from the ashes like a phoenix, pushing through and still having copious amounts of day end energy? Yet others struggle with getting lost in life’s chaos and never really accomplishing their deepest dreams.

The first step before any of the sticky goal steps is that you have to create a plan — write it down and refer to it often. Make it as easy and detailed of a plan as possible so that it feels like a walk in the park to implement and it feels super doable!

After the actual creation of the goals, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind to help you stay engaged with those goals. Here are 7 steps essential for being a master of your domain and making your goals stick-able:

Step 1

Know your core values. Core values are those non-negotiables. Those parts of life that fire you up and that bring you joy and happiness. When you know your core values and you can create dreams that revolve around them, life is honey-sweet and your dreams become sticky. Create a list of 3-5 core values and see how you can set visions to enhance each of them. For example, one of my core values is adventure and travel, making skydiving a perfect goal. When you learn to live in your core values, you feel less depleted and stressed and you are more likely to be motivated to stay on your goal bandwagon for a longer ride.

Step 2

Create a ritual. Some call it a routine, but routines can be seriously boring. You need a ritual for excellence, something you do everyday that gets you one step closer to your end goal. A ritual not only respects you, but it also takes out the guess work of when you are going to get stuff done. Want to eat healthier? Pack your lunch at night with focus on what you need to eat to honor your body the next day. Need to fizzle out some of your daily stress? Start your morning off with a refreshing walk outside. Which then leads into…

Step 3

Know your boundaries (and use them). Most of us think we set boundaries, but really most of us live in a low boundary world. Knowing your core values and setting your rituals are events to help you stay on track, but if something continuously pulls you from them, then they don’t do much for you. Life happens and schedules change. That’s inevitable, but that is not constant, unless you allow it to be. Stating and enforcing clear boundaries to keep you on track is key. For example, if you want to read more before bedtime, then an appropriate boundary might be to turn off your phone, text messages, or incoming updates and let everyone you know that you will not respond after a certain time at night. Honor yourself and your needs and watch your dreams flourish.

Step 4

Talk to yourself. Positive mantras are super powerful! They can shift your mindset instantly, bring more focus and clarity, and silence that little inner voice that speaks from emotion rather than rational thinking. And they can help keep you on track. For example, “My willpower is strong” and “I take care of myself and I am worth it.” Create a positive mantra paragraph of 3-5 sentences and repeat that, out loud, 10 times daily.

Step 5

Pull the trigger word. Trigger words are a fun little tool to help reign your runaway thoughts in and recenter your focus. They also get your mindset re-centered around success and possibility becoming reality. If your goal is to workout 3 mornings a week before work, a trigger word example could be “Dedicated.” It’s purpose is to reignite the fire when it isn’t burning so bright. Incredibly simple and incredibly effective! Remember, you have to recite your trigger word and say it with passion for trigger words to be effective.

Step 6

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Go! The mind can play all kinds of crazy little tricks on you when you are trying to change habits. Sometimes you need a simple mental interruption to take your focus away from fear or negative thoughts. This simple tip of counting from 5 to 1 and then saying GO! (or replacing GO with your trigger word) is a mental interruption that is just enough time to allow action to replace fear. Next time you have to make a decision or push through to stick with your dream, try this tip and then, like Nike says, just do it!

Step 7 

Reevaluate. Sometimes you just got to step away and reevaluate if what you are working on is working for you. It’s easy to stick with something that you think you really wanted to do (or what someone else wants for you), just to discover that it just doesn’t motivate you anymore.  Or maybe it never did. And that is ok! What is important is that you are spending your life working towards what feels fulfilling and exciting and pushing you towards your higher purpose. What serves you. So, reevaluate regularly and stay motivated by giving yourself permission to push yourself when you really want to and walk away when it no longer serves you.

What are you currently working towards? I would love to know! Leave a comment below and tell me what goal you are working on and/or which step above is your favorite.

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