What does “Wellness” mean to me?

IMG_5836
I will be honest, this post is a contest entry. BUT, in order to enter the contest, I have to explain what wellness means to me. Motives aside, this is definitely an important question to ponder and reflect on and I am so happy that The Healthy Maven, Run to the Finish and Fit Foodie Finds have made me stop to think about this. In my last job, I ran the wellness program in our HR department and I often talked at length with my colleagues about what “wellness” meant. It was quickly apparent that it means different things to different people, no doubt. In the case of our job, we had to learn to separate what wellness meant to us and what we wanted it to look like, from what the organization saw wellness as (and all the complications that came with working in a large organization with a lot of complex policies, budgetary restraints, etc). That being said, our jobs may have been easier if we had just had someone tell us what wellness meant in this context.

This makes me think, because I often talk about my passion for wellness, but I haven’t exactly defined what it means to me, my perspective and where all of my actions come from. Takes me back to my undergraduate years and always making sure my research papers had an operational definition. How can I go about living my life a certain way without a starting point, a concrete philosophy to leap from? Not to say that these things cannot be flexible in the way they can’t be in a research paper. I think wellness is such a personal thing and as we grow and evolve, it makes sense that our definition of it may be a bit plastic as well.

As a classic Type “A”, I definitely struggle with letting perfectionism go. This is hard for me, because I truly used to see wellness as having a perfect body, eating a perfect diet, having perfect work/life balance. However, I (thankfully) have learned that this is not possible, and defining wellness that way is only going to achieve the opposite of what I want it to be.

I came across this saying a few years back and it definitely hits close to home and has become my mantra when it comes to my health and wellness:
84d15fee6e105686df5111a1f43b625e

BUT, to put it in my own words; Wellness is about treating my body and mind with respect, activity and nourishment. Wellness is being emotionally present, aware and connected to myself and to others. It is having a positive relationship with my home and work environments, as well as with nature. Wellness is flourishing, living happily, healthily, holistically, and with gratitude.  It is not comparing myself to others but to personal milestones, and how far I have come, whether I have made progress or taken a few steps back and knowing how to better myself (whether this means taking a mental health break, losing weight, gaining weight, resting, connecting with loved ones). It is about doing my best under the circumstances, and not beating myself up when I can’t do my best (like today when I ran very slowly through the rain). It is fostering my ability to live life to its fullest while understanding that the good and bad must co-exist. It is about being me, it is about being okay with it.

To be able to spend a week at Wellfit Malibu would be an incredible experience, a chance to step back from the current chaos, and press the reset button on my health goals. It would be a chance to remind myself to really take care of ME and be in the moment. It would be a dream come true!
#WellnessThatFitsYou

Healthy Vacationing

I’m going to go quite a few weeks back in time again and talk a little about our honeymoon. However, I’m not going to bore you with a recap, rather I want to talk about how you can make your vacation a little healthier. Don’t get me wrong- Zach and I drank more than our fair share of beer as we explored the rockies and the pacific northwest, and we definitely ate a lot of ice cream and charcuterie. Even with all of this indulgence though, we tried to keep our vacation as healthy as possible. With the Christmas holidays upon us many of you are probably getting ready for a winter vacation, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how you can stay active while away (at least to balance out the intake of junk- because let’s get real, you’re on vacation and I’m not going to preach “eat a salad!”)

    1. Go for a ride! Rent bikes and explore the city you’re visiting, it’s faster than on foot, it’s cheaper than renting a car (and easier to park!), great for the environment and a great calorie burner (bonus points for riding up steep hills). Zach I rented bikes and explored Stanley Park and Kitsilano in Vancouver. We were able to see so much in a matter of hours (side note: the bike lanes in Vancouver are so great! Take note, Toronto.)IMG_8308
    2. Choose “active” adventures. While helicopter rides and boat cruises can certainly be an exciting adventure on a trip I challenge you to try something that also challenges you physically. For me and Zach this meant some intermediate hikes with some solid inclines. We hiked up to Upper Joffre Lake just outside of Pemberton B.C. and instead of taking the gondola up Grouse Mountain in Vancouver we opted to hike up and tackle the Grouse Grind.IMG_8226 IMG_8151DSCF7447 IMG_8335
    3. Take breaks. While sometimes long drives and train rides can’t be avoided be sure to keep your blood flowing and take some breaks to move when possible. Remember, even on a road trip half the fun is getting there. Taking a break allows you to see something new and explore a place you may have never been before. For us, this meant some short road-side walks and hikes, or even just a nice stretch break. A short hike break isn’t tough when the view looks like this:IMG_8059 IMG_8094
    4. Lace up those shoes. We chose not to rent a car while we explored Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. While a car is definitely convenient at times, not relying on it means you have to rely on your own two legs (and public transportation) which means a lot of exercise. I find exploring cities on my feet makes the experience feel a lot more authentic instead of just driving from point to point. Again, it’s nice to see so many different things as you make your way to a destination. Sometimes this does take a little extra planning, but it’s definitely worth the money you’ll save and the activity you’ll get. While in Vancouver there was an ice cream shop that I really wanted to check out. It was pretty far away but we took a beautiful long walk along the water seeing so much. By the time we got there I felt a lot less guilty about getting a double scoop (which we then chased with some samples from a nearby craft brewery)IMG_8421 IMG_8294
    5. Eat a solid breakfast. This is easiest when you find accommodations that all you to cook up a hearty am meal but having a kitchen isn’t always necessary. We tried to start our days with some protein (usually eggs) or something that would keep us going. When cooking wasn’t an option we had some instant oatmeal packages that only needed some boiling water. These types of meals are really easy to find on the go as well. I found that when I started my day with a pastry or something indulgent I spent the rest of the day hungry and wanting more junk. Starting the day off right kept the junk cravings at bay, or at the very least, left my stomach much happier when I waited until mid-day for that pastry.
    6. Rest. While it’s fun to pack as much activity as possible into a vacation don’t forget the importance of some R&R. Remember, so much of living a healthy lifestyle means taking the time to relax, unwind, take a step back and rest up. Sleep in, take an afternoon nap or lay in a park with a blanket (like we did in Seattle, pictured below). Even if you spend the majority of your vacation doing just this, don’t feel guilty. It is rare that we get the chance to do nothing and if you let it, it can be very rejuvenating!

While our trip was perfect for the warmer weather, I realize these things may not all be possible while exploring an area that gets snow in the winter. If you’re in the wilderness, rent some snow shoes, go cross-country skiing, or simply put on some good boots and go for a winter hike. If you’re exploring a city, check out the outdoor skating rinks in the area. The possibilities are endless!

For those of you travelling to a resort this winter there are also a ton of ways to stay healthy too! Go for a beach walk, dance the night away at the disco, join the water aerobics at the pool, explore a nearby town on foot, sign up for an active excursion or just bask in all the relaxation (while wearing sunscreen of course!)

Above all else, ENJOY your vacation and don’t feel guilty about a little indulgence, you’ve earned it!

IMG_8068 DSCF7464

 

No Junk November

I write this as I sit at home on a weekday in my condo. I’m not sure if I’ve ever spent a weekday here, at least definitely not one where I’ve had the chance to sit back and enjoy it. Here in Canada we celebrate Rememberance Day on November 11th, and being in the Public Sector I am lucky that this is a holiday. While a holiday is definitely a bonus, let’s not forget the importance of this day. Rememberance Day is something that sits near my heart as my grandfather was a world war II vet. This is the third rememberance day we have had without him but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. As a child, I remember a large group of war vets who would visit our school and it is sad to know that many of them have passed on, and a lot of the vets who gave us that personal connection to what this day means are no longer with us. When I was visiting Amsterdam a few years ago, I went to see the Anne Frank house. The experience I had there was something that I can’t quite describe, but all I could think was “This is real. This was so recent”.

For many of us, we are very disconnected from the recency of a World War. We go on in our day-to-day lives doing our day-to-day things. Today, I ask that you take a minute to think about why we are able to do these day-to-day things. Step back and realize how lucky we are to have the freedom of being able to do what we please without even thinking about it.

Not to totally change the subject or take away from the importance of a day like to today but November has often been a very “bleh” month for me. The colder weather really starts to set in, the summer slips away as a distant memory and the coziness and warmth of the holiday season hasn’t quite reached us. Ever since our Wedding, I have really been slipping on keeping my habits healthy (see previous post on running a half without training). Recently, I’ve really noticed just how much this has been impacting my mental health. Coupled with the shorter days, I have been one big grouchy, lazy, sad blob of negativity! I was starting to get annoyed by myself and told myself, enough is enough!

I deemed the month of November “No Junk November” and vowed to give-up the comfort foods that have not really been providing me with comfort over the last few months. November is a great time to reset and re-evaluate. My calendar is not yet packed with Holiday events and knowing that the super indulgent month of December is upon us is really all I needed to get my butt in gear. No more fries, no chips, no more pastries when I go to grab a coffee, no more pizzas, no more bottomless beers, no more binging on chocolate as I watched TV.

I am not usually one to stress total deprivation, but I knew that I needed to start fresh and get back to that place where I could allow myself these treats, but in moderation. They were making up a large part of my diet and my body was craving them as it’s primary source of fuel. This left me feeling like I was never satisfied, and always wanting more. When December rolls around, those foods will still be here (and they’ll be here a-plenty!), but hopefully, I won’t be craving them and instead can pick and choose which ones I want to enjoy.

It has been 11 days and I already notice that I feel better. I’ve run a few times, and have done a few workouts as well. I haven’t had any refined and added sugars. I haven’t had anything fried. I’ve cut back on my alcohol. I’ve stopped with the late night snacking. The first week was TOUGH, I really just wanted to grab a sweet treat as soon as the 2:00pm slump hit. But I didn’t! I can now say I have made it over the hump. Of course, I still long for this stuff on occasion, but my body is not telling me to EAT IT ALL NOW. It is crazy (and scary) how quickly we can become addicted to these foods, and how little control we have over it. (If you are interested in an eye-opening read on this, check of the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss).

I am going to continue to stick this out until December and then once again allow for a treat here and there, and get to that point where I enjoy eating a healthy diet but the occasional treat doesn’t leave me feeling sick.

If you’re like me and you need to kick-start your healthy habit again, give it a go! Even if it’s just for a week. Don’t stress over rapid solutions. Pick something that hasn’t been having a positive impact on your health and give it up for a bit, enjoy your life as always and you may be surprised at how quickly you realize you don’t need it anymore.

And aren’t you glad we live in a world where we have the power, freedom and independence to make these choices and decisions for ourselves?

Happy November everyone!

How can you tell if someone is running a marathon?

… Don’t worry they’ll tell you.

Last year around this time I was that obnoxious person who was ALWAYS talking about running. “I’m running a half marathon” I would boast, without even being asked.

This year, you may have noticed there has been a lot of radio silence around here. You may have also noticed that I posted about running a full marathon a few months back. Well I’m here to tell you that I failed, BUT I have also come to realize that no failure is a true fail.

My almost-silence on this endeavor came from the fact that I was really not sure I could do it. I KNOW I can do it now, but I didn’t think that I could, and that overwhelming thought got in the way and I stopped talking about it. I was terrified that I wasn’t putting everything I had into it, and I ended up putting nothing into it and giving up. I will be the first to admit that boasting about runs can be annoying but just think about it for a moment. The training involved in running any sort of distance race is time consuming and honestly, not always that fun. Telling people is a way that I (and other runners) hold myself accountable. Even if no one really cares that much, there will always be a few people who will remember and then ask you later “how’s your training going?” Which is an instant reminded to pick it up when I’m slacking.

With moving, wedding planning and a few weeks of extreme heat, my training was pushed to the back of my mind. Eventually, it disappeared.
Up until about mid-August I was still SO determined that I would run the full. I went on a 20k training run after a few weeks of not much training and smashed it. I truly felt unstoppable, but I was quite honestly not prepared for the amount of work that came with planning a DIY wedding, especially in those two weeks leading up to the event. I was exhausted. My life was consumed by wedding planning and work. I have always been one of those people who says “you just have to make time for it anyway. no excuses” when it comes to exercise and I’d like to apologize right now if I’ve ever said that to you, because as I have learned, you truthfully sometimes don’t have time. Especially when that time involves putting 3+ hours into going for a long run.
My wedding was perfect, and so was my honeymoon, and I swore once I got back to a normal routine I would pick up where I left off and run that race damnit! But I was never able to pick up where I left off. Work was insane upon my return, and life sucked me up, and I gave in. It is SO easy to stay off the bandwagon once you have fallen off and nearly impossible to get back on.
Yet, here I was, a full TEN weeks since my last run feeling incredibly sorry for myself that I hadn’t just got back on. But, my friends, life happens and I had to live with the life I had been living and be okay with it. I decided I would run the half marathon instead. This mostly came from my self pity and wanting to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew I could, or at least that’s what I told myself, so that was that, I would do it. But I also had to learn to let go of any unrealistic expectations in my head. I decided my only goal would be to finish. So, on Sunday, I laced up my sneakers and set out to run a half marathon with essentially no training.
I don’t recommend this. It wasn’t fun. My legs weren’t ready. While I had not been sedentary, I certainly hadn’t been running, and it HURT. Yet I am still glad I did it, and if you are/were a runner, you could probably do it too, just be careful and don’t push yourself. Here is my mini re-cap I posted on instagram about said run:

Finished the half!

Finished the half!

Kms 0-2: “okay I’m just going to turtle this whole thing. I got this. I see the 2:30 pacer so I’ll just stick with them. Not so bad”
Kms 2-5: “oh wait, I can run! I forgot I used to be somewhat good at this, alright, see ya later 2:30 pacer”
Kms 5-10: “I’m a machine! I’m going to beat my time from last year! This is the easiest 10k of my life. Okay I may not beat it but I’ll be pretty close. I could have run the full. I have so much energy! Running at my old race pace is so easy I could probably run an ultra!”
10-11km: “wait a sec. My legs aren’t working. Maybe I should have trained. Oh well I’m still in front of the 2:30 pacer I guess I’ll take a walk break”
11km: “ouch, walking hurts more than running”
12km: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”
13km: I don’t think I can see properly my legs hurt so bad, and what is that stitch in my side?”
14km: “okay that’s a bad stitch. Where am I? What is life? Everything hurts.”
15km: “so much for finishing in 2:15, the 2:30 bunny just passed me”
16km: “I think I’ll just walk the rest of the way. Wait never mind, I can’t walk”
16.5km “gels! I forgot about those! And I have one! Oh and hey look at that smiling stranger cheering everyone on! Okay, one foot in front of the other”
16.75km: “I got this I got this!” 17-21km: “I’m not sure if I’m running or floating and I can’t feel anything but I’m doing it! Won’t stop until it’s done! Yup, I can totally run a full next time”
21.1km: “why do people run?”

Now, back to why this wasn’t totally a failure. Sure, I didn’t run the full like I had wanted to, but I ran a half marathon, without training! That still counts for something right? Even though I finished pretty close to the bottom of the pack in my category I still did it. Second, it was all I needed to remind me WHY I run and why I want to continue to do so. It forced me to look at my goal of running a full again and reevaluate how I can make that happen.
I may have turtled that race all the way home but I still did it! It may not have been anything close to any of my races that I actually trained for but sometimes you just have to get out there and get it done and be proud of just that.
At the runners expo on Friday I met a woman who had just found a lump in one of her breasts and was awaiting results, she said it put a huge damper on her training but “sometimes you just have to do the best you can under the circumstances”. Her words couldn’t ring more true. My only excuses are that I planned a wedding and went away for 2 weeks, but I still have an able body and health and that’s no excuse to back down from a challenge that would have been easier to just not face at all.
That, my friends is what running is all about for me. Being grateful I can move my body and that I have my health to do so. There are days where I can run like a champ, and days where 5k feels impossible, but you really just have to go out there and do the best you can, under the circumstances. So many lessons in running can be applied to real life.
After all is said and done, it was still an important race in many ways. I ran the first 10k without stopping. I’m not sure if I’ve ever done this. It wasn’t my fastest 10k time by far, but even in my fastest 10k races I have taken brief walk breaks. I also didn’t take any walk breaks up any of the hills that forced me to do just that last year. Even the last hill at the end when my legs just could. not. even. In fact, I passed every single person who was around me on that hill.
And now, as I hobble around the city of Toronto, I am telling myself (and others) that I WILL run that full this coming May. So you bet that I will be talking about that A LOT around here. If you don’t hear anything about it…ask me.
“It’s only impossible until it’s done”

Re-framing Exercise

Disclosure: I am often eavesdropping on conversations that I am not a part of. I don’t do this to be rude or because I am nosey. Rather, I work in an area where there is a lot of traffic coming and going. Given that I work in wellness I am always curious when people start talking about health. My office is actually located in an area where people work out so naturally, I hear a lot of these conversations and my ears perk up.

From all my eavesdropping, one thing I know for sure is that everyone wants to lose weight. I am always amazed at how often I hear the exact same words and conversations. It is so common, which is not that surprising given our society’s views on body image.  However, this focus on weight loss, as we know, does not always pave the way to a healthy lifestyle. I am starting to realize just how big of a focus it is for a lot of people. Yet, it is so rare to see people really stick with health and fitness for long periods of time. I am also shocked at how misinformed people are about fitness and diet, and always find it so sad when I hear the words “nothing works for me, I can’t get fit so I give up” or “I will never look like that, I feel awful” or even “I hate exercise but I do it to get skinny”.

I am here to challenge this and ask you to re-frame the way we think about exercise. What if we focused on how good exercise made us feel instead of seeing it as a means to an end. What if we focused on our health, energy levels, well-being and less about the way we looked? I know, crazy thought, but hear me out.

I have been you. I have eaten too few calories, been obsessed with the gym, all with the intention of losing weight and getting my body to look a certain way. I have since learned that my body is not MEANT to look that way, and even if I have achieved it for a short period of time, that’s the extent of it – it’s a short period of time. Even though I looked a certain way, I can assure you, I was not healthy. I deprived myself of enjoyment. I was grumpy. I was hungry. I would reach the end of the day and fight the urge to binge on chocolate and chips. I wasn’t able to enjoy my weekends and felt plaugued with guilt if I followed the lead of those around me and had a glass of wine. I would go to sleep feeling miserable that I had failed myself so terribly if I did give in (see previous post on balance). So why did I even do this? Because there was some pre-conceived notion in my head that happiness=having the body of a bikini model. Even when I nearly had that body, I wasn’t all of the sudden happier. In fact, I was miserable.

The crazy thing is, for even those of us who don’t really have any weight to lose; we still obsess about it and can’t be convinced otherwise no matter what others around us say. Weight is such a deeply personal concept and we are so easily brainwashed into thinking we must look a certain way.

It doesn’t help that we are constantly bombarded with images like this all over social media:

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

I am not saying that males don’t have these same insecurities because many do. However, I find in my circle of female friends, weight and body image is something that is always coming up. We work out to get fit and often, that is all we talk about concerning fitness. I recently have had a lot of conversations with my friends about this though and have started challenging that. I encourage them to still put a lot of effort into being active, but change the focus of it and the reasons for doing it. Furthermore, I really try and steer any conversations about health and wellness away from weight. But it doesn’t stop there, by merely having a few chats with my friends about changing their focus on exercise I’m not accomplishing much. So how do we make the conversation in society about something else?

We have fitness instructors urging us on and saying things like “think of your bikini”. I hear it every day. Every day. And frankly, I am sick of it. “Summer is coming, get beach ready” “don’t give up, think of your vacation body”. Why is our motivation to do a healthy behaviour coming from statements that are not healthy? It’s backwards, isn’t it?

Our obsession with the way we look is unhealthy. It causes unrealistic expectations and spins us into a downward spiral of self-loathing and distorted body image. And it truly isn’t our fault. How can you disconnect yourself from these messages when everything that is being portrayed is skinny=happy=healthy. This message is constantly being shoved down our throats from every industry out there trying to capitalize on our insecurities.  What if we were to remove the “skinny” from the equation? What are we left with? Happy=healthy. That doesn’t sound all that bad to me.

What if we stopped focusing on the way we look and started focusing on the way we feel and all the positive ways that living healthy and exercise can help us? What would that look like?

I recently attended a Body pump class with a new instructor (to me). Near the end of the workout (during which she did not once mention weight and looking fit) she said “stop and think right now about how strong and empowered you feel. How clear your mind is. How relaxed you are. Now remember that feeling every time you don’t want to come. Hold on to that and remember why you workout”

That really stuck with me. Why do I work out? It calms my nerves. It clears my mind. It gives me more energy. It protects me against disease. It makes me feel strong. It helps me sleep better. It makes me feel confident. Overall, it makes me feel HAPPY. Those are all a bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with weight. I tell myself those things when I don’t want to be active and it works wonders. The days I don’t want to work out are often the days that I am feeling low or am stressed. Those are the days I need it most, and those are the days where it really hits home that being active is so much more than the way I look.

If you are only working out for the purpose of looking a certain way, I am curious to know if that works well for you. Do you enjoy your workouts? Have you made it a part of your life? If so, I applaud you and I hope that once you reach your physical goals, you will continue to keep it a part of your life for many other reasons. If you don’t like being active, try something new. Find something you not only like but are actually good at too. I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t always to be in a gym.  It can be as simple as planning a weekend hike twice a month, or riding your bike on a Saturday. It can be so many different things.

So how do we change this focus on weight? I am putting my foot down and saying enough is enough. Next time you hear someone talking about it, stop them and encourage them to think of other reasons to be active. Next time you hear that dialogue in your head, stop it. Replace it with something else. Re-frame it.

Making Room for Balance

Cheers to the Weekend

Cheers to the Weekend

This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending some time up at my friends cottage on Georgian Bay with 3 absolutely wonderful like-minded women. The weekend unfolded in the perfect way that only a summer weekend in Ontario cottage country can unfold. Time was measured by the sun in the sky and not by deadlines and meetings. Meals and naps were perfectly unscheduled and all was accompanied with a generous side of laughter, great conversation and of course wine. Life was lived in the moment and all activities focused around fun and relaxation (even cleaning the dishes).

This weekend left me feeling the most mentally refreshed I have in months. To live even two days without a schedule and plans of anything beyond what to make for dinner or what bottle of wine to open next, was a much needed step back from the pace of my current lifestyle.

It was the kind of weekend that has stuck with me even as I write this on Tuesday morning before work. We spent hours on the paddle boat, we slept in, we drank our coffee (slowly) on the veranda. We sat in comfortable silence.

We also indulged. Induldging at the cottage is pretty much something that goes without saying. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that at times I struggle with my relationship with food and allowing for indulgence. For me, indulgence is rarely accompanied without feelings of guilt. A textbook Type “A” I love control and we all know how easy it is to lose sight of control when faced with delicious unhealthy food and bottomless wine.

I vowed to approach this weekend with the right frame of mind. I find if I vow to let go of any guilt before I know I’m going to be indulging, I’m healthier all around- not only with my food choices but with the mental parts of it. I will say this now and I will say it again, it’s all about balance. We live in a world where messages about what to eat are constantly flying at us from ALL directions. It’s important to remember that some indulgence is good for the soul and doesn’t always need to be a complete junk food binge. A lot of blogs I read out there focus on eating one way and one way only and I have fallen down that trap of trying to adhere to strict rules, but this is life! Life doesn’t always have room for rigid rules and diets, and I think that this only perpetuates the relationship between guilt and food. Plus, we can’t forget that food is meant to be enjoyed. It plays such an integral role in regulating our bodies and that certainly doesn’t exclude our moods. Sure, a major binge on junk won’t improve your mood if you’re down and it certainly won’t leave you with a happy tummy, but some treats with friends during a weekend away or a croissant on a Friday is good for the soul. Also, what is a cottage weekend without a piña colada?

Letting go of the guilt made all the difference in my weekend. I didn’t feel the need to overindulge because eating the less unhealthy things I did was a conscious choice I made for myself- not something I tried to deny myself.

Besides vowing to let go of the guilt and allowing myself some treats, there are a few other important things I took with me from this weekend:

-The great feelings and positivity that come with taking more time in the morning. This really allows me to start the day out in the best possible way. I aim to get to work anywhere from 7:30-8:30am so taking loads of extra time in the morning is not always realistic but it’s the little changes that count here. I move downtown next week and could not be more excited yet I am truly going to miss where I live now- the balcony at the front of the house looks out on the lake and it is absolute bliss in the morning. For the past 2 days I have taken a few minutes to sit outside with my coffee and just take it in. Not the same as the hour I spent drinking my cottage cottage, but those few minutes are an instant stress reliever!

-Listening to music for the purpose of listening to music is a powerful thing. At some point this weekend we got the speakers out and turned the music on. It was then that it hit me that it has been so long since I have really taken the time to listen to music. Sure, I listen when I run, or sometimes I put background music on when I try and focus at work but it’s been a while since I’ve blasted some music and just sat there and taken it in. Music has the power to instantly lift my mood and I will be  intentionally listen a lot more from now on.

-Ice Cream has the power to cure the Sundays. Even when the Sundays include a 3 hour drive that normally takes just over an hour. See below for proof that ice cream = happiness.

Bliss

Bliss

A simple tip to keep from overindulging: have healthy snacks around and plan healthy meals. By all means, eat the cottage candy, but making sure there are also healthy snacks around will help you fill up on the good stuff- leaving you satisfied with only small amounts of the not-so-healthy stuff. This will also save you from a belly ache. For us, our Saturday afternoon pig out consisted of the Oh She Glows life affirming nacho dip (I always add a jalapeño for an extra kick), veggies, cheese and hummus (with a side of jujubes). For dinner we made homemade burgers and kept the toppings as healthy as possible (avocado, tomatoes, hummus). These menu items led to fewer marshmallows later on – but don’t get me wrong I still ate plenty!

Sweden for the Win (Again!)

Sweden is a very admirable country from a Wellness stand point. They are ON TOP of their game. With their great public health care, 6 weeks vacation, amazing child care and great social services it is no wonder those Swedes are so damn good-looking (not to mention they play great hockey, make amazing furniture and delicious meat balls). They just look calm, don’t they? Today I read an article about a city in Sweden where bikes are being given to citizens if they promise to drive less. GENIUS!  This once again proves that Sweden is amazing (disclaimer: I’m obsessed with Sweden). Not only is this a great way to promote physical activity and active commuting (win!) but an incredible way to take care of our environment (double win!)  

I tried to imagine such a scenario in Toronto. Currently, I cringe just about every time I see a cyclist downtown. Driving downtown is scary enough, but I fear for cyclists! Big shout out to those who commute in Toronto by bicycle, you are brave souls!! Toronto is such a driving city which is a huge shame. But just imagine it for a second, free bikes to those who leave their car at home. Obviously we would need to do something about the lack of bike lanes but if our city planners planned for a greener city that supports active commuting, I can picture it. It’s a beautiful image isn’t it?

What is so different about the way things are done over there? Why do people seem more willing to accept these things?

Just my thoughts for the night. And more time, HIGH FIVE SWEDEN!

The Power of Nature!

Hello Friends!

I realize it has been a lonnnnnnng time since I posted and I am sorry for anyone who stopped by looking for anything health and wellness related and found nada in recent months. A LOT has gone on in my life since I last posted. I got engaged! Very exciting and while the actual day is still 16 months away, it has been SO much fun putting my creative hat on and starting to plan. We are both outdoorsy people so we decided on an orchard as our venue- think dinner under the peach trees, twinkly lights and a ton of natural looking flowers. I get excited like a little kid on Christmas when I think about it! Of course, we cannot forget the point of it all, that I get to spend my life with the absolute best partner a girl could ask for. I cannot wait to share my life with Zach!! I have also now officially completed my graduate program in workplace wellness and health promotion!!! I am very very very very excited and keen to get out there in the working world (stay tuned for progress on that!) Through my grad program I had an amazing opportunity to work in the corporate wellness world two days a week and I really hope to take everything I learned with me into this next part of my life.

I have also been running! Anyone who knows me may know that I have no problem making it through an hour long BODYATTACK class, yet I have NEVER been a runner. This is surprising since my dad has been a runner all of his life and still plays very very fast lacrosse in his mid-50s. I guess I never got that gene. I have enjoyed (suffered) periods of running in the past, but running has always been way more mental to me than anything else. It has been a goal of mine for a long time to run a 10k race, so this year, after struggling with staying active during my first semester of school, I decided to sign up for the Sporting Life 10K in hopes that 1. I would be able to run it all and 2. Committing to the race would keep me active and force me to train throughout the semester. I was right! The race is this coming Sunday, and I’m sure I will post about it afterwards, but I ran the whole distance last week in 66 minutes, only stopping for about 30 seconds. It may not be a competitive time, but that’s not what this is about. I am also happy to report that I stayed on track with a running program since January, a huge plus since I was definitely struggling to stay active during the fall semester. The journey was long and not always pretty. I hate hate hate treadmills and with the winter we just had, I wasn’t able to get outside until the end of March. But boy oh boy, once I was able to take my training outside did I ever see improvement. Which brings me to the point of this post!!! (Sorry about the lonnnnng preamble there).

Spring has finally sprung!!!!!! It is May 7 and temperatures have FINALLY started to reach the double digits. It’s been a long wait for us northerners, that is for sure! I don’t mind the cold too much (I am Canadian after all), but the frigid temperatures that we saw this winter were enough to send even the biggest winter-lovers inside hiding and crying for spring. Now that it is finally here, we shouldn’t waste a single second more sitting inside (I am currently writing this outside wrapped in a blanket with some tea, which, side note, is the best I’ve ever had, from a local Toronto company called Pluck)

A few friends and I have decided to participate in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge. The whole point of the challenge is to get outside for 30 minutes, every day for 30 days. This may not seem like a “challenge” but it is surprising how hard it can actually be to fit nature into our lives, and a lot of us don’t even realize how deprived of nature we truly are. Think about what your average day (weekend excluded), looks like. How often do you intentionally spend outside connecting with nature? The truth is, a lot of us are very much so nature-deprived. In the health and wellness industry, nature is recognized as a crucial component to overall well-being. Our relationship with the outdoors is a long and important one, and it is only recently that society has become so disconnected from nature. Think about it, most of us sit inside at a job, which we drive to, while sitting inside a car, then we drive home, come inside and get on with our daily chores. Researchers like Richard Louv believe that not spending time outside with nature is actually detrimental to our health, and I happen to agree whole-heartedly. He calls this “Nature Deficiency Disorder” and believes it is strongly linked to many of our personal and community health and well-being problems, and it makes total sense. 

Nature is GOOD for us. Spending time outside can make us feel happier and less stressed. It also helps us fight off disease and is great for our overall mental and physical health. The 30×30 Challenge website states that nature can make us more empathetic and help connect us with our communities- which I also happen to agree with!

In case you need more reasons to get outside:

  • Nature can help treat depression. One study found that a daily walk in a green space can be as effective as antidepressants to treat mild to moderate depression!
  • Nature helps create a healthier work environment. A study found that employees who surround themselves with plants or those who have views of nature report better overall life satisfaction. I can personally vouch for this one! I have spent time working in a cubicle with nothing but a grey view. It made me sleepy when I wasn’t even tired! I have recently been working in an office where I sit right by a window looking out onto a pound and untamed nature. It is amazing! I feel so much more energized and happy even when I am doing mindless work!
  • Nature is healing. Hospital stays have actually been shown to be shorter in patients who have direct exposure to sunlight.
  • Nature helps us de-stress. Being outside forces us to focus on something that is pure, rather than focusing on the multiple tasks in a technology laden and artificial environment. No one can deny the calming effect of listening to the birds outside! 

I’m sure I could list a thousand more reasons why you should get outside. Visit the 30×30 Nature Challenge website for more reasons to connect with nature and to join the challenge. There is a hilarious quiz which can tell you how much nature you need in your life (hint, it is probably more than you are getting.)

While I strongly encourage a break from technology, if you do take a phone with you, be sure to use the hashtag #natureselfie or #30x30challenge in any pictures you take on your adventures with nature. 

I hope you all participate and build a stronger relationship with our beautiful outdoor world! Now that it is warm, take your lunch outside, get off the bus a few stops early, take a mid-morning “nature break” or simply sit outside in a park or on your porch/balcony or in your yard. I know you can do it!!!!

If you live in Toronto and are interested more in the work that Richard Louv does, be sure to come and see him speak at the Evergreen Brickworks on May 20.

Some of my ramblings:

Image

Image

source: www.besthealthmag.ca

Nike Training Club Canada- “Nearly Impossible Alone, Totally Possible Together”

My friends in New York City have been telling me for a couple years about their experiences with Nike Training Club. When they initially told me they attended free NTC classes at NYU I truly didn’t believe them. I thought they must be paying for it somehow in their tuition. They described these classes to me as a total-body workout involving metabolic conditioning in a super fun and motivating group environment all run by amazing NTC trainers. It seemed almost too good to be true. Still, I was envious that we didn’t have any NTC classes in Toronto when my friends explained this all to me.

Well, as of September I started seeing things about NTC Canada on Facebook. I clicked on the page and I didn’t see any info on any classes. However, a few weeks later an event for a NTC class popped up on my feed! I investigated and found out that all you have to do is write “count me in” on the wall of the event page. I was still a little skeptical and thought there must be some sort of catch. However, I decided to give it a go and attend a Saturday class and convinced my sister to join me. The classes are being offered at  http://academyoflions.com which is located at 64 Ossington Ave (Ossington and Queen West) in Toronto, a good trek from my eastern suburb, but after the raving reviews from my friends in NYC I decided it was worth the journey.

We arrived and checked in and sure enough, there really was no catch, it was definitely free!  The Academy of Lions gym is a neat space, and I didn’t feel intimidated being there (which is a feeling I have felt upon walking into other crossfit gyms). In fact, the atmosphere made me pretty excited (which is hard to feel knowing a gruelling workout is in front of you). We walked up the stairs to their second floor which has walls covered in NTC quotes and of course, tons of swoosh symbols.  There was loud, trendy music playing and I really couldn’t wait to get moving. All in all, there were at least 40 girls there (and a few brave men! YAY to them!!) We met our fun, itty-bitty, cheerful coach, Jenn Thompson (who’s body was all the motivation I really needed) and started a warm up. The warm up consisted of a nice mix of cardio and dynamic movements going from one side of the room to the other. Then, the hard stuff got under way. The whole class was a solid mix of intervals involving some plyometic movements, crunches and the like, combined with a circuit that we completed in teams as a relay. I really loved the circuit part of it all. One team member went at a time and went through 10 reps at each station (weighted lunges, dips, rows, burpies, squat jumps) and then held a plank at the end. The next person would start, and then release the team mate holding the plank at the end once they got there, who would then run back to the team members and send the next person. It was a lot of fun, and having a team to cheer me on really kept me going! The best part was that while we were waiting we were not just standing around. Jenn had us doing squats or jumping jacks and as soon as we started slacking, we were all down for 10 push-ups.

My only criticism of the whole experience is that I saw a lot of people rushing through their movements with less than optimal form in order to make their team win. However, Jenn was pretty good at fixing this- and given the class size, it would have been a lot of work to make sure every single person was doing the moves properly. For this reason, I wouldn’t say this would be the best class to attend if you are a total newbie to working out, but at the same time, I would still encourage newbies to the fitness world to check it out just because it was so fun and motivating!

All in all, I had an absolute blast! I really wish I lived closer to take full advantage of these free classes offered 3 times a week! I love the team environment and the completely female friendly easy going attitude I felt from everyone. I sweat like a pig, had fun, and left feeling accomplished. Not to mention, there is a cute little coffee bar right in the gym where I enjoyed a wonderful coconut milk latte after the class (why do more coffee shops in Toronto not offer coconut milk as an option?) It really was the perfect way to spend the first half of my Saturday. I mean, a good workout AND good coffee, what’s not to love?

Check out the classes! Just head on over to https://www.facebook.com/niketrainingclubcanada/app_233752330117269

Click on the drop down menu where it says “Train with NTC” and then select “Events.” That will take you to a page with all of the listed classes. Be sure to sign up early, they fill up fast! Make sure you write “Count me in” on the event wall in order to be registered. The best part? You can attend as many classes as you wish!

I hope to see some of you there next time I go!

Image

Image

Me!

Hey everyone!

Well, this is my very first time ever writing a blog so bear with me!

Who am I?

My name is Alison (Ali) and I am currently a Workplace Wellness and Health Promotion grad student at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario.

Favourite way to sweat?

LesMills BodyPump, BodyAttack or RPM

Favourite vegetable?

Kale

Favourite fruit?

It’s a 3 way tie between pomegranates, avocados and raspberries

Favourite beverage?

COFFEE

Why am I here?

The short story: To talk about wellness with anyone who is interested. Mainly, I like to discuss fitness, nutrition, mental health and wellness in the workplace. It is my hope that I can provide readers with recipes, reviews about all things wellness in Toronto (and beyond!) and discuss ideas and thoughts surrounding these subjects.

The long story: I used to write, a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, you name it. Then, I went away to University. I wrote a lot there too, but mainly things like research papers, statistic reports and then my biggest piece of writing to date- an undergraduate thesis. But that stuff was boring, I didn’t have time to write the fun stuff for myself anymore.

Through University I found myself struggling with crippling bouts of depression and anxiety. I think a lot of students go through this but society teaches us to keep it to ourselves, and I did. There is nothing as poisonous as the self-stigma we put on ourselves and I felt entirely alone. Anyone who has been through University knows it is a fight. I felt like I was swimming upstream through the rapids for most of my time as an undergraduate, barely staying afloat.

After a horrendous breakup, a friend of mine suggested I join her in a kickboxing class. Her words were “because visualizing his face must be good for something”. She was right, and man did it feel good. This was kind of a turning point in my life. I was shocked to realize just how much a good workout could affect my mood. I wish I could say it was right then that my whole life became perfect and I started going to the gym every day. (I will disclose this now- my life is still not perfect and I still don’t workout every day, and that’s okay!).  However, from that point on, I decided that fitness was going to be a part of my life. I made it through my undergrad, working out as much as I could and really finding myself benefitting from a group fitness environment. While at that time I would have loved to be active every day, I could only manage about 3 days a week- yet those 3 days a week are what I truly believe kept me afloat through it all.

When I graduated, I was sure glad all that stress was over. Unfortunately, as a new graduate I found the world to be overwhelming, and the employment market a huge source of discouragement. I always thought that when I left school, my life would fall into place and I would never feel anxious or depressed again. “Real life” left me with a lot of free time on my hands and an even bigger serving of disillusionment. I had never really been overweight in my life, and I considered my eating habits to be fairly healthy, but I also wasn’t exactly athletic and toned. The months following my graduation lead to a few things, a sense of complacency in a terrible serving job, and about 20 pounds on my small frame.

Around that time I met my wonderful partner Zach. Zach is many things to me- my biggest cheer leader, my support system, my road trip buddy, my best friend and my rock. Being in a new relationship is always an exciting time- but I wouldn’t say it was a driving force in my health goals. In fact, it was kind of the opposite. Zach has made it very clear from the get-go that he thinks I am beautiful. It is hard to stay focused on eating well and working out when you have a sexy man telling you that you always look amazing, no matter what. Here’s the kicker to our story- Zach lives 830km away from me. This has had it’s challenges over the years we have been together, but also has had many benefits. I ended up losing my serving job (a huge blow to my ego) and therefore, I didn’t have an income to afford to go visit him. He was struggling himself and we had a period of being apart for quite some time- this wasn’t a pretty time in my life and was a big contributing factor to this post-graduation 20 pounds.

Instead of hiding away in a blanket of depression I started to dedicate my extra time to fitness and changing my eating habits. As I said, I had never been one to eat terribly unhealthy, but something had to change. The key for me was also realizing how much a healthy active lifestyle affected my mood. I began to workout at least 5 days a week with a healthy combination of strength training and cardio group fitness classes. I eliminated all refined and processed foods out of my diet. I started to feel amazing. I dropped nearly 20 pounds in 5 months. Around this same time, I was realizing that I needed to make another big change in my life. I realized I needed to go to graduate school in order to find a career that fulfilled me. I had been an “A” student during my undergraduate career but I still wasn’t quite cut out to pursue a masters in clinical psychology like I once thought I would. I applied to a few M.A. counseling programs thinking I would like to help people through therapeutic means. Yet, something was holding me back. What I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted didn’t seem to match up anymore. However, I didn’t even know exactly what it was that I wanted. I searched and searched and searched until I stumbled upon health promotion programs. I thought about an M.Sc. in Health Promotion. I thought about Organizational Psychology, but I gagged at the thought of dedicating 2 years of my life to research. I still knew I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know what medium I would do this through. I have worked as a summer camp counsellor and I get an immense amount of satisfaction from mentoring and motivating people. I started to help my friends change their lifestyles as well, and the fulfillment I gained from helping others out in this capacity was immensely gratifying. This is also when I discovered the WWHP program at Centennial. I read through the course descriptions and through the career options. I was thirsty for more information. I contacted graduates of the program and spoke to them about what they were doing now. I didn’t even know that workplace wellness existed! Everything sort of fell into place for me. I slowly started wrapping my head around the fact that I could help people in the workplace, I could even help with mental health in the workplace, and I could do it all through my passion for exercise and nutrition.

To me, health is not just about getting through life and avoiding or fighting off illness. Health is about being present in life, it is about preventing diseases (mental and physical) and it is about  fostering our ability to live life to it’s fullest. I believe that our physical and mental states are so much more connected then we realize. I believe what we put in our bodies dictates so much of our lives and affects our mental and physical health the same way that exercise (or lack of exercise) does. I believe that in our society we do not treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. Instead, we work them to the ground and in the process destroy our mental and physical well-being and develop chronic illnesses. The biggest culprit of encouraging this behaviour is a place where we spend most of our time- the workplace. I think this is all preventable if only we have the information and motivation to change our lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change. It doesn’t have to be a wake-up-at 5am-every-day-to-run change, it doesn’t even mean avoiding chocolate at all costs. It just means doing the best we can, day to day, to incorporate wellness into our lives. 

 

So to come full circle, here I am studying wellness and pursuing a career where I can do exactly what I mentioned above. I love researching about wellness, I love hearing about wellness, I love sharing the messages, I love participating in wellness initiatives. And I REALLY love writing about wellness. Writing has become fun and enjoyable to me again for the first time since high school. Through my writing about wellness I want to share my passion with all of you. Since fitness and nutrition are my biggest passions when it comes to health promotion and wellness I will be sharing a lot of information about those domains of health here, but I will also be sharing information on just about anything in the wellness field. So stick around and read what you can. I hope I can help you head towards a life full of well-being and health, or at least get the wheels turning to help you live your life the best way you can!