Are you in an unhealthy relationship with the number on your scale? Here’s how to cut the ties that bind.

Are you in a toxic relationship with your scale? Does the number reflecting your weight often determine your mood causing you to feel happy, sad, confident, frustrated or lost? Does this number tend to dictate your self-worth? Have you ever wondered why you value the opinion of this object? If you answered yes to any of these questions, now is the time to break up with your scale and find your true happiness.

Letting go may seem difficult, as if you’ll have to fly blind without a crutch. How else will you measure your success?

We’re Trained to Care About Our Weight

Society teaches us to value the number on this scale. Our medical system determines our body mass index (BMI) based on height and weight. This basic measure does not look at genetic structure, muscle or internal health but rather a number that has haunted many of us for years. The BMI is a reference range and does not depict who we are inside and out. It does not measure our worth or success. Plus, social media comparisons, transformations and weight-loss challenges can make it very hard to ignore what the scale says.

The scale measures overall weight, including bones, water, muscle and adipose tissue. This number varies from day to day based on sodium, water, hormones, exercise and even stress. Influxes are a normal occurrence in the human body. The success of a nutrition and fitness program cannot be solely based on a single variable that can change from hour to hour. Remember that changes in body composition do not always result in shifts on the scale. The changes you should focus on are measured in energy levels, inches lost, how your clothes are fitting and your overall feeling.

How to Break Up With Your Scale

So what’s the best way to break up with the scale? Simple answer: COLD TURKEY. Stop this unhealthy habit right away and start the healing process. There is no weaning off the scale because the desire and impulse will keep drawing you in. It’s time to get it out of sight and out of mind. The scale often becomes a pivotal part of your day. It may be the first thing you do in the morning or whenever you’re at the gym. Even if you don’t vocalize it, you most likely have an ideal number in mind — a value you would love to see. You may even think that once you hit that number, you will feel complete.

A magical number that provides all the answers to your happiness does not exist. A number on a scale is just a number — one that does nothing for you and can even leave you feeling empty once you achieve it. The scale will not bring lasting happiness if you are not truly happy with yourself first.

“Failed” attempts at physical success (a continuous loop of hope, short-term success, frustration, disappointment and ultimately quitting) often reflect an underlying issue that has not been fully addressed. It’s easy to fall into this vicious cycle, which only makes you more vulnerable to ever-enticing fad diets that promise to solve all your problems.

Healing the body and mind from within should be the first step and core component of any nutrition and fitness journey. Learning to lead a healthier lifestyle is the foundation for long-term success.

See Goal Setting: Don’t Focus on the Scale.

Beyond the scale, there are so many other ways to determine your health, fitness and nutrition successes that will allow you to maintain sustainable wellness.

Focus on these 10 measures:

  1. Measurements  – Dropping inches is a great measure of fat loss.
  2. Clothing Size – Do your clothes fit better?
  3. Energy – Have you stopped crashing in the afternoon?
  4. Mood – Do you feel happier throughout the day?
  5. Digestion ­– Do you notice more regularity when you are active and eating healthy?
  6. Relationships – Do you find you have more meaningful connections?
  7. Sleep – Is your sleep more restful and uninterrupted?
  8. Hormones – Do you feel your hormones are more balanced with a healthy lifestyle?
  9. Hair/Skin/Nails – Have you noticed a new glow?
  10. Mirror – Do you look in the mirror and see positive changes?

On your health and fitness journey, external physique cannot be the only measure of success. We often forget to include our internal measures, day-to-day activities and relationships into the equation. Balance across the board is key.

When you eat healthy, exercise regularly and focus on a positive mindset, you will reap the rewards of increased health, vitality and well-being. These are gifts that the number on the scale can never give to you. Feeling good on the inside will inevitably lead to an improved outer appearance. It takes time and patience, but it’s worth it!

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Stand out from the crowd this year. Do not be part of the 80 percent who’s resolutions fail by February.

’Tis the season for change. As we warm up to 2019, it’s the perfect opportunity to refocus priorities and commit to new goals. You may have set resolutions to become healthier, better your nutrition and/or commit to a higher level of fitness. While these are great goals, it’s important for you to make them specific, attainable and sustainable.

Here are a few common mistakes we make when it comes to resolutions, thus leading to failure:

  1. Sharing vague goals
  2. Lacking a solid timeline
  3. Forgetting to outline your plan step by step

Creating sustainable goals may just be the most crucial step to your success. When setting resolutions, you must be realistic about the overall outcome and timeline. The No. 1 reason individuals never fulfill their goals is because of frustration when their expectations are not met.

I always like to remind my clients that change takes time. The habit you are looking to shift most likely took years to develop and will take more than days or even weeks to resolve or improve.

Here are some tips to help you stick to your resolutions.

Putting in time, blood, sweat and sometimes tears are what goals are made of. They may not come easy, but in the end, they are worth it. Let 2019 be different. Let this be the year you realistically set yourself up for success. Here are three important steps that can lead you to rock your resolutions:

1. Uncover Your “WHY”

When setting goals, it’s important to reflect on WHY you want to succeed. This should be the driving force behind your long-term success. Let’s begin the process.

Once you determine your goal, write it down in a journal and set an appropriate timeline. Next, write out your reason for wanting to succeed. This is called your “why.” Do not make this primarily based on appearance. Your “why” should come from within, a motivator that will not allow you to fail. It could be for your health, children or spouse, but whatever you choose, it should have true meaning. Keep your journal close by and reflect on this whenever you are having doubts.

2. Create Goal-Based Milestones to Help You Stay Motivated

Setting a goal for the entire year may seem daunting. Overtime, sticking to resolutions becomes more challenging as you become less motivated. While this is understandable, there are ways to stay on track.

A great trick to maintain focus is setting milestones throughout the year. Plan special occasions to work toward. For example, if you are looking to drop three pant sizes over the course of a year, work toward dropping one pant size by spring break, then another by summer vacation and another by Thanksgiving. Setting these three timelines will help push you toward your next milestone and ultimately your final goal.

Take out your journal and write down your milestone dates and what you wish to achieve. These should focus on your overall goal and keep you moving in the right direction. Another fun way to stay on track is by creating a vision board with motivating photos and reminders as you move through each milestone.

3. Write Out a Week-by-Week Plan

One of the biggest mistakes we make when setting goals is attempting to change everything at once. This typically causes stress and leads to failure. Whenever a resolution is set, then a plan should be put in place. By doing so, there are step-by-step changes, which can be made at incremental stages.

Change takes time, and shifting everything “cold turkey” is not necessarily going to help. For example, if your goal is to drop 5 percent body fat in six months, then the best way to start is by making small changes to your nutrition. Cut soda, increase your vegetable intake or drop fast food. The next steps may involve fitness, such as increasing or switching up your workouts two to three days per week.

By making these step-by-step changes, you have time to embrace and master the plan. When the next step comes, the newly added change will not seem as overwhelming. Use a calendar. Write out each week’s plan to keep a visual cue of what needs to be done next. Have fun with this by decorating the dates and keeping it in an accessible location.

Set yourself up for success. Create sustainable goals. Find your motivating “why.” Establish attainable milestones. A clear vision and plan will make your path much easier. Let this be the year you truly achieve your goals!

Also, read how to create lasting habits.

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Learn how your gut health impacts your hormones and your waistline — and what you can do about it.

As women, it’s important that we ensure our hormones and gut health are in check.

I’m sure many of you have heard the buzz about “gut health” and its impact on our health and fitness success. As women, we all want our efforts in and out of the gym to be optimized. I don’t know about you, but my main reason for spending time in the gym and kitchen is to ultimately feel my best and be as healthy as possible.

Piqued interest surrounding the importance of “gut health” has many talking about its role in chronic diseases. Modern medicine has finally begun to recognize the digestive system as a core component to the overall good health puzzle. Recent studies have shown a cause-and-effect relationship between the gut and many of our other systems (immune, neurological, endocrine, cardiovascular, etc.).

Could this be the missing piece of information surrounding the rise in hormone-related disease and obesity? The reality is our hormones play a large part in our ability to gain and lose body fat. Elevated estrogen has specifically been linked to increased body fat and hormone-related disease. Only in recent years have hormones and the gut been linked.

One of the most common causes of weight gain and estrogen-dominate diseases could be a condition called leaky gut. Despite the forthcoming research, nutritionists and physicians often overlook the link between unsuccessful fat loss, imbalanced hormones and gut health. Read between the lines: We end up having to do our own research!

For the 411 on leaky gut syndrome, check out this article.

Leaky Gut and Estrobolome

Now, hang with me as I get a little nerdy! When the gut is stressed or damaged, it’s no longer able to function efficiently. The lining of the gut becomes porous and is unable to act as a “micro-filter.” Large particles begin to seep back into the bloodstream, creating chaos and inflammation.

An important part of our gut function is dependent on the health of our microbiome. This is our own unique “ecosystem” of bacteria that is much like our genetic fingerprint. When the good bacteria are disrupted, it creates a dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance) and is a major cause of leaky gut. All the bacteria within the digestive tract play an important role to keep the body functioning properly.

If leaky gut is present, it can negatively impact the hormone balance, specifically estrogen levels. When discussing estrogen dominance, there is a specific subset of bacteria to consider called estrobolome. This group of microbes are responsible for metabolizing estrogen. When dysbiosis occurs among these microbes, it may affect the body’s ability to excrete excess estrogen, which is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream, therefore, increasing circulating estrogen levels.

When balanced, estrogen plays an important role in fat deposition, bone cell turnover, glucose and lipid metabolism. On the flip side, elevated levels of estrogen in the body can be an increased risk of endometriosis, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer and obesity.

What Can Alter Estrobolome?

The gut microbiome and estrobolome can be affected by many factors, both internal and external. It’s important to keep a happy gut to have a healthy body. Here are a few specific items that can trigger dysbiosis and leaky gut.

  • Antibiotics
  • Excess processed foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Excess sugar Stress
  • Alcohol

Is This Me?

If you’re now wondering about your own estrogen, here are 10 common signs you could be experiencing elevated levels. If you’re saying “yes” to any of the symptoms below, you may want to see a licensed medical practitioner to have your estrogen checked.

10 Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

  • Irregular or abnormal periods
  • Abdominal bloating or generalized water retention 
  • Mood swings
  • Exaggerated premenstrual symptoms 
  • Swollen or tender breasts outside of PMS
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Weight gain

Tips to Balance Estrogen Levels Naturally

If you’re suffering from hormonal imbalances specific to estrogen, there are ways you can help yourself come back to balance naturally. It’s recommended that you first consult a physician, but the following are complementary approaches to ensure the body is functioning optimally.

  • Keep the gut healthy and balanced.
  • Partake in regular exercise 20 to 30 minutes four times per week.
  • Consume healthy fats (avocado, nuts, coconut oil, salmon, etc.).
  • Increase daily fiber to 25 to 30 grams per day.
  • Limit processed sugars.
  • Manage stress.
  • Consume a balanced diet for lifestyle (no overeating or undereating).

For foods that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut, check out this article.

Making lifestyle changes beyond your regular food and exercise routine can be scary and frustrating — no matter how you look, how much you can lift or how many times you hit the gym per week. If you’re suffering from estrogen dominance symptoms, the journey can be even more difficult. But taking charge of your health is always worth it.

As women, it’s important that we ensure our hormones and gut health are in check. Remember the value of balancing and nourishing your body, mind and gut to live your healthiest life possible.

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Straying from your healthy routine is a seasonal hazard — but not if you follow these simple tips.

Before attending your company holiday party last night, where you knew you’d eat and drink a few too many festive treats, you vowed to wake up early today and sweat off your transgressions with a killer workout.

Except now, all you want to do is cozy up on the couch in your jammies with a blanket, a mug of hot cocoa and an entire season of your favorite TV show. Uh oh — the slippery slope of winter hibernation has officially begun!

“Self-care is important all year long, but it’s vital in a season of big dinners, traveling, office parties and stressful family situations,” says Karen Azeez, certified health coach and owner of Well Beings With Karen Azeez.

“These conditions are the very same ones that often keep people out of the gym or out of their exercise/meditation/self-care routines. In my experience, it’s so much easier to stay on track rather than repair the damage of a huge derailment.”

So if your calendar is full of nonstop fun and festivities this season, Azeez says these seven simple strategies will stave off a world of hurt and get you through the winter fit and happy:

Step into the light. 

As human beings, we will always need sunlight and exercise no matter how cold and dreary it is outdoors. Not only do our bodies need vitamin D from sunlight to keep our immune system and bones strong, but getting a dose of morning light also helps keep our internal clock in order (so that we feel awake during the day and sleepy at bedtime). So no matter how difficult, strive to get out into the morning light for at least 10 or 20 minutes a day. Make a morning walk pact with a friend or stroll part of the way to work. And remember, you can still enjoy outdoor sports (skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing). Just layer up and get out there.

Book it. 

When your schedule includes parties, travel, holiday shopping, decorating and entertaining, it’s hard to fit in exercise, right? But it’s easier if you keep this advice in mind: Exercise stays on your schedule — scorched into your digital calendar like the Ten Commandments — and everything else fits in around it. When we exercise regularly, not only are we burning off that slice of pumpkin pie, but we are also creating greater awareness of our bodies, boosting our self-esteem and managing stress more easily.

Stop the snooze. 

You may want to pull the covers over your head and get an extra hour (or two) of sleep at this time of year, but resist the urge — too much can leave you feeling foggy-headed and listless, throw off your sleep cycle and cause insomnia, and even exacerbate depression. So push yourself to get up earlier than feels comfortable. If you move around and you’re still tired, then you are actually tired. If not, you were just warm, comfy and sleepy.

Have fun. 

Don’t let the fear of derailing your goals keep you from being social and enjoying the holidays — isolation can lead to depression, and depression can lead to weight gain and insomnia. Being with people is energizing in body, mind and spirit, so offer to host a game night with healthy snacks, a soup tasting, a clothing swap or even a tea party.

Keep hydrated. 

You may not feel as thirsty as the summer months, but your body still needs at least 70 ounces a day of water to keep going. And while the gingerbread lattes and eggnogs may be delicious, they don’t count toward that goal. Staying hydrated keeps our energy levels up, promotes sounder sleep and staves off overeating and cravings. So your water bottle should be the No. 1 weapon in your arsenal — keep it at your desk, with you on the plane and in your purse while running errands.

Get back to your roots. 

It’s normal to crave cheesy dips and tons of mashed potatoes during celebrations and on cold winter days. In fact, it’s our body’s way of reminding us that with the change of season, we should transition to heartier and more warming foods instead of the salads and smoothies of summer. Thankfully, these are the kind of foods that Mother Nature provides to us from the earth in the winter — namely in root veggies, such as carrots, parsnips, potatoes and beets. Whip up a batch of freshly made soup (avoiding the creamy ones) to satisfy your need for coziness without the extra fat.

Keep calm and carry on. 

If you do the above steps, you’re well on your way to handling the extra dose of stress the holidays tend to dish out. Now you just need to add some breathing techniques to slow the nervous system and meditation to quiet the mind. Just like exercise, you can program these breaks into your phone’s calendar or reminder system to make sure they stay a part of your daily life. And don’t underestimate the power of locking yourself in a coat closet and counting to 10 when your cousins start fighting again.

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Make over your menu with these foods and drinks to look and feel like a million bucks.

Turns out the old saying “you are what you eat” holds true, and scientists around the globe are delving into just exactly what foods have the “it” factor when it comes to getting into — and staying in — fabulous shape. Here, we’ve collected the latest research on food science and came up with a precise, head-to-toe nutrition guide for total-body health. Make over your menu with these foods and drinks to look and feel like a million bucks.

Mushrooms

Hair

Mushrooms

For those coveted glossy locks, you need plenty of vitamin D: According to research, the sunshine vitamin can help create new hair follicles and may “wake up” follicles that have gone dormant, potentially thickening your mane. Get your daily D from fatty fish like salmon, fortified milk, or by sauteing up a package of UV-exposed mushrooms, fungi that have been exposed to UV light to kick-start their vitamin D production.

Pumpkin Seeds

If you find a troubling amount of hair in your shower drain, your diet might be lacking in zinc: A study in the Annals of Dermatology found that women experiencing hair loss were more likely to have lower blood levels of zinc, which is necessary for the creation of enzymes that support hair development and prevent hair loss. Avoid bad hair days by tossing a tablespoon or two of zinc-rich pumpkin seeds onto oatmeal, yogurt and salads.

Brain

Kale

Seems like smart people do crunch more kale: A study in the journal Neurology found that people who ate the most leafy greens per day had more youthful brains than those who ate less. These nutrient-rich greens can help sharpen your mind, but eat them in their natural state: Research shows that noshing on raw vegetables and fruits is better at boosting brain power; the cooking process diminishes their nutritional firepower.

Kefir

Itty-bitty gut bugs may help you look on the bright side of life: Researchers in Australia found strong evidence to suggest that an increased intake of probiotics can reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and general stress. Scientists theorize that we have a gut-brain axis and that the beneficial bugs in our digestive tract also can impact brain function. Feed your gut a daily serving of tangy kefir, which has even more friendly critters than yogurt.

Dark Chocolate 

Eyes

Avocado

Your avocado toast habit is good news not just for your social media feed but also for your peepers. Research shows that frequent avocado consumption is a surefire way to bolster levels of lutein, the antioxidant proven to reduce your chances for age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration.

Dark Chocolate

Study results published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that the flavonoid compounds in dark chocolate, especially bars with a cocoa percentage of 70 or higher, may sharpen your eyesight by increasing retinal blood flow and improve your vision quality. Treat yourself to a square or two daily to fine-tune your ocular abilities.

Ears

Salmon

Now hear this: Eat more fish. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that women who consumed two or more servings of fish per week experienced reduced rates of hearing loss. This benefit was even stronger with fish that provided lots of omega-3 fats — such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout and sablefish (black cod). These fats help improve blood flow to your ears to improve hearing.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Improve your aural capacity by eating a diet made of nutrient-dense, whole foods. A study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet, which focuses on items like extra-virgin olive oil, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish, benefited from a 30 percent lower risk of hearing loss, as compared to women with a diet higher in processed foods.

Olive oil contains oleocanthal, an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation on a level comparable to an adult dosage of ibuprofin, according to research.

Heart

Eggs

After years of being wrongly deemed a heart attack waiting to happen, eggs eaten in moderation are actually associated with a lower overall risk for cardiovascular disease. Sure, eggs are a source of dietary cholesterol, but they also contain high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that keep your heart beating strong.

Walnuts

Go nuts for walnuts: A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology discovered that the rate of heart disease among 81,337 subjects was 40 percent lower in those who got the most protein from nuts and seeds. Nuts contain a powerful mix of ticker-friendly plant protein, fiber, healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants. Eat an ounce of walnuts daily and you’ll also get a dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Green Tea

Skin

Sweet Potato

British researchers found that an increased intake of carotenoids — the antioxidant pigments found in colorful vegetables like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, butternut squash and bell peppers — over a six-week period had a beneficial effect on skin’s appearance. It’s likely that the carotenoids decreased the oxidative skin damage associated with everyday hazards like UV radiation and air pollution and that the beta carotene abundant in sweet potatoes offered protection against sunburn. What’s more, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that higher intakes of vegetables and fruits can protect against adult acne.

Green Tea

Go ancient to get youthful: A report in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that the polyphenols abundant in green tea offer protection against the damaging effects of UV radiation while improving measures of skin quality such as elasticity. Sip two or more cups per day to reverse tired skin and prevent flaking by increasing blood flow.

Bones

Beans

You probably know that vitamin D is a major player in bone health, but if your diet is lacking in magnesium, you won’t get its full benefit: A recent study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that vitamin D is not properly metabolized without sufficient magnesium, and another study found that people typically get only 50 percent of their recommended daily magnesium intake. Beans are super high in magnesium — 1 cup of black beans contains 120 milligrams, which is 30 percent of your recommended daily intake — as are other legumes such as lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds and dark, leafy greens.

Cottage Cheese

Protein isn’t just for building bigger muscles, it’s also needed to construct break-resistant bones. A large review of studies published in Osteoporosis International found that a protein- and calcium-rich diet is beneficial for bone mineral density, a major determinant of overall bone health. Furthermore, researchers found no evidence supporting the theory that the acid load because of higher dietary protein digestion is damaging to our bones. With about 14 grams of protein per ½-cup serving and about 100 milligrams of calcium, cottage cheese is a bone-strengthening powerhouse.

Blueberries

Muscles

Blueberries

These health bombs can help you bounce back quicker after a spirited workout. Recent research shows that daily blueberry consumption can improve various markers of muscle recovery, including reduced oxidative stress, increased levels of anti-inflammatory compounds, and faster return of peak muscle strength in response to both endurance and weight training. It is likely that the anthocyanin — the antioxidant in blueberries that gives them their blue color — has a lot to do with this benefit. Shoot for about 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries each day added to oatmeal, salads or smoothies.

Beef or Chicken Protein Powder

Whey protein isn’t the only postworkout muscle-building powder around: A study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition found that lean body mass gains in women in response to an eight-week resistance-training program was just as high when beef protein isolate or chicken protein isolate was consumed as compared to when the same amount of whey protein isolate was consumed. A scoop of the Paleo-friendly powders infuses your body with large amounts of essential amino acids to kick-start muscle-making pathways.

Breasts

Broccoli

Mounting research suggests that higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables — which include broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts — can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A payload of vitamins, minerals and supercharged antioxidants such as sulforaphane in broccoli is likely why it helps keep the big C at bay.

Broccoli

Sardines

These budget-friendly swimmers deliver a potent one-two punch against breast cancer because they are one of the best sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fats, which have both been shown to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer. What’s more, a British Journal of Nutrition study found that women with higher blood levels of vitamin D had a better chance of surviving a bout of breast cancer. Add a can of water-packed sardines to sandwiches, salads and even scrambled eggs.

Kick This Quad to the Curb

These four food groups — if you can call them that — are bad news when it comes to building a healthy body. Here’s why.

White Bread = Whiteheads

A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found a link between the intake of high-glycemic foods like white bread, white rice and sugar-laden drinks with pimple flare-ups. For blemish-free skin, swap the processed junk for quality carb options like brown rice, quinoa and whole rye bread.

Soda = Smaller Brain

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that people who frequently drank sugary beverages like soda and bottled iced tea were more likely to suffer from memory issues and had smaller brains overall. Instead, go with seltzer, water with lemon or homemade, sugar-free iced tea.

Booze = Breast Cancer Risk

A Journal of Clinical Oncology study cites evidence that women who consume just a single alcoholic drink a day face a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Our bodies break down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a carcinogen that may raise the chances of developing cancer. Limit your imbibing to once or twice a week, or opt for mocktails when out with the girls.

Deli Meats = Weaker Bones

Deli meats are super high in sodium, running on average between 250 to 300 milligrams per ounce for most brands. Excess sodium intake can increase the amount of calcium that is flushed from your body, meaning there is less available for strengthening your skeleton. Keep your calcium in pocket by choosing fresh meats over processed ones, and beware of the sodium content in other supermarket staples like bread, soup and cheese.

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Body composition is important not only for physical aesthetic but also for performance and longevity. Here’s what you need to know to swing the percentages in your favor.

FAT.

No group of women fears this word more than those in the fitness industry. Body fat is the target of nearly all workout programming, and all efforts are directed toward burning it, cutting it and losing it. Not that wanting to haul around less body fat is bad — quite the contrary: Obesity is the scourge of both the individual and society at large, and losing a ton of fat would literally do a world of good.

Yet for some, fat loss becomes a slippery slope, and often women push it a little too far when chasing that lean ideal. Because in the end, body fat is still a vital part of our physiology and too little can be just as dangerous as too much.

What the F…

First, let’s get this straight: Bodyweight and body composition are not the same thing. Your bodyweight is simply the number you see on the scale and is really only a measure of how hard gravity is pulling you toward the earth’s center. It measures the total weight of your body — muscle, bones, skin, organs, water weight, hair — even lunch — and what you weigh can fluctuate from day to day depending on what you ate, the time of the month (for women), how much sodium you’re ingesting and stress levels.

Knowing your weight is useful as a gauge of health in some ways, and several studies have shown that people who weigh themselves every day are more likely to stick to a health program than those who don’t because the scale keeps them accountable for their actions. However, it does not take into account the composition of your body — the ratio of fat to lean mass in your person — and is not really a good indicator of health.

Your body composition is the breakdown of what exactly you’re made of: muscles, bones, organs and of course fat. It is often described as the ratio of your fat mass vs. your fat-free mass. However, this is somewhat misleading: A certain percentage of your body fat is actually found within your organs, nervous system and hormones, as well as on the surface of every one of the 37 trillion cells in your body. This “essential fat” accounts for about 8 to 12 percent of total fat for women. The remainder of your fat mass is that bothersome layer we all want to shed — adipose tissue — which lies beneath your skin and is in essence a cache of fatty acids stored in cells as energy reserves and insulation.

Although it may be aesthetically displeasing, some adipose tissue is necessary for normal physiology and plays an important role in the production of sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. It also facilitates the transport and storage of fat-soluble vitamins and, strangely, plays a role in satiety: The brain takes note of how much fat is stored in adipose cells and can increase hunger signals or reduce your activity level when it feels stores are too low.

Because it’s essentially stored energy, adipose tissue has a very low metabolic cost — in other words, it requires very few calories to maintain. Lean mass is quite the opposite, requiring more calories just to exist, and gaining muscle weight is a good thing for fat loss in the long term because it will cause the body to burn more calories throughout the day. Gaining lean mass will also change your resting metabolic rate (RMR), the calories you burn at rest. Your RMR is highly influenced by body composition, which is why two people of the exact same height and weight can look very different physically and will require very different amounts of food to fuel their physique: The one with more lean mass requires more calories, even if they’re not active that day.

How Low Should You Go?

Women by nature have more essential body fat than men, and a healthy range of total body-fat percentage can swing anywhere from 18 to 30 percent for women. While we all want to see our abs, dropping below the norm can have some negative side effects, ranging from the innocuous — temperature sensitivity and decreased energy — to the more dangerous — loss of muscle mass, depression, reproductive and endocrine dysfunction, heart arrhythmia and kidney damage.

Athletes and fitness pros can often maintain a leaner physique based on their activity level and the amount of muscle they carry. For these women, a year-round 15 to 19 percent body-fat level is not uncommon and can still be healthy. However, the effort required to maintain this level demands more attention to exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management and mindset. Many athletes who compete in bikini, fitness and figure drop below that number to hit their peak for a competition, but most rebound back to normal once the show is over since it is unhealthy and difficult to maintain such low levels of body fat. This subnorm loss should be done slowly over the course of several months because fluctuating quickly in a larger range — alternating with drastic cuts and rapid gains — can wreak havoc on your endocrine, digestive and immune systems.

For non-stage athletes who want long-term results, slow, steady fat loss is always better because it gives your brain a chance to reset its conservation tactics and learn to accept a lower overall body-fat level. You’ll also want to maintain a body-fat level that allows you to excel at your sport, allowing you to get stronger and keep your hormones and other internal systems in top shape.

Where the F…

Where you store adipose tissue is equally as important as how much you have. Fat stored subcutaneously (beneath the skin) can be deposited anywhere on the body but may be genetically and hormonally influenced to settle in a particular location, like the hips, thighs or belly. And though you might hate your saddlebags, research has found that women who store fat around their butts, hips and thighs have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure than women who store fat in their abdomens and midsections.

Although genetics primarily control where you store your fat, you do have some control, and actually the type of exercise you do may influence how and where your body will store energy in the future.

For example, fat has been found stored in between muscle fibers in endurance athletes, making for easy energy access during long-distance events. External factors such as hormonal birth control methods also can alter where you store your fat because they trick your body into fake pregnancy every month, causing it to hang on to more fat — particularly around the hips. And bad news for masters athletes: Fat storage increases as you age, and the location shifts more to the midsection since fat storage is highly influenced by reproductive hormones, which wane during menopause.

Why the F…

No two bodies look or function exactly the same, even at similar body-fat levels. Some of us look, feel and function better with slightly higher or lower levels, and the healthy ranges prescribed leave a lot of room for individuality.

Numerous factors dictate your body-fat needs. If you’re trying to get pregnant, for example, you’ll need to carry a little more fat for proper hormone production. And while some athletes still have healthy cycles when relatively lean, others may lose their cycle completely if they drop below 18 to 20 percent. Athletes will also need to carry different amounts of fat depending on what their sport requires for fuel, momentum, comfort and mental focus. Even physique competitors rarely rely on body composition alone to prep for competition. The target “look” that is required for their performance has more to do with overall appearance than reaching an arbitrary number alone.

Unfortunately, when you do trim down, you won’t always lose body fat exactly where you want, nor is that loss evenly distributed across your body. Often, the place you want to lose it the most will be the last to leave, and if you’re wondering at what percent body fat your abs will magically appear — keep wondering: Some people can see visible abdominal definition at higher body-fat levels, while others can get dangerously lean and only see a ghost of a six-pack.

The Other F-Word

Fat composition is just one of many ways we attempt to measure the other, more important F-word — fitness. However, being fit is about way more than being lean: It includes strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, balance, flexibility and much, much more. If you’re an athlete, you’re better off training for the components of your sport that will improve your chances of success, and this often has little to do with how lean or shredded you are. The most important thing is to determine what body-fat level will best support your lifestyle and/or sport. Life is too short, too important and frankly too fun to stress over achieving someone else’s “ideal” number at the expense of your own well-being. Your fat should support your fit.

How the F…

If you want to know your body composition, whether you’re planning to compete or are just curious, there are several methods to consider. But no matter which you choose, none of them is 100 percent accurate (no matter what the salesperson tells you), and the readings can be off as much as 1 to 4 percent in either direction. In other words, if you measure 20 percent body fat in a test, you have just as much chance of being 16 percent as you do of being 24 percent.

Of all the tests, the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (DEXA) is considered the gold standard, providing you with an X-ray scan of your body showing where you store your body fat. This has a +1 to 2 percent margin of error, which is on the low end of the variability.

No matter which method you choose, you’re better off completely ignoring the resultant percentages since their accuracy is dubious. Instead, use those numbers as a baseline measurement to track change and ensure maintenance over time, making sure your fat mass is going down and/or your lean mass is going up.

When testing, use the same method, test at the same time of day under similar physical conditions, and use the same trainer or technician whenever possible. Also, minimize the room for error with the following steps:

  • Avoid alcohol and excess sodium at least 48 hours before the test.
  • Don’t consume diuretics (caffeine, tea or soft drinks) for 24 hours before the test.
  • Don’t exercise for 12 hours before the test.
  • Avoid eating large meals a few hours before the test.
  • Maintain normal hydration.
  • Empty your bladder at least 30 minutes before as well as right before the test.

Gut Check

Research has shown that carrying excess adipose tissue around your midsection is an indicator of increased risk for disease, but this goes beyond — or rather below — the muffin top. Visceral fat is adipose tissue that is deposited inside the abdomen — not on top of it — and that surrounds and sort of chokes up your internal organs. This kind of fat has been shown to increase the risk for chronic disease more so than the subcutaneous version because it is hormonally active, decreasing your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and increasing the risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. It also produces inflammatory substances and disrupts the hormones that regulate appetite, mood, weight and brain function.

Prevent the deposit of visceral fat by avoiding refined carbs and processed foods, which cause a spike in blood sugar, as well as high-fat and high-calorie foods, which inevitably get stored as fat. Research has also shown that eating trans fats may be associated with increases in visceral fat, and a study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation also uncovered an association with high-fructose corn syrup and the deposit of visceral fat. But make sure you replace your regular soda with water, tea or coffee rather than diet soda: A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that artificially sweetened soda was associated with an increase in waist circumference, which is an indicator of increased visceral fat.

Fun Fat Fact 

Fat tissue comes in a range of colors — white, brown and beige. White fat cells are those that are most obvious and that contain the highest concentration of fat globules. Brown and beige fat cells, however, are smaller, hold fewer fat globules and contain mitochondria, giving them their brown color. This kind of fat actually burns calories to generate heat, and research has shown that as little as 2 ounces of brown fat can burn several hundred calories per day! It has also been shown to positively affect insulin sensitivity and metabolism, reducing your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Exercise – specifically aerobic exercise — can actually lead to the “browning” of white fat cells, turning dormant, inactive tissue into more metabolically expensive tissue that burns rather than stores calories.

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Clean up your inner circle and create powerful relationships — in and out of the gym!

A supportive fitness group can boost accountgability and results. 

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” — Helen Keller

A tribe is defined most simply as a community linked by social, economic, religious or blood ties. Tribes in their earliest model relied on each other for almost every aspect of survival, socialization and, most important, connection.

Tribes look a little different these days. We choose our tribes, girl gangs and our confidants with whom we walk through life. Screen time does not equal connection. Even with technological advances, we all still have the same basic needs.

I’m not talking about money, fame, a number on a scale, a bigger house or a better car. True bliss begins and ends with our ability to connect with other people who share our dreams, morals and sense of integrity — face-to-face connection.

So how do you begin to form a rock-solid tribe in our modern world?

Get Clear on What You Will and Won’t Tolerate

Finding a community of people who you can trust and truly connect with does not happen overnight. Building new friendships is so similar to dating it’s not even funny. We have all been through bad friendships. Learn from those people. Listen to your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right about someone, it probably isn’t. Every single time I have ignored my instincts, I have been burned.

Don’t Make Yourself Less to Make Someone Else Feel Like They’re More

Your tribe should celebrate your accomplishments right along with you — that new car, hot man or bangin’ body. True friends will praise you for all that you are. They won’t make you feel less worthy about who you are or what you have in order to make themselves feel more accomplished, ever.

Stay Away From Gossip, the Fast Food of Conversation

Pay attention to the people in your life who participate in a heavy stream of gossip. I have been on both ends of this activity, and it is not a pretty place to be. Friends who have nothing to contribute to a conversation other than gossip are “friends” to be weary of. Positive, happy individuals do not talk about other people. And FYI, if they’re doing it front of you, they are more than likely doing it behind your back, too.

Not all gossip is bad gossip, but listen closely to what your friends are saying about other women. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were the subject of the conversation.

Avoid Black Clouds of Negativity

Friends who are constantly down on themselves and their situations should be kept at an arm’s length. Let me clarify: We all go through difficult times. Do not abandon your friends who are going through a dark season. I’m talking about friends who are toxic. They’re always negative, and after spending time with them, you feel less happy then beforehand. Nothing you say is good enough. You can offer no good advice.

Sometimes we hold onto friendships out of complacency and comfort. But friends like this do not promote personal growth. In fact, they are closer to a no-growth model. Maybe certain friends helped you through your own dark season or they have been in your life forever. You are worthy and deserving of positive people in your life. Those who are meant to be your friends will bring out the best in you.

Find the Truth Tellers

You don’t want a tribe telling you you’re doing a killer job if you’re not actually killing it. I cannot have enough of these people in my corner. I want my friends to be honest with me about my haircut, choice in men and financial decisions when I ask them. When you trust and confide in your tribe, honesty and support is priceless.

Say No

You will let people down. Real friends will understand. Ironically, deepening your closest relationships is rooted in your ability to say no. Your tribe will understand you are a mother, wife, daughter, working professional, yogi, vegan, etc. Setting clear boundaries is a practice in self-love. Your tribe will get it. Sometimes we need to say no to things when we wish we could say yes. Sometimes we must say no to things when we simply cannot say yes. Saying no when you need to will deepen the relationships that are meant to stay.

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Fitness model, TV personality and entrepreneur Brooke Burke takes women on a three-day mind/body/spirit journey through self-discovery.

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A couple of months ago, I hired a personal trainer at my local gym in an effort to tighten and tone the areas that have grown squishy now that I’m in my early 40s. The experience has been less than ideal, to say the least.

My first trainer no-showed to our first three appointments (next!). The second trainer quit working at the gym after our third session (sigh!). And my third trainer had the audacity to look me up and down and remark on how “hypocritical” I am for writing fitness articles when I clearly have 15 pounds to lose myself. Ouch.

So when I was invited to attend the three-day Brooke Burke Body Transformation Retreat, hosted by Retreats Unlimited at the Civana Carefree Resort in Arizona this month, let’s just say I was terrified of accepting the assignment. I mean, Burke is a fitness icon I have admired since the ’90s, and I was already feeling a bit defeated.

Frankly, I was worried that the other attendees would be super buff and possibly a bit judgmental — and I just wasn’t interested in subjecting myself to further humiliation. But I pushed my ego aside and made up my mind to go into the long weekend with an open mind.

Day One: Morning 

As I wandered into the resort’s lobby at 7:30 a.m., I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive. I’d arrived much later than anticipated the night before, missing the welcome dinner and discussion on how to “crush your goals” with Burke and all the other attendees.

I sat down at the communal-style table in the main dining room, a place I’d soon grow very fond of because it’s where we’d spend all our meals together. The first item on the agenda was “Cruise Control Coffee Time,” and intermittent fasting (IF) was encouraged. OK, sounds doable.

A friendly group of women, who presumably had all met the night before, greeted me as I sat down. On the table were pats of butter, cups of coffee and an assortment of MCT oils, ghee, pink Himalayan sea salts and sweeteners. Before I could make heads or tails of the options, in walked larger-than-life Jorge Cruise — a gregarious personal trainer and author of The New York Times’ best-selling book The Belly Fat Cure. Cruise was serving as our nutrition guru for the weekend, and he jumped right into a lecture on the ins and outs of IF. He and Burke are big fans of fattening up their morning coffee to help stay satiated while in a fasting state for at least 16 hours a day, and the salts help balance electrolytes.

Next, we headed down to a fitness studio for a “Total-Body Burn” class, where I got my first glimpse of Burke — naturally beautiful with very little makeup, a high-energy vibe, an adorable workout outfit and the bangin’ bod you’d expect. As we each grabbed a mat, she got mic’d up, blasted her favorite tunes over the speakers and led us through her workout. The ladies who were already familiar with using the Brooke Burke Body app knew what to expect and quickly caught onto the moves. A few others, myself included, fumbled around a bit until we found our groove in this full-body high-intensity interval training workout.

Burke is a big fan of using bodyweight and compound moves. “I want us to sweat smart and get very specific in our moves,” she said. “I’m not reinventing fitness but rather reorganizing it. I like to use old-school moves and draw inspiration from Pilates and yoga to tone, tighten, lift and shred.”

Throughout the workout, she encouraged us to “let it burn like hell” while focusing on a particular bodypart and to “fight through this” when things got tough. I definitely needed to hear that, as my brain was urging me to give up.

After the cool-down, Burke led a community chat about the power of inner dialogue and self-compassion when it comes to crushing our goals. She’s a big proponent of self-care — which is why she hosts these retreats — and checking in with your body to assess the mind/body/spirit connection.

“We all deserve some time to check out of our lives to check in with ourselves,” she said. “You need to hit the pause button and take a moment for yourself to be still and check in.”

Day One: Afternoon

Finally, it was time to eat! And so we went back to our communal table for our first meal of the day. I chose the avocado toast with poached eggs. Afterward, Cruise gave another nutrition lecture on tips and tricks for IF, explaining that fitness begins in the kitchen. He also included information on why movement is the most important tool to prevent aging.

Next, the group went for a short hike in the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Burke explained that she wanted the experience to be meditative, so she asked us to hike silently. Having lived in the desert for 15 years, I’d hiked this landscape before — but hiking it silently helped me better connect to the surrounding nature. Suddenly, I noticed the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my sneakers, felt the sun shining down on my shoulders, and observed more rock formations and plants. We took a few group photos at the top before heading back down.

After dinner — I chose scallops, veggies and chocolate avocado mousse for dessert — we moved outside and sat around a fire pit, as Burke dove into a discussion about finding your “why” and how knowing your purpose will help set you on the right path. As people began chiming in with their own stories of life’s trials and triumphs, I realized that every woman here was entrenched in her own physical, emotional or spiritual journey. In a matter of 24 hours, we had developed a trusted sisterhood. And that’s exactly why Burke limits her retreats to women: She creates a safe environment in which like-minded females can feel comfortable being vulnerable and can connect in the special way only we can. Even though we came from all walks of life, there were tears, there was laughter and bonds were cemented.

Day Two

After our morning coffee, and a few complaints about how sore our muscles were from the previous day’s activities, it was time to get the party started — the Cardio Party, that is. As the music pumped through the studio speakers and into our veins, we geared up for another high-energy workout with Burke. This time around, I felt more confident in the moves. Yes, I still had to take some breaks to catch my breath, but I never once felt judged for not keeping up. The entire time we were sweating, Burke kept up a motivating dialogue. I’ve honestly never felt so determined during a workout before and silently vowed to give her my all.

Our postworkout chat centered around personal promises and how to hold yourself to a higher standard. Burke explained that women often put themselves last on the totem pole because of the guilt we carry to care for our children and husbands first.

“We are worthy of carving time out to care for ourselves,” she said. “It’s powerful to deepen your self-care. We don’t have time to not take care of our bodies. We show up for our best friends, we show up for our meetings and appointments, we show up for our families — we need to learn how to be our own best friends and show up for ourselves.”

Burke urged each of us to make a personal promise to ourselves and to never settle for anything less than what we are capable of. Her energy is contagious, her understanding of the complexities of being a woman in today’s high-pressure society is deep, and her passion for empowering women to design a healthy lifestyle is clear. It’s why she offers free “Booty Burn” fitness classes in Malibu, California — she insists she gets just as much out of teaching as she gives.

After lunch, we had some free time for spa treatments, journaling or relaxing. A few hours later, we met back up for a “Mindful Meditation,” during which Burke guided us on what turned out to be an emotional musical journey. As we laid on our yoga mats and closed our eyes in the candle-lit room, she read poems, played powerful songs she had carefully chosen about self-love and inner strength, and she shared uplifting thoughts and stories. By the time it was over, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room — for some women, it had unblocked energy that had been stuck, while other women experienced various visions and epiphanies. There’s something to be said for a group of women who have gathered together while on a path to self-improvement — and it was deep and magical.

During dinner, we began to follow each other on social media, join the private Facebook group so we could stay in touch after the retreat, and snap pics with Burke and our fellow attendees. After all, we’d spent two days sweating, talking, cursing, crying and laughing.

Day Three

On our last morning, we met for coffee and one last “Bye Bye Burn” fitness session. Despite our sore muscles and exhausted emotions, Burke easily managed to squeeze every last ounce of effort out of us. The workout was possibly the most intense yet, and we were all dripping with sweat mere minutes into the warm-up. She continued to pump us full of motivational messages and loving thoughts, and we eagerly soaked it all in.

As we said goodbye over breakfast and began to head our separate ways, I realized that while we all wished we could stay in this bubble forever, she’d given us the tools we need to continue our journeys at home. The retreat was over, but the memories would truly last a lifetime.

The next Brooke Burke Body Transformation Retreat will take place in Florida in January. Or check the Retreats Unlimited lineup of other upcoming health and wellness retreats around the world.

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Renew your commitment to health with a wellness weekend in Southern California.

For many, the thought of escaping to France for a long weekend of R & R in wine country is but a dream. In reality, you can recreate a surprisingly similar experience simply by visiting the award-winning Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, California. This intimate spa, nestled on 500 private acres in northern San Diego County, allows guests to feel as if they’ve been transported to a tranquil French village.

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As I approached the spa, I couldn’t help but notice the gentle rolling hills of this rural area, located just 7 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Cal-a-Vie exudes an unmistakable Mediterranean-like feel, from the Tuscan-inspired architecture and furnishings to its on-site vineyards, windmill and lush gardens.

Day One

I arrived in time for hors d’oeuvres, which were held in the Garden Room. Here, the resident registered dietician gave a short lecture on the spa’s nutrition philosophy, including tips on how to eat mindfully, healthy preparation for at-home cooking and what to expect from our meals during our stay. Guests can personalize their calories, macronutrient distribution (for instance, replacing starches with vegetables or more protein) and snack options, as needed.

Afterward, we meandered to the dining room, where we sat at a communal-style table. Over a leisurely three-course dinner of garden greens salad, herb-roasted salmon with baby carrots and parsley-chive polenta, and a vanilla cake with lemon cream, we got to know the other guests.

The stay-at-home mom to my left was gifted by her husband this weekend to recharge her batteries, the couple across from me were no strangers to traveling the world for new experiences, and a cardiac surgeon to my right was taking a few personal days before she attended a nearby conference. The conversation was lively, shifting from recent travels to goals for their time at the spa to excitement about the next day’s activities.

After retiring to my villa for the night — a well-appointed room with thoughtful touches, ample seating both inside and on my private patio, and luxurious bedding — I consulted the next day’s fitness and activities schedule left on my bed during turndown service. Alongside it was a notecard that read, “Accept the challenges so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” All signs pointed to an exciting day ahead!

Day Two

At 6 a.m., my alarm woke me from a peaceful slumber and alerted me to our hike in 30 minutes. I briefly wondered what I’d gotten myself into — I’m not a morning person, and that bed was awfully cozy, but I forced myself to brush my teeth and pull on my hiking boots.

As I met up with the other guests, I was relieved to see that the spa’s trainers would be serving as our guides. (There’s a 5:1 staff-to-guest ratio at Cal-a-Vie.) We set out on the trail, and quickly the fastest guests disappeared up the steep hills. Soon, the middle group also disappeared out of sight. In worse cardio shape than I realized, I was left with one guide and another guest bringing up the rear of the pack.

To my relief, nobody made me feel rushed or urged me to move faster, which allowed me to take breaks to catch my breath. The guide assured me we could take as long as needed or take shortcuts if we preferred to skip some of the steeper portions. I pushed on, determined to feel the “exhilaration of victory” that bedtime notecard promised when I reached the finish line. I made it and felt really proud of myself. I also decided I wouldn’t be doing that again tomorrow.

During breakfast, we were handed our itineraries for the day, which were chosen by the staff based on our preferences. For each hour of the day, there are roughly eight different activities to choose from, all hosted by a dedicated trainer — including belly dancing, yoga and meditation, interval weight-training circuits, Spin, TRX, barre classes, water-based circuits, Pilates, boxing and cardio blasts.

Still reeling from that hike, I decided to skip the treadmill shred class they had chosen for me and went to a vinyasa yoga class in the chapel instead. The stretching was just what I needed. Plus, it was a beautiful day and the windows and doors to the chapel were open — I listened to the birds chirping and the water flowing from the nearby fountains, and I promptly wondered why all yoga classes aren’t held outdoors. What a superior way to experience yoga practice rather than in a stuffy studio!

From there, I attended a stability-ball class (who knew you could do so many exercises with a stability ball?) and enjoyed a relaxing lunch. Next up? Three hours of spa services. Finally, my reward! First, I had a reflexology session, which was the perfect choice for my sore legs and feet. Afterward, I had a full-body massage, followed by a facial. Both the bath house and salon were serene environments, where I was happy to discover that I could fully relax and focus on receiving these high-end treatments.

After hors d’oeuvres and a delicious duck breast dinner, our group visited the on-site observatory. Here, an astronomer presented an interesting lecture on the various constellations we can see with the naked eye and also an explanation of the numerous galaxies. My bedtime notecard read, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” OK, I’d continue to keep an open mind and push past my boundaries. I slept soundly that night, both out of sheer exhaustion and also with a better understanding of my place in our vast universe.

Day Three

At peace with my decision to skip the morning hike, I slept in and met the group for breakfast (eggs Benedict on a bed of veggies instead of an English muffin) at 7:30 a.m. After receiving my schedule, I discovered I had been signed up for LaBlast Dance, a workout developed by Dancing With the Stars pro Louis Van Amstel. Since I’d never been blessed with rhythm, I was tempted to skip what was sure to be an embarrassing hour of my life — but the two other guests assigned to this class insisted they were going to be clumsy, too. Reluctantly, and mostly because of that Wayne Gretzky bedtime quote, I agreed to go.

Confession: I had a total blast. The moves were relatively easy to follow, our instructor was super energetic and encouraging, and I quickly noticed the other two guests were indeed far too busy focusing on their own dance moves to notice mine. The hour went by so quickly, I was stunned when we got to the cool-down.

Next was a Hydrorider class, where they put Spin bikes in the larger of their two swimming pools. It’s a refreshing way to enjoy class because the water keeps you cool and it’s easy on the joints. My final morning class was a cooking demonstration, led by the head chef and registered dietician, who shared cooking tips we could take back home. Each guest was given his or her own cooking station, and we prepared our own portions of a delightful lentil soup.

After a shrimp and kale salad lunch, I had three more spa treatments: a hair and scalp treatment, another massage, and a “legs renewed” buffing and massaging session. Once I was done being pampered, I spent a little free time at the smaller pool, reading a book and enjoying the sunshine.

Hors d’oeuvres were held at the top of the hill at the Parish House, which was originally located 30 miles from the center of Dijon, France, in the heart of the Burgundy countryside. The owners of Cal-a-Vie, the Havens, are proud Francophiles and had it shipped from France and reconstructed on-site, surrounded by the panoramic vistas of their property. Here, we enjoyed a tasting of the estate’s wine, Chateau Cal-a-Vie, before the filet mignon dinner.

The spa’s life coach presented our evening program, which was centered on the law of attraction and a reminder of the power within our own minds to heal ourselves. Back at my villa, I was greeted by one last inspirational message: “There’s always room at the top.”

Day Four

As I packed up my belongings, I enjoyed a final meal with my fellow guests. I think it’s safe to say that we all learned a lot about ourselves during the long weekend — physically, emotionally and spiritually. We tried workouts that were foreign to our bodies, pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zones and were reminded that healthy living can happen anywhere. We just have to make it a priority.

If you’d like to jump-start your journey to health or reinvigorate your stale fitness routine, visit https://www.cal-a-vie.com/reservations.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Heighten your awareness of this, the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the United States.

Breast cancer facts and stats

  • 1 in 8 women in the US will develop breast cancer during the course of her lifetime
  • More than 250,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2018
  • More than 40,000 people – men and women – will die from breast cancer in 2018
  • Your risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if you have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with the disease
  • 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be caused my inherited gene mutations
  • Women with a BRCA1 mutation have on average a 55 to 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer, and those with a BCRA2 mutation have a lifetime risk of 45 percent.

Go ahead – touch yourself

Regular mammograms are still essential for early detection of cancerous tumors, but according to John’s Hopkins Medical Center, forty percent of breast cancers are detected by women during a regular breast self-exam. Use these tips from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., to check your girls on a regular basis.

In the shower

Using the pads of your fingers, move around your breast in a circular pattern, moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Feel for any lumps, thickening or hardened knot.

In the mirror

Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides, then raise your arms overhead. Look for changes in contour, any swelling or dimpling of the skin or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match – few women’s breasts do – but look for dimpling, puckering or changes, particularly on one side.

Lying down

When lying down the breast tissue spreads out evenly. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and raise your right arm above your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions, covering the entire breast and armpit area. Use light, medium and firm pressure, then squeeze your nipple and check for discharge. Repeat on the left side.

If you find a lump

Schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic. Eighty percent of most lumps are non-cancerous.    

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