FIVE SIMPLE Exercises for a STRONG, SCULPTED BACK | At Home BACK WORKOUT for BEGINNERS 💪

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In my latest YouTube video, I shared five simple back exercises you can do from home. Doing exercises for your back is not only a great way to help strengthen your back, but it can also help to improve posture and counteract rounded shoulders. In this post, I share five simple exercises for a strong, sculpted back that you can do at home.

For each exercise, try to complete between 8 and 12 repetitions for each exercise. You want to choose a weight where the last 1-2 reps are difficult. If you cannot complete 8 repetitions with your chosen set of weights, the weights are too heavy. If you can complete more than 12 repetitions for an exercise, the weights are too light.

Equipment:
  • One pair of dumbbells

Exercise 1: Rear/Lateral Raise Combo

This exercise consists of a bent-over row and a rear lateral raise. Since this is a combination exercise, you complete each exercise back to back.

Reps/Sets: 8-12 reps, 2-3 sets

Rear Lateral Raise Combo.pnga) Bent Over Row

  1. Grab your dumbbells and bent forward at your hips while maintaining a straight spine.
  2. Let the dumbbells hang straight down from your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
  3. While maintaining a straight back, keep your elbows tucked beside your body, draw your elbows towards the ceiling of the room and raise the dumbbells towards your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Without moving your upper body, slowly lower the weights and straighten your arms to the starting position.

b) Rear Lateral Raise

*Segway into this move immediately after completing a bent-over row.

  1. From the hip hinge position, start this exercise with the dumbbells hanging straight down from your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
  2. Without moving your spine, raise your arms straight out to the sides, until they are in line with your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Without moving your upper body, slowly lower the weights and straighten your arms to the starting position.

Exercise 2: Push-Ups

You can opt to do a push-up from your knees, or from your toes. You may also start by doing standing push-ups against a wall and slowly progress downward until you can do a normal push-up.

2Reps/Sets: 8-12 reps, 2-3 sets
  1. From your hands and knees, place your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Step out with your feet so you are in a plank position. Your body should be in a straight line – do not stick your butt in the air, and do not let your hips sag.
  3. Brace your core and with your elbows at a 45-degree angle, slowly lower your body towards the floor.
  4. Push your body back up to the starting position.

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Exercise 3: Quadruped AKA “Bird Dog” Exercise

This is an excellent exercise to strengthen your core and your back.

3Reps/Sets: 8-12 reps (on each side), 2-3 sets
  1. Start on all four’s. Kneel with your knees hip-width apart and your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Brace your core while lifting one hand and the opposite knee off the ground to form a straight line from your extended hand to your extended foot. Your hips should be squared throughout this exercise. Raise your hand/knee as high as you can while maintaining a straight back.
  3. Hold at the top of the movement for a few seconds, and slowly lower your hand and knee to the starting position. Keep your core engaged throughout the entire exercise.

Exercise 4: Side Plank

You may also opt to do this exercise from your knees.

4Reps/Sets: 30 – 60 seconds (on each side), 2-3 sets
  1. Lie on one side with your bottom elbow stacked under your shoulders and legs extended with the feet stacked on top of each other.
  2. Maintain a straight spine and head. Engage your abdominals, draw your belly button towards the spine.
  3. Lift your hips and kees away from the mat so your torso and body are in a straight line.
  4. Hold at the top of the exercise for 30 to 60 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Exercise 5: Elbow Kisses

5Reps/Sets: 8-12 reps, 2-3 sets
  1. From a standing position, bend your elbows to approximately 90 degrees and raise both arms to the sides of your body.
  2. While keeping your core tight, maintain the 90-degree angle of your arms while drawing the elbows towards each other, in front of your chest.
  3. Open your arms back out to the sides.

 

 

If you enjoyed this workout and tried it at home, please give this post a like, and head over to my YouTube channel to comment about your experience. If you want more workouts, check out my Song Workout Playlist below for a great workout in one song!

xoxo,

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Song Workouts:

 

 

 

3 IMPORTANT Lessons I Learned About Resilience in 2019 ✨ | + Tips on Remaining Resilient During Difficult Times

My beautiful friend Olivia (check out her blog here) wrote a post about the lessons she learned in 2019. I thought I’d continue this momentum and discuss the lessons 2019 taught me about resilience.

Not going to lie, 2019 was a bad year. Like really bad…

At the beginning of 2019, I ironically chose the word “resilience” as my word for the year because resilience was something I was hoping to learn more about and incorporate into my everyday life.

Resilience (noun) re-sil-ience
“The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress… it means bouncing back from difficult experiences”

resilience definition

A year later, I didn’t realize just how much 2019 was going to teach me about being resilient… From experiencing housing issues to losing a family member, I really feel like I experienced it all 2019. Despite all of my personal challenges, I learned a lot as a result of my setbacks this year. Before I get into my blog post, I want to preface it by saying, if you are struggling with any mental health issues, it’s important to seek help and work through your struggles with a qualified professional. Given my personal experience with hardship this year, I will share the top 3 lessons 2019 taught me about resilience:


Resilience Lesson 1: It’s okay to not be okay

After feeling “not okay” at times throughout this year, I feel like I have a better understanding of why it’s okay to not be okay.

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For years I looked at this quote and never really understood it. In all honesty, I kind of thought it was a stupid quote because none of us want to feel “not okay”. Thinking of social media, we tend to post our best experiences and highlights of our lives, while down-playing the hardships we endure in silence. In feeling “not okay”, it’s easy to feel alone because nobody wants to talk about our hardships, and we fear sharing our negative experiences is almost like “airing our our dirty laundry”.

In reality, it is 100% completely normal to experience difficult times and we all go through periods where we are not okay. In fact, it’s part of the human experience. Life is full of ups and downs. Life is difficult sometimes too. Life is beautiful, yet it can be full of adversity. In feeling “not okay” it’s easy to feel like something is wrong with us, however, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It’s okay to feel pain, it’s okay to feel discomfort, it’s okay to feel lonely, it’s okay to feel grief.

Rather than focus on ignoring these feelings and putting on a smile, sit with these feelings and work through them. Find an open ear to talk about your feelings, whether it be a counsellor or a friend. Ask for help when you need it. At the end of the day it’s about riding with the waves, showing up for yourself, feeling the pain, and loving yourself through the good and bad times. It’s about working through the difficult moments, one step at a time and learning about yourself in the process.


Resilience Lesson 2: “There is always good things in the storm”

56d85ab3a597a73eb90c293655e29c7f.jpgThis year, I counted my blessings and learned the importance of GRATITUDE! To explain this concept, I’ll start with an analogy. In March of this year, I helped clean up my university campus through participating in a garbage pick-up day. This pick-up day occurred after some campus clubs had gone around and picked up trash, so the campus did not look bad at first sight. With a trash bag in hand, I scoured the campus with some fun people and picked up any garbage in sight. As I started looking for garbage, I started to notice small pieces of wrappers lingering in the bushes, cigarette butts hiding in the cracks on the sidewalks, and beer bottles hiding in the snowbanks. For weeks after picking up garbage, I couldn’t help but notice the garbage that was all around me. Any time I went outside, I noticed small pieces of garbage everywhere. It was as if I had changed my focus and now started to recognize all of the garbage that was around me.

What’s interesting about our perceptions is we have the ability to change them. As the spring brought forward lots of plants, flowers and leaves, I started to shift my attention to notice that even with all the garbage around me, there were still beautiful things. As I shifted my focus to notice all of the flowers around me, I began to appreciate the beauty of nature.

gratitude definitionGratitude is a way of noticing the goodness in the world, without being blind of the difficult things that we all experience at times.

Gratitude allows us to continue to see the good, even throughout bad times. Gratitude is like seeing the flowers throughout all the garbage around us.

Connecting this to my own personal life, the quote “every day may not be a good day, but there is good in every day” comes to mind. Despite this horrible year, I was still able to have some pretty awesome accomplishments and good moments scattered throughout the storm. I found my community at a local spin studio and achieved my dream of becoming a spin instructor. I finally finished writing my Master’s Thesis (and will be defending it later this month and graduating in June!), I moved out of my childhood home and took “adulting” to a new level when I got offered my dream job. Even with the sad times that were highly prevalent in 2019, I still had many positive moments throughout the storm.


Resilience Lesson 3: Focus on Self-Care

To help myself get through the year, I tuned my focus inwards and prioritized my own self-care.

self care definitionSelf-Care
“Any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health”

Self-care is about identifying your needs and taking care of your own health. It’s about finding strategies (you enjoy) that help you take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. These strategies should help to refuel your mind and body. Everyone is different and you don’t necessarily have to do it all, but finding the coping strategies that work for you are key.

Some of the self-care practices which helped me be more resilient in 2019 included:

1. COMMUNITY

This year, I was fortunate to connect with a few different communities and I focused on participating in group exercise. I tried yoga classes, spin classes, boxing classes which helped me connect with others and get myself out the house. I was able to meet some amazing people in my community through group exercise, which helped me feel more connected and less alone.

2. PHYSICAL HEALTH

As mentioned above, participating in group exercise classes helped me focus on obtaining adequate physical activity this year. Although this strategy does not work for everyone – being physically active is how I enjoy taking care of my body. For me personally, I like to think of exercise as a “mindfulness” practice because it forces me to focus on the present moment and enjoy my workout. Trying group exercise classes, becoming a spin instructor, and going to the gym were my favourite ways to care for my physical health. In addition to fitness, I focused on sleep. I ensured I was getting enough sleep each night by waking up at the same time each morning, which helped me feel more energized and ready to tackle my day.

3. NUTRITION

I’ve been pretty open about my dietary struggles with allergies and stomach issues. This year I got serious about eating foods that made me feel my best (and did not trigger reactions). Speaking with a dietitian helped me figure out the foods that worked best with my body, and I focused on incorporating foods that were rich in protein, healthy fats, and whole grain carbohydrates. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re not bloated or feeling sick from the foods you are eating.

4. MENTAL HEALTH

I focused on my mental health this year through attending regular counselling sessions, journaling, and “saying no” to commitments or things that did not bring me joy. I focused on treating myself like a friend, and I tried to be non-judgemental towards myself as I worked through things. Even though I still have a lot of work to do in this aspect of well-being, I definitely made some strides forward with self-love and self confidence.


Moving forward and looking at 2020, I am looking forward to a new start. My word for this year is “fierce” because I would like to live my life with transparency and I want to live unapologetically. Even though there’s plenty of things I still need to work on, I am grateful for all the lessons 2019 has taught me, and I am excited to move into 2020 with a “fierce” attitude. I am ready to tackle my goals, get things done, and do more of what I love.

Cheers to 2020!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

three important lessons i learnd about resilience in 2019

 

Delicious & Creamy Plant-Based Butternut Squash Soup

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Now that the weather is getting colder and the leaves are changing, this is the perfect soup to enjoy! Warm your soul with this delicious, healthy, plant-based soup.

While making this soup, I had an unfortunate incident with the squash sap and ended up with some sort of reaction or Squash Dermatitis when I was peeling the squash. Squash, particularly young squash, release a sticky sap-like substance when they are cut/peeled, to help protect itself from trauma. This sticky sap can get on your hands and cause a reaction. The sap can also be very difficult to get off of your hands. For me, my hands went numb and my skin started peeling within a few minutes of contact with the squash. It is recommended to wear gloves while peeling squash if you have this sort of reaction. To get this stick sap substance off of your hands, you can soak your hands in warm water, or take off the sap with a sticky piece of tape. If you would like to watch my adventures making this recipe, please check out my YouTube video below:

And now onto the recipe details!

Delicious & Creamy Plant-Based Butternut Squash Soup 

Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 35 – 40 minutes
Servings: Approximately 8

Ingredients

  • Olive oil (1 tbsp)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, grated (or 1 tsp ginger powder)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh or dried, cut finely
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 3.5 cups soup stock (vegetable, chicken for non-vegan option)
  • 3/4 cut milk (coconut milk or almond milk for vegan option, milk or cream for non-vegan option)

Instructions

  1. Heat a pot to medium heat and add olive oil.
  2. Add the diced onion, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper and thyme, saute until onion is transparent
  3. Add the butternut squash cubes and stir the mixture
  4. Add the vegetable stock and stir to combine (you may need a little more/less stock depending on size of squash, liquid level should be slightly lower than the squash)
  5. Add lid and bring soup to a boil, once boil is reached turn down to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes (squash should be tender enough to pierce with a fork)
  6. Remove soup from heat and add the milk
  7. Puree the soup with a blender or hand-held blender
  8. Voila! Serve and enjoy your delicious soup! You may store leftovers in the fridge/freezer. Consume within a few days.

Butternut Squash Soup (1)

 

Target Your QUADS During SQUATS!

Hey everyone!

In my latest YouTube video, I share with you some strategies to target your quadriceps while performing squats.

1. Regular Squats

Performing regular squats is a great way to target the quadriceps, as they are responsible for performing knee extension. When performing regular squats, you typically want to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, brace your core, and sit back into the squat until you knees are approximately 90 degrees. Slowly raise your body to a standing position and finish the movement by squeezing your glutes and your quads.

There are many variations to performing regular squats, and changing up your stance width will change the muscles that are being activated throughout the squat. This is true, however there are some misconceptions about stance width and quad activation.

MYTH: Narrow Squats will Build the Quadriceps More than Other Stances
It is true that when we take a narrow stance during squats, the most active muscle is the quadriceps muscle, however, it is no more active during a narrow squat than during a normal squat or a wide squat. The difference between these three squat stances is that a narrow stance targets less muscles, while a wider stance recruits more muscles to perform the movement. What this means is that when we take a narrow stance, the other muscles that help to perform a squat are less active than when we take a wide stance. Therefore, stance width does not make the quads “more active”, rather it influences the number of muscles that are active. Therefore, your quads produce the same amount of force regardless of the stance you take, so opt for the stance width that feels the most comfortable. Depending on your goal, if you want to target less muscles, a narrow stance is the better option, but if you want to target more muscles, a wide stance is the better option.

2. Goblet Squats

In order to load the quads during squats it is important to shift the load forward, by front-loading the body. A goblet squat is a great squat variation to shift the load to the front of the body, increasing the work performed by the quadriceps. This squat variation is very versatile, as you can us a dumbbell or even a medicine ball to front load your squat.

3. Front Loaded Barbell Squat

Another option to load your squat is to use a barbell, however to target the quads, you should perform front-loaded barbell squats. Since the barbell is placed in front of the body, it displaces the load forward, forcing the quadriceps to work harder to resist that load. The benefits of front-loading squats is that it reduces the force placed on the knees, so this is a great squat variation for those who have knee issues.

4. Elevating Heels During Squat

If you are more advanced, elevating the heels could be an option for you to target your quads during a squat. To elevate your heels, choose something stable to put your heels on, such as a plate (or two plates). Elevating the heels not only shifts the load forward, but it also changes your body mechanics of the movement, as it limits the amount of hip flexion you perform, while increasing the amount of knee flexion that you perform. Since the quad’s primary movement is knee extension, elevating your heels helps to increase the range of motion of the quadriceps muscle, helping to target the quads. As a safety precaution, this exercise should be performed by individuals who are more advanced and do NOT have knee issues.

5. Leg Press Machine

5fa8177f04157b17a633c6dfc3195f9cTo target your quads on a leg press machine, you simply lower you feet on the leg press machine. This changes your body mechanics similarly to front-loading a squat, therefore increasing the stress placed on the quads.

 

 

 

I hope this video was informative & helpful! Best of luck to you on your own health journey.

xoxo,

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The Sliding Filament Theory of Muscle Contraction

Hello Everyone,

I decided to make an explainer video about the Sliding Filament Theory over on my YouTube channel. I have learned about the Sliding Filament Theory in multiple courses throughout my undergrad, but was always confused about it because I found that not a lot of videos actually broke it down into steps. For those who are having the same struggle, here you go!

How To Grow STRONG Biceps | Simple Exercises and Techniques

Hey everyone!

It’s been awhile since I have posted to my YouTube channel, so I thought as my first video back I’d talk about how I developed strong biceps. Over the past year I have learned many simple techniques to change up my regular bicep curls, help with overall growth, AND keep things interesting (and challenging 😉) in the gym.

Feel free to check it out and leave me a comment of your favourite biceps secrets!

xoxo,

Heather

What I Eat in a Day with Oral Allergy Syndrome

What is Oral Allergy Syndrome_.pngI have struggled with Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) for many years, without knowing what was actually happening with my body. Every time I would eat fresh fruit and certain vegetables, my tongue would swell up and I had no idea what was happening! If you’re not sure what Oral Allergy Syndrome is and want to know, please check out my YouTube video on the subject here (or by clicking the image on the right).

Today, I will move beyond the pathophysiology of OAS, and in this video, I will share some of the recipes that I eat in a typical day with Oral Allergy Syndrome. For me the hardest thing was finding out what foods do not trigger a reaction, and making sure to incorporate those foods into my diet. I hope this provides you with a little inspiration, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

Having oral allergy syndrome can be hard and require a little extra planning sometimes. I highly recommend meal planning each week to keep your grocery list organized, and allow you to make healthy choices throughout the week! To help, I created a FREE meal planner for you to use, and you can access it here!

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What I Eat

I HATE FALL | My Experience Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder & How I Manage My Symptoms

flock of birds

By the end of August, I begin to hear people talk about Fall and say how excited they are to carve pumpkins, wear warm sweaters and enjoy a PSL (pumpkin spied laté). Even though I typically respond by saying something like “me too”, or “omg I can’t wait”, I can’t help but feel like I am telling a white lie. This is because deep down, I know that I am forcing these feelings upon myself, because I want to like fall, and I think that faking it might actually change my attitude. The hard thing about fall is that I have to accept that the seasons are changing, and there is nothing I can do about it.

The truth is, I hate fall, and as someone who suffers with seasonal affective disorder, this is my most dreaded time of year.

42586412_164283454476951_1436665873317232640_nSomeone I know shared this totally relatable “Harry Potter” meme on Facebook the other day, and I can’t get over how amazingly “spot-on” it is. Whenever the fall rolls around, I find myself in a mental health crisis, and I didn’t even realize it was happening right before my eyes! Before I know it, I am feeling sad, demotivated and unable to get myself out of bed in the morning. Much like this meme, by the time I finally realize I am getting depressed, I am able to put the puzzle pieces together and blame stress, a lack of sunshine, poor eating/food cravings, non-existent sleep, a lack of exercise, and not booking a counselling appointment (because I was feeling great up until that point). It’s the perfect storm that sets me up for a depressive episode EVERY year!

Sure, Fall should be all about carving pumpkins, getting lost in a corn maze, and going to haunted houses, but the thing I’m the most afraid of during this season is falling back into a deep, dark depression.

sad.pngThe CAMH defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a “type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, n.d.). SAD is believed to be influenced by the changing patterns of light and darkness that occur in the winter (Sleep Foundation, n.d.). It typically occurs in the fall or winter, but it can also occur in the spring or summer (CAMH, n.d.). In my personal experience, some of the symptoms I have during the fall and winter months include a very sad mood that lasts weeks, a loss of interest in hobbies like exercise, feeling useless and irritable, trouble making decisions and concentrating, crying a lot, and weight gain. Sleep is no joke, as I often find myself awake into unusually late hours in the night. It seems that regardless of how much sleep I get, I find myself unable to wake up in the morning and feeling tired during the day. I find that I experience these symptoms throughout the entire winter, and once the spring hits, everything seems to fall back into place, and all is well again.

So why does this happen?

The earth rotates around the sun once per year, and it rotates on an axis every 24-hours bringing forth changes in sunlight and temperature that make up the seasons, and the day/night respectively. As the seasons change and fall/winter begins, the amount of sunlight that reaches our side of the world decreases, causing biological and behavioural responses in animals including hibernation, and the change in the colour of the leaves in plants. These seasonal responses occur as a result of the organism’s circadian rhythm being influenced by the reduction in light. Humans are no exception, as we too have circadian rhythms that are regulated by the sunlight. A circadian rhythm is essentially a 24-hour internal clock that regulates hormone production, the sleep-wake cycle and body temperature in humans. Circadian rhythms are typically set by changes in sunlight, however, they can also run in the absence of light. Individuals with SAD may be more sensitive to the seasonal changes in light than others. In individuals with SAD, the changing patterns of light during the change in seasons disrupts the circadian rhythm causing fatigue, low mood, hypersomnia (an increase in sleep), and insomnia (lack of sleep).

circadian.jpegWhen the circadian rhythm is disrupted, the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin is also disrupted. Essentially, the reduction in sunlight that is associated with the fall/winter causes a reduction in Vitamin D absorption, which disrupts serotonin production. Serotonin plays a role in the regulation of mood and the sleep/wake cycle, and a disruption in serotonin causes both mood and sleep disturbances. An increase in fatigue that is experienced in the fall/winter can also be attributed to an increase in darkness, which causes more melatonin (a sleep hormone) to be produced by the body, making you feel more tired. Putting together all of these factors contributes to many of the signs and symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder, such as a depressed mood, oversleeping (hypersomnia), insomnia, and increased irritability.

So… now that I find myself here again, how do I possibly cope?

Over the years, I have learned a few key lessons in dealing with my anxiety and seasonal depression. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed, stressed, or unable to cope, I try to take a step back from the situation and determine what I cannot control, versus what I can control. I try to find strategies to accept the things I cannot control, and work to utilize the things I can control.

Determine the things you CAN control, and control them.

The Things I Cannot Control: I cannot control the fact that the seasons are changing. This is a natural part of life, and it brings about fun activities, beautiful fall colours, and thanksgiving. I cannot control the fact that the earth is rotating, providing me with sub-optimal sunshine, and messing with my circadian rhythm.

The Things I CAN Control: Sure, this time of year is my least favourite, and I fear that I might fall back into a depression.  I am lucky to have been through a few major depressive episodes in my past, and have learned how climb out of the pit that is depression. With time, I have learned some coping mechanisms that I can implement, such as seeking counselling, and trying “light therapy”. Even though I do not always want to exercise or be active, I can control the activities I do by making time to go for a walk, or going to the gym with a friend. Even though I cannot control the time I fall asleep each night, I can control the time I wake up each morning. Waking up at the same time every day will help to reset my circadian rhythm. Finally, I can control the foods that fuel my body. I can add in one vegetable with each meal, and snack on fruit to nourish my body.

Now that I can have distinguished what I can control versus what I cannot control, I can create a game plan. Below, I will go through the aspects of my life I am currently trying to control to help me cope with (and hopefully prevent) seasonal affective disorder.

1. Reach out for help ASAP

Be proactive and book a counselling appointment in anticipation that this will happen EVER YEAR

In the summer, I find that I always cope well, and do not need to access counselling or other treatment services, because I am doing well. By the end of September or early October, this is no longer the case for me, and I am in need of counselling or other forms of treatment. The biggest issue with counselling or seeing a doctor is that appointments typically have a 2-week waitlist to get in. In my experience, by the time I actually book a counselling appointment, I’m already in a bad place, and I can’t wait the two weeks.

Even if you find yourself feeling great, with no signs of mental health issues, I’d recommend you book an appointment with your doctor or counsellor. Even as a means to just “check up” with your mental health and make sure you are doing alright. Worst case scenario, you can cancel your appointment if you really don’t need it, as long as you give a few days notice.

This year, I luckily booked a counselling appointment a few weeks ago, because I wasn’t sure if I would need it or not. Now that my appointment is on Monday, I am very pleased that I booked it, because everything went downhill for me within the span of two weeks. I am in desperate need of the appointment right now, and am so thankful I thought ahead to book it.

If you find yourself already struggling, I’d still recommend booking an appointment with your doctor or counsellor ASAP. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can start to manage your symptoms.

2. Get more sunlight or try Light Therapy

afterglow background beautiful branchesSince SAD is mainly influenced by the changes in light that are associated with the fall/winter, it is important to still try and expose yourself to sunlight. This year, my mom gave me a light box, that I have been using each morning upon waking. The light box is supposed to simulate sunlight, and it is a promising therapy for depression. The light stimulates the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain, which is responsible for controlling the sleep/wake cycle. Exposing oneself to light helps the body produce melatonin at the appropriate times, allowing you to fall asleep at night and awake easier in the morning. If you do not have access to light therapy, try maximizing sun exposure throughout the day by going outside, or working beside a window. Increasing your exposure to natural light will work in a similar manner to light therapy.

3. Stick with a routine

In order to help restore your circadian rhythm, it is important to make sure that you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This allows your body to better regulate hormone production, the sleep-wake cycle and body temperature. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night, you can try taking a melatonin supplement (anywhere from 3 to 10 milligrams) before you go to bed at night. This will help you fall asleep, as your body naturally produces melatonin which helps you fall asleep at night. If you find yourself taking melatonin every night for an entire month, the bottle recommends that you contact your physician to help with sleep difficulties.

In my personal experience, I struggle with both insomnia and hypersomnia it seems. Basically, I find myself unable to fall asleep at night (until 3 or even 5 in the morning), then once I fall asleep, I cannot wake up (no matter how hard I try). My counsellor told me that, “I cannot control the time I fall asleep at night, but I can better control the time I wake up each morning”. I live by this statement, and whenever I find my sleep schedule is struggling, I change what I can control, and I force myself to wake up at the same time each morning (regardless of how little sleep I got that night). Obviously, you want to be reasonable, and not force yourself to wake up too early, however, it is a great strategy to help reset your clock. I try to begin by waking at 9am each morning, and every few days wake up 10-15 minutes earlier, until I wake up at 7:30am or 8:30am.

4. Exercise!

woman girl silhouette jogger

As mentioned above, serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate your mood and your sleep/wake cycle. Exercise helps to produce serotonin, which will help to cause an elevation in mood, and a better sleep! Try to engage in activities that you enjoy, as it will be much easier to build something you enjoy into your schedule. For me personally, I have joined a synchronized swimming team at school, and I intend to continue going to the gym a minimum of twice per week. If you can exercise outside, this may also help because you get the added benefit of sunlight exposure, which will help reset your circadian rhythm!

5. Curb Cravings and Enjoy Healthy Foods

Many people with SAD (myself included) find themselves with heavy cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, such as breads. The reasons why we crave these foods is that they temporarily boost the serotonin levels in the brain, offering an elevation in mood and an increase in energy. Carbohydrate cravings are more likely to occur at the end of the day/evening, and these cravings are often the cause of the seemingly uncontrollable weight gain that occurs throughout the winter months. To maintain some control over carbohydrate cravings, I would recommend that you try to create healthier alternatives that you enjoy just as much as the unhealthy foods. Some examples of healthier snack alternatives includes popcorn, bananas, or hummus and crackers. Further, it is a good strategy to eat healthier carbs with dinner, as it may help to reduce late night cravings. Some healthy alternatives I try to eat include sweet potatoes, brown rice, or lentils.

6. Socialize and Join in the Fun

In the Fall I find it easy to “fall” (no pun intended) into social isolation as I lose motivation to leave the house due to my “poor mood”. Socializing with others is a great strategy to boost your mood and fight against SAD. Being social can cause the release of oxytocin in the brain, which supports the release of serotonin. In my experience, the more I connect with others, the better I feel. Even on days when I don’t feel like leaving the house, I often find myself glad that I left the house and talked with friends.

backlit black candle candlelightWhat’s the point of Fall if you don’t allow yourself to enjoy it. Sure, for some Fall is full of cheesy activities like carving pumpkins. However, since you can’t beat it, you might as well join it. Find small things to make the Fall a little more bearable – walking in the crisp leaves always leaves a smile on my face. Carve pumpkins with your friends, or have a Halloween themed dinner party. I understand it may be one of the last things you want to do, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone may actually help your symptoms. This year, I am challenging myself to jump into the leaves and actually partake in the festivities.

I really hope that this article met you well, and it sheds some light into my experience living with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Over the years I have learned to anticipate SAD, and as much as it sucks, I now feel like I understand what is happening with my body and why I feel the way I do. I am curious if other people out there struggle with seasonal affective disorder, and whether they have found other means of coping with it? Please leave me a comment with your experience below!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

I created an infograph about Seasonal Affective disorder below for my fellow Pinterest users! If you are not following me on social media, be sure to do so as a post a lot of additional content on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube!

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What's in my gym bag (3)

How I Overcame Anxiety and Started Working Out: The 5 Lessons I Learned 💕

woman looking at sunsetDealing with anxiety has been my greatest challenge in life, as it prevents me from doing many of the activities I enjoy. It’s always there, in the background, stopping me from getting out the door, trying new activities and even driving. At my lowest point, I quit my favourite sport (softball), stopped exercising because I was too nervous to go to the gym, and I didn’t leave my house for two weeks. Getting help for my anxiety was the BEST decision I could have made for myself. It took the help of a school counsellor that connected me with resources to get myself out the door and prevent anxiety from controlling my life.

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Photo credit: https://www.wlu.ca/life-at-laurier/services-for-students/wellness.html

My counsellor recommended I try a program offered through my school’s Athletics Complex called, “I Move My Mood”. Within the program, I was paired with a ‘buddy’ who would meet with me twice per week, and we would exercise together. The girl I was paired with was very nice and confident in the gym. She showed me how to do a bunch of exercises and helped to correct my form (which was one of my biggest barriers to going to the gym). It was through this program that I realized that people weren’t judging me for having the wrong form, or not knowing what I was doing.

After completing the program, I was determined to continue exercising, however I was still terrified to set foot in the gym by myself. A year of trial and error later, I now find myself a regular gym-goer and have overcome the barriers that used to prevent me from going. To overcome my anxiety and begin working out, I will share the 5 main lessons I learned, so you too can overcome anxiety and start exercising.

Lesson #1: Find a buddy or someone to keep you accountable

casual cheerful daylight friendsSocial support is no joke. As humans, there is something about the social environment that helps motivate us, keeps us accountable, and makes us feel connected. Throughout my struggles with anxiety, I often find that I socially isolate myself and feel disconnected. Finding one person to encourage and motivate me really helped to get myself out of the house – as my buddy was counting on me. Having someone to talk to also helped me feel that I was socially connected with the world, which helped reduce feelings of loneliness and depression. After the program ended, I found a new buddy to help me feel confident and maintain my accountability (you can check out her blog here).

Lesson #2: Take Baby steps

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Celebrate the little accomplishments you make. Maybe getting up and out of bed is the furthest you got today – but that is still a step in the right direction! After the commencement of the program, I still wasn’t 100% confident to go to the gym alone, so I started walking with my mom. Thirty-minute walks turned into 45-minute walks, and I found that an activity as simple as walking made me feel so much better mentally. This then motivated me to start exercising at the gym with my new buddy. Then exercising with my buddy increased my confidence and I began going to the gym alone.

The first time I went to the gym alone was a huge accomplishment for me, as I actually got in the car and drove there! The pride I felt from overcoming this barrier translated to other aspects of my life – as I now don’t feel as anxious driving places. To make myself feel comfortable at the gym, I came prepared with a basic exercise plan that had exercises I was comfortable doing. As I felt more confident in the gym, I decided to try new exercises – the ones I wanted to try for curiosity and for fun! As I continued to try new things, I learned what did and did not work for me. This has lead me to today, where I find myself looking forward to my workouts because I have found exercises that make me feel strong and confident.

Lesson #3: Do the activities you actually enjoy!

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I tried synchronized swimming this year, I met a lot of great people and had so much fun!

Don’t do the exercises or the workouts you think you should do, do the activities you actually enjoy doing! If you love walking – do it! Any change you make to your current routine will make a difference. Working out and getting healthy doesn’t need to be done at the gym – you can get active playing sports, running or exercising at home. If you pick an activity you love, chances are you will not dread doing it, and you will actually be more motivated to stick with it. Do activities that excite you and fill your soul.

This past year, I decided to give synchronized swimming a try, and I joined my school’s novice synchronized swimming team. Not only did I get to participate in swimming (one of my favourite activities), I also got to meet other girls that had similar interests! I had to opportunity to travel with the team to two competitions, and we came in 4th place for our routine at one of the competitions. Not only did I get the physical benefit from swimming, I also branched out and made some awesome social connections, which improved my mood and my confidence.

Lesson #4: Set a goal and track your progress

A goal without a plan is simply a dream. To turn your physical activity goals into reality, it is important that you set goals, come up with a game-plan and track your progress. (For some tips on goal setting, check out my article on Goal Setting here). For me, my goal began small – to exercise twice per week, whether it be going for a walk, going to the gym (with my buddy), or going on a bike ride. I tracked my progress using The Calendar Method. Looking back at each month and seeing that I had exercised twice per week really encouraged me to continue. As I succeeded with my goal and became more confident in going to the gym alone, I eventually changed it to exercising at the gym twice per week, and I began a strength training program. To track my progress, I weighed myself, took progress photos and recorded my reps and sets of each exercise. Even though my body didn’t change based on my weight, I noticed that my progress photos began to look more muscular and the weight of my exercises increased. In the months where I saw very small changes, I tweaked my plan and began focusing on my nutrition to see further progress. Seeing these subtle changes motivated me to continue. (For FREE monthly calendars to track your fitness progress, you can also check them out here)!

Lesson #5: Don’t be so critical on yourself.

self-loveIt’s important to know that your while you are on your fitness journey, you are going to mess up. You will do an exercise or two with improper form, and there will be days where you feel unmotivated. Instead of being critical on yourself, think about what you would tell your best friend if they were in your situation. When you fail, rather than judge yourself, evaluate yourself. Figure out what when ‘wrong’ and come up with a new game plan. Treat yourself with kindness and support yourself as if you were your own best friend.

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Feeling gym-confident 💕

Today, I am still making changes to my exercise plan and am still coming up with new activities or exercises that I enjoy doing. Anxiety is hard to deal with, but sometimes just getting yourself out the door is the smallest, yet most life-changing step you can make. I hope these 5 lessons help to motivate you to begin your own fitness journey. I’d love to hear any additional tips you use to overcoming mental health struggles in the comments below.

I hope you have a lovely day!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

how i overcame

5 Things I Learned From a 5-Day Cleanse

I have always been the type of person that is interested in healthy living and is always looking for something new to try. Over the course of my life, I have tried countless diets, workout routines, lifestyle changes and have done a few “revamps” when I get bored of what I am doing. Typically, the diets fade, the lifestyle change slows and I find myself living in a new reality – slightly changed by the new information I have learned, but still unable to kick my hardest habits to the curb, such as binging on a late night bowl of chips, or eating too many leftover Christmas chocolates.

This year, I was beaming with excitement after a close friend mentioned she was taking part in a 5-day detox of healthy eating – the Tone it Up 5-Day Detox.

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Curious about what she was doing, I asked her to explain this “detox” to me. Essentially, it was a 5-day, super healthy, vegan eating challenge that required intense meal-prepping. Just the thing I needed! I had just finished my Christmas holidays in Florida, where I ate my entire body weight in chocolate and spent most of my days lounging by the pool. I told my friend that I would be willing to participate in the detox with her and we both agreed to start on January 2nd.

Once January 2nd rolled around, we both went grocery shopping and stocked up on the following items (I already had many of the ingredients the plan had outlined):

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Beet and Carrot Salad

  • Carrotts
  • Red Beets
  • Spinach
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Tofu
  • Red Lentils

After shopping, we made it back to her house and meal-prepped a lovely Lentil and Carrot soup, some Banana Coconut Chocolate “Cookies” and a shredded Beet and Carrot Salad. This would be some of our food for the week. That evening we ate some soup, which was surprisingly delicious (and filling) and we tried the Banana “cookies” which I was not so fond of. After we finished hanging out, I took my portions of the meal prep home and spent the rest of the week indulging in these plant-based foods.

 

 

I didn’t follow the meal plan exactly, but I was proud that I was able to stick it out and make it until the end. Most of my morning breakfasts consisted of “Protein pancakes” that wouldn’t cook (made from banana, flax seed and protein powder). I found that putting the batter in a mug and cooking it in the microwave created the best result – a morning mug cake! For lunch, I made lots of lettuce wraps with hummus and vegetables (beet and carrot salad and cabbage). I also made some delicious salads with spinach, hemp seeds, some tofu and an apple cider vinegar dressing. For dinner, I ate the soup we meal prepped, which was absolutely delicious. What shocked me the most about this five-day challenge was that I was not starving! Since I had the right combination of protein and healthy fats and the food I prepped was actually decent tasting, I was able to keep satisfied. Other than a bit of bloating after eating cabbage for the first time in forever, I felt great. My brain fog that I typically experience had lifted. I didn’t wake up with a headache for once, and I didn’t have to stress about what to eat at all!

I still had some temptations such as chips in the house (I ate some one day) and eating tofu (I am not sure if it was “allowed” for the detox or not), and I ended the detox one meal early, but having ‘perfect’ results is hard for anyone to do. Looking at my major accomplishments, I was able to actually eat vegan for five straight days, which has always been a goal of mine. I also filled half of my plate with vegetables for most meals, which helped me eat smaller portions and made me feel full. I didn’t eat any takeout for the five days, which is a good accomplishment (and a money saver). I also swapped my typical black tea with honey and soy milk for plain green tea with no sugar! This was a huge accomplishment because I typically cannot survive the day without one (or two) black teas (which usually upsets my stomach by noon).

After finishing the five days strong, I have come out of this experience with a new perspective of healthy eating and have learned some new things to incorporate into my life.

  1. Meal prep is KEY
    I would not have survived the five days without the intense meal prep that my friend and I did. This was eye-opening because I realized that it is not fair to expect yourself to make rational decisions around food in a hungry state. I mean, think about it! When you’re in a hungry mood, you probably can’t think straight because your blood sugar is low, causing you to reach for the bad foods around you. If the food is already prepared and in front of you, you don’t have to give eating much thought! If you actually meal prep, chances are you probably won’t even get to that hungry of a state in the first place.
  2. Eat your vegetables with SOMETHING
    I was so surprised at how filling the vegetables in the salads and soups were! In the past, “healthy eating” to me meant eating a salad with as many vegetables in it as possible. I have learned the importance of combining vegetables with healthy sources of fats and protein to keep myself fuller for longer.
  3. Vegetables can help fill you up!
    In a typical meal before the cleanse, I would fill half of my plate with protein, just over a quarter with carbs (like rice) and the remainder with a salad. Since half of my plate was vegetables for this cleanse, I actually found it so surprising that I was too full to finish some meals. I will now strive to fill HALF of my lunch and dinner plates with the vegetables that I like.
  4. Vegan does not mean expensive
    The total cost for the week of meals was around $20, but I did not even finish all of the fresh vegetables that I bought! Lentils, beans, peas and spinach are all healthy sources of nutrients that do not cost a lot of money.
  5. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
    To this point in my life, I cannot recall a single diet, cleanse or major “lifestyle
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Vegan Chili

change” that I have been able to successfully finish or sustain indefinitely. I mean technically, since I deviated from the plan and ate chips, I still haven’t! I am confident that I am not alone in this. Instead of focusing on perfect (nobody’s perfect), I choose to view this as a positive and successful experience. Now that I have made it through five days of being vegan and eating more vegetables, I am sure that I will revert back to some of my old habits, but I have a greater sense of accomplishment and confidence that wasn’t there before. I have learned that goal setting, whether it works or not, is such a great thing because it allows you to learn more about yourself and challenge yourself to try new things. In fact, this cleanse has already motivated me to meal prep for my next week of meals (vegan sweet potato chili and healthy cookies), and it has ignited the flame that I needed to write this blog post.

If you’re looking for something new to try, I would encourage you to do this five day challenge. They even have meal options for people who are non-vegan, gluten free and vegetarian. Overall, this has been a positive experience and I have learned a lot!

Hope you all have a great start to 2018.

xoxo,

Heather