Category Archives: Physical Health

Care for Any Symptom Like a Hopeful Researcher

Under the weather

Have you ever felt hopeless after receiving a physical or mental health diagnosis? When people receive a diagnosis, it is often assumed that the condition is both lifelong and fixed, meaning it can’t change. This assumption creates a dark cloud of hopelessness on top of the diagnosis.

This hopelessness came over Janice, a married woman in her mid-thirties and mother of a 4-year-old son. For the past 6 months, Janice has been struggling with aches, pains, and fatigue. She loves being active but is finding it difficult to keep up with her exercise routine due to the pain she feels almost daily.

Janice decides to consult her physician who runs routine lab tests. When the results come back normal, her doctor diagnoses her with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome. He recommends daily medication, and Janice leaves the appointment thinking she is too young to have a chronic condition.

Diagnosis Stirs Learning Opportunity

Some people stay in this hopeless place, but Janice uses it to learn more about herself. When Janice thinks about her pain, she realizes it varies from day-to-day. She is motivated to better understand her pain.

While you may not be experiencing pain like Janice, maybe you have been diagnosed with depression, panic disorder, or a different physical syndrome. Or maybe you struggle with stand alone symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, irritability, or overeating. Whatever your symptom, I imagine it varies by day, week, or month too.

Making sense of the variability is the key to managing the symptoms that accompany the diagnosis. In doing so, the diagnosis doesn’t define you, it becomes  a messenger. Most symptoms are trying to tell us something. Instead of feeling hopeless, you can see it as an opportunity to learn something new.

Think Like a Researcher Observing Symptom Variability

How would a researcher look at this diagnosis? Think about the questions a researcher would investigate to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be you living with your diagnosis.

Step 1. Identify the problem/symptoms you want to observe : Pick one symptom, such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, overeating, irritability, etc to rate each day from 1-10. Make sure it’s a problem or symptom that is very important to you.

Step 2. Make a hypothesis : There may be many factors that contribute to symptoms increasing or decreasing in intensity (exercise, nutrition, external stress, loneliness, over-functioning, etc) Make your best guess at the variables you want to observe as possible contributing factors.

Step 3. Record daily observations with no judgement : Use a private mobile app or small notebook to rate your symptom daily for at least 30 days. Also rate at least 2 other variables daily, using descriptions and numbers. Record both good and bad days in your journal with no self-criticism – it just is.

Step 4. Interpret your evidence : After at least 30 days of noting the symptom and variables, read through all your notes at one time. Based on your evidence, did you prove your hypothesis right or wrong? What is your symptom trying to tell you?

Step 5. Determine what helps manage the symptom :Identify what helps improve the symptom as well as what makes it worse. Now you can write your own treatment plan. You have gathered invaluable evidence, so decide what to do with it.

Usefulness of Self-Observation

Wondering what happened to Janice? She is still rating her pain on a daily basis, including before and after exercise. She also records: length of sleep at night, external stress level, and degree of connection/anxiety in relation to others. Janice hypothesized that it was exercise or poor sleep making her feel more pain.

But what Janice observed tells her something different about her pain. She learned that her pain isn’t a marker of how well she sleeps nor whether or not she exercises. Sometimes she feels great after exercising and sometimes she feels moderate muscle tension. In fact her pain level isn’t fixed, it is different every day.

The biggest predictor of a higher pain level was how well Janice did at defining herself when faced with tension, stress, and pressure. When she takes others distance or negativity less personally, she would feel less pain. Or if she held still when others pressured her to be responsible for them, she could actually decrease her pain level. Janice’s pain is literally trying to tell her to keep her relationships, but get better at defining her boundaries.

While she still has occasional hopeless thoughts, Janice is caring for her pain without medication, experiencing more good days than bad, and enjoying being active with her son again. In Janice’s case, her observations were more hopeful than the diagnosis. What about with you?

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Marci offers face-to-face counseling services in the Kansas City, MO area. Schedule an appointment today to explore what your symptoms are trying to tell you.

Note: All names & identifying information have been changed in this article. This post is for educational purposes only, not a case study. (Photo Credit: “Under the Weather” by Shena Tschofen)

How to Stop Emotional Eating Habits

Have you ever had a stressful day and reached for a bag of chips or chocolate bar without thinking?

Food is comforting, satisfying, and calming to the brain. So it is almost automatic to turn to food when you are anxious, tired, or angry. It is among many quick fixes that are proven to help reduce that stressed out feeling.

Of course it’s hard to maintain a healthy weight when food is your only comfort for stress. So many people are looking for ways to stop their emotional eating, especially when it becomes a mindless habit.

To explore the topic of conquering emotional eating, I have invited Lauren Chitwood, Health Coach for Take Shape for Life, to share her empowering story.

Marci: Many people struggle to set new goals for their health because they feel helpless about change. What helped you begin to shift how you thought about changing your habits?

Lauren: I knew I had to make a change in my life when I noticed my medical bills increasing. I was gaining weight each month and nothing I tried was working. I realized that I had an unhealthy relationship with food, and I wanted to stop being on yo-yo diets.

My feet hurt from carrying extra weight, and I was concerned about preventing diabetes. I knew my health was declining, and decided I could no longer put off making a permanent change in my eating habits. It was getting hard to enjoy being active with my family.

Marci: Many people turn to food for comfort during stressful or lonely times. Was this true for you?

Lauren: I was a stress eater. It was very easy for me to turn to food for comfort. One of my unhealthy habits was stopping at Quick Trip on my way home from work. I was stressed about my day and anxious about keeping up with my family’s evening activities.

I convinced myself that I deserved to grab a snack on my way home to have “me” time. I would eat a combination of candy, chocolate, salty foods, and diet pop. By the time I arrived home, I had eaten everything and felt guilty about my binge.

Marci: How did you stop turning to food for emotional reasons?

Lauren: I haven’t eliminated all stress or chaos, but I have found a new way to comfort myself. When I feel the urge to turn to comfort food, I stop myself by performing the following “Stop-Challenge-Choose” exercise:

  • Do Self-Inventory: “Why am I desiring junk food? Am I feeling anxious, bored, or stressed?”
  • Think about Long-Term Goals: “If I eat this candy/food will I sabotage my progress and possibly put myself off course?”
  • Replace Food: Find another way to calm myself that isn’t food.

Marci: What helps you stay motivated to keep working on your health goals?

Lauren: I read some books by Dr. Wayne Anderson explaining how motivation effects your results. Developing “outcome oriented motivation” instead of “conflict driven motivation” is what’s led me to maintaining my health and weight loss goals.

“Conflict driven motivation” is when an emotional conflict leads you to take action. Once you take action, you start to feel better. Yet your motivation to follow through on your goal decreases when you feel better. I realized this was the classic yo-yo dieting pattern I had tried with no lasting results.

“Outcome oriented motivation” focuses on what you want, not what you don’t want.  It focuses on a desired state that you want to create. I envision what optimal health means to me:

  • I want to stabilize my blood sugar, have healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • I want to run a 5K with my family.
  • I want to wear a tank top and shorts and be full of energy.
  • I want to be active even when I am a grandmother.

Shifting my motivation toward these goals helps me get through holiday parties and buffet lines. Focusing on the outcome I want helps me keep the weight off that I have  lost.

Marci: If your progress slows or you take a step backward, how do you get yourself back on track?

Lauren: Life still gets bumpy, but I keep my forward thinking goals in front of me and keep on moving toward my goals. When my weight loss slows down, I also take a deep breath and remember how far I have traveled on my journey. I look at the fact that I’ve made significant progress in a short amount of time. I hold onto knowing that I have found the last weight loss program I would ever need.

Marci: What unexpected benefits have you encountered along your journey?

Lauren: Losing weight and regaining my health has changed my life in ways I never expected. I had become socially reclusive, stopped reaching out to new relationships, and ignored my old friendships. I was embarrassed by how much weight I had gained, so I avoided people and social events. Emotionally I felt like a failure when I let food have control over me.

As I began losing weight, I almost immediately felt like I was back in control. That was one of the most empowering moments of my life. If I could conquer my food addiction, I could conquer anything!

As I continued losing weight, my social, friendly, and caring personality started to return. I began forming new relationships and reconnecting with old ones. I have a new level of confidence and sureness that I never embraced before now.

Marci: I want to thank Lauren for joining us today and sharing her struggles with food as well as her triumphs. Having only known Lauren after her health transformation, it’s hard to imagine her ever feeling insecure and unsure. She truly has transformed not only the outside but the inside too!

Anyone else have a question for Lauren about her health transformation or the program she coaches?

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Lauren guest

Lauren Chitwood is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape for Life. Lauren has a passion for coaching others who are struggling with their weight and health goals. Watch this video to learn more about the Take Shape for Life Program, inluding free health coaching. 

5 Ways to Make Exercise A Rewarding Habit

yoga-colors

Don’t let my small size fool you. Just because I look thin doesn’t mean I am in great shape. At least not yet!

When I can’t go to the grocery store without being winded and exhausted, I think I am definitely out of shape. I did turn 40 last year, but am not sure I am ready to settle for being tired and achy already. I still have half my life to live!

What about you? Do you dread getting older? Or have health goals that you can’t seem to motivate yourself to pursue? You want to feel better but have a hard time making your health a habit.

You are not alone. I have been asking around to those older and wiser than me. Most chuckle and tell me I have to get used to feeling worn out. I was ready to throw in the towel on exercise, and embrace the fatigue with more naps.

Then I started reading Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until 80 and Beyond written by a 73- year old retired but lively man named Chris Crowley and his wise physician, Dr.Harry Lodge. I was hoping running errands, cleaning house, and squeezing in one yoga class a week would be enough exercise. But I am learning that I need to move more, not less to reach my health goals.

“You do have to age but you don’t have to rot.” ~ Chris Crowley

The authors present with humor and science how we can reverse the decay in our aging bodies. If you aren’t ready to throw in the towel and let your tired old body take hold, then join me as I explore new territory with my changing but renewing body. 

Put Your Foot on the Accelerator

First, let’s see what’s stalling you out from reaching your health goals. Take out a piece of blank paper and draw a line down the center. On the left side, write the word “Gas” and on the right side write the word “Brake.”

Under the “Gas” column, list your health goals. For example, to sleep better, feel less pain, have more energy, etc. Think of this as your GO column, so also list what will help you reach your goals.

Then under the “Brake” column, list your excuses. Write down anything that STOPs you from moving toward your goals. For example, overcommitting yourself, kids activities, self-doubt, fear, etc.

Step back and evaluate which column has more items listed. The brakes or the gas? Now write down what you are going to do to move your foot to the accelerator instead of the brake.

5 Ways to Make Exercise a Rewarding Habit

Here’s what helped me put my foot on the gas and get my body moving to more energy and relief:

1. Embrace the Just Enough Challenge – I do enjoy a challenge and love to learn. So it helps me to think about my exercise goals as a challenge I can enjoy. I set my daily, weekly, and monthly goals small enough to reach but large enough to be an interesting challenge.

2. Learn What Works for You – The authors of Younger Next Year suggest “your first exercise goal is to do 45 minutes of long and slow aerobic exercise 6 days a week without any discomfort.” I have used this goal as a guide not a ruler. Find out what time of day works for you as well as what type of exercise you enjoy the most.

3. Push Through the Discomfort – Dr. Lodge shares great news about how the body regenerates itself. He describes exercise as a good stressor that tears down muscles in order to build them back up stronger. For me, this tear down was almost unbearable, and I was seriously thinking about discontinuing my minimal exercise routine. But I decided to try pushing through the discomfort in order to work on going “slower and longer” instead of harder and less frequent.

4. Ride the Adrenaline Wave – Eventually you push through the post-exercise discomfort and notice you feel a high from exercise. Use this adrenaline rush to get yourself back the next day. Don’t use this rush to be superhuman though. I am still paying for sledding down steep hills with my kids this winter!

5. Make Irresistible Long Term Goals – I may not have the energy and flexibility of my kids but I would like to be able to enjoy them. Make long term goals that you can’t resist. For me, it’s enjoying active vacations and weekends with my family. And maybe getting on a non-stationary bike one of these days!

Why Exercise?

I am happy to share that I have more energy, less aches, less headaches, sounder sleep, and better overall mood. Some of these outcomes weren’t even what I was hoping for, just what I have observed. I had wanted to feel “younger” for several years and am happy that I didn’t throw in the towel.

I will let the authors of this book share with you the science of why exercise is good for almost everyone. Here are the highlights:

“Aging is inevitable, but it’s biologically programmed to be a slow process. Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay.” ~ D. Harry Lodge

“Exercise provides the signal that jolts our cells into repairing and renewing themselves and releases the chemicals that bathe our brains in positive feelings.” ~ Dr. Harry Lodge

“The keys to overriding the decay code are daily exercise, emotional commitment, reasonable nutrition and a real engagement with living.” ~ Dr. Harry Lodge

I agree that exercise doesn’t fix all problems but most tell me it sure does help. So how do you get your foot back on the accelerator even if it falls off?

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Please visit my new bookstore to find this book and more that I recommend on a variety of Liberating topics.

Photo Credit: “Yoga in New Colors” by Lululemon Athletica