The best, research-backed approaches to stress for better weight loss

Stress-related weight gain is a real thing and plagues many people.  We know from research that there are associations between chronic stress and the body holding on to that stubborn weight, particularly in the place we want it the least….  Our belly!

Researchers in specialized areas of health and science, such as neurobiology, have observed overlaps between psychological stress and factors associated with body weight, including appetite and energy regulation.  They have also observed the effect of psychological stress on various cognitive processes such as executive function and self-regulation.

Psychological and/or psychosocial stress, as it could be categorized, that may result from work, relationships, life balance, and finances have all been assessed in association with eating behaviors.

Furthermore, studies have established various connections between stress-induced eating patterns, such as the tendency to turn to “comfort food” or impulsive over eating.  Each of which could lead to an increase in visceral fat.

Excess visceral fat is something we are looking to avoid! 

Stress can also impact hormonal activity, such as cortisol the primary hormone involved with stress response, which may set off a cascade that influences body weight as well.  Cortisol also influences blood sugar regulation, mood, motivations, and even fear.  It is relevant when chronic stress is considered and can trigger the process that leads to weight gain.

A stressful event also prompts the release of glucose in which the body can convert to quick, readily available energy (for example, if the need to quickly run away from something frightening presented itself).  However, if elevated stress levels are either initiated when they are, perhaps, less necessary or end up being prolonged (i.e. chronic), it can lead to a release of glucose when it’s not needed for that type of use.  Then, the storage of energy can be created in the form of body fat.  This is something that has been observed when elevated stress levels have resulted from psychological sources.

The connection between stress and inflammation levels has been thoroughly reviewed.  Furthermore, this can contribute to the onset of many adverse health conditions.  The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) summarizes this HERE.

Needless to say, there are a lot of things that excess stress levels can impact, including how our bodies manage weight.

Although researchers are still trying to nail down exactly who is most affected by these dynamics and why so, certain people may be at greater risk.

This study in Obesity suggests that women who are caregivers in tougher situations, such as caring for an autistic child, may have a higher likelihood of facing challenges with their weight as influenced by chronically elevated stress levels.  This was observed to be especially applicable when the participant demonstrated a higher likelihood for more impulsive risk-taking behavior in the past.

The researchers in the study mentioned above pointed out that although MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) could be a good start to proactively manage harmful stress levels, that the framework would likely be enhanced for better outcomes in weight loss with an added focus on eating mindfully.  This was recommended to retrain the behavioral dynamic between reward-related eating as a coping mechanism for circumstances such as experiencing chronic stress.

Mindful eating is further supported by a systematic review in Current Obesity Reports, while another review in Nutrition Research Reviews highlighted mindfulness as a potentially viable strategy to address emotional eating which could influence weight management.  Essentially what a review article implies is that across a body of evidence, the solution has demonstrated favorable results and is, therefore, considered more valid.

The researchers behind this article in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine explored stress and weight gain in women shortly after the birth of their first child.  The rationale to take a deeper dive in this area was related to the shift in the available time, energy, and motivation for self-care that can occur with a new mother as well as the relationship between the health of the mother to that of the child.  They suggested that stress management should be integrated into lifestyle health approaches for a longer-term post-childbirth, but that this type of resource is not widely available.  Also, they included mind-body approaches as a potential avenue to consider due to the whole systems perspective as well as joining supportive networks.

Another population of interest is people that are coping with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which is sort of a unique category of stress because it arises from events that are considered acute vs chronic or recurring but may result in longer-term effects that then make the stress response chronic.

Prevalence of overweight and obesity has been monitored in individuals with PTSD.  Studies have been a little bit fragmented, but, as a systematic review published in Harvard Review of Psychiatry reported, PTSD may lead to higher BMI, a standardized measure of weight status, particularly in women.  Review articles published before this one also had similar conclusions.

This study in the JAMA Psychiatry (Journal of American Medicine) looked specifically at women with PTSD.  The researchers mentioned previous studies where decreased physical activity, increased consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages, and generally dysregulated food intake was noted in people with PTSD.  Furthermore, internal dysregulation, such as neuroendocrine function, cortisol levels, and impact on other biochemical activity, has been observed.  Unfortunately, no specific method of treatment was suggested in their discussion.

It is important to point out that BMI can a bit subjective as a measure of weight status, but has been a standard for several years and is a measurement used across many studies.  Studies that have included other measures, such as waist circumference (WC) and/or waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), could be more telling.

Other emerging research is looking at various interrelationships between certain biochemical factors associated with post-traumatic stress, such as inflammatory markers or neuroendocrine activation.  It is possible that internal responses to this sort of stress could be the primary reason that individuals with PTSD have a greater risk for the onset of obesity.

Many of the articles detailing these studies indicated support for greater emphasis on healthcare provider knowledge and the ability to address stress management in consideration for patient’s health.  Therefore, it may be a good idea to include this on the list of topics of discussion when you meet with healthcare providers.

It is unclear why the emphasis in many of the research studies has been on such refined or specific populations, such as women in a specific time frame of life or circumstance, and that other groups have not been as thoroughly reviewed.

However, what is clear that a key recurring theme in the research is “chronic stress” which can influence mental well-being, hormone regulation, immune health, and inflammation levels.  Furthermore, this can present challenges to the endocrine system as a whole.  Also, when paired with other factors that may also lead to weight gain or the various metabolic diseases related to obesity, the association between chronic stress and weight status, is usually strengthened.

There is also a dynamic between what is referred to as “obesity stigma” and the definition of one’s identity.  This topic could be a follow-up article all in itself, but there is supportive evidence to suggest that finding ways to reduce stigmas associated with overweight or obese weight statuses could be meaningful for both reducing psychological stress and better approaches to weight loss.

So, how can we reduce chronic stress for better weight loss or management?

Essentially, when we are looking at impacts of stress, there is a range of interactions across cognitive functions, physiology, biochemistry, and our behaviors.  Therefore, approaches that consider these interacting facets have the most support.

Self-care is widely mentioned across both literature and major health advising sources, such as The Mayo Clinic.  Self-care is a combination of daily activities and behaviors in support of overall health and well-being as well as favorable mental and emotional engagements.

Two areas within self-care that may be worth dedicated consideration are 1) sleep and 2) physical activity.  Adverse stress is thought to be disruptive to the patterns associated with each of these areas and they are also relevant to effective weight management.

Keeping tabs on factors that may be influencing physiology and biochemistry is another integrated strategy worth placing focus.  Our bodies are biochemical and although we may not feel the effects of imbalances, we may have inadvertently set ourselves up to ignore them or don’t realize what might be an indicator of a problem.  These imbalances can essentially hack our ability to keep excess weight off and could be influencing our mental well-being as well.  Therefore, creating a vicious cycle that may be challenging to escape from.

Oxidative stress, for example, is a different kind of stress but is ever so important to consider in a weight management approach.  Again, the research is consistently emerging in this area and there is evidence to suggest that certain levels of oxidative stress may be good for us.  For this discussion, I’m referring to adverse oxidative stress levels.

The association between adverse oxidative stress and obesity has been observed across both human studies of epidemiological (meaning patterns of disease) and clinical nature as well as animal studies, as highlighted in this journal article.  In a nutshell, it is thought that adverse oxidative stress could trigger extra adipose tissue, i.e. part of what we are looking at when we discuss “belly fat”, and influence other underlying factors associated to obesity, such as chronic inflammation or impaired mitochondrial function which would influence our body’s ability to produce and regulate energy.

The health of the microbiome is another aspect.  The composition of the gut microbiota is influenced by both bodyweight itself and dietary factors.  It is also responsive to psychological stress.  It is relevant because we have come to understand just how many physiological functions are influenced by the health of the microbiome including stress response, body weight, and eating behaviors.  An important subset point here is to also monitor the intake of sugar which could go back to that “comfort food” discussion above.

Monitoring cortisol levels may be another thing worth the while.  Essentially the approach here is to determine whether or not what is happening with cortisol in the body also places someone in a higher risk category.  As discussed in a more scientific language in a Current Obesity Reports journal article, certain patterns of cortisol may lead to more abdominal obesity which is more tightly linked to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

It is important to recognize that much of this research is ongoing, however, what is clear, is that dietary factors do play a role.  A dietary approach rich in nutrients and relevant compounds paired with low intake of inflammatory foods could help both your weight and stress levels.

Working with a health professional can also be helpful versus going at stress management on your own.  Qualified health professionals can help with internal factors, such as those mentioned above, and to help identify the source(s) and, if possible, type of stress.

A few questions you might ask yourself include:

  • “Is your psychological stress mostly chronic mild stress related to daily life?”
  • “Are there specific social circumstances leading to your stress and what kind of social position are they putting you into?”
  • “Have you experienced a traumatic event and, if so, when in your life did this occur?”

There is also such as thing as “perceived stress” which, in a nutshell, is an indicator of how the person psychologically responds to stress or how they interpret how much stress they are under versus simply quantifying the stress as a dose alone and applying it generically across individuals.  To bring further context to this, some people will find circumstances more or less stressful while others may not even find those same circumstances stressful at all.

Practicing approaches involving mindfulness AND eating mindfully could be one of the best research-backed solutions for both stress and behavior associated with eating patterns.  Although more studies are needed which include the approaches within weight management programs, studies have shown that these practices increase internal awareness.

The current direction of the research is compelling since stress-induced eating patterns can be harder to remedy.  This is, in part, because often they are reducing psychological stress for the person engaging in the patterns.  Therefore, it may take a more integrated, comprehensive approach including a focus on both the mindset and behavior to make changes happen.  This is where mindfulness related practices, including the framework of mindful eating, serve to make the most impact.  Also, as this article details, the approach is less focused on rules to eating which may be cumbersome for people.  Instead, it is much centered on sensational factors, such as enjoyment.

A transcript from Duke Integrative Medicine provides a popular mindful eating exercise with a raisin while this article from Mindful provides 6 other tactics for those who may not be as into the raisin exercise.

Furthermore, mind-body practices emphasize a whole-systems perspective honing in on the various interconnections between mental, physical, emotional, social, and physiological.  The emphasis on each of these aspects to health has the potential to decrease stress and improve outcomes associated with weight simultaneously.  Yoga, meditation, and therapies such as acupuncture are common to mind-body medicine.

Actively practicing relaxation may be a viable way to intervene on the tendency for stress-induced eating that is not healthful.  It is thought that relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, could mediate reward pathways, emotional facets, and habits related to coping mechanisms.

Other tips from the research include 1) practicing realistic avoidance, 2) joining a supportive network (even if online), and 3) integrating the approaches as a long-term strategy (versus assuming something will be a quick fix).

To recap, research-backed approaches to stress which can help with weight loss are:

  • Consistent self-care
  • A check-up with a health professional
  • Addressing factors associated with health physiology and biochemistry
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Behavioral- & mindset-based interventions, such as those that focus on mindfulness
  • Realistic avoidance
  • Relaxation
  • Social activity and/or supportive networks
  • Considering it for the long-haul

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Sources:

Duke Integrative Medicine.  (n.d.). Mindful Eating Exercise.  Retrieved from https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/dukeimprogramsblog/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/Mindful-Eating-Transcript.pdf.

Dunn, C., et al.  (2018, Mar).  Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain.  Current Obesity Reports, 7(1), 37-49.

How Do Stress and Inflammation Contribute to Chronic Disease?  (n.d.)  The Institute for Functional Medicine.  Retrieved from http://bit.ly/Stress-ChronicDisease (shortened link).

Huberty, J., et al.  (2017, Feb).  Exploring the Need for Interventions to Manage Weight and Stress During Interconception.  Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 40(1), 145-158.

Kubzansky, L.D., Bordelois, P., & Jun, H.J.  (2014, Jan).  The Weight of Traumatic Stress:  A Prospective Study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Weight Status in Women.  JAMA Psychiatry, 71(1), 44-51.

Manna, P. & Jain, S.K.  (2015, Dec 1).  Obesity, Oxidative Stress, Adipose Tissue Dysfunction, and the Associated Health Risks:  Causes and Therapeutic Strategies.  Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders 13(10), 423-444.

Masih, T., Dimmock, J.A., Epel, E.S., & Guelfi, K.J.  (2017, Nov 1).  Stress-induced Eating and the Relaxation Response as a Potential Antidote:  A Review and Hypothesis.  Appetite, 118, 136-143.

Masodkar, K., Johnson, J., & Peterson, M.J.  (2016, Jan 7).  A Review of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Obesity:  Exploring the Link.  The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 18(1).

Mason, A.E., et al.  (2018, Mar 22).  Chronic Stress and Impulsive Risk-Taking Predict Increases in Visceral Fat over 18 Months.  Obesity, 26, 869-876.

Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan.  (n.d.). Stress Management:  Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225.

Nelson, J.B.  (2017, Aug).  Mindful Eating:  The Art of Presence While You Eat.  Diabetes Spectrum:  a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 30(3), 171-174.

Phillips, A.C.  (2013).  Perceived Stress.  In: Gellman M.D., Turner J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY.

Razzoili, M. & Bartolomucci, A.  (2016, Jul).  The Dichotomous Effect of Chronic Stress on Obesity.  Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 27(7), 504-515.

Savini, I., Catani, M. V., Evangelista, D., Gasperi, V., & Avigliano, L. (2013, May). Obesity-Associated Oxidative Stress: Strategies Finalized to Improve Redox State.  International Journal of Molecular Sciences14(5), 10497–10538.

Suliman, S., et al.  (2016, Jul-Aug).  Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Overweight, and Obesity:  A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.  Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 24(4), 271-293.

Tenk, J., et al.  (2018, Sep).  Perceived Stress Correlates with Visceral Obesity and Lipid Parameters of the Metabolic Syndrome:  A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.  Psychoneuroendocrinology, 95, 63-73.

Tomiyama, J.A.  (2019).  Stress and Obesity.  Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 5.1-5.16.

van der Valk, E.S., Savas, M., & van Rossum, E.F.C.  (2018, Apr 16).  Stress and Obesity:  Are There More Susceptible Individuals?  Current Obesity Reports, 7(2), 193-202.

Warren, J.M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M.  (2017, Dec).  A Structured Literature Review on the Role of Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating in Changing Eating Behaviors:  Effectiveness and Associated Potential Mechanisms.  Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283.

Willard, C.  (2019, Jan 17).  6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating.  Mindful.  Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/.

3 compelling reasons to practice gratitude in your life

It’s kind of amazing how many health and life-related benefits have been associated with the practice of gratitude, but just what does the research say and where does the most support lie?  As I found in a review of this topic, there is already a wealth of content highlighting researched-backed insights to the practice of gratitude.

As this article from Harvard Health detailed, simply writing out things one is grateful for could lead to a greater sense of optimism and overall positive feeling about life.  Furthermore, when assessing happiness on an index, those who take the time to thank someone tend to score higher.

Other studies have compared measures related to the practice of gratitude to health outcomes, such as self-care and physical health, sleep, and psychological well-being.  This Forbes article did a nice job synthesizing these benefits.  (Note, it also appeared in Psychology Today).

Another emerging area is the impact on brain activity.  Brain health is one of the most popular topics in health and wellness right now so the findings thus far are quite intriguing.

This Greater Good Magazine article, which is published by UC Berkeley, focused on the mental health benefits of practicing gratitude and, also, detailed an experiment where brain activity was measured while participants completed a “pay it forward” task.  The study accounted for other self-reported measures of behavior and motivations associated with gratitude.  In a nutshell, the researchers observed that people who were generally more grateful and participated in the task showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making.

The field of Positive Psychology is more or less the master at monitoring facets such as the practice of gratitude with respect to other health and well-being outcomes.

In 2019, PositivePyschology.com broke it down (link here).  To briefly synthesize, appreciation was considered to be a key trait to gratitude, but, as they detailed, can also be expressed through other distinct aspects.  Expressions of gratitude have been associated with well-being, relationships, and health.  Furthermore, these associations can be influential in feelings of happiness, love, and life satisfaction.

Finally, Happier Human, a leading source focused on tips and resources to support a happy life, gave us 31 science-backed benefits of gratitude in this blog post!  It broke down benefits across the areas of emotional, personality, social, career, and health.

So to recap, the most compelling reasons to practice gratitude are:

  • Level of happiness
  • Benefits to health
  • Quality of life

Whichever way you look at it, practicing thanks and, perhaps, a little generosity as well may be excellent options for your overall health and well-being.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

One easy thing to help you achieve better health with diabetes

It can be quite challenging for a newly diagnosed diabetic to know how to go about making dietary changes.  It can even be a struggle for someone who has been living with the condition for a while.  November is National Diabetes Month in the U.S., hence the focus on this population.

There is a unique intersect between making changes in the dietary approach itself with the various lifestyle habits that are related to actually making those shifts happen.

It didn’t take long after I started working with people living with type II diabetes for this facet to become clear to me.  Typically people are trying to figure out what actually spikes their blood sugar and are often concerned about other health outcomes, such as weight loss.  Their approach usually ends up, indirectly, rather haphazard at best.

Although I am not a clinical nutritionist, I do specialize in helping people with behavioral shifts and lifestyle plans.  Coming from an extensive health science background and experience working directly with integrative nutritionists for close to 10 years, I’m rather clear on this topic.  

When we think about blood sugar regulation and our daily meals, a few key principles are at play; fiber, complete protein, and healthful fat.  Getting more in-depth is factoring in the glycemic index or load, but that can often get overwhelming.  Typically if we can hone in on content itself and simplify the process, it can lead to significant strides in making the lifestyle shifts.  

So…  for example, start with a plate consisting of about 75% veggies (whole-food, not processed concoctions).  Then, make up the remainder of the plate with a complete protein, such as baked chicken or quinoa for a vegetarian approach, and at least 2 tablespoons of healthful fat, such as avocado or, perhaps, a raw, unfiltered olive oil drizzle. 

(Note; it can be helpful to emphasize veggies first, then discuss the incorporation of ideal fruit options).

There will undoubtedly be targeted shifts down the road for the specific person at hand, but, generally speaking, this can offer a good baseline for meal composition.  After options for various food combinations per meal are understood, it’s then figuring out how the heck to make sure those are the meal choices selected. 

This is where meal preparation and storage become one easy thing to support a better health plan.  It can be specifically relevant for those living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes.  

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Furthermore, combining meal preparation with a homemade approach and storing the excess for future meals ensures that most healthful options will be readily available.  It makes the choices easier, there is complete awareness for what ingredients went into the dishes, and, although some prep work is necessary, it can actually save time in the future. 

In thinking about this for people who need a little help sticking with a healthful diet and plan, I went on a pretty significant search to find freezable compartmentalized dishes.  I also wanted to focus on options that weren’t plastic because putting both hot foods and/or fats into plastic can be problematic from a toxin uptake perspective.

This search led to a few viable options as well as some other cool food storage swag. 

If you are thinking of a great gift for someone aiming to stick to a healthful diet, such as someone with diabetes, these options might be good to consider :).  

Photo credits:  Brianna Santellan and Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Your health and stress: What you can do

It’s not uncommon to have some awareness of the impact of stress on health, yet not really know what to do about it.

There are, in fact, several things we can do within our daily lives to reduce stress and, therefore, create a more balanced and well life.  It is also intriguing that there are some favorable outcomes from certain levels of stress which I’ll highlight further in this post.

I do want to point out that when I’m talking about reducing stress, I am referring to “adverse” stress.  In layman’s terms, this could be considered the “bad” stress.

Self-care is one of the most basic approaches to stress management.

Yep, it’s actually rather simple.  Take care of yourself in a holistic manner and you can pretty much bet on less physical, mental, and emotional stress.

What does that mean???

At a base level, I am talking about healthfulness in terms of food and diet, physical activity, conditioning the mind, relationships, spiritual or connection to purpose, and engagement with finances.  Some people may recognize this as the dimensions of wellness.

Thinking more comprehensively is when we get to pull it all together in a way that brings us balance despite the various ebbs and flows we will encounter.  Furthermore, recognizing that this will take a proactive approach to how we go about life and respond to circumstances as they arise.

For a few examples of specific self-care practices, be sure to check out this article from Very Well Mind, 5 Self-Care Practices for Every Area of Your Life.

Bottomline; prioritize the care of your health and overall wellness to also reduce the likelihood of heightened, chronic adverse stress.

If you are looking for a therapeutically oriented approach with notable evidence to back it up, then Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is likely for you.  This may also fall under Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

The term mindfulness may seem a little elusive.  I have seen it explained as anything from “relaxing the mind” to something such as “openness to experience with grounding in the body” which can likely have a wild range of interpretations for meaning.

A textbook definition hones in on self-awareness and recognition for how one responds to circumstances while in the specific moment(s) in which they arise.

In research, which mostly falls under Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in fields such as psychology,  we have observed that certain shifts in the mindset paired with an emphasis on practicing self-compassion have been positively correlated to stress reduction.  Studies have also shown compelling information with regards to a reduction in feelings of “burn out”.

Furthermore, the reduction of adverse stress in our daily lives has been considered with regards to the quality of life factors, such as productivity, health outcomes, leisure and social interactions, and certain socio-economic aspects.

Meanwhile, meditation practices have been around for centuries and are often relied upon for the management of stress.  In fact, if you run a web search on mindfulness or self-care for that matter, many of the results for exercises to complete will include meditation as a suggestion.

With a significant emphasis on breathwork, meditative practices are considered mind-body therapies.  Breathing practices can help disengage the brain from negative responses, such as mind racing, and bring a greater sense of focus.

Furthermore, there is a connection with breathing patterns to the nervous system.  Approaches considerate of this, such as meditation exercises, are thought to relax the nervous system.  This can help bring the body out of a heightened response state and, therefore, reduce excess stress response as well as other respective adverse effects such as consequences to the immune system.

Studies of brain mechanisms and meditation are emerging, but we are seeing much more integration of meditation into both professional and social settings centered on wellness or well-being and certain clinical care settings.

Finally, a somewhat unique, emerging option is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).  Admittedly, when I first started hearing hype about this approach, I was a bit skeptic.  However, when I finally did the research, I found it compelling.  The approach is of particular interest when chronic emotional stress or feelings of anxiety are present.  This Healthline article, What is EFT Tapping, provides a succinct overview.

Now on to the benefits of a little stress!

There is such a thing as “good” stress.  Eustress is the type that energizes us, such as that the comes from various exhilarating experiences.

Also, moderate levels of stress, in our day-to-day lives can actually help us to build resilience, which is the ability to overcome obstacles.  This article in Time, How Some Stress Can Actually Be Good For You, talks to a few experts in psychology about this.  They also point out benefits to motivation, social bonding, and the recognition of purpose in life.

Knowledge of this fact alone can actually be empowering in itself.  It can help us put into perspective how we respond to things and, when things feel a little out of hand, the methodologies detailed above can come in handy!

Want to learn a little more about what to actually do in your life AND come away with a personalized action plan???  Consider joining us for a virtual workshop.  Sign up HERE.

Photo credit:  Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

“Life by Design”?!? …Pulling back the curtain on this buzzy concept

The phrase Life by Design seems to be thrown around quite a bit these days.  However, what the heck does it mean?  …or, perhaps, should it mean?

The perception of life by design can easily be swayed by lofty posts on photo sharing and marketing sites (you know the ones) of excess photos from beach walks, coffee breaks on decks with breathtaking scenery, and/or work on a laptop in a picturesque setting that is more or less polar opposite to an office.

Although these images are certainly inspiring and pretty to look at, they may not be representative of entirely realistic goals for everyone.

So what IS… realistic in thinking about a “life by design”?   

Essentially, life by design is an approach to mindful living with respect to overall well-being for one’s self as well as their influence on others.  Often this would consider how one eats, spends time, thinks, and outwardly behaves.  It may also include how and where money is spent.

A positive life by design typically consists of specific intentions and a heightened self-awareness for one’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and inter-relationships with others.  Meanwhile, as further illustrated in this Inc article, Do These 5 Things to Live Life by Your Own Design, it also emphasizes not playing a victim’s role.

However, most of all, it’s realistic.  Instead of a fantasy, it’s more of a grounded perspective on or a mindset for one’s circumstances which ultimately influences personal behavior, conduct, and/or engagement with the world.

…and, how can you make the shift?!?

A few steps to take in the shift to a more positive Life by Design are;

Identify your why or why’s:  This is likely the most cliche, yet relevant step in any personal or professional development plan.  However, there is a legitimate reason to give this significant priority.

People with a strong sense of purpose typically live happier and less stressful as well as have stronger relationships or bonds with others.  In fact, it is a key pillar in the Blue Zones Project, a world-wide, geographical research initiative centered on groups of people with most favorable health outcomes.

A simple way to integrate this into your life is to find time for self-reflection and write a few things down.  This can be a consistent placeholder on the calendar or something you do when the thought strikes you in some sort of easily accessible journaling tool.

Set realistic goals:  There are more than one valid frameworks to set great goals, aims, or objectives.  One option that coaches love is the SMART goal framework (click for a worksheet from the University of San Diego).  The approach has been leveraged in numerous evidence-based behavior change programs, is easy to teach and implement, and, best of all, “smart” is more than just an acronym!  The framework can help break down overarching goals into actionable steps which can be oriented towards daily, weekly, monthly or annually.

The art, so to speak, is to set goals, aims, and objectives that are both intentional and creative.  This is where visualization tools can come in handy.  We have likely all seen those vision board parties…  you get the idea!  Focus on where you can thrive vs get bogged down or riddled by bottlenecks in productivity.

Great times for goal setting and/or review are at the end or start of a year and some version of a mid-point to the increment of time that you are trying to achieve the goal.  Finding time and space where you can be clear of distractions, think creatively, and have sufficient duration for a full brainstorm.

Identify how you are spending your time:  This more or less boils down to making determinations for when you are operating on auto-pilot and, perhaps, not actually productive.  What are your power hours?  When do you feel most creative?  Furthermore, are you including time to focus on your passions, causes you wish to support, and relationships?

Once you have answers to these type of questions, you can shift your projects on your calendar around to best meet your personal tendencies and better fit to desired outcomes.  Bundling tasks that are synergistic with one another is also a great tactic.

My resourceful friend Janet, owner of Aligned Biz Systems, has even more tips and tricks on her company blog.

Reframe obstacles or challenges:  A significant facet to life by design is how you respond to your specific circumstances.  Behavior results from a combination of conscious and subconscious minds.

The subconscious essentially catalogs all the information you have been exposed to and experiences you have had across the course of your life.  It is typically more influential than many people realize.  Counseling Psychologist, Christiana Star, discusses this further in her Thrive Global submission, How Your Subconscious Beliefs Affect Your Life.

Reflection on how you have responded to hard times or circumstances in the past can help to illustrate tendencies.  This Mind Body Green article, Out-smart Self-sabotage: 5 Steps to Change Subconscious Beliefs, sheds more light on this.

A basic reframe tactic is to recognize setbacks as key lessons learned or stepping stones.  Furthermore, clear and transparent identification of what gets in your way can help determine where a little personal development and growth work may be relevant.

Be open to support when needed:  “Superwoman” or “superman” may be fun to watch on tv or in the theater, but is completely fictitious.  At some point, we all need a little support to balance our potential weaknesses or challenges we may be facing.  Most of all, accountability can help us stay on track and accomplish things.

This HuffPost article, Life by Design, Not by Default, presents a light-hearted, yet likely relatable story of “falling on her face” a few times.  Yet, details further the intricacy behind making a positive “life by design” a priority including surrounding yourself with positive examples.

Finally… define your version of success!  (BONUS TIP: this may not be the status quo!)

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

 

Why care about lifestyle when thinking about brain health?

Brain health is often paired with a discussion on healthful aging each of which stems from a combination of three overarching areas;

  1. genetic disposition and/or triggering of the genes
  2. lifestyle
  3. environmental factors

There has been a common perception that having a genetic disposition will absolutely ensure a specific health outcome.  However, as more recent bodies of evidence on various chronic disease outcomes have suggested, this is a misinterpretation.

You will notice that I included “triggering of the genes” in the list above.  Well, the triggers can stem from variables associated with lifestyle and environment.  So, as you may begin to see, we have overlap or intersection of the three categories above.

So what do you need to think about for lifestyle?

Well, much of it is really not that different than what you may have heard from other health experts honing in on lifestyle health overall.  Essentially dietary patterns, movement and physical activity, reduction of adverse stress, and appropriate sleep all play a role.

You may have also heard of cognitive exercises to nurture a facet of the brain called neuroplasticity.  A more comprehensive synopsis is available from the Positive Psychology Program.

However, what seems to be a missing link?

An area that is often overlooked in lifestyle health approaches is addressing environmental factors and understanding for the areas in which we CAN take action.

Research is emerging, but from a scientific lens, we are starting to observe more patterns in chronic disease manifestation associated to adverse environmental exposures, including those associated to the brain, such as forms of dementia.  Also, chronic diseases associated with the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, have observed increased prevalence, especially in industrialized nations.

It may seem as if we are helpless in this area.  However, a key take-way from this blog post is that there are certain shifts in the lifestyle that can support a reduction in the overall burden.

Approaches should center on some combination of realistic avoidance of adverse exposures and boosting our body’s detoxification pathways.  Then, as previously indicated above, focus on healthful behaviors and practices.

It is not uncommon for people to simply not know where to take action …or, out of ALL the options out there, understand what to place focus on. 

However, once some of the blinding curtains begin to come down, a clearer perspective for what to do can be gained.

Emphasis on the area of brain health is top of mind for so many people.  There is much more we could talk about for the “How to do it” with regards to lifestyle health and the brain.  It is this reason why I’m offering a free 5-day virtual challenge, Boost Your Brain Health in 5 Days, which starts April 29th, 2019.

Participation in this free educational challenge will get you started on realistic shifts in the lifestyle to further support healthful aging and the brain.  The challenge will include daily emails with an informational video and easy to complete activity plus daily engagement in a closed Facebook group.

The sign-up form can also be accessed for the Facebook event page HERE.

Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

Journey with Network Chiropractic Care

Have you heard of network chiropractic care?  If you answered, “no”, you are likely not alone.

Network Chiropractic Care, otherwise known as Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), is a gentle touch approach that nurtures the nervous system.  The emphasis on a reset is multi-faceted across physiological and mental/emotional health.

The intervention occurs through spinal cord adjustments that support a re-organization of the tension within the nervous system.  Its aim is to shift out of a stress-based state towards more optimal functionality.  A more thorough synthesis is provided on Daocloud HERE.

It is EXTREMELY important to consider the health of your nervous system.  The nervous system is tied into so many other areas including hormonal regulation, detoxification pathways, and digestive health, then, of course, the brain!

I had been passively looking for a chiropractor with a focus on gentle applications.  Admittedly, I had been doing just about everything else for good health, but keeping this type of treatment on the back-burner.  Until recently, I didn’t realize that the gentle approach that I was looking for would equate to NSA.  However, upon the introduction, I was immediately drawn to the concept.

In the Functional Medicine community, we frequently talk about neurology and respective tie-ins to overall health.  The nervous system (or systems, because there are different components to the master system) is a foundational system imperative for both structural health and overall well-being, yet may be under-emphasized in personal approaches to wellness.

In February of this year (2019), I started my journey with Network Chiropractic Care.  The timing was a little off due to some pre-established travel plans, but like with anything in life, there never really is a perfect time and sometimes we just need to dive in.

I wasn’t expecting favorable results from my initial scan, but I was also surprised at how much tension I was actually carrying.  Therefore, after wrapping up my travel, I returned in March to enroll in a 3-month intensive.  (The specific practice I enrolled can be accessed HERE).

At this point, I’m a few weeks into my care plan.  It will be an exciting update down the road upon completion of the intensive.  However, for now, a few initial observations are as follows;

  • Most of the applications are very, very light in touch.  It’s is nothing like getting a massage.  However, it is amazing how relaxed your muscles feel after a session.
  • For now, I’m still dealing with tension and tightness that returns, sometimes in little as a few hours to a day after a session, but, so far, the treatments have made me MUCH more aware of how I engage with my body.  Operating in a subconscious, auto-pilot sort of way, I have realized how often I have been twisting and contorting throughout the day and evening, particularly around the shoulder and upper back area.
  • The relationship between neurology and breathing is even more clear.  I have been aware of this mind-body connection area for quite some time.  It appears in so many healing modalities from meditation to yoga to visual frameworks, such as guided imagery.  However, in the NSA framework, you really feel it.  A minor touch on a specific point can almost immediately shift your breath.  I would like to think this is a release within the body and further demonstration of what is working.  To be continued…

I would love to share more about my journey with Network Chiropractic Care.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to learn more about the experiences and insights I have had thus far.

In the meantime, a few additional resources are below;

New Day Network Wellness

Information on Daocloud

Family Network Chiropractic, About NSA™, Network Spinal Analysis

A free directory of providers

Epienergetics website

*Photo by Stuart Poulton on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

Finding Balance while Living with Autoimmune Related Conditions

March is autoimmune disease awareness month.

For those of you who know or follow me, you are likely well aware that living healthful and well is a key focus area for both my personal life and professional niche.  This may be in spite of having chronic conditions or underlying physiological dysfunction.  The fact that I carry my own diagnosis and am a fit to “autoimmune wellness warrior” can present certain idiosyncrasies to maintaining balance.

Professionally, I work with people to live better, well, and most healthful, while personally, I am often holding on tight while navigating through turbulent, bumpy roads all while working to keep it all together!  Naturally, it can give me greater ability to express empathy, but it can also leave me feeling that I have a massive case of imposter syndrome.

A few insights on autoimmune related conditions are as follows (more can be found via the AARDA):

  • Approximately 50 million Americans are afflicted with an autoimmune-related condition.
  • There are over 80 conditions confirmed associated with underlying autoimmune dysfunction and the list is growing.
  • Women are disproportionately affected.
  • Late or misdiagnosis has been common.
  • Despite supportive evidence for lifestyle interventions significantly influencing outcomes, immunosuppressant treatment is still common yet may result in devastating long-term side effects.
  • The body of research centered on effects from environmental factors and the manifestation of autoimmune-related conditions is mounting.

For people who are able to put autoimmune conditions into remission, a 3-5 year timeline is common.  This is typically curated through a “lifestyle-medicine” approach which will involve a range of shifts including dietary approaches, relationship with sleep and stress, reduction in adverse environmental exposures where possible, and a potential range of therapeutic related approaches to nudge the body closer to healthful homeostasis.  For many of us, like myself, complete remission may not be realistic, but a significant reduction in the severity could be possible.  Therefore, 5 years not just after a diagnosis, but from the time in which notable lifestyle changes are begun is kind of a relevant time to do a robust check-in.

This spring will mark 5 years since I have had a formal diagnosis for autoimmune related conditions, (which often cluster and may come with secondary conditions that are considered to be present as a result of the specific autoimmune condition(s) manifestation).  In many ways, things are going relatively well.  There may still be an occasional flare-up or mishap, but many of my symptoms have been significantly reduced, my antibody labs came back the best results I have seen since I started this journey, and I have indoctrinated the lifestyle changes to become my new normal without much mental anguish to think it all through.

Which brings up a good point.  As much as these conditions are physiological, there is also a chaotic dance in store for the mindset.  However, although sometimes haphazard with certain unexpected variables, it’s still one that can be orchestrated.  Therefore, a few wellness tips can also be rather impactful!

Manage expectations through letting go of perfect.  “Well” does not mean perfect.  Hey type A-ers, I’m talking even a little more closely to you.  Systems and plans can be fantastic for staying on track, but remaining flexible while having a sense of humor can also go a long way!

It’s ok to say No.  Not everyone is going to understand what we are dealing with.  It’s not personal, educate when it’s appropriate, but otherwise, let it go.  Time and energy are much better spent on other areas in which we can enthusiastically say “yes”.

Focus on the unintentional gifts.  For me, I have significantly more knowledge and perspective than I would have had otherwise.  Also, I have been able to shift various focus and responsibility to a more meaningful purpose.

A few other bloggers’ posts that are a little similar to this one that may provide further insight and inspiration.

Autoimmune Disease Warriors, About Us

The Advantages of Disadvantages

Why I Am Not an Autoimmune Warrior

*Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Live Out Your Joy

It was a blast to plan out an Instagram contest with a fellow entrepreneur who takes center on healthful living.  Be sure to follow @theConureLife and @LiveConscientiousLiveHealthful on Instagram to play along.

It starts on February 13th (US time) which also happens to coincide with “National Self Love Day”.

The daily themes center on healthful habits and behaviors that can be easily and consistently addressed, such as hydration, breathing, eliminating negative facets that don’t serve you, movement, and appropriate rest.

Additional ideas for you to “Live Out Your Joy” can be found in this Mind Body Green article, 10 Everyday Choices for a Soul-centered, Joyous Life.  I also love this article written by Eric Barke, How to Live Joyously Like an Old Person, that gains perspective on joy from our elder population.

Feel free to join us!

 

 

Photo credits to @JuicePlus and @WellnessStockShop

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

What About Vermont?

The Green Mountain State may just live up to it’s “green” status and perhaps there is a little bit of truth to Keep Vermont Weird as well.

In mid-October, I visited this lovely state.  It was just as the leaves were starting to change in color.  Therefore, I saw plenty of green with some pleasant pops of red, yellow, and orange as well.

My decision to take the trip was, ultimately, the result of two state-wide campaigns that went viral about mid-2018.  One, a grant-funded remote-worker relocation incentive program that was passed by their state legislature and, two, a tourism campaign referred to as Stay-to-Stay which invited people to visit Vermont with the consideration of relocation and included a schedule of events centered around leading a life there.

In a nutshell, I just had to see about Vermont…

As a long-standing practitioner of green living, I have always been curious about things I had heard with regards to life in Vermont.  Perhaps this has been partly a picturesque pipe dream of becoming a homesteader paired with another part desire to “get out of dodge”, however, it continued to stick in the back of my mind for some years.  When I learned of the two programs, the notion re-emerged to top of mind and I simply could not let the thought pass without taking action.

I spent most of my time in the Burlington area.  Coming from living primarily in a major urban environment, I felt it would give me a good sample of Vermont while also keeping a bit of an urban feel.  (When I return to Vermont, I would also really like to visit the Rutland area).

So what did I learn from visiting this unique place?

There are many facets I could comment on, but the ones that stood out the most include the following:

Smaller sized population areas do NOT need to impede larger scale support for farmers markets and locally sourced food.

In fact, the Burlington Farmers Market, which is not the only one in Burlington, but is the most well known, could just about give Pike Place Market in Seattle a run for their money.  There is so much enthusiasm for “Vermont made” and many options are organic and/or sustainable.  Also, in the main center of Burlington, no big-box grocers reside.  The primary grocery shopping center is a neighborhood co-op, City Market, Onion River Co-op.

Luck had it that a fellow alumni from where I received my undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees worked in leadership for this co-op and was willing to meet me.  His enthusiasm for the place was invigorating.  Also, he shared some impressive data points that reflect just how much Vermont seems to throw support towards local growers.

Social impact and business can co-exist… really, they can.

This theme was salient across my time there.  From the presentations at Vermont Tech Jam, a meeting with a hybrid co-working/business accelerator space, VCET, to casual conversations with business owners residing there, it was evident that this is a priority.

“Vermonters”, be they those raised there or transplanted, seem to have strived to work sufficient and smart, yet not lose consciousness for the communities in which they operate and service.  This is further illustrated by the number of Certified B Corporations there.

I gained a sense of small but mighty from the business community there.  Successes originating and/or operating within Vermont, such as Jet Blue, Seventh Generation, Gardener’s Supply Company, Mamava, and Sustain Natural, only add to the tout that business can behave better, even if just a little.

Green and healthful living can be practiced on a regular basis anywhere, but a few small yet supportive infrastructures may help us to be mindful of doing so.

Perhaps it was the air of the place (pun intended), but there were certainly signs for support of health promotion.  Even subtle reminders, such as attractive light pole banners reading “Smoke-free community” within areas where people work out and play outdoors were noticeable and seemed to be well-respected.  More information in these links; Church Street, Burlington Parks

There were also consistent reminders to take the idea of a socially-supportive community into consideration.  The lake monster themed change stands in downtown Burlington, for example, were fun and artistic but served a relevant charitable purpose.

It was also very easy to find recycling, which, believe it or not (…in 2018!), some municipalities still fail at royally!

Yoga really does help fuel the body, mind, and soul.

I was blown away by the number of yoga studios and the quality of instruction I received.  Many private studios offer a range of classes and most include some sort of donation based class at least once a week with a charitable beneficiary designated.

Spaces calling themselves wellness co-ops or collectives housed an interdisciplinary range of allied health, wellness, and fitness professionals.  These centers and shared spaces reflected both a mutual support for one another in business and presented convenience which seemed more patient-centric and nurturing by design.  Some of them centered on social services.  Almost all of them included a range of holistic services, including various yoga modalities and therapy.

Not to mention, this state has thrown their hat in the ring to support integrative healthcare, for example, naturopathic physicians (NMD’s) can operate as PCP’s (primary care physicians).  In addition, as compared to other states in the U.S., Vermont policy is more supportive for the range of nutrition-related professionals.

In closing…

I came back feeling a little more fresh and cleaner.  The landscape was spectacular.  With the scenic beauty and crisp “mountain air,” it’s hard to imagine not feeling a little more well after spending time there.

Vermont, like any state, is certainly imperfect.  However, I have little doubt that the sense of community and cultural norms centered around green space, healthful living, and social-consciousness in Vermont have kept this a really, really great place to not just visit, but also live, work, or play!

For a little fun, more Vermont slogans available here.

I also would like to give a special nod to the yoga apparel store Yogarama Athletica.  If in Burlington, it is definitely worth stopping in.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!