Tag Archives: health

The One In Which I Feel Like A Miserable Walrus Because Science

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I bet if I sat you down you could recite me a list of milk slogans and benefits that have been drilled into our collective heads ad nauseum for the past few decades. It’s a big source of calcium, It makes you grow!, Your bones need it, It has protein, Got Milk? Milk, it does a body good.

Or, does it?

But, sometimes, the benefits of a particular food ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Are you surprised? Don’t be. The food industry relies heavily on marketing just like any other business.

The difficult, and sometimes even dangerous part is when we allow for these marketing strategies, this loud information, to override what our own bodies are trying to say. 

See, healthy food is healthy… as long as it isn’t harmful. Doh.

Kind of obvious, right? But you’d be surprised at how many people blur the lines and ignore serious signs of potential problems simply because they continue to be convinced they should be eating x or y since they’re “healthy.”

Whole grains are healthy, as long as you don’t have Celiac disease or an intolerance.

Milk is (debatably) healthy, as long as you don’t have a lactose allergy or intolerance.

Heck, even vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and everything under the sun can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on whether your body loves it or hates it.

See where I’m getting at?

Enter: Me.

I grew up with the same information as you, and thus I grew up drinking many-a glass of milk. Everything was fine.

And then I became an adult. And at some point over the past five years I began noticing that milk doesn’t settle in my stomach very smoothly anymore. Sometimes it gives me a stomach ache. It causes me inflammation and bloating.

I drank milk yesterday to show you exactly what happens to my body (see what I do for you). The first picture is what my abdomen typically looks like after a normal exhalation. Then I drank one glass of milk. And about 20 minutes after, that’s what my stomach looked like after a normal exhalation. See the crazy bloating? It was painful, too, like heartburn. It becomes hard to stand up straight or move freely thanks to some sharp cramps, and all I want to do is lie down in a bundle until the pain is gone. Not pretty.

 

milkafter

 

 

Even though I never had issues with milk when I was a kid (or maybe I wasn’t paying attention?), as an adult willing to experiment I did begin noticing patterns: I discovered straight up milk gives me discomfort. Milk chocolate bars do, too. But somehow cheese, butter and yogurt don’t seem very problematic to my body.

Why the changes? I have no clue. They may be linked to the fact that as we grow we produce less of the enzyme that helps us break down milk, which in turn causes people who could tolerate milk just fine to begin having issues with it later in life.

But the reason doesn’t matter as much as the straight facts: Milk doesn’t benefit my body now. And I know this because my body yells it out loud and clear.

Should I continue drinking milk because calcium! bones! osteoporosis!  Hell no.

I get all my calcium from spinach, kale, beans, almonds, almond butter, salmon, and sardines. None of these foods make me feel like a beached whale in agony. That’s how I know they’re a superior option for me.

 

So now the question becomes… Are you ignoring any clear signals from your body?

There is a reason why our bodies react the way they do, after all.

We’re only wise to tune in and truly listen.

 

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The Beginner’s Guide To Going To The Gym

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gym

I didn’t name this a “guide to the gym.” I named it a “guide to going to the gym.” See, it’s nice to want to learn about machines and exercises, about gym etiquette and basic rules. But to wrangle those things we first have to tackle the very real fact that most people never actually set foot in a gym. Imma help with that.

That’s why I came up with this handy-dandy guide intended to help you get your butt out the door and actually in the gym; to finally shut up that jerk of a voice in your head telling you you’ll look ridiculous and out of place, so why bother going at all. Enough of that shit.

And why should you listen to me?

Because this is what I do for work and how I earn a living. I have insider information.

And also because once upon a time I was in your exact same shoes.

Which brings me to The Things You Should Know #1: Every single gym rat, buff guy/girl and fitness enthusiast you may ever come across, has at some point in their lives started off as a newbie. Just like you. We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable feeling of stepping into new territory, the self-consciousness of knowing we’re going to mess up and be ridiculed, the awkwardness of thinking we don’t fit in, so sure that others will see right through our pretending, sorry asses. Actually (and you have my permission to laugh. Because, really.) I want you to know that I was in your shoes just two years ago– and I was already a personal trainer! Even though I was a fitness professional, I had lots of experience, I knew all the ropes… I couldn’t help but feel scared when the time came to start training at my new place of work. You would imagine that with all I knew and the cred that comes from having put your fair amount of time training yourself and others I would be immune to the mental B.S. But I wasn’t. Because when push comes to shove, survival instincts kick in and fear of the unknown is a very real defense mechanism. It took me one week to finally walk down that narrow hall into the weights area, the lonesome girl amidst the lifting guys. And it got better. Real quick, actually.

That fear you feel is normal.

You got that? It’s normal. 

It’s actually kind of natural, expected and even somewhat healthy to feel this way. Back in the days when our survival depended on our awareness and familiarity with our surroundings, our monkey brain evolved to be uncomfortable and hyper-aware in new situations. Although our lives have drastically changed, to this day that part of our brain feels threatened as we experience something new, as though we were in great danger, and is trying to kick us into fight or flight mode. I mean, what if a sable-tooth tiger jumps out from behind the leg press machine, right?

Our logic, conscious mind knows that new can be scary though not necessarily bad or dangerous. But monkey brain didn’t get that memo. And this is why you have to remember that your brain is simply doing its part in keeping you safe from harm when these feelings arise. It’s trying to convince you to stick to what you know, to what’s familiar and comfortable (like staying at home instead of going to the gym.) Thank your brain for taking such good care of you, but don’t let the fear dominate your life experiences. You got this.

A powerful exercise to deal with such thoughts of doom is what is called notice and name. When the uncomfortable thoughts arise, simply notice their presence without judgment or trying to push them away. “Oh, there’s fear.”  “Why hello, self-doubt.” “Hm, I’m thinking thoughts of ridicule.” This simple action strips them of their iron grip over your life. You become an observer, no longer the main character suffering the story these thoughts want to tell. Sure, it takes practice to catch yourself, but trust me, the benefits of noticing and naming cannot be understated.

 

And while we’re in the subject of “thoughts of ridicule,” let me introduce you to The Things You Should Know #2: No one went to the gym today with the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or humiliating you. Really. Our tendency may be to make everything about ourselves, but in this case it’s just not. Most people in the gym are genuinely there to exercise. Shocking, eh? Most don’t have a whole lot of time in their day to stand around pointing fingers and laughing and newbies (and if they do, how sad is their life?) Even though you feel extremely self-conscious and like all eyes are on you (remember: Your brain is in hyper-aware mode) remember other people have their own worries, goals, insecurities, and time frames to even give you or me a second thought.

Some day down the line, once your gym is familiar territory and you’re rocking to your favorite tunes and kicking ass in whatever you’re doing, you will suddenly realize how you truly don’t pay much attention to anyone else around you. You’ll know with all certainty you had nothing to worry about in the first place.

 

I want to make this as easy on you as I can. So here are my easy-peasy pointers to successfully get your rear in gear.

1) Find a gym you like.

Big, impersonal chain gyms aren’t the only option out there. Find a gym or studio that gives you a nice feeling, that reflects values and ideas that are important to you. If being surrounded by bodybuilders isn’t your idea of fun, maybe stay away from Gold’s gym. There are so many quirky, cute, special and unique spaces where there is a sense of community within members– if that’s your thing. If you’re a loner and would rather not share space with many others maybe find a 24/7 gym to which you can have access at odd hours and rock it out alone. This is about you and what you enjoy. You won’t go to the gym if you can’t stand what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and represents. Be true to yourself.

2) Get at least a one-hour session with a personal trainer.

Many new gym-goers skip on this because of financial reasons, but you have no idea what even one hour alone with a trainer can do for your gym life. You have one hour to ask all the questions you want, they will tell you about the gym rules (the stipulated ones and the unspoken ones), they will teach you how to use the machines and equipment. This can give you all the confidence you need. Plus, it allows you to solidly meet one staff member. Bonus: Have them introduce you to other staff members! They’re you allies, your spotters, your guides. They want to see you succeed and keep coming back. Use them.

3) Do what you like.

If you hate cardio please don’t spend endless hours on the treadmill or elliptical. If you hate cycling don’t join a spinning class. At least in the beginning focus on what you like. Remember we’re in the process of making the gym a familiar place where you feel comfortable. You’ll have time to tackle more new things soon enough. In your first few tries, be kind and patient with yourself.

4) Prep. Practice. Mentalize.

Prepare your gym bag (shoes, water bottle, iPod and ear buds, wallet with gym membership card) the night before. Leave your gym clothes laid out, too. Choose a training program you’re excited about following and (trick of the trade) PRACTICE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the equipment, simply practice the motions when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror until your body feels comfortable with the movements. Make it easy to succeed! Find YouTube videos explaining proper form for each exercise and practice the shit out of ’em. Mentalize yourself doing the exercises at the gym– this adds to the feeling of familiarity, since your brain can’t tell the difference between what you imagined and what you have in reality experienced. So, as far as your brain knows, you have been in this gym doing these exercises before. Less stress, yay!

 

This should be enough to set you up in the path of being an avid gym-goer. Welcome to the dark side, rockstar.

 

BEHOLD. The Super Soup.

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Has it really been since December that I last wrote here? All you need to know is I’m full of ideas and projects, which can only be a good thing for you, my dear reader. Alrighty then, on to business. Of the munchy kind.

“I’m too busy to eat right.”

“Hey, I’m lucky I even get to sit down and eat.”

“I just grab whatever because I’m always on a rush.”

And so on. I’ve heard it all, and dude, I’ve said it all. And you know what I say now? Bull to the shit.

Making healthier food choices can be easy– if you make it easy on yourself.

Listen, I’m no different than you and if I’m rushing to get things done and the baby has decided that she will shrill-scream to the top of her lungs lest she’s held with both arms and bounced like a human trampoline, but I’m starving and on one side there’s a salad to be chopped, assembled and dressed, and on the other side there’s a bunch of ready to eat Oreos, then fuck it and damn straight I’m stuffing those Oreos in my mouth– except I’m kissing them first for being the lifesavers they are.

Been there. Done that. Learned from it. 

It doesn’t mean I’m failing as a human being for not being able to do it all at once. It doesn’t mean my baby is a demanding tyrant who won’t let me eat. It just means I have to make things easier on myself.

What this means to me is that on the weekends, when hubs’ work load may be lighter and older sisi Anna is around to help hold the baby I go on a two hour cooking and prepping rampage. If you give it even a little bit of thought you will find a pocket of time here or there where your life situation will allow for you to do the same. And there’s no shame in asking for help. Think about it: if eating is something you have to do every single day, isn’t it worth your while to give yourself the best chance of success by using a bit of time to set up a few healthy meals? I sure think so.

And here is a recipe ideal for this purpose: a truly super soup. Full of protein and nutrition, this is a meal you won’t regret. I made a HUGE batch of it, and am I ever thankful because it has made for a healthy lunch the last three days as I’ve been squeezed for time to cook. Store it, freeze it, keep it handy. Make it easier on yourself. 

quinoa vegetable soup

The Super Soup

4 C vegetable broth

1 C uncooked quinoa

1/4 C dry lentils

1/4 C dry split peas

1/4 C cooked chickpeas (you can used canned, but what I do is I cook dry chickpeas and freeze them in batches for cases like this)

1 onion, diced

1/3 C mixed veggies (I used frozen: green beans, corn, peas and carrot mix)

salt & pepper to taste

mustard powder

dry parsley

bay leaves

cilantro for garnish

goat cheese for garnish (optional)

Bring your veggie stock to a boil and add the quinoa, lentils, split peas, and bay leaves. After 15 minutes, add the onion, chickpeas and frozen veggies. Let it all simmer together at low heat for about 10 minutes more, add salt and pepper to taste, a bit of mustard powder, and sprinkle with dry parsley. Donezo. Seriously, that’s it peeps. Just remember to remove the bay leaves when serving.

To serve you can add goat, feta or panela cheese, or skip those to keep things vegan. Do not, however, skip out on the fresh cilantro. It makes things sooooooo good.

I love this kind of soup because it’s so easily transformed into something different. Add or remove any ingredients you want. Is it too bland? Add paprika. In the mood for zing? Ginger powder! Feeling daring? Chipotle powder (or adobo, omg yum). See? Now I’m hungry all over again just thinking of the possibilities. ENJOY.

Eating Junk Food: We Know It’s Wrong. So Why Do We Do It Anyway?

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junk

 

The answer to the question above is in this video, short and sweet, easy to watch and understand.

Regardless of your nutritional approach (you don’t have to be paleo, or vegan, or anything in particular to get the jist of the issue here) I recommend you watch it, watch it, WATCH IT.

 

Suck It Up, Buttercup

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I hate winter. Then I love it. Which means I didn’t really hate it to begin with, it just annoys the crap out of me. The idea of six months of cold, darkness and –gasp– absolutely NO cute shoes is enough to have me in fetal position in a corner, holding myself and rocking.

But then there’s fireplaces, Christmas, playing in the snow, hot drinks, and creamy soups, and things don’t seem all that bad after all.

Creamy soups. Today’s order of the day.

Although this soup requires minimal ingredients, it is the kind of food that gives you warm, fuzzy feelings inside; it makes your innards giggle with childish joy and next thing you know you’re polar bear hugging the shit out of the mailman and the bank teller. Consider yourself warned.

For this soup I used one of my new (to me) discoveries, a favorite ingredient of mine for the cold months. Please meet Miss Kabocha:

Otherwise known as butter cup squash, this lil’ pumpkin is sweet and of beautiful, creamy, spreadable texture. Well, like butter!

And as with many other concoctions I cook, how do I know this is good? Because the husband loved it. That is all you need to know.
Ok fine, I’ll tell you more. Stephen is picky-ass-picky um, particular about his soups. They have to be just the right texture, not too watery and not too thick; they have to have the precise amount of savoring, not too salty, not too bland. The flavors need to be craftily meshed together through the right amount of simmering. You get the picture. Me? Throw shit in a pot and call it a day. There ain’t nothing that can’t be fixed with more water or salt, me says.

So maybe I’m not your most reliable source for tasty soups since my bar is low way down there, but trust the husband. He knows his shizz.

buttercup squash soup

 

Kabocha (Butter nut) Squash Soup

1 kabocha squash

2 Tbs butter (or vegan spread)

a splash of coconut milk (or your milk of choice)

sea salt to taste

Begin with slicing the squash in half and placing both halves with the cut parts facing down on a baking sheet. Broil in the oven at 350 F for about 40 minutes, until the squash is super tender. Once ready, use a spoon to remove the seeds. Spoon out all the meat and place it in a blender with a little bit of water. Blend well.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the liquified squash. Add the splash of milk and salt, and bring to a rolling boil. Once the mixture is boiling lower the temperature to leave it simmer. Adjust your seasoning to taste, and add more milk until you reach your desired consistency.

And this is the part where you can make things interesting. If you wish, go crazy with the toppings. Here are some ideas of things you can sprinkle on top:

-Crumble cheese (like Feta or Panela)

-Roasted pumpkin seeds

-Hemp seeds

-Nutritional yeast

-A dash of chipotle adobo, to make it hot and spicy.

-Crumbled walnuts

Many possibilities for different flavors! Suddenly winter doesn’t seem so looming and dark. Now we just gotta work on designing high heel cute snow boots.

Still Counting Calories? At Least You’re Not Working Out To Jane Fonda. Are You?

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Fad diets come and go with the times, as did leotards and fuzzy headbands– though leg warmers seem to be making an interesting comeback. (I still don’t know what to make of that.)

But something that needs to go away already is the useless practice of calorie counting. But. BUT. You’re going to say. And I’m going to wiggle my finger in your face because Nuh huh.

The control that calorie counting offers is more of an illusion, because it allows too big a room for unhealthy practices to be justified. “I’m 300 calories short for the day! This means I get to have a slice of chocolate velvet cake deep fried in butter stuffed with lard.” You know what I mean. If at the end of one day you discover you have consumed a smaller amount of calories than what your goal is it will be easier for you to convince yourself it’s totally fine to snarf down a bag of chips, raid the leftover cake, or finish the extra big chocolate bar. And it’s not.

I honestly believe counting calories sets you up for failure, because there is no specification about the quality of said calories. Two hundred calories of cookies is not the same as 200 calories of raw veggies. You know which one is the smartest option and yet, given the chance by having “spare space” in your calorie count for the day, you’ll choose the unhealthy sugary shit. You know I’m right.

Besides, tell me the truth: Do you really want to be a slave to counting that shit every day for the rest of your life? Do you think it’s  healthy mental practice to obsess about amounts and counts of this or that? Do you honestly want to be that person that brings their motherfucking scale to parties and reunions? Please don’t be. Those people suck the fun right out of getting together with friends.

BUT. You’ll argue. That’s what they do in The Biggest Loser, and they lose a lot of weight! And you’d be correct. But what you don’t see much of in the show is the kind of food they eat. They aren’t limiting their caloric intake and still consuming crap foods. They have a team of people showing them how to eat, when to eat it, how much to eat… it’s television and it’s in the show’s best interest that these peeps lose a lot of weight, and fast. Ratings, babeh. Their meals consist mostly of fresh food. REAL FOOD. Food that is alive and in turn gives life, because that’s the food that allows the body to shed unnecessary weight.  My guess is that thorough nutritional explanations aren’t what most of the population would describe as enthralling TV entertainment, and this is what they don’t show us much of that. Seriously, if you think they lose weight by pure magic of the brutal workouts they’re subjected to, you’ll be highly disappointed. It’s been proven time and time again, you can even repeat after me: You cannot out-train unhealthy eating habits.

You cannot out-train unhealthy eating habits.

You cannot out-train unhealthy eating habits.

YOU CANNOT OUT-TRAIN UNHEALTHY EATING HABITS.

Basically this means you can kill yourself in the gym, on the treadmill, or run your dog to the ground, and the changes in your body will likely remain insignificant for as long as you keep eating the same shit you’re still eating.

And this brings us back to the calorie conundrum. You’re right in that there are amounts of nutrients the body needs for optimal functioning, so how can we know how much to have of what? I’m glad you asked.
Enter the Calorie Control Guide, from the geniuses at Precision Nutrition.

FOR THE GUYS:

                                     FOR THE LADIES:

Click on either picture to be taken to the full article, with more reasons why counting calories sucks and to access printable versions of this guide. It’s very simple to remember! Everything you need is… wait for it… in the palm of your hand. Ba dum tss.

Exercise During Pregnancy? Don’t Mind If I Do

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“Oh, look at that pregnant woman waddle! I bet she walks funny out of muscle soreness from performing series of lunges, squats and deadlifts.” Said NO ONE EVER.

Sad but true, few people would believe this pregnant mom’s waddle walk is at times consequence of physical exercise. BUT IT IS. Sometimes. Other times I’m just being a normal preggo.

So let’s talk about activity during pregnancy. Or its alternative title: I’m pregnant, not dying. Yes I’m allowed to move.

Indistinct to, oh, every expectant woman in the history of the modern western world, I have been on the receiving end of advice suggesting that I should “take it easy” and “rest while it’s still possible” before the baby comes. I’ve yet to understand the logic behind this.

Of course there are situations in which a medical condition makes it difficult or even risky for mum to be active, and I’m not here to argue with that. What’s more, there are moms that consciously choose to not do anything during their baby’s gestation and I find that totally understandable (hey, it is a choice.) But what about the standard, normal pregnancy in which both mom and bub could benefit from activity, and there are no legitimate reasons (medical or otherwise) for passiveness?

I’m a true believer of being in tune with one’s body and following its cues– and if you ask me, everyone should be practicing this, not just pregnant women– but I’ve yet to understand why we feel so compelled to warn mom against doing “too much”. How much is that, exactly?

Childbirth is not only one of the most important athletic events in a woman’s life, it is also one of endurance. It’s like the Olympics but of life, and instead of a golden medal you get a chubby baby to snarfle on at the end of your race. You bet your ass I’m training.

Speaking of Olympics, what about Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who competed in London at almost eight months pregnant?

My personal logic says that if all is well and in order, and the mom is already used to a certain rhythm of exercise, it isn’t necessary to stop. Some modifications may be suitable, some days may feel not as great… but as long as mom is paying attention to what her body says, no harm is done. Most of all, exercise your common sense.

Here is what I do.

For cardio: Zumba

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep up with teaching two hours of Zumba per week feeling great. I was already used to this kind of exercise and have been able to maintain the pace throughout my pregnancy (I’m on week 34 and still going). Not only do my lungs and heart get a workout, it’s dance: it makes me feel happy, energized, alive. I credit this for keeping me in such a great mood and believing I can accomplish my goals. Find your thing, whatever makes you smile, and stick with it for as long as it feels right.

Now, in my Zumba class there’s a lot of hip movement, a lot of booty shaking, and a lot of whining down. Add all this to the weight of a growing baby on the bladder and things can get awkward. Straight up I can tell you nothing terrible has happened and there have been no accidents, but it does feel kind of funny/weird at times. How do I deal? I got me one of these prenatal support bands.  It sure has helped alleviate some of the pressure thus making me feel more comfortable while I dance, but don’t think you have to shell out the $15 plus shipping for results– it’s nothing more than a wide strip of elastic with hooks. That’s it. Make it yourself and even better because you’ll set the hooks to close exactly where you want them to.

For flexibility: Yoga

During pregnancy there is a release of relaxin, a hormone our wise body produces to make our joints stretchy and limber in preparation for birth. Relaxin is the reason we need to be careful not to over stretch. It’s a matter of paying attention to how our body is feeling, and remembering that this isn’t the best moment to attempt twisting into a pretzel for the first time.

As much as I would love to go to a prenatal yoga class, truth is the budget doesn’t allow for that right now. The good news is, there’s still a way to get our yoga in. Video, baby! I follow Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga video in the comfort of my living room and frumpiness of my pj’s. I find this video very easy to follow, even for a beginner, as it clearly explains modifications for women in second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

*Many thanks to Angelina, Amy and Christine, all whom in one way or another made it possible I have this video now. Teehee!

For muscle strength: Strength training

Squats and I are like BFFs now. Word. Hey, I figure I’ll be doing my share of squatting at the moment of birthing my baby, so might as well get all the practice I can get.

For obvious reasons I can’t do situps, but I keep my core in check with planks.

For upper body strength I mostly go for dumbbells. I love dumbbells. Bicep curls, triceps kicks, shoulder press, chest press (with plenty of breaks and attention to how I feel– lying on our back isn’t the most recommended thing during the third trimester), upward rows… the possibilities are endless.

For mental sanity, entertainment, and fun: Random things

Hiking

Fun in nature, fresh air, a workout. Extra points for dragging your friends along.

Swimming

Being so light and buoyant in the water feels ridiculously wonderful.

Rock climbing

Fun challenge trying to keep the body close to the rock wall with a 7.5 month pregnant belly. Totally doable, quite enjoyable.

Canoeing

My shoulders, back, and core really felt the workout with the paddling. Very relaxing once I got over the fear of flipping over.

And when all else fails… walk.
Walk to the post office, to the store, to the library, around your block. You don’t have to act like an elite athlete every single day of your pregnancy, and chances are you will have many days, like I do, in which there isn’t a hint of desire to move. That’s ok, those days have their place, too. When I feel ready to get going again walking helps me start slow and get back on track.

I really want to be clear and say it is not my intention in the least to make other moms feel bad if it hasn’t been possible or desirable for them to stay active while pregnant. Nor do I wish to set a bar for others to compare themselves and decide if they’ve been a better or worse expectant mom than I. This is just my personal experience, so different from my first pregnancy, and we’re each on our individual path to follow with our own lessons to be learned.

I have received many benefits from staying active. Forget about the physical benefits… the mental ones, holy cow! I don’t know how I would be feeling right now if I hadn’t stayed as mobile. It’s as if keeping myself reasonably challenged has lit a spark inside– I feel happy, accomplished, relaxed and peaceful. This process has reminded me to trust my body because it is capable of achieving many wonderful things. I’m very grateful.

For more information on exercise and pregnancy, read Precision Nutrition’s article on How To Exercise During Pregnancy.