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As we learned during my FMS certifications, the first step towards improved physical foundations is to “eliminate the negatives” rather than adding the positives, or correctives, on top of existing dysfunction. Short version: if it makes you feel bad, stop doing it!

The legendary Stu McGill uses this analogy: “If you bite your lip every day for a week, your lip will be angry. But doing lip exercises everyday will fail to get you out of pain. Instead, stop biting your lip.”

Sounds simple, right? But simple doesn’t always mean easy.

Awareness First

For example, in the first session of my Reduce Your Pain module, step #1 is to record what affects your pain level in your pain diary, both immediately (i.e. breathing, mobility […]) and globally (e.g. food intake, sleeping position, ergonomics, leisure activities…), to identify and eliminate the negatives.

Obviously, see your medical professional to rule out serious issues, but we’ve probably all heard of people who were able to stop seeing their chiropractor once they balanced out how they carried heavy bags. Others have fixed low back pain by varying which back pocket they used to carry their wallets. I’ve known people to reduce worrisome chest pain by shifting the positions they used for watching television, and shoulder pain has been minimized by improving ergonomics during crafting or reading in the evening.

Sometimes It’s Super Obvious

One example of a person who won’t usually be feeling very good is the person who works at a desk all day long. Again, how can you feel good when you’re stuck in an unnatural position that long? The hip flexors are squished, and I don’t see how anyone can get away without low back issues. For you, please check out my Desk Jockey Zoom Warrior article or playlist to get you started.

That same desk person tends to build up a lot of ongoing and unresolved stress, yet another obvious sapper of pretty much everything good in our internal universes. For you, I wish that you may be able to harness the power of “no”  and reset your stress response.

Either scenario, among others, can contribute to another thing that doesn’t feel good, that of unwanted weight gain. Sorry, but how can you feel good with all that extra pressure on your joints? For you, while I’m not a nutritionist, I would urge you to start by exploring food intolerances and simultaneously putting your carb consumption under a microscope.

But It’s Christmas! (Or Whatever)

Here’s one place where it gets really tricky! Sharing food is so ingrained as a natural way to celebrate togetherness.

I know that personally, after doing last year’s entire festive season with zero sugar from October through to the end of December, I felt inordinately sad and ripped off. My inner two-year-old wasn’t doing very well with it, shall we say.

80/20 rule?

With our different physical histories, we all have varying amounts of wiggle room. This can be in the food arena, the sleep arena, the stress arena…

If you’re one of the lucky ones, awesome! Moderation is your friend.

Myself, I don’t have much wiggle room, sadly… I don’t stay up very well at night, and staying asleep is a problem if I let my monkey mind take over. If I don’t work out regularly, I turn into a raging [insert word that starts with “B”]. Food-wise, just a few splurge bites can easily send me spiraling downward for a solid week or two.

Bad Cop

Especially regarding food, I would suggest that the majority of us, in this world of hyper-palatable food that honestly doesn’t take much energy to procure, are not doing very well with moderation either. As ever, Robb Wolf states the case eloquently: a little bite might actually hurt, quite a lot…

Marko Papuckovski specializes in gut microbiome and epigenetics. Now that I see he’s also a former boxer, I know why he’s so hard hitting! I can’t disagree with any of the following:

“This is the time of year when people start to lie to themselves. ‘I’ll wait till Christmas is over.’ ‘This is just a busy period.’ ‘I’ll start in the new year.’

Humans are masters of procrastination… complicating our lives and justifying why we do it.

Here’s the reality – after Christmas, there is the new year…

… then Australia Day

… then Easter

… then your birthday

… or your partner’s birthday

… or your child’s.

The perfect time never comes.

And a year passes.

And cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, psoriasis…don’t wait for you to make a decision.

If you have a solution presented to you and you are procrastinating because you are ‘waiting for a good time to start,’ then you get what you deserve through your inaction.

Sounds harsh, but it comes from a place of love.

Time to up your standards and re-think your decisions.”

Good Cop

Oh, my. All of the above rings entirely true, in my ears at least. (And if that sounds excessively harsh, please remember that I am speaking as a survivor of Stage IV cancer — and as one who is convinced that the mountains of sugar I ate when I was younger were a huge contributing factor to it.)

So is there a way to make lasting changes for the sake of our health and still enjoy the warmth of togetherness with friends and family? Not to mention, hopefully without turning into “that person.”

First, A Less Obvious Fix: Breathe Your Way to a Better Weight?

I’ll start with one lesser known piece of good news: believe it or not, the same breathing bit can make a difference again here. Rather than regurgitate information that I don’t fully understand yet myself, I will point you to what the expert says.

Next, Mindful Eating: Not Just a Trite Platitude

“Mindful eating” isn’t just some trendy catchphrase. In 2019, research addressing the stress-digestion connection and medical applications of mindfulness was reviewed. Rather than focusing on only weight loss, the review “explores mindful eating in a broader context of it attenuating the widespread problem of chronic stress disturbing gastrointestinal function.”

They concluded that “the plausibility of mind-body practices (e.g., mindful eating), which maintain parasympathetic nervous system dominance, helping to cultivate autonomic nervous system homeostasis vital for optimal digestive function, is established.” Emphasis is my own — short version, it’s a good thing, and even science agrees.

Don’t Forget the Exercise (Duh)

I won’t even spend very long on this one… just do it! And contact me if you need help getting that underway.

And Finally, the Chocolate!

Drew Ramsay’s “Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety” actually touts consuming dark chocolate regularly (in small portions, sorry) as a great mood food. It reduces the risk of clinically relevant depression symptoms, as well as improving memory function and reducing salivary cortisol (a stress marker).

Wait, Chocolate Might Even Help Me Lose Weight?

You’ll like this one if you’re a milk chocolate fan. Harvard researchers conducted a study with postmenopausal women who consumed 100g of chocolate either in the morning (within one hour of waking) or at night (within one hour of bedtime).

One of their conclusions? “A high intake of chocolate during the morning hours could help to burn fat and reduce blood glucose levels.” Huh. Go figure.

Finally, The Breathing and Chocolate Connection

Nitric oxide (NO) was named “Molecule of the Year” by Science magazine in 1992, for its roles in maintaining blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, helping to kill foreign invaders as part of the immune response, and “probably” being a major component of long-term memory — and let’s not forget those who are grateful for Viagra 😉

Nasal breathing is one of the best ways to increase stores of NO in our body.

Another method of getting more NO in the body is to consume it. Most studies have focused on beet juice (yum?), but other sources include fish, green or black tea, green vegetables, oatmeal, red wine, pomegranate juice, and yes, here it is, dark chocolate.

We’re All Works in Progress

My own approach lately? I decided this year in October to dip a toe briefly into a few foods that I knew wouldn’t go well, and to thoroughly enjoy every fraction of each and every bite while doing so. Results? At least it was only a 3-day spiral this time, plus I knew to plan for it in advance.

I’m also experimenting lately with occasionally eating about 10 g of ridiculously dark chocolate, early enough in the day that it doesn’t mess with my sleep — so far so good on that one.

Which means I’ll say that currently I have maybe 2% wiggle room instead of 0.5%, and I’ll call that an improvement!

Where Are You At with All of This?

And you — are you currently struggling? Do you have something for the win diary? Cool factoids? Please, stay in touch!