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How About A Nap?

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I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Sleep is a crutch. These are things I used to say myself. At 24 I had a packed schedule of personal training clients and a social life. I started work at 5:15am and finished often after 7pm sometimes as late as 9pm. I still went out with friends, watched all my shows, and existed in a world that I wore a badge of honor over how little sleep I got and could still function on. I may have been functioning but I didn’t spend much time evaluating how well, or unwell, I was functioning. What I came to find was that I was just getting by. Why, oh why, do we spend our lives just getting by?

I had to hit a couple walls before I started evaluating the quality of my life. First it happened with exercise, then with food, then sleep, money, self-love, parenting. It was an evolution. While exercise and food set me up with an amazing foundation it was the sleep that gave me what I needed to carry out the rest and to keep going. Prioritizing sleep made all of the other things easier. I am not one to look for the simple solution. In my experience I’ve found that simple solutions at best serve as a bandaid to a problem. It usually turns out that the shortcut takes you where you want to go but you end up on the opposite side of the road and triple the distance before you are able to circle back around. Once I realized sleep needed to become a priority in my life I began to research. I came across a book called The Sleep Revolution, a book written by The Huffington Post co-founder and editor in chief Arianna Huffington after she found herself in complete burnout. In the beginning of the book she says:

“Instead of questioning how we live our lives, we fall prey to sophisticated marketing that promises us health, happiness, sleep and energy. And who wants to be the naysayer, the Luddite who rejects such progress? A great deal of ingenious and insidious brain power, along with billions of dollars, goes into selling us a solution that doesn’t actually solve our problems but only disguises or prolongs them.”

Me. I want to be the naysayer. I want to be the Luddite. At least when it comes to taking the shortcuts, buying the pills, and trying to change our lives without questioning how we’re actually living them. Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity - a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance. Does that really sound like something you’d want to put off until death? A lot of healing happens when we sleep: the activity of the lungs and heart is reduced to a minimum; our body’s temperature, blood pressure and pulse rate all fall and our muscles relax. This allows the cells of our bodies to carry out essential repairs, to grow and regenerate. Even when I was eating healthy and working out a lot I wasn’t able to see or feel the results I was going for. My body didn’t have enough time to rest, my body wasn’t given the chance to repair the muscles I was working. My immune system suffered and the rate of small injuries, extreme soreness, and overall grouchiness soared.

I work with a lot of people who are desperate to lose weight. They want to workout, they want to eat healthier, but they simply don’t have the energy. Usually we’ll come to find that their quality of sleep is similar to a mother with a newborn. The problem here is these people are still usually feeling like they simply aren’t doing enough; these same people will try to push themselves harder and dig the hole of desperation even deeper. It’s time to question how we live our lives. It’s time to prioritize and it’s time to move sleep much closer to the top of that list. Here are a few simple steps I took that made a huge impact in the quality of my sleep and in turn the quality of my life.

One: I gave my cell phone it’s own bedroom.

This was by far one of the best decisions I ever made. I had always used the “night shift” on my iPhone which automatically switches from the smartphones bright blue light to softer warmer colors. The bright blue light that your smartphone and your television emit actually causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the “time to sleep” memo. Making this small change didn’t stop me from spending an extra hour scrolling my phone at night or reaching to scroll social media if I happened to wake up in the middle of the night.

Two: I started a wind down routine.

A wind down routine starts an hour or two before you want to go to bed. That means no phone, no television, and no over-the-top activities. It’s like a relaxation room at a spa. You want it to be quiet, serene, and full of things that will promote a restful sleep. A good book, a hot drink (that isn’t caffeinated), and soft lighting. Don’t be discouraged by imaging this to a grand routine that you jump straight into. If you can avoid taking your work to bed with you, that would be a perfect starting point. Slowly work your way to a routine one baby step at a time.

Three: I started data dumping.

If you have a mind that is constantly racing it’s going to be difficult to relax let alone fall asleep. If there is something on my mind that needs sorting out or is causing worry I write it down. I start writing until I’ve got it all out, it doesn’t need to be a perfect list or even make perfect sense as long as I’ve gotten it out of my mind and on to paper I know it will be there for me to handle in the morning. You could make a ‘worry’ list and then make an action column, writing everything you need to do as well as people you can contact to help you. Keeping a notepad by your bed will assure that you are able to save all of the data keeping you up at night and know you are able to sleep now and be well rested and better equipped to handle it in the morning.

Four: If I’m hungry, I eat.

Eating after 8pm will not make you gain weight. As always the impact of food and weight gain has to do with your overall intake, overall expenditure, and the quality of your food. If you are hungry before bed eating a good quality snack before bed actually helps build and repair muscle tissue, and may even improve your heart health. Eating when you are hungry will help maintain blood sugar levels and will ultimately help you sleep better.

Five: Get a good quality alarm clock.

I don’t mean quality as in expense, I mean quality as in its features and benefits. The most common argument I get for not wanting to give a cellphone it’s own bedroom is people using their phone as their alarm clock. The alarm clock that I use is actually Vimicy Wake Up Light Alarm Clock, a whopping $20 purchase from Amazon. The Vimicy has a thirty-minute wake up light window before the preset alarm time. A wake up light simulates what the rising sun should do, gently pull us out of slumber. The light starts dim thirty minutes before your alarm time and gradually increases in brightness giving your brain and body time to gently come out of sleep as opposed to a jarring buzzing ripping you from a restful sleep. No one likes to wake up to that alarming alarm. These wake up lights also offer options for nature sounds as opposed to buzzing. This makes for a better way to peacefully start the day.

While some claim our sleep requirements are thought to be genetically determined I’ve yet to find a person that would not benefit or function higher with at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Those that are consistently getting less than they need are courting chronic exhaustion. This doesn’t happen overnight but in several stages. At first we may feel an ordinary sort of tiredness which can be dealt with fairly easily. You can even carry on or “function” at this pace. If ignored, this can develop into the next stage where rest and sleep is no longer refreshing. We’ll keep going, stopping only when a flu knocks on the door. We can avoid these acute episodes of illness by actually getting rest when we are overtired. As you start to question how you’re contributing to poor sleep habits, be kind to yourself. The best changes come with well laid plans and baby steps. It can take two or three weeks for your body to catch up on a sleep deficit or to adapt to a new schedule so give yourself enough time and space to implement these strategies into your life before giving up.

Sweat & Smiles (and well rested),

Melissa

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What If Exercise Stresses You Out?

When it comes to stress and fitness you’ll often hear them tied together in one way or another. Some will say stress helps them to lose weight. Some will say stress makes them gain weight. Some people will say exercise alleviates stress and some will say it further exhausts their stressed bodies. The problem isn’t who is right or wrong, the problem is that we aren’t paying attention to our own bodies signals. Identifying what type of stress you are under, making adjustments to your routine and adding in more stress managements measures will be the key to reducing stress and choosing the right activities for you.

There are three different types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Acute stress is the most common and is usually short-term and specific. Acute stress is what happens when a big test is coming up, you’ve been given a huge project with a short deadline, or are experiencing an imminent physical or emotional threat. Episodic acute stress is what happens when acute stress becomes a regularity. Chronic stress is what happens when stress is no longer fleeting but is persistent over a long period of time.

People often struggle with identifying their type of stress because they are using measurements of comparison. For example, telling yourself that you shouldn’t be stressed about your home life because at least you have a home is not actually changing the fact that you are stressed. Being realistic of your level of stress without comparison is going to be beneficial in addressing your particular stress management measures.

Exercise has consistently (and correctly) been deemed as a stress reliever.  Changing how we view exercise will also be something that changes the way you are able to utilize it as a tool to alleviate stress. The idea of exercise usually sends people's minds straight to long runs, jumping, and anything that causes significant panting and sweating. Exercise, in all its forms, produces endorphins - hormones that fight stress; but pounding the pavement and sweating it out may not be the best way to alleviate stress.

Physical and mental fatigue affect the same region of your brain - the anterior cingulate cortex - so if you are mentally fatigued, you’ll likely be physically fatigued. Stress can interfere with your workouts including impaired coordination, slower recovery, and higher risk of injury. This means that when your mind and body are fatigued and you decide to go for a run or do a high intensity workout you may be setting yourself up for exhaustion, injury, and even more stress. The secret isn’t to skipping your workouts but making adjustments to your routine, changing the way you see exercise, and adding in more stress management measures.

Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, hiking, leisurely walking, leisurely swimming can all produce the same endorphins without further fatigue and actually help to prevent injuries. These forms of exercise will also help produce the same results like weight loss and building strength. You don’t always have to be panting and sweating to call it a workout or see results.

Living a better, happier, and healthier life involves a giant learning curve. Taking the time to adjust your routine and try new things will teach you everything you need to know about what works best for your specific body. Listening to the signals your body is sending you to let you know it is too tired or too sore to carry out a workout will not only help you in the long run it will save you from impaired recovery and potential injury. The next time you are feeling stressed, or if you have been chronically stressed, it’s time to let go of comparisons, adjust your routine, and tune in to the signals your body is sending you.

Sweat & Smiles (and less stress),

Melissa

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What's In Your Cup?

There is a very distinct difference in Cannon’s energy when he says thank you because he was prompted and when he says thank you because he’s genuinely grateful. He was having trouble getting down a really steep hill with sandals on and he looked at me and asked if I would hold his hand and help him. When we got to the bottom of the hill he said “thank you so much, mama” and he meant it. He was so grateful for the help because it would have been much tougher alone. Lately I’ve been extremely grateful for the help because this part of my life would be much tougher alone.

A friend shared a sentiment that proposed the question: if you are holding a cup of coffee and someone bumps into you, making you spill your coffee everywhere, why did you spill your coffee? Too often we are inclined to say “because someone bumped into me!” The truth is you spilled your coffee because there was coffee in your cup. The point of the sentiment was to show that you will always get bumped but whatever is in your cup is what will spill out. Cannon could have been frustrated that he wasn’t able to get down that hill yet. He could have been frustrated that he didn’t have tennis shoes on for a better chance. He could have just sat on his butt and taken a less than desirable way down. Instead, he asked for help and was grateful when he got it.

I’ve been getting bumped a lot lately and while there are a couple drops of grief and anger intermingled my cup is full of gratitude. I can’t help but think that’s what all this work has been for. I didn’t set out on this journey of a better, happier, and healthier life so that I could have the easy way out. I knew I’d always be getting bumped. I set out on this path so that in these moments when it seems like there hasn’t even been a break between bumps to take a sip out of that cup that what spills out are things that I’m proud of.

There are things and phrases that I learned a long time ago, some I’ve even taught and spoken to others, that I’m just now beginning to understand. When you hear people speak about meditation and yoga you’ll hear them call it their practice. My yoga practice. My meditation practice. These are the tools we have readily available to us to practice, to prepare for the bumps. For me (and science) fitness is about so much more than the outside of your body. What is happening inside of our bodies when we are quiet, focused, and in the flow with ourselves is the practice we need to prepare for the less than desirable moments. Taking the time for yourself will not only make your physical body stronger it will make your inner body strong enough to withstand even the toughest bumps.My practice has made it so that during this bumpy road the things I find spilling out are patience, love, forgiveness, trust, and even joy. Whatever you are practicing, whatever is in your cup is what will spill out. When things get tough, what is going to spill out?

Sweat & Smiles (and still practicing),

Melissa

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Self-Love Is Self-Parenting

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Self-Love Is Self-Parenting

When people hear self-love they usually picture long luxury baths, spa days, and chocolate cake. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good epsom salt bath… and chocolate cake… but what self-love really means is loving yourself so much that you have no other choice but to act in your own best interest.

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Do You Feel Stressed?

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Do You Feel Stressed?

Do you feel stressed? Let me guess, you feel stressed but instead of honoring that you tell yourself that you have no reason to be stressed because you have a good life (which you do) and that you shouldn't be stressed (except you are). Stress isn't always bad, bones and muscles need a certain amount of stress to stay healthy but like all things there is a good and a bad. Knowing when to take a step back and even out is going to be the key to a better, happier, and healthier life. 

Comparing your life to others whether it's feeling inferior or convincing yourself that you shouldn't feel bad because others have it worse is unproductive in actually changing your thoughts or your life. Even if the stress you experience seems to be a creation of your own, it's still very real. When I'm working with someone and they say something like 'I know it's all in my head' I always think of a line from Harry Potter (yes, I'm a big Potter fan). In the final movie Harry asks his mentor, 'is this real or is this just happening in my head' to which he is answered, 'of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, by why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'. The fact of the matter is this, everything that you think and feel is very real. Most importantly, everything that happens within your body: both in your head and physical produces the same response from your body. 

The autonomic nervous system controls the actions in the body that you don't normally regulate through conscious thought, such as digestion and eliminating food, releasing hormones, sweating, and regulating blood flow. The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is where energy goes out and fibers get broken down, sometimes we do this purposefully through exercise. The sympathetic nervous system is also our fight-or-flight response if we are in danger (both in real danger like being chased by a bear and the danger we may perceive in our heads). The parasympathetic nervous system facilitates digestion, repair processes, immune function, it is the yin to the sympathetic yang.

When you are repeatedly stressed, you're continually exhausting the sympathetic nervous system and suppressing the parasympathetic. This imbalance as you can see can cause chronic fatigue, chronic disease processes, autoimmune diseases, not to mention emotional imbalances and distress. Long term stress causes the constant rise of cortisol which can also create excess fat in that beautiful area near your belly button. 

Another major problem lies if you top all this off with more sympathetic nervous system in the form of high intensity and long duration exercise. In fact, there are have been clients I've worked with that are working out more than ever and not seeing the results they're working so hard for so we rework their program with less exercise and shorter durations of movement designed to increase energy instead of exhausting it. Like all things, there is a balance to be found and moderation to practice. 

For me personally, I do three high intensity workouts a week that last between 30-40 minutes. Everyday I practice some form of gentle movement designed to promote more energy and take care of any places in my body that need extra attention or repair. Once a week I like to get out for a longer period of time: a long walk, a hike, a bike ride. That's it. No seven days a week, two or three hours a day for me. And you don't have to either. 

What you eat and drink plays a role in your nervous system, your stress, and your overall ability to connect the mind and body. If you're nervous system is imbalanced that means you're struggling with energy so you may be reaching for more caffeine, sugary drinks, or anything you fill will give you a boost... and also put more stress on that sympathetic nervous system. I love coffee, but I do my best to not exceed one cup a day, on the occasion I go for another cup it better be before 2pm or that coffee will not be loving me back. It doesn't cause chaos in the moment, I don't even have trouble falling asleep, but the next morning I wake up feeling unrested and crappy and I bet you experience something similar even if you don't know why.

If any of this sounds like you, it's time to honor the stress and move forward in balancing it. You may have heard 'the first step is admitting you have a problem', in this case, 'the first step is identifying the primary stressors'. Alleviating the chief stressor in your life creates the most beautiful domino effect you'll ever experience. Make a realistic plan to address your primary stressor and set small progress goals so you can move in the right direction and celebrate each step forward. Surround yourself with positivity and positive people. 

Eat and drink to support a healthy system and healthy balance. Instead of worrying about what you should not be eating starting focusing on foods you can eat to support you. Make it a goal to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water (example: 150lbs = 75 ounces of water). Move and exercise balancing both high intensity and recovery, energy balancing movement.

Practice mental exercise. You may be familiar with things like the secret, the power of positive thinking, or meditation. There is a reason these things have been practiced for thousands of years. I read a book a couple weeks ago with interviews from over 130 of the world's top performers, there was a reason that nearly 90% of them mentioned meditation. Be mindful of the words you use, the thoughts you follow, and the people you surround yourself with. 

The truth is, you really do have a good life and you deserve to feel good in it. Honor that.

Sweat & Smiles, 

Melissa

 

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Breaking Up With Cardio... And The Scale.

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Breaking Up With Cardio... And The Scale.

Our nation is obsessed with cardio. When something in your life prompts you to lose weight or to live healthier you probably instantly think of walking, hopping on the treadmill, or starting with the elliptical. I'm here to fill you in on a life changing secret: it's time to put cardio and weight loss on the back burner. 

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A Labor of Love

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A Labor of Love

In short, once you take a path it will become easier to keep taking that path and harder to start taking a new one. This is how habits are created. This is how our lifestyles are created. That's why old habits are so hard to change. There's one thing greater, bigger, and stronger than the Law of Facilitation and that is love. 

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Is Your Time Costing You Time?

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Is Your Time Costing You Time?

Time: you never have enough, always want more, but don’t want to take it. I don’t say that to be speaking harshly, and certainly not to shame you (this is a strictly no shame zone). I point out your relationship with time because it is seriously hindering the quality of your life. In fact, a poor mindset regarding time will cost you money, set you back on your health goals, and wastes your very precious time.

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Excuse Me For Living

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Excuse Me For Living

I'm telling you what, the second she giggled and said 'excuse me for living', the energy of the room lifted even higher and we all took a sigh of relief. None of us were perfect, but we were all enough.

In life, this message applies to everything.

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The Decision

Social media can sometimes make us feel less than; especially when you view the thousands of posts, pages, and profiles of fitness professionals. You see the posed stances, the fancy yoga moves, and the veins bursting during a tough lift and you feel so far removed from it that you don't even want to start the journey to get there. I get it, I've been there. I was a person that posted the fancy yoga moves that I can't physically do right now (not yet, at least).

I took this photo after hiking to The Overlook at Seneca Rocks and it really got me thinking about what you do not see in the photos... or the posts, pages and profiles. You don't see the hard days in photos. You don't see the work, the pain, or the baggage that comes with the cool picture; but it's the hard stuff: the work, the pain, and the baggage that gets you from one beautiful photo to the next.

This photo was taken at the top of a 1.5 mile mountain. You see this, you see me carrying my toddler, and you know that I'm a personal trainer (and you probably think I workout a lot more than I actually do). Here is what you don't see: multiple stops, my 182 heartrate, the churning stomach, the burning lungs, and all. of. the. breaks. It was so hard. My friends were offering to carry Cannon for me and I was deciding between letting them give it a try and feeling like I couldn't put that on to someone else.

Each time I needed to stop I went through an entire circle of thoughts and feelings; first I would be relieved to rest my legs and catch my breath; then I would consider letting someone else carry him for awhile; then discouraged. I was mad that it was so hard. I was annoyed that it used to be so much easier. I felt less than because there were people (even other mothers with packs) not struggling like I was. Then I would make a decision. I decided that I wanted to get better at this. I wanted to finish. I wanted to get to the point that the way up feels like the end picture looks. 

That is the secret. The decision. Not one person you see in a photo started there, and their lives in between those photos are messy, just like yours. The fancy yoga moves you see are of things people practiced for months, if not years. That's not where they started, that's just where they are now. As they start to practice the next move you won't see the videos of the falls, but they are happening. They'll be frustrated, they'll be discouraged, and they'll even see someone else's video who makes it look so easy. And then they'll make a decision. The only difference is the decision.

We're told not to compare ourselves to others but I think we're still missing a couple steps. We should be celebrating each other and above all else, we should be motivated by each other. We are human, we're not so far removed from each other. We stand in different parts of our journeys but we stand on the same ground. We post photos and videos of our lives, the good stuff, the beautiful stuff, the cool stuff but it's the hard stuff that gets us from one beautiful shot to the next. It's the hard stuff that we've all got in common.

The next time you are scrolling a fitness professional's photos wondering what they've got that you don't, the answer is nothing. They aren't equipped with more motivation than you. They were never given a secret formula or a magic pill. The only difference, the only secret, is that they learned the decision is theirs. You are exactly where you need to be, so start there. Start now. Decide to be exactly who you want to be and decide to go exactly where you want to go. The decision is yours.

Sweat & Smiles,

Melissa

 

 

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I Didn't Eat The Chips And Salsa

I went to get mexican with a friend and I didn't eat the chips and salsa (or cheese dip). If you know me well, you know what a great feet this is. Chips and salsa ranks high on the list of thing-other-fitness-professionals-may-shake-their-heads-at-me-about; right up there with cheese fries, pizza and every dessert, ever.  But I walked out of that mexican restaraunt that day feeling like a million bucks... not stuffed, not sick, not tired... and it was a revelation. Let me pause right here and let you know that I am not telling you that you shouldn't eat something (and I never will). I'm sharing with you a vital piece of a health journey that people rarely fill you in on. 

I want to take it all the way back to give you a quick rundown of my history with food. As a child, I was a picky eater. My go-to's were bacon and eggs and toast, or just bread piled high with butter. In high school, sunflower seeds and Hardee's chocolate milkshakes were on the daily. In college, McDonald's breakfast (with a large hazelnut iced coffee), Zul's cheese bread and whatever else college kids eat were regulars. I also drank a lot, and I smoked. Whenever you think I don't get you, I promise I GET YOU.

Fast forward to 2011, I was three years deep in my current profession, and I had cleaned up my act. I ate five small meals a day, a meal every couple hours, and lived by the 80/20 rule (80% of your diet coming from whole foods and 20% considered "treats" or everything else) and my stomach was a complete wreck. It may have been years of mistreatment catching up to me, something I ate along the way, or something that came from emotions. No one knows, including the nearly ten doctors I had seen. Nearing the end of the year I landed myself in the hospital with swollen intestines and no one knew why or what to do. But I knew.

My journey, experience and education led me to Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals. I mended my stomach by practicing Intuitive Eating and figuring out what worked for me and what didn't. Slowly I was able to incorporate everything back into my diet but over this last year I had noticed I wasn't feeling my best, in fact, I've been feeling pretty terrible. The great part is: I know exactly what to do. I already know what foods work for me and what foods don't, so I'm giving my stomach a rest from the things that don't, and that includes chips and salsa (at least for awhile). 

Most diets, programs and "coaches" tell you what to eat. They may give you a plan, a calorie goal or restrict certain foods... and it is the same plan, calorie goal and restricted foods they give to everyone else. The secret key to what most of you are looking for is not someone telling you what to eat but learning HOW TO EAT. So I would like to help you on your journey and get you started on your way of learning how to eat, FOR YOU.

Step One: Let go of your rules.

You've got to give up all the rules and diet mentalities that you've learned. We don't know when we're hungry, we don't know when we're full and we don't know what to eat. The first thing you need to do is let it go and start listening to your body's hunger cues! At some point we became obsessed suppressing our appetites but our hunger cues are our bodies NATURAL way of speaking to us and for our body's to run at optimal performance we need to listen.

Step Two: Keeping A Food Diary... not a food log.

In my personal training app we have a food diary, it doesn't keep track of any numbers... no calories, no macronutrients. There are just sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, water, etc. Someone asked me "but how do I know if I am eating right". And there is our problem. We are looking to numbers to tell us something they'll never be able to. You can use a regular old notebook to track what you ate and things like: how you felt after, your level of hunger before eating,  and how full you were when you finished.

Step Three: Eat Without Distraction

My mom dropped Cannon off and when she was giving me a recap of the day said "he only ate half a grilled cheese"; I explained it's not "only". Children are the original intuitive eaters, they won't over eat and they won't undereat and they'll only know to pay attention to their cravings because that's what their body's need. He ate half a grilled cheese because he stopped when he was satisfied. To relearn these kinds of behaviors dedicate one meal a day to eating without distraction; no TV, no phone, no chatting; just you and your food. Pause after a few minutes of eating and check in with yourself. Ask how you feel; are you full? Are you satisfied? I promise you that eating without distraction will teach you more about your food than any other human, program or food tracking app. 

 

These three steps aren't meant to be a lifelong thing. Eventually you may come up with your own rules, you won't have to keep a food diary, and you'll know yourself well enough to chat and eat at the same time. In the beginning it will take some work, and it does take a lot of time; but the time will pass anyway and the difference with Intuitive Eating is: you'll never again have to go back and start over. 

Sweat & Smiles, 

Melissa

 

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My Grown Up Report Card

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My Grown Up Report Card

There's a big difference between guilt and shame; guilt says 'I did a bad thing' and shame says 'I am bad'. Shame hits hard and holds you down. Some people may even be under the impression that shame can "keep you in line", that those numbers "keep you in line" but what shame really does it hold you down. I let go of watching how many calories I burned and counting macronutrients or calories that I ate a long time ago but I was convinced that I loved my fitbit and that the community was helpful. I'm going to tread lightly here because I still love fitbit and I do believe they are helpful... until they're not.

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