My Bare Minimum

 

Everyone has ambitions and dreams. Even when we’re speaking about things of smaller significance to our larger life, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. How my week unfolds tends to go differently than how I had imagined it Sunday night. Some of us are realistic thinkers who tend to imagine our week much more accurately. Then there are those of us who are dreamers who find it hard to replicate the week we imagined to the week we have. No matter where we sit on this spectrum, the future never goes according to how we imagined it, so when I am having one of those weeks; the kind of week where nothing goes to plan, I default to my bare minimum list.

I want to highlight this is my BARE MINIMUM list! It is therefore not an ambitious list. It is a list which highlights what I consider ESSENTIALS to my week. In other words, these are the things I find as essential as breathing, to keep my head up through a tough week.

#1 - At least two heart heavy workouts per week.

Disclaimer: I am not on a full teaching schedule yet, so I know this will have to adapt once I am on a full teaching schedule.

There are various types and intensities of workouts, but honestly, I can never feel satisfied unless I go through a workout which pushes me to my VO2max range. This is that feeling where I’ve worked so hard I am left gasping for air and unable to talk. Why would I want such a thing? Well, because I want to know I’ve challenged my heart. When I am having an off week and I can’t get to my workouts as regularly as I’d like to, then a moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (an exercise which increases the heart rate) becomes my priority! Remember, the heart is a muscle!

#2 - Meditate every morning (at least on the weekdays!)

Meditating for 15 minutes in the morning, via the Headspace app, has become a major priority in my life. I do it either first thing after I wake up or right after a morning workout. I also prefer meditating on an empty stomach. It’s one of those simple and life-changing habits which has helped me kick start my day in a positive and productive way.

#3 - EAT LOTS OF CARBS!

This may come as a shock to most reading this, but eating lots of healthy carbs is a top priority throughout my week. I am an active person, so even on an off week, I have more to gain from fueling my body with this essential source of energy than not! I tend to have a lower appetite when I am not at my usual routine and when I am in a lousy mood from a bad week, so I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming lots of complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, starchy veggies like potatoes) no matter the circumstance or situation.

#4 - Leave the booze for the weekend (unless I have work on the weekends, then I opt out completely)!

The main reason for this has to do with how I sleep. Anytime I drink alcohol, I can’t sleep as soundly as when I don’t. I also wake up much hazier than when I haven’t had any booze, so when I am having a more difficult week I choose to cut the booze. It’s a sure way to set myself up for a better week.

 

Apparently, I Have Great Skin!

 
FAF60449-58AF-44D9-9EE9-96240CD832D3.JPG

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about my skin regimen, so I’ve decided to type it up into a post. Here are some of my MUST DOs when it comes to cleaner and healthier skin.

#1 - I Wash my face before I step out of the house

We all know how important sleep is when it comes to rest and recovery right? All the work which tends to go unnoticed when we’re at sleep is also what goes on with the skin when we’re asleep. At night and when we are asleep, the cells in our skin are repaired and regenerated.

One of the first things I do when I get out of bed is to wash my face with my face wash. I am usually up before the sun’s out, so washing my face in the morning also helps me to wake up, especially when I can’t rely on the sun to wake me up. But, other than that, because the skin goes through its regenerative processes at night, it’s always good to make sure I start the day with clean skin. Skin free of unnecessary oils and dead skin which might have been left on my face throughout the night.

#2 - I Wash my hands and face every time I get home

There are so many things that can disrupt the skin when we’re out and about. Living in a hot and humid tropical climate like Singapore, it’s hard to ignore the impact the outside world has on my skin. Aside from the sweat, there’s a whole host of other things such as dirt, pollution, and dust, that’s happily sitting on the skin’s surface so the first thing I do when I get home is, wash my hands then my face!

It’s important to wash my hands after coming back home because I never know what I’ve touched, whether I was touching something on the bus or the train, to the handles on an escalator, there are more chances than not that I’ll end up transferring those germs onto my face if I don’t wash my hands.

#3 - I don’t use foundation

This is a personal preference but I do not like the feeling of foundation on my skin. I’ve tried enough foundation in my lifetime to say that foundation, no matter how lightweight or natural marketers try to make me believe it is, is still not a friend to me. I instead use a light face primer, which evens out my skin but doesn’t block the pores.

#4 - I Give my skin a break from makeup

I'll go a day or two each week without any makeup because we all know everyone needs a break and that includes my skin! This is usually a great time for me to amp up my skincare and add a mask before I hit the sheets to give my skin the R&R it deserves.

#5 - I carry face wipes in my workout bag

Washing my face after a workout isn’t always convenient. What if I was working out outside? If I don’t have access to a tap, my next solution is to carry face wipes.

#6 - I don’t use face moisturizer at night

I am not a scientist or a dermatologist, but like how using chapsticks can cause a dependency on chapsticks (i.e. lips will get very dry if you stop using chapsticks), I’ve stopped moisturizing my face every night. I read somewhere that because the skin is regenerating at night, it also means that this is when the skin adjusts its level of moisture (i.e. how much oils it naturally produces). I used to suffer from oily and dry skin, but once I stopped moisturizing every night this problem went away. My best guess is because now my skin is able to adjust to its condition more accurately, without the aid of external moisturizers, its natural production of oil (for moisture) is more accurate. Previously my skin compensated the dry skin by producing more oil. I still use moisturizers in the morning when I need it and face oils at night once or every other week.

#7 - I use sunblock on my face, most days

You caught me! I am not perfect and I am not as consistent with this as I hope to be, but using sunblock on the face is important if I want to maintain my skin’s health. Other than protecting itself against harmful rays, protecting the skin against the sun also means preventing wrinkles and freckles, which are signs of sun damage. Older Asian ladies with their umbrellas, long sleeves, and large golf hats may find you laughing at them now, but they’re the ones laughing later!

#8 - I drink fresh carrot juice every day (no sugar added please!)

Honestly, I am not sure what the science behind this is. I also drink carrot juice every day primarily because I freakin love carrots and I love carrot juice, so it’s more for personal pleasure than anything else. Although the statement of, “we are what we eat,” is so true when it comes to skin, so I am sure consuming this bright wonderful liquid has something to do with my skin’s health.

#9 - I recently switched to all natural products

I recently switched to all natural products and other than helping to eliminate some dryness, I should say that switching to all natural products didn’t make a dramatic difference, my skin was doing fine before but at least now I know my products are better for the environment as well.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know about my skin regimen, feel free to drop me a message on Instagram or on my e-mail. I’d love to help you find your best skin!

 

Why Is It Harder for Women To Lose Weight?

 
IMG_0140.JPG

A client had expressed frustration at the fact that her husband was showing much more progress compared to her. They were working out the same amount and pretty much eating the same foods, but although she was proud of her husband, she was also confused about why the same amount of work and effort didn’t bring her the same monumental transformation which her husband had. In the midst of her frustration, I realize her concern is not unique. You see, weight-loss is part physical, part mental, and part biological and when it comes to biology, we have zero control over the DNA and the body we’ve been given. The good news is that it doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome the challenges which are innate to achieving a healthier self, but there are more scientific explanations to this and here are the facts to face:

#1 - More Testosterone in Men

Thanks to biology, men possess more testosterone in their bodies, which leads to a greater percentage of muscle versus fat. While women produce more estrogen and progesterone which tends to promote more fat storage. The result of this places men at an advantage because when it comes down to it more muscle equals to more calorie burn, “as the amount of muscle mass an individual has is directly proportional to metabolism, and thus caloric expenditure.” (3) The fact to face here is that the truth of each journey is in our DNA and biology.

#2 - A woman’s body requires more fat to be healthy

Let’s remember that fat (despite the terrible rapport it gets) is an essential component to health and the body’s ability to survive. “A certain amount of body fat is necessary for insulation and thermoregulation, hormone production, cushioning of vital organs, and maintenance of certain body functions.” What is important to recognize is, when it comes to weight-loss, there are different needs between the genders. “For men, essential body fat is between 2-5%; for women, it is between 10-13%. The remainder of body fat is stored throughout the body in adipose tissue..., acting as a readily available source of energy or to cushion and protect vital organs.” (3) In other words, part of a woman’s biology is geared to hold onto fats, because aside from the internal functions fats assists with, fats are also essential for a woman’s reproductive abilities.

#3  - Science reveals, men are wired differently when it comes to being HANGRY (hunger driven anger)!  

Whether a woman is hungry or not, a woman’s response to food is different to how a man reacts to food. In a study by, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted in 2009, brain scans reveal that even if a woman is not hungry the region of the brain which controls the drive to eat is activated simply by being shown food. This is not the case for men (1). What this research reveals is that women tend to eat, not just because they’re hungry or to satisfy a biological need. For women, there is a labyrinth of motivations when it comes to eating.

#4 - Women are prone to more hormonal shifts

Concluded in a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women are more emotional eaters compared to their male counterparts. This emotional drive towards food also causes a secondary impact to reach towards “foods that will ignite the reward center of the brain, which tends to be the sugary, fatty, salty, hyper-palatable foods,” which are also food which are likely to cause weight gain, says Pamela Peeke, author of “The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction.” (1)

#5 - Fat Distribution

Generally, men will hold more excess fat around the belly area, while women’s fat storage is more spread out across the body. When it comes to weight-loss, men who lose weight will appear to have more progress because excess fat is contained around the belly area which is a prominent and more noticeable area. For women, because fat is distributed in all areas of the body, weight loss is less noticeable and is more gradual in its progression. (4)

It’s important to understand that eating and weight-loss is a much more complex topic than what tends to be portrayed. Beyond the physical aspects, eating and weight-loss is also about the mental conditions in which each individual operates from. What’s critical to recognize is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. We’re all different. From our DNA and biological makeup down to the environments we live in. What matters most is about recognizing the unique aspects of each individual body, each life, and each progress. It’s also about taking matters into our own hands and making educated decisions on what will work best for us. There may not be one solution that’ll work for everyone, but the greatest news is that there is a solution that’s right for you that’s waiting to be discovered. So ask yourself, what is right for you and make it happen!

__________________________________________________________

Resources:

1 Allen, Jennifer Van. “Why It Really Is Harder for Women to Lose Weight.” The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/weight-loss-it-really-is-harder-for-women-research-shows/2014/08/12/0a95c1aa-1d9b-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html?utm_term=.e2ffe7049018.

2 Green, Daniel J, and Cedric X Bryant, editors. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council of Exercise, 2010.

3 Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

4 “Do Men Lose Weight Faster Than Women?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/features/do-men-lose-weight-faster-than-women#2.


 

 

The Real Power Of The Mind

 

The following commentary is part of my series of reflections after reading the incredible book The Emotional Life of The Brain by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and contributor, science journalist Sharon Begley. I am mesmerized by the profound truths discovered through Davidson’s thirty-year commitment to understanding emotions and personality through his work on the brain. What’s even more exciting (at least for myself) are the revelations which support the importance of the mind in relation to the brain.

Davidson's research agrees with a hypothesis I have always believed and try to advocate that my attention is due to how my mind operates because thought alone is enough to change how I experience the world; and even more compelling, how the brain functions. What I found so fascinating about this read is the deeper education I received in expanding my understanding of the brain.

_____________________________________________________________

The newer findings in neuroscience prove just how powerful the mind is in relation to the functions of the brain. The research revealed in The Emotional Life of the Brain confirms the heightened connection between the mind and the brain. Therefore, the attention given towards the well-being of the mind is even more important as research points to the significant implications of the mind over brain function, as “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

Dated neuroscience dogma falsify the widespread understanding about the connection between the mind and the brain. The problem which has permeated through the decades is that most are uninformed of the specific advancements in this field, “the decades-old neuroscience dogma” promoted “that the adult brain is essentially fixed in form and function,” but the latest research confirms that this “is wrong.”  (The last time I learned anything about emotions – in a textbook and classroom setting, was back in high school and there was no mention on how the brain is involved because the research was dated).

What’s accurate to say is, that “the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity—our thoughts.” This is an incredible departure from the past understanding of the brain and of mental activity. The profound discovery is in how the brain is constantly able to change and adapt “throughout life.” That in itself is a riveting truth!

The adaptive capacity of the brain is illustrated by how the brains of people who were blind from birth was able to adapt, despite a lack of sight. For the blind, reading braille, “the writing system based on tiny raised dots that the fingers slide across,” is an experience which witnesses “a measurable increase in the size and activity of areas in the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex that control movement and receive tactile sensation from the reading fingers.” From the deprivation of sight, the brain adapts its functions and the blind’s “visual cortex—which is supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images—undertakes a radical career change and take on the job of processing sensations from the fingers rather than input from the eyes.” Who would’ve thought that no part of a functioning brain will go to waste despite other functional misfortunes. If it’s a working brain, it’s smart enough to adapt use its capacity for worthwhile and significant endeavors.  Even more so, the adaptive capacity of the brain is influenced by more than just sensory stimulations.

What the book goes on to clarify is how “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, our thoughts and intentions.” The example used in the book is how athletes are able to “engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike,” can cause “the regions of the motor cortex that control the required muscle [to] expand.” This is a tremendous shift in my understanding of how the brain works, because this validates the strength of the mind’s influence. Further, how much value and importance is necessary when considering my mind and how it impacts the quality of my life because, “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

If thought alone can create such an impact, then doesn’t the quality of thoughts matter more than ever. If thought alone can influence change my brain’s networking, then isn’t investing more time and energy to devote to my mind’s well-being become even more significant. Paying attention to mental health—or the health of our mind (which I feel is an underrated topic)— is paramount. Investing in our mental state is a worthwhile endeavor.

_______________________________________________________________

Resource: Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

Why I Said Sayonara To Coffee

 

Truth is I love coffee! I love the bold smell of fresh grounded coffee beans, the silky froth of a cappuccino, and that bitter but oh so satisfying taste after my first sip. Despite its sultry allure, I decided to say sayonara and quit my daily coffee routine. The saving grace is I still have the occasional cup of coffee, but I drink it as a treat (like how I think of dessert) versus succumbing to a daily dependency.  

I am someone who  is very sensitive to caffeine. A little bit of caffeine seriously goes a long way. I admit, by most standards, my past coffee ‘habit’ sounds like a joke. I’d only drank coffee everyday for about a week or two week bouts at a time, so I wasn’t highly addicted when I decided to quit. When I kicked off my daily dependency, I did notice some great victories. Let me share some of my coffee wisdom for those of you considering to ditch the beans forever.

Reason #1: YAY! I can finally SLEEP!

If I had coffee free days sandwiched between coffee induced days, I can guarantee on those days I drank coffee I will spend a few extra minutes laying wide awake staring into the dark before I was able to fall asleep at night. Restlessness, irritation, and sometimes just so alarmed at how long the alertness of coffee lasts in my body. I became eager to take action. What became clearer was how much quicker I fell asleep on the days I didn’t drink coffee. I literally would lay down and in less than 5-8 minutes I’m already in dreamland. That alone was enough to convince me to quit coffee!

Reason #2: Say goodbye to discomfort.

I can’t speak on behalf of everyone here, as this might be something to do with how sensitive I am to caffeine. Whenever I had a cup of coffee there’s an intense rush of energy which after a few minutes translates into pressure I feel around where my forehead is. The way I explain it to myself, it’s as if the rush of energy is causing my blood to pump so fast through my body that it’s creating slight pressure in my brain. It starts out feeling like a headrush, but after a few minutes this pressure turns into a mild headache. This tends to happen more when I drink a cup of coffee after a few days without it, but nevertheless it is frustrating when a cup of coffee (I could have avoided) is why I am experiencing such discomfort. This feeling is also usually coupled with anxiety which tends to distract me for the better half of a few hours.

Reason #3: No more midday crashes.

The crashes I got from coffee were troubling to my productivity the rest of the day. I would feel awesome at first, then after a few hours, sluggish and very sleepy. Also, without the caffeine my concentration lagged a lot more than if I had gone through the day without any coffee. At this point in the day is when I get tempted to refuel with another cup of coffee midday, but I would have guaranteed myself a sleepless, or at the very least, a restless night. Note: Drinking coffee past 11am impacted my sleep patterns too much. If you have difficulty in the sleep department, try  to limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day and give yourself a cut off time before noon. Then see how this impacts your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep.

Reason #4: The liberty of rejecting the addiction. 

My mom is a coffee addict (sorry mom!). She can’t go a day without coffee because if she doesn’t have her coffee, headaches will creep up. Witnessing this I wanted to be able to say I wasn’t dependent on this substance to get through my day. Ditching coffee was liberating! Coffee is such a regular ingredient that I think a lot of us forget the addictive aspects to coffee. I can’t speak for everyone, but it is incredibly liberating to reject a dependency to something and refuse an addiction (even if it’s something as common as coffee)!

I’ll admit is, yes, coffee does help to create this boost of energy and concentration that amps up my productivity for a period of time. But, after weighing the pros and cons, I see that coffee is an addiction I’d rather give up.

 

 

 

Simple Ways To Be More Mindful

 

A few years back I took a workshop led by the Presencing Institute, which is, as described on their about page, “an awareness-based action-research community that creates social technologies, builds capacities, and generates holding spaces for profound societal renewal” out of MIT University in Boston, Massachusetts. This workshop is what deepened my understanding to this idea of mindfulness and how mindful practices can shape how society operates and how I operate.

What is mindfulness anyways?  Merriam Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In other words, to be more present and aware of each moment I encounter in my day to day. Being more mindful allows us to have better control of our thoughts and therefore our emotions. Meditation is usually what’s associated with mindfulness , but for some, who aren’t as open or well-versed in meditation, here are ways (outside of meditation) I try to be more mindful in my day to day:  

#1 Stop listening to music on my commute.

However you get around, with today’s hyper accessibility to music and content, most people tend to fill the ‘silence’ of daily commute with the open library of applications. Don’t get me wrong, I love apps, but once in awhile I’ll choose to walk in silence.  

Something that becomes apparent is that the world around me is never actually silent. I would notice the wind blowing through the trees, the sounds of cars zooming through, the high pitched radio at a construction site, and so much more. The world is filled with so much sound, it’s easy to plug in and ignore everything which seems insignificant, but there’s so much beauty in being mindful in my daily commute. It’s about noticing what’s around and observing my simple reactions.

#2 Put away that phone.

 I admit I have an attachment to my phone. Leaving my phone at home or losing it sends me through an instant rush of panic. I’m sure this feeling is true for most nowadays, which is why consciously choosing to put my phone away becomes that much more important. We were not made to be dependent on a machine. We originated on this earth as social beings, made to interact with our living world; with animals, plants, other humans, other species, etc. An attachment to our phones and to technology is a manmade dependency. (I appreciate technology, but I try to preserve an honest perception to its role in my life. It is a tool, a supplement to real life, and a means not an end).  

When I am around people, socializing, whether it’s in a car, out to lunch, hanging out at someone’s living room, or participating in any other social activity I tell myself to put my phone away. (Now I admit, my attempts aren’t always 100% successful but I at least make it a constant goal when I am around people). I also put my phone away when I am doing work, because with every notification comes a flood of distraction. The simple act of putting my phone away while working (especially when I am writing) tends to cut my work time in half or more. 

#3 Eat alone. 

Now I am not saying eat alone all the time, but I find when I have meals alone without the distraction of conversations, of a TV, or even of any music, there’s a different kind of pleasure which arrives as I eat my food. Without the distractions I am able to really notice the flavors, the smells, and the textures of the food. I think the main difference is that I have time to contemplate these characteristics. If I weren’t alone, the distractions would only allow me to notice the taste, the scent, and feel the food, but I won’t have the time to reflect about what I am experiencing as I eat the food. If there’s one thing I can’t deny is how much I love food, especially discovering new food, so taking the time to spend quality time with my food; the flavors, the aromas, and the touch is a must. Contemplating the experience of eating beautiful food is a wonderful act of appreciation that’s worth spending time on.

#4 Sit at a park bench.

There’s so much beauty in just sitting and observing. If you don’t have a park bench to sit at, then just do this at home sitting towards a window or even at a cafe will do. What’s key is to just sit and observe. Try not to think about your to do list for the day or worry about that conversation you had with so and so. The goal here is to clear the mind of unrelated thoughts and just observe what’s immediately around you. Observe and contemplate what’s in your direct environment for a few minutes. This exercise always leaves an elation in my mind. I don’t know the science or psychology behind it, but speaking from experience I think allowing our minds to rest and settle in what’s around relieves the mind momentarily from the overwhelming chain of constant information.

 

 

 

Let Go Of Lame Guilt Trips

 

There are common occasions where guilt tends to interrupt our positive progress. Don’t get me wrong, guilt is bound to occur. It’s only natural to feel some level of guilt when we divert from our path towards our goals, but I’m talking about the unrelenting and unforgiving kind of guilt that’s not worth holding on to. The kind that skyrockets anxieties, the one that's crippling and detrimental to progress (both physically and mentally).

If guilt creeps up too often, here are some things to think about:

 1 “I accidentally ate all the cookies.” (LOLS, sure... it was an accident!) 

Don’t worry I’ve been there, where I ate too much of something sweet or something fried or whatever that unhealthy food is (I admit, I have been guilty of late night Mickey D's). I’m not going to pat my back and say it was OK, but if it already happened, then hey why be so hard on myself, tomorrow is another day.

What I can do is think about what happened, why it happened, and what can I do to stop this from happening again? Did I restrict myself from having any sweets at all, despite my cravings? Thus, when I had some I couldn’t control myself and ate a lot more than if I allowed myself some sweets every now and then?

The key thing to consider here is “what can I do to stop this from happening again?” There's a lot more to healthy eating than to succumb to restrictions.

2 “I missed my 7AM workout this morning.”

There are days where the guilt for missing a workout really commanded my attention for the day, especially around the days when I was trying to lose weight after gaining over 9kg (about 19 pounds) during my freshmen year in college.  

Here’s a wonderful fact, missing one day of working out is not going to make that much of a difference if I’ve been good other days. Even if I haven’t been good, there’s always tomorrow to make up for it, and the day after, and so on. Life keeps moving and wellness is a lifetime approach, it’s not about what you do one day it’s more about what you do most of the time throughout your life.

3 “I haven’t worked out in 2 weeks.”

Believe it or not I’ve been there too. There are some weeks, usually when I’m off on holidays where I really can’t be bothered to workout and hey, that’s OK! My level of fitness might witness some regress, but it doesn’t mean I can’t work back to where I was. Shifts in routine is OK from time to time. Stopping for a little doesn’t mean stopping forever, it only means I am hitting pause.

All in all what I’ve come to realize is there’s no reason to feel guilty when I diverge from my routine or goals. What’s more important is to always view my pursuit towards health and wellness as a lifelong journey. It’s about making healthy decisions majority of the time, but also forgiving myself for those days I don’t. There are no shortcuts, it’s about living a lifestyle and how much effort I put in throughout that will make the biggest difference.