The Essence of Change

I’m going to take a break from general exercise and nutrition tips to talk about what I feel is fundamental to making any kind of lasting change. It’s something that I have begun to realize about myself through my own transformation over time, and it’s my hope that you too can get some insight from it.

I firmly believe that all of us desire to be better versions of ourselves; to be better than we were yesterday. This requires change and changerequires time, effort and consistency.  Time, effort and consistency are things we are in short supply of in this day and age where we barely have time to breathe. Here’s the thing, though: the previous statement is merely an excuse. One of the many excuses that we force ourselves to believe each day. “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t have the energy.” Sound familiar?

The real issue: change is scary. Downright terrifying. Why? Because we must challenge and confront the one thing that we really fear – our true selves. To the outside world, we usually wear a mask that shows us in the best light possible: strong, confident, caring, generous, loving, hard working.  Often what’s hidden behind that mask is doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, and perhaps even a feeling of stagnancy in your life.

Wearing the mask for too long can lead to many different crises in our lives, self-doubt, anger, and pain. It can cause hardship and turmoil. This poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar sums it up nicely:

We Wear the Mask

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,   

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,    

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, In counting all our tears and sighs?    

Nay, let them only see us, while  

We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries    

To thee from tortured souls arise.    

We sing, but oh the clay is vile    

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;   

But let the world dream otherwise,            

We wear the mask!

I know if you’re reading up to this point, you’re probably saying to yourself “Wow, this is kind of depressing.” I don’t blame you. But this is necessary. Introspection is required to begin making changes. It’s scary, and totally worth it.

Why is it worth it? Because it can bring us to the realization that the mask we are wearing is not necessarily a façade, but a part of what we truly are. Weuse it to hold back and suppress the darker side. The side we don’t want to show others. We can’t show thembecause that side is bad, it’s wrong…right?

As humans, we need to be able to fit into society, so we have to cultivate habits that allow us all to get along with one another. It’s an intrinsic survival mechanism, hence the mask – the mask that only shows our best qualities. If you can begin to look past this façade, and face the scary part of you – the part that isn’t what the mask makes you out to be – the one that isn’t perfect – you will find something great. You will find your true self.

The virtues that the mask extolled were not false, though most likely inflated. When confronted and ultimately forgiven by you, the imperfections and flaws which your inflated sense of self (ego) hid will lead to self-acceptance. It’s easy to accept the good, but in order to love yourself completely you have learn to accept the not-so-good. Once you do that, you may find that not much change needed, just self-acceptance leading to self-actualization.

Following this line of thought to its bottom-line, leads to truth – your own personal truth. Have you ever thought about what your passion is? What is your purpose in this life is? What mark you want to leave? Those answers are found when you face yourself- good and bad- and begin to embrace the real you. The truth comes forth and you can then really see what you want, and what you must do to obtain it. I know it sounds corny and cliché, but it’s the truth.

Now, exactly how does this relate to health, wellness, and exercise? Well,why do most people say they are going to go to the gym to get fit and healthy,wind up quitting before they reach their goal or do not even go? Why do so few people become fit? Why do even fewer maintain fitness? Because, typically, those who don’t succeed in the long run arefocused on making their mask look better rather than making themselves better as a whole. The emphasis is often placed on extrinsic qualities and rewards rather than intrinsic ones.

When we base this desire to improve on our mask only and we fall short, we quit for sake of preserving the mask. Essentially, that desire to improve yourself was no longer congruent with your mask because you were not able to keep up the best practices long enough. When we base the desire to improve ourselves intrinsically, learning to accept that we have flaws and that we won’t be perfect all the time, it will not become easier, but will be more congruent toour true self – imperfect.

So while you can still make temporary changes to your body, and perhaps look good for a little bit, you won’t feel whole until you’ve looked inside and confronted your true self, learned to accept it, love it, and ultimately act from that place in everything that you do. It’s not always about trimming the fat from your waistline so much as about trimming the fat from your life.

To your health and wellness,

Martin Arroyo, CPT

Slow and steady always wins the race

It’s the beginning of a new year and there are quite a few new faces at the gym I frequent. I go there, but I don’t spend a lot of time IN there. I like my workouts how I like my women, short and sweet! When I workout at the gym, I’m in and out in about an hour. This includes changing in the locker room, warm up and workout, cool down, shower (and brush teeth!). There is a trend that I notice among exercise newbies though – they spend a WHOLE lot of time in the gym. I’m talking 1-2 hours a workout, sometimes 5 days a week. That’s 5-10 hours a week exercising! The more the better though, right? Not necessarily.

Exercise is simply a stressor which stimulates our neuromuscular system. It activates our fight or flight response, which has three phases: the alarm, resistance, and exhaustion phases.

Alarm Phase – In terms of exercise, this is when you’re working out and your heart rate increases, blood vessels expand, and your body starts series of chemical reactions to provide energy for these movements.

Resistance Phase – You’re finished, and you’re a sweaty, stinky mess. Now your heart rate begins to return to normal and you start healing from that workout (i.e. returning to homeostasis.)

Exhaustion phase – You’re feeling sluggish all the time. You’re tired. You feel weak. You’re much more likely to get sick. Your performance in the gym has decreased and you find it hard to want to do it anymore. YOU ARE TOO STRESSED. Welcome to the exhaustion phase. Your body is having a hard time returning to normal, and things are starting to break down. One of two things typically happen here with newbies – they keep pushing to the point of injury, or they stop for a few days to recover and those few days turns into a week and just snowballs from there. Then poof! All those gains are gone and you have to pass go again, but you don’t collect $200.

What you want to do is stay within the first two phases, alarm and resistance. To do that, you have to find a balance. You do that by starting slow and not trying to push yourself too hard at first. Keep it to 40 minutes tops at first (listen to your body, it knows what’s best for you!) For a complete newbie, going from almost no working out to 1 – 2 hours is only giving you a one-way ticket to exhaustion phase. Same holds true if you’re not a newbie, but have been off for a while (more than a month of no activity.)

Don’t buy into the hype that more is better when it comes to exercise. Quality is king. Quantity can make you sick. Ease into things and you’ll have much better results. Promise.

To your health and wellness,

Martin Arroyo, CPT

If you have any questions related to this post or health, wellness and fitness please contact me! I love talking to others about my passion!

The One Lifehack that Will help you Eat Less (without dieting!)

I’m a clean plate eater. Have been that way since I was first able to eat without my mom having to make airplane noises while feeding me. Coming from a Latino family, eating EVERYTHING in front of you is expected (you can seriously catch some hell if you don’t finish!) While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this mindset (who wants to waste good when people are starving elsewhere?), but if you couple this with our tendency to eat fast, it can easily do damage to your waistline. I know, if I feel like it and it’s in front of me, I could eat an entire Dominoes pizza quick, just because it’s there and I feel hungry.

Have you ever been so hungry that you grab the easiest meal you can get your hands on, scarf it down and feel bad about it afterwards? Worse yet, do you feel hungry about an hour later? They say that it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. So here’s my lifehack to help you listen to your stomach, feel fuller, and eat less. Benefit: It could help you lose weight and keep it off.

Here’s how to get started with the 20 Minute Rule today:

-Set aside the time to eat your food. The rule here, of course, is 20 minutes. If you’re crunched for time, say, at work (15-30 minute break only) try to prepare your food ahead and you won’t have to worry about the hassle of going out to grab something.

– On your phone, set the timer for 20 minutes (Pro tip: Start the timer AFTER you Instagram your food)

– Once the timer’s set, EAT. Important: Chew slowly, and savor the flavor of the food. Put the fork/spoon down every so often. (Pro tip #2: Take a deep belly breath every so often. You’d be surprised how that can make you feel fuller faster.)

The MOST important part to doing this successfully: There must either still be food on your plate when the timer goes off, or you’re just about finished with the entire meal. If you have leftovers, great! Save it for later (can you say “budget hack“?)

There you have it. An easy rule of thumb that you can start doing today to feel fuller longer and potentially lose weight. No diet added here.

To your health and wellness,

Martin Arroyo, CPT

Forgive Yourself to stay on Track

According to many different sources, January 6, 2014 was the most depressing day of the year. Why? Because that’s the day when most of us return to the daily grind after the holidays, and all of that built up good cheer seems to wear off. It may also be the first day where that “New Year, New Me” motivation began to really fade. Funny thing about motivation, is when that fire starts to wane, we find it hard to rekindle it. There is one thing that you can do and you must learn if you want to keep it going: forgive yourself.

Tell yourself “It’s ok.” It’s that simple. Didn’t make it to the gym today? It’s ok, go tomorrow. Had a donut at lunch? It’s ok, because one donut won’t add inches to your stomach (several of them might, though, so be careful.) We typically beat ourselves up when we fall short of our expectations, even slightly, and lose sight of the forest for the trees.

If there’s one thing I can tell you from my own personal experience in losing weight and keeping it off, it’s this: YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS DO THINGS RIGHT. You won’t always make it to the gym everyday. You won’t always be able to resist that pastry. You won’t always stay within your calorie limit. It’s part of the process, and you have to accept that. And it’s OK.

So instead of beating yourself up, and potentially sidelining your goals, learn to accept what has happened already. Don’t guilt yourself for not meeting your expectations 100% of the time. Forgive yourself, and resolve to do better the next chance you get. Remember, it will happen again too, so what do you do then? That’s right, forgive yourself then too. Let it go, move forward and keep reaching for your goal.

To your health and wellness,

Martin Arroyo, CPT

You are what you pee (well, sort of)

You are what you pee. Kind of. It’s something we normally do without a second thought every day.  Into the bowl it goes and we flush it away. Hold off on flushing for a second though, because your pee can actually give you some insight on your health.

What you want to take note of when you’re checking your urine is its color. Normally, it should be a yellow/gold color. When it’s a light yellow color, it usually means you’re well hydrated and good to go! The darker the yellow typically the more you’ll want to hydrate (drink water and maybe cut back on the caffeine.) On the flipside, if your urine is completely clear and you’re running to the bathroom often, you might be overhydrated and may want to cut your fluid intake back a bit.

Now, sometimes your urine might be a different color. Here are some colors you should take note of and what they may potentially indicate:

Orange – It’s typically a sign of dehydration, but could also mean that you’ve consumed a lot of orange foods like carrots or squash, or had some food with orange food coloring. It can also look like that right after exercise. The darker the orange, the more dehydrated you are. Perhaps you should drink some more water.

Brown – This is usually an indicator of intense dehydration, but could also mean you ate some fava beans. It could also signal a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) or kidney stones. If your urine looks like this often, consult a physician.

Green- Pretty rare, but this could mean that you have an unusual UTI or you had an excessive amount of asparagus. It’s usually nothing, but if it persists see a doctor.

Red – This could mean that you have blood in your urine, or that you ate a lot of beets, blueberries other red colored food (or foods with red food dye). If you suspect that it may be blood, consult a doctor immediately.

Black – Not a good sign at all. See a doctor immediately.

There you have it! A short guide on what your pee can tell you. Next time you go, take a closer look to see what your pee says about your health!

For hydration’s sake, here is a handy urine color chart taken from www.navyfitness.org:

Want to shrink your gut? Suck it in! (No joke!)

Just about everyone dreams of having a flat, toned stomach. You may even be thinking about the best way to do it right now. You want results quickly, right? So perhaps you turn to Google and look up “how to get six pack abs” or “how to shrink belly fat”, etc. You’re hit with literally TONS of articles and products claiming to have the answer to shrink your belly fat fast. Those “solutions” might be some magic pill, some fancy new diet, or some weird new exercise or machine that promises to give you what you want for just 4 easy installments of $29.99! (Those body wraps that you see claiming to help you lose inches are a total load of crap by the way.)

Now, when most people think of working their abs the usual exercises that come up are crunches and sit-ups. Some people insist on doing hundreds of these a day in a vain attempt to tighten their stomach and lose fat. Those exercises are pretty ineffective if what you’re looking to do is to tighten up (and doing hundreds every single day doesn’t really help either!)

What many people don’t know is that crunches and sit-ups only work one part of your abdominals. Your abdominal muscles are actually composed of layers of muscle, with the deepest (and arguably most important) being the transverse abdominus (we’ll call it T-abs for short). Your T-abs are essentially your body’s natural girdle. It supports your spine and keeps everything “together” so to speak, of course with the help of the other layers of abdominal muscle.

When you’re doing crunches and sit-ups, you’re primarily working your rectus abdominus, which are only “assisting” the T-abs in holding everything together. Essentially, you’re working the muscles that are merely ASSISTING in providing support and keeping your stomach nice and tight, while pretty much neglecting the main muscle that holds it all together. Doesn’t make much sense, right?

I may sound like I’m bashing crunches and sit-ups, but I’m not. They do have a time and place in a workout routine, but in order to see the results you want AND to make yourself stronger overall, you want to start working your T-abs. How do you do it? Here’s one way, and it’s REALLY simple:

Suck in your gut – Yes. I really just wrote that. It’s an exercise called the abdominal vacuum and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governator himself, used this exercise to help him chisel his famed Mr. Olympia physique. Simply suck in your gut as far as you can and hold for 15-20 seconds at first. It helps to envision bringing your belly button in towards your spine and holding that position. Try going for 3-5 sets of 15-20 seconds each for 3 – 5 days a week for about two weeks. You’ll likely notice that your posture starts improving.

Even better, with a tape measure, measure your waistline. Start doing the abdominal vacuums consistently, increasing the length of your hold by 5-10 seconds per set each week. In 3 weeks time you will likely find that your waist size has decreased anywhere from 1-3 inches.

This exercise is so simple that just about anyone can do it, and you don’t even need a gym! You can do it on the bus, train, in the car, at your desk at work, in bed…the sky’s the limit! Combine it with a solid core training routine and eating right, and you’ll be well on your way to that flat tummy in no time.

Martin Arroyo, CPT

The Scale: Friend or Foe?

 

It was the summer of 2010. I was looking better, getting tons of compliments and feeling pretty good. But I wasn’t satisfied. I had set a goal for myself to drop 100 lbs. I was 10 lbs shy of reaching my goal, but a whole month went by with no movement on the scale. It constantly read between 260 and *gasp* 263! After having experienced consistent weight loss over a period of about 8 months, I finally hit a plateau – the number on the scale would NOT budge. I was still doing everything right – eating well, staying within a reasonable amount of calories for the day, running 3-4 days per week, hydrating, but I wasn’t dropping any more weight. I was starting to get frustrated and a bit depressed. Success started to feel like it was out of reach.

Then I started to think, “Hey, aren’t my clothes fitting better? I’m still getting compliments, and people tell me all the time that I look great. Why am I so worried about a number?” Why? Well, because I used it as the ONLY yardstick to measure my success and progress. No weight loss as per scale = failure. And that wasn’t healthy for my body or my mind.

So when you’re faced with the same issue (and if you’re looking to lose or gain weight, you will likely encounter this) what should you do? Here’s what I did to get the ball rolling again:

Find other metrics – I started using a tape measure to check my waist size and chest size. I found that I was actually trimming down still, but perhaps was retaining lean muscle (a good thing!) I also put more emphasis on how my pants and shirts fit, and how well I was able to do workouts (was I able to increase my reps, intensity? Did it feel a little easier than last week?)

Keep using the scale, but use it consistently – Personally, I weigh myself on my scale EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Yes, I have my scale in the same spot in my room, and I weigh myself there every morning right after I use the bathroom and shower. Here’s the thing: I don’t move the scale from that spot! It’s always there. I don’t weigh myself at other times during the day. Consistency in all aspects of weighing yourself is key, because any deviation can and may lead to a different figure. I also don’t take this number THAT seriously anymore. Understand that IT WILL FLUCTUATE from day to day. I have learned to use it as a guideline, not a test.  Weighing yourself every day like I do may not work for you. Maybe every other day or every week will work better. Find what works, where it works, and what time it works and stick to that. If you forget to do it one day, wait until the next scheduled time to weigh yourself.

In the end, it’s how you feel that matters – Once I started to let go of my intense focus on the number and move towards how I was feeling, I started changing some things up. I felt stronger, so I increased the intensity of my workouts a bit. I was a little hungrier and actually ate a little more. I shook things up because it felt good and I felt good. And guess what? The number started moving again. I reached my goal.

Stepping on to the scale can be a mortifying experience for some people, but just keep in mind that it’s truly just a number – a measurement – and not a test. It doesn’t determine how successful you have been in your efforts or how successful you will be. After all…

Hope this helped ease the anxiety of stepping on the scale and provided some insight on getting past a plateau. I’d love to hear suggestions for future posts, so please comment below and let me know your thoughts.

~Martin Arroyo, CPT