3 Strategies for Mindfulness-Based Wellness

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Catherine Roscoe Barr, BSc Neuroscience, is a Vancouver-based writer and fitness professional, and has contributed to print and online publications including the Vancouver Sun, The Province, WestJet’s up! magazine, BC Business magazine, Western Living magazine, Real Weddings magazine, and BCLiving.ca. Before settling on the West Coast she lived in Sydney, Toronto, Oregon, Montana, and practically everywhere in Alberta. She can be found jogging with her adorable dog, dining with her fabulous husband or voraciously reading anywhere comfy. TheLifeDeliciousBlog.com | Twitter:@LifeDelish

 If I had to describe my philosophy on wellness in one word it would be mindfulness. I truly believe it’s the key to health and happiness, which is something I’ve been studying and experimenting with over the past 15 years, through my degree in neuroscience, certifications as a personal trainer, fitness instructor and older adult specialist, work as a freelance fitness, food and travel writer, and obsession with learning everything I can about human potential.

Mindfulness is the awareness of your thoughts, words, actions and surroundings. When you’re mindful of what you’re thinking, saying, doing and sensing, you gain the ability to stop, become aware, and proceed with a carefully considered plan of action.

Mindfulness has changed my life in so many ways. It’s eliminated my negative thinking patterns and made it easy to live a balanced lifestyle that includes lots of physical activity and nutrient-dense foods – as well as moderate amounts of treats like sharing a bottle of wine with girlfriends, relishing in the flaky goodness of a perfectly crafted croissant, or date night at the pub with my husband.

Mindfulness has helped me train my brain to seek out the positives in life and develop an attitude of gratitude. It’s helped me stay the same pant size year after year, and feel excited to get out of bed every day.

My approach to whole health centres around what I call the Trifecta of Wellness: stress management, exercise and nutrition.

Here are 3 strategies for reducing stress, keeping fit, and craving healthy foods.

1. Stress Management: Connection

I think of connection in three different ways: to oneself, to others, and to our natural environment. If you’re truly connected to yourself, you’ll make choices that benefit your health and happiness. If you’re truly connected to others, you’ll keep the Golden Rule at front of mind. If you’re truly connected to the environment, you’ll make choices that benefit your community, country and planet.

Connection is much easier said than done. Why do we reach for a sugary, high-carb snack in the afternoon or evening? Likely because our serotonin levels are low or our blood sugar is out of whack. When you’re mindful of the underlying cause of the way you’re feeling, it’s easier to make a choice that will act in your best interest.

Why do we flip out on some poor customer service representative who’s just doing their job by letting us know that we missed a credit card payment? Likely because we’re stressed out about our financial life, annoyed by a confrontation with a completely different person, or unhappy about a certain way we’re living our life. If we were to stop, become aware, and proceed with a carefully considered plan of action, we could recognize that being kind gets us further.

Why do we buy the clearance-priced jumbo box of factory farmed chicken breasts? Likely because we’re in a hurry, on a budget and excited about getting a good deal. But if we stopped to consider the fact that nothing comes for free, it might lead us to think about the conditions under which this much protein – a resource-heavy item to produce – could be this cheap. Likely the chickens were kept in extremely cramped, unsanitary and inhumane conditions and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to grow big breasts.

Brainstorm at least three ways to decrease stress by increasing the connections in your life – to yourself, to family, friends, colleagues or strangers, and to the natural environment. 

2. Exercise: Start an anti-sedentary revolution

During the 10 years I worked in gyms, and casual conversations with friends, it became apparent that “exercise” can be a daunting activity to schedule and carry out. It can be overwhelming to think about paying for a membership, driving to a fitness centre, finding the perfect matchy-poo outfit, figuring out what to do once you’re there, and having time to shower and look civilized again after your workout. When things get overwhelming we tend to ignore them altogether, or at least have trouble being consistent.

It’s time to expand your mind and think in terms of physical activity, rather than exercise. You’re likely sedentary – not moving – for a large part of the day (commuting, sitting at a desk, watching TV, sleeping), and being sedentary is really bad for your health.

Finding as many ways to move as possible is a great way to instantly boost your health and happiness (did you know that movement produces feel-good chemicals?). I look at errands and housework in an entirely different way since reading some of the research on the detrimental effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Taking one hour out of your day to go to spin class is great, but it doesn’t make up for the remaining hours spent relatively still.

I try never to sit at my desk for more than 90 minutes, and usually get up and move around every 45 minutes.

In Drop Dead Healthy, author AJ Jacobs says, “Studies show that even regular gym-going can’t fully undo the harm of sitting. I’ve started doing what I call guerilla exercise – or what my friend calls contextual exercise. I squeeze physical activity into every nook in my day.”

Start your own anti-sedentary revolution and plan movement – physical activity – breaks into each waking hour of your day. 

3. Nutrition: Hooked on a feeling

I have experienced, first hand, the power of mindfulness when it comes to diet. Recognizing how certain foods made me feel has completely changed the way I eat. The grossness of my diet in my 20s didn’t really show because I’m lucky to have good genes and enjoy intense exercise, but I have to admit that I ate a lot of junk food, fast food and processed crap. I think it’s also no coincidence that I had a pretty gross mindset too – I was quite unhappy, hopeless and quick to spiral into the depths of despair.

When I began journaling about how I felt after each time I ate, a huge light bulb went on. It was easy to stay away from foods that were documented feel-bad offenders, and easy to choose foods that had a track record of producing satiety, level energy and positivity.

This doesn’t mean I eat perfectly. I love baked goods, buttery popcorn, wine, spirits and beer. What it means is that I know that having one or two drinks is my happy place and that any more will likely depress my mood or mean stiffness and lethargy the following day. It means that sitting down to a bowl of buttery popcorn and a movie at the end of a week of nutrient-dense eating feels special and good.

Try recording how you feel after every meal and snack (detailing exactly what you had) for the next 7 days and see how your eating patterns are affected. 

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