What’s Common In All The Diets That Work

When it comes to dieting, there are so many conflicting ideas out there—especially from “choose this, not that” elimination diet advocates—on what the best weight loss solution is. And when even the most trimmed and fit celebs seem confused on how to lose weight the healthy way, it’s crucial to look to the experts for cues on how to tone up without obsessing over calories, losing muscle weight, or ditching vital food groups. Below, we spoke to nutrition experts about the red flags to look out for in any diet, and what any successful diet should entail.

1. They require you to pace yourself.

“Good diets promote weight loss of no more than one to two pounds a week,” says Nigel Penny, lecturer in Nutritional Science at Birmingham City University. “If you lose more than two pounds per week after the second week of dieting, it’s likely that you’re actually losing muscle tissue.”

2. They cut out sugar, not fat.

“Many of the newer and better diets around advocate cutting down on sugar and starch rather than fat,” says Marisa Peer, author of You Can Be Thin: The Ultimate Programme to End Dieting…Forever. “Your body stores excess sugar–found in starchy carbs like pasta and bread–as fat. But good fats help fill you up, and are essential for good health. A low fat diet, meanwhile, will leave you feeling tired, hungry and cranky, and won’t help you maintain weight loss.”

3. They make breakfast a priority.

“A quality breakfast is vital for setting you up for the rest of the day,” says nutritionist Jacqui Cleaver, of the New You Bootcamp. “All good diets will suggest you start your day with quality protein, sufficient good fat and healthy carbs. Try eggs on wheat free bread or porridge oats with berries and ground seeds.”

4. They promote regular eating.

“All successful diets will promote regular, planned meals and snacks throughout the day,” says Alpro dietician Kate Arthur.

5. They suggest permanent lifestyle changes.

“Effective weight loss plans need to be realistic and encourage permanent lifestyle changes, rather than relying on faddy liquid formulas and powders, or on special foods or devices,” says Penny.

6. They always recommend having protein with carbs.

‘The key to long-term weight loss is keeping your blood sugar low,” says Peer. “If you eat protein with your carbs, this will slow down the sugar. All good diets teach you to always add protein to carbs for this reason.”

7. They are nutritionally balanced.

“In good diets, all food groups need to be represented,” says Penny. “A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is essential. Promoting the consumption of one particular ‘magic’ food, or advocating the avoidance of specific foods, will lead to an unbalanced diet.”

8. They don’t promote counting calories.

“Counting calories is a very outdated concept and has now been proven to be an ineffective way to lose weight,” says Peer.”Consuming a low fat, low calorie muffin and latte will ultimately make you pack on more pounds than having some scrambled eggs with a cup of tea.”

9. They encourage staying active.

“Good diets will also advocate for increasing physical activity to lose weight,”says Arthur.

10. They avoid processed foods.

“All good diets will tell you to avoid food made in a factory,” says Peer. ‘That means refined, processed food. It’s not even food–just a cocktail of chemicals that never goes off. You should ask yourself whether you could make the product in your own kitchen. If you couldn’t make it in a regular kitchen, you shouldn’t be eating it.’

10 Unbelievable But Effective Celebrity Diets

Beyoncé

While Sasha Fierce has recently devoted herself, and her social media, to a vegan lifestyle, Beyoncé is also famous for completing the Master Cleanse, an all-liquid diet of cayenne lemon water, to prepare for her role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls. During that time, Beyoncé allowed herself a cheat day to indulge in pizza and wine.

Marilyn Monroe

Eggnog for breakfast? Miss Marilyn Monroe herself would start her day with two raw eggs whipped in warm milk. Opting to skip lunch, the pop culture icon would then consume broiled liver, steak, or lamb and five carrots for dinner, finished with a decadent hot-fudge sundae dessert.

Elizabeth Taylor

She may be the most beautiful woman in the world, but boy did she eat some crazy concoctionsElizabeth Taylor turned to her own, let’s say, unique recipes to shed some pounds, like cottage cheese with sour cream over fruit, a peanut butter–smothered steak sandwich, and a “controlled pig-out,” where she once ate a whole pizza and hot-fudge sundae.

Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar followed an extreme seven-day plan restricting most foods except cabbage soup. For this bland, low-calorie quick fix, Gellar ate the original cabbage soup recipe and alternatively added vegetables, fruit, milk and yogurt, incorporating lean meat and brown rice by the end of the week.

Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton took a cue from the French and slimmed down for the Royal Wedding with The Dukan Diet. After an initial kick start of straight protein and vegetables, the regimen is broken into three phases that get less strict week by week, with variations depending on how many pounds you’re trying to shed.

Lady Gaga

Did Lady Gaga purée her pounds away? The singer is rumored to have tried Tracy Anderson’s baby food diet, a plan that replaces your first two meals of the day with Gerber’s baby food, followed by a health-conscious dinner. While she has yet to fess up, other celebs have also been linked to the diet, including Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Madonna

No one can do it like Madonna. But really, we’re not sure if anyone can. Madonna has followed the extremely strict and rigorous macrobiotic diet, which eliminates all wheat, eggs, meats and dairy. What’s left? The diet encourages the consumption of “sea vegetables.” Being a Material Girl really does come at a price.

Gwyneth Paltrow

As the story goes, after being diagnosed with food allergies Gwyneth Paltrow has since committed herself to all things “good,” ultimately eliminating bread, red meat, cow’s milk, eggplants, even tomatoes from her diet. She starts her mornings off with a green juice and maintains a gluten-free, mildly vegan diet throughout the day.

Megan Fox

In order to flush out water weight and cleanse her system, Megan Fox throws back shots of apple cider vinegar. Yum, right? Moreover, the actress has also been known to practice a program based on the book The 5-Factor Diet by Harley Pasternak, which consists of making five-ingredient meals in less than five minutes.

Victoria Beckham

Posh Spice just may be the perfect pH. Victoria Beckham raves about the alkaline diet, a meal plan aimed at keeping your body’s pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Essentially, to be alkaline-friendly you follow an 80/20 rule of more vegetables and less grains and proteins, though to truly know your pH balance you must complete a urine test.

The 20 Minute Workout For Busy Women

Hey! Do you find yourself way too busy to fit enough exercise into your day or week? I can relate. So I had my friend and pilates instructor/personal trainer whip me up this super simple 20 minute routine that you can do anywhere – at home, at the office – even at the beach.

Only got 10 minutes? Do 5 reps of each exercise instead of 10.

Now I have absolutely no excuses for not exercising. And you don’t either.

The 20 minute workout for people too busy to exercise

Using a set of 5 pound weights (or none if you don’t have them) do ten repetitions of each exercise for a full-body 20 minute workout that even the busiest mom can fit into her day.

1 – Forward lunges

Hold weights in hands at your side. Engage your core as you step forward, and push back against the floor as you stand up and pull your belly button toward your spine. Do not allow your knee to bend past your ankle.

2 – Standing bicep lifts

Standing with hips shoulder distance apart with your elbows at your side, bring the weights to your shoulder and then lift over head. Reverse the motion, finishing with your arms at your side.

3 – Alternating side lunges

Standing upright with your hands on your hips, step out with your left leg into a wide squat, then bring yourself back to center. Repeat on your right side.

4 – Bending lat rows

In a standing lunge position with your left leg forward, rest your left elbow on you knee. Place the weight to the right of your front foot. Using your right arm, bring the weight up, bending your elbow. Then lower the weight back to the floor.

5 – Squats

Confession: I couldn’t bear to share the pics of me doing squats. Sorry! Here’s how you do them: With arms by your side, and legs wider than your hips, squat and stand.

6 – Wide leg plank rows

In pushup position with your legs very wide for support, alternate lifting your arms as in exercise #4. This is a difficult move, and you may want to do without weights until you have developed enough strength for your hips to stay completely still throughout.

7 – Wide arm push ups

With your legs together, and your arms wide, engage your core as you do a classic push up. Do not bend your elbows beyond a 45 degree angle.

8 – Upper back extensions

Laying face down on the floor, clasp your fingers gently behind the base of your skull. Lifting from the area between your shoulder blades, and engaging your core, raise your upper torso and lower.

9 – Supine overhead triceps

Now on your back, bring your legs into tabletop position. Hold the weights shoulder distance apart on the floor over your head. Keeping your elbow above your face, straighten your arms to lift the weights while keeping your core engaged.

10 – Forward curls (two ways)

First, with your legs in tabletop and hands clasped behind your head, slowly bring your chest to your knees – “getting the most bang for your buck” by moving with intention.

For your second set, alternate extending your legs out with each curl into a 45 degree extension. As your leg extends, bring your opposite armpit toward the extended leg. Then switch sides.

How To Get Motivation For Regular Exercising

Every day, I organized my schedule around some kind of exercise – a hike, a surf, a yoga or spinning class. Sometimes I did more than one of these things or tried something random and new – like sea kayaking or Krav Maga. I always considered myself an active person with lots of energy.

Then one day, I looked up and found I had become a working mom with two lovely children, a busy acupuncture practice, a bustling blog, and a Real food kitchen.

Because of this, I no longer had the time nor energy to fit exercise into my daily routine, barely squeaking in a few workouts per week. Because of this, I constantly felt sluggish and out of shape – convinced there was no space in my life to stay as active as I once was.

Until one day, I discovered a tiny little invention for exercise motivation that gets me moving each and every day. Now, I am feeling more fit and energized than I have in years, and I’m so excited to share my secret with you!

Why I need exercise motivation

Recently my eye sight started to go a bit funny from staring at the computer for hours on end. My clothes must have shrunken since they seemed a bit tight, and I was just feeling blah.

I’d say I’m usually moderately active. Most weeks I go to two spinning classes, a pilates session, and for a walk on the beach. Not bad, but other than that I mostly sit on my butt. Yep, that’s the glamorous life of a blogger – cross-eyed and numbed bum. Plus, in an effort to dodge the flu bullet this winter, I skipped a bunch of workouts.

I was feeling the need for something to jump-start my fitness routine, and fast. Heck, I needed someone to follow me around all day telling me to get up and stop being so darn lazy.

Meet my new personal trainer…

My Secret to Exercise Motivation - My Fitbit - Holistic Squid

A few of my friends had been going on and on about a little modern invention called Fitbit –  basically a fancy step counter. AnnMarie over at Cheeseslave lost 10 pounds and 5.3% body fat in a month using hers. My pilates instructor swears by hers to keep her accountable to her own fitness goals.

At first I was nonplussed by my friends’ gadgets. I nodded and made polite smiles. Afterall, I was an active person already, so what interest did  I have in something to track my fitness?

HAHAHA! Needless to say, I finally woke up and decided to try this thing myself, and would you believe – The Fitbit has changed my life. Seriously, you guys… this little tiny gadget is pretty revolutionary. It’s so much more than a 21st century pedometer.

Fitbit also monitors how many floors you ascend, miles gone, calories burned – and with the press of a button – will monitor your sleep to determine not only how many hours but the quality of your sleep as well. This thing is like a personal trainer, cheer-leading team, and mom all wrapped into a three inch clip – totally work the 98 bucks I paid for it.

Not only can it tell how much and how vigorously you’re moving, it sets a goal (10,000 steps) and sends you motivational messages throughout the day. Or, if you’d prefer, it guilts you into meeting your goals. Whatever works, right?

Fitbit also syncs with a free computer and phone app where you can see your progress in graph form, track additional exercise (like swimming or yoga), and even count calories – if that’s your thing.

See that number in the picture above? 3,416 steps at 6pm was pretty rubbish. Normally, after a day of working at my computer and driving kids to and fro, I would have eaten dinner, put the little ones to bed, and snuggled back in with my laptop for an evening session of work or relaxation.

Instead, I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement around my scenic and hilly neighborhood. I walked about 3 miles, ascended the equivalent of 20 ‘floors’, and met my 10,000 step goal on a day that I would have otherwise done nothing physical at all.

Pretty awesome, huh?

Are you meeting your fitness goals or need more exercise motivation?

This Is What I Did To Lose Belly Weight

Note: I’ve gotta confess that it feels pretty vulnerable posting a story about my own weight loss and body image issues, and I’ve been blogging long enough to know that not everyone will agree with or appreciate my experience that I’ve shared below. To those readers, I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. xo Emily

Like many modern women I know, I inherited a dysfunctional relationship to body image and food. I always aspired to be thin, even when I was thin. I related to food as a reward and punishment, as in, I was good, so ‘I’m having this cake’ or ‘I’m going to be bad and have this cake’.

Blame the media. Blame our mothers. But at some point, it’s time to stop blaming and start healing.

How my body got messed up in the first place

There are many things that contributed to my metabolism going awry. I started dieting at the age of 13 when I didn’t have an ounce of body fat to spare. Then as a competitive swimmer, intense training was a minimum of 2 hours per day, and this was often fueled with a small smattering of junk food throughout the day and followed with the largest bowls of spaghetti I could find followed by ice cream drowning in Hersey’s syrup.

Then in college in the early 90’s, there was my fat-free phase that was abundant in Entenmann’s pound cake, nonfat frozen yogurt, Swedish fish candies, fat-free pretzels, and plenty of watery beer. During my freshman year, my total consumption of fat was under 10g per day. Not surprisingly, I tanked out at swim practice, did not have the brain power for late night cramming, and gained almost as much weight as I did during my first pregnancy.

In my 20’s I thought I had it figured out. I was a pescatarian, eating tons of seitan, tofu, canned beans, and whole grains. Then when I moved to California and started Chinese medicine school, I decided that a healthy diet should involve meat. Through all this I maintained a fairly healthy body weight with lots and lots of fitness thrown in.

Itty Bitty Human

My pre-kid tummy the day we found out I was pregnant.

The Baby body yo-yo

After Baby #1, my body bounced back rather quickly. Sort of. Due to sleep deprivation and the associated nausea, and to a lesser degree, breastfeeding, I lost all of the baby weight and more, though I felt weak, tired, and cranky most days. But I was thin, at least. (Dysfunction, noted).

Moving mama collage

With baby #2, I gained more weight and after my little one was born, the extra pounds seemed to stick around. Thanks to my improved sleep (see my post on Why I Ditched Attachment Parenting), I was no longer feeling awful, but I was also carrying a good 15-20 pounds more than my pre-pregnancy body; I was out of shape (who’s got time to work out with two small kids?), and could certainly have used more energy.

Though I had considered myself a healthy eater for most of my adult life (we’re talking store-bought almond milk, organic meat, lots of veggies, and whole grains), I didn’t fully embrace a true-nutrient dense diet until after my second baby.

*******

These days, I’m happy to say that I’ve ‘got my body back’. Nearly every mama who’s had a couple of kids or more (barring those with simply miraculous genes) can understand that this is actually not my pre-baby body, but I can ignore a bit of sag here and there in exchange for having great energy, looking decent clothed or not, and feeling pretty darn good in my own skin.

Since I know that so many women struggle with postpartum weight loss and body image, I want to share the essential steps I found along the way.

I fell in love with real food

When my daughter was a newborn, I watched a video series called ‘Nourishing Our Children’. For the few years prior, I had been exploring Nourishing Traditions, the cookbook and real food bible by Sally Fallon Morel. I was obsessed with making food from scratch including bone broths and sauerkraut, but I didn’t grasp the full concepts of the Weston Price Foundation until I saw Nourishing Our Children.

Suddenly, I understood the nourishing benefits of saturated fats from healthy, grass-fed animals. I had a new-found respect for formerly strange foods such as raw milk, liver, and bone marrow. I learned that grains, beans and nuts needed to be properly prepared for proper nutrition. And it became distinctly clear that nearly all modern processed foods (even organic ‘health’ foods) were doing nothing positive for my health.

When I finally ditched the junk (buh-bye frozen pizzas), I began to truly nourish myself with the best quality ingredients I could find. Sure, I was eating way more fat than ever – eggs with bright orange yolks, liver blended in with grass-fed ground beef, raw cream, and coconut oil and butter everywhere – but despite the radical shift, I was feeling better than ever.

Mommypotamus Holistic Squid and Food Renegade

I healed my gut

As a kid and teen, I wasn’t a stranger to antibiotics, which did my gut flora no favors. (If you’re new here, I’m referring to the healthy balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract).

In Chinese medicine we know that a healthy digestion is at the core of good health. Symptoms of weak digestion are not limited to poor appetite, upset tummies, acid reflux, constipation, or diarrhea, either. When your digestive “qi” (life force) is weak you may have low energy, depression, anxiety, unhealthy weight (both too heavy or too light), sleep problems, poor stress management, skin conditions, and much, much more.

So, in adopting a real food lifestyle, probiotics have become part of my daily regime. Raw milk, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha – even fermented ketchup and salsa make their way into my diet on a daily basis. In addition, I take a high potency probiotic on occasion, to give my system a boost of healthy micro-flora.

I also take care to eat plenty of soup make with homemade bone broth. Not only is the broth extremely nourishing, and healing, but from a Chinese medicine perspective, cold and raw foods further damage digestion (in other words: go easy on the smoothies and salads).

I gave up giving things up

Probably my single most important step that helped me lose the baby weight was to first heal my poor relationship to food. There’s a term that all healthy eaters and aspiring healthy eaters should become acquainted with: orthorexia.

Orthorexia is an eating disorder characterized by obsessive behavior to eat and be healthy and a preoccupation with avoiding unhealthy foods.

Take a minute to consider this. Orthorexia is everywhere in our fat-free, vegan-loving, sugar-fearing, gluten-avoiding, juice cleansing culture. While sometimes, certain foods need to be avoided for true health conditions, in most cases the latest foods you are avoiding may be a symptom of your unhealthy obsession with being healthy.

So, in an effort to recover from my obsessive, reward-and-punishment relationship to food, I vowed to stop giving things up. No more grain-free diets. No candida cleanse. No more limiting my cookie consumption. No restrictions of any kind.

I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Period.

Next, I bought some flattering dresses

As you might imagine, my figure did not magically become svelte with my new free-for-all diet. I continued to exercise three times per week, but my already ill-fitting jeans were feeling more snug than ever. The muffin-top was not working for my self-esteem.

So, rather than give up on my mission, I decided it was time to go shopping. I bought a collection of new, flattering dresses from my favorite shop in Los Angeles, ME and Blue. For an entire year, the only pants I wore were stretchy yoga pants around the house, and a sole pair of little black shorts that highlighted my genetically-more-gifted bottom half.

Without the ill-fitting clothes, I didn’t feel so gross. I even began to look at myself in the mirror with admiration for my own strength and beauty – as is – a new and novel concept that only took a few decades to discover.

Family Photo New Years 2013 - Holistic Squid

I got moving

After about a year of eating ‘all the things’ and wearing flattering dresses, I felt like I was finally ready to be proactive in changing my body without going back into a cycle of self-punishment.

I got a FitBit, a fantastic tool that helped me to see clearly that my formerly fit self was sitting on the sofa blogging and not moving nearly enough. You can read about my love of my FitBit here. I spent a few months getting my fitness level up simply by accomplishing 10K steps per day.

My rewards: more energy, a bit more muscle tone, and a much better attitude.

My other key to exercise was finding something I LOVE to do. While I’d been spinning twice a week (off and on) for about 9 years, I recently discovered a spinning studio that rocks my world, and I love to get there as often as possible. Making exercise fun certainly ups the chances of getting it done.

Spin love - How I finally lost the baby weight (and you can too) - Holistic Squid

I got accountable

After months of walking or spinning 10K steps per day, it became evident that my scale and jean size wasn’t about to budge with my current strategy. So I decided to – ever so gently and lovingly – take it to the next level.

FitBit has a handy-dandy calorie counting feature that, given my disdain for dieting, was something that I initially had no interest in using. But then I considered my journey thus far – my metabolism was being nourished with nutrient dense foods, I was exercising regularly and moderately, and I was doing my best with managing stress and getting enough sleep. All things considered, if I wanted to lose some body fat, it was going to have to come from a calories-in-calories-out tally.

Yes, it’s calorie counting. Stigma-ladened, dieter’s territory. But done properly, a calorie really is a calorie. Plus, since the FitBit is also monitoring my movement and exercise, the more I moved the more I could eat.

Fitbit screenshot

I decided to set my target at a 700 calorie per day deficit. Based on my activity level, that typically put me in the range of 1600-2200 calories per day. I continued not to restrict what I ate, I just began to moderate the quantity.

Here’s an example of a typical day…

Breakfast: A piece of sourdough toast with grass-fed butter and a scrambled egg (with cultured salsa if we had some). A black tea with raw milk and a spoonful of raw honey.

Lunch: A pint of hearty stew from my meal plans.

Dinner: Rice (cooked in bone broth), steamed veggies with butter, and salmon.

Snacks: Naturally fermented sauerkraut or pickles, dried seaweed with a bit of goat cheese, popcorn drizzled with butter. Herbal tea in the evening to warm my tummy and the occasional stevia soda as a treat.

I keep orthorexia and body dysmorphia in check

In the beginning this method worked pretty well; I was only occasionally hungry, and would typically just go ahead and give myself a pass to eat what I wanted on those days. Rather than seeing these as ‘cheat’ days, it worked better for me to think of it as honoring my body’s needs.

As time went on, there were certainly moments where I could hear the Over-achiever, the Chronic Dieter, or the Self-Judgement Department trying to take over, and then I would gently step back and have a few days or weeks when I paid no attention to calories until I was once again driving my own ship.

Over the course of about 6 months I have slowly dropped 15 pounds, gotten much stronger, and feel confident in my own skin.

While it was fun to put on the ridiculous pink dress below (no, I did not wear it outside my house) this experience hasn’t been about ‘achieving’ a weight loss goal or a smaller dress size, but rather a journey of introspection, self-love, and gentle respect for my body.

Ridiculous Pink Dress

In summary, here are…

My top 5 strategies for losing baby weight

#1 – Eat real food

This is both a simple and confounding concept in our modern world. If you’re a newbie, check out this starter guide and be sure to scroll down and subscribe to my newsletter so you can receive helpful information and recipes in your inbox.

#2 – Heal your metabolism

Aside from eating real food, this includes having healthy gut flora, recovering from restrictive diets, and getting your digestive fire burning again. If your metabolism is broken, you will continue to struggle and struggle with your weight and health. Far and away the BEST resource for learning how to get your metabolism thriving is this ebook: Nourished Metabolism by Elizabeth Walling.

#3 – Learn to love your body (and your whole self)

You would never speak to a small child the way you speak to yourself in your own head. Don’t you think it’s time to be NICE to yourself? For me, this started with wearing clothes that didn’t feel like a punishment, eating food that I was craving, and appreciating my own beauty and strength.

How can you be good to yourself today?

#4 – Move!

Everyone has different needs when it comes to exercise. I’m the type that feels great with short bursts of aerobic exertion, but since I’m super bendy, I also need isolated strengthening to maintain integrity in my joints. Things like running and yoga aren’t great for me, but I know plenty of folks who thrive off of these activities and wouldn’t be caught dead on a spin bike or pilates reformer.

Point is, you need to find exercise that 1) works best for your body and 2) you actually enjoy. If you don’t think you like exercising, then you just haven’t tried the right thing yet. In the meantime: walk, walk, walk and simply get your heart pumping and your blood and energy flowing.

#5 – Be honest

If you sit on your bottom and eat a bag of cookies daily, it’s no wonder your body isn’t behaving the way you’d like it to. Likewise, if you’ve been chronically over-exercising or dieting, you can’t expect your metabolism to be operating at its best. Like me, you may be in denial about your lack of sleep or your overwhelming daily stresses – not a recipe for health.

Healthy weight loss never comes in a magic pill or shake. A healthy body will settle at an equilibrium weight, given the right foods and amounts (not too much or too little), enough movement, and honor and respect.

If your metabolism is functioning optimally (check out the chart in this post), and you’ve got a healthy relationship with food and your body, you may be able to start looking at calorie intake vs. output from a healthy perspective.

Go slow, and above all, take love with you.

Effects Of Diastasis Recti On Your Belly

Something wasn’t right. I looked 5 months pregnant, but I definitely WAS NOT pregnant. The pregnancy weight had dropped off (actually sucked off is more like it – thanks breastfeeding!) and yet there it was… a belly. A pregnant-looking belly.

I’ve never been one to have body issues but last summer I was not psyched about the prospect of wearing a swimsuit.

I honestly didn’t mind my belly that much, but I didn’t want to deal with the speculation of people wondering if I was pregnant again. Even worse, I didn’t want to correct someone congratulating me on my bun in the oven. Mortifying.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my mombod.

I wear my stretch marks like badges of honor. I am in awe that I brought two humans into this world and that I was able to have the natural births that I wanted. I earned those stretch marks. I’ll keep them. But the preggo belly? It could go.

Baby #3 wasn’t to blame for my belly, but I learned that diastasis recti was.

What is diastasis recti?

To understand diastasis recti, you have to know a little anatomy.

The rectus abdominis muscle is the abdominal muscle that runs along either side of the bellybutton. It’s the muscle we want to tone for those rock solid abs and what forms the six-pack. The two sections of this muscle are connected by connective tissue called the linea alba. When the two sections of the muscle separate and widen, stretching the linea alba, a gap forms.

This gap is called diastasis recti.

Naturally the rectus abdominis muscle separates during pregnancy to make room for the growing baby, but the gap should close postpartum. If the gap does not close, you can perform this simple test to determine whether or not you have diastasis recti (source):

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor
  2. Place your fingers with the palm facing you on your belly button
  3. Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor while you press down with your fingers. If there is a gap, that is the diastasis
  4. Conduct the same test just above your belly button and just below the belly button (as the gap can measure differently in these places)

Diastasis recti is considered a gap measuring 2 finger widths or greater.

Why having a gap is a problem

The rectus abdominis muscle, along with its other core muscle buddies (the transverse abdominis and the internal and external obliques), essentially acts as a belt holding our belly and all of our organs in their places when it is strong and functioning properly.

With diastasis recti, our bodies are left to rely on weak, stretched out connective tissue to hold everything in place. This doesn’t work, which is why I looked pregnant.

Because of this abdominal weakness, people with diastasis recti may also experience constipation, back pain, pelvic floor discomfort and possibly even hernia or prolapse.

The real cause of diastasis recti

Motivated to lose my belly I vowed to do crunches daily and restart my Pilates practice until I found out, that was the absolute WRONG approach.

Crunches, side twists, planks and other similar moves actually make diastasis recti worse, and can make the belly protrude even more. Oops. A binding belt worn around your abdomen won’t fix diastasis recti either.

It wasn’t my pregnancy per se, or my 9 lb 9 oz son that caused my diastasis recti, but excessive and uncontained pressure in my abdomen.

Excessive pressure can develop from a variety of reasons such as poor posture, excessive sitting, high-heel shoe wearing, improper breathing, even sucking in your belly or holding in gas. This pressure has to go somewhere, and for people with a weak and unsupported core, it pushes out—creating a bloated looking belly, or pooch, like mine. (source)

Because excessive pressure is the true cause, pregnant women are not the only ones who may develop diastasis recti. Even women who are extremely athletic (as well as men and children) may develop diastasis recti if they have an unstable core or train in a manner that increases abdominal pressure. Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, even developed diastasis recti!

So improper alignment and a weak, poor functioning core were the ultimate culprits to my diastasis recti.

Can you fix diastasis recti?

It is possible to fix this condition. It just takes time, effort, and the RIGHT exercises.

Not wanting to take the risk of doing incorrect exercises, I turned to the Mutu System for help. Wendy Powell, a personal trainer and postpartum exercise expert from the UK, developed this program to empower women to recover from diastasis recti and to strengthen their cores safely. Yes, she helps you get rid of your mummy tummy, but she’s all about empowering women to love their bodies and live healthier too.

I started the Mutu Focus program with a diastasis recti of 3, and after 8 weeks, I was down to 1.5—no more diastasis. I haven’t had any instances of lower back pain since starting the program either. Double bonus.

I love the Mutu exercises as they are simple, easy and only take me about 15 minutes a day to complete. This system is a life-long keeper for me, but to fully get rid of my belly? I had to understand the bigger picture.

My long term results

My gap is now closed thanks to Mutu, so no more diastasis recti for me. Is my belly gone? Almost.

I no longer look 5 months pregnant, but I still have some healing to do and adjustments to make.

I’m continuing to do my Mutu exercises to keep my core strong, but I’m also now focusing on healing my weakened connective tissue. This may take more time and patience as it may not truly bounce back until I wean my little one. Breastfeeding increases levels of the hormone relaxin which keep tendons and ligaments a bit lax, so until we are done it may be some time until my connective tissue regains its strength.

In the meantime, I’m using lemongrass essential oil (mixed with coconut oil as a carrier oil) as a topical remedy to increase its tone. I’m also taking this collagen supplement, as collagen has shown to help repair connective tissue as well.

I’m also learning how I can prevent creating excess pressure in my abdomen. Adopting proper alignment when sitting and standing is one way and a constant work in progress for me.

So my diastasis recti is gone and most of my belly along with it. Yet, most important is what I gained through this process—the knowledge how to correct, heal and strengthen my core. I’ll take it.

How To Heal Back Pain Without Surgery

Looking to heal back pain? You’re not alone. On a global level, more than 80% of folks feel low back pain at some point or another. Managing back pain isn’t fun. But the prospect of corrective surgery is downright scary.

Fortunately, you can probably trace your back pain to one or more of these factors — which are all fixable:

  • Alignment
  • Stress
  • Diet

Taking steps to holistically heal back pain is a lot like taking care of yourself. Plain and simple self love. This is good news. Not only will your back feel better. You will too.

Heal back pain and feel happy, in 5 steps

#1 – Move more

How often do you sit?

Just in your car? Only at home? When you’re at the office? Chances are high that you sit often. And while you sit, you might tuck your pelvis and lean forward. Slowly, your butt flattens – your pelvic floor looses tone – and your abdominal muscles grow lazy.

Lack of movement will naturally lead to stiff and weak muscles. If you want to heal back pain, you need to move. Specifically, you need to move and engage those muscles that hold most of your organs. Otherwise known as your core, this means:

  • Your diaphragm, which helps you breathe
  • The deep muscles of your abdominal wall
  • Your pelvic floor, the layer of muscles stretching from your pubic bone to the bone at the base of your tailbone

Most folks think that the good ol’ toe-touch – bending forward to touch your toes – will stretch your hamstrings and relieve low back pain. But as it turns out, doing the opposite of your norm may be more beneficial. In other words, backbending.

As Bikram yogini Barbora Simek explains,

The reality is, we spend most of our day in an unsupported forward bend. Internally, forward bending causes the front vertebrae move closer together, forcing the inter-vertebral disks and spinal nerves back.

The bones and joints in your spine bend forwards and backwards. They also rotate. Working a simple spinal twist into your day will help you to move more and heal back pain.

#2 – Move better

According to developmental kinesiology, your posture develops naturally along with your nervous system – beginning in infancy. Those muscles that helped you turn over, crawl, and walk as a baby work together and stabilize joints in adulthood.

If you struggle to activate one muscle or part of a muscle, you might unwittingly recruit another muscle to do the work. This “weak link” puts stress on passive structures – like ligaments, cartilage, and joints – and leads to chronic pain.

Besides backbends and spinal twists, practitioners who focus on developmental kinesiology and something called dynamic neuromuscular stabilization suggest that you stabilize your core so that you’re able to easily transfer movement through your trunk, to your hands and feet.

This means moving like a baby.

Or at least, recreating the movements you went through during infancy so that you can retrain your brain to fire different sets of muscles. If you want to heal back pain, the steps you take are sometimes less about weak or tight muscles and more about training the brain.

#3 – Look within

After digging into the mechanics of how to heal back pain, it’s helps to look at your own emotions surrounding pain and fear of pain.

Fear of hurting or being unable to move can make you “freeze up,” feeding a vicious cycle of pain and immobility.

Acupuncturist Dr. Mikio Sankey also suggests that back pain is linked to feeling unsupported in life. Once you heal back pain, you may find that you’re able to break patterns of:

  • Insecurity
  • Fear
  • Taking life too seriously

#4 – Mange inflammation

Pain is a sign of inflammation. So, it helps to throw in a couple of tricks that reduce inflammation and ease pain. Here are my favs – this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Eat a paleo diet – The simplest thing you can do to heal back pain is switch up your diet to one that minimizes inflammation. In short, give the paleo diet a whirl. Remove foods that either put your immune system on high alert or weaken it – like processed grains and refined sugar. Aim for high-quality fats and source your meat from well-treated animals. If paleo meal planning confuses you, go here.
  • Add in collagen – Collagen is the stuff your bones, ligaments, and tendons are made of. And eating collagen – or gelatinous foods – gives you more collagen to work with. Makes sense, no? I use this one.
  • Take fish oil – One of the many benefits of a good quality fish oil is that it contains omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation and reduce pain. I like this one.
  • Eat turmeric – Turmeric is spice that comes from a bright orange rhizome. It’s related to ginger and used often in Indian cuisine. In many ways, turmeric is cure-all for chronic conditions. This  includes on-going inflammation and pain. One compound that’s responsible for turmeric’s ability to heal back pain is curcumin. To target pain, you can take a supplement with concentrated curcumin. I like this one.

#5 – Manage pain naturally

Pain medication is not without side effects, the most alarming of which may be addiction. According to a recent report from the CDC, at least half of all opioid deaths involve a prescription for opioid medication – which is often used to relieve pain.

Fortunately, safe alternatives to medication and surgery exist. So, spread the word! It’s worth knowing that the following can massively reduce and heal back pain:

What have you done to heal back pain? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Must-Read Lessons If You Are Beginning Yoga

When beginning yoga in Philadelphia in the 90’s, there were no special outfits and way fewer gurus. We got together in converted garages and living rooms wearing old clothes to sweat, breathe, and find some inner peace.

It was during this time I learned how to stand up straight and quiet my mind by simply focusing on breath – two skills that have transformed my life for the better.

I also discovered that I was super bendy, something my inner competitive spirit valued. Let’s face it, while yoga isn’t meant to be a competitive sport, these days most Lululemon clad yogis are all secretly peeking to see if they are reaching the farthest or wrapping the deepest.

It was during one of these early classes, doing a simple seated forward bend pose, that I was faced with a predicament. At the edge of where I could comfortably stretch, should I reach further?

The pitfalls of flexibility when beginning yoga

Ridiculous as it now sounds, I decided that the sensation I felt in the back of my legs was my body opening to a new depth. I was rewarded with a strained hamstring, and a new-found understanding of my physical limits.

Being overly flexible can be a blessing and a curse. For me, my bendiness made me feel like I was ‘good at yoga,’ so I enjoyed doing it even more. The down-side is that flexibility in yoga often encourages yogis and their teachers to push further to achieve what seems like better results. Unfortunately, this can also put undue strain on your ligaments and joints in the process.

The job of ligaments is to protect joints from overextending. Ligaments don’t have the same rebounding memory as muscle. Furthermore, when joints overextend, the bones can rub together triggering pain, impacting mobility, and often causing irreversible damage. (source)

While gentle yoga for flexibility is certainly beneficial, too much and too intense of a yoga practice can be extremely counterproductive.

As an acupuncturist, I often treat yoga enthusiasts for related strained wrists, neck pain, shoulder injuries, and sciatica. Hundreds of orthopedic surgeons link crippling arthritic hip damage (that often requires hip replacement) to middle-aged women who do yoga. (source)

Lesson #1: Yoga and competitiveness don’t mix

A few years into my yoga practice, I moved cross-country and was living in an Airstream trailer in Malibu. My newfound endless-summer high plus six days per week of Ashtanga yoga had me aspiring to new levels of yogic contortion.

In one class, we were taking a break from flowing poses to practice inversions. Being an ‘advanced’ yogi, I thought it was high-time to try scorpion pose (a forearm balance and backbend where your toes reach around to touch your arching head). My inner competitive yogi was squelched for good when I dropped with a crunch, and earned a back injury that would come back to haunt me for over a decade and a half.

Lesson #2: There’s an extra risk for bendy chicks

According to long time yoga teacher, Charlotte Bell, and many other experts, women have a special liability when it comes to flexibility: relaxin.

Typically associated with pregnancy, relaxin is a hormone also produced every month around ovulation. It’s essentially a naturally occurring muscle relaxer and can cause joints to be looser and more at risk for injury.

Bell recommends that for women (and especially pregnant women) less is more:

You wouldn’t encourage a muscle-bound yoga student to lift more weights and stiffen up. Equally, a too-flexible student doesn’t benefit from becoming even more flexible. Too much flexibility is just as unhealthy is too much stiffness. Balance is what we’re going for in asana practice. Familiarize yourself with what normal range of motion looks like.

Lesson #3: Take responsibility for strength and alignment

Muscles, ligaments and tendons all work together to give your body proper alignment and support. When muscles are over-stretched and under-strengthened it puts pressure on the ligaments to keep pulling, eventually causing bone-on-bone issues. While most yoga classes naturally include strength-training, don’t take it for granted. If you are experiencing joint pain, you may need more muscle mass for support. (source)

Beyond strength, one of the most important things in yoga is proper alignment. I had done yoga for over ten years before my friend and therapeutic yogi master Rachelle Luczynski, pointed out that I had been hyper-extending in essentially every yoga pose for my entire yoga practice.

With yoga’s exponential popularity over the past ten years or so, there are new studios and teachers sprouting up everywhere. Classes get crowded and many teachers are either unexperienced or simply can’t micro-manage the alignment of all of their students at once.

With this in mind, it is your responsibility to protect and care for your body. Find an expert in alignment (perhaps an Iyengar class or a very attentive and experienced teacher) to educate yourself on how to protect your joints, and prioritize proper alignment and joint stability over bending further or pushing harder.

Whether you’re naturally flexible or can barely touch your toes, over-stretching can happen in a matter of a few split seconds. When it comes to stretching of any sort, err on the side of conservative and pull back if you feel discomfort or something just doesn’t feel right. If you don’t realize you’ve gone too far until you’re done with a workout, be sure to rest adequately to give your body time to recover.

Do you practice? What’s your best advice on staying safe and avoiding injury when beginning yoga?