How to change your life in 8 weeks

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Five months after giving birth to my twin boys, crawling out of the fog of survival mode, I was ready to get back to an active lifestyle. Caring for and nursing newborn twins and my three-year-old had left me perpetually tired, hungry and sluggish. Aside from occasional winter walks, I was not getting much exercise. And I was treating myself to plenty of take-out coffee, baked goods and fast food as a way to reward myself for getting through the long days.

As a runner and a fairly healthy person, I knew I needed to kick these habits – which had almost become crutches – before they became routine for me as a busy mom of three.

I partnered with 3rd Degree Training Saint John, with the goal of getting in 3-4 high-intensity interval training workouts per week, and to share my story to help others see what it is like for someone like me to take on their program. I followed a customized Actual Nutrition plan for an active, breastfeeding mom (so much food!). My goals were simple: to get “in shape” again and feel good about myself. I was honestly not sure if four workouts and eating clean would be enough to see a significant change in my body. And to be honest, I was OK with that because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose and I knew once I returned to running, eventually, that weight would melt away.

By week four I was already seeing significant changes, not only in how my clothes fit but, more significantly, in how I felt.

I had so much more energy, I felt mentally clear and my mood was lifted. I felt like a better mom, a better spouse and closer to the old “me.”

The combination of cleaning up my diet, simply by eating whole, real food and eliminating junk (which I didn’t eat loads of, but I certainly indulged at least once a day), and blasting my body with quick, effective workouts, was a magic combination.

It was so perfect to end my first round of bootcamp as I celebrated 35 trips around the sun. In eight weeks, I lost eight pounds and nearly eight inches. I love the program so much I decided to keep going for another round, with the goal of improving form and continuing to get stronger while I ease back into running.

Every day is not a cakewalk – sometimes I find it challenging to focus on making healthy meals for myself as well as my family (moms are used to being last priority, eating the leftover Timbits and crusts of peanut butter sandwiches!). I often scarf down cold food while babies are screaming. And even though the 10:30 Baby and Me class (Mon/Wed/Fri) is the perfect way to get in a workout with kids in tow, it’s certainly tough to get two babies out the door, while balancing whatever my older son is up to that day as well. Sometimes I ask my mother-in-law to come by while I squeeze in an evening workout, or sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m., feed my babies and pray they go back to sleep so I can hit up the 6 a.m. class.

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My boys: Callum, Leo and Silas.

But the perseverance and consistency pay off in spades. It is so motivating to see results and see other members change, too. We are all just regular people trying to fit a healthier lifestyle into our already busy, challenging lives.

Actual Nutrition is not billed as a diet, it’s almost the opposite. By setting out a guideline of what are commonly known as macro-nutrients – carbs, fats and protein – the program provides ultimate flexibility and never leaves you feeling hungry or lagging energy. That means no calorie counting and no feeling of deprivation. Instead I look forward to every meal and snack and enjoy the taste of real food again.

After eight weeks, I have put myself back onto a healthy path. When I have treat days (Easter and my birthday), I immediately feel the effects… tired, headachy, and moody. I always thought I was the kind of person who could never eliminate sugar or treats because I love them too much. I thought I could always just run off the calories. But now I know I can save these things for every once in a while, knowing they don’t do my body or my mood any favours anyway.

I am so grateful to 3rd Degree for the opportunity to try their program. Witnessing the impact it has on its members has been truly inspirational. It’s more than about seeing results in your before and after pics, it’s about changing your habits, clearing your mind and treating your body with the respect it deserves.

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Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.

Taking a leap of faith: exercise as medicine for chronic pain

For most people, including myself, fitness and nutrition is not just about how they look, it’s about how they feel.

Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John, is one of those people. She has suffered from various health conditions from the age of 23, leaving her mentally and physically drained. But over the course of the past year, she has completely changed her life, weaning herself off medications thanks to a careful diet and regular physical activity.

I hope you are as amazed and inspired by her story as I am. Following Catt’s lead, several other members of 3rd Degree with chronic health conditions have also made gains by making physical activity and a healthy eating a priority in their lives.

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Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John

Q: What chronic health issues do you suffer from?

From the age of 23 on, I have always battled some form of chronic illness. As soon as I would be cured of one, a more debilitating one would come along. I currently battle 3 chronic illnesses that affect me on a daily basis and unfortunately, there are no cures in sight. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2008, affecting my chest, knees, hips, fingers, toes, and jaw. I was diagnosed after several visits to hospital with sharp chest pain, in which the rheumatologist explained the source of the pain as inflammation around the lungs or heart. I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia in February of 2017, although I have battled with the symptoms of chronic widespread pain and chronic fatigue for many years, it was diagnosed through the process of elimination. This year, at the age of 40, I was told that the constant feeling of frostbite in all my extremities and the chilblains on my toes are from Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease.

Q: How did you discover that exercise could help?

I was generally active throughout my life, in between illnesses you could say. In January 2017, the pain in the shoulders, hips, chest, ribs, neck and severe stiffness in the fingers and toes became a daily thing.  Although I was exhausted thoughout the day, and would fall asleep in the early evening every night but just couldn’t stay asleep. I would wake up after a couple hours from either/ or a combination of pain, overactive thoughts and nightmares, causing days of non-restorative sleep. I was completely overwhelmed and over-stimulated, struggling to keep up with my daily routine, not to mention trying to manage the feeling of being in constant pain. I was prescribed several medications, leaving me with the feeling of being sedated.

As luck would have it, my partner’s passion was fitness. Kevin McEachern bought and set up the 3rd Degree Training/Actual Nutrition franchise in Saint John. He spent all his time instructing and motivating all the fitness classes, which meant if I wanted to see him, I had to spend some time in the studio as well. In his first 8-week round, he would encourage me to participate in the High Intensity Interval Training classes, telling me to work at my own speed and teaching me how to modify certain moves, i.e, using calf extensions as opposed to jumping. While the company was working through its second 8-week round, I increased my workouts to 3 or 4 times a week and by the end of that round, I no longer needed the modifications. I was feeling much stronger, more energetic, happy and accomplished. I made a conscious decision to slowly wean off all the meds that was prescribed to “help” ease the fibromyalgia symptoms and haven’t returned to them. In the following months, I started motivating some of the fitness classes, I became certified to instruct the classes and became a Personal Trainer.

Q: How does eating better help? What dietary restrictions do you have?

I have been lactose intolerant since birth. About 6 years ago, I curved my eating habits to a holistic, anti-inflammatory, whole-food lifestyle however my meals would mostly be snack-size. With the help of my partner, we were able to increase the size of my portions. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t eat all this, I’ll be sick,” but eventually I started eating regular meals again. Together, we developed a solid eating pattern. Steve Collette, Founder/CEO of the 3rd Degree Training franchise, made a few positive recommendations to help boost my metabolism using the Actual Nutrition program. Now, I have lots of energy to sustain me throughout the day, even after a workout.

Q: How has your life changed?

I’ve gone from being someone dependent on medication, living with chronic widespread pain and surviving on autopilot on a daily basis to someone living life again.

Q: How do you hope others could learn from your story?
I want others to know that they don’t have to be prisoners of their illnesses. I’m not going to lie and say that every day is perfect or that I found a cure and there will never be another flare, but I will say my quality of life has improved drastically. You can spend a lifetime on survival mode or you take a leap of faith, spend a couple of weeks being outside our comfort zone, developing a routine, getting back to living a longer, healthier life and thriving.

I am a Fibro warrior and an RA warrior. #fibrowarrior #RAwarrior

Easter sabotage

I was thinking about the Cadbury cream egg, hidden behind chicken breasts in my freezer, all evening. Through the sounds of crying twin babies while I fumbled with bottles like a first-time mom, through the exaggerated whines from my almost four-year-old because his stickers kept ripping, through the bedtime fails, through the piles of dishes and laundry and any other tired mom cliche you could think of.

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I wasn’t supposed to eat it, but God, I wanted to. I could almost taste the gooey insides.

So when my kids finally fell asleep that night, I ignored the mess in my home and day-four unwashed hair, and dug out that chocolate egg, wondering if it would be too frozen to eat, or if it should sit out for a few minutes first.

Yes, I did eat the damn egg, and yes, it was delicious. But when you are writing down everything you eat for the sixth week of the Actual Nutrition program, your brain plays tricks with you. Especially after Easter. You wonder how much damage can one innocent little egg do to six weeks of hard work?

“Let’s just pretend that never happened,” the little devil on your shoulder whispers. Kevin will never need to know.

But the thing is, I will know, and that’s worse.

So I wrote it down, hung my head in shame, washed my hair and went to bed.

The kids, and the Easter Bunny, won that round.

“Doing better than you think,” Kevin wrote to me. “Time to evacuate the treat cupboard.”

Clean eating is actually not that hard. Especially when you have a plan, and accountability. And control over the food in your house.

But life includes holidays and social occasions. Shopping trips that run late into babies’ supper times, which means mom eats last, which means mom is ravenous.

That’s when you need all the will power in the world not to fall into old habits and reach for those chocolate eggs, or your husband’s chips, or the Goldfish crackers. This is the hardest part, and this is where I need discipline.

So, Mr. Easter Bunny, you can hop away now and take your chocolate with you. I don’t need you tempting me when I’m weak anymore!

Back to my hard-boiled egg and salsa.

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Halfway through boot camp: my progress report

I can’t believe how quickly the past four weeks have flown by! It has been so nice to make working out a part of my life again. Some days it is my only chance to do something on my own or get out of the house! And I have been amazed how seamlessly I have been able to transition to “clean” eating. Accountability and having a plan are truly half the battle.

Here is how things are going:

The Workouts:

  • I have managed to get to 3rd Degree Training four times a week for the past four weeks. Usually I attend the 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class (with or without kids) on Mon, Wed and Fri but also try for 6 a.m. or noon on Thursdays and 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays. It’s really handy to have an array of class times to chose from.
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Callum and Leo and their gym buddy, Avery.
  • It’s honestly so convenient to my home on the west side, at less than a five-minute drive, so I really have no excuse. OK, I do have a few, but getting to the gym and back home within an hour is totally doable.
  • From the moment I step into the studio at 3rd Degree, I feel inspired to work hard and get a good sweat on. The music is pumping and as other friendly faces appear (people of all skill levels and backgrounds) it’s easy to see they are all dedicated to making changes in their lives. The feeling is contagious and inspiring.
  • Workouts usually start with light cardio, followed by a few different sets of exercises, anything from burpees to squats and ab exercises. We do numerous variations and all using our own body weight, so it never gets boring.
  • I can feel myself getting stronger every day. I often wake up with that dull burning sensation in my muscles, and I go to bed ready to fall into a deep sleep (until a baby or little boy wakes, anyway). But I never get the exhaustion you feel after a long run.

Nutrition

  • This is where the biggest life changes have happened for me. Thanks to my nutrition plan from Kevin, I have managed to completely cut sugar and treats from my diet, and I am not even that upset about it. I’m not going to lie, there are days when I am dog-tired, overwhelmed, you name it, and could reallllly go for a McFlurry. Or, there have been days when I have been tempted to eat a cookie as I bake them for my son (OK, I definitely licked the spoon). But here is the secret: I am never starving hungry! And there is always the next meal/snack to look forward to, and they are always tasty. I don’t feel deprived, and I am eating so.much.food. This is no diet, this is about eating satiating, real, nutritious food.
  • Eggs are a huge part of my days now, starting with the mornings when I usually eat three, getting my 1.5 servings of protein in. I also keep a few hard-boiled eggs on hand for lunches and my evening snack. Never have I eaten so many eggs! I just bought the 30-pack from Costco and I will probably get through it in a week.
  • I have really upped the ante on vegetables. My favourite way to eat them is just raw. I used to think veggies were kind of boring but as my tastebuds have adjusted, I look forward to my big salads and crunchy snacks with hummus or tzatziki. I used to eat a lot more fruit, but now I am really filling up on veggies.

Early results

  • I have more stable energy throughout the day and I’m generally in a better mood.
  • I feel myself getting stronger and back into shape.
  • I have lost three inches around my ribs, waist and hips. My clothes fit much better.
  • I am honestly surprised how quickly this is happening. My goal in joining was just to feel better and get stronger. I always assumed it would take many months to lose some pounds and inches, and that it would require many long runs (that has always been what works for me!)
  • Here’s the before and after!

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Thanks so much to 3rd Degree Training for the opportunity to partner with them and share my story. Keep following along to see how the next four weeks go! You can also follow my posts and stories on Instagram.

Organized chaos: how the gym makes me feel more human

From the moment I peel open my eyes in the morning until those sweet first seconds of uninterrupted sleep at night, I am running on all cylinders. I am like a mommy octopus, feeding babies with two tentacles, wiping butts with the other, cleaning up, grocery shopping, you name it.

And hey, I may have six-month-old twins and a three-year-old but I am not so different from many busy mothers out there, and I know it. In fact in the past few months I have gained even more mad respect for all the stay-at-home moms I know who toil through these emotional and tedious and beautiful days for years on end.

I am also blessed to have loads of help, with part-time childcare for Silas, and my husband’s shifts allowing him to be home during the day.

But for me, one of the hardest things about maternity leave is when the fatigue and the feeling of being needed 24/7 wears you down so that you stop caring. You stop caring about what you look like, what you are putting in your mouth, and how much you are exercising. Two babies crying frantically can raise anyone’s blood pressure. Add a “Mooooommmm! I need you!” and burning supper, and you suddenly find yourself mindlessly pounding Skittles or Decadent cookies and pouring yet another coffee.

Getting myself on a workout routine and eating better has absolutely changed how I respect and care for my body and my health. It has been about so much more than losing pounds or inches, it has been about taking control over one aspect of my life when most others are truly dictated by my children and their ever-evolving needs.

Over the past three weeks, I have cut all the garbage and “treats” I had started to lean on way too much to get through the day (and night). Filling up on veggies, protein, complex carbs and healthy fats has provided me with stable energy throughout the day, and I rarely feel ravenous!

Taking part in HIIT workouts at 3rd Degree Training gets me out of the house and into an energy-filled environment where it’s impossible not to leave in a better mood. By attending just four classes a week since late February, I am already starting to feel stronger. I’m excited to see how much progress I make by the end of this eight-week bootcamp.

My goal is not to be skinny; it’s to be a happy, healthy mom better able to take the ups and downs of parenting three young children. I love myself more when I feel healthy and strong. These days with my three little ones are fleeting and I don’t want to waste them in a fog, if I can help it.

What is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)?

For the past couple of weeks , I have been focusing solely on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) at 3rd Degree Training to get myself back in shape. This is a very popular form of exercise these days, but what is it exactly and how is it effective? Is it helpful for runners? I’ve asked Kevin McEachern, a personal trainer and the owner of the Saint John studio, to explain.

Q: What is high intensity interval training?

A: HIIT is a training technique which alternates moderate-to-high intensity exercise with rest and active rest periods.

Q: Why is it beneficial?

A: There are a number of reasons, but in general, HIIT works because it a) allows more work to be done in less time (i.e. more energy burned DURING workouts) and b) increases metabolism to a far greater extent than low-intensity exercise (i.e. more energy burned for up to 48 hours AFTER a workout).

Q: What kind of exercises does it entail?

A: In theory, HIIT can include virtually any body movements (provided you are working hard enough to achieve your anaerobic threshold). In other words, if you are out of breath – or close to it – between rest periods of your workout, you’re doing HIIT.

Q: How do repetitions and breaks help burn calories and build muscle?

A: A well-designed HIIT program will enable you to burn as many calories as possible during the workout, and boost your metabolism dramatically – provided you hit the gym at least 3-4 times per week. Although HIIT can technically be done with strictly cardio movements, we feel that a more holistic approach including muscle-building moves (such as squats and pushups) is the best approach for long-term functional fitness.

Q: How is this different from the workout you would get by going for a run?

A: Firstly, running may not necessarily be intense enough to reach your anaerobic threshold (unless it is a speed interval or tempo session). In addition, running is a repetitive motion targeting relatively few muscle groups. It tends to build a highly specialized fitness that is good for running, but somewhat less useful in everyday life. A good HIIT program provides a more dynamic, full body workout that builds overall strength, stability and balance useful in any number of scenarios.

Q: Do you need to have experience at a gym to take part?

A: Absolutely not! Functional fitness by definition includes movements the body is designed to do. Our trainers and Motivators are there with you every step of the way teaching you proper form and suggesting modifications. The fact that our training uses body weight simplifies things and each participant works at his/her own capability; no more, no less.

Q: How many calories would someone burn in a typical workout?

A: Approximately 400-500 for most people in a 30-40 minute session.

Q: For someone like me hoping to get back into distance running, how could this help?

A: Strengthening the hips, glutes and core is important for everyday mobility as well as long-term sport-specific injury prevention.