Author: Nathan Marsala

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Our Stories


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I have many thoughts on the stories we tell ourselves and this short post is not all inclusive of these thoughts but what is on my mind this morning.

Mind over matter is a real thing, the placebo and nocebo effect are real and have been studied a lot over the years. So what does the placebo effect have to do with our everyday lives? We convince ourselves everyday of things that may or may not be true, and we change reality based on the stories we tell ourselves about things that happened in the past that we carry with us, or we tell a story about the rude person in line at the coffee shop this morning that cut in front of us. The story becomes our reality when in fact it may not be reality at all. 

Nassim Taleb shares a quip about how news pundits will go on the air shocked that a stock or tanked or the market soared to new levels and the pundits claim they don’t understand why the market did the what it did. Often their expert guests will use words like “this makes no sense to us Jim, none of our models predicted this type of market reaction” Taleb points out that reality is correct, the market being discussed is reality and it does make sense. But, the story, the reality, the experts were telling themselves was incorrect. In a scenario like this we see the experts puzzled and trying to get their story to fit into the actual reality that does not agree with their story. Their story must change if they want to understand why the market did what it did. While this may be a little less direct example for many of us on how our stories can impact us. Let’s look a little closer to home.

Back to the person who cut in line at the coffee shop that we now are dwelling on, raising our blood pressure and getting negative mindset over. Our story, they are rude and think they are better than us because they have a Louis Vuitton bag. Ugh. Was this person really entitled? Or did they just get a speeding ticket on the way to get coffee for the boss who just yelled at them for being late and their morning is off to a bad start, the LV bag is a nock off and while they were reading the nasty text from their boss while walking up to the cue they simply didn’t see you at the back of the line. It could be an honest mistake they were never aware of making. One story provides fodder to lament, be stressed and frustrated and ruin a good part of the day and will impact how we treat and react to others. The other story creates empathy and understanding and may help you be grateful your day is off to a better start. So what is the story? 

It would be wise for us to become aware of the stories we tell ourselves or in some cases that we have been telling ourselves for years and even decades. If they are not accurate stories, and chances are the story is only one perspective of many. If the story does not help us but hurts us then it is time to re-evaluate the story and change it. Stories are strong and powerful and used convey messages and lessons. When we consider the power of the placebo and nocebo effect and how that the placbo and nocebo effect is just a story someone told us that created a physical manifestation. We should consider the placebos we give ourselves or the nocebos and how they can change things for us. How we feel, how we act in relationships, the stress we feel physically and mentally. Like the market example above our stories can have a compounding impact over time in the quality of our life and where we end up. 

Step back and look at the stories you tell yourself. Can you change them? Are they helping you or hurting you? I was 300 pounds and out of shape and depressed a decade ago, fighting a loosing battle, loosing a little only be heavier and more depressed three months later. There was a story I told myself that enabled me to get to that point in my life and to live that cycle over and over again. A story full of shame, guilt, and being insufficient, never being enough. When I changed my story and learned to see things differently my life changed too. I lost the added 110 pounds, I became a much happier and more fulfilled person. Stress and anxiety went away, my relationships improved with the people around me, my confidence grew more and more. They story I have today is much different. I had to let the old story that wasn’t helping me go. The story had to change as part of my journey.

Behavior Change, Lifestyle, Transformation

Habits Equals Success


Success in meeting our goals in life whether that be our weight, our lean muscle mass, our retirement or writing a blog comes from a simple formula. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, execution and follow through can be tough. We are all human and we all fail from time to time, even the best of the best are not perfect so please keep that in mind while we look at this  simple formula that helps people reach their goals. 

Here it is: Establish good habits! That’s it. Allow me to expound on how good habits allow us to reach our goals and find success. Let’s break this down. I didn’t say bad habits or wrong habits or just habits. I said “good” habits. Often the thing that takes us away from where we want to be with our health or any other goal is an incongruent habit. This does not mean the habit is bad in moral or ethical way, although it could be. It simple means it is not aligned with what we want and in this context I would define a bad habit as any habit that doesn’t serve you and where you want to be. Staying up late binge watching the latest Netflix series to me is a bad habit because I value the quality and quantity of my sleep and how that quality sleep impacts my health. The nightly Netflix binge also takes me away from reading and learning, which is something else that I value and enjoy. This does not mean that I don’t watch any TV or that I haven’t binged a series until midnight –– see above about not being perfect –– however is not my habit, or my default.

Habits are just that, our default behavior that takes place when there is a trigger or a cue. It can be walking into a dark room and you turn on the light switch 99% of the time. That is habit. dark room, switch, you and voila the lights are turned on. It can be the routine you use before bed, the route to take home from work or the store. These all become default habits. Some are great, some not so great and others can be indifferent. To reach our goals with our health we need to set up good habits that serve our health goals. 

Here are some areas that we can improve our habits that will pay off over time. After all, a habit is doing something consistently over time, which is also the definition I use for compliance. 

Consider your habits around the following things and ask if they are truly serving you, if not ask how can you improve them in small ways. 

Evening routine 

Bed time 

Morning routine 

How you eat your meals 

When you eat your meals 

Do you have a snack – if so why and what 

Workouts 

Moving frequently during the day

Going for a walk after dinner 

Going for a walk in the morning 

Meal prepping

Meditation and mindfulness 

Spending time with friends and family

The list can go on an on. The key point is to be intentional about the things you do and to build a good habits around them. The good habits will become the default and it will require less thinking and will power. The good habit becomes automatic like turning on the light switch and the benefits compound over time. Just remember bad habits compound over time as well. So take some time and evaluate some habits you may want to add, to change or to remove from your life and apply intention + consistency + time and you will get where you want to go. 

Habits take time to develop and it’s okay to start small, it’s okay to tinker with them until they work for you. And always enjoy the journey along the way and give yourself the permission and self love to know that you are not perfect and that progress is better than regression and stagnation. 

Best. 

Nathan Marsala | PHC 

Bison Health Coaching

Behavior Change, Lifestyle, Transformation

Getting Started


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A question I seem to get a lot is, Where do I start? With all of the information that is available and all of the “changes” that may or may not need to be made it can become overwhelming. Starting with an all or nothing approach can be for you if you are that person. Most of us are not, and we need to pick one item and ease into the changes.

I am an advocate of the minimum effective dose (MED) to make a positive change. The MED for week one is only becoming aware of the behaviors that you currently have. I am not saying you obsess over these items, but merely become informed. An example would be with food and meal frequency. I recommend that you write down everything you eat and drink and the time for one week, you do not need to count macronutrients or calories, this is just to become aware of the choices and decisions we make. If carrying a notebook is too much, use the camera on your smartphone and before anything enters your mouth snap a picture. The phone will time stamp and show quantity, and it is simple. This is a MED to become aware of one habit. After we have been able to bring awareness to the meal timing, and content we can then begin to work on making the positive changes.
Typically the next step would be to purge the pantry of any processed food, vegetable oils, sugars, and other simple carbohydrates and to go grocery shopping for real, whole foods. I emphasize green leafy vegetables, some fruit in season that is fresh for a sweet tooth, healthy meats and fats. We work on merely eating these foods over processed foods. Timing, quantity, and frequency will come next. Again each approach is tailored to the individual and what they can take on. For some, it may be easier to go all in and attack all aspects in one step. Understanding how much to change to take on at one time is something you need to play with to determine what the MED is for you. I don’t want clients to be starving or hungry at first. I want them to start focussing on better food choices. As quality foods become a natural part of their lifestyle, then we can start working on the MED for other aspects of health. These would be meal timing, quantity, understanding the difference between satiated and stuffed. After food, we focus on sleep, movement, exercise and stress resiliency. Regaining our health does not happen overnight, in a week or a month. It is a process that takes time. The time required is different for each person, and it has a lot to do with how long a person has been living in a way that was opposed to health. My journey back to health took over a year to get to a healthy weight and as my knowledge expanded so did the time it took. My weight loss and return to health were non-linear, and I am still working on making consistent changes as my goals and understanding progress. The principle of MED has not changed and is still there.

So where do we start? With becoming aware of what needs to change and then taking the minimum effective dose to start making that change.

By: Nathan Marsala

Behavior Change, Wellness

Finding Movement in the Day


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Part of a healthy lifestyle is moving our bodies and the benefits are enormous. While we think of movement primarily as exercise – going to the gym, getting out for a run, a bike ride, or a yoga class – movement is more than structured activities. Both exercise and movement are essential parts of health and here is why I advocate for doing both. Exercise usually has more structure to it, like a class (spin, yoga, boot camp, CrossFit) or some specific element of cardio for a particular distance or time (going for a run, elliptical, bike ride) or it can look like a weight lifting session. All of these are good things, and we should seek to make them to our routine. Where movement differs from exercise is in the lack of structure. Movement is often a bit more sporadic and sprinkled in throughout the day–movement is the smaller things that keep us from being too sedentary during the day. This is playing with kids, standing, walking, opening doors, it takes many forms. Often we go to the gym, and we get an hour or so of exercise in and we think we have done our part, that we have “moved.” Then we proceed to sit in our cars on our way to work, sit at our desks and then sit in our cars on the way home from work. We sit at dinner and to read or watch TV. “Sitting is the new smoking” has been a popular phrase recently, and with stand up desks being a new rage we are trending in a better direction. Full disclosure, I use both. But, standing stationary all day is not much different than sitting all day. There are times to sit and times to stand, times to exercise and times to move.
The need for movement is important and while no job is perfect, jobs that involve skilled labor and reduce the amount of time one sits during the day does have an advantage since movement is built into part of their day. This does not imply that someone should change jobs, but it is an option and in some circumstances, a career or job change can provide be a step in a healthier direction. I often think back to the years I spent working as a finish carpenter, it was constant movement, with and without a load, up and down and all around. It felt pretty darn good too. Today my environment has changed, as it has for many of us, and we need to adapt and learn to move within these changes. I am at a desk a lot, more than I have ever been, which has made getting movement more difficult. For a while, I struggled to “find” movement in my day.

These are some tips that I use, and that I have seen others use, to find places to add more movement into my day.
I do have a sit-stand desk, and I do not sit or stand all day, I rotate between the two. When I am standing I am often moving around a bit, shifting weight, this an excellent place for a balance or wobble board as well, personally I have a Plane by Fluid Stance.
When I am standing and need a file, I squat down to open the drawer instead of bending over. I make sure I give my brain a break every 50 minutes and take that moment to walk around, sometimes I go to the stairwell and go up and down a flight of stairs or two.
Taking the stairs is another great way to find more movement. Don’t use the elevator if you don’t have to, or alternate between the stairs and the elevator. I am on the 9th floor of my building, some days I use only the stairs, other days I may take the elevator to the third or the fourth floor and then use the stairs depending on the time I have. I park at the far end corner of the lot as well, adding distance means I have to walk. I park far from almost anywhere I go into to add an element of walking (my wife kids me, saying that I park equal distance from our house to the store). I try to use the manual doors as well. I go for a quick walk around the block during lunch. If I have a long call to be on and the weather is permitting I take the call on my cell phone outside while walking around. I add push-ups to my routine whenever I change my clothes (except at the gym) twice a day, it gives me a chance to move a little more. I add body weight squats here and there. I start my mornings walking our dog around the block. Playing with your kids can be another great way to move. So can dancing around the house while listening to music. Cooking a meal from scratch is also a way to add some more movement and have a better meal, this one is a win-win.

Bike Ride
Biking to work.

Be creative with your environment and find what works for you. Adding more movement to your day requires some self-experimentation. If something doesn’t work well for you feel free to modify it or abandon it and do something different. I like making some things a little harder to get to, just a bit out of the way, even in my home–it forces movement, but there is a balance with this approach. When forming a new habit or creating a routine, one key element is how convenient it is. The more convenient, the easier it is to add the new routine, the more inconvenient, the less likely it will get done. The ease of the task helps break a habit or routine that you want to eliminate.

Habit stacking can be a trick to help add some small movements; it is a tool I use personally and with clients. Recall the pushups I do when I change clothes, that is habit stacking, My cue to do push-ups, (25 if you are wondering), is changing my clothes. The bedroom and act changing my clothes is a daily habit I already have. It can also be something like walking into your office and then doing a few bodyweight goblet squats before sitting at the desk. I have a cup I keep at my desk for water, it is not a big 32oz mega cup I see many others use. It is 14oz; this is intentional. It means I have to refill it many times during the day. Which forces me to walk, adding a bit more movement in my day I would not otherwise get.

Have fun with finding movement in your day, structured exercise is excellent for the mind and body, but movement during the day is also an essential component to a healthy life, be creative in finding ways to move more during the day and have fun in the process of discovering how many new ways you can move.

Recap of Ideas and Ways to Add Movement
– Take the stairs
– Park further away
– Take a mental break from work and to walk
– Add some push-ups or squats
– Use manual doors
– Cook meals from scratch
– Play with kids
– Chores – make them a movement game
– Gardening and yardwork
– Shovel the snow with a shovel
– Go for a walk
– Play with your pets, if you have one
– Alternate sitting and standing
– Use balance and wobble boards
– Climb a tree
– Play on the playground – I love this one, playing on the playground with my daughter is always fun
– Ride a bike
– Have fun and be creative, find small places to habit stack.

 

By Nathan Marsala | Primal Health Coach

Wellness

The Need for Sleep


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Sleep – That thing we all do every single day but give little thought too.
Sleep – That thing that sometimes we feel gets in our way and robs us of our time to do other things.
Sleep – That thing that is vitally important to our health and wellbeing and without it we do not function at our best.
Sleep – That thing like air, water, and food that will cause death when a abstained from for too long.

Sleep is a fascinating thing that we do. We spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, seemingly doing nothing. It is perhaps this thought that leads many of us to sacrifice a good nights sleep in the name of conquering bigger to-do lists. The lack of sleep has bee worn as a badge of honor in many workplaces, somehow seen as a sign of being a hyper-achiever. But sleep is not nothing, and it is not something that we “just” do. No. A good nights sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. Without a good nights sleep, we are less productive, less creative, have less energy and yes, a lot less healthy.

It is during this seven to nine hours of each day for adults, longer if you are a child or teenager. That our body gets a reboot, it receives the recovery that its needs from a hard days work, it is when the brain gets its refresh if you will cleaning out all of the days build up of plaques and uploading what we learned to long term storage. It is when our hormones get a good reset. Two hormones that many people seem to fight a lot like leptin and ghrelin are reset during sleep; these two hormones regulate our appetite, the former signaling us when we are satiated and the latter when we are hungry. Sleep affects our mood, our ability to focus and to take charge of the day and too often it is ignored.

We need to stop ignoring it and start treating a good nights sleep as an essential and integral part of our health that it is. A good nights sleep is both a matter of the quantity of sleep we get and the quality of sleep we get. The quantity is pretty easy, for most you reading this, that is going to be somewhere between seven to nine hours a night. For those of you who think you do fine on only six hours or even fewer than six hours of sleep. The research begs to differ. I will concede there may be in the extremely rare genetic anomaly among this audience. But by extremely rare I mean extremely rare and you are probably not it. We often do not notice the decline in our cognitive abilities as our sleep deteriorates, we get used to the new normal if you will, but while test subjects often feel they have better functions on this six hours of sleep model, their test results show otherwise. So aim for the seven minimum hours and error on the side of caution and go for the eight. This time does not include the time in bed falling asleep either, which for most people is around 20 minutes. So remember the amount of time spent in bed is not the same as the time sleeping.

Many things can affect our sleep quality and quantity, and many of these items are low hanging fruit. The low hanging fruit that we have control over most days is the amount of blue light we are exposed to in the evening after the sun sets, that amount of caffeine we have and when we consume it, the number of hours we give ourselves to be asleep and when we stop feeding ourselves during the day. We also have control over keeping our routine, a routine for all seven days of the week. And the environment we sleep in, like how dark it is and what temperature the room is at.

Blue Light Exposure
Blue lights are emitted from the screens we watch, TV’s, smartphones, tablets and even some of the CFL and LED light bulbs we have in our homes can be on the cool side and emitting blue light. This blue light is the same blue light that the sun shines down on us that sets our circadian rhythms. We want blue light exposure early in the morning, preferably from the sun and not the phone. In the evening we want to prevent the blue light exposure, exposure keeps the melatonin from ramping up. We need melatonin production to kick up in the evening to signal to our body that its time for sleep. We can reduce or eliminate this exposure by using apps or blue light blocking glasses when we need to, but it is best to turn off screens altogether about 90 minutes before going to bed. Use this time to unwind in other restorative ways, having a friendly conversation, journaling with a pen and paper, reading a book – not on a Kindle or iPad. Be creative with this time, turn the lights down and use lamps, set the mood it is time for bed and the day is over.

Environment
Our bedroom is a critical part of this puzzle to a good nights sleep. A dark room without lights or alarm clocks glowing helps us get a much deeper sleep. The temperature is also important as our body temperature drops slightly at night. Remove the screens and any device that makes light from the room or use a dark tape to tape over the power light indicator. Use blackout shades and curtains to block outside street lights and turn the thermostat down to around 65 degrees.

Timing
Getting the quantity of sleep we need requires some timing and planning on our part. Plan on being done with meals and any other food intake a couple of hours before bed to help our body temperature drop and to give our metabolism a break for the evening so the body can focus on restoring not digesting. It also means looking at what time you need to be somewhere in the morning and how long you need for your morning routine. For example: If work starts at 9:00 AM and your morning routine and commute account for two hours then you need to rise at 7:00 am, so bedtime is 10:30 PM, screens are off at 9:00 PM and dinner were done by 7:30 PM.

Routine
We want to establish a daily routine we can live by most days, that does not mean only Monday through Friday and take the weekends off. That means as much as possible we want to sick the routine for the time we go to sleep and the time we get up in the morning. Over time this routine helps our body naturally find its rhythm for sleeping and being awake. Getting up only for work and then sleeping in on the weekends hurts our circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.

While much of this is not too difficult to do, yes it means we need to adjust a habit or two, the harder request is to make this routine seven days a week now. That’s right, go to bed and wake up each night, including the weekends at the same time. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help your body get into the zone for going to bed and rising, it will allow for waking without an alarm clock, you will also awaken more energetic and more refreshed when you are in a rhythm and can awaken on your own without an alarm clock.

A quick recap – Good sleep –quality + quantity – is essential, it is an integral part of being healthy, and without it, our health suffers. To get a good nights sleep, we can do the following:

Wake up and get some sun on the face
Stop caffeine at an appropriate time of day
Don’t eat too late, especially heavy meals
Turn off our screens 90 minutes before bed
Sleep in a dark, cool room.
Make our bedtime and wake up time a daily habit.

By Nathan Marsala

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