Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Self-Compassion Based Eating Awareness Training

By Sophia

The research into the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of self-compassion is piling up: More than 400 studies and dissertations have been published since Kristin Neff, PhD, broke ground on the topic in 2003. Self-compassion—being as kind to yourself as you would a dear friend—turns out to be helpful for everything from lessening susceptibility to PTSD to soothing stress for mothers of autistic children.

And self-compassion can help with weight loss by reconnecting us with our bodies in a kind and nonjudgmental way. If you struggle with overeating, you're probably locked into hand-to-mouth combat with your body: angry with it, mentally disconnected from it, not hearing the messages it sends you. Self-compassion is a route to reconnecting with our bodies and learning to love, respect, and listen to them. And that, research finds, helps people lose weight.

I first learned about self-compassion from Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW, a Harvard-affiliated psychotherapist and author of The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-By-Step Program to Lose Weight With Loving Kindness. Fain is anti-diet when it comes to our traditional approach of deprivation and scolding, which doesn't do anything to change our relationship with food. Fain's approach is not about denial. She wants us to eat delicious, nutritious food mindfully and in moderation, eating when we're hungry and stopping when we're sated. "Honoring your hunger is essential," she says.

Fain conducts group Self-Compassion-Based Eating Awareness Training in her hometown of Concord, Mass., and online, via Skype. Now you can also download audio of the training, eight recorded sessions plus homework.

Meditation and mindfulness are major players in the program. Fain guides you through mindful eating of various snacks; most sessions require you come prepared with specific foods. And you'll have homework: reading and meditations. Body image is also part of the program, and meditations and exercises help and encourage us to value the body we have.

In her gentle, hypnotic voice (she's also a hypnotherapist), Fain has us evaluate our level of self-compassion; teaches us how to recognize different kinds of hunger, when we're hungry and when we're full; explains taste-specific satiety—that is, when we've had enough of a particular flavor to feel satisfied. One reason we tend to overeat at buffets is because of the variety of foods available; when we are sated on one taste, other foods still look delicious, whether or not we are still hungry.

I don't have a particular problem with overeating but I do tend to eat crazy fast, and this program caused me to analyze that. I realized that the texture of food is as important to me as the flavor and so sometimes I gobble because once a food is chewed, it's not so interesting anymore. I want to get to the next fresh bite. I'm also trying to be more mindful of physical versus emotional hunger; those times when I try to sate boredom with chips.

Unfortunately, just knowing these things doesn't guarantee change. I have to exercise the discipline of mindful eating every day if it's ever to become second nature. And that's the real challenge here. 

The lessons, meditations, exercises, and homework are interesting and eye-opening, but you have to stick with the program. Then you have take the lessons with you into your day-to-day life. The real change comes when you're on your own, looking at full bag of chips or a pint of Hagen Daz or a wheel of Brie or whatever your hardest-to-resist temptations are. 

Staying the course--even making it through all eight lessons--when you're going it alone on a program like this takes discipline. For that reason, taking one of Fain's classes might be more productive: nothing like accountability to keep you on-task.

Still, at $75, the training is a bit of an investment, and you may find that is motivation enough to stick with it. And if you come out of the program with nothing more than an awareness of how and when you struggle in your relationship with food, then you've gained a lot. After all, that's what mindfulness is. Just planting that seed in your brain might someday grow new, healthier eating habits after all.

To learn more about Jean Fain and purchase the recorded eating-awareness training, visit

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Arthritis RX

WHO CAN DO THIS: This is designed for people suffering from arthritis, so it is necessarily gentle.

THE BREAKDOWN: Vijay Vad, M.D., who based this program on yoga and Pilates, conducted clinical trials on it and says in the intro that participants had reduced pain in knees and hips and were able to cut down on pain meds. So that's cool.

You can start by watching the tutorial presented by Dr. Vad, but this is the most disappointing segment. While he explains what various movements are good for and generally how to do them, he does not address safety — for example, how to protect your neck during crunches, or the risk in putting sideways pressure on the knee joint in tree pose.

The exercises themselves are a three-part program. The 18-minute beginner segment focuses on flexibility. Done mostly on the floor and very slowly, it includes some twists, lots of arm raises for shoulder mobility and core strength, inner thigh stretches, and very easy standing poses including a tree pose keeping the raised foot lightly on the floor for balance.

The intermediate segment, 20 minutes, is for strength. It also starts on the floor and includes leg raises, gentle abdomen crunches, and back strengtheners interspersed with stretches. Standing poses also include some gentle side leg lifts, and another tree pose, this time with the foot lifted.

The 16-minutes advanced segment aims for endurance. It starts with the Pilates move the hundred, with rests between each 10 arm pumps. Crunches, bicycles, leg circles, one-legged bridge poses, a very gentle chair pose and more, done slowly and deliberately, provide challenge without taxing joints. And yes, I did all three segments and yes, I got a moderate workout on this last one.

A bonus segment includes tutorials for movements to help ease arthritis pain in specific body parts: neck, thumb, toe, shoulder, low back, ankle.

All the exercises are valid, they're gentle, they address all the necessary body parts, and I have no reason to doubt their efficacy. 

THE SWEAT FACTOR: Unless you've been seriously sedentary for a long time, you're unlikely to sweat during the beginner and intermediate segments. You might however get a glow in the advanced segment

BUT IS IT FUN? If you've been severely limited by arthritis pain, the fun should be in regaining mobility, movement, and hopefully, less need for pain pills.

WHEN IT'S OVER: Maybe a little looser, a little stronger? Every day in ever way...

GEAR AND APPAREL: A mat or carpeted floor.

FINAL WORD: Movement is good for arthritis, we know that. But if your arthritis has been limiting or made you fearful, this DVD is a great way to ease slowly into getting your body moving again.

(Oh, and it seems a little unkind for Acadia, the company that distributes this DVD, to load the intro up with clips from all kinds of workouts that people with arthritis can't do. Just skip those.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Barre Fitness with Jessica Smith

THE WORKOUT: Barre Fitness with Jessica Smith  ($14.95, In Wellness Systems LLC)


WHO CAN DO THIS: You'll need good balance and enough experience to protect your back during some of the moves in these mostly low-impact workouts.

THE BREAKDOWN: Three 20 minute workouts—cardio, standing, and floor—are based on ballet moves. Lots of turnout, pointed toes, relev├ęs, arabesques, and graceful arm movements (considerably more graceful when Jessica does them than when I do) require strong core, arms, legs and even feet. The cardio segment has high-impact options.

Jessica is a real charmer and currently my favorite fitness pro. A trained dancer, she makes everything look easy and it’s not, but she does it with a smile and no preening so I never feel like a clod even as I flail and wobble. The cardio segment is most challenging of the three for me; my arabesque combination is not something to which I would want witnesses. I particularly like Barre Burn, the standing segment, because I usually find working with weights tedious and this is a pleasantly fresh approach.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: Ballerinas only look like they're floating on air. This is all hard work. And it's not even real ballet.

BUT IS IT FUN? It is, although I enjoy the floor and standing strength workouts more than the cardio because I'm such a klutzy ballerina. But I hope to master it someday.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You will feel it, shoulders to toes.

GEAR AND APPAREL: All three segments are done barefoot. The standing segment uses light weights and a sturdy chair, the floor work uses a small soft ball or a pillow.

FINAL WORD: This one is in heavy rotation for me these days; a new favorite.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Elements of Yoga With Tara Lee


WHO CAN DO THIS:  These three DVDs (sold separately) can build a yoga practice, as long as you already know the basics, since form is not discussed. Earth is aimed at beginners, Air & Water take it up a notch; Fire is for intermediate and advanced yogis.

THE BREAKDOWN: Each of these three DVDs has three practices to be done one at a time or all together. Earth is basic, with lots of slow, deep stretches; Air & Water requires a little more strength and includes a lot of twists and some balance; Fire requires strength and stamina, with lots of planks and binds.

Tara Lee is calming in voiceover. She doesn’t provide instruction on form as much as yoga talk what opening the body can do for the mind and how fire in the belly can provide strength and motivation.

Earth and Air & Water are in a pretty lakeside setting (a flock of white birds that flies by is a nice touch); Fire in done at night, lit by flaming pots.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: The first practices of Earth and Air & Water are gentle and you probably won’t work up a sweat, but the other practices on each add a little more challenge. Fire starts energetically and just gets harder. I had to throw in several unauthorized child’s poses to catch my breath and give my muscles a break, and at some points all I could do was laugh. You want me to do what?

BUT IS IT FUN? I love Earth and Air & Water and they have gone into heavy rotation. Fire is too challenging to qualify as fun for me, though I might do the first two practices when I feel like working hard.

WHEN IT'S OVER: Doing all three practices of Earth or Air & Water leaves me feeling calm and loose and I sleep well those nights. All three parts of Fire leave me panting and drenched in sweat.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Mat and optional block.

FINAL WORD: Air and Earth are two of my new favorite DVDs. I respect the Fire DVD and it’s every bit as good, but it is a workout to which I can only aspire at the moment.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Zayna Gold Healing Through Movement

Today I have a guest post from my friend (and first editor) Nancy Kruh. I sent Nancy this DVD because she maintains a regular fitness program but also has had health problems that made her a perfect candidate to test this out. Thanks Nancy!

THE WORKOUT: Zayna Gold Healing Through Movement (Boston Body, $19.95)


WHO CAN DO THIS: Anybody, but it's tailored for people suffering from irritable bowel disorder (IBD) and other chronic digestive disorders.

THE BREAKDOWN: An IBD sufferer herself, Zayna is a Pilates instructor with studios in Boston and other DVDs to her credit. She created this video for people who may not feel like exercising but want to anyway, and for that alone, it's a creative and much-needed product. I've battled gastrointestinal distresses over the years, but -- full disclosure -- I tried out the video when I was feeling fine, so I had to keep a mindset about its purpose as I exercised. What I found was a good balance between caution and challenge. I felt like I'd had a workout, but it definitely didn't do me in, which is the sort of exercise I'm looking for if I don't feel well. It's also the sort of exercise that can help me feel better.

The 45-minute program is divided into four parts: upper body, lower body, full body (which combines the movements of the first two), and a core workout. The movements are mostly traditional exercises -- bicep curls, presses, squats, lunges. Because doing exercises while lying down can be painful for IBD sufferers, you're standing for all the exercises in the first three parts.

Zayna offers a calming, healing presence during the exercises, and she places a huge emphasis on breathing, which definitely helps the body relax and get the full benefit of the movements. This video is touted as Pilates-based, and it works the core, but if you're expecting any attention to flexibility, you'll be disappointed. In her intro, she stresses the importance of keeping the spine "supple and flexible," but there is no stretching in the entire video and only one exercise that requires even the slightest twist of the spine.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: A light glow. More if you choose to repeat any of the parts, as she suggests you do.

BUT IS IT FUN? Only in an "it's good for you" way.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You feel like you've accomplished something, which is a good feeling if you're feeling bad.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Comfortable clothes. Optional: hand weights (you pick the poundage) and mat or towel (for the core workout).

FINAL WORD: You'll probably get the most out of it if you're not feeling well. Otherwise, pick something with more spunk to it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ellen Barrett Live Fusion Floor Workout

THE WORKOUT: Ellen Barrett Live Fusion Floor Workout (Buff Girl Fitness, $15)


WHO CAN DO THIS: Anyone—provided beginners don’t expect to complete all reps of all movements. It’s not as easy as you might imagine.

THE BREAKDOWN: Just because this entire workout is done on the floor doesn’t mean you won’t work hard. This is an extremely creative 40 minutes—even familiar stuff is given a twist. For example, instead of doing full pushups the regular way, you do them one arm/side at a time, keeping the other side low and working pecs, lats, deltoids and probably more. Moves all work multiple body parts and are flowing and repetitive; they stretch and strengthen simultaneously, and they feel good while they work you out.

Lots of these exercises are done leaning on one or both hands. Pay particular attention to Ellen’s instructions about distributing your weight across your entire hand so you don’t end up with wrist pain.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: Keep up with Ellen—who is cheerful and friendly without being frenetic—and you should sweat.

BUT IS IT FUN? The novelty makes it fun.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You might be surprised by how well worked out you feel.


FINAL WORD: Having adopted a standing desk about a year ago, I’m ready to sit down by the end of the day, when I usually work out. This DVD will probably get a lot of use.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pilates Towel Workout for Strength & Mobility

THE WORKOUT: Pilates Towel Workout for Strength & Mobility



THE BREAKDOWN: This is a lot more mobility than strength, unless it’s been a very, very long time since you’ve done anything harder than sitting, in which case you might get a bit of a core workout.

The towel adds extra stability and resistance to side stretches, sit-ups, hip openers, and leg lifts in this very gentle 30-minute workout. Moira Merrithew, who with her husband developed a system called Stott Pilates, talks mostly about working out morning kinks, but I sometimes do it at the end of a long day in front a computer.


BUT IS IT FUN? Stretching is always fun.

WHEN IT'S OVER: I felt a little looser around the neck and shoulders. How much you feel it will depend on how tight you are and how long it’s been since you’ve moved around like this.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Mat and a towel that’s maybe four feet long.

FINAL WORD: A perfect slow start if you’re fixin’ to start thinking about maybe embarking on a fitness program.