In case it’s not apparent to everyone, I have a little bit of an obsession with cashew cheesecakes at the moment. Needless to say that I have tonnes of cashews coming out my ears at home. I have tried a few chocolate mousse recipes (see here) but this time I wanted something that was going to be really filling and give me a little bit of energy- mainly so that I would have an excuse to argue it’s appropriateness as a suitable breakfast food with my mother who is getting pretty good at discrediting most of my food choices:
“Didn’t you have pancakes yesterday?”
“But they’re PALEO, they have good protein!”
“Are you eating a chocolate tart for breakfast?”
“It’s pretty much all nuts!… No sugar, I swear!”
You can see what I mean…
However, this chocolate “mousse” is packed with cashews, which are definitely a healthy breakfast choice!
Cashews are full of protein, but are less fatty than many of their nutty counterparts, and the majority of their fat is unsaturated and comes in the form of oleic acid which promotes good cardiovascular health. Just a quarter of a cup (so about the size of one small serving of this mousse) also provides for 25% of your daily magnesium needs (which is a big one for those with muscular pain, menstrual cramps, and chronic pain issues like Fibromyalgia), as well as 28% of your RDI for tryptophan and 37% of your RDI for copper .
Bananas are a great source of readily available carbohydrate to get you through the day. Plus, they are also one of the best sources of Potassium, which is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and also promotes good heart health. They also contain Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and manganese so they are definitely nutrient packed .
Coconut oil, while high in saturated fats, contains a particular type of fat- MCTs, or Medium Chain Triglycerides which are medium length fatty acids, absorbed differently than their longer counterparts. MCTs go directly from the liver to the digestive tract, and become a quick source of energy (ketone bodies), which also have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. “One study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs per day increased 24 hour energy expenditure by 5%, totalling about 120 calories per day” .
Cacao is a great source of magnesium (part of the reason we crave chocolate at that time of the month!), as well as copper, iron, calcium, zinc and potassium .
Maca is also a great ingredient to throw in your smoothies, juices, or other concoctions at that time of the month as it helps menstrual cramps. It also is used for energy, and is an ingredient promoted to patients with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) to help get them up and running  .
This is a lot more dense than your typical dairy chocolate mousse, but that’s what I love about it, as it’s filling enough that you don’t need a whole big bowl of it, and also it can be used in just about anything- on toast (like nutella), in smoothies, or any way you like! So voilà! The breakfast worthy, protein packed chocolate mousse of all chocolate mousses!
[Dairy Free] [Gluten Free] [Grain Free] [Vegan] [Raw] [Paleo] [Primal]
Serves: 5 large portions,or 8 small
Time: 5 minutes
2 cups cashews, soaked
2 frozen bananas
2/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp stevia
2 TBSP agave
3 TBSP coconut oil
1 tsp maca root powder
I also wanted something energetic to help get me on a good morning buzz so decided to add a little Maca root powder to my juice which was an amazing addition!
So I decided to also use up a few other yummy bits and bobs to give me the perfect breakfast juice!
for four large glasses
2 Green Apples
1 Tablespoon Maca Root Powder (or as much as you can handle if you like the flavour!)
Juice it all up and stir in the Maca powder at the end!
PS. Juice all the tangelos first so you can save their yummy pulp for some pulp baking! I froze mine, so I will share a pulp recipe with you when I figure out what to do with it!
For people with chronic pain and chronic conditions (Like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and so on), many of life’s daily routines can be a total hassle at best, and excruciatingly painful at worst. These “invisible illnesses” are often ignored because hey, if I can’t see concrete blocks weighing down your limbs, surely that means it’s all in your head.
As frustrating as it can be for the sufferer, I think it’s also important to accept that those close to them (such as family; romantic partners and friends) are entitled to feel frustrated too. It can be hard to deal with someone whose health is constantly unpredictable, and it can be very hard work if they are constantly having to “carry” a person emotionally, in terms of workload, or even literally physically.
So here are a few pointers you can use to be a better “ally” to those living with chronic conditions in your life, or if you are suffering from the conditions yourself, something you can share with your loved ones to help them understand what you’re going through.
1. Understand it is not “just in our head”
Just because you can’t see it or the source, doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. People with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia often experience pain constantly. It goes on and on and is often in the background no matter what we do. To a certain degree you learn to live with it, but there will be times when pain will flare up, on bad days, at certain times of the day, with certain activities, with stress, with certain food and so on. This pain is real and it can be debilitating. “Drama Queen” is something we hear over and over again, often from the people closest to us too. It is the most hurtful thing. We get that you can’t understand our pain, we know you can’t feel it. But please don’t dismiss it.
2. Understand that we have good days, and we have bad days
As mentioned in the first point, the pain often varies, and there are so many different reasons it can fluctuate. For me personally, people haven’t been able to understand how I can go and teach a Zumba class, and at another time have to pull out of nights out; spend the day in bed instead of getting through my To Do List and so on. Please don’t judge. Just because I can do something one minute and not the next doesn’t mean I’m faking it, or using pain as a convenient excuse. Chances are, I would actually like to feel normal and do normal people things, whether it’s going to a party or doing household chores. Don’t use this as a weapon against us.
For sufferers: Try to understand that to most people this does look like a complete contradiction, and be understanding rather than defensive when this gets brought to your attention. Also try to be reasonable to others’ requests by making sure you do make a dent on the work you need to do when you do have the energy, rather than using the good days to just live it up (though you should definitely do some of this too!).
3. Ask how you can help, and don’t push fixes down our throats
Many people experience chronic pain for years before being diagnosed and offered treatment. We find ways to get around it, manage it, or we just grin and bear it. Chances are we have tried everything, and while your input can be helpful when it comes from the right place, please don’t shove it down our throats. Also accept that it is exhausting.
(Rant warning) One thing I get all the time (because I have a lot of back pain) is my posture. Everyone feels they have a right to comment but you know what? I know. I know if I’m not sitting straight; I have spent hours and literally thousands of dollars on treatment. I have been to physios; osteopaths; chiropractors; acupuncturists… the works. I have had X-Rays, body examinations, alignments and all sorts. I know correct posture. The fact of the matter is it hurts. If you don’t know what it’s like to spend all day everyday in pain with not a single comfortable position then kindly don’t comment. If blobbing in front of the TV gives me some degree of relief for a few minutes, please let me enjoy it.
I don’t think anyone with chronic pain actually enjoys it or wants to be in pain for the rest of their lives, so trust that we will resume correct posture or look at alternative solutions shortly.
For “allies”: Ask “Can I help you with….?” before barging in (unless it’s obviously dangerous or they are audibly in pain!). If you have heard of potential solutions, ask if they would like to hear about it before giving them the sales pitch, and be prepared to accept “no” for an answer. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t need to justify it. Please don’t judge them for it.
4. …But at the same time, please let us have some shred of independence
While we do want to be asked if we need help, we don’t want to hear it every minute reminding us that we’re somehow disabled. My boyfriend is amazing. He is super helpful and often carries my bags for me, or picks me up and drops me off to prevent me having to walk with heavy bags and so on. It is something I appreciate so much and can’t thank him enough for. But I also appreciate that he lets me do my own thing. Sometimes I feel like carrying my own stuff, even if I have been in pain a bit. It might seem bloody minded, but it makes me feel that bit more in control and that also has a huge impact on my condition because…
5. Mind and body are very closely linked
Feeling in control helps me feel better, and I’ve noticed huge correlations between my pain and my mental attitude, and I know a lot of people are the same. Many of these conditions have a huge mental aspect (no that doesn’t mean we are crazy!) so a lot of situations have the capacity to dramatically affect our health both positively and negatively. Anxiety is a huge issue for many people, and particularly when chronic pain issues come into play it can wreak havoc on all sorts of bodily functions and pain.
Don’t hold us into arguments
I can’t stand conflict, and it doesn’t help that brain fog can make it really difficult and frustrating to get my points across clearly and to be understood. As a result, arguments are a nightmare. Arguments make me incredibly anxious and that has a huge effect on my body pain; fatigue; bowel and brain. If someone with chronic pain is trying to remove themselves from a conflict situation, please let them go and trust they want to address the issue to come back to it at a later point.
Support us when we get into spirals of negative self-thought
Negative self-thought goes with the territory. It is frustrating as hell to have your body unable to keep up with everything your mind wants to do, or to have your mind go foggy right when you need to focus. Everything is just that much harder, that much more time consuming, and requires that much more drive and motivation. Let us have our moments of venting, but remind us why we are awesome- sometimes we are really hard on ourselves. It’s really hard to keep up the happy spirit, but that happy spirit contributes so much to improving our condition, so sometimes we do need our friends to remind us of the great things we have accomplished and how unique we are.
6. Don’t Interrupt!
If someone in your life suffers from “brain fog” or “fibro fog” please understand that it can be really difficult to get an idea across or a sentence out straight. It might be frustrating to listen when we stumble over words or our sentences don’t quite make sense but let us get it out first, and ask for clarification if needed after. Also, if we forget a word, please don’t jump in to give it to us (half the time it’s the wrong one and just distracts us!)- we will ask if we need prompting.
7. Don’t assume we are stupid
Please. Just please. I am not unintelligent. I am just exhausted. You know when you haven’t slept all night and the work coffee machine has been out of order all month? Yes. This is me. ERRRDAY. Pain; gastro issues; restless legs and so on can make a good night’s sleep almost impossible. I think it’s understandable then that we can at times have the attention span of a fly or inability to make coherent sentences. (For eg. I just wrote: “convince” “concice” “concise” before realising ten minutes later I meant “coherent” and have made about a million typos in this post… this coming from a member of the grammar police.) I didn’t get stupid over night, I just didn’t get a good night’s sleep!
8. Don’t call us hypersensitive
Just don’t. I KNOW I am hypersensitive, everything that is wrong with my body is by definition “hypersensitive” but we don’t need you to say it (especially as it’s almost impossible to say this without it being an insult thanks to assumptions about sensitivity and femininity… and well that’s a story for another day).
9. Please respond to reasonable requests
You know how you keep blasting music while I’m studying? Or engaging in another conversation while you’re talking to me? Or you’re moving around the place doing stuff while I’m trying to keep up with you? That is impossible to follow. Multitasking is hard for most people, let alone when you can’t actually remember the last time you woke up feeling well rested. If you get asked to do something simple like turn the music off or give the person you’re speaking to your full attention for a few minutes, please do it. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but little things can really throw our concentration ten times more than for others, and even little things can make us anxious. Again, it’s about being reasonable, I’m not suggesting we should be rolled out a red carpet everywhere we walk or that you should spring to attentive attention at the snap of our fingers, but if it doesn’t hurt you, don’t kick up a fuss.
Listening is one of the most important aspects of any relationship. Just listen. Yes we can be moody, irritable, anxious, confusing and just about every other adjective under the sun. We are human. A little bit of compassion and active listening will go a really long way. This is not something easy to deal with, so just hear us out and be open to having an honest and open conversation with us. This is the absolute best and sure fire way to make sure that you are being supportive in the way that is needed, and to ensure that we are fulfilling your needs in the relationship too!
Thanks for reading guys. This is my first time posting on this issue so please feel free to let me know in the comments if you have anything you’d like to add, or any tips or amendments to make!
Image courtesy of Tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Bliss balls, nut bites, Frooze balls… what ever you want to call them, these bite sized treats come in all different varieties and are all the rage in the paleo and raw food communities… and there is a reason for that!….These delicious bites are the perfect treat or pre-workout meal. They are all paleo-friendly, as well as gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free. They are a delicious alternative to chocolate christmas truffles and can be modified with different coatings, and different varieties of nuts and berries to give a range of flavours.
These particular treats I designed for a quick energy burst, particularly as a pre-workout snack, so they do have a slightly higher calorific value than some others available but check out this goodness….
In one serving:
|-5g fat (2.4g monounsaturated)|
|-8.1g carbs (2.2g dietary fibre, 6.3g sugars)|
|-13.1% of your daily vitamin C|
Makes approx 32 balls
(I may possibly have eaten a few prior photos being taken…. for quality control purposes of course 😉 )
-150g pitted dates
-25g dried goji berries, soaked in water (approx 45g soaked)
-50g dried strawberries
-1 cup almond meal
-2 tablespoons cocoa
-1 tablespoon maca powder
-1 tablespoon agave syrup (add last, and bit by bit as you may need slightly more or less depending on water content of your nuts, dates etc.)
Dessicated coconut, cacao or cocoa powder, or OmBlog’s Real Deal Paleo Chocolate to coat.
1. Soak goji berries in water until engorged (10-20 mins)
2. Blitz nuts in a food processor till desired consistency. (I prefer small nutty chunks, but if you prefer a smooth consistency then process for longer, or substitute for almond or other nut meal)
3. Add all other ingredients, except agave, and process till well mixed
4. Finally add agave or honey slowly, bit by bit. You may need to add more or less depending on how dry your fruit and nuts are. The mixture won’t be perfectly smooth and consistent, so take a small amount and roll it into a ball to determine if it is suitable, if it is too crumbly to roll into a ball with some pressure, add a little more syrup.
5. Roll into small balls
6. If desired, roll in desiccated coconut, chopped nuts, cocoa powder or other coating. If you prefer a thicker coating of coconut or nuts you may need to roll in a small amount of water first and pack the coconut etc. as you coat it.
So those of you who have been following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram may have noticed I have decided to give the Paleo diet a go. I had previously been really sceptical of this diet, mainly as I was wary of many of the hardcore “cult-like” followers. For a number of reasons I’ve tried to give it a go, so I thought I would write a few tips on getting into this diet and what to watch out for to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success and optimal health.
1. Plan ahead
I think this is definitely the most important aspect. To get by on this diet you really need to have all of your lunches packed the night before if you are out of the house during the day. It is nearly impossible to get decent pale-friendly food out and about in New Zealand unless you want to pay a fortune to lunch at a restaurant where you can be fussy and switch out half of the items that make up your dish of choice.
2. Track your diet beforehand
I missed out on this step, but since I have been using MyFitnessPal to keep track of everything I’m eating I have been worried at some of my nutrient levels. Given that I am paying special attention to getting the right nutrients on this diet, I am sure I am doing better than I was before starting it, so I definitely think it would be handy to take stock of what you’re eating using a tool like this. Food diaries are great, but I would really advocate for an app like MyFitnessPal as it has access to a massive database which takes nutrients and macronutrient composition into account rather than just simply calories. This way you can see where you were at before, if you’re improving, or if some areas are weaker, then what foods you may need to re-incorporate into your diet or find alternatives for to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
3. Get your blood work done
Relating to the above point, I think this is a really good idea. I’ve had to get mine done for medical reasons, and they have come back with some deficiencies. I would recommend getting this done before you start so you can make sure you fit in the foods that are right for YOU (not right according to what all the hardcore believers say you must do from day 1!). Also remember that certain deficiencies can result in cravings too- eg. those low in magnesium may suffer from intense chocolate cravings. (As magnesium is mostly stored in bones and muscles it is hard to test for, so it may be worthwhile to see a Naturopathic doctor, or check out this page.) So making sure you have good nutrient levels is also essential to staying on track and not caving in to unhealthy cravings!
4. Eat ENOUGH
I can’t stress this enough. I am trying really hard to make sure I get the right amount of food but am struggling to even make 1200 calories a day, which is the lowest recommended intake (and generally only suggested for those who need to lose a lot of weight). It is incredibly hard to get the right nutrients if you’re eating so little so please make sure you are eating enough; often; and with variation. This is again where MyFitnessPal has come in extremely helpful as it reminds me that I am not eating enough and that I need to eat more given my exercise and nutritional needs.
5. Ease into it
I made the mistake of trying to go all out and cut all grains straight away. This has wrought havoc on my system, and is especially not good given interactions with medications I am having to take. So I have reintroduced whole grains a bit until I start to settle into the diet and can manage to get enough other carbohydrates into my diet. Obviously this is about being selective, so it is still a good idea to cut back on processed grains, but I think leaving some whole grains while you get used to it has been a good idea for me.
6. Recipe plan
Compile a list of easy Paleo recipes you can use and make sure you have those basic ingredients on hand. As with any restrictive diet (like gluten or dairy free), the substitutes tend to be expensive. (Like making gluten free cookies or dairy free creamy desserts). So if price is an issue for you, it is best to try to get used to the idea of not having these products. Otherwise, take a look at the recipes online like at Againstallgrain and make sure you keep stocked up with some of the alternatives like coconut oil and flour so you can turn to them when cookie cravings strike!
7. Eat Protein with breakfast
I try to do this anyway, but have found this particularly important on Paleo. I used to have eggs on toast (or bagels when I was being naughty!) which I always found gave me energy to burn until lunch time. Without the heavy carbs filling you up it is harder to feel full, so make sure you get a big plate with lots of variety. I tried
8. Listen to your body
Listening to your body is so important. Try to eat regularly throughout the day (rather than the standard three meals) but make sure you listen to your body. If it’s hungry, feed it. I think the biggest mistake people make with dieting is thinking that they can do just the same as everyone else. Whether it’s for health, or lifestyle change, or fat loss, people make the assumption that just because someone else can do it, they can to. Our bodies are all different, with different stories. I discovered that cutting all grains drastically wasn’t working for me, so I altered it. I think being kind to your body and listening to what it’s telling you is far more important than being able to say that you stuck to a certain diet to the T.
Your body does so much for you- take care of it! Me starting on this Paleo adventure is part of my attempt to heal my body, but of course it isn’t for everyone. I just put these tips together to help remind others who may be considering a Paleo lifestyle that it pays to be careful and to listen to what your body needs. This is especially difficult when certain diets become fashionable or fad-like and everybody seems to be giving contradictory information, so I just wanted to share my thoughts on it. However, I am only just starting out on this so I am by no means and expert and would definitely recommend checking with a health professional before you make any drastic changes to your diet, just the same as you should check before starting on rigorous exercise regimes and any other changes that are going to have an impact on your body.
Most of all, I think these tips can apply even to those not on Paleo, but who are otherwise trying to change their eating habits. Be kind to your body! Love it, respect it, and take care of it!
Let me know if you have any other tips you want to add or any other insights that could make this post more useful to others!
Over the past few years I have had a major change in career path. I went from thinking that changing the world was all about passionate political leadership and paving some sort of revolutionary path to a utopian society. A politics and anthropology degree knocked that out of me pretty quickly. Not that I don’t think the world needs good leaders, it absolutely does, but rather I had a change in philosophy. I don’t think the world needs a new messiah. I think the world needs more people who are happy, who care for themselves and for each other, and who are individually empowered to create a better world for future generations.
I realised that actually, it’s okay to not change the world in one day, it’s okay to not be the president of some massive international organisation, it’s okay to not have everyone in the world know your name. Helping one person, doing one good deed, changing one person’s life is a gift to both the “giver” as well as the “receiver” and this is the kind of action I want to take in my life, this is the thinking that lead me to wanting to become a doctor.
I have at various times throughout my life entertained the idea of becoming a doctor or being involved in science. At age ten I think I wanted to be a DNA scientist to invent mermaids and fluoro coloured guinea pigs (groovy pigs)- how my thinking has changed! Anyway, numerous things put me off this path and instead I fell into politics, which has funnily enough been the thing to bring me back to healthcare. Initially I was all for an MSF (Doctors Without Borders) style career, flying into war zones and performing surgery in tents. This is all very important work, and I absolutely admire MSF and the work their organisation does, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s the right fit for me. Instead, I want to find a happy medium between modern medicine and alternative therapies such as naturopathy, yoga therapy and so on. This radical change has come about since I have researched more into the field or medicine, and I thought I’d share with you some insights I have managed to take from amazing resources online, such as some incredible TED talks, to highlight some of the issues I see with modern medicine, and some of the reasons why I support a more holistic, complementary healthcare agenda.
You can find him here.
Treating the whole person
I think fundamentally, the word “healthcare” can be broken up into two parts: “health” + “care”. Notice the care here? Care to me isn’t simply prescribing an antibiotic without investigation every time a patient complains of a chest infection. Nor does it involve prescribing without consultation (they are called consultations for a reason!). The biggest difference I have experienced as a patient has been to have a doctor actually listen to me. My new doctor blew me away the first time I met her simply because she listened and actually was interested in what I had to say, what I thought might be contributing to my problems, and how I wanted to go about addressing them. When I spoke to one of the nurses she said the same thing- my doctor actually cares, and actually listens. This has been the biggest difference anyone could make and I have as a result been more open to visiting the docs where I used to avoid doing so knowing that I would get the same un-personalised, unfriendly treatment.
What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe
Ben Goldacre’s TED presentation is phenomenal, and is one of the most perspective changing presentations I have ever seen. He discusses a gaping hole in modern medical research, the inability of scientists to publish negative results. Throughout his presentation he gives examples of negative studies being refused publication by medical journals, and the lack of accountability in the research field as negative results are allowed to go unpublished and unrecorded. He uses the example of the 1980s anti-arythmic drug lorcainide which was found in a trial to not be effective in reducing death of heart attack patients. Due to the negative results, the drug was abandoned and the trial was never published. However, this publication bias meant that later researchers were unaware of the failure of this type of drug and therefore were lead down the same path. He highlights that for 12 antidepressant drugs over a 15 year period, 38 trials submitted to the FDA for approval produced positive results, while 36 produced negative results. In peer-reviewed academic literature, however, 37 (all but one) of the positive trials were published, while only three negative trials were. As you can see, the information that therefore was available for doctors, academics, other healthcare professionals and patients has been drastically skewed. I fully support Goldacre’s proposition that there be an enforced system that requires researchers to lodge their trial propositions before results are obtained to ensure that negative findings can be recorded. Medical professionals and patients alike need to know that they have all the information available to make informed decisions about the medicines they prescribe and take.
Healthcare .VS. Sickcare
Rebecca Onie’s TED talk really solidified something I have carried as my life philosophy for sometime now. Healthcare should be just that- about health. Healthcare shouldn’t be limited to putting a bandaid on certain issues based on a ten minute session with a patient. Neither should it be what Eric Dishman calls “parts care”. I firmly believe that healthcare should be about treating the whole person, and not just parts of them. It should be about providing life advice such as nutrition, fitness, how to care for children and so on. Onie highlights the difficulties for many people in poverty- they simply can not afford some of the necessities of healthcare. This encompasses adequate nutrition; electricity for heating; clean water and so on. Unfortunately doctors are not able to write prescriptions for power to be turned back on, or for fresh fruit and veggies. Health Leads is an organisation that is working on this precise issue and I would love to see and be involved in something of it’s kind in New Zealand.
Something I can’t stand in the medical practice is the amount of petty fighting that seems to go on amongst differing specialties and practitioners. I am so lucky that I have finally, after seven years, managed to find a doctor who is open to and even encouraging of alternative therapies. Doctors are great, and they do a phenomenal job everyday. However, health is such a broad and deep field that it is simply impossible for one person to know everything about everything related to their patients’ health. This is why we have specialists. However, it is important to recognise that specialists, be they gynaecologists, podiatrists or “alternative” practitioners such as acupuncturists, physios, yoga therapists all need to work as a team. Treating “parts” of patients simply doesn’t work. And as Dishman highlights, can often lead to major errors. In his instance he suffered heart palpitations and was being checked for heart conditions when actually he was suffering from the symptoms of overdose as three specialists all prescribed him variants of the same medication.
Pharmaceuticals can save lives. I do not dispute that and I would never encourage anyone to stop taking medicine that they have been prescribed by their doctors with care, thought and research. However, what does worry me is the ability pharmaceutical companies have to manipulate both medical staff and patients alike, such as in Goldacre’s issue of academic misrepresentation, but also on the consumer level. An issue my acupuncturist highlighted to me was that one brand produced a specialised line of product for sufferers of arthritis, which was being sold at a higher price point for it’s “specialty”. Upon investigation, the only difference with this product was that it’s cap was easier to remove for arthritis sufferers. These kinds of things are not uncommon, and it frankly makes me sick. Even worse are the hold that big pharma have on life-saving medicines such as antiretrovirals for the treatment of HIV/AIDs. Patents and intellectual property laws often prevent generic versions of the drug being made. While this may seem fair to those who have invested their time and funds in researching and producing these medicines, I think the line needs to be drawn somewhere. When millions of people are suffering, and can not afford branded products, I absolutely think that generic drugs should be made available. There should be no price for health.
These are just a few of the major issues that have caused me to re-think my previous medical aspirations, and to opt for what I consider to be a more holistic method of healing. I am looking forward to investigating it more and pursuing a career which takes the best of both modern and “alternative” medicine to treat patients as whole people deserving of love, care, respect, and good health.
PS. The TED talks I referred to can be found online here.
I love Zumba. But sometimes love hurts.
In fact, at the moment it really really hurts. Aside from the recovery I have been working on with my neck, back and leg pain, I find that after Zumba classes in particular I get very tight and sore arches in my feet. Over the last few weeks I have unfortunately not been able to give my body the break it needs so I need to keep teaching classes and just try to stretch out and do any extra recovery work to help mitigate the issue. Over the last week it has become exceedingly painful to the point of not being able to flex my foot.
While I’m working on healing myself, I have also been informed that one of my regular participants is expecting, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some info on basic self- care when it comes to Zumba (or any other high intensity cardio class for that matter!).
1. Don’t dance on your toes
I have to constantly remind my participants not to dance on their toes. Unfortunately, no matter how much I say it, very few people seem to pay attention to this, and I think it’s because we barely even notice. When I first started Zumba, I danced on my toes for the whole time throughout my participation and during my instructor training. This resulted in insane pain in the arches of my feet and tightness in my calves which has contributed to so many other problems. Particularly when doing Zumba moves that have a Latin dance base like Salsa or Samba, I feel like dancing on my toes because I’m used to wearing heels when performing these dances, and hearing these rhythms. Who doesn’t want to look like a gorgeous Carnival girl when a Samba party rhythm comes on? Dancing on toes or “prancing” seems like the sexy way to go about performing the moves, and I think people often forget that this is a fitness class. Try to make a conscious effort to dance flat footed, and check on yourself throughout the class to make sure you’re not doing this unknowingly. I wish it hadn’t taken me to get to physio intervention before figuring this one out!
2. Don’t throw your hips
Again, particularly with styles like Salsa, participants want to be sexy and look like good dancers- and the reaction to this seems to be to throw the hips. Don’t! In Salsa, the hip motion comes from shifting the weight between feet as we step- NOT from swaying the hips independently. Keep up with this and you run the risk of doing yourself a lower back injury, as I have done myself!
3. Engage your core
Any of those kinds of booty rolls; boxing-style roll downs and pumps are all opportunities to engage your core, and engaging your core is essential to make sure that you don’t do yourself any injuries. Other movements to think about are those such as knee ups- using your lower abdominals to pull your knees up will help keep you stable and strong, as well as providing an extra workout to tone up.
4. Keep Hydrated
I take a break every two songs or so, and I always notice many participants wait around without taking water. You might not notice because you’re having too much fun partying, but you are sweating a lot (if you’re not [and you’re not otherwise injured etc.] then you’re doing it wrong!). Your body needs to replace this water. Especially in winter time we tend not to notice because we might not feel so hot, and fans can help manage heat, but you still need your hydration. I’m not saying drink gallons, but take a few sips every ten minutes or so to make sure you are keeping safe and not putting yourself at risk of headaches, dizzy spells and other not-so-fun effects of dehydration. As a guide, I tend to find that going through a 750ml water bottle per hour long class works for me, but listen to your body and pay attention to how much your body needs.
5. Learn the basics
If it’s your first time, or you’ve always been confused by certain steps then there are plenty of options- and tripping over yourself isn’t one of them! Every class I see participants performing steps in dangerous ways or in incorrect ways that confuse them later on. Every class I make sure they know I am there early and I stay behind late for any questions, but rarely do I get taken up on my offers. Ask your instructor to demonstrate moves you don’t understand or if you really want to get the basics down pat, then do a beginners intro class for Salsa, Samba, Merengue, Bachata or other rhythms used. If all else fails then at least don’t be afraid to stop for a minute to observe the instructor and to pick it up slowly, or to self-modify. Stepping it out on the spot or marching is a good way to keep your heart up without rolling ankles or tripping over trying to keep up with complicated steps. Plus, if the steps are that complicated then the instructor is the one doing it wrong anyway! Zumba is meant to be fun and easy to follow, if you find yourself being asked to do pirouettes, fouettes or pas de bourrés then let your instructor know they need to tone it down and make the class easy to follow for all participants.
5. Know your limitations
This is especially important if you have injuries, are expecting, or if it’s your first class. You know your body best and you know what you are comfortable with or not. Yes, if you want to melt off body fat then you are going to have to work hard but if you are feeling sore; dizzy etc. then make sure you take your time regardless of what the instructor or other participants are doing. You might feel like everyone notices you not doing massive insanity diamond jumps, but your body will thank you for it…. and to be honest your peers and the instructor probably won’t remember anyway, or if they do it will be from a place of concern rather than from being judgemental.
6. Don’t over do it
This relates to the previous point, but I know so many people get excited to be on their health buzz and do a million classes a week to tone up for summer and so on. Don’t be one of those people. I have been, and you will do yourself more harm than good. If you have never exercised before, and particularly if you have health issues or are overweight, make sure that you ease into your routine with one class a week, or even half a class (let your instructor know and there will be no problem leaving early if half an hour is all you can safely manage). For one thing, you will be less likely to do yourself an injury and end up having to slow down anyway (and yes there can be too much of a good thing- trying to do two yoga classes back to back and then Zumba is not wise either). For another, you will be more likely to stick at it if you ease yourself into a routine rather than throw yourself in the deep end of something that isn’t sustainable or healthy for you.
8. Stretch, stretch, stretch
Unfortunately in a one hour class there is never enough time to stretch. While all classes should include a few cool down tracks to lower your heart rate and a good five minutes or so of stretching, if this is all you do in a day it is not enough. If you have injuries or feel some tightness you need even more. I would recommend at least twenty minutes of stretching after a one hour Zumba class if you have worked hard. There is a Yoga/Pilates class after one of my Zumba classes and I always recommend my students attend afterwards. Stretching is so, so, so important! I can’t emphasise it enough. Particularly pay attention to your calves, hamstrings and feet as they tend to bear the brunt of jumping around in Zumba, but also remember to stretch everything from your sides and back to your arms as well. Even if you don’t feel like they’ve all been worked that hard your body is all connected and all muscles need to be stretched to keep it running smoothly.
9. Build a relationship with your instructor
Your instructor is a great resource and can help you so much more than giving you something to follow in the class. Discuss tracks with them, discuss certain moves. Find out why they have included certain moves and what areas you are meant to be working and when.
Unfortunately, the nature of group fitness classes means that one on one attention during the class is not often possible for more than a split second, but I don’t know a single instructor who doesn’t like to connect with their participants. Approach them before or after class and make sure to make them aware of any injuries, pregnancy or other health-related issues so that they can give you modifications and advice.
We also love feedback! Sometimes in a big class it’s hard to pick out what the general sentiment is when there are a couple more vocal ones (usually the ones we have built relationships with!) or when no one wants to speak out. If you don’t like my choreography then come tell me. If there aren’t enough or are too many breaks, tell me. If you feel like you’re not challenged enough, tell me. Instructors aren’t mind readers and we can only tailor our classes to the feedback we get. Most instructors will also take on recommendations for new tracks or styles to be included- make your class your own!
10. Research up on your instructor
This final one is a biggee! I adore the Zumba programme, but their certification process covers only the basics of Zumba as a programme, which I do not believe is sufficient to teach people to be good group fitness instructors. After attending the one day Zumba course and paying the fees, each and every participant is able to call themselves a “Certified Zumba Fitness Instructor”, with no tests of knowledge or assessment required. Some people on my first training day could not perform steps safely themselves, and they walked out of that training day qualified to call themselves Zumba fitness instructors, without the months, if not years of learning about health and fitness safety and technique that is required to teach most other programmes. While I really admire their enthusiasm and their courage to give this a go, I do think a good instructor absolutely requires some sort of formal education in health and fitness; exercise safety; and how the body works, and ideally should have been mentored by an experienced instructor.
If you’re an instructor wanting to upskill, there are also plenty of online courses and short courses run by Universities that can fill in the gaps. Take a look at AUT’s short courses here if you’re in the Auckland region.
For Participants, here are a few things to check out your instructor:
Is your instructor REPs certified?
In New Zealand, the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) is an organisation that does quality control on fitness professionals. Almost all gyms require their staff to be REPs registered which means they have up to date CPR as well as having completed a fitness qualification. REPs also takes into account conferences, and work experience to make sure that fitness industry professionals are kept up to date and fit to instruct.
Does your instructor have a First Aid and CPR certificate?
So important, I think it goes without saying.
Does your instructor have a dance background?
This obviously isn’t essential, but if the instructors have a dance background, particularly in Latin dance with the rhythms used in Zumba they are much more likely to have a sound understanding of the biomechanics and correct postures for movements than someone who has only ever done Zumba.
Have they completed other Zumba trainings?
Zumba offers specialty training for a variety of classes using different equipment (ie. toning sticks; chairs) and for different groups of people (ie. Gold for seniors; Zumbatomic for kids) and also Aqua Zumba. Check to see if your instructor has completed more than just the Basic (B1) and has done B2 or specialty trainings. These are obviously necessary to teach any of these specialties, but also tend to make more well-rounded, more safety aware instructors.
You can find all this info by searching your instructor on zumba.com.