The Ugly Truth Behind PCOS

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I am 1 in 10. I have a condition known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. For many years, this was an unheard of & unspoken illness. While the internet can sometimes be the bane of my existence, it’s provided a lot of insight and comfort recently. It’s so helpful and awe-inspiring to see so many others in the same struggle. It’s had a terrible impact on the last 15 years of my life but before I get into my story, let’s shed some light on what PCOS actually is.

PCOS is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels. 1 out of 10 women have this illness. Despite this ratio, experts believe that more than half of women with PCOS don’t even realize they have it. Women with PCOS have slightly higher levels of testosterone and androgen in the body than normal for the average woman. Despite the name, you may not necessarily have ovarian cysts. Symptoms can sometimes present themselves at the onset of a girl’s period; however, many won’t notice anything until they’ve gained a significant amount of weight or have trouble getting pregnant. In some cases, women don’t find out they have PCOS until after they have their first child. The most common symptoms are irregular periods, heavy bleeding, excess hair growth, acne, weight gain, male-pattern baldness, darkening of the skin, fatigue, and headaches. PCOS is also linked with chronic inflammation, which can leave you feeling achy, fatigued, and it contributes to weight gain.

Along with the myriad of symptoms, one of the biggest issues with PCOS is how it affects your ability to become and/or stay pregnant. In fact, it is the leading cause of female infertility. Between 70 and 80 percent of women with PCOS have fertility problems. This condition can also increase the risk of complication during pregnancy. Women with PCOS are twice as likely as women without the condition to deliver their baby prematurely. They’re also at greater risk for miscarriage, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. However, hope is not lost. Having PCOS does not mean you will be incapable of becoming pregnant naturally; it just may take longer than others. Losing weight and lowering blood sugar levels can improve your odds of having a healthy pregnancy. Women with PCOS can also get pregnant using fertility treatments that improve ovulation.

There is no cure for PCOS; however, there are several medications and treatments your doctor may suggest. Medications such as birth control & metformin are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and/or regulate your period. Fertility medicines may also be recommended for those trying to become pregnant. Your doctor may require regular tests and follow up visits to be sure that the treatment/medication is working properly and to adjust if necessary. Some doctors may also recommend supplements, including berberine, folate, B12, vitamin D, and inositol. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and weight control are also key treatments for PCOS. Unfortunately, it can be more challenging to lose weight and to maintain weight loss with PCOS. Some recommended foods to avoid are foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and muffins, sugary snacks and drinks, and inflammatory foods, such as processed and red meats. Many women with PCOS often have higher than normal insulin levels. Doctors advise that just a slight weight reduction and increase of exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help from your OB/GYN as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be on the path to feeling better!

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MY STORY:


I am 1 in 10. Everyone has a story…this is mine. After suffering every single month throughout high school and falling very sick during my first semester of college, I sought help from a gynecologist. She diagnosed me soon after with PCOS at the age of 18. From then on, I was put on various birth control pills (and even that godawful…and pointless…patch) to try and regulate things. It has been mostly under control, except for my weight fluctuating like crazy, my face randomly breaking out like a teenager, and my period doing whatever it damn well pleases.

I do not have kids yet and am otherwise convinced that I won’t be able to have them. I have suffered two miscarriages – one in my very early 20s and another one recently. For my entire life, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a mom…but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. Doctors aren’t quick to confirm infertility – seems they’d rather you suffer the agony of losing babies or being unable to conceive altogether before they step in. Nonetheless, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I know there are plenty of options nowadays but the heartache of miscarriages combined with my age make it seem all the more daunting and unrealistic.

I’ve recently come off birth control and I’m hoping to not go back on it. I’ve been on it for 15 years, barring a few months here and there where I was giving my body a break or where I didn’t have insurance. While it is helpful for many of my symptoms, it tends to stop my period and cause a bunch of other issues…which I don’t need. I plan on taking it day by day to see how my body reacts and if all goes well, I won’t go back on the pills. The goal, as always, is to feel good & live a better, healthier life.

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If you or someone you know is struggling, please know you are NOT alone. Feel free to contact me anytime through social media or via email – I’m always available to lend an understand ear.

Stay strong & stay in the fight

xoxo

Gina

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My Fight to be Fit

Anyone who has ever been overweight knows just how hard of a process it actually is. Every single day is a struggle. Like many others, those struggles began for me as a child. I played sports and was fairly active during the summer but not all year round. As a result, my weight reached 180lbs by the time I entered high school. High school can be rough on any kid…but when you struggle with weight it’s that much worse. By senior year, I developed significant problems with my eating. I didn’t know that I had a “real” problem because I was never underweight and I was never formally diagnosed with any type of eating disorder. I’d go from eating one meal a day to, at my worst, one piece of candy or cracker per day. I made myself sick, which ultimately got me to eat again but not nearly enough. As the years have gone on, I’ve come to realize I suffered from what is known as Atypical Anorexia. That disorder continued to plague throughout college and ultimately ended with my spending upwards of 2 hours a day in the gym, barely eating, and drinking (heavily) every weekend. I got down to 130lbs and while I looked great…I didn’t feel it. Looking back on it, I had worked really hard in the gym but done nothing about my diet…or my mental state.

What many people in the fitness industry don’t truly understand is how much of this process is actually mental. You could do all of the right exercises and have the best diet…but if your head isn’t in the game…you won’t be either and that will almost ALWAYS catch up with you. It did for me.

Over the course of my entire life, I probably did almost every fad diet there was. At the time where I was living at the gym, I was also on the South Beach Diet. Like most other fads, once I stopped living in the gym and doing that diet, I gained a lot of the weight back. Over the course of the next 5 years, between health issues, medication and a lack of exercise, my weight climbed to an all-time high of 210lbs. I was miserable and completely clueless as to how I could change it. I needed help but I didn’t know where to turn. Enter the Biggest Loser and Jillian Michaels. The show has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few years for people gaining the weight back. Anyone who drops a crazy amount of weight without changing their mindset and, subsequently, their lifestyle, will fail. That’s just a given. Those who used the show as a method to change their life have stuck with it and their results have lasted. Those who used the show as a game and a chance to win money and fame…have not succeeded. It’s not easy. You have to work at this every single day. But that show, that woman…completely changed my life. If it wasn’t for the one night I turned on that show…I may not be where I am today. I began going to the gym the very next day and I never looked back. To date, I’ve lost and kept off about 80lbs & gone from squeezing into a size 14 to comfortably wearing a size 2/4.

It hasn’t all been roses & sunshine. I didn’t know much when I started. It took me a long time to lose weight and figure out what worked for my body. I began, like many others, by doing a ton of cardio. Slowly, with the help of online videos and Jillian DVDs, I began to incorporate weights into my routine. Without the proper guidance though, I ended up overtraining and doing many exercises incorrectly. This gave way to a serious shoulder injury, which landed me in surgery last October. I became a trainer and nutritionist so I could help others see that they weren’t alone in this fight and give them the guidance that I never had.

Since starting at The Arena, I’ve gone from a personal trainer to a professional. I will still argue that while you may lose some muscle, fasted cardio is the key to my fat loss. After all, every person’s body is different. However, I’m learning more and more everyday just how bad some of the most common exercises are and how they’ve created pain & made my pre-existing injuries that much worse.

Despite negative feedback and research, the Biggest Loser is the reason I got off the couch and did something about my weight. Was it the best, most credible source? Maybe not but it sure was the driving force behind my motivation and what kept me going every single day. I watched season 14 and I connected with the cast and trainers. I used Jillian’s voice as my motivation…and I made a change because of it. I may not have known the proper form or done the safest exercises but I got off my butt and got to the gym. I toned down the partying and eating out. I made small changes and learned how to implement a healthier lifestyle. I did the best that I could with the limited resources available to me. I also did it the smart way – making sure to not restrict myself or start some crazy exercise regimen. I made it work for ME…and it’s stuck 4 ½ years later. Along the way I’ve learned how to exercise safer and what proper form actually is. I’ve learned that I don’t need a TON of cardio to shed fat…but that for my terrible metabolism, I definitely need some. Most importantly, I found balance. Something I strived for my entire life. Now I want to help others do the same.

If you’re in the NYC or Westchester Area & are looking for personal training, nutrition coaching, or a kick-ass class, contact me! I hold weekly bootcamp classes every Tuesday & Thursday and am available for small group & individual training. Email me at gina@thearena.fit for more information.

See more of my videos and articles here: Fight to Be Fit

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

Sleep Your Troubles Away

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If you’re like me, you probably spend most of your day exhausted and chugging coffee just to function. One bad night of sleep turns into two…and before you know it you’ve barely slept all week. You think to yourself, I’ll catch up on sleep this weekend – but when the weekend comes, family obligations and household errands take the lead and all of a sudden it’s Monday again. Sound familiar? Well, turns out we aren’t alone…but this is a much bigger problem than we all realize.

Studies show that over 40% of Americans get less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is a basic human need, much like eating and drinking, and is crucial to our overall health and well-being. It’s important to every aspect of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being to get enough sleep.

Getting enough sleep won’t just invigorate you; it could also help control how much you eat. A lack of sleep is linked to overeating—especially the overconsumption of junk food—which can lead to weight gain. It also has an impact on hormonal balance. Two hormones that help regulate hunger—ghrelin and leptin—are affected by sleep. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived the level of ghrelin spikes, while the level of leptin falls. This leads to an increase in hunger. Not only does a lack of sleep interfere with hunger signals, but there’s also the problem that less time in bed simply gives you more hours of the day to eat.

In addition to weight/metabolic issues, a lack of sleep also will cause more long-term and serious health problems. Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Some research has linked a lack of sleep to an increase of the stress hormone, cortisol in the body and it’s now believed that people who experience short-term sleep deprivation are not able to process glucose as efficiently as those who get eight hours of sleep. This means that they have an increased likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

If a person is lacking rest but has continuous muscular activity, other issues such as cramping arise. Muscle fascia tears, hernias, and other problems usually associated with physical overexertion have also been reported in extreme cases of sleep deprivation.

Besides the many physical consequences of insufficient sleep, perhaps the most important consequences of sleep deprivation are deficits in working memory and attention. Lapses in ordinary day-to-day tasks can cause worrying results; from missing words or sentences while taking notes to omitting important ingredients while cooking. It appears that carrying out these tasks which require attention is in direct correlation to the number of hours the person sleeps each night.

As hard as it may seem, we need to make time for ourselves and for sleep. Doing this will ensure that you lead a much more productive and healthier life.

Adventures in YouTube Land


Well, folks…the day has finally come. I’ve teamed up with the gym that I manage to create workout videos! It’s something that people have been asking about for a while so when my boss suggested it…I ran with the idea. As great of an opportunity as it is, the venture itself into videoland hasn’t been all roses & sunshine.

I love taking pictures and posing for them. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had a camera in my hand basically everyday since I was 5 or 6 years old…and I was a ham for the camera long before then. BUT there’s a very big difference between a still photo and a video. That may seem like an obvious statement but let me elaborate.

Despite being heavy on and off my entire life, I still loved taking pictures. I learned how to pose to avoid double chins and look as small as possible. Let’s just say Tyra (and ANTM) taught me very well. I also love taking pictures and capturing memories of pretty much everything and everyone I’m around. It’s always been a big hobby of mine. This new venture…on the internet no less…is an entirely different animal.

I try to be honest about my struggles and this video business has definitely been one. Mentally, that is. Every week we film and as I sit down to edit…I cringe. I love being in front of a camera but when I watch the action shots back, I die a little. I work very hard to be where I am. So when I see rolls on my stomach or a double chin or some sort of flashbacks to fatness staring back at me…it’s like none of that hard work matters. Now, the rolls and whatnot are likely due to my bad posture and discomfort shooting in front of certain people…but it’s still really hard to watch. When you are in a video, you can’t pose. You’re doing some sort of motion, in this case exercising. It’s great when it’s just you talking – you can stand a certain way, get a good angle….but when you are moving around it’s about the action not so much how you look. When I shoot my talking pieces, I have someone behind the camera who I’m very comfortable with and who seemingly calms my nerves, while helping me sort out what to say. It adds more work and more time to the project but it definitely turns out much better this way.

I’m no fitness model. I work really hard to maintain my size 2/4 and keep my weight in the 130s. I found balance with food, where I can enjoy beer & various treat meals without a ton of guilt afterwards. However, I still struggle with body image issues. I have loose skin and suffer from mystery stomach problems…which together can sometimes mean my body doesn’t look like it should. Still, I manage to push all of these internal conflicts aside and I post my videos weekly anyway. I’m not perfect but I know my story is one that many people can relate to…and hopefully my workouts can help someone get started on their journey…just like certain videos helped me. The people watching likely aren’t nitpicking like I am. They are watching the workout and seeing a girl who has struggled her entire life DO IT. So while I may nitpick over some stomach rolls or weird faces., I find comfort in knowing that there may be a girl out there just like me who will watch my video and get motivated to jumpstart their own journey.

I may still struggle mentally…especially with this nagging shoulder rehab…but deep down I know that I’m not the same 210lb girl I used to be. Mentally or physically. While I can’t do many of the things that I want to do or that I used to do, I’m learning to adapt. The old Gina would’ve given up the minute she got hurt…and probably gained all of the weight back. This Gina has finally figured it out. It’s not easy. Every single day is a struggle but I try my best to put one foot in front of the other to keep going. I’m not the girl I used to be – and I’m so much better for it.

If you want to check out my Fight to be Fit video playlist, you can find it here. I welcome any & all feedback!

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

Summer Shred – COMPLETE!

…and thus concludes my 6-week summer shred!

April 2017 >> Now

It wasn’t perfect by any means. Despite a serious lack of cardio along with Cinco de Mayo & birthday shenanigans, I managed to see really good results.

Summer Shred, Day 1 (April 2017)

Current look!

My plan is to continue this “shred” throughout the summer, while incorporating some treats along the way. I wanted to make this realistic this go-around. Last time, I was doing 2-a-day workouts and eating 1,200 calories a day…which consisted mostly of tilapia, egg whites, and a lot of boring foods. I was miserable by the end and the binge that followed reflected that. This time, I restricted my sweets and lessened my carbs…but that was it. No crazy strict diet was necessary. I lost the weight that I gained post-surgery and regained a lot of my muscle back. I also got much leaner, losing over 10% body fat in just 6 weeks time! Keeping my diet in check really helped make up for my inconsistent workouts. While the workouts weren’t what I initially planned, I did as much as life would allow. Life doesn’t always go the way that we plan so it’s important to always have a back-up plan in motion.

I say it all the time but the key to losing weight…and keeping it off…is making it work for YOU. You can follow a strict diet & do crazy workouts but at the end of the day if it doesn’t work for your lifestyle or body, it will not stick! Trust me. I’ve done it all. I went from an overweight adolescent, to disordered eating in high school and college, to very heavy throughout most of my 20s…and now here we are. It’s still a struggle every single day. This never gets easier – and anyone who says it does is lying. However, your will power becomes stronger. The food noise – that guilt you feel after having a drink or fattening food/sweet – gets quieter. You start seeing results. You do what it takes to never get back to that unhappy place. You eventually decide you never want to look or feel like that again. No slip-ups, injuries, health issues, or life mishaps interfere. One day it all clicks and you gain freedom (&a confidence) in your own skin.

Before my Shred (2/2017) >>Now 

I will continue to post about my modified shred diet & workout regimen in the coming weeks. I’m also currently working together with my gym to create beginner workout videos that anyone can do anywhere! Look out for those gems coming to YouTube soon! Stick with me and I will help get you on the path to being confident in your own skin. It won’t be easy…but I promise it WILL be worth it.

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

Living with IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is one of the most common health concerns facing Americans today yet it’s one of the least discussed. Many people who have this condition suffer in silence due to it being somewhat of a “taboo” subject or just for not knowing that there is an actual problem.

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The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal which will cause gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. The opposite can also occur with weak intestinal contractions, slowing food passage and leading to hard, dry stools. Abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system also may play a role, causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can make your body overreact to the changes that normally occur in the digestive process. This overreaction can cause pain, diarrhea or constipation.

As many as 1 in 5 American adults experience signs and/or symptoms of IBS. There are two common forms of IBS – IBS-C, with constipation, and IBS-D, with diarrhea. It is unknown what causes IBS but there are many factors, including family history, which are considered to be a trigger for those suffering with this illness.

One of the biggest triggers for IBS is a person’s diet. Many people have more severe symptoms when they eat certain things. Some doctors will recommend doing an elimination diet to pinpoint what the exact trigger food(s) could be. Some other recommendations include: eliminating high-gas foods such as carbonated beverages, vegetables (especially cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower) and raw fruits, eliminating gluten (wheat, barley, and rye) or avoiding refined (not whole) grains, eliminating FODMAPs, avoiding high protein diets, limiting or eliminating caffeine (such as coffee), and experimenting with fiber intake. A person suffering with IBS should eat smaller meals and drink plenty of liquids, especially water! It’s also important to note that a person with this illness should be careful with their dairy intake, regardless if they are lactose intolerant or not.

Another common trigger for IBS sufferers is stress. Many people find that their symptoms are worsened or brought on during periods of increased stress. While stress certainly will aggravate your symptoms, there has not been any research found to cause them.

Women, especially under the age of 45, are twice as likely to develop IBS. Researchers believe that this is due to hormonal changes. Many women find that their symptoms are more prevalent during or around their menstrual cycle. IBS worsens as hormone levels fall. As hormone levels fall to the lowest point during menstruation, symptoms such as stomach pain, discomfort, and constipation or diarrhea become more common and intense. What’s worse, those who suffer from painful periods, are twice as likely to have an increase in symptoms.

Even though the signs and symptoms are uncomfortable IBS, unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease), doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Some symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night, and/or weight loss.

While there is no cure for IBS, there are certain things that have been proven to alleviate some of the symptoms. One easy remedy is to exercise regularly. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine will not only help you to look & feel better about yourself, it will also help to stimulate normal contractions in your intestines. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. If you have other medical problems, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Another form of therapy, while non-traditional, is the use of herbs such as peppermint. Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic that relaxes smooth muscles in the intestines. It’s important to note that while it may ease your IBS symptoms, peppermint may increase heartburn. Before taking any herbs, check with your doctor to be sure they won’t interact or interfere with other medications. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that normally live in your intestines and are found in certain foods, such as yogurt and in dietary supplements. It’s been suggested that if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may not have enough good bacteria so by adding probiotics to your diet, you may ease your symptoms.

IBS can be a long-lasting problem that can impact how you live your life. Many people with IBS miss work or school more often and they may feel less comfortable taking part in daily activities. If you feel that you may have IBS, contact your doctor for further testing.

**This article was originally published with The Arena – all references for the information given above can be found on that site.

 

Summer Shred – Fighting to be Fit….Through the Chaos

What a week! The second week of my Summer Shred definitely didn’t go as I intended…but it wasn’t all lost. I stuck to my meal plan and my macros were almost perfect everyday. I lost a pound despite not working out as hard as I wanted to and I’m noticing my waist get smaller and smaller everyday!

While a stressful, busy work week kept me away from my own workouts most days…my diet was great. Here’s how the last few days looked:

Breakfast:

  • Wednesday, 4/26: 2 eggs with a sprinkle of cheese & caramel latte protein coffee
  • Thursday, 4/27: rice cake with tsp of PB & caramel latte protein coffee
  • Friday, 4/28: rice cake with tsp of PB & caramel latte protein coffee
  • Saturday, 4/29: mini bagel with cream cheese, caramel latte protein coffee, large iced coffee with almond milk & 1 splenda
  • Sunday, 4/30: (brunch at the diner) omelette with goat cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes, caramel latte protein coffee, 3 iced coffees with a splash of milk & splenda

Lunch: 

  • Wednesday, 4/26 4 oz of ground turkey with 1 oz of quinoa and mushrooms
  • Thursday, 4/27 – 4 oz of ground turkey with 2 oz of sweet potato and mushrooms along with that had just lettuce and a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Friday, 4/28 – I had run out of meal prepped food…so I had a salad with lettuce, mushrooms, and cheese along with the remaining 2 oz of sweet potato
  • Saturday, 4/29 – I went to lunch with a co-worker after a very long but successful event for work. I had a HUGE Greek salad with grilled chicken and a few slices of grilled pita
  • Sunday, 4/30 – No lunch, since my breakfast was brunch…at 1 pm

Snacks: Pretty much the same everyday – RX Bars, Oh Yeah bars, frozen blueberries with crystal light, carrots or rice cake with PB, and cottage cheese. I also had Phormula1 shakes or BCAAs in my water.

Dinner: I had cauliflower almost everyday….which has destroyed my stomach. Laying off that and all other super gassy veggies this week.

  • Wednesday, 4/26 – 10 grilled calamari rings with cauliflower & string beans
  • Thursday, 4/27 – Palm Beach salad from Chopt
  • Friday, 4/28 – 2 turkey burgers with mushrooms and cauliflower
  • Saturday, 4/29 – 2 turkey burgers with a salad and 1/2 small avocado
  • Sunday, 4/30 – 1 turkey burger with mushrooms & 2 plain rice cakes

My macros were pretty good, all things considered. My fats were a little high the last two days but otherwise they were spot on:

Beginning tomorrow, I will be incorporating cardio into every workout…everyday. It’s gonna suck but I have to make up for lost time. Friday is Cinco de Mayo and anyone who knows me knows how much I die for Mexican food…& margaritas. I may allow myself a taco or two but I won’t go crazy. This girl has a goal and once I reach it, I can celebrate with as many margaritas and/or tequila shots my heart desires!

I plan on keeping my diet mostly the same but maybe incorporating other protein bars into the mix. Seems the coffee RX bars I love so much are discontinued and while I do enjoy other flavors, it’s just not the same. So I’ll mix it up a bit. My workouts will be as follows:

  • Monday – upper body + cardio
  • Tuesday – lower body + cardio
  • Wednesday – upper body (PT)
  • Thursday – lower body + cardio
  • Friday – total body (PT)
  • Saturday – cardio (1 hour)

Since Sunday is the annual fitness expo at MetLife, I doubt I’ll do a workout. I’ll make that an active rest day, as there will be plenty of walking and whatever else I can get myself into.

Here’s hoping for a less stressful and more active week 3!

-Gina