In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that when I set out on this voyage to live differently (fuller, “flexier”, and freer) after leaving my traditional full-time job, I was initially determined to do everything I’d been waiting to do all at once. I thought I would wake up on day and apply all the things I read on the Health Writing website and hit the gym, cook healthy meals, leap into my writing and new business ideas, clean the whole house etc… As it turned out, my body needed to take everything at a different pace in order to achieve this new life overall.
It became clear that if I was going to make this happen as a lasting change or happen at all, it was going to happen in stages and as my body could adjust healthfully to the changes, rather than forcibly. I had to remember how to listen to my body for its natural cues as so much of my crazy traditional worklife and stresslife had taught me to plow through everything I was feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in order to get to some alleged greater result. Also, the practice of denying your own human needs is so often celebrated in our overly stressed and sleepless culture. Learning to live differently and making the changes with my physical health has truly been a process of letting go of a familiar way of operating and getting on the ride to listening to the signals truly coming from my mind and body.
First true confession: I gained somewhere between six and ten pounds over the first nine weeks. My husband pointed out that while I was working in an office with so many demands on my time, I had to squeeze in times to eat, and I was usually starving by the time I ate. Sometimes, I had to eat when I was not hungry because I knew that I would probably pass out before my next chance to eat. These circumstances also create great excuses for eating fast, inhaling large amounts of food, and eating fast food. The truth is that I do not hate fast food and junk food, so this played right into my weaknesses. Then, when I was finally free of all of the restrictions on my schedule, I somehow seemed to combine all of these survival tactics and go crazy. I ate when I was hungry and not hungry. I ate heavy, rich foods to keep my stomach occupied even when I had plenty of options to eat in a satisfying manner calmly throughout the day. Plus, I had to break myself of a love affair with junk food that I had allowed to progress based on the abundance of “good” excuses. Breaking up with junk food, or at least creating some distance between us, has also been a process.
So, below are ten insights I am sharing based on my experiences for ways to allow your body to adjust to living differently with a focus on health, wellness, and fitness:
1. Give your body a chance to detox.
We all know that new beginnings often commence by letting go. Your body probably has to let go of toxins and the result of eating junk food and accumulating negative stress over a long period of time. It is wise to let your body go through this process and give yourself some grace during this time rather than criticize yourself for feeling slow or sloppy. This also plays into the phrase, “it gets worse before it gets better”. You might literally feel a little sick while your body puts down the heavy load of years of self abuse from an overly stressed lifestyle. In the first two weeks, I had migraines, stomach aches, muscle cramps, a weird ear ache, a bad cold, congested sinuses, food poisoning (a fluke or the result of a weakened immune system?), a spider bite, tooth aches, and an ingrown eyelash. I am also still experiencing a lot of weird dreams. Of course, I saw a doctor for any symptoms that concerned me, and they obviously may not all have been related to this detox. Nonetheless, I am fully convinced that my body was largely purging toxins from years of poor treatment by yours truly.
2. Make changes slowly or one at a time.
As I was saying, doing everything all at once backfired on me a bit. It was too much. I remember taking a counseling class in grad school where the professor challenged us to make a change, add or let go of something, over the course of the semester, find out more about myself in the process and journal about that change. Well, I decided that I would go above and beyond and give up alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate, and add exercise. I knew I could do it! The professor warned me that I should not underestimate the impact of even one seemingly small change. He was right. If you were to read my journals from that time, they would remind you of a very depressing country song that drones on about guilt, loss, indulgence, surrender, shame, and “what could have been”. And, oh yeah, there was no exercise, but the supplement intake had to go on for a while before you desisted, because if you were to learn more about the product, you’d know that you couldn’t halt its consumption abruptly.
Remember, even your lunch time might change, and that can be significant! I had to coach myself into realizing that just because I was previously starving for lunch by 11am, that was because I was getting up for work at 5:30am, and now I am not! Slow individual changes are good.
3. Expect setbacks.
Life is not linear, and it is easy to forget that. You won’t necessarily wake up on your first day of freedom, set a course towards healthier living and never look back. We all know this, yet we still punish ourselves when it comes true. If you have a bad day or week, get up the next day and try to do better. And, borrowing certain allergies and medical conditions, it is ok to give yourself a pass every now and then. That might be what keeps you on this healthier journey. Try to be your own best friend and encourage yourself along the way. This is life we are living here people! I suggest we all work on living for real rather than continue scrambling towards some self-imposed performance review.
4. Have fun exploring, researching, and trying new things.
In an effort to feel better, I decided to try something I’ve been putting off for quite some time. I am easing gluten-free foods into my diet. Do you see how I phrased it as an addition to my diet rather than a subtraction? Nice little mind trick. The verdict is still out about the results, though I am taking the chance to give this and other curiosities a try during this time. There is no reason it cannot be fun. I am not taking a test on this and there is no specific deadline for any specific goal. “Feeling better” is something I will have to observe similar to one of those wilderness explorers waiting patiently in the bushes for a chance to view a baby whoseywhatsit. You just have to see what happens and let it take its own course sometimes.
5. You don’t have to strive to become a Food Network chef just because you all of a sudden have more time at home.
I had to come to terms with this one. I LOVE the Food Network, and I also had to turn off the tv after the first couple of weeks at home. As stated in a previous post, I was starting to slip into an alternate reality where I thought that Giada, Melissa, and Ina were my new friends. I adore watching them effortlessly choose healthy fresh organic and exotic fruits and vegetables from their perfectly organized pantries in their beautifully decorated kitchens and create culinary masterpieces that they would share with their friends, husbands, and wives, who also seem to be immune to life’s common struggles and stressors.
Hello! Back to reality. If cooking up a storm is something you’ve been longing to do, then great! Get at it! However, avoid the trap that fools you into feeling guilty if you are not all of a sudden spending a lot more time in your kitchen and at the grocery store. Chances are, you have to create a new way of earning income or learn to work from home in addition to living. Your time is still valuable, and additional cooking does not have to be your goal if you want to live healthier. I still love the shows when I choose to take time to enjoy them, and I am otherwise choosing healthier options at the store that still allow me to spend only a little time in the kitchen. It’s ok. Let this one go if you need to.
6. Some structure may be good for you, especially when it comes to health and fitness.
If you are like me, the word “structure” might as well be a four-letter word. I run from the “images” of structure. The word conjures up thoughts of bars, chains, traps etc…. However, when you are working with a clean slate and looking to yourself to provide helpful structure, you can change these images. I found that after a few weeks of flailing around, by design, I landed on a discovery that a morning routine is helpful to me. This includes food choices and exercise. I also shop for foods, including low-fat organic frozen meals that make choices easier throughout the day. Now, the structure that I have in place means I don’t have to think about these details every day that might otherwise distract me from more creative tasks that truly require my energy, sharpness, and flexible “thinking space”. So far, my helpful structure looks like this: wake-up, take a swig of orange juice, feed the cat, drink some hot water with lemon juice, eat an apple, read by the window while eating a gluten-free muffin and drinking a bottle of water, get dressed for a workout, do some stretches, walk-jog for 30 minutes, do some floor exercises, drink more water, and move on. On mornings when I have the chance to spend some time with my husband, that becomes the priority, and everything else falls into place around that, but I don’t really have to think about it.
7. If the gym ain’t working, don’t use it!
You do not have to go to the gym to exercise, and you do not have to go to the gym in order to lose weight and/or feel better. We purchased a gym membership for me as I approached this transition to living differently. I’ve been once, overdid it, and I have not been back since. I feel a little guilty, though with the support of my husband, I am letting it go. For me, the reality is that using the treadmill and the floor in my home or the sidewalks in our neighborhood means I’m not traveling to a gym, it takes less time and I move on with the day more quickly, I really do not care what I look like, and if I have to jump off the treadmill at home to go to the bathroom or grab a phone call, it is not awkward. I might make it back to the gym, especially to swim, but I’m not sweatin’ it.
I am assuming that most people reading this are “getting older” as I am. So, let’s face it. When we were younger and in sports, everyone told us to stretch, and we did stretch in practice, but on our own, we might have skipped this step, and we could probably get away with it. Not now! We must stretch, or it could hold us up in major ways. Enough said.
9. You have to start somewhere.
One lesson I learned in the beginning of this transition is that I AM OUT OF SHAPE! Somehow, while walking several times all the way across the university campus where I worked previously, I thought I wasn’t too far away from being able to turn that into a jog or a run, if I wanted to. Weeeeeeeell, I was a little off. Ok, I was WAY off. My body doesn’t bounce into action like it used to. I had to pull back and just start by creating space and time to be more active. Then I filled that time with a walk outside, even a leisurely walk with a couple of neighbors (which was nice in and of itself!). Now, I am getting into a walk-jog combo on my treadmill at home. I am getting there, and I just had to start somewhere.
10. You don’t have to revisit what you used to do and what you think you’ve been missing from your past. This new time might be a time for new discoveries instead.
In the beginning of this transition, I found myself trying to remember what I’d been longing for. I was trying to remember the activities and foods I’d mourned when my schedule got crazy enough that I had to drill my daily life down to just survival mode. I found that I couldn’t even always remember what to miss. However, I soon realized that this time in life is new time, not time recaptured from the past. I felt that I might miss the real present by searching for holes in my past where I gave up volunteer projects, half-lived dreams, special road trips, using the slow cooker, taking the time to cut up grapefruit, and so on. I revisited some of these things, like cutting up grapefruit, but I quickly learned to let go of what I was no longer really feeling. I “knew” I wasn’t coaching at a women’s shelter anymore, and I “knew” that I never tried that great chili recipe, but I didn’t feel like I had to go back to those exact same places. I used to swim, and I probably will again some day, but it is not calling me right now. This time, as much as anything else, is a time when I have the chance to listen to myself again, and the messages and questions might be brand new, and I couldn’t be more excited.
I wish you new discoveries and happy exploring. Where will you begin?