I spend a lot of my time discussing how to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Whether it is on-line or in person, I am surrounded by women and men who are trying to "get they life" when it comes to improving their health. One of the common themes is how to manage all the myriad responsibilities one has while trying to make health a priority.
I cannot say that I have the end all be all method for integrating health and wellness into your life. But I have learned a lot over the years, and I find that those lessons are finally starting to come together. So here are a few of the things that I try to do consistently.
1. Take baby steps. So often we read testimonials on how so and so lost 75 lbs and kept it off by working out twice a day, 6 days a week and eliminating all sugar and unhealthy carbs or becoming a raw food vegan. We may think to ourselves, wow, that really worked well for her. Dang it, if only I had her willpower! Some of us may even go buckwild and throw out all of our favorite junk foods or start buying up all new exercise DVDs and accessories. Be honest now, how long has that lasted? After some time, those things sneak right back into our cabinets and our daily meals, while the exercise gadgets collect dust, and we are right back where we started, but with the added guilt and shame of having failed to have the willpower that others seem to exhibit.
I've discovered that for me, it is much better to make incremental changes in my eating and fitness habits. One of my favorite things to eat is french fries. I realized that they can be a dangerous gateway drug to eating all types of fast food crap, so I had to put a moratorium on eating french fries at fast food restaurants. What I allowed myself instead was a weekly purchase of frozen french fries. I put those mugs in the oven and season them with (a little) salt, pepper, and garlic, and dip them in some ketchup...sometimes I even drizzle cheese over them. They taste much better than the ones I can get in the drive-through, and I am not tempted to then buy other things, like 1,000 calorie burgers and sugary pop.
I like to make what I consider to be clean-ish meals. They are not 100% clean, but they are not overly processed either. Over time, I swap out the not so healthy things for healthier alternatives. Sometimes, the unhealthy things make a temporary comeback. For years, I made my own salad dressing mix of sometime of oil and some type of acidic, like vinegar or lime juice. Then, for a little bit, I bought a bottled vinaigrette. I even recently got some bottled blue cheese dressing. I meticulously read the labels in the store first, and found one that was a close to natural as possible. I used it in a pasta salad that I made and my son, my boyfriend, and I ate off of for a week. Even though the store dressing wasn't the healthiest in the world, I know that allowing a small amount of wiggle room in my food habits won't derail me completely.
Likewise for exercising. When training for my October marathon, I started pre-training in January. I committed to three days a week of running, and made sure that those three days worked well for me. Once I got used to doing three days a week, I gradually added in a fourth day. That was in June. At some point in late July to early August, I even had a few five-day weeks of running. That was a really rough time for me, and I could not keep it up for too long, so I went back to four days. Toward the end of my training, I was running 16-20 miles during my Sunday long runs, and there were a few weeks that I "only" ran three days. It wasn't perfect training, but I allowed myself to take those baby steps forward and backward as I needed to. Now that I have finished my marathon, I am back to a three days a week running schedule, and I am gradually adding in yoga and strength training.
2. Plan your work and work your plan. In order to have a healthy and fit life, you need to eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. This is in no way easy to do, but it is nearly impossible to do if you don't plan for it. I go to bed by midnight (usually earlier) and am up by six every day. This works for me so that I can function throughout the day. This means that I don't stay up watching t.v. and that I am not out partying on the weekends (most of the time...I am occasionally in the streets until early in the morning).
I am not a fan of eating out at restaurants a whole lot. Its expensive, the food is not really that tasty, and most restaurant meals are way too caloric and full of unhealthy fats and sodium. But still, if I have not prepped meals ahead of time, I can find myself at some random food spot, hungry and disgusted at the meals and how much I have to pay. So I work hard at prepping and preparing meals ahead of time. Currently, my meal prep schedule is as follows:
Friday: Decide what the two entrees and the sides will be for the next week. I go to Pinterest, Google, and cookbooks and magazines for ideas.
Friday or Saturday: Go grocery shopping. I tend to buy a easy treat or a restaurant meal to eat for dinner on my grocery shopping day because I don't like to go shopping, then come home and cook.
Sunday: Meal prep day one. One this day, I typically make the dish that I plan on packing for lunch for the week. I also make about half of what I plan on cooking for the week, typically a dish that my son will eat (meat-based) as well as the "grain" (rice, couscous, pasta, or quinoa) and one of the vegetable dishes.
Tuesday: Meal prep day two. I work from home on Tuesdays, so I am able to pop into the kitchen from time to time or right after my work day is complete to make another main dish and any additional vegetable sides. I am quite fond of roasting vegetables. It is quick, easy, and tasty!!! I often roast potatoes (white and sweet), different types of squashes (and their seeds...yummy), eggplant, and carrots.
That's it! I don't like to cook once I come home from work, and I know this, so I make sure that there is food in the fridge for my son and I to eat during the week. I can survive on beans and rice if things get lean, and my son can survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I make sure that we have those staples in the house at all times just in case I fall off of my prep schedule. I also keep fresh and frozen fruit in the house for smoothies and snacks.
My beyond the marathon exercise regimen is currently underway. Right now it is as follows:
Sunday: Morning run 8-10 miles
Monday: Evening upper body strength training at home or at the gym (I find that I am not being that intense at home, so I may try to get to the gym more); Treadmill speed-work 1-3 miles (this has not started yet, but will be incorporated by mid-November)
Tuesday: Morning yoga and core work (I work from home, so I just get it in before I start my work day); Evening treadmill speed-work 1-3 miles (if not done on Monday)
Wednesday: Evening lower body strength training at the gym
Thursday: Evening run 3-7 miles (it depends on who I am running with and what I am training for)
Saturday: Morning run 3.5-5 miles (it depends on the loop that I run)
Currently, my strength routines are pretty unplanned. I use machines and free weights to hit all the major areas, but I don't really track what I'm doing. In the next few months, I will make them more structured, but right now, I am taking baby steps to get myself used to going to the gym consistently.
My yoga is kind of loosey-goosey right now too. I do yoga videos that I find online or on-demand through Comcast. I plan to start visiting a few yoga studios and taking classes here and there until I find one that I want to go to regularly. I also try to practice yoga throughout the day, focusing on breathing and a few poses.
I have found throughout my years of striving to be fit and healthy, that taking baby steps and making plans (and following through on them) while being flexible, has served me well. I have a life that is ordered around being fit and healthy, which makes me happy. I hope you can take something from this that will help you to find your balance!