In Fitness and In Health Part 2: A Year in Review

(Original “In Fitness and in Health” post)

In 2019, instead of having weight-related goals, I just had the goal of moving more and being more active. (This was not a resolution by the way. It was just a decision I made in February. I hate new year’s resolutions–a rant for another time.)

So far, it’s been a huge success. I’ve been doing activities I like doing, more often, and more rigorously. This habit has even survived a huge lifestyle change (going from being unemployed at the beginning of the year to working full-time) and smaller but still significant disruptions, like a week off while traveling in Japan.

Moving More

I’ve always enjoyed activities that involve physical movement, which is why it was much easier to just incorporate the things I liked doing. While I was never at the pinnacle of fitness or anything, I don’t think I would have described myself as not athletic, in the sense that I’m totally the “we can walk” friend. But when it came to more “formal” exercise, I’d just force myself to run, while hating it the whole time, for the sake of weight loss.

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In the early part of the year (winter/spring) I was unemployed, so I went to community dance classes by an organization called Afrobeats Dance Boston, and I did some scenic jogging–not my favorite activity like I said, but one I felt a lot better about since I wasn’t tracking every minute of it. I also found jogging more enjoyable when I used it to actually go places–I would just wear “athleisure” and run because I was late to something, or run to the grocery store, or run to church. (I guess I’m a very objective-oriented person lol…)

I did a lot of yoga during college–two of my four PE requirements were yoga classes, and then during the summer my friend Mesi and I would run around Boston participating in every studio’s “new student” deals, where you can get a week or more of yoga at a steep discount if you’re new. I grew to really enjoy it, especially the Boston area studios where the yoga was more challenging and intense. I even tried Bikram one summer, which is the exact same yoga sequence every time, in high heat and humidity.

This summer (June 2019) I was employed again, so I started going to yoga classes at this studio one of my friends attended. It is, hands down, the best studio in Boston. I found that I really liked the instructors and the studio’s philosophy, so after this “newcomer special”, I finally stayed. I started doing yoga in the evenings at first, and then sometime in September I tried a 6AM class with a different friend. I found that I felt really good after doing yoga in the morning, and that it was nice to have a little more free time after work in the evenings, so now I regularly go to the morning classes, which are all hot yoga, at 6am. I usually make it 3-4 days a week, and since August I haven’t had a single week without at least one class (except while I was in Japan).

Another activity I tried while in college but couldn’t fully pursue was aerial acrobatics. I went to just two “taster classes” with a friend from my dorm, but I always remembered feeling that it was an activity I could see myself really enjoying, building strength while having fun. I realized I dislike repetitiveness and monotony (running…) and I like working toward a function or an objective. With aerial, you work on being able to do tricks, so it feels like you’re getting somewhere other than just “now I can do 12 reps instead of 10…” Traditional weight training works great for some people, but it just wasn’t the right type of motivation for me.

So I signed up for an 8-week aerial session, and I go to that studio twice a week–one evening class where we actually learn with an instructor, and one open practice session where I practice on my own. It’s difficult but a lot of fun (I have no photos because I haven’t done anything noteworthy yet lol) and similar to yoga, circus arts has a great community. In both yoga and circus, I find the instructors and students all very understanding of where you might be at a given moment–tired, injured, or just ‘not there yet’–and I never feel like I might be judged. The emphasis is on the progress you make compared only to yourself, and on being kind to yourself and your body. A sentiment that’s often repeated in both communities is that just showing up and doing your best is enough, regardless of how that practice goes. There’ll be many more practices, and you’ll have many more opportunities to try again, progress is slow–just showing up consistently is more than half the battle.  And showing up is exactly what my goal was, exactly what I’ve been doing.

Current Goal: Eating Better

On the eating front, I tried, and failed, at being keto this summer. I lost around 5-10 pounds, and most of it crept back in the two months after I stopped (my weight also fluctuates around 5 pounds depending on time of day/bloating/menstrual cycle etc.) A big reason for my past failures in weight maintenance was stress, and I’m just waking up to how much of a factor that is. I seem to have two types of stress in my life–work stress, which I caffeinate and eat through, and deep, personal life crises, which are rare but worse and during which I often eat literally nothing. Neither are healthy and cause a yo-yo pattern in my weight. Going keto right away was too drastic and unsustainable, so I’m trying to slowly build healthier habits instead. But I’m actually still glad I tried keto, because I learned a lot from it.

So now my not-resolutions are:

1. cook as much as possible
2. Cut out refined sugar
3. reduce processed food

Similar to my past goal of simply moving more, this goal is not weight-related. Even if I weigh the same or gain weight (entirely possible given my strength-focused exercise habits) I will succeed if I’ve done the above.

Keto made doing 1) a lot harder, because I was also restricted in what I could cook. For now I’ll focus on the worst culprits first–refined sugars, a bad pastry habit, etc.–and work on the other carbs as I go. Keto also made staying away from sugar hard, because I couldn’t even eat certain fruits, so then when cravings hit I’d make no distinction between an apple and a blueberry muffin.

Keto did teach me about myself, which was probably the most useful thing about it. It taught me that I’m not great at meal prep–I make too much food, easily get bored, don’t eat the food I prepared, and then it’s wasted. So now I’ll make dinner and eat the leftovers for lunch for 1-3 days, but I don’t make a week of portions at once. And the occasional lunch out with coworkers or run to Chipotle is not the worst thing in the world, for my health or for my wallet. I’m just trying to do better, one step at a time–accepting that it might be slow, that I’m not perfect, and that I can’t do everything at once is part of this process.

Keto also helped me mostly give up bread and rice, and helped me learn to cook low-carb. Instead of traditional grains, I now cook proteins with a large portion of vegetables and sometimes potatoes; but I do often eat bread or rice if I eat out. So cooking as much as possible will naturally help me be more in-line with a low-carb lifestyle, even without cutting them out of my diet completely.

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This giant bag of frozen Costco vegetables is my best friend.

 

Finally, I’d like to reduce processed food from my diet. I already don’t eat that much (mainly snacks lol) but I’ll do my best not to replace my processed snacks when I run out, and rely on things like fruit, cheese, and nuts (certain fruits and nuts I couldn’t have as much of when on keto). I’ll keep my eye on the other carbs, but my hope is that any that slip past (namely, whenever I have brunch) will get taken care of by my now rigorous workout routine. I’d ideally like to add in some cardio every so often, but it’s winter and I’ve always hated running (lol) so we’ll see; I’m not making that the priority for now. Since food and weight have always been very emotional for me, I’m doing all of this while trying to be kind to myself, acknowledging always that it is a slow journey. I hope doing so much strength-based exercise will help keep up my metabolism and work better than all the cardio that’s let me down lol (cardio is great and important, don’t get me wrong, but a mix of both is ideal, and I was *definitely* doing cardio in an unsustainable way).

And a small, gentle reminder–at the end of the day, it’s about health, not weight. Weight is just a number that goes up and down. It can change due to a huge variety of factors. It could change due to losses and gains in fat, muscle, or even bone. It could change due to illness, pregnancy, menstruation, puberty, menopause…framing it as something that paints the entire picture of health without any context is nonsense. Exercise and eating unprocessed, whole foods benefit you as a person at whatever weight you are, in almost any condition that you are in–it’s just about what types of exercise and food you might need at any given stage of life. Building these healthy habits at this young-ish age is something I hope will follow me through the rest of my life.

Furthermore, health is not just about the physical–as I mentioned, it took a long time for me to realize that stress is actually one of the biggest factors in my personal journey through health. In fact, one of my biggest health breakthroughs came when I started up a skincare habit, as I wrote about in a different post: 

“[Through skincare,] You learn that you don’t have to hate your body or force it to change. Instead, you and your body become a team. You work with, not against your body to achieve good health. You learn that the best results actually come from treating your body gently, from letting slow, biological processes take their time. You learn that wellness is not an end goal or even a physical state of being–rather, health and wellness is a habit. Occasionally missing a step or a day or a week won’t matter in the grand scheme of things–and only committing for a day, no matter how thorough or intense, won’t help, either. I learned to stop making appearance-based goals, and instead focus on developing the routine, the habits. I learned that it’s a lot easier to do something when it feels good, and above all, YMMV–your mileage may vary. Not everything works for you, and what works for you may not work for others, so don’t always pay attention to other people.”

Skincare is physical in the literal sense, but it helped me re-frame my mindset about my physical body. Yoga also helped me realize how much the mental matters–I started the practice for its physical benefits and because I enjoyed it, but it has mental health benefits too. Yoga has enabled me to forgive myself, to take care of myself, and to be more in tune with my body.

It’s about the full picture of health, and that means these periodic goals I set are not even about building a rigid schedule or diet or some wellness lifestyle that must be adhered to at all costs. My needs will change as I grow and change–I will listen to that and respond to it as I go.

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