Before a few weeks ago, I was one of the unhealthiest people I knew. I dined primarily on pizza and mac-and-cheese (with a side of cookies) and my idea of exercise was briefly walking my pup around the block. I'd dabbled in healthy eating and exercising a little bit in the past, but rarely made it past a day or two without falling back into old (bad) habits. And I was okay with that. I had been repeating phrases like, "I eat whatever I want," and "I don't workout," and "I hate exercise," for so long that I'd let them become part of my identity. I told myself that eating healthy and exercising was all about looking good, and I looked okay so that was all that mattered, right? Wrong.
A few months ago I started really contemplating what it would be like to start living a healthier life. You know, actually getting my heart rate up and eating something that's main ingredient wasn't bread or cheese. It was hard to even think about. No more pizza for dinner every single night? (Not an exaggeration.) No more chocolately breakfast bars I could quickly scarf down at my desk? No more Reeses peanut butter cup binges? Eating healthy didn't sound very appealing. Nor did exercising. Actually getting off the couch? Ugh. Stepping away from my phone for dozens of minutes at a time? No thanks. And then there was the RedBull. If I were to really live a healthier live, I'd have to give up my daily dose of RedBull. The thought of doing that instantly gave me a headache.
But more and more (in spite of the RedBull), I found my energy waning. I'd start off the day great but by the late afternoon, I was cranky and tired. I might have looked okay, but I didn't feel okay. For years I'd been dealing with tiredness (and the mood swings that come along with it), but not really paying attention to why I was tired or what I might do about it. A few months ago, for some reason, I really started to become more in tune with what was happening — and I knew I needed to make a change.
I'd certainly made changes before — adopting a more positive attitude, quitting smoking, giving up drinking — but this one would be especially hard. I didn't have to drink or smoke to survive (though sometimes it felt like it!), but I did have to eat, which meant I'd have to make healthy choices multiple times a day for days and days and days. Yikes. And if I were eating better, I'd need to actually get up off the couch and step away from my desk and move.
A lot of you might be thinking that this doesn't sound like that big of a deal. After all, plenty of people eat healthy and exercise every single day without any trouble, right? But those people aren't me, and anyone who knows me in real life would sooner associate my name with pizza and couch-surfing than with veggies and workouts. But I wanted to give it a try. After all, people have been raving about healthy eating and exercising forever so there must be something to it, right?
After talking with my friend Danielle, who is studying nutrition, and reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, I decided that the best thing for me to do when it came to eating healthy food would be to try clean eating. This would mean getting rid of processed foods (aka, most of my diet) and focusing on things like fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, etc. At first, it was very, very difficult. After all, almost every single thing I had been eating came from a box or a bag. I had to find health replacements for almost everything I was eating, which wasn't easy to do. However, I did notice a change in my mood and my energy level once I started cutting back on processed foods and instead eating more fruits and vegetables. I'm still not quite there yet in terms of a healthy diet — I'm eating most of the same snacks and meals all the time and not giving myself a lot of variety, but I'm doing so much better than I was.
Though it's been hard to change my eating habits (it's still very much a work-in-progress), I've absolutely noticed that eating better makes me feel better. And it's not only physically, but mentally as well. When I over-indulge on a plate of carrots and hummus, I feel completely different than I did when I used to woof down a plate of cookies. Unfortunately, there's a lot of guilt that comes with overeating the things that aren't good for us and even though I think most of that stems from society's pressure for us all to be thin, I think there might also be something biologically useful about that shameful feeling. It's a sign that whatever you're eating wasn't what your body really needed and, if we listen to that voice telling us to stop or eat something more healthy, we can benefit a great deal both physically and mentally.
Another major change I've had to make in order to live a healthier life is giving up the daily dose of Redbull I've been drinking for years. While the rest of the world sips on coffee every morning, I'd been cracking open a can of (very expensive!) Redbull to start off my day. At one point, I was drinking at least three of them a day, but had cut back to one a day over the past year or so.
Giving up the Redbull wasn't easy, not only because it gave me an excellent burst of energy when I was in need of it, but also because it had become such a habit for me. Whenever I felt a little tired (or when I was just waking up...), I'd reach for a can and sip my way to a more energized state. Because I drank it so often, I didn't get a wild, crazy rush from it, but I got a nice little boost.
In order to break the habit once and for all (something I'd tried many times but never succeeded at doing), I had to replace the negative habit with something more positive. I wasn't quite ready to give up caffeine so I've opted for a healthier energy fix in the form of green tea. Preparing a pitcher to keep in the fridge takes a little bit more time than just grabbing a can of Redbull, but I find that I get just as much energy from it and I don't have the same cranky crash that always came along with Redbull. Plus, it's way less expensive, which is a lovely little bonus for my wallet.
In addition to changing my eating and drinking habits, I knew I needed to work a little exercise into the mix. Now, I am not an exercise person. Just the word "exercise" makes my brain say, "nope!" But I knew I had to keep an open mind if I wanted to make my life healthier. I invited my friend Danielle (a certified yoga instructor) over to teach me some of her power yoga moves with the hope that I might like yoga better than other exercise I'd tried in the past.
Turns out, I liked it! It was so much harder than I thought it would be, which threw me off at first. (I was thinking it would be a lot more laying down and breathing...) But I've been doing it every single weekday for almost two months. For those of you non-exercisers out there, you know just how long that kind of a streak is. For me, it's monumental. I've never exercised this consistently in my life. Ever. And you know what? It feels great. I can feel myself getting (a little bit) stronger and more flexible. I can feel myself actually playing more attention to my body, something I never did before. I actually want to do it, which is kind of a miracle because I've never before wanted to exercise. I feel good when I'm doing it and, maybe even more importantly, I feel good about having done it. Yoga isn't the end all, be all for exercise, but it's working for me and that's only because I opened up my mind and gave it a try.
I debated whether or not to write this post. I thought, who really cares about my food and exercise routines? But then I realized that I, a person who doesn't like change at all, have made some pretty big changes over the past few months, and all of them have made me feel more positive and present. I knew I had to share what I'd been doing just in case there's someone out there who is just like me — who doesn't really think much about eating healthy or exercising or who doesn't think s/he can change his/her ways. I had to share my experience because I truly feel better, both physically and emotionally, and that's most certainly made my life more positive and more present. Of course, I'm still a newbie at this whole healthy living thing, so I'd love to know...
What healthy habits do you embrace on a daily basis?
What do you to keep your body (and mind!) feeling good?