Healthy living can be time consuming. It requires time purchasing food, time preparing meals and time spent exercising. Many healthy meals can even be more time consuming to eat due to the higher fiber and water content (and resulting lower caloric density). For many of us, this can be a challenge when our time is already occupied with other commitments.
Personally, this is something I have struggled with over the past few months as I have been working well over 40 hours a week on a regular basis in addition to other commitments that I have. This has resulted in having to strike a balance between maintaining my overpacked schedule, my health and my sanity.
This has led me to develop a few guidelines that I follow to make healthy choices while working within the parameters of my current day-to-day life.
Always hit my essential checklist: Beans, Greens and Omega-3s.
Have at least 1 “real meal” per day: The meal is often as simple as a veggie, grain and bean stir-fry or pasta based dish.
Start the day off strong with a healthy and filling breakfast: For me I usually go with either oatmeal or Ezekiel cereal with fruit, flax seeds and either nuts or peanut butter powder.
Eat enough calories of healthy food earlier in the day to avoid bingeing on junk food at night: I eat around 2300 calories/day. I aim for about 500 calories in both breakfast and lunch in addition to about 400 calories in snacks. This will leave me with another 900 calories when I get home (usually a meal and snack). When I don’t do this I end up bingeing on unhealthier calorie-dense foods like potato chips.
Mentally categorize foods based on the amount of time or effort it takes to make it. I divide my meals into5 min., 30 min. and 1 hour. I then choose a meal based on how much time I have. This helps when I tell myself I don’t have time to pack lunch and decide to resort to less than ideal choices when it is inevitably time to eat.
The exercise component is a bit harder to manage. I find the best option is to look at my schedule at the start of the week. I figure out which days I will realistically be able to workout and commit to exercising whenever I have the chance. I utilize my days off for longer workouts where I push myself to my limits.
Sometimes this may only end up being 2 workouts per week, sometimes I can get 5 in. But if I have the time I make sure I do something, even if it is just a quick 30 minute workout.
I also follow the rule that if I have time to watch TV, I have time to workout.
The Lesson Learned:
What this all comes down to is doing the best I can with the time and resources I have available. Sometimes this means accepting good enough rather than over stressing myself to meet my ideals. It is about remembering that the purpose of healthy living isn’t about health in itself, but making healthier choices to improve my quality of life overall.
Confession: I’m a bit of a data junkie. I get excited when I get ahold of new gadgets to get more accurate measurements or be able to take more factors into account. I actually enjoy measuring all the different numbers and statistics related to my health and overanalyzing them to infinity and beyond.
One of the great things about numbers is they don’t lie. But they can be deceptive. The scale may lack accuracy or precision. You may weight yourself at different times of day with varying amounts of water weight.. The numbers may not take enough factors into account and be oversimplified (e.g. calories, BMI, weight). But numbers don’t make shit up like our magical thinking minds do. They don’t try to deceive you the way product labels and marketing does (be skeptical with their numbers). Numbers can help you snap out of a rut because they don’t lie and you can’t escape the truth (but never underestimate the power of creative explanations). Numbers are the red pill of healthy living when used with an understanding of their limitations, what they really represent and how they fit in to the big picture. It was stepping on the scale and seeing what I actually weighed that got me to flip the switch to really commit to becoming the best version of myself.
With all the gadgets, information, science and formulas it can be easy to trip yourself into an analytical pit of doom where you hyper analyze every meal, workout and everything in between. This can be a bit of a problem because it can eventually lead to obsessive tunnel-vision focus where you forget how to say “fuck it” and let go.
I think using scales, food logs, and health gadgets are great for getting started, getting yourself back on track or checking in with yourself. But I think it is important to not get too rigid or reliant. It is important to learn to eyeball a meal and just know it is the right amount for you. I think one of the most important aspects of healthy living is to learn to listen to your body. I think focusing too much on numbers can distract you from your own body. I think sometimes people feel a sense of obligation to follow their schedule or hitting a number just for the sake of following it. But this becomes a problem when being attached to that number/ schedule/ goal results in ignoring the signals your body is giving you and defeating the purpose of why you are making those decisions in the first place.
What this comes down to is balance. Take advantage of math, science and technology. Objectifying yourself with measurements can be useful to help detach and give a better understanding of yourself and your habit. But they don’t tell the whole story. Measurements are just abstract representations of the real data. They don’t experience your body. Only you do and your body knows itself better than anything else. Success in healthy living more than just a number.
It is that time of year when articles start popping up left and right on fitness sites about getting that “bikini body” or “beach body”. There are countless exercise regimens, nutrition plans and diet products that market behind this concept. But those articles, diets and exercise plans really aren’t about fitness. They highlight a culture of body shaming that is being perpetuated in our culture often through a disguise of health and fitness. Not only is it superficial and a really shitty thing to do, but it also distorts the perceptions of health and fitness in our culture. It changes the way people approach fitness & nutrition by making it more about being skinny than about overall health and wellbeing. Part of this emphasis on weight is because of the chronic conditions associated with being overweight/obese, but part of the emphasis is likely because of prejudiced beauty standards in our culture. If the discussion of weight in health and fitness was strictly scientific in nature, fitness magazines would not say “look your best” or “earn that bikini body” when talking about weight loss.
The Bikini Body
There has been a myth that has been created that you need to look a certain way to wear a bikini.
There is no such thing as an “appropriate” body for wearing a bikini. Some people have the nerve to attempt to rationalize their prejudice by saying being fat is unhealthy and that is why fat people shouldn’t wear a bikini. Last I checked, whether you wear a bikini or not has nothing to do with fitness. The only difference wearing a bikini has in the realm of health is that it increases the surface area of your skin that may or may not get a sunburn (but there is sunscreen for that).
There are also people who attempt to rationalize the idea of an appropriate size for wearing a bikini by saying seeing certain people in bikinis makes some people uncomfortable. Their discomfort is because of their prejudice, not because there is anything harmful or wrong with anyone of any size wearing a bikini.
What someone decides to wear for swimsuit season is a matter of what they feel best in. There is no justification for body shaming. Body shaming is horrible and it certainly has no place in health and fitness.
Being able to love and accept yourself is key to living a healthy lifestyle. Everyone deserves to love their body. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful. I believe that part of loving your body is making healthy choices, but part of it means accepting yourself as you are. It means making the choices based on what you consider the best version of yourself. That means something different to each individual.
I think loving yourself is especially important when making changes in your own lifestyle. When you change your behaviors out of love rather than shame, it is much easier to continue making healthy changes and feel good about yourself in the process. I believe that the first step towards becoming what you consider a better version of yourself in the future is being at peace with yourself in the present.
I recognize that the views expressed may seem contradictory and hypocritical given the story behind the name of my blog. That had to do with my own body and my aspiration towards a version of myself that the red bikini was symbolic of. I believe it is a personal choice that is about wearing what you feel best in.
I think one of the most prevalent pitfalls in many approaches to healthy living is the deprivation mindset. What I mean by this is a diet that is revolved around what you can’t have. Personally, I don’t believe in cutting anything out of your diet 100% unless you are allergic to it.
When I try to cut foods that I love out of my diet, I just end up wanting it more. Eventually, when my willpower is exhausted, I end up feasting on it and having an increased appreciation for that food for a few days. When I simply focus on eating healthier, I naturally end up eating unhealthier foods less often without having to consciously say no to it.
I think dieting with a deprivation mindset can create a forbidden fruit effect on what we are cutting out. Trying to cut delicious foods out makes it all the more enticing. Every time we see it, we are reminded how we can’t have it and we want it… and we all know what happened in the Garden of Eden…
My Alternative to Deprivation Dieting
I’ve noticed that what I think about is kind of like gravity. If I think about cookies (or not eating cookies) then I find myself pulled towards eating cookies more. When I think about eating fruits and veggies, the more I feel drawn towards eating fruits and veggies. So basically, not eating cookies when you are frequently thinking about not eating cookies is kind of like fighting gravity.
Shift your focus to the solutions rather than the problem. Focus on what you should have more rather than what you should have less. Focus on eating healthier foods more often. Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables. Focus on eating more natural foods. Focus on drinking more water.
If you are having a hard time shifting your focus, try changing the information you are exposing yourself to. Don’t keep junk food in the house, buy it when you really want it in a single serving. Watch less TV shows since those are filled with junk food commercials and product placements. Watch Youtube videos or read articles about healthy foods/behaviors. Every time you see something (or something you associate with something) in your environment it is like it is telling your brain “Reminder: I exist!”. So when it comes to foods you aren’t supposed to be eating, this can be problematic.
The scale has become a deeply ingrained symbol of health & fitness in our culture . We check it regularly. It is one of the first things we do at doctor’s appointments. It is in every gym locker room and even in rest stops on road trips. We see magazines, TV shows and health articles consistently reminding us that our weight is important. Many of us use BMI as a rough estimation of our overall fitness. But how often should we step on that ever pervasive piece of equipment? When does a useful tool become an unhealthy obsession? What does it really mean to be healthy?
Weight is an easy way to get a rough estimation of your overall fitness. However, it is also important to not be obsessed with it. I usually weigh myself about once a week. I put more emphasis on body fat %, how well my pants fit and by paying attention to my energy levels. The issue with weighing yourself daily is that our weight constantly fluctuates and there are a number of factors that can impact this. I think the scale can give people a tunnel vision almost. They are so obsessed with it that they have a hard time taking a step back and seeing the big picture. Luckily I didn’t even have a scale my entire first year of losing weight, so I would only weigh myself maybe once a week at the gym. I think this helped me keep a healthy perspective while changing my fitness habits since it didn’t become all about losing weight.
Our culture overvalues weight and undervalues wellness. I think as a culture we have an unhealthy obsession with weight loss. I’m not considered a “success” and didn’t get featured on Calorie Count and The Huffington Post because I improved my overall wellness… it was because I lost a third of my body weight. The internal changes for me came much earlier than the external manifestations of it, but it was the external change that made others perceive it as a success. While I am grateful for being able to share my story, sometimes it bothers me that “success stories” always feature people with a very significant external difference. To be honest, I think it is superficial. There are plenty of people who didn’t lose much weight but still made huge improvements in their overall wellness. There are also people who lose a ton of weight and while they may look much better on the surface, they are just as unhealthy if not even unhealthier internally. Would I still be considered a success if i didn’t lose much weight at all, but became much fitter and was eating healthier foods? What if I lost a lot of weight but didn’t get there in a healthy way, still had layers of insecurity and had my self-worth reliant upon being thin?
I think the obsession with the scale can lead to people using weight loss methods that don’t improve overall wellness. It leads to people eating so few calories that they convince their body that despite being in an environment of nutritional abundance, that they are experiencing a famine. It leads to people reducing calories at the expense of nutrition. It leads to people starving themselves for a few days and even taking laxatives so they look slightly skinnier in a dress or a bikini. It leads to things being considered health products not because it is actually healthy for you, but because it is “low calorie/fat/sugar” and might help you temporally lower the number on the scale. Overemphasizing weight when it comes to health also leads to fat shaming, which does nothing to improve the wellbeing of others.
I’m not saying weight doesn’t matter. I’m just saying we need to look at the big picture when it comes to health. We need to look at overall body composition. We need to look at the long term effects of our habits. We need to make sure that we aren’t sacrificing fitness and nutrition to hit a number on the scale. We also need to make sure that the mindset behind our habits is healthy. I think we become so hyper-focused on dramatic before & after photos and number changes on the scale, that we often miss what it really means to be healthy.
Being healthy isn’t about being skinny. It is about eating natural foods, getting the nutrients we need and not going to far beyond that. It is about not eating toxins. It is about being able to move and interact with the environment and being able to enjoy yourself while doing so. It is about loving yourself regardless of circumstance. It is about being balanced and full of energy. It is about living in a way that will keep you energetic and balanced long term.
Our body is constantly working to maintain balance in an interconnected process known as homeostasis. Rather than thinking of your health behaviors in terms of “good” and “bad”, think of it in terms of “balance” and “imbalance”.
I think that there is a link between trust and control. I think control is often used as a stress response to fear of uncertainty and distrust towards the world. That said, some people seem to respond with apathy, they emotionally hide under a rock. There are also people who seem to get obsessed with self-control and others who seem to get obsessed with controlling the external world.
I think there is a difference between acting with intention and controlling out of fear. People that act with intention have less attachment to the result, they focus more on the process and have more trust with the world. People that are acting with intention are more open to opportunity and changing their plan of action. When we are simply acting with intention we are more adaptable and less forceful. People who act with intention, but don’t control out of fear remain much more collected and are mindful of the purpose of their actions. They remain calm and collected when unexpected situations arise and are able to respond rationally.
People who are controlling out of fear seem to be more attached to a specific outcome and a specific way of doing things. When we control out of fear we get tunnel visioned and can’t handle things not going as we planned. When we control out of fear we have a harder time accepting the world as is and when things don’t go as expected. We stress over things we cannot change and that are out of our hands. People who control out of fear seem to respond to much more stress when presented with ideas that conflict with their perception of reality aka belief system. I think a lot of people who pointlessly micromanage are controlling out of fear. People who control out of fear respond to stress by over-gripping.
Let’s apply this to dieting as an example. When I act with intention, I will eat a healthy balanced diet and trust that will work out well. I am mindful of calories, but I won’t hyperventilate about going 100 calories over my daily average. When I control my diet out of fear, I become more dogmatic about my diet. I become obsessed with calories. I feel the need to repent for my sins (i.e. overcompensate) if I decide to live a little. I am more obnoxious when eating out and am looking up the nutrition facts about menu items rather than just ordering what seems delicious and nutritionally reasonable. When I eat with intention, I am controlling my diet. When I control my diet in response to stress, I overanalyze my food and micromanage my diet. I also get more obnoxious about not allowing unhealthy foods into the kitchen because I do not trust myself. I get into the habit of the binge/ micromanage cycle of dieting and the harder I try to grip, the more I feel as though I am about to slip. I may also overcompensate my lack of control in other areas of my life by micromanaging my diet. An extreme example of controlling your diet out of fear is orthorexia.
This can also happen in exercise. People overwork their bodies out of fear to the point where they are at risk for injuries such as stress fractures. They do it out of fear of not being good enough, pretty enough, etc.They do it because they fear that if they don’t, they will get fat. They get stressed if they haven’t worked out for a couple of days and may overcompensate by working out more extensively upon return. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of marathon runners and bodybuilders are like this. This may be coupled with being obsessive about their diet, but it may not be. Personally, I have never overworked myself through exercise… getting off the couch and out of my head is enough of a miracle.
This idea also shows itself throughout the irrational freak outs we or people we know have. Consider that person who has a panic attack when somebody is running 5 minutes late to something where the purpose is to have fun, or that person who is a clean freak way past the point of being objectively beneficial. These are all examples of distrust of the world and trying to control everything and plan out how everything will go to cope with it. It is shown with parents who put their normal healthy child on a leash (both figuratively and literally) and never gives their kid a chance to just figure things out on their own. While the intentions may be loving, there is an underlying irrational fear their love is being controlled by. We do this when we try to force our own beliefs and opinions on other people as well. It is one thing to debate, discuss and share our ideas, it is another thing entirely to shove it down peoples throat and want them to agree or die (religious wars being the most extreme examples). And when one person ignites the stress response, there is a good chance others will catch their stress cooties.
I think the best way to end pointless and even destructive control is by saying “fuck it” a bit more often. “Fuck it ” represents trusting yourself and trusting the universe. It is about trusting and focusing on the process rather than being blindingly results driven. It is about embracing uncertainty and not forcing the world into an arbitrary micromanaged box to protect ourselves. Being able to say “fuck it” and have trust is the ultimate form of freedom and is necessary for being a balanced person.