7 Things I do Every Day for a Healthier Lifestyle
One thing I get asked a lot is what I 'do' for workouts and what I 'eat' for my diet, but my current state is more than what I do in the gym and the food I consume, it's an entire holistic approach. I'm in no way saying I'm the epitome of health and wellness, or even living a lifestyle that anyone should try to replicate, but I do know that I've been asked this question on more than a few occasions, and even more so after shedding the 50lbs I gained during pregnancy.
I also spent many years on a not-so-healthy road, that in actuality, I thought was really healthy. And that's ok, because the journey to health, wellness and happiness is just that - a journey. It's filled with trial and error, with ups and downs, and ultimately, if you keep at it and keep pushing for what you're looking for, you'll get to the destination. But once you've found it, you have to keep on working at it. If you want something bad enough, and are willing to work hard enough, you will not make excuses. You will make it happen. I remember when I was 16, my father, a retired commercial airlines pilot, surprised me with flight lessons. Oh cool is that?! Seriously. How many people you know, get handed flight lessons on a silver platter. And guess what I did? Like an ungrateful, spoiled, teenage girl, I blew it off. I found waking up at 0600 on a summer morning to spend the day at the airport too difficult, and instead longed for hanging out with my 16 year-old girlfriends, cruising around in Mitsubishi Eclipses like we were the you-know-what. After a few months, with the thrill of sleeping in all morning and hanging out all day doing nothing (this was summer) getting a little old, I thought 'Oh! I should go do that pilot thing!' so I went back to him and asked him if I could start lessons again. I remember exactly where he was sitting, in the office upstairs, and I remember the fact that he didn't even turn to look at me. He kept his eyes fixed on the computer and simply said 'No. If you had wanted to do it, you would've done it. And if you want to do it now, you will find a way.' And that was it, and he was right. I didn't find a way because I didn't want it bad enough. Anyway, I digress, point is, if you are looking to change your lifestyle, it takes work, commitment, energy, and sacrifice. And while I'm constantly a work in progress, I've introspectively found a solid foundation for living a happier, healthier lifestyle that really works for me. And these are little changes I made over time and still continue to tweak. While I will talk more in-depth on this blog about health, fitness, diet, and nutrition, I just wanted to pull together a quick list of 7 things I do every day to take care of my mind, body and soul.
1. Drink a lot of water - Remember growing up when you literally drank 'cokes' (#southernslang) like they were water? I would down Dr. Pepper morning, noon, and night, and rarely drank water, and certainly never ordered it in a restaurant (unless mom was trying to save money)! Thankfully now, most of us know that ingesting chemicals, heaps of sugar, and avoiding water are all terrible things for your body and so I start every morning by downing 1 liter of water. Yes, I get out of bed, reach for the 1 liter bottle of H2O on my nightstand and down it. I'm not saying you have to drink a ton of water first thing in the morning, and I know some people find this difficult because, it is a lot of water at one time, but I am saying your body is dehydrated after sleeping and it needs water. Your body is 60% water and you probably just went 5-8 hours, depending on sleep duration, with no hydration! Sometimes I am not in the mood to down the full liter at once, and in that case, I nurse it over the next hour while I get ready for the day. But either way, it's gone before I leave the house at 0815 every morning. The added plus of this 1 liter is that it 'gets things going' in a big way. I used to always have issues of constipation and irregular bowel movements (#TMI) but those days are gone! After that first liter, I make it a point to down three more throughout the day. By the end of the day, I've usually had over a gallon of water. While I don't hit this goal every day, I make a point to try. I think there's some magical equation of your body weight times ounces, but I'm terrible at math so I just aim for a gallon and move on with my life. A few things that help:
- Prepare your water bottles each morning. I can't drink cold water anymore so I like mine to sit at room temperature for a while.
- Carry it with you. When I run out the door, I always have a liter of water in my purse. Instead of checking my phone at a stoplight, I always grab my water bottle instead.
- Check-in with yourself before you eat. If I suddenly feel hungry, I'll always grab my water bottle first. They say that often signs of hunger can be attributed to thirst, and I don't know how true that is, but I drink it anyway.
- Add flavor. I personally don't mind plain water, but I know some people have a hard time chugging plain old water so, if you need to, add cucumber, basil, lemon, or fruits to add some flavor. Get creative! When I was pregnant, I craved juices but knew the sugar and dyes were not good for me (this didn't stop me from downing Dr. Pepper and milkshakes occasionally) but I also added basil, cucumber, ginger and lemon to my water and it was so satisfying. I know there are readily available flavor drops, but unless it's 100% natural, with no added dyes and artificial flavors, I don't use them.
Wow, that's way more than I ever thought I'd say on water!
2. Eat fiber rich foods - I used to read stuff like 'eat fiber rich foods' like what?! What does that actually mean?! And, I'm no dietician but I do know that fiber keeps you fuller longer, because it takes longer to break down and digest, and it also keeps you regular. And again, who doesn't want to be more regular? While I aim for 30 grams a day, I don't always hit it, and it ain't no thang, but I do notice that I remain satisfied for much longer throughout the day. It's not that I'm looking to not eat, because I love eating, and I do eat, but I want to eat things that satiate my body, and since I'm always on the run with a baby, I don't have a lot of time to sit down, prepare a big meal, or go out to eat, so in the event I have to be quick, I want to make sure I'm eating the right foods that will tide my body over until my next window of opportunity. I've started beginning each day with 2 TBS of all natural almond butter (I love Costco's Kirkland brand) and along with that one liter of water, it keeps me full enough to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, get out the door to the gym, get my workout in, get home, feed Teddy, and put him down for a nap. Then I can make an actual meal--usually egg whites, Ezekiel toast and avocado. Other fiber rich foods I eat: green apples, brown rice or quinoa, squash, artichokes, almonds, sweet potatoes, and hello! dark chocolate.
3. Read the ingredients - Speaking of downing Dr. Pepper, I can honestly say I never read an ingredients label as an adolescent. Part of me reminisces with longing nostalgia for the innocence of growing up an 80s-baby, and the other part of me cringes at the vast amounts of Little Debbies, Cheetos, and Kid's Cuisines that I consumed. Now, if I can't decipher more than say three or four ingredients on a label, I don't eat it. The chemical components of food, and what we put into our bodies have such an impact on our mental health that it's crazy to think what the food, and fast-food, industries can get away with! I want to stress that I still live life in the sense that I can pick up food and eat it without analyzing and overthinking it, but I do stay mindfully conscious of what I'm putting into my body. And to be honest, I notice how I feel after I eat Dominos (#sodiumcoma) versus how I feel after I eat chicken and vegetables. I do go out to restaurants a lot (granted less now with Teddy) and eat fast food (on occasion), but eating a Mexican Pizza or a Double-Decker Supreme from Taco Bell (#mildsauce) is not the norm. I just don't crave it like I used to when I ate it all the time. I'm no dietician, but if I don't know what Red #40 is, I know probably shouldn't ingest it.
4. Workout - So I probably workout more than the average person, maybe even slightly too much, but it's my hobby, my passion and my happy place. I take great pride in being able-bodied and healthy, and take full advantage of that. I always think about a childhood friend, Kevin, who was shot, paralyzed, and confined to a wheelchair at a really young age. And you know what? Despite it all, and now in his 40s, he is the most inspiring person. He lights up Facebook with inspiring quotes, positive thoughts, and pictures of him hanging out with friends all the time who love and cherish him. And here I was, healthy and able-bodied, and walking around miserable all the time. I don't want to put words into his mouth, these are strictly my thoughts, but I think 'what he probably wouldn't give to be able to walk' and so I move my body with a purpose and an appreciation for all that it can do. Also, my mom has Multiple Sclerosis and I watch how much she struggles on a daily basis and if she can drag her butt to the gym, I can certainly kill a workout! On days when I don't feel like it, which honestly are so seldom, I think about what one physically handicapped person, like my mom, would give to be able to stand up and take one, single, sure-footed step. I'd assume, they'd give a lot. And so, I quit complaining and get out of that woe-is-me headspace really quick. I also find it significantly helps reduce anxiety, increase endorphins, and makes me feel physically stronger and healthier. I find meditation in motion and focusing my thoughts on my increasing my flexibility, my strength, and my cardiovascular endurance, allows me to physically feel better which in turn, helps me mentally feel better because for that one hour, I block everything else out. It also helps that I can take Teddy to the daycare at the gym where he gets to play with other babies, watch kids run around, and get doted on by the sweet teachers there. When I worked at State, I had a job that kept me tethered to a desk and it drove me crazy, but I'd at least get out for a walk during the day, or down to the gym for a quick workout. Working out is not for everyone--if you hate it, certainly don't force yourself to go to the gym, but try to do something that gets you moving whether it's going for a walk or playing with your kids.
5. Relax - This one got away from me for a little bit. Before I had Teddy, my husband and I lived separately due to my career with Department of State and his with the U.S. Military, so I had a lot of down time. I had leisurely evenings with yoga sculpt, Real Housewives, a long bath, and a good book. I was usually in bed by 8pm. Ahhhhhhh, those were the days! Then my husband moved in and I gave birth, and rest not only took a back seat, but didn't even make it into the car. My battle with postpartum anxiety took over, and didn't help in my quest for relaxation,, and before I knew it, I felt rundown, tired and achey all over. Not to mention, how I felt mentally which was dire. Now, this does require active preparation and scheduling on my part. I have to deliberately carve out time in my day to relax. Sounds nuts but it is what it is. Now, when my husband gets home, he'll take Teddy to the gym again, and I'll light a candle, take an epsom salt bath, turn off the lights and quiet my thoughts and just be. And with my own little bathtub savasana, even if it's only for 15 minutes, I feel much more relaxed and mentally clearer.
6. Read - I do this to make sure I'm doing something I love each day. Not to say that I don't love every second of being with Teddy, texting my mommy friends or my family, or catching up with my husband when he gets home, but during the thick of those first three months postpartum, my life went into such a shock, that I felt really lost. I wondered if I'd ever be able to do something I wanted to instead of doing something for Teddy, or the household. I wondered if I would ever return, or I'd just be this ghostly manifestation that took care of house and home. It may sound selfish, but it's true. And I think it's really, really important to do something for you when you are in a position of giving to others all day. And so, I make sure to do something I love, just for me, each and every day. Sometimes it's reading before bed, sometimes it's catching up on a podcast, or maybe it's even watching an episode of Real Housewives. Whatever it is, it's something that brings me joy.
7. Meditation - I don't mean I sit, legs-crossed, breathing incense and chanting, I just mean I quiet my mind and focus my thoughts into gratitude and positivity. I do this the minute I wake up and the moment I lay down for the evening. I used to be inherently sad, depressed, anxious, bitter, and a not-so-fun person to be around. I think I was 'emo' before there was 'emo'! I used to romanticize my sadness, depression and teenage angst, always channeling my inner Angela Chase. I just thought that's how I was supposed to be because that's how I always felt, but looking back, it's how I always felt because it's how I always thought. I like to think that many people who know me may say "that's not true Lauren! You're a blast to be around!" but inside, those were my normal feelings always. It became exhausting to put up a front of happiness and cheerfulness at work or when going out, and I used to find solace in spending time alone feeling sorry for myself and my 'bad day' or with friends that also felt the same way because, well, misery truly does love company. Then, like I said earlier in this post, I battled postpartum anxiety, where I truly thought this was how my life would be forever. There's something about being in your darkest days, or the "depths of despair" as Anne of Green Gables would say, that brings on a deep appreciation for the joyous, anxiety-free days I have now. I want to hang on to those and appreciate those, and so, I realized I had to change my thought pattern and mental outlook. It takes work though. A lot of work. At least for me, it's taken so much work. But it's so worth it. How do I do it? I take time each day to focus my thoughts on positive things in my life (which are plentiful!), I think about how thankful I am that I feel happy and less anxious, and I consciously make efforts to reign in my thoughts and bring focus on all the good in my life and all the good things happening around me. I am truly blessed in every way possible--health, happiness, friends, and family. You may not look at my life as anything special, but it is so special to me. And with this new-found-outlook and focus, I really feel, as hippy-dippy as it sounds, that I'm on a higher frequency. Plainly put, I feel happy. I am happy. And I think happy.
So, these are the changes I've made and the things I do every day to keep me sane, satiated and serene. Don't get me wrong, life happens, and I do skip workouts, drink Dr. Pepper, and feel sad and anxious, and certainly people piss me off, but I try to revert back to this list of things I know work for me, to bring me back to the place I where I want to be.
I'd love to know any steps you take for self-care, or things you once didn't think twice about that you now realize were detrimental for your health and sanity, so comment below.
The Ginger Ninja