In the past, I’ve led online groups encouraging each other to be more healthy. One of them made the New York Times. (I had gained a lot more pounds than my baby was, and those pounds did not want to vacate the premises as fast as I wanted them to leave. It’s a nice article but inaccurately called me a “former lawyer”).
Over the years, I’ve been asked by some folks to write down some of my thoughts on health and fitness, and inspired by the progress some of my friends have made, today I am doing a health and fitness pep talk for all of us.
Like with everything in life, take what works for you and consider the rest.
Most of these things are reminders of stuff you already know, and if you learn anything, all the better. Warning: This is unfashionably earnest writing and not cynical at all, so if that sort of thing doesn’t work for you, perhaps you should visit places online that are better for you.
General Health and Fitness Philosophy.
Being Kind to Yourself and Future Self. Ultimately with health and fitness things, the focus should be on things that don’t break your body down and are good for your short and long term health. When considering all choices, having respect for yourself and future self should be the primary directive.
This seems like a no duh, but look at all the diets and fitness things that people do that aren’t evidenced-based or good for one’s long-term health. Please consider not doing those things or at a minimum, make it a choice.
I’ve been spending a lot of time visiting senior living homes in recent years, and they make you think of such things.
Consult with Experts.
Medical Checkup. Have you been to the doctor and dentist recently? Sometimes medical reasons can interfere with your fitness objectives. Sometimes you can look and feel healthy but have metabolic, cholesterol, blood pressure etc issues. Visiting the dentist can maintain gum and teeth health, and make it easier to eat healthy foods.
Mental Health and Addiction. Depression lies. And as much as good nutrition and regular exercise can be of great help with many people’s mental status, depression can make it difficult to take care of yourself. The brain is the boss, so it gets priority. Find resources to get help.
Registered Dietitian. I thought I knew a lot about nutrition until I visited a Registered Dietitian. Typically, they will evaluate your current diet and educate you on portion sizes, practical nutrition tips, nutritional deficits, what is good for you as an individual. Whatever your current health status, they can make it more optimal. Knowledge is power. For some people, their insurance will cover the costs.
“Get Your Mind Right.” I had the good fortune of working with fitness trainer, Todd Durkin, and one of his main mantras is “Get Your Mind Right.” I’m a big believer in “cognitive reframing” of trying to reframe negative, self-defeating thoughts into more positive ones that can create positive changes. To look at weaknesses and use that as a challenge to turn them into strengths and opportunities.
Be Your Own Best Friend. Sports psychologists often train athletes in their “self talk” and one of those things is to not talk to yourself in a way that is less kind than a good friend would talk to you.
Thou Shall Not Covet. It is weird how different societies value different things about people’s bodies. In basic terms, your body is what you use to tote your soul about. Trying to be something you are not and can’t be, never works out well. You be you.
You Are Not Immutable. That said, “you” as a person isn’t an unchangeable object that can only be one way. The you as a kid might have hated onions, now you love them. You may have preferences in your life, things that make you more or less comfortable, but you aren’t just a collection of characteristics that are only one thing. Your mind is powerful. You can choose things. Sometimes you can make choices and will those thoughts into reality. Make good choices, and try to make things happen.
The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. Do something good for yourself. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just do something. Make a choice to be good to yourself because if you don’t, who will?
Avoid Fatalism. Yes, being mindful of health and fitness things does not prevent bad things happening to your person. That said, a “we all die” mindset doesn’t account for preventable things or a full quality of life.
The Scale. Many theories abound about how much attention to pay to weight on the scale. I tend to think of it a bit like sports stats. It is one piece of data. It isn’t the be all and end all. It’s something worth knowing but can be misleading. I find my weight fluctuates during the course of a day, and when I’m at my fittest, I am often not at my lightest weight. My personal goals have nothing to do with this one stat and everything to do with my general health and the ability to do the things I want to do.
Not a Fan of Diets. In my experience, the more one diets, the more one thinks about food and feels deprived. I prefer thinking in terms of living a generally healthy lifestyle based on just knowledge and moderation. That requires obtaining good information and buying into it and knowing what things you have difficulty moderating.
Typically, the American diet is too much processed food and too many calories from processed carbohydrates. Working with a Registered Dietitian can often figure out what specifically in your normal eating could be healthier for you.
If a specific temporary diet is healthy and sensible and jump starts a better lifestyle of eating, go for it. Just work toward something that you can live your life doing.
Food as Fuel. Treat your body at least as well as you treat your car. You wouldn’t put bad fuel in your car. The majority of your food choices should have some sort of positive nutritional value. I like thinking of trying to eat food closest to the way God made it.
Willpower is Overrated. If there are foods or beverages that you find hard to resist and aren’t beneficial to you, don’t have them in the house regularly.
Eating Out as a Health Opportunity. If you eat out a lot, learn about how to make healthier choices, or even better of a bunch of bad choices. Also find go-to restaurants where it is easier to make healthy choices. Even nutritionists can have difficulty determining calorie counts of restaurant foods, so be mindful of how things are prepared, portion sizes, calorically-dense foods. I like eating fish at restaurants because I rarely cook it at home and good restaurants usually have been sources for fresh fish.
Know How to Cook. When you cook at home, you know what is in your food and how it was prepared. There are ways of preparing foods that are very good for you and taste good. Just because you didn’t like your mom’s broccoli, doesn’t mean you can’t cook in a way that you like it. In the internet age, if you can follow directions, it is pretty easy to learn how to cook.
Food Diary. One of the best ways to educate yourself on the nutritional component of foods is to keep a food diary. After doing one for even two weeks, I learned a ton about calorie counts, nutritional components of foods I ate often.
Stay Hydrated. Sometimes people eat when they are really thirsty. I’ve seen a hat that says, “All of your problems ever are because you’re not drinking enough water.” There’s something to that. Sometimes when you are feeling off, just drinking some water does make you feel better. (Though like anything, too much is bad for you too. Moderation in everything).
Learn How to Read Food Labels. Working with a Registered Dietitian made me more mindful of food labels. The best info? Portion sizes (like some drink bottles and snacks are really 2+ portion sizes). 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon which means a lot of common foods have many teaspoons of sugar.
Alcohol. For some people, alcohol doesn’t work for their lives and moderation is not an option. Sadly, I know too many people where it has put them in jail, hospital or the grave. For others, it is just a drag on their health, whether it is making them feel unwell or too many calories. Just keeping a food diary of the sugar and calories in alcohol might surprise you and make you think more moderately. If you need help with this, please find it.
Other Liquid Calories. It’s hard to maintain health being a daily soda drinker. There is just nothing good in it. Being mindful of liquid calories is important because they don’t make you feel full the same as solid ones do.
Mindful Eating and Food Because It’s There. Don’t eat food just because it is there. Stale popcorn at the theater. Donuts left in the break room. Candy dish. How many times do you eat something when you aren’t hungry? Taste the food that you are eating. If it isn’t worth the calories or nutrition, don’t eat it.
Early Bites are the Best Ones. You don’t have to finish your plate. Sometimes you just want a taste of something. It’s okay to taste things and not keep eating them until you are stuffed.
Fiber is Your Friend. Fiber naturally found in foods generally are a good thing for the functioning of your body and make you feel more full.
Don’t Be Weird About Food. Some people love food. Some people treat it like fuel. Whatever you do, if you are wondering if you are talking about food too much, maybe you are. It’s food. It’s cool that many humans get enjoyment from eating. That said, nobody wants to hear about your bloat tendencies or whatever weird biological whatnot.
Your Three Things. Be real. You likely know the things that are impeding your nutritional health. Some of them you may be resisting because you like them too much. Alcohol? Desserts? Sugars? Salty snacks? Sodas? High-calorie Starbucks nonsense? Fast food? Mindless eating? Not figuring out how you can like vegetables? Pick a few high impact things in your life, and work on those things first. Sometimes just doing it is easier on your mind than the dread of thinking about doing it.
Fitness As Holistic. Fitness is not just an outward thing but more having the suit that holds your soul be able to do the stuff you want to do in life now and the future. There’s a lot of parts to that, including body composition, strength, cardiovascular fitness, movement skills, balance, flexibility, agility, posture, healthy pain response, coordination, reaction time, mental focus and peace.
Some folks like to focus on their strengths and keep working on those. Some use their strengths to work on their weaknesses. Those strengths and weaknesses tend to evolve over the course of a life.
Just as I don’t like the thought of “diets,” I don’t like the idea of fitness as anything other than just one of the things that you do. Brush teeth, shower, move around regularly.
Figure Out How to Enjoy It. Sometimes there are things in life that are good for us but we don’t enjoy them. You can choose: 1. To avoid them; 2. To do them unhappily. 3. To find a way to enjoy them. I try to choose 3, though 1 and 2 get into the mix sometimes. Trying to find ways to enjoy things we don’t naturally enjoy can turn them into things we naturally enjoy.
Joy is good, and I recommend it.
In the technology world, sometimes they do that by “gamifying” them. That many people like games, so app makers and retailers make things more like games so people want to do them. I never liked to do cardio activities until I found ways to make them more interesting, like attending classes and reading fun stupid stuff while on cardio machines.
One of my favorite workouts is what I call the “Game of Thrones Workout,” where I binge watch a show to catch up and do various workout stuff in front of the TV.
Move About. Human beings aren’t meant to sit around all the time. And I find I feel better the more I move about. Everybody has a different starting fitness level, but find things to do every day to get your blood moving. If you have physical limitations, you can often find things to work around those limitations. If you sit a lot for your job, try to make sure your ergonomics of where you work are good and take regular breaks.
Shoes. You don’t need the latest workout shoes. I often buy the previous year’s shoes on sale and I rotate between a couple. Shoes are always cheaper and better than hip and knee replacements. Find ones that work and workout gear you like because you are more likely do exercise if you like what you are wearing.
Variety. Personally, I’m a big fan of a variety of fitness activities. I think variety is a good thing because it tends to reduce imbalances in your fitness.
Timing. You don’t have to do all your workout at one time. You can spread activity throughout the day. I like getting workouts done in the morning because things won’t pop up later that derail them, but sometimes that is not logistically feasible. Work a lot during the week? Then try to make sure every weekend has some fitness in it. One of the fittest and busiest people I know would always try to do about 15 minutes of intense fitness before hopping in the shower. Sometimes you just have to schedule when it makes time for your life, but intend for it to happen.
Counterproductive Fitness. Sometimes people do ego types of fitness activities that are meant for their bodies to look like some sort of ideal, but break the body down by putting unnecessary stress on joints and bones or go beyond their fitness level.
If you are working with a fitness trainer, learn about their background and their philosophy on such things.
Personally, though I have done long-distance running in the past with a run trainer, I do not like running as a way to maintain fitness. I find that for most body types, it is hard to engage in that as a regular activity and not break down. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Cross Fit generally for that reason, but some places have good sense and a good community that works for them. Your results may vary.
Gym Workouts. If you think you would like gym workouts, they have to work for your life. Try to get a gym that you can afford and that is not too far from your work or your house. Make it logistically easy for you to go by having workout clothes in your car if you come from work.
If you feel self-conscious about gyms, please don’t. The people running the gym don’t want that. And most people are too preoccupied with their own lives to care about your gym activities. And really, if someone is all judgy about you being at a gym, that says more about them than you. Most gyms have programs to familiarize you with their equipment and have folks that want to help you.
I enjoy going to gyms because I like the variety, and I try to think of it as my stress release spa.
Non-Gym Workouts. Obviously, you don’t need a gym to do a workout, and you don’t need a “workout” to get your blood going.
One of my favorite fitness books is called, “The Prison Yoga Project: A Path for Healing and Recovery” by James Fox. It is a book that was written primarily for prisoners who have limited workout space, access to instructors and who have significant challenges in dealing with trauma and stress. But for all people, it does a great job explaining yoga, yoga positions, and the mental benefits of connecting mind with body. It also happens to help people, details about the Prison Yoga Project here.
Find things that you can do and just do them. Everything else is just excuses.
Technology. There’s plenty of technology out there that encourages fitness. Wearables. Online support groups and videos. Video game workouts. Online information (preferably smart and evidence based). One of my friends likes doing workouts she finds on Pinterest.
It has never been easier to find things to help you move more but at the same time, plenty of distractions to stop you from moving.
Know Your Limits. Often in sports, there is the discussion of what is pain versus what is injury. Even with professionals, that is a tough line to draw. Whatever activity you are doing, listen to the pain signals that your body puts out and try not to overdo, because that can be counterproductive. I like the thought of not being in a competition with anyone.
Be the Tortoise. Much better to be consistent in your commitment to a healthier you than burning out all at once and getting discouraged. Have a setback? Every day is another day.
Try Stuff Out. If there is a workout in existence, I’ve tried it out and learned to enjoy pretty much all of them. My current favorites are Spinning and Pilates for how they make me feel in my mind and body, assuming that the music in the Spinning class isn’t too bad. Find the things that you enjoy and work for you, and give things a chance by doing them for a while.
Have a Great Life. Okay, I’m going to stop writing this because it is already too long but will likely update it with extra stuff over time. Hope you enjoyed this pep talk of stuff you likely already know but need a reminder. Keep kicking ass.