Dissatisfied Health

Guess what, folks. I’m about to blow your mind with what you already may know or at the very least suspect somewhere down deep, but what I think is important to talk about. Especiallllyyy in the blog world, especiallllyyy in college, especiallllyyy in today’s culture.

We, as people, are masters of self deception. MASTERS, I say. At least up to a point. (At which point you say, get to the point Michaela. Patience, dear grasshopper.)

I want to talk to you about dieting. About exercise. About “lifestyle changes,” because we all know that dieting and exercise are out of vogue. Diets don’t work, the experts say, and rather than force ourselves to exercise we are encouraged to find fun physical activity and delicious healthy food so we don’t have to diet. And around this new trend, dozens and hundreds of blogs (and a whole web and non-web based health culture) have popped up, including my own. It’s called Pilgrimage of Health, for goodness sake. Health. With Healthy recipes and Healthy lifestyle tips and Healthy thought processes and Healthy healthy healthy. 

And I’m not out to bash any of that. We do need lifestyle changes. We do need to forego dieting, and find activities that we enjoy doing that make us feel good, because we’re facing a crisis situation. In my country of the United States and increasingly around the world, we’re facing an epidemic of unhealth in mind, body, and soul. We’re spending more and more time and money and energy on health, and yet collectively we’re still pretty sick. In response, we’re inundated with lifestyles and ideas and tips intended to transform us into healthy, happy, carefree health goddesses (and gods).

But I think, underneath a lot of the healthy language and healthy blog culture, we sometimes use health as a cover-up. As an excuse, to try and change ourselves into what we think we should be rather than accepting ourselves for who we are. Now, rather than esteeming thinness for thinness sake and dieting and weight loss, we’re instead consumed by this image of health that can lead us into unhealthy behaviors.

You following me here?

An obsession with health can be unhealthy. Part of the problem lies within the motivation behind strict workout plans and eating regimes, but part of the problem can come after. After we’re following the cleanest diet, practicing yoga six times a week, training for a marathon. We become dependent on these as something to define us. We become human doers instead of human beings, fixated on the high of pushing ourselves further and defined by what we don’t do, that is, consume ‘bad’ foods (which in our society can mean a million different foods). And if we’re embracing a “healthier lifestyle” out of a deep dissatisfaction with who we are, I think that’s problematic.

Because our bodies know, right? Our self knows. It knows when we act out of insecurity instead of satisfaction. We know, deep down, what actions come from abundance and deprivation. And that doesn’t come without consequences. Lying to ourselves and saying that we’re “just following this eating plan because I feel tired (or want to be healthier or save the planet or I think I’m allergic to . . .)” when we really are trying to follow a diet without calling it so because we are deeply dissatisfied with ourselves and desperately want change, our bodies and souls know. Don’t try to trick them.

I know this to be true, because I do it. Have done it. Mastered it, for the past five years. I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, nut-free. I’ve followed strict running plans and done juice cleansing. I’ve committed to abstaining from this or that because of that and this. And every time I eat a certain way or exercise out of a dissatisfaction, it backfires. Badly.

This is not to say that running or vegetarianism or veganism (or yoga or paleo or grain free or . . . you get the idea) are inherently bad within themselves. Nope, because those things can come from a place of true health. They can come from a place of wholeness, a clarity in communication with our deeper selves that says that running makes our bodies feel good or a certain type of food makes our bodies feel bad.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you’re eagerly about to jump into another trend in the name of health, step back.  Why are you about to embark upon this plan? Is it from abundance, or deprivation? Joy, or insecurity?

 

Summer Strength Strategy

Since school ended, I have not been intentional about exercise. Being on the farm, I’m  usually pretty apathetic about working out when I get back, and end up simply snacking, reading, resting, and lazing around. All of which are great things, since this is summer and I am working, and rest is very needed.

I was recently inspired by two of my favorite bloggers, both of which are named Angela! (Funny coincidence, they’re both Canadian too 😉 ) Angela over at Eat, Spin, Run, Repeat sets monthly goals for herself, and checks in near the end of the month to see how she’s done. She also has workout plans that she follows, something that I need to be much more intentional about. I typically just go to our Physical Activities Center and do whatever I feel like. Some days, this results in a great workout where nearly every muscle’s been used. Other days, I get there and am unsure of what to do, or what I need to rest from a previous day’s workout.

Angela from Oh She Glows  recently posted about her yoga routine. She’s a runner, but because of an injury has been focusing more on yoga to give her body time to heal. She’s been doing a variety of yoga classes (hot yoga, yoga with weights, spin yoga) about four times a week!

In high school, I practiced yoga regularly, about 1-2x a week. I loved how flexible I was, and how strong I felt in my own body. I haven’t done yoga with any routine for about a year, but I’d like to start again.

For the summer, I’m going to outline a plan to continue improving my physical fitness: my endurance, strength, and flexibility. Last semester, I was running about 25 miles a week and I felt fantastic–strong, full of energy, and very de-stressed. When it got cold out, I cut back on running and increased my time in the weight room. I haven’t really returned to running with any regularity, and my weight routine lacks substance and measurable progress.

To improve/maintain my fitness, I’ve made a loose plan with enough structure to keep me accountable but enough flexibility  for allowances.

Weekly Fitness Plan: 
Running/Cycling 15 miles
Practicing Yoga 3x a week, for at least 20 minutes each time
Lift weights 2x a week, with a record of the exercises I do to track my progress

I have two goals to be completed before school starts up again:
1) Train for and Run a Race (5K or half marathon)
2)Do a pull-up (without assistance!)

I think my fitness plan will definitely help me in completing these two goals!

Do you plan out your workouts? 

Are you planning any changes for the summer? 

Eating Well and Exercising . . .On Vacation

Fellow pilgrims, I journeyed this past extended weekend to a friend’s home in North Carolina for Easter Break.

And unfortunately for me, this post . . . isn’t about how I ate well and exercised on vacation. Because I didn’t. I grazed mindlessly throughout the day, ate when I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t do anything physically active. Not once! And it’s ok to have weekends like that. It’s ok to take a break, and eat foods you don’t usually eat, and lay around like a slob relax on breaks. It is especially ok to take a break from exercising, as I’ve mentioned before. But what isn’t ok is to feel bad about it, or feel unsettled because you’re not controlling your meal times or meal components.

What I didn’t do but could have done better: thought about the weekend ahead with a plan in mind. In my excitement to spend the time on break with friends, I didn’t think there’d be any challenges. If you’re breaking routine or going somewhere new, I encourage you to pause beforehand and come up with a game plan. Write it down, if need be! Will exercise make you feel better and give you a break from the family? Bring clothes, and make that a priority (preferably in the morning). Are you wanting to take a break from physical activity, but wanting to spend time catching up on a book? Do you want time away from the internet, or from television? Think of pitfalls that could come up and waylay these goals, and devise a few creative solutions to fall back on if you encounter an obstacle en route.

On a check in for this week’s Pit Stop Monday:

Every time I get on my computer, I want to get on Facebook. It’s habit–my fingers automatically go to open another tab while something is loading to check it. Same thing for my WordPress stats–it’s a default action to get on my account, and if there are no comments or replies to click over to see how many of you viewed my blog today. That fixation is definitely not constructive, so I’m glad this is my special focus this week.

How do you stay happy, healthy, and relaxed when away from your routine?

Do you ever take a break from the Internet, or specific sites? 

The Exercise Compulsion

Quick check in, day 2, week 2 of Pit Stop Mondays.

I’ve been stretching, but half hearted motions. What I really want to talk about today is a revelation from this weekend. Here’s something I wrote on Sunday that I wanted to share:

Today, I was planning on going on a run and going to the gym despite my protesting body (my knees hurt going up stairs . . . I’m guessing because I was very very active the day before) After reading this post, I decided to plan on a walk, and to run if I felt like it, followed up by some elliptical action at our gym. I headed towards my usual route, and walked at a very leisurely pace to our amphitheater.

The weather was beautiful: warm, breezy, and sunny yet slightly overcast, and the sloping grass in the amphitheater was absolutely alluring. I contemplated a nap,  but instead went to the far corner and, hidden by trees, stripped down to my sports bra and did a few sun salutations on soft, springy growth.

Here, I again considered a run. It’s hard for me to break out of the idea that I should be active when I have time, and that walking “isn’t exercise” because it isn’t hard or rigorous. But I simply kept walking—and I am so glad I did. Walking outside on the trails in the woods, I was able to talk out loud (which is important for me) to God, and continually be amazed at what I saw.

My usual running route looks so different when I actually stop and look at it. I had no idea how diverse and beautiful the plants were—if someone had seen me, they probably would have been confused at my antics. I stopped to rub soft tree leaves on my cheek, to marvel at shapes, to gape at trees I’d never noticed before. I saw a toad, several caterpillars, and even helped a lost baby turtle back to the lake. I’d never have seen it if I had been jogging.

Allow yourself breaks. Marvel at nature, breathe in the scent of spring.

I’m going to take my camera out on that route, and show you all what I saw! I’ll add them in soon.

 

Pit Stop Mondays

Happy Monday! What a great weekend. Saturday, I worked on a community garden, went for a run, went contra dancing and then to a party for more dancing! While I didn’t get a lot of sleep, I had fun. Gardening+dancing=best exercise EVER! Especially contra. I didn’t realize how physically active it was, but after a few dances I was sweating quite a bit.

Photo: Sean Green

Photo: Sean Green

Then, last night, I cooked several Oh She Glows  recipes with friends for a community dinner: red quinoa black bean salad and itty bitty carrot cake cookies. We also had garlic bread with earth balance and a huge salad with baby greens, apples, and other goodies. It was deliciously successful.

 

And on to a new feature, which I’m going to call Pit Stop Mondays on my pilgrimage to health. Based loosely on the happiness project, I plan to chronicle mini, one week endeavors intended to improve my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. They’ll serve as check-in points along the route. I have several in mind, involving finances, gratitude, activity, nutrition, and spiritual nourishment. I’m excited!

First on the agenda this week: No negative self talk or comparison to other people, including the person I once was. I talked about  this in my last post , and this week I am making a conscientious effort and refusing to compare myself. It’s been difficult all day. Now that I’m more aware of it, I notice how often I do compare myself with other people–it is an almost hourly occurance. Instead of being critical of those aspects of myself I don’t like, I use every temptation to compare to remind myself that I am beautiful and unique, and my body is healthy and strong.

How do you bite self-criticism in the butt? What did you do this past weekend for your health? 

Simple Tips for Health at College

This week is my spring break, holla! I’m working on my social health, visiting my childhood best friend at her school in Tennessee for the weekend, then flying to Tampa to spend the week with my roommate and suite mate. Not practicing very good financial wellness perhaps–but health is all about balance. A trade-off: decreased bank account balance for good times with friends. I’m learning–and I have  a lot to learn about finance management.

While talking with my friend’s friends, the conversation drifted to health, to lifestyle changes while at school. And being healthy physically at school is hard. There is nearly unlimited access to food–sugary, delicious, refined foods. There is less time to sleep–school work and social activities keep some of us from getting the minimum eight hours.

There are upsides, however! At school there is often the convenience of healthy food options if you know what to look for, and easy access to physical activity centers and gyms. My conversations with different college students prompted this post. I realize that not everyone is conscientious or knowledgeable about nutrition, and the noise about “healthy” or “low fat” can be confusing. In the future, I’ll elaborate on different aspects of nutrition and physical activity. I’m passionate about what goes into my body, and you should be too!

Tip #1 Banish negative self talk. No good comes from negativity about ourselves. Without self love, we have nothing–enlist the help of others and agree to ban fat talk, defeatist attitudes, and harmful criticism. When I think about all the time I’ve wasted being critical of myself, it irritates me. My time could have been so much better spent.

Tip #2 Find exercise you love, and do it often! Friends of mine obsess over Zumba, I’d rather shave my head. Almost. For me, running and yoga relieve stress and make me happy. Does your school offer exercise classes? Try a new one! I rediscovered Pilates at school, and it’s awesome. Aim for activity, even if it’s light. Calling your mom? Go for a walk while you chat. Heading to your dorm on the fourth floor? Take the stairs.

Tip #3 Set a time when “the kitchen is closed.” Staying up late, it’s easy to eat junk food at all hours. While it’s a myth that eating at night makes you gain weight, eating when you aren’t hungry does. For me, I don’t like to eat after 8, which is probably ridiculously early for some people. I haven’t been following this guideline closely, and I notice I sleep and feel worse when I eat late because it is typically mindless snacking–rarely is it healthy or conscious.

Tip #4 Meatless Mondays! (Or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays) I’m a vegan, but I know most people aren’t! Setting a day to abstain from meat can prompt you to try new foods and eat healthier while helping the environment. If you’re already vegetarian, try a vegan day. Since becoming vegetarian and then vegan my range of foods has actually increased.

Tip #5 Don’t cut out foods you love. If you suddenly decide you’re going to cut out all ice cream, cookies, and desserts when you’re used to having three desserts a day, you’ll stick to your strict new regime for about two days. Then, you’ll inevitably end up having ten at once because you feel deprived. Continue to eat foods you love, but have smaller portions less often. If you know you’re going to have dessert at dinner, it can encourage you to eat well at lunch.

Tip #6 Get creative in the dining hall. My friends are always amazed with the creations I concoct. I’ll make a massive salad, top it with a veggie burger, guacamole, hummus, nuts and salsa and go to town. Or, I’ll take a stir fry and wander around the dining hall adding little bits that look good. If you like how healthy food tastes, you’ll be more likely to eat it.

Tip #7 Sleep! I get at least 8 hours a night. When I first got to school, I had a really hard time falling and staying asleep. If you have trouble sleeping at school, try to minimize light in your room. You can also take melatonin a half hour to hour before you go to bed, and try to get a routine that signals to your body you are ready to go to bed. For example, minimize screen time (tv, computer, etc.) for an hour before you go to sleep, or do the same thing every night before you go sleep. It’ll help. People who get more sleep perform better and have healthier body weights.

Tip #8 Eat breakfast every day. Eating breakfast kick starts your metabolism and regulates your appetite for the rest of the day. Try to eat within an hour of waking up, and have something with protein and fiber. I’ve been training myself to eat oatmeal despite my history of hatred for the mushy breakfast dish. I mix in peanut butter, puffed rice cereal or granola for something to chew on, flax seed, protein powder, and soy milk. Maybe it isn’t unadulterated oatmeal but it keeps me full until lunch and makes me feel energized! Studies show that people who eat breakfast have more energy, healthier body weights, and improved concentration.

What do/did you do to stay healthy at college?