10 Things That Are Keeping Me Healthy in Hectic Times

Prioritizing myself. This comes first because it is the prerequisite for everything else. It lies in the smallest of concrete decisions I make. Do I take an extra half hour before work to eat a nice breakfast? Do I take a water and pee break in the middle of class? Do I skip a social occasion to get some sleep? Do I skip out on some sleep to feed my friendships? I actually have many more choices than I thought. Behaving like everything is my choice is liberating.

NOT sticking to a routine. I’ve found that my “routine” has to be adaptable. Some days I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel like doing yoga; I feel like journaling. Sometimes I don’t feel like waking up and I stay in bed an extra half hour. Some days I make an on-the-go breakfast and other days I sit down with myself for a while. When I’ve tried to force myself to do the same thing every day, it has started to feel like a chore, enslaving me instead of freeing me to be myself. It’s important to remember that¬†anything you do for your health should ultimately be more reward than punishment. If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t last.

Being prepared.¬†I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have nothing in the fridge for dinner. I make plans, but I make my plans flexible; I’ll shop for a certain set of recipes or ideas but switch them around depending on what I feel like eating on a given day. I pack my lunches as I’m putting away my dinner leftovers. I started craving food every evening during class, so now I make myself a smoothie before I leave the house and sip on it when I feel hungry.

Snacking. I think my natural rhythm is to eat 6 small meals a day. When I eat a normal three-meals-a-day meal, I feel super bloated and uncomfortable. And, no matter how much I eat at breakfast, I am always hungry by 10:30! At first I fought this, now I listen to myself and just pack snacks that I munch on throughout the day.

(Trying to) sleep. I say trying to because I still can’t really figure out how to sleep through the night. I’ve been waking up at 2:30AM consistently, and it’s not super fun. I think the key is to cut caffeine and take all my supplements, but it’s hard to cut caffeine when I’m tired! Regardless, I go to bed around 9/9:30 every night that I can. That has helped immensely.

Mindful technology use. I don’t keep my phone in my bedroom anymore. Every night, I plug it in in the living room around 9 and go to bed. I read or chat with my boyfriend, usually, and then it’s easy to wind down. Similarly, my mornings are my sacred tech-free space. I never usually check my phone until I get to work, and the extra time has become so special that I don’t even want to spend those quiet AM hours checking InstaStories anymore.

Paying attention to my emotional state. Notice, I just pay attention; I don’t try to change my emotional states from negative to positive. I don’t really believe in this. If I try to change how I feel, it’s generally in ways that don’t actually serve me. If I feel what I feel, I’m more likely to be accepting toward myself – no need for modification, just some kind attention to my status. If I’m dwelling or unable to emerge from a negative state, I have an arsenal of things that help me feel better.

Listening to my own voice. Again, this feels vague – it’s not. I¬†concretely try to listen to my own voice. I have the voice in my head that narrates my thoughts and tries to process my days. I have the voice in my journal, who usually starts to sound very wise and grounded if I pay attention to her. I have my blog voice, my voice in class, my teacher voice, my therapist voice, my daughter voice, my sister voice, my friend voice. All of us communicate in such a huge variety of contexts. Becoming familiar with my voice has helped me navigate all of this “health” stuff from a grounded place.

Asking for support. I recently decided not to worry if I need support. My coworkers are kind, my friends are great, my boyfriend is steady and reliable, and my parents are in town. There is a large support network to be leaned on if ever I need it. Knowing that it’s okay to ask for help has actually made me need help less. I am secure in just knowing that it’s there.

Not giving up on myself. I was listening to a podcast this morning (School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, with guest Chen Lizra) and one of my favorite parts was her talking about her perseverance in dealing with her own mental illness. It took her ten years of hard, engaged work, of putting it all together and it all falling¬†apart. It reminded me of my now more than a year of trying to figure out how to feed and love myself, how to heal my physical illness. She said that it’s a tremendously hard thing to keep your vision of how things could be alive in spite of all the evidence trying to break that vision down. It would be easy for me to give up on trying to be healthy because I can’t be perfect, because sometimes things fall apart. It takes a lot of perseverance and it’s hard to get adequate support.

But, not giving up is one of the most important and hardest things I’ve done. I’m living on faith that I won’t have to try so hard one day. Or, even if I do have to try my entire life, feeling my best is worth it.

Oh, and one last thing: TREAT YOSELF! I would not be very happy without the occasional Friday night pizza delivery.

 

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Pizza: cashew basil sauce, gluten free crust, and vegan cheez.
10 Things That Are Keeping Me Healthy in Hectic Times

Swimming Upstream: Why It’s So Hard to “Get Healthy”

Spoiler alert: It’s not your fault that it’s hard.

I bet that most of my friends and acquaintances don’t want to be unhealthy. Nobody signs up to be pre-diabetic or chronically ill. Nobody signs up for food intolerances, gut problems, or immune system dysfunction. Nobody is dying to become depressed or anxious.

If I told you there’s a possible, potential way to heal yourself of these things through diet and lifestyle, you might say – wait, really!? If you were¬†really struggling and ready for change, you might even try changing something one day. Maybe for a week. Maybe¬†even¬†for a month.

But let me tell you, all of us that are trying to be healthy are swimming upstream.

Salmon literally run themselves ragged trying to get upstream, and all they have to do when they get there is spawn and die. Being healthy is an uphill, upstream swim with no real destination and no end in sight.

Here’s a few reasons why:

We evolved in an environment of “food scarcity.”

As hunter-gatherers and cavemen, eating relied on finding food, trapping it or catching it, and cooking it – all in the great outdoors. It seems obvious that there was no “UberPrey” delivering us fresh kills for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had to walk everywhere (and be very lucky) to find food in the first place, let alone be skilled enough to catch it. So, sometimes we went without food. It was never on-demand exactly what we wanted.

That part is obvious, but what may be less obvious is what that did to our bodies.

In my exposure to the world of nutrition, one very common piece of information I’ve picked up is that our bodies are designed to seek and binge high-reward foods. This means dense carbs (bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, pizza, etc.) and sugar (candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes, etc.), both of which were very scarce in our primal diet.

We probably almost never had access to these things in our caveman years. Dense carbs and sugars were like the dopamine hit of the year when they appeared. As a result, when we saw an apple, we would be biologically compelled to grab it and eat the whole thing. And because they were so rare, many of the mechanisms in our body are designed to store away the nutrients in these things Рas fat.

Yep, they both turn into fat.

Actually, in caveman days they probably didn’t. They probably instead got used up in the highly ambulatory lifestyle of our ancestors. The occasional packet of glucose (apple), not to mention the stored fat, was probably essential and critical for survival.

So here’s our problem:

Now, at least in the city, we have UberEats. We have AmazonFresh. We have fast food restaurants, we have grocery stores with everything we could possibly want. Food scarcity is completely not a thing.*

Not only that, but we have food scientists, hired by companies to make sure that food optimally targets alllll our reward pathways. They understand that the brain is wired to seek and crave and binge certain flavors, and they use this to mix new things that leave us bingeing and craving and spending more and more $$$ to get our fix.

TL;DR: We are literally genetically programmed to crave and binge on these high-reward foods, and food companies take advantage of this to sell products. 

In order for our bodies to be adequately able to digest things like pizza, we would have to have a significant change in our mechanisms for digesting and metabolizing nutrients. Our bodies would have to become smarter waste-disposal systems to adequately filter out all of the non-nutritious (and sometimes poisonous) crap that is in our food to make it taste good and make us want more. That change simply is not going to happen unless we have another 1,000 years to evolve over generations – simply to catch up to the food environment we have today, and that’s if¬†nothing changes in the food industry.

So, Reason #1 that it’s not our fault that it’s hard to get healthy:

Our bodies weren’t designed for the amount and types of food that we now have at our disposal. We are programmed to become slaves to high-reward foods and the people who are making them know and exploit this fact.¬†

It’s not your fault, it’s an unfortunate combination of social norms, capitalism, and genetics. If you’re trying to avoid these foods, you are barraged with advertisements, pizza smells lurk around every corner, and getting happy hour with friends becomes a battle of wits with the menu and the servers to find out¬†what the heck is in your food.

I know because I’ve been there. It sucks. It’s hard.

Other things that suck and are hard: being chronically sick. Being depressed and anxious. Having no energy.

I chose the first one simply because I was¬†so tired of feeling ill. And you have to be¬†extremely¬†motivated to make changes like this happen, given all the forces working against you. For everyone who just is lethargic sometimes, who has a few skin issues, who sometimes gets an upset stomach – it may feel like more work to do the food thing than it’s worth. I feel that. If you aren’t sick, why do it?

But what if you do really want to be healthier?

My future posts are going to contain things you¬†can¬†do that make it less hard. It’s been almost a year now since I overhauled my diet and lifestyle, and this anniversary has me reflecting on what’s been working and what’s still not where I want it to be.

I just want to acknowledge to everyone that¬†anyone who does¬†anything (yes, really any little thing) to be more healthy is a hero and a champion and kudos, because it’s really hard. You’re battling social norms, misinformation, capitalism, evil food scientists, your own body – even your friends and family.

I’m with you, superhero.

 

* This is disregarding socioeconomics, location, and systemic issues – food as an access/social justice issue is a beast for a different post.

Swimming Upstream: Why It’s So Hard to “Get Healthy”