How I Live a Healthy, Sustainable Lifestyle
As we age and cycle through our busy routines, it seems to become harder and harder to form healthy habits. Yo-yoing back and forth from unhealthy eating and little to no exercise to extreme dieting and excessive exercise is not sustainable or truly getting your body running the way it wants to.
This has been a balance I've worked hard to refine over the last decade, and while it hasn't been easy and there have been some failures along the way, I think I have finally found a lifestyle that is not only sustainable, but actually makes me feel better.
I'm 5'2", and while I'm petite, I've never been skinny. I was a cheerleader in high school, so that made me strong. I was always able to maintain a weight around 115 pounds pretty much no matter how much I ate.
Then I went to college, and I definitely gained weight. I still exercised, but it would be in obsessive spurts of hours in the gym for a few months, and then I would go months without exercising. I didn't monitor my eating at all and had no portion control--I could eat a Qdoba burrito and still feel hungry after. I ate fast food way too often and had no idea how to cook.
I was also really busy, especially when I was in graduate school. I was working around the clock for that year going to classes, student teaching, working as a part-time manager at Coach after school and on the weekends, and then after work I would come home and do homework. I never had a day off and was getting around 5 hours of sleep each night, so of course I wasn't exercising. I was eating highly processed and fatty foods because I didn’t know how to cook nor did I have time to learn.
When I finished graduate school, I was 140 pounds. I looked and felt completely unhealthy, and I knew I needed to make a change.
My first year of teaching, I moved to a tiny town in Kentucky that had hardly any restaurant or fast food options. I had no choice but to learn how to cook, and by the end of the school year, I was down to 119 pounds.
I still wasn't exercising, but I finally had full control over the food I was eating and knew exactly what was going into each meal I prepared. I stopped buying bread because it would turn to mold before I could eat it, and then I eventually stopped wanting it. I finally came to terms with the fact that I naturally eat very fast (an issue that's only gotten worse as a teacher with a 25-minute lunch), so I started putting less on my plate and then would make myself wait a few minutes to see if I was still hungry before getting more--every time, after about a ten-minute pause, I would realize I was full. I would still have sweets, but a chocolate bar could last me a week--I would bite off a couple pieces, enjoy it, and then realize that I had appeased my sweet tooth and didn't need more.
That year was the food mindset reboot that I needed, and I'm not sure it would have happened if I hadn't been forced to learn to cook.
When I moved back to Lexington, I adopted some of my old bad habits again. Over the next 5 years, my weight crept back up to the 127 pound range because I was eating out more with friends and was still struggling with portion control. But I never went over that mark, which felt like a victory. In those 5 years, I started exercising more regularly, and I owe a lot of that to Micah.
When I started dating him, I knew that I was going to have to become stronger and increase my endurance if I wanted to keep up with his active lifestyle. I wanted to go hiking with him and not completely poop out after a couple of miles. I wanted to not feel nervous about renting a bike to explore a new city. I wanted to try skiing and surfing. I didn't want to be left behind, and I didn't want him to ever feel like he was being held back.
So I started running and taking my dogs for regular long walks, lifting weights a couple times a week, and I even bought a Groupon for sessions with a personal trainer, which ended up being a really smart health investment. My trainer taught me how to work toward doing pull-ups (a goal I've always had for myself) and how to safely do squats with weights and deadlifts. I think everyone should invest in a personal trainer for a little while just to learn how to not injure themselves.
At this point I was feeling pretty good, but I still had goals for myself. I wanted to see if I could get better results by cleaning up my diet even more and following a specific exercise regime. On Instagram I found a couple of accounts that intrigued me: Fitness Carli and BBG (Bikini Body Guide). BBG is part of a workout app that virtually walks you through workouts, and the before and after photos on Instagram absolutely blew my mind. Fitness Carli has a PDF meal plan you can download, and her recipes are simple and low prep (because I am never EVER going to spend a Sunday prepping food for the week). In January I started both the meal plan and BBG, and that is when I really began to transform into a healthier version of myself.
Fitness Carli helped me to once again reboot my eating habits. I was cooking often, but I was eating probably three times the amount of grains that I needed to (and I was eating white rice and pasta instead of brown). I learned the portions of each food group that I should be eating--actually measuring out my food for the very first time was eye opening--but I wasn't eating less. I was eating larger portions of green vegetables to fill up while also eating healthy proteins and grains. The meal plan also allows for dessert, so I never felt deprived.
BBG is meant to be a 12-week program. I committed to completing the first 9 weeks, and doing those exercises with Fitness Carli's meal plan really produced results. I toned up and burned fat, revealing muscles in my arms and abs that I've never seen before.
BBG was the mini exercise bootcamp that I needed, but it's not something I can sustain on a regular basis. I see myself going back to BBG one day to refresh my memory of some of the exercises, but I'm at a place now where I really enjoy going for small jogs, doing push-ups, squats, and pull-ups--I can do four now! I regularly exercise 3-5 times per week, and I look forward to that time to get outside, listen to music, and be in my thoughts.
What I definitely haven't quit is Fitness Carli's meal plan, and I never will because it isn't a diet--it's just the way I eat now. Her plan taught me what a balanced diet looks like, and I have since created my own recipes based on her suggested food groups and portioning. I do still eat out anywhere from 1-3 times a week, but I never stress about it because I know that the rest of my meals will be healthy, homemade, and balanced. I have also found that I eat less when I go out now because I become full more quickly.
I'm now down to 116 pounds, and I am healthier and more toned than I was in high school. I have more energy, I sleep better, and my skin has cleared up since I adjusted my diet in the winter. What I have learned about a sustainable healthy lifestyle is you have to focus on a balanced, healthy diet and an exercise regime that is regular and enjoyable. Nothing should be extreme because extreme leads to burnout.
I think deciding to be "healthy" rather than "skinny" was my first step in the right direction. It led me to make smarter decisions about a lifestyle change that would work for me. I'm proud of what I have accomplished and the life it has allowed me to live.