I’ve spent a lot of time over the course of this year learning and unlearning how to be healthy. I’m simultaneously an ambitious person and a lazy person, so long-term commitments can be difficult for me. But, I promised myself that this would be one of the important facets of life I’d dedicate myself to in 2016, so I had to follow through.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but someone once told me that it’s all about the journey, not the destination – and I’ve been making progress. This is how I did it.
Pick a workout that works for you
I used to have a traditional gym membership. I would go once or twice a week and hop on the elliptical, thinking that – despite not really burning that many calories and walking away from the gym barely sweating – it was enough. But it wasn’t. The problem was that I hadn’t yet found a form of exercise that was right for me. Friends suggested that maybe I needed to try the classes; that classes incorporating music and coordination in a group setting would be more fun. And they were partly right, but I could never seem to make the gym’s class schedule work with mine.
So, I stopped going to the gym. I still paid my membership fees every month, a small voice in the back of my mind always whispering that this week was the week I’d start the routine again and get my ass back into gear. This (very expensive) denial went on for about two years until my bank account screamed at me to finally cancel. Defeated, but a little relieved, I sent my cancellation via email to avoid having to go near the gym (although I really should go return the parking pass to get my $20 back, oops).
During those two years, I started seeing actresses I admire post about their kickboxing workout; videos of them punching and kicking mesmerizing combinations, showing off the beaded sweat on their foreheads, moving their toned arms and their slim but strong abdomens like they had full control of their body. I thought to myself, that looks fun. After I canceled my membership, I began researching Toronto kickboxing gyms and was immediately intimidated by how overwhelming it all seemed. I let myself be swallowed up by it, spending weeks calculating and comparing costs and getting stuck on class schedules not matching up to the fact that I worked downtown but lived in Markham. I read dozens of mixed reviews that made me doubt which gym I should take a trial class at. I was stuck again.
Over the Christmas holidays, I was served with a Facebook ad about a new women-only kickboxing gym that was about to open in Markham. There was a contest for a free membership, so I signed up for the newsletter. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I didn’t win the contest, but I did buy their grand opening trial package, which included gloves, hand wraps, and two weeks of access to their full schedule of classes. And the gym was a 4-minute drive from my house. It was a no-brainer.
I still vividly remember my first class. I explained to the coach that I hadn’t exercised in two years, but that I was excited to finally try something new. She taught me how to wear my hand wraps and the basic punches. That night, I couldn’t keep up with the class, but I punched and kicked that BOB (body opponent bag) with so much joy. It didn’t matter that I was drenched in sweat and couldn’t breathe. The music was upbeat and fun, the collective group energy was palpitating. After class, my coach checked in with me to see how I felt. Amazing, I said. I’d not only achieved a personal goal to finally try kickboxing, but I was sure I’d found the right workout.
When my trial ended, I immediately signed up for a full membership. Nine months later, Steph still checks in with me and teaches me, but always challenges me to punch harder, to kick higher, and have the best workout of my life – every time.
There is no comparison to the euphoria after those 45 minutes are over. Adrenaline pumps through my veins with the force of a rushing river, my lungs gasp for air while my sweat splatters onto the mat beneath me as I bend over, laughing at the feeling. I go four times a week, sometimes five. If I’m feeling crazy, I do two classes in a row. The harder classes incorporate strength training with weights. There’s always ab-work at the end of class. I burn at least 500 calories each time, oftentimes more. I linger after each class for half an hour talking to other students, my coaches, and the staff, forming unexpected friendships, never wanting to leave.
This is how a good workout is supposed to feel. You should want to do it, be excited to do it, and feel your body learning and responding to it. It may take a while to figure out what that workout is and to motivate yourself to go for it, but you deserve it and you need it.
Take care of your body
This summer, I started seeing a chiropractor. I had constant lower back pain and tension in my neck and shoulders. It’s not a big surprise, given that I’m sitting at a desk for most of the day, but my post-workout soreness seemed to be making it worse and I was struggling to do the ab workouts at kickboxing. I told myself that I needed to go see a registered massage therapist – I have insurance coverage, after all, and there’s something super satisfying about the pain you experience from a good massage. But I could never make the time (read: I was too lazy to).
As if my company could sense my languid attitude towards fixing my body, they welcomed a local Toronto clinic that offered chiropractic and physiotherapy services into our office. They would come into our office once a week so that we busy (read: lazy) folk could have appointments on-site. In those first weeks, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist walked around the office, introducing themselves and making sure our work stations were ergonomic. Their services were covered by our insurance, our HR team reminded us. Why not take advantage?
I had never been treated by a chiropractor before, nor done much research on it, but I was intrigued and my pain wasn’t going to go away on its own. And anyway, the chiropractor who I’d met was adorably charming, so I figured: what the hell, an initial assessment wouldn’t hurt. In that first appointment, Myles spoke to me about my medical history and the fact that I’d been diagnosed with a mild case of scoliosis and super flat feet years ago, he measured how far I could turn parts of my body, and sent me to get x-rays to confirm everything.
I was nervous for my first treatment, but was anxious to start feeling better. I’d learnt from my first few months of intensive kickboxing that my body was an instrument, one that needed training and fine-tuning to perform the way I wanted it to. The pain I’d been experiencing was hindering me from using it properly. Thankfully, the nervousness turned out to be unnecessary – Myles explained everything as he treated me, relieving joints, stretching tight muscles, teaching me what the hell hip flexors were. Also, he’s great at distracting me from discomfort with conversation. I left that appointment feeling a hundred times lighter on my feet. I’d made another first step for my health.
I had appointments twice a week for four weeks after that. As my body recovers, my visits have become less frequent, but I’m nowhere near ready to give it up yet. Since that first assessment, my body has become much more flexible, limber, and less prone to tension. I haven’t had a headache in months (I’m convinced Myles has magical hands because he once made a migraine just flat out disappear in minutes). Between appointments, I bide the time by performing a series of stretches every day for 10-20 minutes to continually improve how my body feels, especially after a particularly intense kickboxing class.
So often we neglect our bodies and the signs it’s giving us that it needs to be nurtured, to be given attention. For some, it becomes too late to reverse the damage. But our bodies are so fundamentally a part of us that it would be crazy not to take care of it. I’m glad I didn’t wait too long to realize that.
Get serious about eating better
When I first started kickboxing, I was motivated to eat better. I wanted to lose weight; to tone up. I got into the habit of making lunch for work (my go-to was baked chicken or salmon with steamed veggies) and stayed away from pasta and fried foods. And although my body reacted well to the exercise and small change in nutrition, I wasn’t achieving the weight loss I had hoped for.
I couldn’t figure it out. I worked out multiple times a week, and each workout was super high intensity. I had plateaued without ever seeing a real upfront decline. I spoke to my coaches about it, and it all came down to what I was eating. Was I eating too much? Was I eating too little? Did I tend to stress-eat and consume way too many Doritos at work? (Yes.)
In October, the gym brought in a program called The TakeDown Challenge. The TDC was built as a 28-day kickstart for better eating habits and trains you to understand portion control while maintaining a good level of exercise. I learned that each meal needs to have a certain number of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Eating too much or too little of each, as I was likely doing, would sabotage any progress the body was making in the exercise department. I needed this information, and they supplied food lists, recipes, and a journal to track what we were eating.
We were required to eat four meals a day, every four hours. The time between meals trained the body to use stored deposits of fat for energy and improve metabolism. We were prescribed a number of macronutrient “units” for each meal. I bought a little food scale to weigh my proteins and dug out my measuring cups. I also started taking digestive enzymes at the start of each day and evening primrose oil three times a day. Chips, chocolate, and candy were out of the question (although, I’ll confess, there were cheat days), but we could eat more than I had anticipated.
I was teased a lot by my coworkers while on this program. They couldn’t believe how regimented it was, that I was counting almonds, and questioned whether this would be sustainable. They’d tempt me to eat chips, wave double chocolate muffins in my face, and say I was starving myself. It was the biggest lesson in willpower I’ve ever received.
The thing is: I wasn’t starving myself. A routine day’s meal would look like this:
- Meal 1 [8am]– 1 whole egg & 2 egg whites with a tsp of oil to scramble, 1 strip of turkey bacon, 1 piece of light-rye toast with 1 tbsp of peanut butter, 1 cup of grapes
- Meal 2 [12pm] – 4.5oz baked salmon, 1 cup each steamed baby carrots & broccoli, 1 cup roasted bell pepper, 3 tsp oil
- Meal 3 [4pm]– 2oz turkey deli meat, 1 large apple, 4 almonds
- Meal 4 [8pm] – 4.5oz flank steak, 1.5 cups broccoli, 1/3 cup rice, 3 tsp oil
With my 4-5 kickboxing classes a week, I began to see real results. My overall weight didn’t really decrease by the end of the month, but I gained muscle, lost 4% body fat, and shrunk 2 inches in my waist, hips, and thighs. Progress.
Moving forward, we’re told to slightly increase our number of units and start to eat five times a day, every three hours, to respond to our improved metabolism. And although I’m not holding back from a couple of chocolates and some chips here and there, I have a renewed sense of understanding how to feed my body.
Repair your sleep routine
I’d never been good at sleeping early and getting enough rest, despite absolutely loving sleep. I often woke up for work exhausted and grumpy, unable to open my tired eyes while on the train, and feeling lethargic throughout the day. It’s been a frustrating reality as I get older, since I always like to lament that I subsisted on 4 hours of sleep per night in high school. Those were the days.
As an unexpected benefit, the TDC helped to correct my sleeping schedule. I had to eat a proper Meal 1 in the morning (and early enough so that my Meal 4 wouldn’t be at 10pm). To do that, I needed to give myself enough time to finish doing my makeup, prepare the food, and then eat it before running out the door. As someone who typically doesn’t wake up until 10 minutes before having to leave the house and finished doing her makeup on the train, this was a big change.
To account for having to wake up earlier, I started forcing myself to shut down earlier each night. I’ve been trying to stop staring at screens at least half an hour before going to bed. I make sure I’m in total darkness when I try to fall asleep. This has been exceptionally difficult for me, being someone who enjoys falling asleep to episodes of The Mindy Project that I’ve seen a hundred times before (which, to be clear, is every single episode). Instead, I try to use the time to read, to stretch, to tidy up my things for the morning.
They say it takes 21 days for a habit to form, and with some rigour and dedication, I’ve developed a new healthy habit for myself. Now, I’m usually able to wake up naturally just a few minutes before my alarm rings, and I can lay there in bed and ease into the day. I get ready, make my food and eat it, and actually give myself time to get to the station and don’t end up sprinting to catch the train. On weekends, I get to wake up a little bit later, but still try to sleep at a reasonable hour at night.
Maybe it’s the better sleep or the food, but I’ve noticed a shift in my energy when I get on that train and when I sit down at work to start the day. I definitely haven’t achieved Morning Person status yet (I doubt I ever will), but that overwhelming lethargy is gone. At the start of each day, I feel ready to take on whatever comes at me.
Learn to let go
I work in an industry that frequently requires me to work late into the night, spend days consumed with stress and anxiety, and lose sleep. Many ambitious people put themselves through it because they think it’s the only way to be successful; that putting in the gruelling hard work means they’ll get the respect they strive for; and you’re not truly doing your best until you put 200% into everything you do – but having it become a routine is exhausting. It’s exhausting and it’s detrimental to your physical and mental health.
I’m still learning how to walk away from this mindset. I’ve never been good at saying no, and I thrive on attention and recognition. I like working hard and doing my time, but my mental health often suffers for it.
This year’s journey in getting healthy has taught me that I need make improvements physically and mentally. That I can kickbox four times a week but I’m still unhealthy if I work past midnight and on weekends. I need to find equilibrium in every aspect of my life. So I’m teaching myself not to check my work email past 9pm. That the word “prioritize” has meaning and not everything can be “urgent”. I can go and have a drink with friends and not worry about the day’s problems. I can veg out on Sunday afternoon and do absolutely nothing while I wait for the new episode of The Walking Dead.
But it’s not just about work. Despite learning to eat better and following a fairly regimented process, having that Oreo won’t hurt me and I can have a glass of wine. I have to walk away from people in my life who have the appearance of being a friend but are actually a toxic presence. And sometimes the heart just needs a big cry, followed by a belly-aching laughing session.
Life is short; we need to let go of the stress and pain we’ve trained ourselves to hold onto, and trade it in for something better.
I’ve come a long way this year, but living healthily is a continuous journey, not a destination. We can always improve how we treat and love ourselves and I’m going to do my best to keep doing that.
Let me know what you do to live a healthy life in the comments below!
Featured Outfit //
T-Shirt: H&M, Jeans & Jacket: Express, Sunglasses: Ray-Ban, Earrings & Necklace: Forever21, Bracelet: Stella & Dot, Shoes: Spring, Purse: Indigo
Shot by //
Amanda at Everyday Allergen-Free