Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jumping on the bandwagon.. in a 'sane' way

As I mentioned in my first post, I didn't grow up playing sports or exercising as a habit, and my transition to the lifestyle I live now didn't happen overnight. Like anything worth doing, it takes time. This is why clip on hair extensions generally look terrible and baked sweet potatoes taste better than microwaved ones. You can't argue with that logic.. its science.

Real hair- that took me 10+ years to grow… and only 2 minutes to chop off.

So then what? Throw out everything in your refrigerator and replace it only with chicken and broccoli? Head to the gym and try squatting 100 lbs? Uh, no. Lifestyle change is gradual- even if you decide to clean out your whole kitchen today and commit to 30-60 minutes of daily exercise from now on you won't see results overnight, and you will probably burn yourself out- body and mind. If you go from eating out most meals to attempting to prepare every meal yourself overnight chances are you'll frustrated, overwhelmed and picking up the phone for Chinese takeout.

Trust me, even top chefs aren't eating homemade paella for every meal

Let's think about how to start this change out in a way that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle. For me, I slowly started making better food choices. I was in college, and had a range of choice from tacos to pizza to a salad bar- I started asking for a grilled chicken breast instead of a grilled cheese, and then headed to the salad bar to fill up on veggies. Workouts were scheduled on days that made sense- if I had an early class there was no way I would head to the gym in the morning. I committed to two days a week at a bootcamp class I loved.

Here are some ideas to get the change started:

  • Re-evaluate your drinks. A glass of juice can be switched for whole fruit. Try adding honey to your coffee instead of 3 pumps of vanilla flavoring. Try making your own soda with sparkling water and just a touch of juice.
  • Instead of a sandwich, try a salad. Think of it as the insides of a sandwich, but with WAY more vegetables. If you really want some bread, try having a smaller piece on the side with some real butter or olive oil. Better yet, try avocado (nature's butter).
  • Craving something sweet? Try eating a date or a piece of fruit. My favorite after lunch snack is a cold apple straight from the fridge or a persimmon (if they're in season). 
  • Ask a friend to take a workout class with you, or better yet, ask them to take you to their favorite fitness class. You are way less likely to skip it if you know someone is counting on you, and you might find an activity you love!
  • Download a podcast or book on tape and make a deal with yourself- you only get to listen to it if you go for a walk or jog.
  • Instead of brunch/lunch/drinks with a friend, get a coffee or tea and go for a walk (also a great way to save money!)
and hiking.. both more fun with friends!

Remember- not all the things work for all the people. It is totally OK if you really don't enjoy exercising with other people, or if hiking sounds like torture- the point is to give something new a try that can help you get started (or continue) on your path to health. I even caved in and went to not one but two bikram yoga classes (never to return again), and finally opened my eyes to the joy that is a ripe avocado after years of believing I didn't like them. Obviously, there are hundreds of other ways to start to change the way you treat yourself and the way you view your health- these are just a few of my favorites! Check out these websites for some more great ideas:

Mind Body Green
HuffPost Health

Monday, December 8, 2014

What does health even mean? Just a little help wading through all the bullshit.

Google "how to lose weight" or "how to get healthier" and you get almost 100 MILLION results. Most of those are some form of 'get rich quick' schemes in which you basically starve yourself while simultaneously running a half marathon every day and existing solely on meal replacement shakes and cayenne pepper. That, my friends, is not a recipe for health. That is a recipe for disaster.

Lets start with my personal belief on what the word 'health' means. To me, health is not your jeans size or how much you can bench press. It isn't the amount of calories you eat in a day, or what other people think you look like. Health is about the food you eat, how you move your body, and how you feel. That said, I AM NOT A DOCTOR. Basically, I am a mad scientist that has done experiments with my own body to figure out what my formula for success is.

So what can you do with that information?

Food: Food is our fuel. Make good choices with the food you use to power your body. Things that grow  out of the ground or eat food that grows out of the ground are good choices. "Foodlike products" developed in a lab do not count. If you can't pronounce it, how difficult do you think it is for your body to digest?
case in point- NOT REAL FOOD

Movement: This is basically the form of exercise you choose- anything from walking to weight lifting to cycling. As we have transitioned into the digital age, we are becoming more sedentary (ironically as we develop more ways to track our activity, we do less of it). In the last few years there have been quite a few studies and articles detailing our declining activity levels and the risks associated with moving less and sitting more (here and here). Find a type of movement you enjoy, and do more of it.

Hiking definitely counts. Actually, bonus points for movement AND  Vitamin D
prefer climbing? Do that instead.

Overall feeling: Sleep plays a huge part in this component of health. After a night's sleep, you should wake up clear-headed, rested and without aches and pains. During the day, movements should not feel labored or difficult, and you shouldn't experience digestive discomfort, headaches or brain fog. Being awake should be a pleasurable experience, and the way we treat our bodies on a day to day basis can have an enormous impact on the way we experience our lives as a whole. This is a combination of mental and physical wellness- not just what you eat and how you move, but also how you interact with the world around you.

GOAL: feel this good every day- even when its raining.

What does my personal form of health look like?

Currently, I am lucky enough to be able to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. I eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, nuts and fish, and very little grains or legumes (including beans). I don't eat gluten if I can possibly avoid it. I do 30-60 minutes of physical exercise (some combo of running, weight lifting, high intensity interval training, Crossfit) 5-6 times a week, and probably average 4-5 alcoholic drinks a week.
If only I could eat this every day...
I was able to find that with this combination of activity and fuel I feel great- but I didn't come to this conclusion overnight. Try starting out by sneaking more vegetables on your plate at dinner and skipping the bread basket. Swap out a sandwich for a salad, or try scrambling your own eggs in the morning instead of stopping for a breakfast burrito. Walk instead of taking the elevator or get off the bus one stop early. Set your alarm for the actual time you have to wake up and try ditching the snooze button- at least for a day or two. These small changes can be the beginning of something big.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Where it all began.

A few months ago, I made a pretty comprehensive list of all the things I like and do not like. Included in the "things I like" list were things like "people that think I'm funny" and "doing things efficiently" along with "feeling validated" and "speaking Spanish." Although there are a lot of random things on that list, there are definitely a few themes that goes along with my feelings of happiness. Exercise and eating well, connecting with other people, and learning new things in order to be able to share them with other people are all strong themes in the long, bullet-pointed list of what Gillian finds enjoyable.

These bits and bobs about myself now discovered, the issue then becomes what to do with that knowledge.

This story begins like many others. Seven years ago, I was fat.
Me circa 2006 (I'm front and center with the giant soda)- 153 lbs
It affected my whole life- I ate miserably, I drank too much, I smoked, my self esteem was pretty much non-existent... and I had no clue what I was doing to myself. No joke- It wasn't until I realized that the guy I had been dating was very much interested in overweight women that I gave much thought to changing my lifestyle. I ditched the guy, and started attending a bootcamp class twice a week. A twelve week session, a few burritos switched out for salads, and 25 lbs later I was completely hooked.

See, the key here isn't to make drastic life changes that completely uproot you from you social circles, alienate you from Saturday nights out, and make you wave goodbye to cake forever. The key is finding something you are ok with  (maybe even something you like!) and stick with it. Set yourself a goal- whether its 3 days a week at a class you like, 5 miles a week running, or even just 20 minutes a day walking around your neighborhood- this stuff really does add up. Then, when you start feeling like you really got this, up your goals. Maybe join a new gym, try a new fitness class, try inviting friends over for a healthy, home cooked meal instead of going out for dinner.
Halloween circa 2014- Me at 120-ish (I don't actually weigh myself anymore)
Also I'm dressed as Keith Richards- yes.. I am awesome. 

Why do I love living a (somewhat) healthy lifestyle? Well, it started with 25 lbs. New jeans. Feeling prettier. Now, its knowing when I go to the gym I get to see all my friends. That I'm going to be able to lift heavier, run faster than I did before. That I'm going to leave, drenched in sweat, and go home to eat a delicious meal that nourishes my body. But all of that… it took a lot of learning, some trial and error, and some days where I just said fuck it and ate a giant cookie in my pjs.

This blog isn't going to tell you exactly how to live your life. It's not going to help you look like a bodybuilder or have 7% body fat (to be honest most of 'those people' have way more issues with food than we normals do). It probable won't help you find a boyfriend or even get laid. But it might. So read on.. at least I'll try to make you laugh every once in a while.