When I began my fitness and health journey, I never expected that my friends (real and online) and family would look to me to lend advice. Yet, it happened. And at first I was like, “holy shit, this is so cool.” And then the anxiety set in, and I think rightfully so. Because what the fuck do I know?
For most of my life, I only ate a literal handful of items. Cheese pizza, Kraft mac
Unintentional peer pressure in middle school got me hooked on Caesar Salad (I didn’t want to look like the only weirdo on the Girl Scout trip not eating the Caesar Salad at California Pizza Kitchen in the Pru, no way, no how). Yet, I continued my aversion to trying new foods until my early 20’s when my budget and more peer pressure, this time intention from loving new friends in college (and I say that sincerely) forced me to try new things. However, I still didn’t have bacon until I was almost 30.
In a way, I kind of think it was a blessing. As an adult, I’ve been so willing to try any new foods, because I don’t ever want to miss out on something like bacon again, that I continue to shock my close friends and family at what I’m willing to shove down my gullet. Particularly my mother.
My longtime food aversions have played a huge role in my “diet” in that I didn’t follow a particular diet plan when I started on my health journey. I am never going to restrict what I eat beyond not overeating. I track what I eat using the Fitbit app because I need the guidelines, but I don’t deny a sweet treat here and there. I eat pretty well and balanced. Some days better than others. I cook and eat at home 90% of my meals. And I tend to cook from scratch because as I’ve mentioned before, I have certain privileges and freedoms that allow me to do that. I am lucky and thankful to have the time to do that.
And because I’ve taken such a non-methodical approach to eating, it feels wrong of me to advise anyone on what to eat. I’ve sort of subscribed to the philosophy of eating as many whole foods as possible and eating the shit when I occasionally feel like it. I’m not a carb fiend, so it’s easy to avoid the over-processed garbage that is full of unnecessary sugar. I don’t eat a lot of candy (except when it’s Cadbury Mini Egg time).
I know it’s a weird time to be alive. Eating right is hard when you’re short on time and convenience is necessary. We’ve made it even more confusing with cherry-picked data from studies that makes you think that a diet full wine and chocolate is going to let you live forever. Or that GMO’s are going to murder your whole family. And if you can’t eat organic, you might as well eat McDonald’s.
And then everyone and their mother are literally selling supplements and meal/exercise plans that are “guaranteed to work” with very convincing before and after photos. Neglecting to inform you that, assuming you are generally healthy, any DIET OR EXERCISE PLAN WILL WORK if you stick it out, the longevity of the results aside. Of course, if you believed that, why would you spend half a paycheck on portion control containers, protein powder, and exercise plans you could create on your own or find for free with a little research.
Eating right is not complicated– if you can ignore all the noise and bullshit and can avoid the temptation to use someone else’s plan as a template for your life. In my previous post about this health journey, I mentioned that restriction would have meant failure for me. And I think that might be true for a lot of people. Moderation has been key in making this work. I have made some replacements and have removed things like sugar from my coffee but I don’t feel like I’m going without. In trade, I’ve lost weight at a slower pace than I would have liked, but I think it’ll make it that much harder for me to go back to my unhealthy ways.
I do think that because of my past issues with food and eating, I had already adopted a much more balanced approach to my meal times. What really made the difference in the journey, for me, was actually measuring out food (especially stuff like cheese, meat, and condiments), maintaining a 250-500 calorie deficit per day, and adding a lot of cardio to my life.
When it came to exercise, I was a little bit lost and took a slightly more methodical approach. I did my research about running and form and reducing injury. Mostly, I was very interested in keeping track of my progress and strength. I use a Google Form and Spreadsheets to watch the changes. Until the last month or so, I had only done moderate to hard cardio for 90-120 minutes/week. I added weight training to get more definition to my arms and shoulders since my legs and abs get plenty of attention from the running. I use the app MotionTraxx for treadmill workouts and to keep things interesting. But I didn’t follow any particular plan here, either. Just used the goal setting features in the Fitbit app. I started with a goal of 30 minutes of activity per day, five days per week.
Although, in my opinion, you should seek health advice from actual health professionals (doctors, dietitians, licensed trainers, an expert you trust), I understand that there are still going to be a few of you who are like, “TELL ME MORE, DAMMIT! I WANT YOUR PLAN.”
To those, I will not give you my plan but I will give you three pieces of advice:
- Do your research. I mean it. Read and read. Find good sources, like articles and written by actual doctors and scientists. This is a great article to start with.
- Make food at home and add more vegetables to every meal. Fresh, frozen, canned, it doesn’t matter as long as the ingredients are simply: vegetable of choice, and maybe water. Make meal prepping a thing you do if you’re low on time during the week. No joke, I work from home and eat at my desk in my office, but I still prep my lunch salad a week in advance. I’ll even cook enough chicken and sides for 2 or 3 meals at once for my husband’s and my dinner.
- Move more. Find a way to add a little more movement. Maybe you wake up 15 minutes earlier for work. Maybe you use half your lunch break. Maybe you do 10 squats every time you go to the bathroom. It will add up.
Finally, stop comparing your progress to that of others. Instagram is especially deceptive because you see the side by side progress shots and it feels like it happened in the blink of an eye. Reality is that if those results are real and true, it took that person a lot longer than it looks like or even sounds like. Every health journey starts long, long before the first work out or lifestyle change. The only similarity between you and another person on a health journey is that you’re both on a health journey.