October is a big month for me – it’s the one year anniversary of me starting an intentional journey toward being a healthier and happier version of myself. Last October I was unhappy with my physical and mental well being on a number of levels: weight, activity level, stress level, physical strength, muscle mass, clarity of my skin, you name it. I was really unhappy and felt like my health was not where I wanted it to be as I started my 30s.
Today, I’m getting a bit personal as I dive into the health intentions I set for myself, the tools I used for my journey and a bit of self reflection on what I’ve learned.
Setting Intentions for Myself
1. I want to be happy in how I look and feel in my clothes. I am not saying that the only way to be happy is to lose weight, but I was in the overweight BMI range (27.4 was my high) and didn’t feel good. I wanted to be comfortable with how I looked and felt in my clothes and I simply wasn’t at that time in my life. Your personal comfort with how you look and feel is just that – personal.
2. I want to be stronger than I ever have been before – which means committing to being physically active. I have had a love/hate relationship with exercising forever. I challenged myself to work out at least 4 times per week over the last year and met that goal. That’s huge for me.
3. I want to eat the foods I love. I love food, I love cooking and I love trying new foods. I knew that any sustainable long range approach to health and wellness had to allow for me to eat the foods I enjoy without feeling like I had too restrictive of a lifestyle. I wanted to find balance.
4. I want to take better care of my mental health. I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed by life and let stress take a really negative toll on me. I knew that sleep, brain breaks and meditation were good for me – I had to find a way to make them a part of my life.
I used a number of tools and techniques to keep me accountable and to help me toward these goals. I share them below and what the investment was (monetarily) that I made for these tools and techniques. I think it’s important to be transparent that elements of a health and wellness journey are certainly not free. (These are tools that worked for me, I’m not saying that they work for everyone.) Please remember to talk to your doctor before making major health changes.
Tools and Techniques that Worked for Me
1. I keep track of what I eat each day. I used the WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) app to stay accountable to owning up to what I eat each day and to try to begin incorporating healthier whole foods into my cooking (like more fruits, vegetables and seafood). What attracted me to the WW program were three things: First: the program lets you eat whatever you want (no pre-packaged frozen meals) and encourages eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Secondly: the program is not just about eating habits, but also about exercise and mental health – I like this holistic approach to wellness. Third: Once you hit your goal and maintain it as a Lifetime member, the program is free. I liked knowing that I could have access to a tracker, but wouldn’t be stuck paying for it forever. Investment: I paid approximately $60 for four months of using the WW app (a promotion was going on when I joined). It’s been free for me since February of this year.
2. I track my exercise and engage in friendly competition. I bought a Fitbit and began tracking my steps (I set a step goal of 10,000 initially and bumped it up to 11,000 this summer). I engage in competitions for steps with friends on the app and I compete (in a friendly way) with my husband by tracking all of our workouts on a sticker chart on our door. We both have our own stickers and put up a sticker each day we are physically active. Investment: $10 for a sticker chart and stickers, $150 for a Fitbit.
I tried new exercise techniques that I hadn’t done before. Three things that I tried and loved were all FREE!
3. I began incorporating weight lifting into my exercise regimen. I still only lift weights up to 20lb, and mostly 10-15lb. I found videos on YouTube to better understand form and found regimens on Pinterest that I followed until I became confident enough to create routines myself. I have a small weight room at our apartment that I can access at no charge and our Fire Department at work has a weight room that I can use for free, as well. Investment: Free with my gym at work and home.
4. I started practicing pilates through YouTube videos. I fell in love with Blogilates and her fun and upbeat channel of workout videos. The founder, Cassey, makes it easy to follow along with her calendars of workouts released each month. You can pay for some premium features, but all of the workouts are available on YouTube at no charge. Investment: Free!
5. When it was light in the early morning (June-August), I went for 45-60 minute walks each morning before work. I usually listened to music or podcasts and got to love experiencing my neighborhood in the early morning. I usually got about 6,000-7,000 steps in before I even got to work, too, almost assuring that I’d hit my step goal. Investment: Free!
6. I put my mental health first by making time to calm my brain. I need to get back on the meditation train, but for more than 100 days – I meditated every single day! It was usually under 10 minutes, but it was a lovely way to start the day and feel grounded. I’ve tried meditating before bed and I always fall asleep. The Calm app and the Headspace app were both meditation apps I enjoyed. Investment: I had a free promotional code to try Headspace for 90 days for free. I use the free version of the Calm app.
7. I made socializing with others a priority, even when I didn’t really feel drawn to it. I have a tendency to want to stay in and avoid socializing when I’m feeling stressed. That’s not always the best approach for me. I’ve made social time with friends a regular part of my schedule – through happy hours, dinners and lunches with friends and through a hiking club and book club. Setting aside time to spend time with people I care about consistently reminds me how lucky I truly am. Investment: $50-75/month, spent on happy hours, meals and get togethers with my friends.
8. I also calm my brain by staying off my phone before bed. I made a goal to read 30 books in 2019 and I made bedtime reading a tradition each night before I fall asleep. I sleep more deeply and feel less stressed/agitated as I drift off to sleep each night. I have a whole other post about ways to create a sleep sanctuary to foster better sleep habits. I get most of my books through my local library system and find new books to read on Goodreads. Investment: Free if from the library, otherwise I buy some books for book club on Amazon and Ebay.
9. I’ve also (recently) decided that I’d like to make ongoing visits with a therapist a part of my health and wellness approach. I’m somebody who really needs to talk through my feelings and it’s not always fair (in my opinion) to put the burden of listening on friends and family members. Fortunately, my health insurance covers a program called MD Live, which offers virtual visits by phone or video chat with licensed mental health counselors for $99 a session. There are also other app based options, like TalkSpace and Better Help, that offer competitively priced therapy sessions. Mental health is something that, in my opinion, everyone should have access to, and it is unfortunate that so many do not. Investment: $99 per session on MD Live.
What I’ve Learned through this Journey So Far
1. This is just the beginning of a lifelong journey. I have to remind myself that this isn’t a fix it and forget it approach of one year of healthy habits followed by falling back into unhealthy ones. I started fresh last year and need to keep at these goals to maintain my health.
2. I need to realize that weight fluctuation is normal. I lost 40 pounds over the last year (it’s about 35 right now) at a sustainable pace of about 1-2 pounds per week. Since hitting my goal in February, I’ve fluctuated over a 5lb range. I sometimes get frustrated with the number on the scale, but I know that maybe I ate like crap yesterday, or maybe I didn’t drink enough water, or maybe I need to be more active this week. It changes daily and that’s okay.
3. I needed to find an exercise regimen that I enjoyed to stick to it. The key to making exercise sustainable was finding ways to make it easy, accessible and enjoyable. I now have a good routine that I switch up that keeps working out interesting, engaging and hard to avoid. I feel better when I exercise, even if I have a hard time motivating myself to get started.
4. I can’t put my mental health on a back burner. I have been notorious about making this the area of my health that I just hope will self-regulate, when in reality, it won’t. I am working on being kinder to myself and recognizing that asking for help doesn’t make me weak.
5. Lastly, and most importantly: Every day will not be perfect. I am going through a lot of change right now and it’s STRESSFUL and I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless lately. I know that this is a chapter that I’m going through which will close and life will resume with some routine soon. I’m just going to breathe through it and take it day by day.