What is your body telling you that you need to change?
I made a promise to myself I would be consistent about writing blogs not just live the life worth writing about offline without sharing or have thoughts I share with small close groups who then ask me to post it (but life happens and I now have a stack of topics to write about) . Full disclosure: some of these posts will have terrible grammar and probably some misspellings. But you will have information. It's a tradeoff. I have to work on my perfectionism - this is a blog, not a NYTimes Bestseller (though, hopefully one day...).
Today, I want to write about living your best life and what that means to physically and mentally get there. So often we want to change but there are road blocks to getting there that present themselves in the form of life events, family, kids, an unexpected illness or bout with the flu, bills, and more . They can be present at the inception of our shift or happen along the way. I've been there and it takes a lot to not completely give up. Then there are the reasons that we can't shake - we feel sluggish, tired, unmotivated, stressed, we have stomach aches or feel tired in the afternoon, we can't get out of bed in the morning and need five cups of coffee to start our day. I've heard many of these comments over the last few weeks. It's amazing what people will share with you when you share some of your own struggles or intentions. I encourage you to share...
So what do you really need to change or at least pay attention to about yourself and current environment in order to live your best life?
I've learned to really listen to my body the last seven years. It's something age and time afford you. Your body will just stop accommodating your poor habits and choices. That includes everything from feeling like I'm getting sick before I do to noticing what I feel like before I'm going to burn out at work or with a project. I used to run myself down and then still work (remote) when I was sick, leading to consecutive months of being really run down and ill because I didn't spend a few days taking it easy and sleeping it off. This lack of self care translated to months of not being able to work out because of respiratory issues, being on medication with crappy side effects, and overall feeling awful. So why did I put myself in that position?
Well, like many of us - I felt guilty for taking off to take care of myself because I thought I was letting my team down. I continued to respond to emails when I was supposed to be taking a sick day so people continued to contact me (i.e. I never enforced boundaries), I thought the world would come crashing down if I didn't respond to an email or finish a project, and I taught people how to treat me and what role I placed - the one who would save the day. And while I can and still do always do those things- I have learned to balance, say no, and take breaks when I need to. Back then, I would never stop to wonder why I felt sluggish or unmotivated during the week but felt energized on weekends after a bit of sleep and some exciting plans on my calendar. Cue: Burnout. When you're younger, you can accommodate these feelings and lapses but as you get older, you simply don't have time for them. Your body stops giving you a pass. You start to pay attention.
I truly wish we were taught in school to take care of our bodies the way many of us learn to as adults. Instead we're pushed to our limits, in a competitive environment that teaches you there are not enough spaces in the college you want, the job you want, or the team you want to play for. Actually, let's go back - you're taught you should want these things and maybe you really don't. Maybe you do not want to go to Harvard or Law School or play college basketball. Ask most of your friends if they're happy with their careers, their decisions on grad school, or how many lost hours of sleep they got for the job they have now. Not everyone is. And if you're not there yet, ask some people in their 30s about it. So, maybe not knowing what we want is OK. That's a process too.
And we should be kind with ourselves because being so competitive and hard on yourself sometimes does not lead you to the right endpoint - it finds you stuck in the wrong one. Winning is not everything and you should not kill yourself in the process to do it. Now, I'm not writing that I believe in the "everyone gets a trophy" theory. I do not. But it is truly possible to accomplish a lot while still taking care of your body. You may not be able to work like Oprah AND go out and party, but you can certainly achieve Oprah greatness and not fall apart at the seams.
And a big part of me being able to live my best life is to work out, eat right (balance), take care of "my head" and feel physically well. I have learned to start with taking care of my body and that really means starting with food and fitness. I still drink beer and eat BBQ, on occasion, but if a food makes me feel sluggish, I pay attention. For example, I like chicken but the chicken at our salad bar at work (organic, roasted, etc) makes me feel like I want to take a nap. I've exclusively tried to eat it without anything else and a nap is all I want within 30 minutes of consumption. So that does not mean from now on, I'll go drink a coffee to combat the sluggishness because I like chicken on my salad- it means, saying no to eating the chicken at work. Sometimes smart people really do make silly decisions.
Recently, I did a two day food cleanse with Urban Remedy while simultaneously stopping a medication that I swore was packing on water weight. Dramatic results ensued. Not just physically, but mentally. It was similar to when I was put on steroids a few years ago for respiratory issues and after consecutive treatments, I found myself ten pounds heavier and unable to drop the weight. A new (Western, medical) doctor (for those located in California, this is a clarification I need to make- wink face) I recently started to see told me it happens quite frequently and for patients it does happen to, the body resets to a new normal after steroids so it takes A LOT more effort to lose that weight. Again, you need to advocate for yourself when doctors suggest any medicine for you - what side effects do these have? How will I feel? I work in pharma and I know side effects but sometimes when you feel really crappy... you just want to not feel crappy. Sometimes you need to get back to work because there's a deadline and we need something to work... NOW. We're a society of immediate results. This time, I took notice and listened to my body. I stopped the medication (not a necessary one by any means) and the cleanse helped me reset. The removal of this other (non steroid medicine) made me drop 8lbs in 4 days. Not only did I lose weight, but my mood improved, I had more energy, I felt better, and Jon said it was like I did "a 180." Listen to your body. [Disclosure: if you're going to stop a medicine, please consult your doctor, like I did. Side effects are to be reported to drug companies, as well, when significant. This will actually help other patients so please be a good patient and tell your doctor].
My doctors have always told me I'm very in tune with my body. I notice if something is out of sorts. I can't credit going to medical school for this gift. I was actually really bad to my body in medical school. No, this happened after 30 years of age. And what makes me now cringe is how easy it is to notice when something is not right, now that I know. I hear an lot of people say they have stomach issues but they never question if they have a food intolerance or don't do well with lactose or have stress related indigestion. And continue to eat cheese "because they love it." OK, I do too, but I do not love stomach pains. I hear people saying they spend so much money on boutique fitness and see no results but never question if that workout is good for them or if they have proper form or the correct weights (or resistance). They feel too embarrassed to ask the instructor for tips or pointers. I hear people saying they feel sluggish and unmotivated but I later find out they also don't like their job and they never question whether a change is due or for the help to try. Sometimes medicine is to blame, children can also cause sleep deprivation, and life events can be very stressful... talking about these things is a quick way to find solutions. Keeping it to yourself for fear of shame or judgement is one way to add stress and perpetuate the problem. I find there's always a way to financially accommodate a coach or help of some kind. You can eat out less, for example. You can cut down on shopping. You can cut out wine, which is not cheap.
I made a lot of changes over the last seven years and found space and time for everything I wanted to prioritize. People would ask how I had time to plan an event and work a full time job - I cut out happy hour and eating out with my friends after work, I got rid of cable because I never watched TV, I didn't have social media (I still don't have facebook on my phone now that I have it), and I stopped engaging in group chats all day. People asked how I afforded so much soulcycle - I barely ate out or ordered delivery and $34 was the same prices as 2 glasses of wine without tip. And again, I cut out cable TV. I made gradual changes and found different communities and friends that supported healthy habits over time. And in some cases, my existing friends joined me for soulcycle or caught up with me when I did opt to have 2 glasses of wine. Sometimes, I bought a bottle of wine and went over to their house to cook.
I've made a lot more changes and trade offs in the last few years, including leaving my family and friends for a move to California. That was a big one. But it really all comes down to listening to your body and paying attention to what it needs. And going back to the boutique fitness comment, the latest shift was after I found my fitness routine was no longer even a mediocre return on investment
At the end of 2017, I made a decision to move forward with my fitness program in a different way. I wanted to ditch so much cardio which was not helping change my body and switch to a strength based training program as I had previously done with great success. I started Caroline Jordan's fitness program. It's like having a personal trainer and fitness coach wrapped into one. I highly encourage trying it. You will have to get over your fear of the weight room, but if you live in SF, I will offer to help with that. If you don't live in SF, then I'll just write that I had the fear, wrote about it in the facebook community she has, and I also overcame it. After, I realized the guys I was so "afraid of" actually had the worst form of anyone and were probably one bicep curl away from throwing their backs out. This is from someone who grew up playing ice hockey with men... so if I'm afraid of looking like an idiot in the weight room, then it's a normal thing. But also, don't let that stop you.
Since starting this program and shifting my training, I've started to see notable results in my body. I still do soulcycle a few times a month with Jon because we like it and it's fun. But I've cut out other group fitness classes like yoga and stuck with my Equinox membership. I've made a commitment to explore new classes when I want cardio or yoga, and use the weight room when I do strength. As a result, I found some great instructors (including Caroline) and classes I love. This has helped me save money, too.
I did find one challenge - time. So, let's talk about this because it's a real thing. I think I complained about this one for weeks. It was really annoying. Even for me. So I finally told myself to quit making excuses and find a solution (my usual mode of operating). But to clarify my "road blocks", here they are: my work schedule and commute are frustrating. I live in SF and commute outside the city. I start around 7am and end mid-afternoon due to the time zone and working with a UK/EU based team. My commute is longer than I care to share for the 17 miles I drive each way. I love morning gym sessions but they're not happening unless I leave my house at 5:15am to drive to the equinox near work and leave Poppy for 7 hours before the dog walker comes. My energy is lower after work and life always happens so hitting the gym afterward was not my ideal solution, and plus that's when everyone else wants to hang out. I felt stuck. I realized I also did not have this issue in New York. SF is an early city and everyone is home by 8pm so I felt like I could only choose one after work activity - gym/dog/side project work or soçial. But there was no way around it so I had to make a time boundary of 7:30pm and force myself to accomplish my tasks, including the gym, after work.
I've maintained this boundary for about 6 weeks and I've been sticking to it. I think the success comes from analyzing the potential pitfalls, coming up with a successful plan, and framing them with my intention for 2018 in mind. I didn't make a rash decision that I resented it over time and quit. My intention is happiness and working out, doing my side projects, and having clean laundry makes me happy. Using my weekends to do errands and laundry does not make me happy. Luckily, I have a great group of friends in SF who are on the same page as I am about fitness. So I'll meet my friends for workouts but I don't schedule meetings or social time before I get to work out, take my dog out, cook myself dinner, and have some "me" time. By the way, 7:30pm is not late - it's just late for SF. Since make that time boundary, I have found my social life fall off the calendar a little but I am happier because I get to do something I love - move my body and get to the gym, eat healthy, and re-center after work.
It's not easy. These are struggles I go through to adjust to my new intention for the year. But my commitment to it is unwavering.
It's March 2018 and by now some of us have had major life events happen since January, we're starting to feel a little less commitment to our resolutions, and we're anxiously waiting for Summer so we can shed the Winter coats and see the sun go down after 6:30pm. We're all antsy. As one of my favorite soulcycle instructors, Stevie, used to say in class - you can make a change any day of the year you want, we don't wait for New Years Eve to change (a butchered version of her eloquent motivational words). So where you can you change? Where can you shift?
If you're looking for a strength program - Caroline works!!! If you need a life coach, go get one. If your body hurts doing a work out or you're not seeing results, ask your fitness instructor for some pointers. Bring a friend to the gym if you need motivation or courage in the weight room. Go to the gym to unwind or yoga class instead of drinking a half bottle of wine. Get a baby sitter so you can your partner can have a date night. Get a dog walker in the evening so you can go to the gym and not rush home. Meal plan so you have more time during the week (my friend, Michelle, does great blog posts on that here). Take a personal day and shut off your phone if you feel like you're burning out. Stay home if you're sick and actually sleep. Get a massage if your muscles are tight. Try cutting out dairy to see if your stomach feels better. Try a nutritionist, a functional medicine doctor, an MD who considers your whole body, a financial coach to get you to your goals, a therapist to help you get through a rough time, a personal trainer or friend to keep you accountable to your workouts... don't accept feeling shitty.
Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Now go about your day.