My body is not perfect. At 44 years old, I’ve come to accept that fact and I’m grateful that my body serves me well:
- I’m strong mentally and physically.
- I have endless (manageable) energy.
- I’m happy in and with my life.
There is a trend right now in the mental health world that suggests that people who are overly focused on their health may have a mental disorder (read this). I see signs of this in my work with some clients:
- The 70-year-old who wastes time being “mad at gravity”.
- The twenty–something who “doesn’t like the shape” of their buttocks, arms, calves, etc…
- The teenager who doesn’t want their thighs to “spread” when they sit.
I also see men and women who are so obsessed with their food—so strict with their diets—that they avoid all social gatherings that include less than optimal nutritional choices. These are people who never take days off from exercise for recovery. They won’t have their picture taken until they lose the last ten pounds and then, the next three pounds…
Upon recognizing these signs of obsession, I initially work to add levity: “Get a hobby!” is one of the things that I suggest. When that doesn’t work, I insist that they take a hiatus from my classes for rest and recovery, I offer them a spot in my nutrition course or I refer them for counselling.
Eating and over exercising disorders are serious mental health issues and should not be taken lightly. But, I think that a healthy curiosity for wellness is both smart and warranted. What follows is a personal example of my own curious nature in action on behalf of myself and my clients at Custom Fit Vitality.
Several years ago I followed a popular nutrition and fitness regime that I hoped would bring me (and my clients) the results I wanted:
- regularity in my digestion
- restful sleep
- a truce with my overly active, monkey–mind (a mind that would not shut off)
- peace with and in my body
- clothes that fit in a size I could “live with”
And, let’s be honest, as I was approaching 40, the last goal was a priority for me.
I followed the program religiously for 18 months. Although I loved the concept of honing daily habits with skills that were meant to serve me, after a year and half I accepted that most of the protocols of the program did not serve me.
Some of what did not work for me was
- Heavy weight training, in the gym, five days per week. This was not only inconvenient, training like this left my muscles and my joints sore all the time. Now, I train three to four days per week: two high intensity, interval, body weight training sessions and one vinyasa style yoga practice. I quit running distance and instead added a weekly sprinting session. My body likes sprinting and responds well to it. My body did not like distance running and did not respond well to it.
- Active recovery days instead of complete rest. This didn’t work for me. A stroll with the dog or a hike with a friend was never leisurely. I always felt I had to go at my max. This was not a relaxing or recovery worthy practice. Now I take at least three days off a week from training. I stroll with the dog, garden and lie in my hammock and read.
- Taking multiple supplements daily. This was not only expensive, it was confusing. I never truly had a handle on what was working for me and what was just placebo and what was possibly doing more harm than good. Now, I drink water with lemon and a pinch of sea salt and I take magnesium—that’s it. I’m not going to the Olympics…
- Eating five or six mini–meals a day. This was also inconvenient and I was always hungry. It turned out the high protein, low-fat, whole grains and unlimited fruits and veggies diet did not work for me. Today, I am satisfied on two or three meals a day eating a diet that is full fat, moderate carbohydrate (for me), moderate protein (for me), adequate fibre (for me) and low sugar (for me) with adequate water (for me).
Through research and curiosity, I customized my own nutritional tipping points that work for me. This has been life changing.
I know what I’m doing now works because
- My digestion is regular. With adequate (for me) low sugar, fibre–rich choices daily, and at least three litres of water (eight cups+), my digestion is excellent. No more bloating, gas or irregularity.
- I sleep well and wake up rested. Too much sugar (even from “natural sources”) and over exercising can lead to sleeplessness and anxiety. Today, because of how I train and feed myself and the rest that I get, I am not body sore all the time and I sleep soundly.
- I use my monkey mind for creativity not self–sabotage. See above on sugar and exercise. I’m also confident that swapping non fat, low-fat choices to regular fats has supported my brain nutritionally. This has helped my energy and mindset immensely.
I have one more thing that supports all the above: I have a laboratory full of clients I coach who want many of the same wellness goals that I do.
When I taught the protocol from the regime I was following, most of my clients had similar results to mine. Even though we made progress, everything didn’t come together as we hoped. When I stayed curious, made some changes, tracked my own protocols, assessed and made adjustments based on my results, I saw and continue to see progress. I then shared what I discovered with the men and women in the community I serve at Custom Fit and they too progressed.
Here are some tips to consider:
- Be clear on what you want or you may not know when you get it. Just feeling better or being thinner or more “ripped” is not enough. I knew what I wanted and still do today. I understand my body’s limitations and am grateful for what it can do for me. I use digestion, sleep and mindset as my compasses. If I do that, my clothes fit and I like what I see in the mirror. What does being healthy mean to you? What does it look like for you? Sound like for you? What would being truly happy with your body feel like for you? At some point a balance must be struck between striving for perfection and being happy with what we have.
- Ride the horse you are on. If we jump from one nutrition and fitness plan to another our bodies never have the time to adjust and make progress. We need to give any program we are on at least three months and then we need to listen. I gave my previous program time to work before swapping horses. I had a harried feeling from the start that the program I was following wasn’t working for me. It didn’t feel right…I did notice changes in gaining lean muscle mass but my body fat was not where I wanted it, I was sore all the time, I could not sleep and my digestion did not improve.
- Be honest. The truth is that any program will create change. If we go from couch potato to eating better and doing some exercise, we will see changes! The questions to ask are: Is the program healthy, is it sustainable and what are we getting for what we are doing? I was already eating well and exercising when I started the first program so immediate changes were not obvious. I honestly worked the program and gave it enough time. I really wanted the program to work which is why I stuck with it for so long. But, in the end I acknowledged that it did not work for me—the program was a pain to follow and I did not like what I was getting for what I was doing. So, I changed horses.
A few weeks into living like I do now, I knew intuitively that I was onto something that worked for me. Today, three years later, my nutrition and exercise plans work for me. Now, with lots of practice, they are seamless and enjoyable and because there is no need to obsess, I have time for hobbies that I love. What a relief! I am grateful that my business is to share this information with people who are also curious.
My last tip: Question authority.
Just because something is popular or works for a friend whom you admire does not mean that it will be right for you. Be wary of one–size–fits–all diets, quick fixes and cookie–cutter fitness. Stay curious, ask for help and remain true to yourself.