Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction

So I got three new kittens recently, and as a consequence I’ve been thinking about them a bunch and not about blogging.  But then my awesome friend Jess messaged me, and that spawned a whole great dialogue about bodies, health habits, and changing things up.

There’s been a really interesting conversation evolving lately about whether or not you can be body-positive and still have goals around your body. More specifically—can you love your body and still want to change it?

It’s a tough one, because I feel like a lot of the time, it can be a very gray slippery mucky area where people say they want to be healthy or stronger or whatever, and really, they just want to lose weight and be more socially acceptable.  And that’s kinda dumb.  If you wanna lose weight, just say you wanna lose weight.  It’s your body.  You can do what you want.  And as a feminist, I believe in bodily autonomy over anything else.

I do think that it’s important to consider WHY you want to lose weight.  In this conversation with Jess, I asked her to examine why she wanted to lose weight.  I’m not the arbiter of what is and isn’t appropriate motivation.  Girl, I get it.  We fight a lot of battles in our time on this planet and this shit is hard.  If you want to lose weight so that bullies stop harassing you, so that your doctor takes you seriously, so that you can land that fly job without interviewer bias, it’s cool.  I personally believe that other reasons can be more fulfilling and that one should take a good, solid look at themselves and learn to live and love what they see first.  Then you can decide what you want to change.  

Jess does that here, and I think her desire to add more muscle and change her body comp based on how she feels is totally sound.  (I’d still have helped her even if the reasons she listed weren’t ones near and dear to my own heart, because I’m not a dick, but it did help me shape what I recommended.)

Above all, I think healthy should be additive, not reductive.  You shouldn't ever feel shame or deprivation.  It's way more fun to ADD stuff to your routine and see what sticks.  So here’s our conversation, complete with my ideas for how one might increase their overall health by adding rad stuff to their routine and making it habitual.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Jess:  For the very first time in my life, I actually want to lose some weight. This is a new experience for me and I have no interest in engaging in Diet Culture, which I can't see past the marketing of, if nothing else. I love myself and my body enough to want to do so healthfully and mindfully, and as much as I am a mortal human who enjoys overnight results, would be fine with a slow-and-steady progress.  What would your recommendation BE to someone like me?

Kelly: So as a feminist, I totally believe it's possible to love your body and yet also have goals concerning it.  To start off with, let's ask the obvious: why do you want to lose weight?  Once we determine your motivation, that's where we'll start.

Jess: I want to feel less heavy-- I know this is something a lot of people experience, I can actually feel myself carrying this extra weight. I'm not too proud to say that there's some vanity in there. I also want to gain muscle in my core so that I have an easier time hauling my ass (of any size) around. Also, having been very, very thin for bad, injury related reasons, I know what my too-thin feels like and have no interest in being there again. I do not want to lose any more than 12 pounds from where I am right now, and I want to do so in a way that will replace some of the fluff lost with the muscle I never gained back after my injuries, because fuck, being 10lb under your HappyWeight makes you COLD ALL THE TIME.

And energy! This is what I mean about feeling heavy. I'm tired a lot and want to not expend as much effort as I feel like I do in day to day stuff. When the 10 minute walk to the subway feels like a million miles and you can't kick up the speed, something goes off in your head.

Kelly: Ok!  So: a lot of what ails you can be adjusted with switching up what kinds of activity you do, and making some small tweaks to what you eat.  Can you describe what your normal habits look like on both of those accounts?  

Jess: Oh, I am fully aware that my habits are awful! Some of it is because I am so tired so frequently (and for a really long time I have been attributing it almost entirely to job stress and dissatisfaction-- and it did play a part!) I have never loved fruits and vegetables and essentially trick myself into eating them about 90% of the time I do. I can easily go a day without eating a single one, I am working towards fixing that. I am also what a friend of mine has heard referred to as "skinnyfat", where my eating habits can't be described as bad either. I don't eat a lot of sweets, snack food, or fast food. I have, in the last year, eaten a fair amount of convenience food, cans and boxes and the like, and am trying to change that a bit. Kyle and I in general need to be better about actually cooking and getting fresh food in the house, which is hard when you're really busy. But hopefully things are evening out for us a little bit. A lot of it is things I know I should do, but don't.

Activity, not nearly as much as I would like. Because I'm always running around to 10 different things, and tired when I stop, I don't set aside much regular time for focused exercising. I was trying for a while but not very successful. I get around an hour of walking/stairs just commuting every day.  Other stuff, but nothing regular.

My plan in the coming weeks is that when (boyfriend) starts band rehearsals again I'll go to a Pilates class I have taken and enjoyed that meets at the same time. I won't have any distractions, it’s after work, I got it cheap via Groupon, and if I schedule it in advance and am prepaid for it, I won't slack and not go. Raising stakes!  Making myself responsible for it.
For my back I currently do light stretching and foam roller stuff when it hurts. Also trying to do something for that every. single. day. because ow.

Kelly: Hey! No judgment!  We all approach life differently.  I love fruits and vegetables, and I'm totally overweight.  Whatever.  Genetics and proclivities are genetics and proclivities. That said: in order to actually change your body, you must actually change your habits.  I know it sounds reductive, but it's true.  

I feel you on being busy.  It can be hard to do a lot of things, but the truth to life is you have to prioritize what's really important to you.  Hate your job?  Looks like you're setting about fixing it.  Feeling a lot of discomfort, heaviness, ick?  Now's the best time to start making changes that will help you feel a ton better overall.  I promise.

Let's go from "easiest to implement" to "a little harder".  I promise I won't give you anything ridiculous.  You can integrate things as you go along.  All you have to do is promise yourself to keep going.

Movement/Exercise:  So stuff you're already doing: the Pilates class is good.  That should help with some of your pain/discomfort for sure.  Having a strong core helps with everything else.  It's also good to have day-to-day movement built in.  Keep that up.

The biggest change with the highest dividends you can make to your exercise routine will be to add some weight lifting.  I know that may sound a little intimidating, but there's really no other way to add muscle quickly and efficiently.  Also, it doesn't have to be bad or hard.  You may end up loving it.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

You don't have to join a gym, or buy anything for now.  I'd suggest starting with 10-15 minutes of body weight exercises 2-3x per week.  Do it while you're waiting for (boyfriend) to cook dinner, or when you've gotten home before you kick off your shoes and relax.  The thing about setting a healthy habit is that you have to get to it before inertia kicks in.  For me, that means doing it before I go home from work - that may or may not make sense for you.

Intro to Strength Training: Nerd Fitness (Focus on the bodyweight section.  Links to movements inside the article)
Why strength training is good for you: Nerd Fitness

I love Nerd Fitness.  They're legit, and low on the moralizing.

Nutrition:  For nutrition, I'd start small and get better over time.  Get a habit tracking app on your phone, and start tracking habits.  I'd keep it simple—examples:
- Eat 3 servings of vegetables today (sneak them into a smoothie, try them with dips, eat vegetarian for a week and challenge yourself to find recipes you like)
- Eat a fruit
- Have one meal you make yourself
- Drink 48 oz of water

Some core eating habits I try to live by: eat when you’re hungry, eat 3-4 meals per day (no grazing), eat until you’re full then stop, and try to eat mostly whole foods.  

Also, eMeals saved my relationship.  It's an app for tablet or smartphone with EASY recipes and not too many ingredients.  You can make some stuff on the weekend if you have time, and save it/freeze it for easy reheating later.  And they give you a shopping list that you can take to the store. So simple.

So that's a ton of info, but let me tell you what's in it for you: less pain, a better looking and feeling body, the energy to get through your day.  Weight lifting in particular made the biggest body comp change to my body that I've ever seen in my entire life.  Seriously, it was life-changing.  I had a really tight butt, great arms, a smaller waist -- all of it.  It WILL NOT make you bulky.  I promise.  It never has, unless the lady took steroids.  For real.  When I started making these changes, I stopped feeling sluggish, could carry my shit all day, and all my aches and pains got better.  That was reward enough for me.  
So: how does all that sound?

Jess:  It sounds great! What you said in this last paragraph is pretty much everything I want in a more-concise than I said it nutshell. Specific thoughts following!

Movement: I actually LOVE weightlifting, I just never do it successfully outside of a gym, and I just dumped my gym membership so I could afford these Pilates classes. My chiropractor actually specifically recommended them, and as habits go they will be easier for me to incorporate than a gym since they have a set date and time. There's a very, very light free-weight fly the chiropractor gave me too that I just need to make habit. I actually would NOT mind bulking up on top so you don't need to talk me down from that! Will definitely check out that link.

Nutrition: Your first set of bullet points are definitely a thing I am trying to work toward. I started having a smoothie every day for lunch, but the pineapple in it was hurting my mouth and I would come home hungry and cranky (even though I felt fullwhen I was finished with the smoothie). I'm glad the weather is cooling off because that'll make the very act of cooking, and perhaps meal prep, much, much easier. Also, it'll let me sneak my veg in soup (I just got some for lunch now!). As for core eating habits, I am already mostly successful at these things-- 3 meals, when I'm hungry and usually not before. Stopping when I'm full.  Been working very hard to not eat while bored.  I need a book or something. When we cook, it’s often whole, but not as often as it could be. Frankly I need to learn to cook better in general. I have a food-tracking app I have used before. It’s pretty focused on raw calories, which I don’t super mind, because knowing I will have to type my food in makes me pause before I eat it and go "do I want to do this".

We just successfully have been making cold brew coffee to save money, so I am optimistic that I could do a weekday breakfast prep thing. I really want to make those omelet muffin tin things I've been seeing around, because I love a good spinach omelet and spinach can come frozen and organic and be just as healthy for me as fresh without wilting.

Kelly: My favorite smoothie recipe:
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup mango chunks (fresh or frozen)
1 banana
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup baby spinach leaves

It's SUPER GOOD.  You don't taste the spinach at all.  Nothing in it should hurt you.  It's very tropical and keeps you full because of the coconut milk.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

I make these egg muffins a ton: Egg Muffin Recipe

Cooking spray prevents them from sticking, and then you just reheat.  My fave combo right now is baby spinach, feta, and roasted red pepper (from a jar, cut up).  So good.

So it seems like the answer now is to do the Pilates + the lightweight fly, and start with that.  Those are your exercise habits for the next month.  Then, whenever those classes are up or you feel done and can afford it, hit the gym for more robust weight lifting.  I am SO GLAD that you have none of those concerns.  I love weightlifting and I wish more women would do it, to preserve their skeletal muscle later on.

For food, I'm super glad to hear you have mostly healthy habits.  Not eating while bored is totally a thing.  One of my friends says it's helping her to have something to do with her hands.  Another friend says that drinking a glass of water when she's snacky helps her see if she's hungry or not.

I spend Sunday afternoon doing 3 hours of meal prep.  I make egg muffins, get smoothie ingredients together, and make my bagged lunch for the week.

Jess: Update! I had a very happy weekend, kicked off by our conversation, and while I didn’t watch my eating, I was very active, and have a habit tracker app and feel like I can do it. I'm going to try to drink an amount of water, eat one fruit and one veg serving per day, do my chiro-prescribed exercises every single day, and take vitamins including probiotic and fiber. Trying to set myself up for success! And I know from experience that taking a multivitamin with iron prevents PMS weight gain (which is insignificantin the long run but very, very annoying.)

Kelly: That all sounds great Jess!

Jess: Day 2 and I am on my way to meeting those goals again. Thank you for realizing that sometimes you have to just be a nerd who loves checking off to do lists before being a "health conscious person" whatever that means or, honestly, deciding what not to eat. I'm already feeling more positive because I have A Plan.

Kelly: Totally. That's the WHOLE THING.  Like, all of it.  If you can get that down, the results will come.

Jess: Word. I am ready. I ate both fruit and vegetables 2 days in a row before I was even done with work. One thing I run into that I think lots of people have trouble with is like wtf is a serving of these things. I ate a wrap that had cucumbers and carrot in it. No idea how much because I didn’t make it myself. Easier to check yes or no, at least at this stage, than to worry about a measure.

Kelly: Yes, totally.

Jess:  Keeping the habits up, finding fruit harder than veg. Really glad today was soup weather! Hale and Hearty cream of tomato with orzo and chicken is super delicious and filling and the only eh factor is salt.

Peeing constantly because lots of water. Takes some getting used to. But definitely feeling a bit more energetic and less beat at the end of the day. Hope its not placebo! haha.

Kelly: It’s totally not, and even if it is, who cares!  Enjoy that feeling, girl.

Anyone else want to weigh in on additive health habits they've implemented?  What's been successful for you?  And even more interesting, what hasn't?