Updated: Jan 2, 2021
I think a lot of us are ready for a fresh start and are excited to say goodbye to 2020. Even though this year has been tough for many reasons, one positive that came out of it is my renewed health. Many of us scoff at new year's resolutions and might even get frustrated or annoyed with "resolutioners" when they crowd our gyms for a month or two until they go back to their old ways. However, there is nothing wrong with being resolute or resolved when it comes to your health and wellbeing. In fact, many of us can be very successful when we set realistic goals for ourselves. That's how my journey to a healthier me started.
I have always loved physical activity. Getting motivated to exercise has never been a problem for me. I know- this is where some of you will start rolling your eyes and groaning because finding motivation doesn't come easily for you. I think it has to do with not taking my ability for granted (because I've seen many other amputees struggle to be active) and wanting to prove to people that I'm capable of doing physically challenging things despite my limitations.
Likewise, eating healthy has never been a problem either. My mom taught me from a young age how to eat well. She shoved it down my throat (pun intended) that all the food on my plate should be different colors to ensure I had the proper nutritional balance. However, she didn't seem to care that our fruit was swimming in a can of syrup- haha. But all kidding aside, I am forever thankful that she taught me healthy eating habits.
For a very long time, eating well and staying active worked for me. I was able to look the way I wanted and feel pretty good overall. However, that all changed when I had my second child three years ago. I had a harder time losing the baby weight, and I had polyhydramnios during pregnancy, so I was measuring about 5 weeks bigger than normal due to all the extra fluid. My skin stretched a lot, and I had a heck of a time getting it to regain its elasticity (I'm still not all the way there and probably never will be). Don't get me wrong, I love my body for what it did. I am so proud to be their mother, but I was self conscious and just not feeling like my best self.
I started working out even more than normal to get my pre-baby body back. I was in the gym at least five days a week and was constantly doing cardio. I tried to eat lean foods and started counting calories on the app Myfitnesspal. After six months, I saw practically no results and was frustrated and defeated.
On top of that, I started getting sick ALL the time. My immune system was obliterated after having my second C-section. I was in and out of the doctors office with strep throat, sinus infections... you name it. No matter how much sleep or how many vitamins I took, I couldn't seem to stay healthy.
That's when I sought help from my friend, Lauren, who is a dietician. Because her advice pretty much changed my life, I wanted to share some of her tips with you. Here are the most important things that I learned from Lauren that seemed to have the biggest impact on my overall health:
I had to eat more fat! I know that sounds weird because, if you're anything like me, you've always been taught to have light everything: light ranch dressing, low fat cottage cheese, light mayonnaise, etc.. However, fats are essential to your diet. They can increase your energy and help you absorb nutrients. All in moderation of course- this isn't your excuse to eat greasy cheeseburgers every day of the week. Lauren took the time to explain to me which foods contained good fats. I now concentrate on eating avocadoes, nuts, full fat cottage cheese, and whole milk yogurt. Foods that are higher in fat are typically less processed, so my body didn't have to try to fight off unfamiliar things that it didn't know what to do with.
I stopped doing so much cardio and began weight lifting. I never wanted to lift because I was scared of bulking up. But, I thought I would give it a try since nothing I was doing was working. Instead of 45 minutes of cardio each day, I did 25 minutes of strength training and 20 minutes of cardio. That was a huge adjustment to my mentality. But, I started seeing results right away. Not only was I getting more toned, but I dropped a bit of weight, and my stomach started flattening. At age 35, I have never loved my body more. I feel strong and powerful, but I also feel lean and toned. I wish I would have listened to the "muscle burns fat" adage a long time ago.
3. I started paying attention to the appropriate times to eat food throughout the day. I never knew there was a better time to eat carbs than others or when I should avoid fats. Lauren taught me that I shouldn't have any carbs for breakfast because I don't exercise until the afternoon. I need to load up on protein right off the bat. She told me that I was only getting half the protein that I needed and that it was extremely difficult to get enough throughout the day without supplementing with protein shakes. I was apprehensive to begin drinking them because I thought they would be disgusting. But, I was wrong again. 1st Phorm has an awesome product that allows the body to absorb most of the protein. Plus, it tastes great! (I'm not getting paid to say that. It really does). I like the milk chocolate flavor with a little PB2 Powder added to it. It tastes like a Resse's cup. Since I'm so active, I've found that a protein shake isn't enough to fill me up, so I normally have a hard boiled egg, full fat cottage cheese, or protein balls with it. Then, I load up on simple carbs (fast burning fuel) right before my workout. I usually have a piece of jelly toast, cereal, or a banana. The carbs give me the energy I need to have a good workout.
4. I eat MORE than I ever used to! My body was trying to conserve calories because it wasn't getting enough. I would normally have about 1600 calories a day, but now I have 1800 or even more sometimes. I've learned not to deprive myself or limit my food anymore. If I'm that active, I need to nourish and fuel my body. I eat 6 times a day. Here is my typical eating schedule:
9:30- snack. I usually have a protein bar. I love the Power Crunch brand (their peanut
butter chocolate flavor). Can you tell I'm obsessed with that combination? :)
11:30- lunch. I usually have leftover casserole from the night before, a fruit, and a
2:30- snack. This is where I eat my simple carbs.
5:30- dinner. I am the casserole queen, so make a ton of them. My favorite lately is
chicken zucchini casserole. Again, I always have a fruit or vegetable with the main
8:00- snack. I normally have rice cakes or popcorn. It's something very small just to
hold me over until I go to bed at 10:00.
5. I try new things at the gym. If we're always doing the same thing, then our bodies get used to it, and we don't see results. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. That's what I was doing for all those years! Now, I challenge my body to do different things. I've never been taught to swim, but now it's a part of my weekly routine. I am not good at running, but I'm actively trying to improve. I started out bench pressing 45 pounds (the weight of the bar) eight months ago, but now I'm easily doing 2 sets of 10 at 75 pounds. It's all about confusing your muscles and trying new things. Keep your body guessing!
6. I've replaced cow's milk with almond milk and have tried to eat more whole foods. I buy organic when it's affordable and try to choose foods with fewer ingredients. I do my best to stay away from artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Before I started making these changes, I noticed that I was getting bloated throughout the day. Lactose, which is found in cow's milk, can cause bloating, so my sister Rachel suggested that I cut it out of my diet. I protested for months because I thought I loved it too much to stop. I mean, how can you not have a cookie with a glass of ice cold milk!? Oddly enough, now that I've removed it, I don't miss it at all. However, I don't love almond milk enough to drink it by itself. YUCK! Instead, I put it in my protein shakes, cereal, and baked goods. And the best news...I've noticed the bloating has subsided immensely!
7. I let myself splurge! I always go all out on at least one meal a week and one dessert a week. Last week it was a cheeseburger from Culvers, cheese curds, and a chocolate sundae with peanut butter sauce and Reese's cups (there's that combination again). In moderation, those types of foods are not bad. Lauren has impressed upon me that if we deprive ourselves, we won't achieve a sustainable lifestyle.
Although I love the changes to my appearance, the most important thing is that I am healthier than ever. Other than getting Covid recently, I haven't been sick at all since I've made these modifications to my diet and lifestyle. I feel better, have more energy, and am in the best shape I've been in in probably a decade. However, I want to make it clear that I'm not saying these seven steps will work for everyone. No body is the same, so you really need to figure out what works for you. Maybe you have a different food intolerance than me, maybe you need to adjust what time you eat your carbs because you exercise in the morning, or maybe you find that doing cardio one day and strength training the next works better for you.
Either way, trying a couple of the things on this list might produce good results and lead to a healthier you for 2021. If you aren't happy with your health right now, I encourage you to try a lot of different things to see what works for you. But no matter what, don't just become complacent and give up. Regardless of your age, I assure you that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Heck, I'm 35 (I know that's not terribly old, but it's older than when I was at my prime in college) and just now attempting to do my first mini triathlon and a 120 mile bike ride over a two day stretch this summer. It might take awhile to find the correct "recipe" for you, but I can assure you that it'll be worth it!