On July 1 I set out to challenge myself in order to improve my overall health. I knew trying to make a drastic lifestyle change in just 31 days was going to be extremely tough for me. I am very much a creature of habit and I tend to struggle with big shifts in my routine.
But I knew in my heart that if I was unwilling to make important changes in my life for the sole purpose of improving my health, I would be a lost cause forever. I had to make a change. I had to step up and ask myself “Who is the person I want to be?”
Like any millennial, I turned to the internet for guidance. How does one make positive changes to their lifestyle? How does one find a sustainable way of becoming healthier both physically and mentally? How does one create better habits when it seems like there is never enough time in the day to make room for these habits?
Well, I learned a couple key things. First, it takes about 21 days, or three weeks, to create or break a habit. Second, it takes about 90 days, or three months, to make a sustainable change in your lifestyle.
I thought, “If I can just make it through this first month, maybe I’ll have the foundation I need to form lasting habits.”
I also had to search inside my soul and ask myself “Why do I want to change?” That question was easy to answer. My favorite clothes are sitting in a closet because they no longer fit. I’d really like to get back into my favorite dresses once again. I’d like to have enough energy to get me through my day that doesn’t involve a sugar crash. I’d like to sleep better at night without sleep aids. I need to reduce the inflammation in my joints to hopefully put my Rheumatoid Arthritis into remission. I want to eat healthier meals so I feel nourished, and I want to exercise to help burn off some of that built up energy I that made me restless.
I sat down at the end of June, writing down reason after reason why I wanted to embark on my health and fitness journey. Most importantly, I was honest with myself and realized no one else is going to prioritize and make time for my health like I will.
Now that I had a list of reasons why I wanted to embark on these life changes, it was time to actually start.
Finding a system that would work with my lifestyle and who I am as a person was critical. I am not a morning person. I tend to sleep until the very last minute until it’s time to get ready for work. I already knew if I set up an exercise regimen that forced me to wake up early would fail within the first week. I don’t like mornings nor do I want to push my body that hard when I first wake up. I am, however, somewhat of a night owl. I hit my productive stride in the evening. I decided the best time to exercise for my lifestyle was after work so I could clear my mind before bed.
I also know that I can’t commit to driving to a gym a few times a week. If it involves driving more than two minutes from my house, I’m not going. I’m an inherently lazy homebody, trying to find ways I can get the results I want with the most limited amount of effort as possible. Some might call that lazy but I tend to think “work smarter, not harder.”
I have a small rowing machine that I purchased on Amazon last year during one of my first attempts at getting into better health. It had been sitting in the corner of my bedroom for months until I decided to pull it back out this month and see if I could find a way to make it work with my schedule.
For someone with sensitive joints from arthritis damage, rowing was an ideal exercise to choose. It works your entire body while being a relatively low impact exercise. It gets your heart rate up, too, and a lot quicker than you might think. What I love about it is that it’s an exercise that involves sitting so I am not putting strain on my ankles or knees. It also means that I can multitask and watch an episode of my favorite tv shows to help kill time.
By exercising for 30 minutes a day for five days a week on the rowing machine, I could reach 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week which is a recommended amount I saw online. That was my target. If I could do my cardio workouts every week at the beginning and get my joints feeling better, then I could focus on strength training and other fun exercises later down the road.
Exercising wasn’t going to be enough, though. I tried that route before. I tried exercising five times a week, but I saw no improvement in my health. It’s something I didn’t understand. I was exercising and getting the recommended amount of cardio, but I wasn’t feeling any better on the inside.
I hadn’t changed my eating habits. I was still reaching for a nice, cold Coke a couple times a day. I was running out to grab fried fast food several times a week. I was stress eating cookies and chips late at night. Well, now I know why my exercise attempts always failed.
This time around, I learned that diet has way more to do with living a healthier lifestyle than I previously thought. I didn’t want to limit myself to eating salads every day though. I’m not a rabbit and eating rabbit food every day just wasn’t sustainable for me. I like meats and fruits and good carbs every now and then. If I was going to diet, then I had to diet in a way that didn’t restrict me to the point I felt like eating was a punishment.
In my “work smarter not harder” mentality, I began with small changes. I set a goal for myself to not drink a single soda or eat fast food for an entire month. I would instead focus on foods I could prepare in the oven at home that would take minimal prep time after work. I also decided to focus on preparing lunches for the week on Sundays so I wouldn’t have to worry about making lunch every day of the week.
I started to look for healthier alternatives for my snacking. As much as I love munching on chips, I had to see if I could find another option that would satisfy my snacking tendency. I swapped my chips out with some sliced cucumbers and a side of hummus. It quickly became my go-to snack because of my love for fresh, crisp cucumber. Instead of eating a couple cookies, I sliced up a Red Delicious apple to satisfy that craving for sweetness. I switched from white bread to wheat with whole grains and from ham slices to turkey slices on my sandwiches.
With small changes I felt like I was still eating foods that I loved without feeling like I was on a diet. I felt full after lunch and dinner and soon my craving for sugary drinks and high calorie fast food became less noticeable. That’s when I truly realized that this system of meal prepping and making small, healthy swaps is a sustainable system for me.
After getting a diet and exercise plan in worked out, I came up with a system to keep me motivated and track my progress.
First, I decided to take pictures of my body a couple times a month to show my starting point and my current point in my journey. I wanted to see the physical changes because sometimes you can’t see them in the mirror each day.
Second, I wanted to track my weight to see if I am losing weight each week. The best time to weigh yourself is in the morning before getting dressed for work and before eating breakfast, so I decided I would weigh myself no more than three times per week. Your weight fluctuates every day and by stepping on that scale every day I knew it would probably upset me to see the number go up slightly after a big meal.
I planned to start each week on Mondays, so my first weigh-in was set for Wednesdays to see where I was at the beginning of my week. My next weigh-in was set for Fridays to see where I was going into the weekend so I could make adjustments and be conscious of my eating choices over the weekend. My final weigh-in was set for Sundays which was the last day of my week. This weight is the one I decided to log because it represented my final weight for that week before beginning again on Monday.
It wasn’t enough to see pictures of my body or what the scale said, I wanted to measure myself too. I’m not a patient person. I like to see some form of result as soon as possible because it motivates me to keep pushing myself. I grabbed my measuring tape and checked my body measurements on Sundays because I wanted to see if what I was doing was making a difference. Sometimes the scale can be deceiving. Your weight can fluctuate because of water retention, a big meal or hormones. But tracking the inches on my body showed me exactly where those pounds were lost.
In one month, I dropped 10 pounds and lost an inch around my waist, plus an inch and a half around my chest and my hips. I couldn’t believe that my adding light cardio exercise and making small changes to my diet made that big of a difference in just one month (technically 29 days as of writing this).
Measuring the physical side of this journey is easy, but I really wanted to track how I feel on the inside.
I feel more hydrated from drinking mostly water (with the exception of some diet cranberry juice and a glass of sweet tea with dinner on the weekends). My problematic joints have been kind to me, with my pain being reduced significantly. I feel motivated to continue because I found a sustainable way to be healthy without punishing myself. I am able to get a quality night’s sleep without a sleep aid most nights. My anxiety and stress has been greatly managed, and I have seen a drastic decrease in the amount of panic attacks I’ve had this month. I feel my creative juices flowing and have been able to create projects and art that keeps me feeling productive and accomplished.
What I’ve learned in this month has taught me a lot about myself and has put me in touch with my body and mind. I found what I need to carve out a healthy lifestyle that I can keep up with through life’s ups and downs. I learned how important it is to be kind to yourself because I’m not going to be able to give 100% every day. Life happens and no one is going to be 100% on their goals every single day. If today I can only achieve 70% of what I wanted to accomplish, I am going to celebrate the 70% I did instead of lamenting and beating myself up over that 30%.
Learning to be kind to myself, learning my limitations and pushing my boundaries and learning to have a healthy relationship with my body and its needs have been the most rewarding lessons I’ve experienced this month.
Now August is right around the corner and I am ready to set my monthly goals and keep pushing myself to achieve them. I know now more than ever that putting my Rheumatoid Arthritis in remission is within my grasp if I continue on this journey.
And judging by how I feel in this moment, I have no plans on stopping.