How I got Healthier (and You Can Too)

My friend Jill Hartmann-Roberts recently asked me for some info about the health and fitness things I’ve been excited about in the past couple of years and I thought, ‘Why not share this info with all of you?’

First of all, know that whatever health, body, mental or other challenges you’re facing, I completely believe good food, exercise, and giving yourself peaceful, quiet time can improve your life.  Some people have problems that keep them from the activities mentioned here, but most of us (thankfully) don’t — and even if you do, there is probably something, even just looking out a window, that could improve the quality of your life.  As always, you may want to talk to your doctor before making any of these big changes (he’d probably love to hear some good news).

Tiny bit of backstory — I grew up loving fried foods, sweets, and thought I was a ‘meat & potatoes’ girl.  I was also significantly heavier than I am now.  This change did not come all at once but by slowly starting to add in more and more good habits over the years.  So start small but be excited that your happiest, healthiest body may still be ahead of you.  My dad’s 59 and he just spent 8 and 1/2 hours kayaking on a river — you may say he has good genes but he also eats the healthiest and exercises more than anyone I know.  Where do you want your body to be at 59?

So, here’s what I’ve been doing in the last couple of years to take my body to the next level (this may be a little advanced for some people so remember that even half measures will get you going in the right direction) —

Cutting Back on Sugar

These days, I don’t really keep anything with refined sugar in the house.  When I want to make an exception (like a shake), I have to go out and buy it.  I’ve really been working to replace my desire for refined sugars with natural sugars like fruits, fruit juice, date-related products, and sometimes coconut sugar (Trader Joes has it and it’s pretty good in coffee).  Read my full post about sugar here.  Most of this new focus came about last year when my sister watched Sugar is a Toxin, a talk by Dr. Robert Lustig that changed the way we think about sugar’s place in our lives.

Now, I love sweets, and I’ll allow myself at least one hard-core exception a week (chocolate torte anyone?) but I want to remove the daily need for sugar from my life.  And doing that is also one of the best ways to avoid joining the heartbreakingly large number of diabetics in this country.  The amount of sugar we’re encouraged to eat everyday is f-ed up and we need take the power back into our own hands and live more like our grandparents did — when sweets were a rare treat.  Also read — Food Rules.  It’s wonderful.

Walking & Cycling

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think walking is a fantastic way to get healthier.  Try to get out for thirty minutes and least five times a week.

But cycling, now there’s the gold mine.  If you’re able physically to cycle, even just a little ways, you can find relaxation, joy, and a great, fast way to lose weight and get in shape.  As my sister has said, ‘You don’t see any fat cyclists’ (or at least, not for long).

But if you can’t/don’t like to go cycling, remember the important thing is to just do some exercise you do enjoy more.  It needs to be done often, and be fun and challenging to whatever level you’re at now — but never hurt yourself.

Juicing & Fasting

Juicing is a great way to get a lot of vitamins fast and can give your body a break from the hard work of digesting food (yes, your intestines would like a vacation too).  The film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead really turned my sister and I on to the power of juicing — you can change your body in ways you’d never believe and it’s never too late to get better.  Whether it’s just a breakfast replacement or a longer ‘juice fast’, it can change your relationship to food forever.  A juicer costs around a hundred dollars but you can buy used ones (or get a friend to loan you one to try it) — and either way, the cost is probably less than one month of the blood pressure pills you may have to take down the road if you don’t get healthier.

A word about fasting: done right it’s not dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful.  Fasting has been a religious practise for thousand of years.  Fasting can mean a ‘full fast’ where you might drink only water or consume nothing at all (best done for a short while [like a day] and on a day you’re off work and can lie down and rest often).  It can also be a ‘partial fast’ where you might still drink water, juice, and even eat a few fruits and veggies.  Sarah and I have done a 14 day partial fast and I’d love to do it again.  Just remember that you will probably ‘detox’ somewhere around day two and have a headache for a couple of hours.  This is natural and healthy and afterward you won’t have that happen again for the rest of your fast.

It’s also important to ‘break’ the fast at the end of the time and slowly start eating good foods again.  Remember: you are not dieting or starving yourself, you are giving your body a break for a specific amount of time.  Richard Hittleman’s Weight Control Through Yoga contains instructions for the first fast I ever did.

Paleo

My friend Jill said she’d heard me mention this but didn’t really know anything about it.  I was exactly in that spot last September but I believe Paleo is one of the reasons I’m on track to be my healthiest ever by the end of this year.

In a nutshell, the Paleo (or paleolithic) diet is a return to what people ate for our entire history up until we discovered agriculture.  From an evolutionary point of view, our bodies haven’t begun to integrate things like wheat, legumes (like peanuts) and dairy into our diet, which is why some people have allergies and others may still (unknowingly) have their bodies fighting against minor negative reactions their wholes lives.  And fast food and refined sugars are even harder for our bodies to use to keep us healthy.  Exercise is also a major component of being Paleo.

To help you get more started —

The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet

Mark’s Daily Apple

A ‘Is it Paleo?’ Chart

Ultimate Paleo Guide

And a basic rundown —

fourbarrelcrossfit.com

And I wouldn’t get too caught up in buying only grass-fed beef — I started with regular.  Also, almost every veggie’s good — excluding regular potatoes (sweet potatoes are good for you).

That about sums up my recent adventures in health.  I feel better than I ever have, am improving all the time, and can’t wait to see what I’ll be doing when I’m 59!  Take care of your body and you’ll free your spirit up for some amazing adventures.

Best Wishes.

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Can enrolling in an imaginary academy change your life?

Actually a building in Cotswold, not Sumar Academy.

Ah Sumar Academy.  I’ve just arrived here two days ago and I’m already learning so much.  I’m a little home-sick and a little intemidated but mostly I’m excited.  People graduate from here to do GREAT things.

Oh, BTW, did I mention this place is totally only in my mind?

From classic English stories to more modern takes like Hogwarts, there’s a lot of appeal to the idea of packing up, leaving your old world behind you, and submitting yourself to a whole new world of challenges that a boarding school or academy offers.  So when I decided to change my life this year, I imagined myself at a wonderful place of high standards and higher learning.

Part of the goal here is to live my ideal life each day, so life at the school has rules that help me to do that.  Such as —

  • It’s always clean at Sumar Academy.
  • It’s an honor to be a pupil here so looking nice and acting with pride is required.
  • There’s daily yoga and exercise and we write every day.
  • There’s also teachers and classes for inspiration and ‘fun’ daily — those things must be pretty important.

So far I’m excited and the first session lasts two months.  If I like it (and they like me), I can sign up for the next session.  People who graduate here leave for amazing lives and I can’t wait to be one of them.  Did I mention they only serve Paleo food here — wild.

Oh, by the way, they mentioned your name and said you have what it takes.  Now this place is hard work, but if you join us you’ll be in the elite.  Of course, your head master or head mistress may be a little different than mine, but I’m sure they’ll challenge you and change you into something great — into the person you were always meant to be.

So, will you be coming to Sumar Academy in 2014?

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of … Sugar?

Now, all my life I’ve loved sugar and the sweet foods that contain it.  And in a very real way, I think a life where you couldn’t enjoy an ice cream cone, or a birthday cake, or a piece of chocolate would be sorely lacking.

That said, I’m enjoying feeling better than I’ve ever felt in my nearly 34 years and it’s because I’ve left one thing behind (you guessed it).

I should say almost behind.  I’m allowing myself half a cookie and one shared dessert from our local Italian restaurant each week.  But gone are the sodas, the candy bars, and everything at home with refined sugar (honey and fruit juice are okay).

I had thought for most of this year (a big one for change and living my dreams) that sugar and fast foods were holding me back.  Though I knew I sounded paranoid, I wondered to myself if living my dreams was impossible as long as I was ‘high’ on sugar.

Then my sister and I decided to give up sugar for September.  We’d had fasts and cleanses before but this was different.  This felt like a whole new way to live.  We also started cycling and, between the two, the pounds just starting falling off — my body wasn’t fighting a losing battle against the calories in refined sugar anymore.   And so, without further ado —

Five Things I’ve Gotten By Giving Up Sugar

  1. Peace of mind.  Seriously.  I feel much calmer and more in control now.  Also, before I would feel like I was always looking for the next ‘hit’ and never quite getting enough when I did.  Now, I need nothing to feel complete.
  2. A happier body.  It’s only been one month by already I feel more healthy in every way.  I’m stronger, don’t lose my breath or feel my heart pounding, and everything seems more aligned and functional.
  3. Slimmer.  The pounds are disappearing.  So, to anyone who eats pretty well except for sugar and wants to know how to lose their extra weight, I can tell you — no sugar and cycling (did you ever see a fat cyclist?).
  4. Freedom.  Oddly, since I can’t eat any sugar, that means I’m free to go anywhere without needing a ‘treat’ when I get there.
  5. I’ve lost interest in fast food.  It was the strangest thing; as soon as I knew I couldn’t have a sweet tea or big soda with my meal, suddenly that fried chicken, hamburger, etc lost a lot of appeal.  I think I might have really been looking for a sugar hit all those times I thought I wanted fast food.

Speaking of sugar hits, be prepared for your detox.  It will take a few days, and you may feel a little off emotionally or even get a headache.  But the headache will pass, and the effects of cutting back (or cutting out) sugar will last a long, healthy lifetime. Read more here —

5 reason why I won’t take sugar back

Deadlier than smoking? The bitter truth about sugar

I Dare YOU to Walk the Goat Trail of Life

We’ve lost something, left something, along the old goat trails.  Allow me to explain — I am sitting here in a Starbucks, writing on my netbook, listening on my Beats Tour headphones to Giselle, act II no.15, Pas De Deux (I don’t usually listen to classical music but it seemed conducive to writing) — in other words, surrounded by privilege — and thinking about why my feet are wet.

The reason is I had been walking in the long grass before I got to the goat trail.  And the reason I’m daring you to follow in my footsteps is because of all I’ve learned in the last hour on that trail.

I got up this morning to take our Kia for the dealer for its 90k service.  Such a thing is always long but I thought it would be a good chance to go down to the nearby Starbucks and write without interruption for a few hours.

I dropped off our Kia at 8:00am and started walking.  Now, I should explain that the dealership is on a long commercial stretch beside a five-lane highway (Atlanta Hwy for the Athens, GA locals) that had an exciting, new mall 30 years ago and now has a quite less exciting mall and a slight, tittering-on-the-edge-of-irrelevancy feel.

It’s also a two mile walk to the Starbucks, one mile more than I’d ever walked on this highway (the Best Buy I work at is in the middle, and so I’d seen the dealership-to-Best-Buy portion on many oil changes (I like walking) and yet I’d never walked the Best-Buy-to-Starbucks bit.

Now, this is no ‘bad’ neighborhood and yet I know some would say walking alone, purse clearly out, and my netbook in a larger bag is asking for trouble.  We are afraid of the unknown, and the very act of walking is unknown to our car-driving, latte-sipping culture. So I bopped along happily in the morning sun and through the morning dew (feet getting be-drenched).  I didn’t even have a head phone in one ear, as I usually do on this walk.

I passed by my Best Buy and continued on into the unknown, the unwalked — to McDonalds and beyond.

Here is where my real journey began, the journey of discovery, the journey I suggest you take someday soon.

There were no sidewalks.  There was trash.  People walked from McDonalds toward the Starbucks, back to the apartments behind it.  On my previous walks, everything had been clean because I walked past the dealerships and furniture stores set so far away from humanity that nothing touched their perfectly manicured lawns — except me.

Now, walking beside a snip of woods, I saw that so many people had walked through the grass of this no-sidewalks area as to wear a trail, a path that seemed to me to look just like a little goat trail worn down to the dirt by so many feet.

And it felt like two different time periods were laid out side by side on the Atlanta Hwy — I walked the same dirt path that people were walking through fields and to cities thousands of years ago and meanwhile the present, the future, sped by six feet to my left.

As I walked onward I met my second lesson.  He came across the cross walk to my side on the street.  He was ahead on me but I walk fast and so I was gaining on him.  We were pretty different, he was black and I was white, he was a little older while I’m still a little younger, and he was dressed in a uniform like he might be a delivery truck driver (which isn’t really that different than a Best Buy employee).

We said hi, then commented on the weather.  I joked that it was nice to see the sun; after so much rain my friends and I had been joking that we must have moved to Seattle.  Then he said he had actually lived in Seattle, and Arizona, and fifteen years in Germany.  He worked there as a translator.  We joked about how the Americans often have more trouble understanding the British than other countries because they believe they already know the language and then it was time for him to turn off down his road and I was about at the Starbucks.

And I just couldn’t help thinking this was something that could never happen from behind the window on a speeding car, or even in the little gardens we create for ourselves on the internet, each with their high walls of exclusion.

And it certainly can’t happen if you let a culture that sells fear of our neighbors as six-O’-clock news entertainment tell you how to live your life.

So get out of your house, knock on your neighbor’s door, introduce yourself or, at the very least — find a little risky, slightly abandoned trail and walk the heck out of it.  You never know who you’ll meet there.

Lastly, at Starbucks I asked for a cheese Danish with my smoothie.  The lady behind the counter asked if I wanted it warmed.  I said no, then realized I had never had it that way before because I was always rushing back to my car, back to the road.  So I said yes, heat it up.

She said, “It’s really tasty that way, especially if you have the time to sit down and enjoy it.”

And what is the point of life if you can’t slow down, pull off the speeding highway once in a while, and enjoy a meandering journey down an old goat trail?  Especially one replete with undiscovered friends?

P.S.  The danish was delicious.