Now if you're already a marathon winning gym rat these tips are probably too amateurish for your liking. But if you happen to be reading this post with a Snickers in one hand, never fear my friend. Life is long and I've found there is enough time to sit around eating rich food and time to make healthier choices. Here are a few of my favorite tricks:
- Eat fattening food early on in the day. If you know there is leftover cake to be eaten and the task is inevitably going to fall on your shoulders, eat it for breakfast.
- It's okay if your movement reflects your mood so long as you make time to move at least a few times a week. I think many people gravitate toward specific, rigid exercise plans in hopes that a schedule will motivate them. I'm not really like that. These days I'm trying to jog a couple of days a week. If the weather is nice outside I push Elisabeth in the stroller after I take my older kids to school, making it a point to push the stroller up some hills. I often try to walk instead of driving whenever I can, even to the grocery store to buy milk (or hot chocolate, which I have been known to do). If I'm pressed for time I do twenty minutes of intense interval training on my stationary bike. When my kids are home and bored and I'm not in the mood to exercise we do Just Dance on the Wii for a while. And on the days when I'm tired or have cramps or don't feel like I can face the happy sunshine of Monday morning I lay on my bedroom floor and do some yoga stretches. My feeling is that every kind of movement, any kind of movement is enough.
- Try and save your major cravings for special occasions. Instead of eating cheese fries or making homemade milk shakes by yourself at three o'clock in the afternoon, wait until Friday night when you're going out with friends. I don't believe in dieting, mostly because I'm totally unwilling to live a deprived life. But one of my central health goals these past few months has been waiting for special occasions to eat rich food. Some days are better than others, but overall this one change has allowed me to zip up skirts that I haven't worn for several years!
- Cultivate a healthier relationship with sugar, and by healthier I mean that you are in charge, not your sugar cravings. This is something I wrote about earlier this fall and I've come to terms with the fact that it might be an ongoing struggle throughout my life. Sometimes I feel like the Sugar Fairies have singled me out as an easy target. They get in my head and tell me to bake cookies when we already have plenty of treats in our house, or they urge me to drive to the lovely french bakery a few miles away and buy a pastry for breakfast. Truthfully, I hate them. They're mean and they prey on my weaknesses. Nothing makes me feel low and inferior faster than capitulating to those manipulative sugar fairies. And so I continuously try to beat them at their own game. When I feel like I've had enough sweets and they persist in whispering sweet nothings in my ear I eat a bowl of cereal. Or I have salad for lunch. But the most effective antidote of all is exercise. When I get a craving that won't leave me alone I go for a jog or ride my exercise bike until I start to sweat. Something about getting my heart pumping seems to drown out the voices of the Sugar Fairies and then I can continue my day in peace.
- You don't have to eat an entire package of Oreos in order to satisfy your sweet tooth. Lest you think I sit at my computer and eat carrot sticks all day and subsequently begin to doubt whether or not I am truly the sedentary ice cream lover that I profess to be, I will share a little secret. Dark chocolate is your friend. Sure, health magazines will tell you all day long how dark chocolate is bursting with natural antioxidants blah, blah, blah. My concern is that it tastes good and you don't need to eat very much to feel sated. I recommend Lindt or some of the other adventurous dark chocolates available at Whole Foods or other chocolate stores.
- Checks and balances. Since I refuse to diet and yet I'm stubbornly determined to get in better shape there are a lot of checks and balances to be made. In my kitchen I have an entire drawer designated as the treat drawer. We actually call it the "Jake Drawer" named after Jeremy's younger brother who loves that we have a drawer just for treats and snacks. The funny thing is that I don't buy a lot of junk food, it just shows up around the holidays and special occasions and gets tossed in the Jake Drawer to be eaten at a later date. My friends often comment that they don't know how I can stand to have a drawer full of leftover Christmas candy just sitting there and I'm not even eating it! A couple thoughts. First, I'm a complete snob when it comes to dessert and nothing could induce me to waste calories on a miniature Butterfinger or Hershey Kiss, or some other unholy confection. Second, it's all about checks and balances. I carefully pick and choose the rich foods I'm going to eat. If I have hot chocolate for breakfast, I eat a lighter lunch, no mayo. If I'm planning to eat a cheese burger for dinner I serve veggie sticks and dip for our after school snack. I truly believe you can eat all the foods you love, you just can't eat them all on the same day.
- Eat what you want, but don't eat all of it. This can be a really hard one. Knowing when to say "uncle" and to put the spoon down is one of the trials of being a sedentary ice cream lover who wants to live a long and healthy life. In your darkest moments it will be left to you alone to know when it's time to put the spoon down. My advice on this one is to remember rule number three and try to save indulgences for social situations. You're less likely to put down an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's if your neighbors are sitting across from you looking on in horror. You can also practice recognizing when you're full by eating a reasonable portion and then waiting fifteen minutes before you take more. And when push comes to shove, throw the leftover cake in the trash can and squirt some ketchup on top of it!
- Make it more about feeling good rather than looking good. In my life this is by far the most important goal of all. There is nothing more boring than a room full of women criticizing their bodies and waxing poetic about all the weight they hope to lose. Body fanaticism is dull and self-centered. There are so many great things to think about, so many places your thoughts should be able to roam and travel throughout the day, yet so many women remain hung up on their bodily flaws with the same tedium as a plane circling an airport. Listen to your body. Sometimes good health is more about going to bed early, reducing the stress in your life, or drinking more water. It's a shame to pin the process of moving your body on the single goal of weight loss because exercise can be fun. Dance. Walk. Shake a tail feather. It feels great to get off the couch and sweat a little and one of the things I learned last fall is that it is good for your soul to spend some time outside. Go for a walk because you can, because the world is beautiful and the day is new, not because your rear end jiggles when you walk. And the hardest one of all, that Sisyphean goal of putting healthy food in your mouth, shouldn't feel like a prison sentence. There are so many different foods out there, many of them which are good for you, it's ridiculous to stare at a plate of tuna and cucumbers feeling that burn of resentment, wishing for a steak and mashed potatoes. Eat what you want to eat, just try and remember that the quantity and frequency with which you indulge will determine how much you enjoy food in the long run. Nothing tastes truly delicious when you go to bed at the end of the day feeling over full and resentful.
I want to end by saying I'm not a thin person, and I'm certainly not the type of woman who others might admire were I to go grocery shopping in a spandex suit. But I do possess one important credential and that is that I like myself. My sister and I always joke that we suffer from reverse anorexia, meaning that we look in the mirror and think we look skinny, so we keep on eating! If I were to boil healthy living down to one sentence it would be this: you need to like yourself. Some people can't eat sugar at all without feeling a twinge of self-hatred, while others top off every night with a bowl full of Rocky Road and then they go to sleep feeling great. It's different for every person. But I believe there is an essential freedom that comes from directing your thoughts toward topics other than your thighs and waistline. And that is the goal of being healthy. Be healthy in your head. Live the lifestyle that best allows you to move around in your day without the terrible nagging sensation that you are weak and your situation is hopeless. Because you aren't and it isn't!