Like many people, I have an incredibly busy life. But for me, my hectic schedule was a big reason why I developed unhealthy habits and continued to make unhealthy choices. When I started graduate school, I was taking classes, teaching, working with an advisor and building an active social life. On a typical day, I would leave the house at 6:00am and return at 3:00am, sitting through classes on very little sleep and a pretty poor diet. On most days, breakfast consisted of two Excedrin, one pseudoephedrine, a cigarette, four shots of espresso with skim milk and caramel flavoring, and a croissant topped with three butter packets. For the rest of my meals, I ordered from restaurants and fast food joints. Thinking about it now gives me heart palpitations, but it was all about saving time and fitting in meals in between everything else I had going on.
I did try to be healthier in some ways, portioning out fruit for the week or walking to restaurants to try and burn some calories, but my weight fluctuated and I continued to feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself. It wasn’t until I set a date to quit smoking that my life began to make a positive shift. When I gave up nicotine, I also dropped alcohol, because I couldn’t use one without the other. I decided to buy a bicycle to give me something to do when I woke up itching for a cigarette on a weekend morning (when I had more free time to make poor choices). Once I started exercising more, whether it was biking to work or going for a ride on a Saturday or Sunday, I found it easier to keep up with my commitment to avoid smoking and drinking.
Those feel-good endorphins also helped me feel the difference when I ate crappy food. Still, eating a consistently healthy diet was an ongoing struggle for me with my busy schedule. Between classes, writing my dissertation and traveling several weekends a month with my girlfriend, fast food and pizza were still on the menu. But my Celiac diagnosis definitely turned that ongoing struggle into healthy eating habits that stuck. Breakfast transitioned from croissants to homemade granola. Dinner transitioned from pasta to brown rice with veggies and meat. I focus on eating high-quality meats, colorful vegetables and plenty of healthy fats.
As I reflect on my journey, I’ve come a long way in both my eating and exercise behavior but also in my mindset. These are a few essential things that helped me transition along the way and allow me to stay focused today:
1. Preparation: Breakfast should not be grab-and and-go and you can’t pull a healthy dinner out of thin air. It takes a little effort, but it’s worth putting in the time to prepare a good meal. Just do it!
2. Acceptance: There’s some traditional acceptance that belongs here — accepting your body the way it is and appreciating the changes that come slowly throughout your journey. For me, the biggest issue with acceptance was not eating the foods that I knew were harming me.
3. Confidence: I still eat out at restaurants, and the reason I’m able to feel good about doing so is that I’m confident enough to speak up and ask questions to make sure that I’m choosing gut-friendly and good-for-you dishes.
4. Indulgence: All greens and no cookies makes me cranky! But what I learned is that I can get the same taste-good, feel-good results from other types of treats: fresh cut pineapple, coconut date bites, and dried cherries.
5. Naps: I’m not pulling those 6:00am to 3:00am shifts anymore and I know how essential a good night’s sleep is, but I’ve also discovered the power of a nap. And who doesn’t love a good nap? Even a short one recharges me. Sometimes, a little bout of shut-eye (not a cigarette or doughnut or drive-thru french fries) is what your body and mind need to survive a hectic day..
My story was not an overnight feat by any means. I made changes a little at a time: cutting out smoking, adding exercise, experimenting with different foods and developing meal preparation strategies. And guess what? I’m still as busy as ever, but all of my changes fit perfectly into my new, healthy lifestyle and I plan on giving it my best effort, day by day, from here on out.
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