Your Body is a Temple
Things I Wish I Knew as a Kid
Take Care of Your Body
Everyone knows being healthy is the ultimate goal but it takes more than fresh veggies and tall glasses of milk (which we’ve learned may not be so great after all) to achieve a well balanced diet. As kids, we feel invincible and pretty much are until our early thirties. It’s then when things start to fall apart. Hangovers last days instead of hours. Hair begins to thin. Skin shows signs of damage. Pounds add on slowly. Energy levels and restful sleep are a real concern. Aches and pains begin to multiply (see Keep It Right, Keep It Tight for my struggles).
Personally, I wish someone had taught me the value of self-care. Maybe it could have been during health class or around the dinner table but life is busy and health tends to take a back burner. Plus, it doesn’t help that public knowledge on health and wellness is constantly changing and evolving in the media and educational system. In the end, it’s a personal journey, one that takes a lifetime to master. Discovering what works for you is the real key.
What’s worked best for me is a consistent daily effort, incremental changes and a constant search for knowledge. Every little step in the right direction helps. The areas of health most concerning to me are nutrition, exercise, injury and hair, skin and teeth.
Health and diet have always been a point of interest for me, so much so that I studied nutrition in university. Still, it’s taken many years to develop habits that make me feel happy and healthy. And even though many of these practices seem obvious or unimportant, they truly make a huge difference in my life, so here goes.
Remove the gluten. Becoming gluten free has been the single best health decision I’ve made (and toughest, for sure). After the transition (it takes up to three months for gluten to leave your system), my cravings all but disappeared, headaches ceased, stomachaches and bloating were a thing of the past, mood swings and irritability became rare and energy and sleep stabilized (read #glutenfree for my full story).
Eat small meals, often. Eating small meals every few hours keeps my body working throughout the day and feeling great. It helps stabilize my mood and avoid panic eating and overeating.
Cook at home. Home cooking helps tremendously. It holds me accountable for every ingredient and gives me a true appreciation for meal preparation. Ingredients are fresh and purchased often and added bonus, cooking at home saves a ton of money. It’s also the best option if you’re gluten free (just make sure to read labels, especially for sauces and frozen/packaged items).
Eat a wide variety. Once I opened my mind to all foods, the better I felt. Eating a wide variety of foods helps provide my body with nutrients it may be lacking. It’s also a great way to keep my body on it’s toes. If you consistently eat the same foods your body gets tired. Why not try something new and exciting in your diet?
Chew (a lot). One day, unknown to me a friend of mine counted my chews, reaching more than 60 per bite. The average number is around 32. Chewing a lot helps food digest quickly and also slows down your eating. Oftentimes, my portion sizes end up being much smaller because I feel full quicker. But yes, I typically take twice as long to eat meals.
Eat less animals. Obviously, there are mixed feelings about eating animals. Some diets stick strictly with animal products while others completely eliminate them. And both may work to some extent but the truth is, there are less harmful qualities to plants than animals. And although it’s very likely I’ll never fully give up meat or dairy, I truly feel better (less heavy and tired) when I eat more of a plant-based diet.
Read the label. If I’m going to put something into my body (or on my body) I read it’s label. Less packaging means less processing and less ingredients, which is best. Honestly, I could care less about calories or fat. My main concerns are sugar and other chemically derived ingredients.
Have fun. Food is literally the best part of my day. Each and every meal is a personal challenge. How I can make it delicious? If I’m not excited about my food, what’s the point?
Feeling stuck. Exercise has dramatically changed my life but not until recently (find my journey in Wellness & Weekly Workouts). Growing up, I wasn’t very active and thought that just because I was skinny it would last forever. Well, it didn’t; I gained enough weight my first year in Korea to outgrow every single pair of pants. I was in a strange land, stumbling through a new diet and routine where sugary instant coffee, baked goods and mounds of white rice became my new friends. Eventually, I joined a gym and got things back on track.
Getting unstuck. Once home, I realized being small wasn’t enough; I wanted to be strong. Slowly, I began to take personal training sessions, study exercise videos and join classes. Eventually, I got over my fear of weightlifting in public. I learned higher weights with less reps are best, the last few of every set should be a struggle and you should be sore the next day.
Most importantly though, I had to be consistent and I’m talking at least five days a week for months on end, forever. That’s where variety steps in so boredom doesn’t. Sprints, lifting and yoga are my perfect combination. That being said, exercise has not only given me a body to be proud of but it helps clear my mind and relieve stress on so many levels. Honestly, I couldn’t make it a week without some type of physical activity.
This word hurts even thinking about it and I never imagined I’d feel aches and pains as a young adult. Growing up, I thought I was indestructible but here I am nearing the age of 40 with arthritis in my spine, degenerative disc disease and a metal plate in my wrist.
Once upon a time, I had a horrible car accident. The airbag shattered my wrist resulting in a long painful surgery to add a plate and screws. During recovery I was tasked with three physical therapy sessions a week for a few months. About two months in, I received a bill for over $10,000. Insurance had fucked up. Eventually the bill was settled but the shock of it all caused me to stop physical therapy altogether.
Years later, my wrist aches and cracks every moment and I can hardly bend my fingers backward. This doesn’t even take into account the damage on my spine which was never addressed. Point is, these traumas we face early on in life have a ripple effect, one that you may not even see for decades to come so it’s incredibly important to care for your body before it’s too late.
Take recovery seriously. Of course, there’s no way to avoid injury from accidents but there are necessary steps to speed up and improve recovery and long term damage.When accidents do happen, try your very best to repair them properly. Go to the doctor, participate in physical therapy, rest when needed and don’t accept when your treatment doesn’t follow your ideals or standards. Be your own advocate and search for the best care possible.
Treat your body kindly. Pushing yourself to the limit is how you grow and increase strength. If you don’t continue to increase weight, duration and intensity you’ll likely remain stagnant in your workouts. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard and it’s necessary to consider your body. No one else knows how you feel or what your body has been through. If you have a weak area do your best to strengthen it before taking on something too intense that may cause injury.
Hair, Skin & Teeth
This one’s pretty intuitive but not many of us think about the condition of our hair, skin or teeth before it’s too late. I was never really taught the importance of natural products as a child and oftentimes left to my own devices concerning self-care. The problem is, after decades of abusing my body, things don’t bounce back like they once did. Even so, I’ve traded in hair dye and tanning salons for conditioning treatments and sunscreen. I can’t slap on enough skin cream and night repair ointments. And I thoughtfully head to the dentist as often as possible.
In the end, the way you treat your body will matter. It’ll matter both in the way you physically and mentally look and feel. But if the way you feel isn’t enough to get you motivated, let’s go with the way you look. The other day someone told I looked like I was in my early twenties (which is ridiculous but nonetheless, slightly flattering). My only explanation was that I take care of myself by eating well, exercising often and treating my body with respect. And that’s really all the validation I need. I feel great.