Monday, April 7, 2014

Health milestone

Over a year ago I was skyping with a friend and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend said his back was aching even though he'd been sleeping well and eating healthy, so he didn't know why he was sore. I told him I was sore too but it was probably due to "my chain-smoking, over-eating and lack of exercize."

That got a laugh out of them, but the words resounded in my head when I went to sleep that night. I've known all along that these things weren't good, but saying it out loud for the first time made me wonder what the heck I was doing with my life. I'm in my mid-twenties, this is supposed to be the peak of my life, yet you'd sooner catch me huffing up the stairs than munching on a piece of broccoli. I cringed in the dark at the idea of becoming a contestant on those weightloss reality shows 10 years down the line, in my mid-thirties but looking much older and barely able to do simple things like walk around a park without a cane. And what of my travel plans, climbing mountains or canoing down rivers? Would I really let something like a stupid addiction and poor lifestyle stop me from that?

The next day, I quit smoking; cold turkey.

I don't know how it worked like that, how the stark realization stopped me in my tracks but it did. Later I would experience the withdrawal symptoms and I would always miss smoking, but I just stopped because the realization made me feel so stupid. Smoking is a well-documented unhealthy addiction that does your health and your wallet no favors, yet I continued for so long. My subconscious questioned me: 'if the health warnings can't stop you, then financially-speaking how much are you really willing to budget for bronchitis, respiratory issues, or cancer?'

Taken at a hospital in Malaysia

In my private shame and despair I just stopped smoking and considered that I was saving money from investments I wasn't willing to risk getting into any longer. I still miss it, but I feel better thinking of all the other useless things I could lose my money to besides medical bills (like money for parking tickets, or library fines).

Next, I still had to tackle my lack of exercise and overeating, but how? Unlike smoking, this wouldn't be stopping bad habits, it would be about creating good ones, which is monumentally much harder. Aside from a few school sports and one college semester when I did attend a circuits gym, I was never in the habit of working out. And eating? I love eating, especially at night and with huge portions of rice and pasta with creamy gravy.

I decided to seek out a friend who gave up her day job to become a personal trainer. Because we knew each other she gave me a rate for 12 classes and we decided to meet twice a week for 6 weeks at a local park.

During my first training session with Kelsey (not her real name), I was red and sweating within 5 minutes, and ready to throw up within 15 minutes. She let me gasp for air on the ground while she explained how my eating habits for the day was the reason why I couldn't push through the exercise. She was very sweet about it, so we spent the next half hour discussing meal plans and what I like to eat and when.

The advice she gave me was deceptively simple: Have breakfast everyday (eggs and fruits), have snacks (nuts and fruits or carrots), maximum half a cup of rice or noodles for your lunch, and salad or kebabs at night (minimal gravy/sauce/dressing). On work out days I had to be sure to have some snack at least an hour before, something like a banana, granola bar or a cup of skimmed milk (just anything that my body could draw on for energy).

The face of true health

It took about 3 weeks of this routine and exercise before I felt stronger and better inside, and 6 weeks to actually see a difference outside. I wasn't losing weight but I was becoming toned and dropped a pant size. I was losing inches in interesting places, like my back (so that my shirts fit better - no longer risking busting out of them like the Hulk) and under my chin. It was like watching slivers melt off of me a little here and there, and this was just toning up.

After my 6 week program I traveled for a month to Bangladesh and Thailand. I didn't exercise that month but I had zero access to processed and packaged foods; every meal was prepared with fresh ingredients and usually involved lots of veggies and chicken, so I lost 10lb in that time.

I can't tell you how much I love Thai food.
Probably more than life itself.
Possibly more than my family...

And now I'm back, and I'm doing my best not to fall off the bandwagon. Most days I get up an hour earlier to make an omelet before heading out to work, and I go down to my neighborhood gym for body combat classes.

My life has changed now, and my goal is to lose more weight while gaining muscle. I put my targets on my next birthday to acknowledge and allow time for this transformation to happen.

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