What Happened When I Decided to Prioritize Health and Wellness
Weight loss was just a tiny side effect of that decision
*Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare expert, nutritionist or dietician; I am just sharing what has worked for me, given my own health conditions. Please consult with a certified professional before embarking on your personal wellness journey.
It was December 4th, 2021 and we were meeting up with friends after what seemed like ages, thanks to the lockdowns and Covid restrictions that had been in place for the better part of 18 months.
I distinctly remember the date because that was when I was captured, smiling, in a group photograph along with 5 other women. But behind that smile, I saw something else. It was an image of me leaning forward, slumped in fatigue, clearly overweight and trying to stand at an angle that wouldn’t capture my flabby tummy. This was a picture of a woman who didn’t put her health or wellness first.
Something about that picture made me pause and reflect. At that time, I thought about who I wanted to be and what I was willing to do, to ensure that life would be different from then on. In other words, what was the identity change that I was seeking?
Quite simply: I wanted to be a woman who prioritized health and wellness.
An Intention Was Born
When I started waking up early, after years of being a night owl, it was because I was curious about the practice, ready to explore something new and had suffered enough from late nights to know the harmful effects. I started embracing the identity of a woman who wakes up early and that was the key.
This intention- the actual why- is paramount to effecting enduring change
But most people start from the wrong end of the stick and that is outcome-driven goals instead of starting from within, where the keys to change actually exist.
For 19 years, I hated to cook and did it only out of actual necessity. In my mind, the idea of cooking was time-consuming and stressful because I had begun to believe that I wasn’t a good cook.
Then, thanks to the pandemic and a lockdown in place, I started getting curious about the art of cooking. The more I explored recipes, the more I also studied methods of cooking. From buying quick mixes and powders, I learnt how to make them at home with a bit of trial and error.
Slowly, I learnt to believe in myself as a cook. And over the period of 9 to 12 months, I’d internalized the identity of a woman who cooks with joy instead of someone who dreaded entering the kitchen.
Starting with a Tiny Habit
I began walking on December 5th, 2021 and decided to follow B J Fogg’s tiny habit rule and just put on my shoes every evening at around 6 PM. This was an effective reminder that I needed to head outdoors and get my walking done.
In December, I could barely walk for more than 250 meters at a time, but I decided I’d stick with it until I felt strong enough to improve upon it. At this time I did nothing else, apart from walking that quarter km every evening. Focusing on one habit gave me the strength to continue with my long-term intention of lasting change.
Following the 1–2–3 Rule
I started listening to podcasts every evening for the better part of my daily walking routine. I particularly enjoy the podcast, Feel Better, Live More by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.
One of the episodes featured BJ Fogg, the author of Tiny Habits and a behavioral scientist at Stanford University. In it, while speaking about what makes habits stick, Fogg presented a very fascinating insight and I couldn’t help but agree. He said that consistency doesn’t ensure that habits will stick. You know what will?
The Emotion of Success you associate with a habit is what will make you keep doing it.
This was so brilliant that I paused in the middle of my walk and said out loud, ‘Oh of course!’ Good thing nobody was walking nearby or else I’d have startled them. In addition, Dr Chatterjee shared a beautiful tip on how he helped a patient of his build a valuable habit.
He asked him to do the following:
1. Pick a habit that he knew he’d enjoy
2. Do it for just 2 minutes or 2 repetitions of it
3. Do it just 3 times a week
Fogg agreed that this was an excellent idea and said he has managed to do it himself with a very simple, micro habit. He said that every time he used the bathroom at home, he’d do two push-ups. That’s it. Two push-ups!
Over time there were two incredible outcomes:
A) He kickstarted 100s of other tiny habits by following this principle
B) He lost 20 pounds by following this simple 2 push up rule.
The next time you start a habit, don’t push yourself to do it for too long, too often, or too strenuously. Just 1 Habit you enjoy for 2 Minutes and done 3 times a week. Anything else is a bonus. Remember, it should be a habit you enjoy. Don’t start with something you dislike. Always start with a habit you love.
Forget About Numbers and Targets
After about a month, I was able to walk briskly for about 2 km every evening. That whiff of success was all the urging I needed to keep me going and I felt so proud of myself for sticking with it that I felt like nothing could stop me now. Until something did.
I fell ill with Covid in the third week of January and that, unfortunately, meant both isolation and quarantine, followed by weeks of breathlessness and fatigue. A part of me cursed my fate for letting this happen (even though I didn’t wilfuly contract a dangerous virus) and throwing a spanner into my walking habit. Another part of me decided to bless this intervention because it made me reflect, once again, on what else I could be doing to improve my health.
It was important for me to get back in touch with my body, tune in to its nuanced messaging and focus on a more holistic perspective to wellness and health.
Wellness is not just exercise, although it’s an important ingredient to be sure. Instead, if we were to view it through the lens of a complete perspective of physical, emotional, mental and nutritional value, wellness becomes a fascinating space to explore in depth.
Most of us view exercise as a means to an end: Walk this much and lose X amount of weight in Y number of weeks.
The problem with that outlook is it’s a very outcome-driven approach and has no sustainability. Because each person’s body is different, there is simply no way to be sure that you will definitely lose a pound a week if you did all of the things you were told by a fitness coach.
However, what if you took a different approach to wellness that doesn’t depend on the number on a scale or the number of calories in a protein bar?
When I began to explore the idea of more nutritious food and began to cook more meals at home, it was an easy switch to naturally pick up a fruit instead of a cookie when the cravings hit. Similarly, I began to dive deep into the role of sleep and its impact on not just my metabolism but my ability to feel more focused during the day.
Movement through the day became a core area of my focus instead of just worrying about the 60-minute walk at the end of the day. Drinking more water was much easier now that I know how much water helped with aiding digestion, cushioning my bone joints and helped keep my bowels healthy, apart from improving my skin.
Ask Yourself How You Feel After an Activity
Remember, I am not a fitness coach, so I won’t be talking about the benefits of cardio vs weight training or your exercise split each week or even about the necessity of rest days and foam rolling. All of those have their place but not in this article.
Whether it’s a brisk walk outdoors, a freestyle session in the swimming pool or a sweaty upper body workout with dumbbells, the exercise itself is not the focus here.
Instead, the feeling that you get after you workout? That, my friend, is all that really matters. As human beings, we are wired to crave that feeling of satisfaction and joy. Let’s give ourselves that gift.
A full four months after I embarked on my health and wellness journey, the one thing that I am most proud of is the way I am standing in this photograph. My back is straight, my stance is confident, I feel energized and the smile reaches my eyes.
Next week, I turn 44 and I can’t think of a better way to step into what may be the best period of health that I have ever been in, all my life.