I’d known for a long time that I was far from being in tip-top shape. I exercised sporadically and felt proud of myself when I had a truly healthy meal now and again. I knew I likely needed to change my lifestyle if I wanted to be as healthy as I possibly could, but since I didn’t seem to have any real health problems, the drive to do it and stick to it was pretty low.
I did little things here and there. I joined a “salad club” at work, where we had salad together for lunch every Thursday. Everyone was assigned a Thursday to bring enough for everyone and since there were 8 of us, we each had to make the salads only once every two months. It was fun and convenient.
I also occasionally went to the gym where I’d had a membership for three straight years. I had this weird habit of going four times a week for a few weeks in a row and then I’d suddenly stop going for weeks or even months at a time before I’d get another burst of motivation.
There was always something in the back of my head telling me that I needed to change my lifestyle, but the push to do it in earnest just wasn’t there. In fact, over time, it became a matter of guilt and that made it even harder for me to try to make the changes I knew I should.
Every time I let myself become disorganized, forcing me to get take-out at lunchtime, I’d beat myself up about it. Every time I skipped another workout because I was just too tired or too busy, I’d hate myself for it. Then I’d get on the scale and find out I’d packed on yet another pound. Instead of doing something positive to try to fix the problem, I felt hopeless and I’d end up eating a bag of chips in front of the latest romantic comedy while I sulked about how my life wasn’t where it should be.
Then I got my wake-up call. Any one of us who isn’t taking care of ourselves knows this moment will happen sooner or later, but it’s easier to try to deny it than it is to try to prevent it. I went for my regular physical and had a good chat with my doctor as we went through all the various tests. I had my blood work done and figured I was set for a couple of years or so. Not this time. For the first time, I was called back to discuss my test results. I was sure I was going to be told that I had 8 kinds of cancer and a failing heart.
What I actually discovered was that I needed to change my lifestyle, and I needed to take that seriously. I was overweight (which I knew), my blood pressure had crossed the threshold from “normal” to “high” and my blood glucose levels were starting to rise to an iffy zone. Considering my age and the fact that I was otherwise healthy, my doctor had a plan and was quite frank with me about how important it as for me to follow it.
If I didn’t want to end up on high blood pressure medication and risk developing full-blown type 2 diabetes, it was time for me to get my act in gear. My doctor didn’t tell me that I had to overhaul my entire life. However, she did insist that I start making small, regular changes to my lifestyle to improve the condition of my body. There were 3 main areas that I was supposed to tackle first.
1. Less junk food, fast food and packaged ready-meals. I needed to start eating a good breakfast every morning and making at least one lunch and one dinner from scratch per week. After a month, that number would rise to two lunches and two dinners, and so on, until I was cooking for myself with whole foods on a regular basis and only using junk food as the occasional treat.
2. Exercise five days per week for at least a half hour. To start, I was told to walk four days per week and do some strength training one day each week. The walk had to be enough that I was sweaty and out of breath after a half hour. The strength training needed to focus on each of the major muscle groups and had to essentially be as tough as I could take it without pain. Taking diet pills and supplements helped me get the energy I needed to really stick to it this time.
3. Less alcohol. I love having a glass of wine with dinner and another glass…or two…after dinner. Unfortunately, doing that every day means that I was drinking far too much for what a woman’s body can handle. At the very most, a woman should have one 5-ounce glass of wine per day. That’s the maximum! Clearly I was drinking two to three times that amount on a daily basis. Incidentally, women can also have up to 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Ideally, I was supposed to cut back to just enjoying a glass with dinner on weekends, but my doctor and I went the realistic route and dropped me back to one glass per day for the first while. After a month, I was to remove one glass per week.
I made the changes. After all, the threat of high blood pressure and diabetes is a powerful motivator. Over time, though, I found other motivation to go with it. I was shocked to realize that I’d been suffering a string of symptoms I didn’t even know I was experiencing. They’d all become my “normal.” After just one month of the light lifestyle changes I’d made, even before I moved on to phase 2 of the recommended changes, I already had far more energy, noticeably better sleep, I was coping with stress better, I was physically stronger and I had this strange confidence boost that seemed to come out of nowhere.
All I can say is that while that wake-up call sure wasn’t fun, it was just the kick-in-the-behind I needed to change my ways as I’d known I should for a very long time. If you know you should be living a healthier lifestyle, too, I recommend speaking with your doctor. Ask for the brutal truth if you have to. It’s a challenge, sure, but it’s worth it in so many more ways than I could have expected!