Wellness as a lifestyle

Last year’s Harvey drama had me paying less attention to my self-care and triggered the comfort-food (and drink) habit a little too much. Waistbands and dresses got tighter, and I wasn’t happy with what I glimpsed in the mirror.

While my buddy Grayson kept me from completely hibernating during the cold winter, those 20 minute walks twice a week weren’t sufficient.

He is yearning for these birdies. Or maybe wishing he could fly…

So I got a personal trainer, and a week later my doctor told me I needed to lose 20 pounds, partly because I was on the border of hypertension.

Then that trainer canceled my sessions, which of course had me reacting with: “Well–then the universe must not want me to do this.” Which of course is NOT what the doctor said. Izzy was on it right away and 2 weeks later I met Symphony Sanders at TruFit, and we started focusing on my muscles.

Then my blood test showed high cholesterol, and it was time to examine my eating habits. First thing to go were the yummy pre-made meals, especially the appetizers, I love from Trader Joe’s. Then I learned about the DASH diet, and checked out every book the library had on the subject.

I supplemented the books with internet research, and modified a handy tracker to suit the needs I had. What I like about DASH is that it is not about deprivation, but about the balance of nutrients in meals. Paying attention to the nutrients became a new focus for me.

I struggled with my tracking until I got more information on the actual measurements of specific items, particularly in the grains area. At the time I was eating pumpernickel bread, which is 2.5 the amount of a slice of whole wheat bread. No wonder I was never completing my grains boxes!

My sodium levels were easy to regulate with home cooked meals. I also started paying attention to potassium, which led to more smoothies. Unfortunately Magnesium isn’t part of MyFitnessPal, but I did copy the list of those foods too for my consumption.

For awhile I thought Imperfect Produce would incentivize me to eat more veggies, but I tended to over-order, so I canceled that subscription in favor of walking to the store as I need stuff, instead of trying to project out what I plan on eating by Thursday.

I had a friend demonstrate some delicious oven-baked recipes, and started sheetpan baking away. For the most part, I am a 3-ingredient cook. If the recipe goes on beyond that, I am not making it. I also know that the veggies I don’t gravitate toward will just rot away, so I am not keen on experimenting much. So I stick to bell peppers, tomatoes, and occasionally carrots and potatoes.

I’ll let Lucky Platter, S-Paragon, La Principal and other delicious Evanston eateries provide me with the multi-ingredient cooking.

Since salmon had such great benefits, I made that for a while, until I found that I had over-consumed it. So then I went to the chicken strips Trader Joe’s has. Occasionally I work with ground meat, but I find the frozen meatballs more convenient, which of course have me watching the sodium a bit.

I also needed to get a new sofa, which led to examining my seating options. I used the old sofa as a nest for eating, computering, TV watching and lounging. I had received two awesome Pier One chairs for Christmas, and supplemented those with little TV tray tables.

Then I decided on a chaise lounge over a big sofa. Now the eating is done at one of the tray tables rather than slouched over the coffee table. In addition, deciding which corner will be my computer station has me more aware of my posture and less tempted to spend hours on end laying on the sofa with my laptop. The chaise lounge is purely for TV watching and reading now, and my lower back thanks me for it.

The first thing (after our introductory session) I did with my trainer was discuss how to best lift my giant jewelry bag, and the obvious solution was to get a better strap that I could wear cross-body. After a few art fairs I could tell my core had gotten stronger, and I was not as winded carrying my things up three flights of stairs in the evening.

With my trainer I did five 60-minute sessions of training. Week 1 was a check-in on my abilities. The second week we practiced my first set of HIIT homework assignments, focusing on form and being very conscious of how things felt in my muscles when it was wrong, and how the same exercise felt when I was doing it right, so that I would know without the full-length mirrors what my body is supposed to do. We then did another session of intense working out where I was pushed beyond what I thought I could do, followed by another homework practice session. Ultimately I left with 3 routines, each more challenging than the other.

In June I focused on adding a daily walk of at least 20 minutes to my routine. I have upped it to 30 minutes a day now, and try to go in the morning, when it is not quite so hot yet. In early July I didn’t make it outside one day, but after dinner I felt compelled to go out and walk my 30 minutes anyway. Habits do form after a month!

I love walking by the water and enjoying the beautiful gardens in my neighborhood. The historic district is full of lovely homes that have been featured in Evanstoniana and Evanston: 150 years, 150 places. The lake is never boring, and I switch up the direction of the ‘loop’ I walk to get a fresh perspective of my surroundings.

Through MyFitnessPal I was used to having 1200-1400 calories before. I had stopped tracking a long time ago, when my Fitbit became a mental health hazard rather than a benefit. I set goals from 1500 down to 1400 and then 1300.

Going lower than that was a challenge initially (I got so HUNGRY at night), and to not sabotage myself I stayed at 1400 for awhile. Now I am experimenting with 1300 again and it isn’t so difficult. Another thing my trainer mentioned is intermittent fasting, which for me means cutting myself off from food and flavored drinks after 8 pm at the latest.

My key objective with all of this is sustainability. I could go on a fast a few weeks before my next doctor’s visit in September and say I followed her directions, but she really just told me what I already knew. As she said: “You’re not getting any taller,” so nutrition and exercise are the things you need to do in your forties to still enjoy life.


On weekends I am more relaxed about the calories and the evening fast. But I’ve found that even when going out with friends and logging our day on the town later I stayed within the 1400-1500 calorie range, so it’s not like my “cheat” days contain 3000-calorie binges.

Of course all the books promised that I could lose 20 pounds in 14 days, by cutting out butter, soda, sugary sweets and junk food. The thing is, I already did all that years ago. I dropped 4 pounds fairly quickly, but then plateaued for a few weeks. It was frustrating to not see the scale budge, but I kept plugging along.

When I hit the 10 pound mark, I was a bit fed up with all the tracking and exercising. So for Memorial Day I allowed myself some of the comfort foods and was less stringent. The leniency continued through the Bead & Button show since it was hard to find a truly healthful meal in the restaurants. Then June sped up, and I didn’t pay too much attention. In spite of the non-discipline, I only gained one pound in that time frame, and was able to get back on track quickly in mid-July.

After 6 months, I am down 13 pounds. I am hoping to have lost 15 by the time I need to schedule my checkup, but I plan on continuing this lifestyle to see how low I can go.

When I did my first Wall Sit at home I could barely hold the stance for 15 seconds, and now 30 seconds feel easy. I would be winded after two rounds of the circuit, and now enjoy getting to the third round. As the exercises feel easier, I can add more seconds to the routine to challenge myself a bit. On days when it is really hot I listen to my body and do less, or modify the routines so I don’t get dizzy. I haven’t done the challenging circuit fully, but incorporate some of the moves into the other two assignments so I don’t get bored.

Meanwhile, I had to expand my 30-minute route to a longer block so I wouldn’t cut the time short, and soon I will need to create a route North as my walk gets brisker and the 30 minutes become 25 from home to home. I even zigzag a bit around blocks if I want to end my walk by the lake and sit there for a spell instead of speedwalking by.

My measurements are going down too, and I look forward to fitting into my fun dresses again once I meet the doctor-prescribed goal. I am holding out on buying new clothes (and making that one new dress) until I feel my body is at its equilibrium again.

My arms and legs are definitely more toned, so I am hoping the rest of me will follow suit with all the crunches and planks I am doing.

Meanwhile, I am happy to have created a more nutritious routine for myself, and to be more aware of why I eat and what I eat. There are still some challenges with potassium and fiber intake on occasion, but overall I feel better.

The adrenaline boost of exercise helps start the day on a positive note, and it is fun to pep myself up with a fun playlist as I go. While there probably will be another discipline lull in November and December, I do think I have the foundation now to keep up a healthy routine that works for me, while still allowing me to enjoy life, and food, without deprivation.

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