A “healthy routine” can mean any number of things. For me, it means mainly two things: trying to stay active and eating food I cook, rather than eating out or binging on packaged foods — like the ubiquitous free firm snacks. Saying no when all I want to do is stress eat Oreos is a daily challenge.
When I started articling, I knew I had to try and find strategies to stay healthy. My life had suddenly become regimented, and yet hectic, in an entirely new way. If I started making excuses to justify unhealthy choices, I knew I would never stop.
The first thing I did was try out the gyms near my office. If it wasn’t on the way to work, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I chose the gym that would make getting ready for work the easiest, because I decided I was going to become a morning gym person (and my track record would suggest that I am definitely not a morning gym person). But I was determined it would happen; it would mean I would get to the office fresh and energetic. It would mean if I had to stay late, or if I was just tired at the end of the day, I could go home and relax. We all know that moment at the end of the day, where all you want to do is go home, but know you should probably hit the gym — I wanted to avoid that because for me, home always wins.
So mornings I am at the gym, usually around 6:30 a.m. It was tough at the start (and still is). I have a few gym buddies, and knowing a friend is waiting in a spin class for you is great motivation. And I love the catch-up time. When most of your friends are really busy, every minute you can hang out with them becomes precious — even when what you’re doing is sweating next to each other.
So I had the gym sorted out, but figuring out my eating habits was going to be more challenging. I’m not exactly a great cook, and I definitely can’t just whip something up out of my imagination. I use food blogs for recipes (I love 100 Days of Real Food and poach ideas from friends at work. A couple of weeks ago someone brought in mini-quiches.
Genius! Guess what I had in my lunch every day last week?
I don’t have the time to cook every night, so for me, the key is cooking a massive amount of one or two things on the weekend. The slow cooker has become my best friend. In my fridge right now are six containers of taco soup (recipe courtesy of mom!). Snacks are also a must for me — something about sitting in an office all day typing really works up my appetite. I make massive batches of bran-raisin-cranberry muffins (three dozen at a time) and freeze them in bags of three or four. I take one each day in my lunch, and it’s the perfect 4 p.m. pick-me-up that helps keep me away from the cookies.
Planning meals has become a necessity, because I can’t get to the grocery store more than once a week. I always make a list of what I need to make a slow-cooker recipe and one other thing, like a big pasta. This week was home-made pizza pockets — delicious!
Obviously, I’m not perfect, and everything I make isn’t the pinnacle of a balanced meal — pizza pockets, even when homemade, are not the most wholesome meal in the world. But if I cook it myself, with fresh ingredients, and there are a few veggies involved, I feel I’m doing all right. Our lives have enough pressure in them already — we don’t need the added stress of having perfect eating/gym records.
Here are my top tips for establishing a healthy routine:
1. Figure out where you workout best. Do you love the gym? Do you like to work out at home? Factor in where you would be the most motivated. If at-home workouts always lose to the couch it might be best to find a gym.
2. Figure out when you workout best. Are you a morning person? Do you usually have to stay at work too late to hit the gym in the evening? Can you squeeze in a lunch class? Always have your gym clothes with you, so there’s no excuse if you have some spare time.
3. Find a gym buddy (or two, or three). Choose someone who will inspire you, and is committed. If you’re kind of flaky, and so is your friend, you may reinforce each other’s tendency to bail on workouts.
4. Find an activity you like. For me, that’s rock climbing. It’s a great way to add variety to your workouts.
5. Find ways to keep moving. Walk to work if you can, or bike. Walk to someone’s office instead of sending an e-mail. Visit a co-worker on another floor, and take the stairs. Or better yet, start a stair-climbing club at work.
6. Pre-plan your meals. Never hit the grocery store without a list. Spend a few minutes on the Internet or with a cookbook and decide what you’re going to make. Plan on making enough for the entire week (so make sure it’s a recipe you won’t get sick of too fast). Cook one or two big batches, and store in the fridge or freezer in portioned containers for super convenience.
7. Be kind to yourself, but don’t let yourself totally off the hook. Always give yourself points for trying. If trying meant that you did a half hour of yoga instead of that hour-long spin class, that’s OK. If you run out of food on Thursday and splurge on lunch Friday, that’s OK, too. Don’t beat yourself up, because you’ll only get discouraged. Just do not give up. Consistency is everything, and it will get easier.