Being a curmudgeonly, introverted remote freelancer isn't exactly...prime wellness material. When you can reach for a bag of chips and nap whenever you want, an ideal weight easily falls to the wayside.
I'll start this off with the usual disclaimer: we all have different reasons for wanting to diet and exercise. Some do so because they want to fit into their old skinny jeans again (I see you). Others want to try and circumvent the institutionalized bias toward fat bodies in medicine and traditional workspaces. My own reasons are just as varied. Exercise is a major sleep aid for me, since I struggle with insomnia: I sleep deeply, but getting to sleep is a problem. It's also a reliable painkiller for my bad shoulder and improves my mood. ...I also want to fit into some of my old clothes. Yeah, this cup size is doing me few favors.
It's all gotten me to thinking on perspectives concerning exercising and dieting: how they often feel like a punishment or a chore than enrichment. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the home habits of many, making those already often at home feel even more cooped up than usual. How can you start a new regimen when just keeping your head on straight in all this chaos feels impossible?
When people share their diet plans it's often with an air of positive disappointment. A whole lot of 'no's and 'once I'm done, I can's. It's pretty rare to see dieting looked at as something good, or even mundane, and...why would it? It's common to turn to food for comfort. To temporarily alleviate boredom. Taking that away and replacing it with small portions and no snacks sounds like a losing battle. Even more damning is how long it takes to visibly see results. If you want to (safely) lose, say, fifteen or twenty pounds, you're going to be at this for months.
Exercise sees a similar hurdle on the road of personal inspiration. Taking away your ability to rest in a very taxing and demanding world can feel like a slap to the face. When I used to work traditional part-time jobs I got plenty of exercise in my day-to-day just walking, riding the bus and standing for hours at a time. Remote freelancing, as such, is a rough transition. I also don't have a significant other, kids or a large family, so it's very easy for me not to go outside for days (aside from, say, taking out the trash).
Here's the thing...I actually like exercising, though you wouldn't know it by talking to me. I stay at home the majority of the time and approach life with an attitude some would call lackadaisical. I'm also a very tired person. I'm tired for many reasons, more than my eternally busy fingers can hope to quantify. For falling between the intersections of several marginalized identities in a society best described as 'sociopathically disinclined'. For having mental illness that is defined by running a person ragged doing little. That exhaustion translates into wanting sugar highs and needing extra naps. Take it from me: dieting and exercising as a remote freelancer on top of all of that sounds nigh-impossible.
Despite that, I'm still doing it. Exercise and a decent diet feels awesome.
Shifting your mindset is a term that is repeated so often by the worst people it's practically a trigger word at this point. 'Shift your mindset', says the 'financially literate' hustle guru who blames the working poor for their poverty. 'Shift your mindset', says the six-figure entrepreneur with a wife and kids who insists a negative attitude is all that stands between you and progress. This phrase, however, can be quite apt when it isn't butchered for clout. I had to change the way I think about diet and exercise: what they offered my life and how to make them enriching, not punishments.
It doesn't mean no sodas or chips. It doesn't mean going on a two-hour hike five times a week. It just means a little more discipline. A touch more creativity with a dash of honesty on top.
Let's take a look at what changing your mindset actually means and how that translates into an effective at-home exercise and diet regimen:
1. Focus On Short-Term And Mid-Term Benefits
Just like New Year's Resolutions that fall flat on their face within the month, so too do you need to approach other long-term goals with a more immediate perspective.
Cold turkey doesn't work for most people, whether weaning off cigarettes, alcohol or binge-eating. That's the long and short of it. Successfully committing to a personal at-home exercise and diet regimen means you have to focus just as much on short-term and mid-term benefits as well as the long-term results. Hell, even more so! That means what feels good now instead of what you hope to see in the mirror three months later. Let's start with me: I want to lose between eighteen to twenty pounds over the next four to five months, which is more than doable at my rate. Until I get there?
I embrace what feels great now.
After I exercise the knot in my right shoulder loosens up (and, boy, does it love to cramp up at a moment's notice). I love the temporary endorphin rush, too, making my rather cluttered and stressed brain lightheaded without a beer can in sight. Lastly, I actively look forward to falling asleep faster at night. See, I don't wait until I hit the three-month mark before I feel good about what I'm doing. It's also about the journey, not just the destination. Ask yourself what you enjoy during or directly after the act and use that to create a foundation that sticks, instead of wishing on a lofty goal that floats off without you.
2. If You Enjoy What You Do, It Goes From A Chore To A Hobby
Number one is really hard to achieve if you don't like your form of at-home exercise. Good thing there's a lot of variety to choose from, even when stuck at home.
A forty-five minute yoga session set to your favorite movie soundtrack so you can daydream while you work out. A thirty-minute dance session where you watch choreography routines and imagine you're starring in a music video (Millennium Dance Complex is a popular dance studio on YouTube that always stuns me with their dazzling routines). A one-hour jogging session with a friend or family member so you can have some accountability and maybe a few fun conversations along the way. The varieties for a unique, personalized wellness regimen are nearly endless.
Exercise and dieting isn't a rulebook, but a guideline.
Since so many are cooped up inside (and this won't change much for some remote freelancers once the pandemic slows down), getting creative with your at-home exercise routines really helps. Dancing in my apartment is one of my personal staples, but with a twist: twice or thrice a week I'll turn on my YouTube Watch Later folder so I can catch up on songs I've been meaning to listen to while working up a sweat. This adds a sense of fun, as I don't know exactly what I'm going to hear, shaking up the vibe and getting me to try new moves or repetitions every few minutes. Sometimes I'll even do interpretive dances based on my original characters.
It's also good for multitasking, because my Watch Later folder is six hundred videos and counting
3. A Smarter Diet Gives You A Little Wiggle Room For The Lazy Days And Vice Versa
A more balanced diet gives you fallback for the days where you're too tired or too busy to even do a fifteen-minute jazzercise routine. Likewise, if you're very active, you can afford to snack a little more casually.
Little, however, is the key word.
2,000 calories per day is considered an average metric for most, with exceptions made for those on stricter diets due to age, health reasons and lifestyle. I've been maintaining an 1,800 calorie cap, with several days at 1,600 or 1,700. The goal in the next few weeks is to stick to 1,500 so I can actively shave off pounds and inch closer to my ideal weight, even on days where I don't exercise. I once heard a saying that went as follows: you can't outrun your spoon. That means even the best exercise regimen won't do much if you're still packing all those calories back on once you get home.
Other details add up, too. I drink water when feeling hungry in case my body interprets thirst for hunger (which is surprisingly common). I also drink water fifteen minutes before each meal, which stretches your stomach beforehand, reducing nausea and decreasing the urge to gorge. I don't go cold turkey on snacks; I just have less of them or choose lower-calorie options (sea salt popcorn, carrots, strawberries, craisins and peanut butter are some of my favorites). I plan on maintaining this lifestyle once I reach my goal, after all: dieting is not a punishment, but an overall improvement that benefits me in several ways.
4. Record Your Progress And Make It Cute
You can't be what you can't see. You need to reward yourself on a more regular basis, or else you'll have a higher chance of relapsing and giving up. Might as well treat your wellness regimen like a videogame!
I record my progress daily by jotting down my estimated calorie count and anything else I might've done to get closer to my goal, like jumping jack repetitions, dance sessions or walking around the park. Giving yourself points on a daily basis is a source of pride that translates immediately, rather than staring at your scale and mentally wishing the pounds away. Decorating your list is a great way to keep you from dreading your new routine, too. It's all about those short-term benefits, right? Art is psychology, so doodle some Pokemon fanart or pretty flowers above your metrics: give yourself something to smile about while checking in on your progress.
Trust me...it leaves an impact.
5. Set Realistic Goals That Won't Have You Crashing Back Down (Also, Detox Culture Is Complete Horseshit)
Detox culture is a tall, steaming mound of horseshit crowned with a halo of flies.
Celebrities and wealthy influencers promoting detox teas or trendy diets are trying to get you to, quite literally, buy into a mindset based in neither practicality nor health. They're not even using these themselves! Why would they, when personal trainers and liposuction are readily available? Unless you want to drink crappy smoothies and diarrhea teas for the rest of your life, save yourself the crushing disappointment and go for what's tried and true. A personalized at-home exercise routine, mentality shift and realistic expectations will carry you much farther than any viral trend.
I watched a video on weight loss in South Korea and was simultaneously unsurprised and mortified at a trend going around called the 'apple diet', where you subsist on only apples for several days to lose weight in a short amount of time. Not only is this literally starving yourself, it's a short-term result that physically cannot last. Even should you reach your goal with an extreme crash diet, you'll be left no choice but to go back to an ideal calorie count so you don't...well, die. Such an extreme disparity means, by default, you will gain some of that weight back, unless you believe you can 'maintain' on five apples a day instead of three.
It's easy to get lost in trends rather than facts. Detoxing is a process your body does naturally: it's called your liver and is quite capable at what it does. If you want to ease up on it, drink less alcohol and add more liver-friendly foods to your diet, like leafy greens, nuts and fish. Crash diets just do not work and give you a short-term result that butchers your physical and emotional health. Everyone's got their own habits and preferences, sure, but you can't debate the needs of your body. An at-home diet and exercise regimen should leave you feeling lively and mentally sound, not exhausted or depressed.
I'll be updating with a new post once I reach my goal (or get close to it), but until then, I'm going to enjoy the journey. Now's the time to figure out what you want to achieve from your day-to-day wellness plan, even as you're feeling cooped up and limited.
How are you maintaining a diet or exercise regimen while stuck at home?
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