No, I know, that title sounds a bit ridiculous. Mono is awful. It is exactly as my doctor described it... "profound fatigue". And my bout with it came with trying to finish up my last week of work, moving 1,000 miles, and a quack of a doctor suggesting I had cancer (lymphoma to be exact) before I got an official diagnosis of mono. My mom had to fly to Nashville to help (and by help I mean do all of it) me pack up my apartment and drive up to Connecticut. Then both of my parents helped me move into my new apartment in Boston. The first 3 weeks of my new job I was battling fatigue and I had major setbacks with both my fitness and my business as a health and fitness coach. The 6 week long experience came with feelings of guilt for the help I needed, fear for my life and overall health, frustration at the limits of my once healthy body, and sadness as I had to spend my first month in a brand new city sitting on the couch on weekends trying to recuperate from the week of work. So why, after all of that, am I thankful for it? Because I was forced to slow down, to depend on others, and to reflect on what happiness means to me.
As someone who is happiest working multiple jobs and often burning the candle at both ends, it was practically torture to have to sit, constantly. The moment I knew I would have to ask for help with my impending move was when I had to sit down about halfway through washing a sink full of dishes. Yep, standing and moving my arms for more than 10 minutes was too much, I had to sit down. When my mom came, she was constantly battling me and telling me to sit down as I would try to get up to get her something instead of just telling her where it was. I had to sit, and my body made very sure I knew it when I pushed too hard or for too long. But it made me realize just how much I value my health. The fastest way to get my antsy self to sit down and stop moving was when I was reminded I could prolong the illness if I didn't get enough rest. I can be stubborn like no other, but being healthy is essential to me and I learned to sacrifice what I wanted to do at the moment for the long term goal of getting healthy again. Something I hope to do for the rest of my life when it comes to how I fuel my body and the exercise I choose to do.
I learned to accept help. Honestly, I don't know exactly when I became so fiercely independent and more than once I've had someone find out I did something somewhat challenging or laborious by myself and said "you know, you could have called me, I would have helped", but it's just how I am. If I can do it myself, I will, and if I can't, well I have to be very sure I can't before I ask for help. And then, suddenly, I have to call my parents and ask someone to drop everything, book a last minute flight, and come down to do manual labor to get me packed up. Now, my parents are absolutely wonderful people who would do anything for their children, but the knowledge that they would do it without hesitation didn't make it any easier to ask for help. To admit I was too weak to take care of everything in my life was a serious challenge. But it was a good reminder that there are people in my life who will drop everything for me and that there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. I hope if you need help, you ask for it.
And finally, I learned that if you really want something, you're not afraid to start over again. As a woman who has completed "the toughest workout on DVD" and is certified to teach it to a room full of people and has run a marathon (yep, a full 26.2 miles) 6 weeks of no workouts would have been unimaginable if you told me at the beginning of August that I would be taking such a leave from fitness. But that's what I had to do to get better. Not only did I not have the energy to do it, my spleen was so enlarged it caused physical discomfort in my abdomen and I was at risk of bursting it if I lifted anything too heavy. In fact, I struggled with some abdominal exercises when I did get back to it because of that enlarged spleen which had caused some serious knots in my muscles. When I got back to working out, it was so maddening at how little I could do, how weak I was, and how quickly I got tired. But I pressed on. I eased myself back into it as best I could and just kept pressing play every day. Today? Well I'm kicking butt at my favorite insane workout program. I could have easily said forget it, I'm too far behind. But that was not an option for me. I knew it would be mentally tough starting over, but it was absolutely worth it!
I realize this blog post is a lot of storytelling on my part, so let me sum things up with a few key takeaways that I think apply to life in many ways...
We all know it's good for us, that they say we should drink 8 glasses a day, and we've seen those amazing before and after pictures showing us how a gallon a day will make us look younger. And yet, if you're anything like me, you constantly struggle to drink enough! Why? What's so tough about drinking water? Here's what I've come up with...
I know the struggle... it's the holiday season and you're facing down what could be weeks of indulgent food, sugary gifts, and of course the big holiday meal(s). Even if weight gain doesn't seem totally inevitable, I'm sure the bloating, fatigue, cloudy mind, and frequent sugar crashes are... if you're not careful.
Now let me make one thing very clear before we go any further. I am NOT talking about giving up all of your favorite holiday goodies, being the oddball at the party drinking water and eating carrots, or trying to convince your entire family to rethink the menu of a major holiday dinner. I'm going to share smart steps you can take to help enjoy the holidays while still keeping your health and body in balance.
These tips are in no particular order...
Decide now what foods are your "must haves". Go ahead, think about your absolute favorite holiday treat. Got a favorite cheesy side dish? That perfect pumpkin pie only your cousin can produce? Mom's baklava (seriously, I wouldn't miss this for the world!)? If you think about it now and decide which are really important to you, you can plan to have them and know that your endeavor to stay healthy will not hold you back from your favorite things. Plus, have you ever wanted that piece of cheesecake and decided it was too rich and calorie dense, so you just have a cookie instead? You know, which then becomes 5 cookies and eventually the cheesecake you wanted anyway? Having your favorite food means you won't accidentally overeat on something else trying to satisfy the craving.
Follow the "One Plate Rule" at parties. Sure, you want to enjoy in the festivities at the company party, go all out at Friendsgiving, and enjoy the impromptu cupcake party that just happened in the office. You don't have to miss out, but you should monitor your portions. Take one plate, select the items you want, and THAT'S IT! It can be so easy to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths without even realizing it, and it adds up quickly.
*Bonus tip- when at a gathering, try to (1) eat slowly and savor your food and (2) chat with someone so you don't just wolf down everything on your plate
Bring something you LIKE not something you LOVE. Going to a friend's house for a get together and want to bring something with you? Great. Bring that bottle of wine you know is good, but not your favorite. Bake cookies you enjoy, when you're in the mood. Make that side dish your friends and family rave about, but honestly you think it's just so-so. There will likely be things there you want to indulge in, don't make it harder on yourself by providing yourself with your biggest weakness
Eat veggies and drink water before you get there. Wherever it is, even if the event is at your house, eat a salad and drink some water before anything starts. Supplying your body with nutrients first will satisfy that desire for food (which is really the body asking for nutrient) and you won't accidentally mistake thirst for hunger. You'll naturally eat less if you're full on the good stuff.
Beware the alcohol. If you don't know me that well yet, you don't know just how much I love red wine (heck, even if you've known me for years you might not know this, it's a new but very strong love). So I get it. And there are so many fun holiday drinks! Just be careful. Alcohol dehydrates, encourages eating, and lowers inhibition (i.e. you won't have the will power to say no to a second slice of pie). I suggest having the drink(s) later in the event or after the meal so they don't drive increased eating, or commit to holding that wine glass instead of a plate of goodies.
Exercise! Seriously. If you want your body to be an efficient calorie-burning machine, you need to workout. Preferably using high intensity interval training and/or strength training. Stick to a regular routine and follow a program so you keep it up during this time of year. You'll be less tempted by sweets because your body will be feeling good and looking for the healthy stuff and you'll become a bit more resistant to potential weight gain (PLEASE do not read this as "Amanda K said I can eat whatever I want because I'm working out and I won't gain weight"! It's not true. But exercise will help along with these others tips.)
Be extra conscientious of what you're eating at the meals you can control. Load up on veggies, keep your portions small (there's a great resource here for what appropriate portions are), and try to keep a balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and oils. I know this can be a particularly tough one, so if you need help, let me know! (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pick one ultimate cheat day. There will be lots of days in which you can indulge, but pick ONE that you look forward to and prioritize. Make that the day you have WHATEVER you want. It can serve as motivation to hold back a bit at other events, because you know you want to enjoy that one day totally guilt free.
I hope you find these tips useful! If you are going to try and implement some of these this year, will you share them with a friend who could use them to? And if you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments so everyone can benefit from them!
I'm Amanda K; lover of fitness, sweets, veggies, adventure, travel, and happiness.