Year in Review: Outcomes of My Second Year of Habit-Based Self-care

When I started two years ago, deciding to track healthy habits instead of a number on a scale or clothing size was unfamiliar territory for me. I decided I wanted to be open to whatever outcomes would come.

Last year, I listed the following outcomes I experienced after one year along on a habit-based, weight neutral health journey:

Looking back on what I wrote last year, I am happy to say that most of those outcomes have continued throughout year two. I did have some depression and back pain creep back in when an injury required me to stop lifting for a few months. With adding lifting back into my life, both of these conditions are improving again.

I also experienced some other cool things in year two.

Looking back, I feel really proud of what I accomplished this year. It didn’t seem like I did much of anything until I actually went back and read all my older posts. What I feel most proud of is keeping up a consistent self-care routine during a very challenging year.  My family had a lot of challenges: my husband got injured, I got injured, we lost our pet, we had a terminal illness and death in the family. I feel so proud that I took excellent care of myself so that I could face these challenges well.  Honestly, the self-care felt like the easiest part and I know that is because of the habit-based approach.

So…..to give credit where credit is due, I feel very proud of myself this year. I’m excited to see what year 3 brings!

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When Not-So-Joyful Movement Is Needed

Caring for a hospice patient is a lot like caring for a newborn – very intensive for everyone helping out.  Feeding schedules, medication schedules, sleep disruptions, round the clock care, nurses and aides coming and going. I had a few days off because my husband and I felt that it would be good for kiddo to have some time at home with his normal routine and his friends. So I was on kid duty at home and my husband stayed to help my father-in-law care for my mother-in-law. The break also gave me time to attend to some of my own feelings and anxieties over the past week several weeks.

Anyway, we are back at my in-laws home now, and I have a bit of time to myself. My husband is playing with my kid after not seeing him in several days. My father-in-law and the home health aide are with my mother-in-law.  And for now, it feels like an act of self-care to write about something much less emotionally charged than what we are going through.  So here are some recent realizations I’ve had about the role of less-than-joyful movement when rehabilitating an injury.

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A Punk Ass Cat, Self Care, and Intuitive Eating Choices

I am stressed, and I am tired.

It has been a month with periods of high adrenaline and low grade chronic stress. One of my cats, who has lived with us for 5 years, ran away. She is very skittish, and proving difficult to catch. We flyered our neighborhood, including giving notes to every house. A few weeks ago, one of the neighbors told us that she had seen our cat. She feeds feral cats for Trap- Neuter- Release and my cat had started showing up there at night. 

So my husband or I have been going there every night. The cat sometimes shows up and she is always looking for food. But she is skittish, and won’t let anybody get near her. She often will eat the food that we leave if we go back to the car. We have been trying unsuccessfully to trap her, and every night has been a nail biter. The neighbor who is very experienced with trapping cats is calling her “stubborn,” “very smart,” and “a stinker.” A couple times we came very close’ and last night we actually got her to go into a drop trap by disguising it like a cardboard box, but she slipped out just as my husband triggered it. Tonight we plan to disguise the trap with plenty of leaves and twigs and other things to make it look like a comfortable outside hiding Place. Fingers crossed.

My husband has been a saint. It has been four weeks since our cat disappeared. He stays out often for 3 or 4 hours a night waiting for this very smart kitty to be willing to approach a trap. I take a night here and there, but I seem to need more sleep than my husband does, and the cat watch gets my heart racing faster. The other night we both took a night off, because I was exhausted, and my husband did not feel well. 

With four weeks of compromised sleep and late nights, something has to give. Our house getting disgusting. And for better or for worse, my home exercise program for physical therapy has taken a back seat. This concerns me, but I have been feeling an entirely unmotivated to do these exercises that I am supposed to do for injury rehab. The only reason I am not even more concerned is that swimming seems to be good injury rehab as well. I am definitely seeing how, when one is exhausted, something has to give, and for me that “something” tends to be the thing that I don’t particularly enjoy. On the other hand, I have NO problem making time for the things that I enjoy doing, even when I am exhausted. Even when I am exhausted, I am able to bring my son to the Y and do my swimming (and sometimes the video game stationary bike), because to me these activities are fun and restorative. Since I want to do them and I feel like I am choosing to do them, they are taking priority over the exercises I feel I have to do but dont particularly enjoy. They are taking priority over cleaning my house too.

Yesterday was a particularly stressful day. I found out that a friend of mine no longer has a job and I don’t know the circumstances behind it but it shook me. I think my threshold for stress had already been close to the limit, because the cat, and lack of sleep. So yesterday I consciously decided to soothe myself with food. It was a very conscious decision. I felt completely in control as I was doing it. I ate #alltheicecream, and #allthegreencurryandstickyrice. I had chips at the ready, and decided not to eat them. I knew I was not hungry anymore. Though I chose to eat more curry and rice than I was hungry for, I chose not to eat the chips. Then I took my shift at the catwatch, and then stayed awake in suspense as my husband took his shift…..and nearly trapped the cat only to have her slip away in the final second. I got less than 6 hours of sleep last night.

Today, I predictably feel exhausted.
I made some conscious choices that I don’t usually make on days when I’m feeling rested and energized. I brewed a pot of coffee (which I only drink on days I am exhausted, because I don’t like it). I drink the whole thing. I considered eating breakfast and then realized that not only was I not hungry, but food sounded vaguely repulsive. I knew my body was probably plenty carbed up for my swim from all the ice cream and rice I ate yesterday, and decided against eating breakfast. Instead I packed myself a couple turkey sandwiches and bananas so that if hunger kicked in later while I was out, I would have them at the ready. 

I took my son to the community garden, where I ripped out the diseased cucumber plants and bachelors buttons, and pruned the tomato plants. I saved all the plant matter, which I will use to disguise the trap tonight and make it look like a comfy pile of weeds so the cat will be a more comfortable entering it. Then, we headed to the Y, as is our usual Thursday routine.
Some days we go to the Y and I use the entire 2 hours that I have while my son is in the childcare. The other day I even used the entire 2 hours, plus the half hour when my son was in a preschool sports class. That day I did my physical therapy exercises, spinning on the video game stationary bike, swam some laps, used the hot tub, and took a shower.

Today was a obviously a different kind of day. We went to the Y so we could continue our routine, and so my kids would get his time out of the house so we wouldnt drive each other crazy. But I was not attached to the idea of moving a ton. I knew that today my body needed more rest then it sometimes does and putting my body through extremely heavy exercise would put further stress on it. So I told myself that I was going to get in the pool and see how I felt – no promises about how long I would stay there. Even if I sat in the lobby on my phone for most of two hours today, that was fine.
Getting into the pool felt good, but I’m not gonna lie; I was really tired. After 15 minutes I told myself I could get out of the pool if I wanted. I kept telling myself that. But I was having fun, and I took it slowly, and I ended up spending almost 50 minutes in the pool. I did not use the hot tub today. I did not even take a shower; I only rinsed off. I was really tired and I had no motivation to do those things. But my body feels good from the swim. And now I am sitting in the lobby writing this blog post while I wait for my son to finish playing. I feel great about that. I am taking care of my body with enough movement to feel good, and not enough to make my exhaustion worse. I’m going to take it easy today. I’m going to hope I can nap after the caffeine wears off.
So that is what my life and self care looks like today. I know I could be caring for myself better, and I know I should let the cat go, but I miss her and so this is always on my mind, and I am handling it as best I can.

I took a flash photo of my cat’s eyes last night.

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Habit Update (And An Injury Update Too).

If you’ve been here a while, you have probably read my habit series, and maybe you recall that, for me, it all started with setting two goals for 2015: eat a green vegetable every day, and do 150 strength workouts.  Maybe you recall that I tracked my habits on a spreadsheet, and I added a bunch over the course of the past year and a half.  And that all worked quite well for me for the first year and change.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how my habit practice was changing and evolving, and I was considering taking a break from tracking all my habits on a spreadsheet.

Well, I did stop tracking them, so I haven’t written about my own habits for a little while. Here, I am, checking in with an update, for those who have asked/wondered.

I am still very happy with how my habit practice is going. Several habits have become second nature.  Here are some thoughts about specific habits, in no particular order:

  • Strength workouts are mostly on hold due to injury, but I’ve substituted swimming and found a groove pretty quickly with fitting it into my schedule. It is a lot more time consuming than lifting in my pajamas in my living room – since I have to commute, change, shower, wash my suit…. Anyway, it started off with a learning curve (even though I was a pretty strong swimmer as a kid!), and now I’m getting faster again. I even managed some sprints this week!
  • I have the forced habit of physical therapy twice per week. It eats up a lot of time. We do some strengthening exercises there. I’ll be glad when I am cleared to start lifting on my own again.
  • Walks have been a little more sporadic, because I hate summer. Last year I worked around this by taking my kid for walks on shady trails. This summer that is not an option for me due to my spinal injury (yes, I can walk, but all my walks have to be stroller-friendly since I don’t have the option of carrying my kid on my back when he gets tired). I’m not sweating it. Sometimes I push the stroller to the garden. I get in what I can.
  • Parking at the far end of the parking lot has become second nature.
  • Hanging from bars at the playground – I am getting this in once or twice per week, depending on time and weather. Again, not sweating it; just playing.
  • I’ve been keeping the plants in my garden alive so far, so that’s cool. I was the top harvester in the community garden for June in terms of pounds harvested. I probably won’t be for July, just looking at what I have planted and when it should be ripe, and looking at what others have planted and when it should be ripe.  Perhaps I will catch up in August. Fun fact: I’ve harvested around $105 worth of produce so far. I hope I at least break even 😀 .
  • When I do walk, I’ve been picking up the pace on the hill I have to climb to get home.
  • I’m rocking the green vegetables and eating a vegetable with at least 2 meals per day.
  • I’m also rocking eating a protein source with at least 2 meals per day.
  • I had been doing really well with taking my Vitamin D and then I ran out. I bought some more and am getting back into the groove.
  • Sleep habits have been improving in consistency. I am more likely to go to sleep by 10pm (and some nights I am able to get to bed by 9:30).  I very rarely start watching a TV show after 9pm.
  • Looking at my gratitude habits, I am not really sure how I am doing in that area. I’m feeling more positive in general, but I’ve also had a lot of negativity and anxiety creep in around my injury and the routine changes it has brought, so I’m not super focused on these right now and I am okay with that.
  • I am leaning a bit more on my husband for things than I would like, yet I am grateful that he is able and willing to help.
  • My motivation for intentional cleaning has gotten very low again. I figure that is probably normal as I have a lot going on right now. Again, feeling thankful that my husband goes with the flow and steps up hen he can, and tolerates the mess.

So, those are some of the habits I had on that spreadsheet, and I’m quite happy that a bunch of them are sticking well and helping me feel as well as I can.

I’m working on a new habit, and experimenting with tracking just the one habit at a time with an app on my phone (I have an Android and am using Habitbull). The new habit is Intuitive Eating related: asking myself “why do I want that?” when I want to eat something, then naming the feeling (hunger, boredom, no-particular-reason-just-habit, etc). Since “all day long” is probably too tall an order, I am specifically focusing on dinner, up to and including bedtime.  Though I’m actually finding the rest of the day reasonably easy as well.  So far this new habit feels good.  Some of the habits I had on my spreadsheet can still use some more consistency, but I’m feeling like prioritizing this one now.

And, speaking of habits: this blog is one year old! I stuck with it for a year! Yay! Thank you for being here and encouraging me and reading my stuff :).

And, only tangentially related, for those who have been asking about my injury: I haven’t had any back aches since I discovered that the hot tub worked magic on my back muscles! I’ve been using the hot tub 3 times per week after swimming and it has worked wonders for the aches. I still have occasional tingling in my right leg when standing or walking for longer periods. I have a follow up appointment at the spine doctor next week.

So, there you have it. An update for those who were following for the habit stuff :).

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What I Can Do Today

Content note: This post contains mentions of previous and present weight gains and losses (intentional and unintentional). It also contains considerations of how my symptoms may be affected by my current weight, and how I plan to handle that. If that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this post. I am saying these things in the most matter of fact way. I don’t mean to convey shame, as I would have in the past when speaking about weight; just transparency.

Here’s how things are moving along in injury-ville:

My mood is getting better as I am getting more used to my new routine and the new season at work is getting into a groove.

Movement-wise, I have a full plate of activity between swimming 3 times per week and physical therapy twice per week, plus physical therapy exercises to do at home. Swimming is getting easier and I am able to enjoy it now. So much, in fact, that I would consider continuing even after I am cleared to lift again!  I have physical therapy exercises to do at home, and sometimes I do bodyweight exercises like assisted pull ups or incline push ups at the park. I am anxious to get back to lifting but nervous too because I don’t want to make my spine worse.  I still sometimes feel some tingling in my feet or in my right quadricep. I have a follow up appointment with the doctor in a couple weeks.

I still have back aches when standing or walking for too long. That definitely makes me miss lifting.

I’m starting to feel more open to the idea of losing some weight. Well, I guess I was always open to the idea, because of the whole thin privilege thing, but it didn’t factor into my decisions on what habits to choose to work on. If only diets worked for more than a minority of people in the long term (ha!)…..

A bit of history:  When I was 8, 9 and 10 months pregnant I had back aches when standing or even sitting for long periods of time. Back aches are common in pregnancy so I treated them by going for massage twice a week in the later weeks and resting my back a lot.

After my son’s birth, my body went down below my pre-pregnancy weight very quickly and without any effort on my part. It hovered about 10 to 15 pounds below pre- pregnancy weight for about a year. (Before you say “aren’t you lucky,” ask me how I felt physically during that year, with undiagnosed sleep apnea and a high needs baby who didn’t like to sleep and liked to nurse 20 times per day until he was over a year old.)

Currently, I am not pregnant, and I weigh 25 to 30 pounds more than I did when I was at my heaviest in pregnancy (so, about 80 pounds heavier than I was during my son’s first year). Some of that weight gain is undoubtedly muscle from increased activity and lifting heavy weights. But knowing how these things work, I doubt that more than 15 to 20 lbs of it is muscle. So, we are talking at least 60 to 65 pounds of water, glycogen, and fat gain. My body naturally gains a lot of fat above my waist (belly and boobs), and very little below the waist. So, according to my back muscles, I doubt this weight gain feels any different from my pregnancy weight gain (though the muscles are stronger and had a higher limit this time…since I did not gain as much weight during pregnancy).

So, knowing my experience with back aches while pregnant, and knowing that my body is now holding a similar or greater amount of weight in my upper body as it did while pregnant, I am pretty sure that my back aches can be partially explained by weight gain. (And of course, partially explained by my two herniations and older compression injury).

Now, what does that mean for me in the context of knowing that diets don’t work, and most people who lose weight in the short term regain it in the long term, and often gain more weight than they lose?

Well, I am feeling slightly defeated, in all honesty. I am regretting the years I spent dieting. I am wishing I wasn’t put on my first diet as a child, which damaged my relationship with food.

But I can’t change the past. I can only ask myself  “what can I do today to care for myself and manage the aches and set myself up for less pain and better function in the future, to the degree that it is within my control?”

Knowing that diets don’t work for most people  (statistics), and knowing my own personal outcomes from dieting (both physical and mental), dieting is not an option.

Looking at my current lifestyle and habits, an area where I do have some room to play is with Intuitive Eating. Specifically honing in on “distracted eating / distraction eating.” I never thought of myself as an emotional eater because I don’t tend to eat when I feel sad or angry. But recently I realized that I do tend to eat sometimes when I am not hungry. For example, needing to take a break from what I am doing, and reaching for a snack even if not hungry (distraction eating). Or, taking seconds at a meal even if I am not hungry, because the meal tasted good,or because I am watching TV and not thinking about it (distracted eating). I wouldn’t so much call it emotional eating as eating out of habit. I am realizing that these are long standing habits. I remember staying up late in college and we would eat snacks or go to “fourth meal.” My husband and I have had the habit of snacking at night too (incidentally, my husband is thin and always has been).

So for the past week or so I have been working on establishing a new habit: if I am eating, I ask myself “why do I want this?” If I am hungry, that is an easy question to answer. If I am not hungry, the answer is usually “I need a break or a distraction” or “I need to decompress at the end of the day” or “eating this is pleasurable” or “I dunno, I am just reaching for it out of habit.”

Then, once I answer the question of “why do I want this,” I have the option of choosing what I want to do with this information. For example:

  • “I am hungry so I am going to eat this” or
  • “I need to take a break from my desk so I am going to take a walk or go run an errand or browse at the bookstore” or
  • “I need to decompress so I am going to change into my pajamas and read a book or watch a show upstairs away from the kitchen” or
  • “eating this would taste really good but I am not hungry now so I am just going to have a bite and then find something else to do.”

Notice that I said “I have the option of choosing what I want to do with this information.” I did not say “I have the obligation to do a certain thing with this information.” This is very important for me because I have a history of being forced and coerced by others into dieting. When I was growing up, “are you sure you are hungry for that?” was always a loaded question, dripping with fear and concern. Now that I am an adult I don’t want to put myself through the same sense of obligation and coercion. So I’m just experimenting with it to see how it feels.

One concern I have about trying this habit that may lead to some weight loss is that I may become attached to the outcome of weight loss. The past year and half has felt wonderful for me mentally, as I shifted my focus onto other things. I fear the possibility of going back to a place where I obsess about the way my body looks and nothing is ever good enough.  For now, in order to mitigate that concern, I remind myself the following:

  • Intuitive Eating is not a weight loss program. Some people lose weight, some people gain weight, and some people stay the same.
  • Regardless of what happens to my weight, becoming more conscious of and reducing distracting/distracted eating will likely have positive effects on my budget, my mental health, and perhaps my hemoglobin A1c.
  • If this stops feeling good to me for any reason, I can stop or do something else or explore why it doesn’t feel good.

I have some concerns about what this means for me and fat positivity. But I am tired of having back aches and so I am willing to explore this rather than holding onto an ideology. Rigid thinking hasn’t  worked out for me in the past. So I can absolutely advocate for fat acceptance and treating fat people with respect while also trying something that might help my back stop aching.

And for anyone who thinks this means that because I am experiencing a health problem means that HAES doesn’t “work”, have a read: Am I Healthy At Any Weight? by Dare to Not Diet.

Now, we all know that IF weight loss happens, it may be very slow and it will likely not be permanent. So I find it helpful to ask what else can I do TODAY to help me feel good and manage the back aches, besides tuning into my feelings when I want to eat (because IF that helps with back pain, it will be “eventually,” not “today!”).

Today I can go swimming. The water helps. This morning I had some back pain. I tried an aqua Zumba class, then swam laps for a few minutes. Then I sat in the hot tub for a few minutes, applying the jets to my lower back. That helped a lot. So, consistency with movement that feels good to my current body is something I can do today.

Pacing myself with activity that requires standing and walking for long periods is something I can do today.

Doing my physical therapy exercises at home is something I can do today.

Having patience is something I can do today.

Keeping my self talk constructive is something I can do today. When I find myself thinking “I wish I could hike like I did last summer,” I can acknowledge that feeling, and then be glad that I can go swimming instead at least, and that swimming feels great.

Those are some things I can do today.

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How’s Swimming?

The most common question I am getting asked this week is “how is swimming going?”

Swimming is coming along well. I am getting used to it again. I swim laps. Right now just freestyle and breast stroke. Sometimes I play with a toy like a kickboard or noodle, but mostly I find that boring and I prefer just swimming laps. I still need to focus a lot on my rhythm, form and breathing, so it feels very meditative.

At physical therapy they have me hanging out from these floating dumbell  things in the deep end, dangling my legs to take some pressure off the compressed portion of my spine. So, at the Y, I started leaving some dumbbells at the side of the pool, at the deep end of my lap lane. Then, if I get bored or tired and need a rest, I rest in the deep end instead of the shallow end, just hanging out dangling my legs. It’s pretty relaxing.

I have a good system down for showering at the Y now.

Oh, and I signed up for an Aqua Zumba class that starts next week. I am looking forward to trying it

The one piece of the routine where I dropped the ball last week was packing food to eat after swimming, so I could just go on to my next thing without going home. I also had a very busy week at work, and I started physical  therapy. I ended up buying a lot of meals out last week,  as a result.

So this past Sunday, I chose to to stay home instead of going to visit my inlaws with my family. I needed to decompress before the next work week.  I didn’t feel emotionally up for a two hour drive one way, and getting home late on a Sunday before  a work week.

I stayed home, cooked a bunch of food for the upcoming week, and binged on season 4 of Orange is the New Black. It was a good choice. I made a huge veggie tray, hardboiled eggs, baked teriyaki chicken, a couple meals (lentils and rice with fried onions, and noodles with sausage, bitter greens and broccoli). Plus a birthday cake for my husband.

Last night I knew I was planning to go to the pool today, so I packed a couple sandwiches for us ahead of time.  So far this week is going more smoothly, thanks to giving some conscious effort to self care this weekend. It is a new routine and has a learning curve but I am starting to get the hang of it.

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