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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Getting My Head On Straight

It has been two weeks since my follow up appointment with the spine surgeon when I was cleared to ease back into lifting.

So far I have introduced light deadlifts and lat pulldowns (in addition to the planks and side planks which were included in my physical therapy). I’ve had zero nerve issues from these. My back, while not 100 percent, is feeling better than it has in months. My mood and motivation levels are better than they have been in months too.

I feel like myself again, and what amazes me is that I didn’t need to do an ambitious or time consuming program to drastically improve how I feel. I just added 3 sets of deadlifts, 3 days per week, and 3 sets of lat pulldowns, 3 days per week. I do the deadlifts in my living room in the morning, and the lat pulldowns at the Y before or after swimming.

For me, lifting weights is a far more effective anti-depressant than swimming and the SSRI I have been taking. That said, I am grateful for both swimming and the SSRI. Even though they were not as effective for me as lifting, they still helped me somewhat. The SSRI helped me get from “really bad depression” to “mild/tolerable depression/apathy.” Swimming helped me continue to be active when everything else made my back ache, and it felt good in the moment even if it didn’t help with day-to-day motivation and mood. Note: I know that effectiveness of depression treatments vary widely from person to person so please keep in mind that I am talking about myself only in this post. I’m in favor of everyone doing what makes them feel best, whether that is medication, movement, or some other choice.

I am grateful for my injury now because I think it helped me get my head on straight. Now that I realize just how much lifting helps me with depression and back aches, I also realize that my number one fitness priority is to keep myself lifting. Being free of depression and hopefully back aches means much more than any PRs or feeling proud of my lifting numbers. If I re-injure myself, there is a lot more at stake than some lost months of lifting progress… like my sanity, my mood, my productivity, my focus, and my ability to contribute at home. I don’t need PRs to be awesome. But I do need lifting to be my best self. Not for others, but for my own experience in this body as a comfortable place to live.

So there won’t be any more impressive lifts from me any time soon, or possibly ever again. Just day to day self-care and habits. You know, the boring stuff.

Here’s what’s next: since it has been two weeks and I’m not having any nerve issues from deadlifts or lat pulldowns, I plan to experiment with some very light front squats to see if my body can tolerate them now. I’m a bit gun-shy on back squats due to the nature of my spinal injury.

Very glad to be feeling better and to have my head on straight!

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Can a Person Be Considered Body Positive If They Want To Lose Weight?

“Can a person be considered body positive if they want to lose weight?”

This is a question I see a lot lately in the body positive and fat acceptance communities, in light of body positivity going mainstream, corporations who profit off body dissatisfaction co-opting the body positive message, and people who declare they are #bodypositivebut.

As with many questions, the answer depends on who you ask. And if you want to know what other people think, please ask them and/or read their articles, or read this pretty comprehensive summary of the movement from Buzzfeed. I’m gonna answer from my own perspective, while acknowledging that my opinion is not the only one out there.

And my opinion has many shades. I think differently than I did a year ago, and may think differently about it next year too. These are my thoughts at this particular moment in time. My thoughts here relate to individuals, not to for-profit entities.

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Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

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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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Arms, Oars, and What’s Below the Surface

Have you ever felt like you were putting a lot of energy out, but weren’t moving very far?

I just realized that I have been swimming the freestyle stroke “wrong” my entire life.

I took years of swimming lessons as a kid because I loved swimming. In the seventh grade, I tried out for the swim team at my local YMCA. I didn’t make the team, and they suggested I enroll in a class where they taught more advanced swim skills in preparation for tryouts another year. 

But I never got much faster and speed always seemed to leave me so out of breath. 

I got discouraged and abandoned swimming in favor of music. Now, two decades later, an injury was the catalyst for me taking up swimming again.

And I still struggled with speed in the freestyle, as when I did when I was a kid. When I tried to speed up, I would move my arms more quickly. More strokes per lap. I focused on how my arms exited and re-entered the water.

This week, it dawned on me that by focusing on what happened above the surface, I was ignoring where all the power was: beneath the surface.

Swimming “works” by using your body to displace the water. You pull the water in the direction opposite where you want your body to go. All that pulling happens when your arms are IN THE WATER. What happens above the water is pretty irrelevant.

It was a lightbulb moment. How did I never realize this before? When you row a boat, the oars don’t move the boat while they are above the surface; that’s just recovery so they can get back INTO the water. All the pulling and all the power happen while the oars are IN the water.

So I started focusing differently on my stroke technique for the freestyle. Instead of focusing on “how can I get less tired while moving my arms quickly,” I started focusing all my attention to the pull that happens when my arms are IN in the water. How can I create the most resistance, and pull through it? THIS is the key part of the stroke.

And…HOLY POWER! Now my strokes are actually doing something.  I got faster overnight. My heart rate and breathing are challenged, AND I am actually moving. Not by putting out more strokes per minute…..but by putting more muscle and focus into my strokes.

Fewer, more powerful strokes get you farther than more strokes that are less powerful.

There has got to be a lesson applicable to habits in that. I will be mulling this one over. How about you?

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The Locker Room Scale (and Some Injury Updates)

Content heads-up: This post contains scale talk (no specific numbers). Skip it if that isn’t your thing.

Swimming is going well. I’ve got my routine down pat. I am proficient in 3 strokes. After watching some of the other lap swimmers do flip turns, I was inspired to try them for the first time in years.

Yesterday I went to the beach with my family and swam in the ocean a bit. I’m not used to swimming in the ocean so it was mostly water walking. Still, plenty of movement. And even after a day at the beach (including walking and carrying gear), I didn’t have any back aches.

In fact, I haven’t had any back aches in a week or two. The three times per week swimming plus hot tub routine, plus physical therapy, seems to be working wonders.  I had my follow up with the spine doctor this week, and he said that if in three months I am still pain free, he will likely clear me to do whatever I want. Since what I am doing is working, I am going to keep doing it.

A couple things I wasn’t anticipating:

  1. I’m not sure whether it is the relaxing effect of the swimming, or the fact that it is super hot outside, or a side effect of the antidepressant I started taking…..but I have been feeling really unmotivated and sometimes sleepy.
  2. I keep feeling drawn to the scale in the locker room.

I felt a bit conflicted about the presence of the scale at first. For the past year and a half, my approach to the scale was easy. I didn’t own one at home. I got on the scale if I was at the doctors office, to satisfy my curiosity. This happened maybe once every couple months.

Now, I see a scale in the locker room three or four times per week, and I wish I didn’t feel drawn to it, but I do.

For a little while I fought it. I just didn’t get on.

Then one day I decided I was going to get on, just to get it out of my head. So I did.

Then the next time I went to swim, I wanted to get on again. Rather than argue with myself (“This is really unhealthy. You don’t need to weigh yourself that much”), I just told myself “you want to get on the scale? That’s fine. You know what you weigh anyway, and it’s not like it is going to change anything you are doing today.” So I did.

And maybe it is unhealthy to want to get on the scale every time I see it. Maybe it’s a vestige of diet culture and unhealthy behaviors. But for now, I just tell myself that it is just a number, and it is fine to get on the scale if I want to, as long as I know it is not going to change the way I am taking care of myself today. I hope I can keep up that perspective.

I’m not saying I think it is or is not a good idea for people to do this, and it may not be the “correct” fat positive thing to do…..just sharing where I am right now, and how I’m handling seeing the scale on the way to the pool a few times per week.

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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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