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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Too Hard on Yourself and Want to Change That? This May Be Holding You Back.

It just hit me that I am way too hard on myself.

I mean, really hit me. People say that to women all the time and I have heard it of course. “We are so hard on ourselves.” “We need to stop expecting perfecting out of ourselves as a prerequisite for self-love and self-acceptance.”

But do we really believe it when we say it?

It’s okay if we don’t. It can sometimes take our habits and feelings a while to catch up to our intentions.

Maybe we subconsciously say things like “yeah, I know OTHER people are too hard on themselves. But surely that doesn’t apply to me. Surely on some level I deserve to be hard on myself because I am not perfect.”

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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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How a Body Positive Mindset Helps Me Move Forward from Injury

I’ve been writing about how I need to take a break from lifting due to an injury. And people are telling me they appreciate and admire how I am moving forward with a positive attitude.  I actually don’t feel all that positive, but I am moving forward anyway.

I don’t think I would be doing nearly as well had I not been working on a more body positive mindset.

Five years ago, if this happened, I think I would have been nearly paralyzed with fear about what would happen to my bodyweight. Today, yes; I am still somewhat scared about that. I know I’m not “supposed” to be, but I’m also not here to lie to you ;). However, today, that fear is not driving my decisions and actions.

Some people have told me they are impressed with how I am quickly looking to find alternative ways to move. And the reason I feel this drive to do so, is because I’m highly invested in keeping my body feeling like a nice place to live. I know that continuing to move will help with that. I also know that if I don’t take a break from heavy lifting now, I may be forced to take a break later, with a lot more pain and/or loss of function (and that will mean that my body will definitely NOT feel like a nice place to live).

I also know from experience that I tend to hate being outside in the heat, and I tend to move less in the summer. So, getting into the pool more will probably help with that.

So, while I do feel some fear about how my body may change, the primary motivation for finding new things to do is taking care of my body, giving myself what I need, and keeping my body a comfortable place to live (as much as that is within my control).

I do notice some old thoughts creeping in. For example, I had some mental resistance to trying lunges and other alternative strengthening exercises to barbells. Yoga too. These exercises remind me of the days when I was working out to change how my body looked. I’m acknowledging that resistance….and I know that if I want to keep myself feeling well, I may have to get over that association and try them again now.

Bottom line is – I am very grateful to have been working towards loving my body more. That doesn’t mean I always love the way it looks, although I am having more days like that than I used to. More importantly,  it means I love myself enough to give myself what I need to feel well TODAY, even when things aren’t going my way. I love myself enough to give my body the break it needs, rather than operating out of fear about what will happen if I take that break.

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Injury Update – Forced Routine Changes, and the Feelings They Bring

I want to share how the past week has been going for me. If you’ve been following, you know that I have been sidelined with an unexpected injury, and that I have been having a bit of trouble handling it emotionally sometimes.

I went to see the spine specialist this past Tuesday. I had been nervous about going, so I decided to bring a friend. When the friend who was originally planning to come with me couldn’t make it (since they got me in on very short notice at the doctors office due to a cancellation), my one of my coworkers came through and came along with me instead. I feel lucky to have a job where I work with such amazing people!

The appointment itself was fine. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and a follow up appointment in 6 weeks. He said that I probably could get back to lifting, but not right now while I am having symptoms. He did mention weight loss, but I didn’t feel he was shame-y about it, so that’s probably as good as one can expect from a spine surgeon.  He did a full exam asking about pain and testing strength. No pain or weakness, just the tingling in the legs. So for now he said “no knives, no needles.” I am really relieved about that.

I have my physical therapy evaluation in a few days. From there, they will tell me how many times per week I need to go.

I also cooled down after last week’s temper tantrum and decided to join the Y. My family applied for financial aid and received a partial scholarship. I went to join last night, and the person at the front desk told me that if I want to save money, they are waiving the joining fee on Wednesdays this month. So I will wait a few more days and go back on Wednesday, since the $100 joining fee is no small chunk of change.

The bathing suit I ordered for lap swimming arrived this week, and thankfully, it fits.

I learned a few things about how I can move this week, also.

For example, I tried doing lunges. In the past I always hated them. I felt wobbly and my ratio of bodyweight to single leg strength made them kind of unfavorable. Well, I tried them out of desperation (because I can’t do back squats right now with a spinal issue)….and now I can do them pretty easily, despite being at a higher bodyweight than the last time I tried them. So, I learned that even if I think I hate something, it pays to try it every few years 😀 .

I’m also pretty sure I can keep working on assisted pull ups.

I also figured out that if I push my kid’s stroller while I walk, I don’t get much of a back ache. Which shows me something about my alignment, because it is a bit different when I push a stroller. I’m paying more attention to my alignment and breathing when walking around and I think it is helping.

So, logistically, I’m dealing with everything. Emotionally, there are some things that are coming up.

This time of year I always have a long to-do list at work. And not having my regular routine to hang onto at home is making me feel very discombobulated. You know how child development experts stress how much small children crave structure and routine? Well, I can see this in myself too. Not having my usual structure and routine is making me feel more anxious and more sensitive to stress and things not going my way.  I notice that I have less patience and a very short fuse.

I know that within a few weeks, I’ll be settling into a newer routine, as I will have figured out my physical therapy schedule and have joined the Y and figured out when to go swimming. So it should calm down by then. For now, I’m just noticing the feelings, and telling myself that it won’t be forever.

The other day I realized another thing. One of the reasons it was so hard for me to take the news that I need to to take a break is that I made this hobby so much a part of my identity the past year and a half. It has been my passion outside of raising a kid and going to work. So it’s not just losing the hobby temporarily, but also about not knowing who I am or what to do with myself.

It is also a little scary because I’ve gotten used to receiving a lot of validation for doing heavy lifting and sticking with it. People think it’s cool and they tell me so, often. Sometimes I fear that without it, I will become invisible.

I am still not really ready to give it up even for a short period. I plan on asking the physical therapist for loopholes. “I know I can’t do back squats, but want about front squats? Just at 50%? Please?”

It’s also disheartening because I have spent a year and a half building a solid routine that fits well into my life…..so, being told I need to refocus and do something else is very frustrating and disorienting.

Again, I’m handling it, logistically….and I also find it healthy and helpful to acknowledge the feelings along the way.

Today my friend at Outside of the Comfort Zone reached out and let me know she is in a similar place. It was really good to talk with a friend who could related to all these things.

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My Body Is a Cozy Sanctuary

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat and IronFat. She was visiting a nearby city as a presenter for the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association conference, and gave a couple other presentations while she was in town. I attended a small lunch gathering where she gave a talk and we got to hang out and chat.

During her talk, a couple concepts really spoke to me.

One thing that really spoke to me is when she said how, though many people find it helpful to think of their mind, body and spirit all as one,  she personally finds it very helpful to think of her body as her friend. When she started on her path to loving her body, she realized that she would likely get in a fist fight if anyone said the things about her friends that she routinely said about her body.

I also have a bit of trouble relating to the whole “mind/body/spirit as one” thing, and don’t find it particularly helpful. Here is some imagery that I HAVE found helpful in my own body love journey.

I find it helpful to aim to care for my body the way I want to care for my child.

I don’t want to punish or shame my child or withhold something he needs. I want to meet his needs (and help him meet his own needs) as much as I can. This perspective has helped me care for my body as well.

Can I expect to be a perfect parent? Of course not. Can I expect to be a perfect caregiver for my body? Of course not.  Can I possibly practice all the conflicting information out there about the best way to care for my body? Of course not. Just like parents can’t either. I can only try my best to be as consistent as possible, using the knowledge and resources available to me.

Nobody is obligated to prioritize their health (whatever that means to them). One of the reasons I choose to do so, however, is that I like how it feels to live in my body when it feels healthy. Lately, I feel so alive and well. You know that peaceful feeling you feel when you walk into a room that is uncluttered, quiet, full of natural light and cozy places to sit, and maybe some plants?  When I feel healthy, I feel like my body is a really nice place to live and hang out. A cozy sanctuary, if you will.

And when I feel physically great in my body, I find it difficult to feel negativity towards my body because I would prefer certain parts of it looked different. Nitpicking the way I look feels so trivial when I feel so physically well.

Which brings me to the second concept that Ragen discussed that stood out to me: body neutrality. For people who currently hate their bodies, body positivity may feel like too large a jump.  Learning to feel neutral towards their bodies may be the next logical step. For Ragen, at the beginning of her body love journey, she began by replacing every negative thought about her body with a positive one, even if it was something like “great job keeping me alive today by breathing.” For me, I am starting to get to the point where the “damn I feel great today” voices are louder than the “I don’t like the extra fat on waist and neck” voices.  The latter voices are starting to sound silly; empty, even.

Last summer I wrote a post called “Motivation: I’m Not Sure Why I’m Doing This.” I wrote pretty much the same thing – that I didn’t love the way my body looks, but by practicing certain habits, I could love the way my body feels, and appreciate my body in that sense, if not with my eyes.  The same holds true today: my body feels great. Even better than it did last summer; I feel like I got 10 years back when I got my CPAP machine.  Yesterday, as my body was able to do more movement without getting tired than I had done in years, I kept thinking how well I felt, and how “my body feels like a really nice place to live right now. And I even like the way most of it looks.” The few things I would change seemed so insignificant. As it should be.

So, I find thinking of my body as a cozy sanctuary to be helpful to me. I do things that make me feel happy to live here.

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My Habit Practice Has Become a Toddler

If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been on a healthy habits path for a little while. In fact, one of the main reasons I started blogging was because I was doing something very different with regards to health from what most of my friends were doing, and different from what I had done my entire life. And friends started telling me “this is really interesting. You need to blog about this.”

So after a few months of hesitation, I started doing just that. I wrote about why I adopted a habits practice in the first place, and what I was doing. People asked me “how did you decide what goals to set? How do you decide on numbers? How do you track them?” So I wrote a series of posts about all that.

And now, I’ve been at this habit thing for 481 days. That’s just shy of 16 months. My habit practice has become a toddler.

And toddlers need some different approaches than babies do.  I’m starting to feel like my habit practice does too.

I’ve been tracking all my habit goals on this beautiful spreadsheet that I feel oh-so-proud of, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. There are over 20 habits on my spreadsheet now. I can’t see all the columns in one screen. And I’m wondering if I might enjoy taking some of the columns off the spreadsheet…which would mean NOT tracking all my habits.

With toddlers, you don’t need to pay as much attention to minutia.

When I had a newborn with feeding problems, we had to track every feeding and every elimination for two weeks. Once my baby had regained his birth weight and the lactation consultant had reviewed his feeding and elimination records and all was determined to be functioning well enough, we were given the green light to stop tracking these things.

Ideally, the purpose of developing healthy habits would mean that they are an automatic part of one’s routine, like brushing one’s teeth. I don’t have to track “brushing my teeth” to remember to do it every day. It is an automatic part of my day that I do morning and evening, and has been for as long as I can remember.

So, I took a look at my list of habits on my spreadsheet, and marked off the ones I that feel consistent enough that I probably COULD take them off the list and not suffer any loss of consistency. I can say that 9-10 of the behaviors have become more or less automatic. That means 12 or 13 of them I would like to improve on my consistency.

I feel about 95 percent sure that I want to take some of the more consistent habits off the spreadsheet, and I can’t say why. It’s not like tracking takes me a long time. Unlike tracking, say, calories at mealtimes, tracking my habits takes me just 2 minutes in the evening. It’s simply a checklist – at the end of the day I mark off whether I did the habit or not. I just feel like maybe I am outgrowing the need to check off 20 plus columns. The main thing holding me back from taking them off the spreadsheet is that I like feeling like I am giving myself a sticker on a chart, patting myself on the back for a job well done. I like seeing at the end of the day “wow, today I did 14 things that are good for me! Good self care, Bethany!” Maybe I need more excitement in my life.

Toddlers can have regressions.

There are some habits which go well in spurts, but on weeks when I have a lot on my plate, my consistency falters. So, the same logic that applies to new habits also applies to improving consistency with old ones: I am choosing ONE habit to really focus on improving my consistency. If I try to improve consistency on 12 or 13 habits at once (or even 2 or 3), I likely won’t have success with any of them.

Right now, I’m feeling a strong desire to improve my consistency with going to sleep early. Now that I am on CPAP and my body is actually getting the oxygen I need to sleep through the night, I feel like I can basically fly….IF I get to sleep early enough. So, why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Toddlers thrive on routine.

I am learning the value of having set routines and “habit triggers.” Habit triggers are something I see discussed in several habit based groups. It means that you attach your habit to a set item in your routine. For example, instead of saying “I will go to the gym sometime today,” you would say “when I wake up, I put on my gym clothes and do my workout.” Instead of saying “I brush my teeth when I feel like it,” you say “I brush my teeth when I wake up in the morning, and before I go to sleep at night.”

When I started working on my habits journey, I had no concept of how anything would fit into my routine. I said “I am going to do 150 strength workouts this year.” And it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out the best frequency and workout duration and intensity for me.  Kinda like when you have an infant, sleep is all over the place and you get it in when you can, and everything is trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t with each particular baby. Now that I have found a groove with what works well for me, I also have found that doing my lifting in the morning usually works best with my routine (more incentive to go to bed early!).

Recently I have read that setting a habit goal without specifying a trigger could actually be creating a habit of planning when to do the thing, instead of a habit of ACTUALLY doing the thing (I am paraphrasing, and I believe the person who wrote this was Sean Flanagan). I can see how planning when to do the thing is better than not creating any habits at all…and I can also see how creating the actual habit itself eliminates the need for planning, which is even better. Excessive planning takes up space in your brain, and takes it away from other things in life.

So, as I revisit some of the behaviors for which I would like to improve consistency, I will be looking at concrete places where I can build them into my routine, and giving them more concrete habit triggers.

Looking around, I see that I already have people in my life who are very good at habits, and they use habit triggers without realizing it. My mother always unloads the dishwasher while she makes her coffee in the morning. My father in law always goes grocery shopping on Tuesday and Friday mornings. He goes to the gym 5 days per week, and when he does, it is always at the same point in his morning routine.

Routines are only recently becoming a part of my life, now that I have a child. For years as an adult, I didn’t have set routines. There were so many changes in my life – moves, job changes, marriage. I always thought routine would feel stifling (I thought my father in law’s routine must be extremely boring!), until I realized my baby needed one, and my toddler needed one even more so. Now, I’m seeing that my habits will all be easier with more routine, and I am actually excited about building more routine into my life. I think everything will feel easier.

So, that’s where I am now, in terms of my habits practice: toddlerhood, minus the screaming and poop.

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“If I’m So Health Conscious, Why Do I Feel So Unhealthy?”

I’ve been doing a habit-based approach to health for the past 15 months now. 455 days, to be exact. In that time, I’ve introduced 22 new habits, and most of them are easy and fit well into my lifestyle.

Well, shit. That’s a wake-up call. Because I thought I was health-conscious before.

And yet, after 15 months, I finally have some basic habits in place. I mean, I did some of these things before….but not often enough to call them “habits.”

Turns out that being “health-conscious”  is not the same thing as having  healthy habits. (And of course, they are not mutually exclusive….but they are not the same thing.)

[Insert disclaimer: having healthy habits, whatever that means to you, is a personal choice and is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or anyone else’s business. I’m only talking about myself in this post. Also, health is not entirely within our control nor guaranteed.]

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January Report: Kicking Some Habit Butt

It is the end of the month and I love statistics! Here’s how my habit goals are going, as of the morning of January 31, 2016.

Number of days tracking habit goals: 398!

2016 Progress:

  • Days lifted some weights on purpose: 17 (11%  of goal of 160 by the end of the year )
  • Days taken a walk on purpose: 14 (7% of goal of 200)
  • Days eaten at least one green vegetable: 27 (8% of goal of 355)
  • Days taken my Vitamin D: 19 (5% of goal of 355)
  • Days finished my food for the day by 8pm: 17 (8% of goal of 255 by the end of the year)
  • Days no TV shows started after 9pm: 27 (11% of goal of 250)
  • Days in bed by 10pm: 21 (8% of goal of 250)
  • Days named something I love or appreciate about myself: 30 (8% of goal of 350)
  • Days named something I feel grateful for: 30 (8% of goal of 350)
  • Dates with my husband: 1 (10% of goal of 10)
  • Days said or did something nice for my husband on purpose: 15 (6% of goal of 250)
  • Days deposited at least $10 into my family’s emergency fund: 2 (4% of goal of 50)
  • Days made a pot of rice and beans: 1 (2% of goal of 45)
  • Days did some cleaning on purpose: 10 (20% of goal of 50)
  • Objects gotten rid of: 40 (8% of goal of 500)

Reflections on these numbers

I am doing so many of my habits really well! We are 8% of the way through 2016, so any habit where I did at least 8% is a habit that is on target or better. That means I am kicking ass and taking names at: lifting weights, eating green vegetables, finishing my food early enough in the day that I can sleep well-ish, not turning on the TV after 9pm, getting to bed by 10pm, naming things I love/appreciate about myself, naming things I feel grateful for, dates with my husband, cleaning my house sometimes, and getting rid of things that don’t spark joy.

I’m even going to say I am kicking ass at taking walks, even though I am only 7% of the way to that goal. It’s January in New England! I expected January to be a less productive month in the walking department. Last year we had tons of snow, but this year we haven’t so I have been able to take some walks. I’ve been working it into my schedule by taking a long lunch and walking at a nearby park on days I work if the weather has been nice enough (the walking track there is paved).

I need to find a “habit trigger” for taking my Vitamin D. It is such an easy thing to do and the only thing that is keeping me from doing it more is that I forget. So I need a trigger such as “take Vitamin D at breakfast” or “take Vitamin D with ice cream” or something like that. The issue is….sometimes I eat my breakfast in a rush, and I don’t eat ice cream every day. I’ll need to give some thought to a good “habit trigger” for this.

As for the habits where I am a little behind, I’m not worried about them. I’ve had extra responsibilities and expenses this month due my husband still not being able to drive after his injury. Given that, I think I should be proud of myself for doing well in the essential areas, and not worry about the things I’ve done less of due to prioritizing and triage.

Wondering how I figured out these habit goals? I wrote a series of posts about my process. You can start here.

Wondering how I track my goals? That’s covered in the third post of the series, and also in this post.

Wondering how I did in 2015, and what effects I’ve noticed? Here’s the report.

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