— Life —

Becoming who I’m meant to be

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I used to find health and fitness so confusing.

There’s so much advice – which can be complex and frequently changes or contradicts itself – and there’s always some new fad arriving on the scene.

I also believe diets set us up to fail. They come with a set of unrealistic rules you must follow in order to succeed, and rarely take an individual’s lifestyle or unique needs into consideration. Subsequently you start day one, brimming with motivation and by day three, you’re beginning to falter and feeling like a failure, again. They foster an “all or nothing” mentality, which damages both physical and mental health.

A much better approach is to focus on changing one habit at a time, realistically and consistently. I’ve mentioned this before, and I can’t stress how much this approach has changed my life.

When you change one thing at a time, you build upon each habit, making incremental improvements, and thus expand your confidence in your ability to change as you go.

Over time, I’ve added what I refer to as my “four building blocks to health” to my lifestyle. What I’ve realized is although I don’t do all of them consistently all of the time, I’ll always get one right. I congratulate myself for that success rather than focusing on where I’ve “failed.”

This feels like a revelation!

And whilst this journey was never about weight loss, but rather about how I feel and my health, I am “almost” able to wear everything in my closet again, so something’s obviously working there, too.

It’s the internal changes I value the most though…my deep sense of confidence and how connected I feel to my body and intuition.

I’m not suggesting I’ve got everything figured out, but I no longer beat myself up for being human.

These past six months have changed me: I’m happily a teetotaler, and I spent four days hiking, alone. I’m that person who takes my own food on long-haul flights, and it delights me, because I’m doing it from a place of love as opposed to a place of self-loathing. I repeat to myself, “I am fit, healthy and strong,” and now it’s also true.

I’m becoming who I’m meant to be and whilst it’s not a perfect journey, it’s no longer a relentless struggle, either.

Here are my “Four Building Blocks to Health” 

Sleep: This is the foundation upon which everything else is built on.

Previously I struggled to get enough sleep and whilst there’s a ton of scientific studies on the benefits of doing so – the stress hormone cortisone increases when you’re sleep deprived, which can affect weight – what changed everything for me was creating a sleep schedule.

I have a written reminder of what time I need to finish my last meal of the day so my food has adequate time to begin digestion (allow three hours), when to turn electronic devices off – including my phone – so my brain starts to wind down (allow an hour), and during that hour before lights out I have a cool bath, do some journaling or read.

Bedtime now feels luxurious and sleep transforms me. The trick is to create a routine that works for you. Written reminders of what to do, by when, can have a big impact when you’re trying to develop a new habit.

Hydration: I don’t enjoy drinking water. Yet when I’m getting good, consistent sleep and I’m well hydrated, the difference in my skin is amazing! Maybe not as effective as Botox, but certainly much safer.

Whilst staying hydrated is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective ways to feel good – and it keeps you satiated – I have to force myself to do it. I try to drink two liters a day by consuming a 500ml glass of water at set times, but not with meals. I drink an hour before and two hours after I’ve eaten. The ‘have-a-glass-of-water-on-your-desk-and-sip-it-throughout-the-day’ method doesn’t work for me; I find it more effective to glug a lot in one go. If you don’t drink much water, you might find 500mls is too much for starters. I’m not advising you what to do. I’m simply sharing what works for me.

Diet: If you’ve read this series from the start, you know diets make me crazy. So, I stopped dieting, but over time I developed some new, horrendous habits.

I claimed to love food, and yet, when I took a close look at my eating patterns, I discovered I was guilty of shoving it into my mouth, barely stopping for air.

Here’s some other charming habits I identified:

  • Picking at food mindlessly from dawn to dusk, often whilst standing in front of the fridge
  • Not eating meals or eating meals standing up, on the move, or at my desk
  • Throwing foods I found impossible to resist in the bin then drenching with Ajax to make them inedible

I decided rather than trying to “fix” everything at once, I’d focus on changing one habit.

I committed to eating three meals a day – no snacks – and I eat them sitting down, away from my desk or any distractions. I take 10 slow, deep breaths first and take my time eating. I allow myself to eat whatever I want, but I have to sit and savor it.

Focusing on this one change is helping resolve all of the issues above, yet the truth is that some days the process feels excruciating, and I do slip up. But these days I’m more about slow, sustainable change than trying to achieve an immediate, dramatic result.

Exercise: Hands up if you’ve ever resolved to attend boot camp six days a week? Yes, me too.

Now I have a realistic schedule, which I’m currently working on following consistently. I only do exercise I love, and I avoid workout trends. It’s not sexy, but I do what feels intuitively right for me:

  • Aim to walk 10,000 steps a day
  • Do weights three times per week
  • Do yoga twice a month

I also have a routine I created for myself when I can’t get to the gym or I’m traveling, I recently came back from a month in Australia in better shape than when I left, despite numerous treats. There’s room for improvement, but Ernestine Shepherd didn’t even start going to the gym until she was 71, so I figure I’m well ahead of the curve (pun intended).

The Pro-Body Project is published fortnightly. You can read the first entry here.

Image credit: Bhav Sonigra Photography.  


8 Comments

  • Reply Kelly March 14, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Yes to all of this! Consistent small changes over time add up; it’s the compound effect…a fabulous book, by the way. I find it’s most effective to keep it simple, as outlined above. Great post!

    • Reply Esther Zimmer March 17, 2017 at 3:16 am

      Kelly, thank you for taking the time to comment – this post is lengthier than most! If only I’d heeded the “Consistent, small changes over time add up” advice years ago (in ALL areas of my life). But never mind, I’m catching up. And thanks for the book recommendation, I’ve ordered it! Esther xx

  • Reply Mary March 14, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Love this post! Though I already try to practice those your four building blocks to health, I also love reminders, either from myself via a sticky note or from others. Thanks for sharing! I’m off to fill up my glass with water 😉

    Mary

    http://marymurnane.com

    • Reply Esther Zimmer March 17, 2017 at 3:21 am

      Mary, thank you so much for commenting! Yes, I need reminding too and find those sticky notes come in very handy. I even wrote one and stuck it inside the fridge once which said, “Whatever it is you’re looking for, you won’t find it in here”. You look beautiful in that ruffled tee, by the way. Esther xx

  • Reply Susan Tolles March 15, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks for the continuing dose of reality! There is such freedom in following your simple steps. Just commit to a healthy lifestyle, and quit dieting! Do what works for you, and quit comparing yourself to others. Maybe it’s just the acceptance of ourselves that comes with age, but it is a much better way to enjoy life!

    • Reply Esther Zimmer March 17, 2017 at 3:23 am

      And thank you for your support, Susan! Yes, I do wonder if it is the acceptance of ourselves that comes with age – but what a shame it takes so long to get to this point. And I know of several people who – even in their 70s – still diet and really struggle with their body image. It makes me want to cry. Esther xx

  • Reply Donna O'Klock March 16, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Good for you, Esther! Simple, healthy habits will always win in the end. And a luxurious treat once in a while is very good for one’s spirit!
    I too am a big fan of Ernestine – I’ve got her photo in my bathroom where she inspires me every single morning!
    XO Donna

    • Reply Esther Zimmer March 17, 2017 at 3:34 am

      Donna, I love that you’re an Ernestine fan too! I don’t think I’ll ever want to emulate her 3am starts, but her story is so inspiring and a constant reminder that it’s never to late to pursue a dream. Have you heard of Greta Pontarelli? She took up pole dancing as a sport at 59. Elle Magazine (US) did a wonderful video about her story as part of their Movement Series. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Esther xx

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