The prevailing question as I go on this journey has been: What do you want to accomplish? And though it seems self-explanatory ‘ wanting to change habits, to be a happier, healthier me ‘ I feel the need to elaborate. If you’ve been reading along you know that I have a laundry list of goals ‘ particularly, kicking my sugar habit, getting out of fitness ruts, becoming a calmer person, and looking better. In other words, my plan on day 67 of this challenge is to not clobber a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while simultaneously inhaling a big bag of peanut M&Ms. Tempting, but self-defeating.
Those days are gone. I miss my friend sugar. Dietitian Stefanie Senior says it isn’t surprising. ‘Sugar has addictive properties,’ she tells me. ‘Too much sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes, which are often followed by crashes. With those crashes come fatigue, and normally hunger cravings.’ And what do we crave? Sugar. It is a vicious cycle. ‘The more sugar you have, the more you want,” she says
Day by day, I’m learning not to want to sugar.
So, what do I want to achieve in this journey? Can I let you in on a secret?
I want to live longer.
I’m going to be 42 in a few months. Recently, my mother said: ‘You’re half way through your life.’ This was a brilliant start to the day, after yet another night where my 2-year-old son woke up at 2 a.m., and my 4-year-old daughter climbed into bed at 4 a.m., kicking me right through ’til dawn. By morning, I looked 51, not 41. And I started thinking about my impending death that, according to my mother, was 42 years from now.
Let’s be frank: most of us know that we can be healthier. How many of us are coasting, saying we’ll prioritize our health next week, next month or next year? Whether you need to quit smoking or drop a few pounds, what is holding you back? Is it something as simple ‘ yet challenging ‘ as changing your habits?
After I got over the shock that my best years were behind me, I became a little obsessed with the Blue Zones – five distinctly different spots on the planet where, according to Dan Buettner, the National Geographic fellow who spent years studying them, ‘People live like fairy tales holding the secret of eternal youth.’
What do these places ‘ from Okinawa, Japan to Sardinia, Italy ‘ have in common? They make physical activity part of their daily routine, they build relationships with friends and family, they eat a diet light on meat and heavy on plants and they find purpose in life. Many of them drink red wine in moderation (yippee!), have a positive attitude towards life, and are spiritual or religious.
My 66-day habit changes will overlap, and one that I’ve been ironically silent about is my stillness challenge. As you can probably gather, I’m not the most zen. I teach spinning and am that fitness instructor you are afraid of, the one who uses her voice to motivate. I’m a bit of a whirling dervish and the last few years ‘ two young kids, two part-time careers ‘ have added to my zing.
But I am trying to change. Meditation is the buzzword at the moment, with research showing that spirituality and meditation are more effective than anti-depressants. I have meditated, and I know it makes me calmer, so I’m giving it another go. But I’m also trying to embrace stillness in other areas ‘a bubble bath, getting up just before the kids and doing 5 minutes of yoga, deep breathing at stoplights…little stillness habits. They are working.
And one that is really working, which I’d love you to try, is how I end each day: I write in a gratitude journal. I started this last year, but wasn’t diligent ‘ I was grateful for things in August, and then for some reason I wasn’t grateful again until October. You get it. Life is busy. But, research shows that journal writing can make you healthier. Every night ‘ it doesn’t matter how bad your day has been ‘ write down five things for which you are truly grateful: your health, the roof over your head, seeing the snow fall gently, having sushi, a phone call with a friend. Anything.
Every day has moments of gratitude. We have to look for them.
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Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.