What is “healthy”?
I’ve been striving to achieve it my entire adult life, but its definition has been a continuous moving target based on the latest research and celebrity weight-loss success stories. Everyone knows that the recipe for success includes some combination of good nutrition and exercise, right?
Sounds simple, but what does that mean?
In the past, I have tended to oversimplify health. I focused more on the exercise piece, often intentionally overdoing it. I started training for triathlons several years ago, which led me to learn more about nutrition. However, it was only after a show-stopping injury that I really started to challenge my own ideas of what “healthy” is. This shift has been far more psychologically difficult than I had anticipated. And perhaps I only had the guts to press on because I felt that I had no choice.
In no way do I claim to have reached “healthy nirvana”, but I’m hoping that what I have learned so far can help others who may be struggling with injury, or those who simply want a more holistic view of health.
In this 3 part blog post, I’m going to give insights from my own journey to find “healthy.”
My Relationship with Physical Activity
My story begins with my mentality around exercise, which has its roots in middle school and high school. I was playing a sport for every season, sometimes with overlap. Especially in the summer where I would lift weights and run in the mornings, and have a soccer or basketball game in the evening. I loved it. I loved doing a variety of activities. I loved being active and fit.
And it solidified a deep psychological need in me to exercise every single day.
I did notice, however, that my weight would fluctuate over each year, decreasing in the summer and increasing in the winter- I correlated this with my fluctuation in amount of my activity.
In college I gained the famous “freshman fifteen.” I ate as much sugar as I wanted and whatever meals the dining hall offered. All of the sudden I had to exercise on my own time and I struggled to fit it all in. I am a goal-oriented person, and I had my eyes set on a 4.0 GPA in engineering. That left me with only enough time for a 20 min run every day- which I successfully did. Rain or shine, -10 or 90 degrees F. If it was colder than -10 degrees or if it was too dark out, I would run stairs. Despite the hard work, I saw no real changes in my weight during the school year.
Yet again, during the summers I found myself losing weight and I correlated it to my activity level. I was running, lifting, playing soccer, and sometimes biking. It seemed so effortless in the summer.
During college I thought that triathlons might be something I could excel at. So I joined the triathlon club in my senior year. Upon graduating I bought a bike, and into the triathlon training lifestyle I threw myself. FINALLY I had all the time in the world to train and be active.
For 3 years, training for triathlons was how I spent my free time. I went to swim practices and on group bike rides. I organized group open water swims before work. I had triathlons and/or running races every other weekend. But I didn’t stop there, I wanted to try any new thing that was physically active. I got into social dancing (salsa and swing) and would go a couple of nights a week. I joined an ultimate frisbee league. I got into rock climbing and would climb several days per week. I was still playing soccer and lifting weights. As you can imagine, my social life revolved around these things. Most days I was doing multiple activities. I was in the best shape of my life, had tons of friends that had similar passions, and I was happy.
Figuring out Diet
Getting into triathlons definitely caused me to clean up my diet. I found a recommended diet through Its Burns Joe Fitness which seemed a pretty good place to start. I started cooking more. I stopped eating so much cheese, bread, and other processed foods. I ate pineapple. I discovered quinoa. I drank chocolate milk- A LOT. This all definitely had an effect on my weight loss, and it seemed to be a good balance that allowed me to dine out with friends and not be strict.
At that time I also started to learn more about the Paleo lifestyle through my good friend and now husband, Mr. Resilient, who was avidly following the diet. While it seemed pretty tasty to me and ancestral health made good sense, it also looked like far too much work and socially difficult. At Mr. Resilient’s recommendation, I bought the Paleo Diet for Athletes book, which ended up being a great middle ground because, “I could never completely give up bread or cheese!” So I started to incorporate a few of the things I read, mostly eating more vegetables and meat (chocolate milk was still recommended, phew!), and trying to cut down processed foods where I could.
Learning about Paleo at this point piqued my interest and made a ton of sense. But I wouldn’t fully explore the philosophy and how it applied to all aspects of my “health” until later.
At that time I would have said that I was high on life. I was spending my time doing exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want a single thing to change. I had finally “figured out” how to NOT fluctuate in weight so much over a calendar year. I was finally confident in my swimsuit at the beach.
This all solidified the idea in my head that exercise (a lot of it) was the “answer.”
I found the secret to success. With my “cleaned up” diet and excessive exercise, I felt like I was the epitome of “health.”
But at the beginning of my third season, now racing as a sponsored elite triathlete, I developed a nagging pain.
It was not like anything that I had felt before, and nothing I tried would help it go away.
But still, I was in the best shape of my life. And it wasn’t debilitating pain. I had races booked and goals to meet. I was fairly certain it would simply go away on its own….
To Be Continued in Part 2. 🙂