Making It Count: 5 Tips for Making The Most of Your Workouts and Your Life
‘Your diet is a bank account.
Good food choices are good investments.’
Every day we have choices. We have literally hundreds of choices. Which socks will we wear? What time will we get up? Which granola bar will the kids eat for breakfast? The list goes on…literally never ending. We make choices all day about so many decisions our minds process at both a conscious and subconscious level. We make choices without even knowing it! But a lot of our choices are front and center. We actually have to think. At least, we SHOULD think. But how many times have we gotten stuck in mindless choices, going through the motions and letting habits dictate the most important decisions of our lives?
I’m not talking about which career path to choose or whether or not to marry the hottie next door. I’m talking about how we treat our bodies. Every day, we choose what we feed our bodies, how we move our bodies and when (if at all) we give our bodies rest. I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve looked back at a day and wondered: why the hell did I eat that? Do that? Not do that?
It’s more times than I can count, which I know many of you can relate to. It’s the familiar feeling that comes when, an hour after eating a chili-cheese dog like a skinny teenager in a food eating contest, you feel the sick regret of bloating, heartburn and knowing you blew your diet….again.
We’ve all been there.
We’ve also been at the other end of the spectrum, choking down another lifeless chicken breast or kale smoothie, wondering when the scale will read a low enough number to eat a chili-cheese dog again.
It’s a cycle that we go through often without even thinking. We open the fridge or pantry door, reach for the same box of food we’ve always eaten and start chowing down on processed junk before we really think about what we’re doing. That’s a recipe for disaster, landing us in Regretsville, Population 1.
Now that I eat healthier and make better decisions about my food choices and exercise, I realize that making it count is key to long-term success. When I think about making it count, a few things come to mind.
I try to make my calories count, because I can only eat so many each day. Even though weight loss isn’t always as simple as calories in, calories out (hormones, sleep and other stuff plays a part), I know that if I go over my calorie needs, I’ll start gaining weight. I also make exercise count. I don’t have endless hours to stroll through neighborhoods to burn calories. I make my workouts count so I can do life. With kids, a husband, two cute-but-spazzy dogs and work, life is busy!
Even beyond food and exercise, I try to make it all count. I’m not talking about micro-managing calories or logging workouts like a drill sergeant on the first day of boot camp, but I do pay attention, focus and make the most of the time and energy I have.
With that…..here are my Top 5 Tips for MAKING IT COUNT….DIET, EXERCISE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.
1. You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.
I know we all want to think we can have it all. I used to think about being able to have my cake and eat it too, so to speak. (Wait. Did someone say CAKE??)
I thought I could eat dessert after an entire pizza and I could maybe exercise those calories off. Yeah. Not so much. I also thought I could go for years eating all ‘clean’ foods and never touching sugary goodness or salty satisfaction again. Right. Fail.
What I’ve learned is that we can have it all, but we can’t have it all at once. I make choices, which means I do get to have dessert or a bag of chips, but I don’t have them all at once or every day. I have to choose, and I have to make it count. Making it count is a combination of two things: making a conscious choice about what I eat and realizing that the treats can’t outweigh the good stuff.
I don’t down bags of Cheetos in one sitting anymore. That’s mindless eating. Now, if I decide to have dessert with my family, I really decide. I make it count by making a thoughtful choice, acknowledging that I’ve made the choice to enjoy the treat. I also make it count by realizing that a slice of cake doesn’t go with a milkshake. I have to choose one. For me, that decision is really easy: cake!
For someone else, the wine goblet is the siren’s song. But heifers, we can’t have both. Once I realized and accepted this idea, making better choices got easier. I knew I could treat myself and still keep on point with a healthy lifestyle. This attitude changed the way I viewed food, taking out the power of it being my best friend and also the distorted thinking that made it my enemy. I no longer take food for granted. I appreciate all of it: the fresh, healthy foods that keep me fit AND the treats (banana Runts are a legit food group). This appreciation, and the realization that making choices won’t kill me or make me miserable, is how I make my calories count to fuel my body and have fun doing it.
2. Exercise needs to be efficient and enjoyable.
Heifers, I don’t phone-it-in when I workout (ok maybe only 84% of the time). I don’t show up to the gym, meander through a cardio session and lift a few hand-weights, reading magazines and chatting on my phone while I do it. Nope. My exercise has to COUNT. I don’t have all day to lie on my living room floor doing leg lifts with leg warmers and a sweat band that never dampens.
I have work to do, chores to do, a husband to keep up with and four kid who shockingly need a ride to school. Every day!
So when I exercise, I make it count. First, I focus. When I workout, I workout. I don’t read magazines or stand around chatting with friends. When I run, I run. If you want to come along, prepare to run, too. When I’m at the gym, I work with a trainer and get it done. I think about the workouts, choosing the best routine for the week depending on my goals, any injuries I might have and what my days look like. Second, I don’t do exercise that makes me miserable. I've done that before, gutting out dance cardio workouts that would make Richard Simmons cringe. Now, I stick to what I like, what I know works for me, and what I can sustain.
I know that injury won’t help my long-term goal, which is overall health. So, I don’t push too hard. This combo, working hard but working smart, is what has enabled me to workout regularly for five years. It’s what took me from couch-potato to a full-fledged running heifer. I make it count by focusing, planning and knowing myself. I know my likes and dislikes, and I know my limits. I push hard, but I don’t push past what's healthy for me. This is how I fit exercise into my daily life and Make It Count.
3. Get off to the right start.
What we do when we awake up sets the tone for the day. I make the most of the day by starting early and knocking stuff out while I have the energy, focus and quiet time to do it.
If I waited until after dinner to workout, I can tell y’all right now: it wouldn’t’ happen. I know that my most productive time is early morning, so I get up before anyone else. These are my hours. I set my intention for a healthy day by waking up and working out. This has a powerful effect. I’ve noticed I eat better when I’ve started my day with a run or workout. I have more energy to tackle the rest of my life when I’ve had an hour to myself, getting my blood pumping and moving my body.
If I have an hour or two before my kids wake up, I can think. I know many of you are parents and understand the craziness of the hour before the kids wake up. It.Is.Chaos. I can handle all of that so much better when I’ve had a few hours to treat my body right, eat a healthy breakfast and maybe sneak in a little work.
When I begin the family’s morning routine, my mind and body are clear. I’m not worried about the emails I needed to send, and I am not dreading a workout that I have to somehow fit into a hectic schedule. Not only that, but when I get up early and workout in quiet, I’m able to focus on it much better than if I leave it until early afternoon, when all of the issues of the day are in the front of my mind. Early morning offers me a blank slate; it’s a new day. I am calmer, more efficient and more productive when I get off to the right start.
4. Make the most of down time.
I can’t go, go, go all the time. Nobody can. (ok maybe GOGO girls, haha see how I did that?) I’ve learned that the key to making the most of my go-time is to make the most of my down-time. I can’t focus and put in the energy it takes to workout if I’m tired. I don’t make great food choices when my body is depleted. And if I want to hit the ground running at 5AM for a run, I know I can’t do that without sleep. I get to bed early so I can get through my day with enough energy and focus to enjoy life. In addition to sleep, I also rest. It sounds like the same thing, but it’s a little different. Throughout my day, my body and mind need down time. I can’t be ‘on’ all the time. I need breaks from moving and thinking. So, when I am sitting in line at my kids’ schools, I take breaks. It’s tempting to use this time to update social media, read email or work, but I know that sometimes the best use of my time is to give my brain a rest. I close my eyes and get all zen up in my Swagger Wagon, channeling my inner Deepak Chopra. Ok not really.. But I do take a breather and just…breathe. I make the most of these breaks because I know they allow me to make the most of everything else. Worn out, cranky and frazzled isn’t a good look for me. I don’t wear it well. So I get to bed on time, give myself breaks throughout the day and avoid getting all dazed and confused. I leave that to my teenagers and dogs.
5. Connection is the key.
Five years ago, I took my health issues seriously. For years, I ignored the damage I was doing to my body through food addiction and dysfunctional habits. My husband was worried about my health not because he wanted me to look like a swimsuit model (that ship sailed when I was still in single digits, heifers), but because he wanted me to be around for the life we committed to living together.
As I took stock of my life and my priorities, I realized that my health was limiting not just me but also the people I love: my husband, my kids and even my friends. I wanted to be healthier for myself but also because I wanted to spend more time with the people I love rather than waking up one day with a host of diseases because of my food issues. Five years later, I still focus on what matters most: my connection with the people I love. I try not to let that get lost in between workouts, meal plans and therapy sessions (cause I go to therapy, people... who doesn't?)
I make the most of my life by creating a strong body and mind NOT to sit on a beach in a bikini but to be there for my kids, to see a future with my husband and to connect with my community. Whether it’s online or in person, I love people. I take time for tacos with friends. I hustle my kids at school drop off (wolfing down protein bars) and then pick them up again. I’m there among the rows of other parents during band recitals, robotics club and piano lessons. I am there, and I am present, in large part because I made the most of the other moments in my day.
With these five tips in mind, I make my days count. I don’t live life to the fullest every second of every day; I’m not a machine. But by focusing, keeping my priorities front and center, having boundaries and giving my body proper fuel and rest, I really do enjoy life more, get more out of it and look forward to the things that made me want to get healthy and fit in the first place.