When my swimming career ended after 15 years of practicing winter, spring, summer and fall for hours at a time, it was hard for me to figure out a healthy lifestyle once the swim meets and practice stopped. Spending no less than 2 hours in the pool a day, often times more, afforded me the luxury of eating foods that tasted good, but weren’t necessarily the healthiest of options for my body. I gained weight after college, lost a lot of weight when I went on a restricted diet and massive workouts and have now found a happy medium somewhere in the middle. At least for now.
When I studied yoga for 6 weeks and received my certification, I was eating clean, vegetarian foods and doing yoga up to 4 hours a day. I was the thinnest I had been since high school. When I was training for the Ironman triathlon, I ate like I did in college, which was whatever I could get my hands on, all the while trying to consume the appropriate number of calories to carry me through the next 7 hour bike ride. I was arguably in the best shape of my life and the strongest, muscularly, that I had ever been. Now, I’m trying to find a place where I can incorporate my yoga training into my cardiovascular focused workouts, eat relatively healthfully and most importantly, feel good.
In August 2009, the cover of Time Magazine read “The Myth About Exercise.” Inside, the piece explained how it’s not the working out for hours at the gym that will keep you lean and mean, but the food that you put into your body which makes the difference. See, when one works out for hours at a time, they use up their willpower for the rest of the day, especially when it comes to food. How many of you have said, “I just did a solid 45, 60, 90 minutes of cardio, which means I can treat myself today to something sweet/fried/unhealthy”? I do.
In 2000, 57% of Americans said that they workout and today, 45 million Americans belong to a health club, yet the obesity rates are rising at a rate we can’t seem to wrap a solution around. While exercise is beneficial in helping to prevent heart disease and increasing cardiovascular health, it also increases our metabolism (which helps to burn calories and lose fat), which in turn stimulates hunger.
What does all of this mean? Well, I’ve realized that when I’m not training for a race, an hour of cardio (running, swimming, a spin class, the elliptical) is my limit in that form of exercise. Anything over that, I want to “treat” myself later in the day. And let me be clear, that a “treat” in this case is not a cookie, it’s a sleeve of Oreos. Yoga, on the other hand, feels fabulous when I flow through a 90-minute practice.
Finding that happy place, somewhere in the middle where I don’t feel guilty indulging in dessert (in this instance, it does refer to 1-2 cookies or a scoop of ice cream), but am exercising because it feels good for my body to move, was key. And taking everything in moderation, be it exercise, sleep, diets or sweets, that is my tip to a healthier, happier you! It took a few months for me to find this pinnacle point, and it might change in a few months time. But it’s a discovery that takes time, with many mistakes. Be gentle with yourself and figure out what works best for you. Because while we’re all human, we are all different.