How I finally found the healthiest fitness and eating routine that was sustainable
Embarking on a fitness journey looks different for everyone. For me, the voyage has been filled with twists and turns, each one revealing different aspects of my relationship with food, exercise, and overall well-being.
I’ve always had what I’d consider an average body – I’ve never been significantly overweight or extremely thin. I’ve always had a tummy roll that has varied in levels of “poochiness” and a little extra padding under my skin that I like to call my “fur coat.”
I’ve always loved athletics. In high school, I was on the swim team and played water polo and volleyball. I had built-in fitness regimens by being on various teams. I didn’t have to think much about keeping my body “in shape.”
In my adult years, even during times of my life when I appeared thin, I was far from healthy. My weight fluctuated as I tried various diets and workout routines. And because of my ADD, I’d get bored with predictable workout routines and diet lifestyles quickly.
It took me decades to figure out what healthiest eating and fitness habits and routines were truly sustainable for me.
At almost 40, I am the oldest I’ve ever been and in the best shape of my life, with no signs of ever getting sick of what’s working for me. Here’s how I got there.
Unsustainable fitness effort #1: Gymrat + Partygirl
In college, I traded volleyball spikes for textbook stacks and drinking, inadvertently inviting the “freshman 15” to stick around well into my sophomore year.
Feeling “ick,” I started going to the gym, desperately attempting to reclaim the athlete within. But let’s be honest—the allure of late-night pizza and the social razzle-dazzle of partying made my fitness goals as shaky as my resolve at 2 AM in the library.
This routine was unsustainable, and although I looked thin, I was far from being the healthiest. I felt crappy all the time.
This cycle had a natural end when I graduated, joined the workforce, and transitioned into an independent adult. But soon enough, I’d find a new unsustainable fitness pursuit.
Unsustainable fitness effort #2: Food restrictions + triathlon training
I reconnected to my body and fitness again at 23 when I discovered triathlon training, which appealed to my competitive spirit. Combined with health issues, I made radical shifts to my diet and lifestyle. I removed sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and meat. My excess weight dropped right off. I was shocked and excited by the results of how I felt and looked!
But after the triathlon was finished and my health improved, I returned to most of my original lifestyle choices.
Unsustainable fitness effort #3: Keto and racing
In my early thirties, I had a baby, a rambunctiously loving boy, Sage. I decided to race another triathlon to feel more like myself after pregnancy because it had worked for me before. This time, I followed a ketogenic diet to try for another healthiest me.
I looked and felt great. But this lifestyle still needed to be more sustainable. I was constantly restricting what I ate and exercising to the maximum, specifically towards my temporary goal of completing the race. What would happen after the race was over? You guessed it, what happened before– my fitness fell.
But don’t worry, I’d get on yet another fitness rollercoaster train!
Once the effects of the triathlon wore off and the keto diet got too fatiguing, I picked up kettlebells and became enthralled with the results of gaining muscle.
Unsustainable fitness effort #4: “Covid 19” + hiking/running queen
Being sedentary and stuck at home during the pandemic, the “Covid 19” (meaning 19 pounds, though I also had Covid eventually) caught up to me. I was the heaviest and most unfit I’d ever been.
At 35 years old, I took up endurance hiking. What an amazing gift for my mental health to be outdoors and feel my body’s capabilities again. But the 5-hour weekly hikes I did weren’t sustainable for the long term (I have four kids!).
So, I shifted to running and built up to 5k every day. It saved time because I could run out my door and return in 30 minutes. Efficiency win! But after a couple of months, I suffered a back injury and could no longer run.
Enter: “The Older Ladies” gym
As shelter-in-place orders started coming to a close, my desire for community was at an all-time high.
I researched gyms nearby to enroll in classes so I could sweat while also being around people.
In March of 2022, I joined the gym I’m still a member of. It is an all-female small gym where the clientele’s average age is probably 60. At almost 40, I am one of the youngest members, and there are a handful of the healthiest ladies in their 80s, too; get it, sister!
When I first arrived at the gym, I worked out at a slower pace than ever. I had no looming race deadline, so I didn’t work out with urgency. I took time to get to know the women who became my supporters. I looked forward to seeing them as much as I looked forward to how I felt after exercising—a win-win for my mental and physical health.
I slowly built up to what is now an hour of gym time most days of the week, doing a combination of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) with four cardio and four strength stations that change every day, appealing to my need to change up workouts to avoid boredom.
I didn’t see physical results on the scale or in my clothes immediately, but I started feeling better right away. That’s how I knew I was on the right track. Like most other long-term initiatives, like writing a book, success did not happen overnight.
My sustainable fitness and eating plan
I acknowledged my past with starting and stopping fitness and nutrition routines based on temporary goals, and what I learned about what food and exercise made me feel healthiest. With intention and a long-term mindset, I decided to match my food and exercise to how I love to live and feel, versus forcing temporary guidelines and regimens onto myself that didn’t feel natural or long-lasting.
I chose to eat mindfully and with presence, following an overall “80/20” rule, where 80% of the time, I ate the foods most healthy for my body, and 20% of the time, I ate “treat” foods. I avoid certain foods like gluten, meat, and dairy, not because a guru said to, but because I feel better when I don’t eat them. I also follow an intermittent fasting schedule as my body feels best after a digestion break.
My plan for the rest of my life is this: To eat what my body wants, with an overall 80/20 rule, and to enjoy the physical movement I’m doing with people I enjoy doing it with.
My one rigid rule is that I never skip going to my gym, no matter how I feel (unless sick, of course). When my body feels energized and desires to go stronger, faster, and harder, that is what I do. When I feel more exhausted, and my body wants to slow down, I listen. No guilt and no shame. Just joy.
This is part of my “brilliant basics” of self-care, and I do not negotiate this time, even for my kids.
I honor what my body wants, making this my healthiest, sustainable practice.
What movement do you enjoy? What eating routines and rituals make you feel great? Create your health practices from this natural place for your sustainable health plan.
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