Achieving Health and Wellness Resolutions, Step 2: Choose Better Behaviors

Once you’ve been choosing better food (Step #1) on a regular basis, choosing better behaviors comes more naturally.  You’ll find you want to choose actions that support health and wellness because the food you’re eating is already doing so.  You’re seeing the difference in how your body feels, performs, and looks.  You’re feeling the difference in your energy, mood, and outlook.  So why stop there?

Choosing better behaviors, like choosing better food, doesn’t have to be radical or painful.  Once again, consistent, small actions and steps lead to permanent change.  You weren’t born with the habit of brushing your teeth twice a day were you?  But now if you didn’t brush your teeth in the morning, you just wouldn’t feel right…right?

After choosing better food and behaviors become part of your lifestyle, you’ll feel out of sync when you don’t.  Your body and mind will crave nutritious food and supportive behaviors because they’ve enjoyed the benefits–they feel the difference–and prefer health and wellness.  You won’t just achieve your health and wellness resolutions, you’ll go beyond by living them.

Move your body. Every day.

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

While lengthy and/or intense exercise is necessary to strengthen your heart and build up your cardio endurance, you don’t have to go to the gym to feel the benefits of moving your body.

Chase your kids or pets around the yard, dance through the house to your favorite music while you clean, do a few easy yoga moves you remember from class, go outside and stretch your arms up to the sky a few times.  Do something that feels good.

When you are officially working out and not particularly enjoying it, concentrate on the benefits that moving your body gives you…circulation of oxygen and blood, firming of muscles, flow of happy endorphins, reduction in stress, and better sleep at night.

A body that moves every day is more flexible, powerful, and energized.  You’ll be surprised how those qualities will carry over to your mind.  Our bodies and minds are connected, so treating your physical self well will also benefit your thinking self.

Feed your body every 3 hours.

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

Yes, you heard me right.  Every 3 hours.  Eating small meals more often revs up your metabolism, maintains your blood sugar level, and tames hunger so that you’re more likely to make better food and behavior choices later.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to maintain balance and moderation when you’re thinking clearly and not starving.

Making this change in my eating behavior made a huge difference in my health and wellness.  At first I was dubious when my personal trainer boyfriend (now my husband) suggested it to me.  I was worried I’d gain weight eating so often.  Not only did I not gain weight, I actually lost weight…without ever being hungry and eating more food in a day than I ever had on a “diet.”  Any time I tested his theory by going back to my old dieting ways, I was miserable because I was depriving myself and my weight would creep up.  It only took a few tests to convince myself his way was better!

Most of these small meals are going to be snacks.  Just a little something to keep you going, like a piece of fruit, handful of almonds, or a protein shake.  I always have a bar in my purse or bag.  My first choice is one with simple ingredients, like LARABAR.  They’re made of raw fruit, nuts, and spices that combine into delightful flavors like Ginger Snap, Carrot Cake, and Coconut Cream Pie.  No soy, no weirdness (also no gluten or dairy).  When I start to feel hungry and I’m on the go, I take a bite of my bar and keep going.  Eating smart snacks keeps you fueled up and on the right track.

Feed your soul.

Photo by K.C. © 2012 Kristin Conroy

Primary nourishment is just as important as food nourishment.  Primary nourishment fulfills your mind and soul.  (Click here for a post I wrote on this subject.)  Taking a relaxing bath, talking to a good friend, receiving a warm hug, communing with nature, fulfilling your creative side…these are all ways to feed yourself, to completely nourish yourself.  You are not just your body.  When you fulfill your need for primary nourishment, you’re less likely to continue or adopt “bad” habits or behaviors.

If you feel guilty about taking time to relax, recharge, or re-inspire because of your responsibilities, think of it this way:  You can’t give 100% to others if you’re not at 100%.  If you take care of your needs, you’ll be a better friend, spouse, parent, employee…you’ll basically be a better person all around!

Seek balance and moderation in everything you do.

Photo by Anatoli Styf

This was one of the hardest concepts for me.  I had a tendency to be O.C.D.–Obsessive, Competitive, and Down-on-myself.  I still have those tendencies, as they’re part of my personality, but it’s rarely a problem when I focus on maintaining balance and moderation.

Our bodies and minds are like nature; too much of anything (and not enough of something) throws off the delicate system of balance, harmony, and synergy.  Too much food, too much activity, and too much stress lead to imbalance and has consequences we can feel.  Too little food, too little activity, and too little stress (in this case, stimulation) also leads to imbalance and has consequences we can feel.  So you see, it’s not just about what you eat (choosing better food) and do (choosing better behaviors).  It’s how much that matters too.

3 Simple Steps to Achieving Health and Wellness Resolutions

It’s the first week of January.  A brand new year.  You’ve got your resolutions in hand, or on your mind, and you promise yourself this is the year you’re actually going to achieve all of them!  Are you?  I’m not trying to be rude, just practical.  It’s common for people to be excited about their resolutions on January 1st but want to run for the hills when they hear any word beginning with “res” by January 31st.

Discarding, forgetting, or ignoring resolutions can happen to anyone.  Are you a procrastinator and don’t know how to begin taking steps toward your goals?  Are you an overachiever and have so many, or such difficult, resolutions that the pressure of checking them all off your list makes you feel slightly queasy?  Are you somewhere in between?  Whatever your personality style, perhaps I can help with your nutrition and health goals.

I’ve trekked a gazillion miles on the roads called Nourishing Nutrition and Loving Food & Body, so I have some experience in these areas and can share what’s worked for me.  Yes, it is only my point of view and not scientifically proven.  But if someone like myself, who suffered severe food and body issues for over 10 years, could come to a place of health and happiness, I think you can too.

My philosophy to achieving optimal health and well-being can be stripped down to 3 simple steps:

  1. Choose better food.
  2. Choose better actions and behaviors.
  3. Choose better thoughts.

Why these three, and in this order?

Step #1: Choose better food.

I found that when I began eating better quality food, I felt and saw a difference in my body and mood.  Seeing those changes encouraged me to make better choices (actions/behaviors).  Eating nourishing food also elevated and stabilized my mood and energy level, so I was able to think clearly to make better choices more easily.  Like they say, “You are what you eat.”  Positive health changes begin with food.

Step #2: Choose better actions and behaviors. 

When you’re eating well, you naturally want to continue on that healthy path by making positive choices of action and behavior.  Like going to the gym regularly, reading instead of always watching TV, and cutting down the portion sizes of your meals.  Small actions lead to big results.

Step #3: Choose better thoughts.

When I chose better actions and they became new behavioral habits, I noticed my thoughts and self-talk turned more positive, caring, and supportive.  There’s also wisdom in the saying, “You are what you think.”

These three steps combine to transform your body, mind, and spirit into a house of health and well-being.  Now wait, don’t concentrate on the big picture of total transformation at this point!  You’re likely to have a panic attack or give up before you’ve started.  All you should focus on is tackling one step at a time, starting with food.  Don’t worry, I’m not leaving you on your own yet.  In the coming weeks, I will break down each of these steps, providing examples and simple ways to improve your health and well-being.

Have any thoughts or questions about your nutrition or health goals?  I’d love to hear from you!

Little Words Can Have a Giant Impact

Photo by Sanja Gjenero

One weekend during my middle school years, I invited a few of my girlfriends over for a pool party.  During the festivities, my mother noticed one of my friends appeared to be upset.  When Mom asked her what was wrong, she said she hated her big nose.  My mother told her she had a beautiful Greek nose, and it was perfect.  From then on, my friend never worried about the size of her nose, and grew to love it.  The conversation had lasted only a few minutes, but the impact of my mother’s loving words to my friend have lasted over two decades.

My childhood friend told me this story a few weeks ago, when I announced on Facebook that I was looking forward to visiting my parents.  She wanted me to say hi to my mother, that she was always so sweet to her, and then shared her story.  Although I already knew my mother was a favorite of my adolescent friends, I was touched and proud.  When I relayed the story to Mom, she had no recollection of the exchange, but I could tell it made her feel good to know she had made such a positive impact.

We have countless conversations in our lifetimes with strangers, friends, co-workers, loved ones, people who look up to us…sometimes we never know the impact a few casual words can have on someone. There are comments I’ve received–especially when I was growing up–that have stuck with me, some playing a part in shaping my identity and how I thought of myself.  I’m sure the majority of those instances were of no consequence to the other person, and they would be shocked that I recall their words and the way I felt after I heard them.

The image-boosting conversation between my mom and friend made me think.  I want to be more aware of what I say to others.  Not to analyze everything I say it, but to remember that my words can have a long-lasting positive or negative effect.  Compliments and encouragement should only be sincere and heartfelt.  Criticism or advice should come from a place of friendship and love.  Although contrary to the nursery school rhyme about sticks and stones, I think our words do have power.  Power to heal or hurt, build up or tear down, inspire or discourage.  If I do make an impact, I want it to be a positive one.  How extraordinary it would be to hear I had a permanently positive effect on one’s self-esteem, like my mom had on my friend so many years ago.  Little words can have a giant impact.  So use your words well.

Valentine’s Day Nourishment

My idea of a romantic meal is one in which we aren’t disturbed.  For Valentine’s Day last year, that meant a simple but tantalizing feast at home that wasn’t interrupted by trips to the kitchen.  With no baking or cooking to coordinate and no pots and pans to clean, I was able to focus all my attention on what really mattered, connecting with my husband!

I wanted to share these pictures with you to spark your creativity and imagination.  While this is not the only way to make Valentine’s Day special, it’s a great way to spend time with your significant other without subjecting yourselves to crowded restaurants and jacked-up prices.  Keep the following message in mind not only on V-Day, but every day: 

Food will nourish us for hours.  Love will nourish us forever.

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A Magical Weekend

On July 3oth, I traveled to Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, to attend the 34th Annual Summer Writing Conference of The International Women’s Writing Guild.  The lovely IWWG founder, Hannelore Hahn, was a guest speaker at one of our local writing meetups a few months ago.  After hearing her speak and mentioning the purpose and beauty of the conference, I had a feeling I needed to go.  I am so glad that I did.

The conference’s theme is Remember the Magic.  I wasn’t quite sure what “magic” really meant before that weekend.  I totally get it now.  When 300-400 talented, strong, free-thinking women come together to support and celebrate their passion, and the essence of creativity and imagination, magic happens! It’s hard to explain but anyone who was there felt it.  That’s why these women come back year after year–quite a few have joyfully returned for over 30 years!

The name of the quad in which we stayed. Referred to as "VGQ" instead to avoid a big mouthful.

It was a little bizarre being back on a college campus.  My college graduation was long enough ago that it was odd to be a student again, this time looking at the experience through older, wiser eyes.  However, I received my undergrad degree not so long ago for the memory to be covered in a film of brain fog.  I sensed a smidge of déjà vu as I saw similarities between my college campus at Vanderbilt and this one.  Recollections of a past life slowly took shape, like photo images developing in a darkroom.

Since college, I’ve had recurring dreams of being lost on campus and utterly out of the loop.  Not sure what that’s all about.  I have the same petrified and hopeless feeling every time, one that sometimes leaves residual effects when I awaken.  I worry that I’ll fail out of school since I can’t seem to get to any class on time, I have none of the required textbooks, and I’m not able to comprehend any of the material being taught.  Needless to say, I was reminded of those dreams as I attempted to navigate the campus and familiarize myself with foreign surroundings.

One thing I don't miss are dorm beds. Took this on last day...Mom, I promise I made my bed the rest of the time!

Although I only stayed for the weekend–they offered two, five, and seven-day tuition options–I left with an abundance of writing ideas, and my cup runneth over with motivation.  There were over 50 workshops from which to choose.  This is usually a great “problem” to have, but needing to choose only six from the list for the time I would be there was initially stressful.  I needn’t have worried, as I couldn’t have gone wrong with the multitude of quality offerings.  There were three workshops that stood out because of the impact they had on me and how much I learned….

In Using Dreams and Oracles for Divining Your Muse, Paula Scardamalia showed us how dreams can guide, influence, and spark your writing.  If we had had more time, I would have shared that recurring odd-one-out college dream I told you about.  “What happens in the dream circle, stays in the dream circle,” but I can tell you (because it’s about me) that through an intriguing exercise, I discovered my animal guide…the eagle.

The eagle, my animal guide

Poem=Sound=Body, taught by the dynamic and entertaining Marj Hahne, was a helpful poetry workshop in which we explored how use of sound in our poetry can add layers of texture and depth.  My poems tend to be very rich in imagery, but adding elements of sound took them to a new level.

The Mosaic of Creative Nonfiction:  From Journaling to Essay to Memoir was the most rewarding.  That day, Susan Tiberghien covered Personal Essay, a sub-genre of creative nonfiction of which I didn’t have much experience.  During our writing exercises, I realized that this method was the perfect way to write the book simmering in my head for the better part of this year.  On the way home via Amtrak, I wrote three essays.  As of today, less than two weeks later, I’ve written an additional eight!  Not a bad start, right?  I’ve begun working through her book One Year to a Writing Life:  Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft so that I may expand my arsenal of creative expression.

I think you’re getting the picture that it wasn’t difficult to feel inspired on that weekend.  But here are some closing highlights of my short but memorable trip, in ABC’s:

  1. A generous portion of our classes were devoted to writing exercises that stimulated and stirred our creative juices.  The instructors were highly talented and esteemed women who had a wealth of knowledge and encouragement to share.
  2. Brown’s campus is beautiful (I obsessively took pictures of the architecture and quaint-ish streets), the weather was gorgeous too.
  3. Connecting with fascinating women that share a love for and need to write, who support and encourage each other to create from their very core…it’s an undeniably powerful experience.  I felt at home with these word artisans and creative beings who think in another shape and color than the rest of society.

Posing with Louise, one of the wonderful women with whom I bonded at the IWWG's Summer Writing Conference.

I’m determined to hold on to the magic I experienced with these women for as long as I can, until my writing spirit and creative juices are recharged next year.  I’m honored to have been part of the IWWG Summer Writing Conference’s first year at Brown after 30+ years at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  To me, the move represents a new chapter and direction in the IWWG’s life, and in mine most of all.

Was there a time that you felt intense inspiration and a prolonged period of productive creativity?  I’d love to hear about it!