Am I Healthy???

Every single person in this world wants to be healthy.  Sure, there are those select people who swear they *want* to be famous for being 300+ lbs…but I call BS on them.  We all want to be healthy!  Once again, I point to the monetary figure of the diet industry: 40 BILLION dollars. Clearly we are trying to attain something.

But if you ask me, the “diet industry” part of the equation is exactly what’s wrong.  We are all reaching out to these companies to tell us what to eat, when to eat it, and how to move…all so we can attain a mythical state of being we mistakenly call healthy.  Close your eyes (after you read the following sentence…) and picture what you would need to look like for people to say “Wow! I bet you’re really healthy!”  Do you picture something like the latest model to grace Sports Illustrated?  Probably.  Because that’s what the media wants you to picture.  That’s what the diet industry wants you to picture.  But let me tell you something about that picture:

That model in your mind’s eye?  She probably didn’t eat breakfast before that photo shoot.  She might not have eaten dinner the night before, either.  If she did, it may have been tissues or cotton balls (seriously, look it up).  She’s also sucking her stomach in as hard as she can every time that camera snaps.  She’s sticking her butt out to create an even flatter looking tummy for the camera angle.

If you’re male, I bet your “healthy” image is a beefed up macho man.  Guess what.  To build those delicious muscles…he has to get fat first and then starve himself to “cut” the muscles in.  And steroids? Probably pretty likely.

Now, let me first say that this doesn’t apply to all models.  I know there are some that are quite healthy (I have a friend who has done bikini shoots after a full breakfast and she is gorgeous).  And, generally, fitness models tend to be healthier and more robust than fashion models.  But regardless, all of these models give us the picture of “health” that we strive for.

And it’s all fake.  It’s sucked in and airbrushed.  It’s starved and miserable.  It’s unhealthy.

So my first two-cents on what it means for you to be healthy is throw away your ideal image of healthy.  There shouldn’t be one “picture” of health.  Some girls were born to be a lean, tall size 2.  Some girls were born to be a healthy size 10.  Some guys have the ability to build muscle very quickly.  Some guys don’t.  These are the facts of life.  Take a look in the mirror. That person looking back at you is who you were born to be.  How about making YOU healthy instead of making you into something you’re not.

Now we’ve gotten rid of our warped picture of “health”, where do we turn?  To science.  Right?  Wrong.  Sort of.  The number one scientific method people use to determine their “health” is the Body Mass Index (BMI).  The original BMI chart dates back to the 19th century when people were shorter and hardly every lifted weights.  The one still in use today is from 1972, when people were higher and hardly ever lifted weights.  While the BMI may be useful for a ballpark estimate of health (a BIG ballpark), there is a HUGE flaw in the system.  BMI only accounts for height and weight.  Muscle mass and weight distribution are not even considerations.  For an excellent example, let’s use me!

I am 5’3″ and weigh roughly 135lbs.  According to my BMI, I’m healthy…but just barely.  Anything below 25 on the BMI scale is healthy.  I’m at 24.7.  At a petite size 2…I’m just .3 points away from being overweight.  That makes sense.

So what is a muscular girl (or guy) to do? Well, there are a couple of other options.  There is the Hip-to-Waist Ratio, which calculates the ratio of your hip to waist measurement (duh..).  I come in at a 0.42 (anything under 0.50 is considered healthy).  This method is a little better since it accounts for distribution of weight.  But even better is the super fancy method developed by the Navy.  This method estimates your body fat percentage based on a few measurements: waist, waist around your naval, hips, neck, and height.  I come in at around 25% body fat (not too shabby for a girl who loves to eat).  This is by far one of the most accurate “health” indicators that we common folk have access to.  If you want to check out your readings, Google “Navy Health Calculator” and you’ll get a few that pop right up.

Now, I want you to notice something about the last two methods I talked about.  Neither of them cares what you weigh.  Which brings me to my next point about being healthy.  Stop weighing yourself!!!  The human body fluctuates WILDLY throughout the day – especially if you’re female.  Muscles absorb and release water throughout the day, the muscles you gain in a healthy workout program outweigh the fat you lose, and your hydration level can even adjust the scale measurement.

So really, the numbers on the scale are pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.  Unless you are on this season of The Biggest Loser, that scale in your bathroom is doing more harm (psychologically) than good.

Alright, Candace.  You’ve spouted off all the ways we’re doing it wrong.  But how can I tell if I’m healthy/getting healthy?

The real answers to these questions lie completely inside of you.  First, I ask you: how do you feel?  Do you feel sluggish, tired, or just bleh?  Then something probably isn’t right.  But if you feel sprightly and ready to tackle a mountain, you are probably doing okay – even if you’re a size 12.  Are you comfortable with your size?  If not, then maybe it’s time to love yourself more and start the road to a healthier you.

Next, I ask you: Have you been to the doctor lately?  Some science may be a little off (like BMI), but if you’re not feeling your best, your doctor may be able to help.  I’m not talking about medication, here.  I’m saying that if you know you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or maybe a metabolic disorder…then YOU can take the steps to start making your life healthier.  Change your diet, add some walks, stop going through the drive-thru, etc.  You can’t fight a battle if you don’t know what it is.

My third question: Are you treating yourself right?  Are you fueling your body with healthful, real food…or do you bring dinner home a few too many nights a week.  Are you getting as active as your schedule allows…or are you letting your precious body waste away.  Are you loving yourself?

My most important question is this: Are you aiming to be healthier for yourself or so others will give you praise?  Attempting to make yourself “healthy” in someone else’s eyes is a recipe for misery.  You should aim to be healthy because you love yourself.  And healthy shouldn’t be some mythical goal.  Healthy should be what you feel inside.  Healthy is what it feels like when you feed your body something good and have energy after 7pm.  Healthy is finding that one scoop of ice cream is all you need.  Healthy is taking a deep breath that isn’t a yawn.  And healthy is absolutely possible for everyone – no matter your size.

So, to close this post…here are some of my easy tips to start or continue your journey to healthy:

  1. Get rid of the scale.  The number it gives you means nothing.  Focus instead on how your clothes feel on your body and how you feel in your body.  As you journey, your relationship with your body will get better and better.
  2. Eat real food.  Avoid all that fast food junk in the world today.  Kick processed foods out.  Read my previous post about eating real food. 🙂
  3. Find underlying battles.  Go to the doctor to find out if you have any medical issues that may be slowing you down.  You have the power to help yourself, you just have to know which direction to go.
  4. See yourself, not a model.  Look in the mirror.  That’s who you are.  Starting right now you will start loving yourself for who you are.  I’m not going to give you an option.  Even if you are overweight and your goal is to lose a 100 pounds or more.  You need to start loving the person looking back at you right now or your journey will be for naught.
  5. Get moving.  Even if it’s just walking 15 minutes a day or bench pressing 5lb dumbbells.  Start moving a little bit more than you normally do.  I bet you that 15 minutes will turn into 30 or 40 and the 5lbs will become 20lbs in no time.
  6. Believe in yourself. Often, people start on a health journey thinking they will fail.  I don’t need to tell you how crazy that is!  Whether your goal is to lose that 100 lbs or simply to get more active…believe you will be successful.  And if you mess up a day, remind yourself that is it okay.  One day of not exercising or of a less-than-perfect diet is nothing in the grand scheme of your life.  It’s all the good days that matter.

Exercising in the Real World

Today, I became a statistic. I joined the 3% of Seattlites who bike to work. A mere 3%, you say?  Believe it or not – Seattle has one of the highest bike commuter rates in the whole country! Based on our estimated population, nearly 18,624 people ride their bikes to work in Seattle.  Clearly, we who live in this absurdly hilly city are gluttons for punishment.

Aside from my slight masochistic tendencies, I chose to become a bike commuter for many reasons. First, to save money.  According to sciencey people who do research, you can save around 50 cents a mile by riding your bike to work instead of driving.  Since my commute by car was 6.5 miles each way, I’m saving $6.50 every day.  That’s $32.50 every week…or roughly $1600 a year (give and take a few holidays).  I don’t know if that’s true…but my bank account will be one happy camper if it is!

Secondly, I chose to become a bike commuter because I adore riding my bike and I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country.  Seattle is lined on one side by the Puget Sound/Elliot Bay and is surrounded on all sides by mountains.  And on a clear day, I can see Mount Rainier reigning over the landscape.  A morning (and afternoon) bike ride is food for the soul around here.

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Isn’t Seattle Purty?

My third reason for becoming a bike commuter, and the one that relates directly to this blog, is that it is what I lovingly call forced cardio. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I’m far too busy to reliably schedule exercise in my daily life. A few months ago, my boyfriend and I lived on Capitol Hill in Seattle.  We were within walking distance of everything.  Grocery stores, food, parks, etc.  Just about anything we needed was a mile or less away. And, as the name of the neighborhood suggests, every direction we walked was a hill.  It was great exercise!  Then we upgraded apartments and moved closer to downtown.

Now, we’re wonderfully close to Pike Place Market and other downtown goodies…but we are car distance away from our favorite grocery store (Trader Joe’s) and everything else.  Long story short – we don’t walk nearly as much.  Even if we jaunt down to Pike Place for some fresh produce, it’s less than a mile and flat all the way.  Needless to say, a couple weeks after the move, I started to feel sluggish and extra jiggly.

So. I would try to get to the cute little gym in our apartment building as often as possible.  But working 30+ hours a week at one job, working weekends and some evenings at my other job, squeezing in time for my third job, and attempting to get all the housework, errands, and chores done in between all of that….it was so much that I don’t even know where this sentence began.

Basically, I would get to the gym, get a bit of weight lifting in and then hop on a treadmill only to get bored out of my mind in the first 3 minutes.  I’d start thinking about all the things I could be productively do instead of moving forward to nowhere.  Eventually, I’d convince myself that 15 minutes of cardio was all the workout necessary and I’d be off to get things done.  This is more exercise than many Americans get, true, but not enough to constitute a healthy, active lifestyle. And I know what the experts would tell me: “Go outside!  Working out is more fun outside!”  Let me tell you – I find traditional cardio dreadfully boring no matter where I’m at.  In order to be successful at cardio, I need to feel that I’m actively going somewhere and adding to the productivity of my day.

So I got the bike! Now, by just leaving a 20 minutes earlier for work and getting home 20 minutes later, I automatically get over an hour of cardio and 10 miles of cycling!  It’s like magic!!

If you’re like me and you simply cannot fit a steady amount of exercise in your life, please stop berating yourself!  I know the exercise gurus keep chastising us for not devoting hours and hours to exercise.  But that’s not fair.  Some of just do not have extra hours – plain and simple.  So here are a few of my own ideas that maybe you can use to add a little extra exercise in your life.

  1. Get a bike! Check out if your city is bike friendly.  Many cities are these days.  I know Boca Raton, Florida is (random, right?).  You may very well be living in a bike mecca and not even know it!  Even if you live a ways from work, see if your city offers “bike-and-ride” bus programs.  In Seattle, for no extra charge, you can rack your bike on the front of a bus, get off at a bus stop closer to work, and bike the rest of the way.
  2. Park really really far away.  You’ve heard this before, right?  We all love to spend precious minutes searching for the closest parking spot.  But unless you have a severe problem walking, parking far away is going to do you more good than harm.
  3. Carry a hand basket in the grocery store. Now, if you’re shopping for a family of four, this is probably not an option.  But if you DO carry a hand basket instead of pushing a cart, you’ll not only get a little strength training into your life…but you’ll also be less likely to load your basket down with not-good-for-you foods.  There is only so much room in those baskets!
  4. Take the stairs! I don’t mean take 10 flights of stairs.  I’m certainly not planning on always taking the stairs up to my 8th floor apartment.  Not when there is a perfectly good bank of elevators.  However, if you only have one or two floors to go up, is taking the stairs going to kill you?  Probably not.  More than likely, it is just going to help sculpt a nice backside.
  5. Walk wherever you can.  Take a look at the places you go most.  Is the grocery store only a mile away?  The drugstore on the corner?  Do you really need to drive to those places?  Probably not.  And if you’re concerned about carrying groceries home, buy yourself some adorable reusable rolling shopping bags!  Just load ’em up and drag ’em behind you.

I sincerely hope I, maybe, inspired you to add a little real world exercise to your day.  At the very least, I hope I’ve inspired you to stop beating yourself up if you don’t have the time to exercise everyday.  There are definitely going to be days when I don’t ride my bike to work.  Maybe because I have to get to another job immediately after work or maybe because I just woke up late that day.  And that is all okay.  Because I’m just doing the best I can for me.  And that’s what matters.