On May 22, 2017, my dissertation committee and the Rackham Graduate School signed off on my final dissertation and I finished my PhD. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On May 23, 2017, I started taking my body back.
In my five years living in Michigan and doing my PhD. work there, I gained 50 pounds. Let me assure you, my weight gain in no way diminishes the accomplishment of finishing my doctorate. I was fully aware that I was putting my mind and body through serious high-level stress and simultaneously neglecting my health and wellness. A one-track-mind approach was the only way I was going to finish the thing. It took me the same kind and amount of discipline and motivation to get up and write my dissertation everyday as it takes me to get up and workout everyday, and I had made the decision that the dissertation and finishing the PhD. had to be the priority at that time.
So, as soon as the PhD. was done, I set out shifting my priorities and taking care of my health and wellness again. The progress was slow at first. I started out at a crossfit/high intensity interval training gym, but only made it to about three classes before realizing this was a thing I was going to have to work my way back up to. I was sort of doing the workouts and keeping up, but I was so sore and the recovery was so slow that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick with it.
So, I did a few days of at home yoga podcasts to help recover and then started Insanity. BUT: I was only doing the Insanity warm ups lol. Which is about nine minutes of light cardio and another six or so minutes of stretching. I knew this wouldn’t give me the results I wanted, but I also knew (from past failed attempts) that I wouldn’t stick with the 45-60 minutes, five days a week routine that Insanity sets out. So, I ordered T-25 (an Insanity-like workout with the amazing Shaun T, but only 25 minutes of workout + 3 minutes of stretching) and kept doing the daily Insanity warmups until it arrived.
On June 22 (so, one month into my taking my body back journey), I started T-25. T-25 has a five week alpha cycle and five week beta cycle; I started with alpha and today I finished the full five week cycle!! Woohoo!! So, due to summer travel, moving across the country to Denver, and how out of shape I was when I started, the five week cycle actually took me about 7 or 8 weeks to complete. But, I did it!! And, along with eating mostly paleo, I lost 20 pounds this summer. Yay!
So, while I was working out, I was also adjusting my diet. I had eaten paleo for about two years while I was doing my Master’s degree and had done week long or two week long stints of it sporadically throughout my five years in Michigan. I knew I liked eating paleo because I didn’t have to count or measure anything. I could just eat as much as I wanted of foods that are good for me. And it meant I got to bring back some of my old favorite recipes and experiment with new recipes for cooking and baking. Paleo baking is super fun and I try to make something about once a week that can stand in as a dessert or breakfast food. So, I’ll make berry or peach or apple cobbler or any number of paleo quick breads like lemon poppy seed, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana bread (made with flour substitutes like almond or coconut flours and sugar substitutes like honey, maple syrup, and vanilla extract).
When I first started out eating paleo again, I eased into it. I committed to ten days of no bread, no beer, no lattes. This helped me to detox and to start supplementing my regular, terrible diet with some paleo staples like bacon and eggs, salmon, berries, and nuts. Some things came easy, for example cutting my latte intake down to one or two a week instead of five or seven a week. Some things did not come easy, like still wanting to drink beers and order nachos at happy hour with friends.
In the last couple months, I would say that I’ve been eating about 75% paleo. I mostly eat paleo in the house with a few exceptions like tortilla chips, hummus, and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream that I still keep around the house and eat less than daily. Then, whenever we go out to eat (which is about two or three meals a week) I let myself splurge and order whatever I want. Sometimes when we go out I order a kale salad and an iced tea bc it looks good and sounds delicious to me at the time, and sometimes when we go out I’ll get enchiladas or empanadas or a couple beers.
My plan going forward is to complete the second five week cycle of T-25 and to keep eating mostly paleo. I’ve already lost 20 pounds, and I’d like to lose another twenty. Full disclosure on weight stuff: at my fittest, about five years ago, I maintained 135 pounds. While living in Michigan, my highest and most scary weight was 185, which is a lot for my 5’6′ frame; when I went to the doctor for a general checkup in March of 2017 (before my excellent grad student health insurance was set to run out on me), she was CONCERNED about my BMI, and her concern helped me to set a game plan and get motivated for losing the weight this summer.
Now I’ve lost about 20 pounds and am sitting around 165. I’d like to lose another 20 in the next few months so that I’m back under 150 and hovering around 145. I probably won’t get back to 135 unless I start intense hour long workouts several days a week and lifting weights again. I love lifting; it’s so empowering and one of the best ways to get in shape, and I’ll probably get back to it someday down the road. But for now, I’m sticking to what has been working for me: at home workout dvds with mostly cardio and body weight exercises.
Some take aways from my experiences that might be helpful to others:
- Find a workout/diet plan that works for you and stick with it. I went through a couple failed workout plans (Crossfit, Insanity) beforeI landed on one (T-25) that would work for me now with my current level of fitness.
- Stick with your routine but be flexible and generous with yourself. For a few weeks I would workout first thing in the morning. Then when that routine got to be boring or too much for me, I started letting myself workout at night, and I stuck with that for a few weeks. Sometimes, I’d miss a day or two due to fatigue or travel. This will happen. Life doesn’t care that you’re trying to lose weight. Just pick up again where you left off and don’t be too hard on yourself.
- I documented my diet and exercise on Instagram and got lots of helpful words of encouragement and great tips and feedback from friends and strangers. I mostly just posted sweaty selfies and healthy food grams. But having a way to communicate with others about my progress was really helpful and motivating.
- I brought my workout DVDs and my laptop with me and worked out while traveling on vacation with my family for a week in North Carolina, in California for ten days for a wedding, while visiting family and friends or seeing music around
the state and country. If you’re going to be gone from home for 2+ days, I’d recommend making a plan for how you will workout in that time.
- I worked out in my favorite band t-shirts and crazy lipstick when I needed extra motivation. Build something fun like this that connects to your other interests or hobbies into your routine.
- I spent some money on the stuff I needed: a gym membership to start out, a good pair of workout shoes, a new set of DVDs, a spiralizer for making zucchini noodles. None of these expenses were too absurd, and they all helped me. If you see a tank top you love that you think would help you to feel more confident or zany or strong while working out, then buy it for yourself. You deserve it.
Most of all, you can find ways to do it. And your life is so much more than just your weight, your diet, or your exercise routine.