Thursday, March 24, 2011

Veggie Might: Embracing the Asthma-thlete Within

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

About four years ago, I started working out regularly for the first time in my life. Since my childhood diagnosis, I’d used asthma as an excuse for never pushing myself to exercise. I began slowly by riding my bike to work. A year later, through a friend, I found an exercise class I liked. It met weekly, but required a monthly commitment, and I thought I can do this for a month. That month turned into a year, then two years, then a gym membership.

Riding my bicycle through New York City’s streets gave me a thrill like I’d never experienced. It was like being in a video game. My heart pounded as my legs pumped the pedals, whizzing past cars and buses. It was exhilarating. In the class, I discovered the outer limits of my endurance and a confidence I never knew existed. I pushed myself like never before.

In three years, 40 pounds had disappeared. The weight loss was so gradual that I barely noticed it—except that my clothes didn’t fit—because for the first time in my life, weight loss was not driving my endeavor. My primary concern was loving that person in the mirror and making sure she was healthy. My confidence was soaring.

What surprised me most was that I had done nothing about my diet. Not much needed to change, since I already ate a healthy, home-cooked, whole foods diet. I’ve always been a “5 small meals” eater, so I tend to eat smaller portions. I rarely denied myself the occasional indulgence or the occasional over-indulgence, and I still lost weight. I wasn’t counting calories beyond what I do for CHG. I merely added exercise to my life.

All was going well until I hit a roadblock last fall. As a freelancer, I hate saying no to work, and I found myself completely over-committed—for an entire month. First my social life went by the wayside. My friends understood, especially the ones with babies. Then cooking all but ceased. If it wasn’t going to be blogged about, it wasn’t getting made. Finally, the gym gave way. I still walked to the office every day, but my beloved 3-times-a-week exercise class fell by the wayside.

It’s only temporary, I told myself. But I knew me. I knew how hard it had been to establish that routine I was so proud of myself for maintaining.

Just as I feared, one month became two became four. I felt my energy level decrease, my asthma worsen, my clothes tighten, and the guilt build. Oh Heather, it’s so hard to break out of that shame spiral.

But I did it. Since the new year began, I’ve been back at the gym and my favorite class, walking more, and once the weather is nice, I will be back on my bike. I am lucky to have the support of my boyfriend and some very good friends who are on similar journeys. Now I know from experience I can get back on track and stay there. And if I slip, it’s okay. I’m a happy, healthy human who can have her Newman O’s and eat them too.

Find an exercise or activity you enjoy.
Anything that gets your body moving will do. Talk a walk. Throw a frisbee with someone. Dance around your living room if that suits you. Just do it a couple of times a week at first, and you’ll want to do more.  IntenSati is the mind-body cardio practice that got my body moving. Find what you love and get going. (Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

Slow and steady rules the day.
Whatever your fitness goals, slower is better. You’re more likely to keep weight off longer the slower you lose it. And don’t try to do everything at once. Start with exercise, and then incorporate dietary changes. Or build up to adding strength training into your routine. The longer you give yourself to adjust to the changes you’re making, the more likely they will become lasting changes.

Find a buddy (or three).
You may prefer to exercise alone, but it’s important to have a support system for the emotional part of getting and staying healthy. Not everyone wants to hear that you did 30 minutes on the elliptical this morning before work. So round up a couple of like-minded friends who do. You can be there to share each others triumphs and pitfalls. Connecting can be as simple as emailing a friend or joining an online message board. Spark People is a terrific online resource for health and fitness information, plus community support.

Your best is good enough.
Competition is at the core of many exercise and sports programs. But when you are trying to get healthy, for whatever reason, your best—right now—is good enough. If all you can do is walk to the corner and back, do that. Then do that twice a day, then three times. You get the idea. Eventually, you’ll be a triathlete if that’s your goal. In the immortal words of Senator Stuart Smalley, “You are good enough, smart enough, and doggonit, people, like me you.”

Gentle readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your favorite ways to exercise? What do you do to snap out of a slump? The comments are yours.


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