I never fancied myself someone who held the notion of “routine” in high esteem. Quite the contrary, in fact…I have lived in too many flats and houses to count, had so many jobs (and different kinds of jobs, too), I could fill up a whole post just with that. I’ve lived in four countries on three continents and hope very, very much to see that list grow exponentially (as does C, for that matter). But routine is not to be scoffed at entirely. Turns out it’s profoundly important to well being, and to weight loss in particular.
Starting with scales…I’m not a big believer in scales, but they do work for some, and shouldn’t necessarily be thrown out as ineffective. It’s just that I have such a negative relationship with the contraption. For gauging my weight, I tend to go by how my jeans fit. But for those who do use them, it’s really super important to use them at the same time every time. That is, if you weigh yourself at 10:00, make sure you always do, because weight fluctuates by a couple of pounds every day naturally due to water retention, and you don’t want to start feeling cheated by the experience.
However, if you feel a sense of dread when you look at a scale, ignore the above and throw the damn thing out the door. Losing weight is about numbers, but more about how much nutrition you got today vs. how much junk, how far you walked today, how much water you drank, and how much you slept… Which brings me to my next point:
Sleep. You cannot force this, because life simply is what it is sometimes, and that may preclude a good night’s sleep. But the more regular your sleep patterns, the more likely you will be to get healthier. For some, sleep is just always going to be tricky, and for others it will come down to finding that perfect ritual that helps one to drift off (however, one of my favorite writers thinks this might be a red herring). But the closer you can get to getting enough sleep (6-8 hours), as well as going to bed and waking up at the same time, the better. It also means you’ll start eating breakfast at roughly the same time, which segues nicely to yet another routine:
Mealtimes. And snack times, for that matter. Eating at roughly the same time every day, and roughly the same amount (in terms of calories, carbs and fat) will start teaching your body when and how much it can expect in terms of food. My unhealthiest times have coincided with those during which I was least mindful about what, how much, and when I was eating…I guess that’s not surprising. But when you have an uncomfortable relationship with food, it’s difficult to think about it, because even just the thought serves as an instant reminder that you have to do the damn thinking in the first place, and I felt really resentful about that. Toward whom? Skinny people. However, ignorance ain’t always bliss: one of the very interesting things I’ve learned since I lost weight is that a lot of “naturally skinny” people are anything but – they just put a lot of thought into how they eat and move. Eventually these things become our habits – and our rituals.
Then there’s obviously the menu. I want to take this opportunity to advocate on behalf of three things: big pots/slow cookers; freezers; mason jars. These three things saved my life when I was just getting started. I’d find a recipe for a stew-based something I knew I’d like and I knew would satisfy my hunger (like a chili, bean soup, ratatouille, etc.), and then I’d make enough of it on Sunday evening to eat all week. It did get boring. But it meant that every week I was trying a new recipe, that every day I was eating a healthy lunch, and I was full, satisfied, and happy with myself for having overcome the Lunchtime Take-out Danger Zone (to which I had become very vulnerable by that point).
The point is that, at first, I had to go through the process of learning what was way better for me than the things I was eating before. So for me, this meant no more samosas as “snacks”, no more enormous portions of Chinese food at lunchtime, no more fake meats, no more fries and wine for those rough post-work evenings. But way more raw food, way more good fat, and more or less always whole foods. Frankly, I knew nothing about preparing good-for-me food when I started, but I have learned so much since then. Now, the menu is a lot more interesting, but at first, it’s going to be pretty routine.
Finally, working out. This may take a number of different forms – a walk in the evenings, a short yoga or pilates session in the mornings, an aerobics class at the gym…but also cycling or walking to work, or part of the way, instead of driving. Taking the stairs. Getting serious about deep cleaning the kitchen floor. Any opportunity for movement should be seized! I’m pretty boring in terms of working out – I like things that don’t involve competition, where I can lose myself a bit and get vaguely meditative. Ergo, I love swimming, but not in a crowded pool, and as my regulars know, I’m a big fan of yoga, jogging, and long hikes. If there’s only one kind of exercise routine you like at first, get started on that one. I always read how you should “mix it up” so you “don’t get bored.” When I was really overweight, working out was a lot of things – boring was not one of them. But sticking to yoga and jogging made me realize how quickly endurance builds and muscles firm. Find something you love. And do it every week. Three times a week should be what you’re aiming for, but when I first started working out, sometimes I did yoga even 6 or 7 times a week. Sometimes, especially in the winter, I can go a whole week without working out. But then I know I’ve got to get back on it, because there is nothing temporary about this – we have to move.
And having said all of the above, I don’t think routine has to be…routine. At first, committing to lifestyle changes will be a challenge every day, and keeping to these habits will help you to realize that you’re on the right path and you’re sticking to it. Any potential boredom will be completely negated by the joy of learning more about your body, of feeling better as you nourish yourself and give yourself the life you deserve.
How about you guys? What are your healthiest routines and rituals?