Moving Toward a Healthier Me

I’m a little riled up and I need to get something off my chest…

I’ve spent a lot of time focused on self-improvement and personal growth over the past five years. I’ve made no secrets about this. My own physical fitness has been a significant part of this journey, and I’ve tried a number of different approaches.

I’ve been quite open about my love affair with movement. I’ve done outdoor bootcamps, running, group fitness classes, yoga, and a whole bunch of different home workout programs.

And I’ve even hinted at how I increased my physical activity while severely restricting calories in an attempt to lose weight, inches, pant sizes, and the shame I felt around certain parts of my body being bigger than they “should be.”

But what I’ve never really talked about openly before is how I’ve done a lot of different things with the goal of making my body into something it’s not, and may never be. How I’ve tried with all my might to take up less physical space in the world, with all of my efforts stemming from a deep-seated desire to correct my perceived flaws and imperfections.

Despite successfully losing nearly 20 pounds and close to as many inches in one particularly rigorous cycle of diet and exercise a few years back, buying into the vanity side of the health and fitness industry has left me hollow and jaded. I think I may have actually lost a piece of my soul as some of my fat melted away, but then it just came back again, with a vengeance (the fat that is, not my soul). The worst part is, at the end of it all I still feel as though I don’t measure up to society’s expectations, or my own.

I’ve been on this tireless quest to reshape my body into something that more closely resembles the ideal woman, with toned arms, flat stomach, firm legs, and of course, a thigh gap. But after trying and trying and trying, reaching and striving, grasping and clawing my way through the thick of my own dissatisfaction with myself, I just have to say I’m tired. Like, exhausted.

At the risk of provoking some and offending others, I’m just gonna go ahead and say what’s on my mind: dieting and exercising for weight loss and vanity alone is shallow and short sighted. That’s the simple truth. And I’m pretty sure those who go at it from this angle will find themselves in the same position of repeatedly regaining the weight they lose, just as I have. Because as long as we’re not addressing the underlying issues— the reasons why we eat crap, or don’t eat enough, and don’t move our bodies enough—we’re only masking the problem with a temporary band-aid.

The diet and weight loss industry is built on the fear and desperation of the people it serves; it preys on our vulnerabilities. The industry knows we’re all looking for a quick fix, and that’s why it packages up the promise of a better life for us in a shiny, irresistible package. The industry knows we’ll come back time and time again for more after the initial promise stops working. The industry knows there’s no such thing as a magic pill, but will sell one to us anyway. The long and the short is that anything that’s promising you extraordinary results in a short period of time is too good to be true. Period.

These are the lies we believe when we’re afraid we’re not enough as we are. This is the garbage we buy into when we don’t love ourselves, because we are motivated by our fears.

In my attempt to see this situation from all possible perspectives, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions—from frustration to anger and despair to resignation. And I suppose you could say I’ve reached a metaphorical crossroads in deciding that it’s time for something to change. The world around me isn’t going to budge, so I guess it’s up to me.

The only thing that makes sense to me at this point is the realization that taking care of myself needs to come from a place of love, rather than being instigated by my feelings of insecurity, my hatred of my thighs, and the fear of not being good enough.

Let’s face it, exercise is not punishment for what I look like, or what I may have eaten last night. And it most definitely is not something I should engage in from the standpoint of being disgusted by what I see when I look in the mirror. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this attitude in the past, but I’m really starting to see not only how damaging this is to my mental health, but also how counter-productive it is to continue down this road.

The ability to move my body is a privilege not everyone has in this life, and is something  not to be taken for granted. I want to move my body in ways that feel good to me. I want to take the best possible care of myself. I want to feed myself healthy, nutrition-dense foods, because my body—my physical container during my time here on earth—needs the highest quality fuel to function optimally.

So, if I know what’s good for me (and I’m starting to think I do), I can see how approaching nutrition and exercise as self-care, coming from a place of love instead of fear, could make all the difference. Instead of exercising because I feel like I’m not enough the way I am and feeling desperate to change what I don’t like about my body, I need to change my mindset, instead.

It’s a strange place to be in, and one that I’m not sure I entirely understand yet, but my goal is to cultivate the energy of loving myself as I am right now while being open to improving my health and wellbeing at the same time.

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The words of affirmation that will guide me (please feel free to borrow any of these if they feel right to you) are:
I am active because I love myself.
My body deserves to be treated well.
I feel good when I move my body.
I nourish my body by eating whole, healthy foods.

As I’ve already suggested, the reasons for leading a healthy, active lifestyle run way deeper and are far more meaningful than vanity alone. And according to one article I found online, thinking of exercise as beneficial for reasons other than weight loss helps people stick to exercising more regularly—about three more hours per week than people whose primary focus was solely on weight loss.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with the following list of reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with weight.

  1. Breaking a sweat is super healthy, as it allows the body to release excess sodium, keeps blood pressure in check, and rids the body of some environmental toxins. Just remember to rehydrate with plenty of water during and after a good sweat session.
  2. Increasing your heart rate with exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart, as well as reduces the risk of heart disease. With heart diseases and other related conditions on the rise, this is a very compelling reason to look after the health of your ticker.
  3. Any weight-bearing exercise, such as running, dancing, or resistance training, will help with bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis that increase with age.
  4. It has been scientifically proven that those who exercise regularly actually live longer. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s just five, 30-minute sessions) can add up to seven years to your life.
  5. If you’re feeling fatigued or lacking energy, consider that exercise can leave you feeling like you have more energy thanks to the effect of endorphins—the feel-good vibes and rush you get after exercise, also known as “runner’s high”.
  6. Stressed out? Working out helps manage and release stress by battling cortisol, the stress hormone.
  7. Feeling blue? Exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood lifter, improving overall mental health and helping stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  8. Aerobic exercise can reduce both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, alleviating mood swings, depression, fatigue, cramps, and even balancing out hormone levels.
  9. Regular exercise promotes improved restful sleep, lowers incidence of insomnia, and promotes higher quality of sleep.
  10. The habit-forming power of a consistent exercise routine is transferable. Some notable improvements you may notice as a result of engaging in regular exercise include increased ability to focus on tasks, boosting creativity, and fostering greater productivity in many areas of your life.

It seems to me these are the real and meaningful reasons to treat yourself well with regular exercise. It all comes down to putting yourself first. Loving yourself and being good to your body are the only “why” you need.

So for the love of all that is good and holy, can we just give the diet and fitness industry (and all the superficiality and lies that go along with it) a great big collective middle finger? Can we all agree it’s time to break up with the idea of being defined by our weight, measurements, and dress size? And wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a walk or ride a bike or do some other type of movement that feels good to us, and maybe eat a few extra veggies somewhere along the way today? How awesome would that be?

I’m kind of done with hating myself. I know it may seem quite radical, but I’m going to try loving myself from now on and see where that takes me.

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What if, right?

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

The Flip-side of Resistance

If I were to pick only one word to describe my life, one word to sum it all up just perfectly, it would have to be: Resistance.

Many of the people, circumstances, and experiences I encounter, I resist. I oppose. I withstand. As far as I can tell or remember, I’ve been resisting most of my life, and if someone were to make my life into a book or movie, it would have to be called, The Great Resistance.

When it comes to actually feeling all my feelings, receiving feedback, and trying new things, my first and natural reaction is to resist. I resist listening to and following my intuition, being consistent with self-care, and accepting love that is offered to me. Allowing myself to fully participate in positive experiences and doing what I know is my calling? Yup, you guessed it—even more resistance! And when I encounter struggle or conflict, I put up resistance with a capital “R”.

As you can see, I take resistance to a whole new level. You might even say I’m the master, Grand Puba, and high priestess of the resistance department. I am literally resisting my own life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a bit like trying to sprint through Jello.

If you’re wondering how that’s working out for me, well let’s just say it’s not really.

I have enough self-awareness to know that simply being aware of my resistance is no longer copacetic. Capiche? (You know what I mean?) The Great Resistance is preventing me from experiencing sustained joy and happiness and blocking me from finding my flow, ya know?

I had a little A-HA! moment when I realized: The flip-side of resistance is acceptance.

This is BIG, life-changing stuff here, people!

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I’m not talking about taking the road of acquiescence, passivity, or even resignation. I’m talking about being able to take whatever comes my way for what it is. Greeting every moment with interest and curiosity, rather than judgment. Setting aside all of my expectations and preconceived notions about what my life should look like in favour of receiving whatever it is. And believe me when I say that for me this is as much about allowing the good stuff as it is about welcoming the negative without a bunch of unnecessary drama and hoopla.

I think I’m starting to get it…

What I need, and what I’ve been searching for all along, is acceptance. I have a choice: I can continue to cause my own suffering by resisting everything, all the time, or I can choose to walk the road of acceptance, instead.

“Acceptance does not mean you agree with, condone, appreciate, or even like what has happened. Acceptance means that you know, regardless of what has happened, that there is something bigger than you at work. It also means you know that you are okay and that you will continue to be okay.”
Iyanla Vanzant

Resistance is a close cousin of fear, so it only makes sense that acceptance is one of love’s siblings. With this massive revelation, I’m setting my sights on seeing my resistance for what it is (essentially, fear in disguise), and gently moving beyond it to a place of loving acceptance—in all ways and with all things.

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Starting right now, I am choosing acceptance over resistance, and committing myself to making acceptance a daily mindfulness practice.

One day at a time, one breath and one baby step at a time:
I will practice accepting whatever comes my way.
I will practice letting go of things I cannot control.
I will practice seeking solutions instead of complaining.
I will practice listening to the whispers of my sadness, pain, anger, and frustration.
I will practice seeing the beauty that exists in the world.
I will practice gratitude and focus on positivity.

Yes, I do get it now.

I accept responsibility for myself—all the good and bad parts.
I accept that I’m human, and I will have both good days and bad days.
I accept that acceptance is a practice.
I accept that this is where I begin.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat the practice of acceptance, times infinity.

See you on the flip side…
of resistance.

Has anyone else chosen to walk the road of mindful acceptance? Do you have tips, an experience, a story, or a comment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to drop me a note in the comments below.

A {Digital} Postcard from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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It occurred to me early on in our fall break getaway that no one really sends postcards any more. In today’s world, which is so thoroughly dominated by convenience and immediate gratification, it seems they’ve gone the way of the dodo bird. So, in the absence of a post-marked card featuring the stereotypical photo collage or palm tree and sunset vignette from our vacation, I thought the next best thing would be to create a {digital} postcard. But, just as this is not your traditional run-of-the-mill variety, send-it-in-the-snail-mail-and-wait-three-weeks-for-it-to-arrive kinda card, I suppose it only makes sense that my rendition of our family vacation be equally untraditional.

They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans and I suppose I’d have to agree. You see, even though I should have been sitting in an airport waiting to board our fight home at the time of writing this, instead I was taking refuge from the heat of the midday Punta Cana sun in a cabana with an iceberg (beerguarita) in hand. We had other plans, but this was what life gave us. Tough break, right?

Because of the unanticipated delay of our flight home, there was some question from other vacationers around the pool as to whether we poisoned our pilot to evade our planned departure. While I can assure you we had absolutely nothing to do with the pilot’s untimely illness, I was nonetheless grateful for the found time it afforded me to reflect on our week at the picture-perfect Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana resort. (In case you haven’t already noticed, this {digital} postcard is brought to you by the letter “P”… and the number seven.)

We took an approximate seven-hour flight to arrive in our tropical paradise. Once there, my family and I spent seven days participating in a variety of activities, including bungee jumping, ping-pong, rock wall climbing, riding bicycles, making crafts, playing games, and aqua gym and spin classes in the pool. My daughter produced a gorgeous finger-painted masterpiece on her own with only a few simple instructions. (Move over Picasso, there’s a new painter in town!) My son loved dressing up as a pirate and searching for treasure around the resort with his friends from the kids’ club. My husband and “babies” went parasailing for the first time and I marvelled at their bravery, as my little daredevils absolutely loved sailing 400 feet in the air.

While the rest of my family was swimming or busy with the aforementioned activities, I could generally be found lounging poolside and catching up on some reading, often with a drink in hand. I particularly enjoyed the book A Man Called Ove, and the story of the curmudgeonly old Swede who lived a life of precise routines, always strictly following the rules, and letting logic and order dictate his every move as a way to protect his fragile, broken heart. I could certainly relate to Ove’s character, because I also thrive on order and predictability. I operate on the premise that most things in life should be done in a certain way or not done at all. And I, too, can be quite guarded—perhaps even cold—with my heart. But just like Ove, I am learning to open myself to love and possibility.

With this in mind as I reflect on our vacation, what strikes me most is how it was less about the location and more about just being present to enjoy the time with my family. The luxuriousness of sleeping in every day and awaking to find both kids in our giant bed for a family cuddle-fest. Seeing my daughter take great pride and pleasure learning to do a back flip on the bungee cords. Witnessing, first hand, what social animals my kids are, as they cheerfully interacted with the resort staff (fist-bumping, learning new phrases in Spanish, and faithfully uttering the “polo” echoed response to the drinky-drinky guy’s “Marco”), as well as effortlessly making new friends from all over the world. These are the precious moments I want to remember long after the tan lines have faded.

As part of my regular daily meditation practice that I continued faithfully during our vacation, I was reminded about how we have the power to create our reality through our own conscious awareness, and that what we choose to focus on expands. For this trip and beyond, I am making a conscious effort to shift my focus to noticing and appreciating the good in people. We had a fantastic vacation experience, and this was thanks in large part to the marvelous resort staff who took such great pleasure in ensuring our comfort and happiness. We were also very fortunate to meet many wonderful people from all over Canada and the US. To Ed and Lori, the lovely couple from outside of Toronto who will make the most amazing grandparents: despite our thanks, you may never know how much your kindness meant as you shared some of your vacation time with us, having fun with our kids at the beach and around the pool, and giving them each a token gift from the Dominican market. These seemingly simple connections with people from as near as Calgary and as far away as Brazil warmed my heart in a way I never thought possible.

It’s a curious thing for me to explain, but I feel as though a bit of magic happened when I dipped my toes into the sparkling blue-green water in Punta Cana. The tide came in, and when it rolled back out like the complementary exhale to my inhaled breath, my feet sank a little deeper into the ground as the sand that was taken back out to sea took a bit of my troubles with it. As I filled my lungs with the salty, tropical air, I had clarity in my otherwise busy mind—even if just for a moment. The only thing that mattered was the certainty of my breath. And somehow I was left knowing it was all part of nature’s miraculous give and take, the process of renewal—creating space in my heart for more love, and within my soul for greater peace.

I am grateful and forever changed for having had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people and to know Punta Cana’s beauty.

Hello 2014 and My Big, Bold, Beautiful Life

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I have a confession to make: I’ve tried at least three times to write a blog post in which I would thoughtfully reflect on the previous year while foreshadowing my best intentions for my life in 2014. The problem is each of the three previous drafts I wrote didn’t feel quite right. Too much reflection made me feel like I was dwelling and making excuses for being stuck in the past. Too much explanation of what ‘has been’ just felt like a feeble attempt at justifying myself to, well, myself.

The simple truth is 2013 taught me a great deal about myself and led me to some important realizations. It was a year of tremendous personal growth, spiritual awakening, and life-changing awareness. The universe gave me subtle and not-so-subtle taps on the shoulder—and even a few face palms. I received the message, loud and clear, that I need to both slow down (my mind), and stop (trying to be perfect, giving others power over me, and hiding my true self from the world).

Many good things had their origins in 2013, though, and I’d like to continue building on that momentum. I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone by changing jobs after 12 years and completing the Spartan 5 km obstacle race. Both are just about as far out of my comfort zone as I ever dreamed I could possibly go, but the point is I did those things and I’m now better and stronger for it.

While I’ve never really bought into the mass appeal of making New Year’s resolutions (if you want to make a change in your life you should be able to make it any time of year, right?), I am focused on being the best possible me I can be. So, as I turn my attention to the year ahead, I am naturally thinking about the things I can do to continue to move myself in this direction. In a nutshell, I intend to work on letting go of my obsession with perfection; blossoming into a confident, empowered woman; and reigniting my dreamer gene.

Coincidentally, I have a hard time with  dreams, and the ‘awake’ kind, in particular. As fate would have it, though, I stumbled upon a book called The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte a few months back. I then also learned of and joined a Desire Map book club, which starts next week. The premise of The Desire Map is getting clear on your desires and having those desires be the force behind everything you do, and I’m sure this will be a valuable exercise that will help guide me on my journey this year. In the final hours of 2013, my husband and I worked on completing some of the book’s exercises together. It was wonderful to share this experience as the conclusion of one year and the beginning of another, and I am grateful to have a partner who is open to exploring these ideas with me. Despite being fearful about venturing into uncharted territory  once again (I am actually scared out of my gourd), I’m also quite excited about the possibilities. I feel in my heart this is something I need to do now. That’s why I will trudge forward, even though I don’t have all the answers right now, knowing  I am—and will be—OK.

So even though I have some work ahead in terms of figuring out what my core desired feelings are à la Daniel Laporte, what I want for 2014, and beyond, are: vibrant health, deep compassion, inner peace, and abundant happiness. Cultivating meaningful relationships, nurturing my love of reading, playing and having more fun (could be a challenge for this super-serious girl), being present, breathing deeply, traveling, and saying sayonara to fear and self-limiting beliefs are also priorities.

If I’m being absolutely honest, though, what I want most this year is to be unapologetically BRAVE and OPEN. I want to give and receive LOVE, without holding anything back. I want to truly LIVE and appreciate every BIG, BOLD, BEAUTIFUL moment.

No resolutions.
No excuses.
No reservations.
No more pretending.

The winds of change are blowing, and there’s much to look forward to in 2014.
I can feel it.

My sincere wish is that each of you also find your awesome, HAPPY New Year! And if you are so inclined, I’d love for you to drop me a line to let me know how you plan to make 2014 your best year yet.

Love,
Andrea

Finding Gratitude, Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier blog post. It might make a little more sense after reading Part 1 here.

After seeing how grateful my husband was to return to Saskatchewan to play against the Montreal Canadiens Alumni, it occurred to me that I’m not very good at the whole gratitude thing. In fact, I have some serious work to do in terms of nurturing my own gratitude.

That’s why, starting right now, I will make a concerted effort to become more aware of opportunities to be grateful.

I am pleased to share the following things in my life for which I’m grateful:

  • I have an amazingly loving and supportive husband, who treats me as an equal and encourages me to follow my passion.
  • I have two amazing children who are smart, healthy, and happy.
  • I have a beautiful home, which provides me with both shelter and solace.
  • I have money to provide for the needs of my family and myself.
  • I have a job that allows me to make a contribution by applying my skills in a professional setting, as well as providing flexibility and balance with my home life.
  • I have opportunities to travel with my family.
  • I’ve learned how important the mind-body connection is to me.
  • I have physical activities that I enjoy, such as running, hot yoga, and Sculpt Barre.
  • I am in relatively good health.
  • I have the knowledge and ability to take care of myself with proper nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep.
  • I am able to enjoy the rights and freedoms of living in a democratic society.
  • I am free to express my innermost thoughts and opinions without fear of repercussion.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Melody Beattie

My hope is that, as I make a conscious effort to notice and appreciate the things for which I am grateful, my gratitude list will continue to grow. Stay tuned…

I also invite you to share what you are grateful for in your life.