The other night, I met a very sweet woman at a Christmas party. We didn't chat for long, but it was one of those conversations that ended up being deeper than was likely intended.
Sam is in her mid-40s, and recently divorced. We talked a bit about our families, and how our current stages in life presented newfound challenges. About a year ago, she separated from her husband; a month later, was diagnosed with cancer, and not long thereafter, underwent a double mastectomy. She went from being a carefree, stay-at-home mom, to a divorcée cancer-survivor, working 40 hours a week. Talk about changing lanes...no, changing freeways!
Two years ago, I changed lanes, too. I was working full-time at my own business, exercising 7-10h a week (minimum), and preparing to move into an RV/trailer for a life on the road. My husband was leaving his job and we had time to do some exploring. Now, I am a stay-at-home mom with no local support network, attempting to keep my Ulcerative Colitis in a manageable state, and trying to hold onto my business with the minimal time I somehow carve out. And did I mention my husband travels about half the month for work? With the learning curve of being a first-time parent, I have been swerving through traffic all of 2016.
For both Sam and I, our biggest hurdle amidst these changes is maintaining some sort of fitness. Funny, and a bit ironic, that I sat commiserating with a fellow mom about recent changes that sucked our "me/fitness time". When Sam asked for my professional advice, I immediately felt unqualified to counsel her. How could I tell her what to do when I can't even get my sh*t together? In one short year of motherhood, I feel like my fitness pedestal has been kicked out from under me.
I'm sure all the moms I trained in the past are saying, "Finally! See! It's not so easy! Ha ha!"
"How do you stay fit? What do you do?" Sam asked. In years past, I would squeeze my workouts in between clients, and save long rides or runs for the weekend. Training for races or events helped keep me on track. Nowadays it is a little different.
I chuckled and replied, "I actually have a bit of training ADD at the moment. I do what I can, when I can." 100% true. Since having my son a year ago, my exercise has been unfocused and my eating habits have slid...can't hide those extra calories so well now that I'm not nursing. Six months of physical therapy after baby limited what activities I could perform, and then I broke my foot. Things have been slow-going, for sure.
But my "what I can, when I can" comment was not only accurate, it is something that I would advise nearly any client who is trying to get moving again. Many of us have undefined time limitations. In my case, my son's eat/play/nap schedule can vary daily. For Sam, it is work and other family/chauffeuring obligations. Nailing down exactly how much free time we are going to get in a day or week can be difficult, so we need to make the most of each minute we actually get.
To be clear, this doesn't mean you go out and do 10x400m sprints on your first day back on the track, or test your max bench press. Lacing up your shoes again doesn't give you license to do anything you want, or license to do or what you used to be able to do. Be smart and start slow. Sam learned this the hard way, and hurt herself on her first day back to activity after surgery.
When Sam and I meet again, I will share with her the three most important factors that I have advised clients of since I started training in 2004. And yes, the teacher becomes the student; I have to remind myself of these points as I work my way past my first year of motherhood.
Here are the TOP THREE POINTS for getting back into the swing of things...and finding success.
- Find a balance in your goal-setting. Don't be so strict in your timeline or specific goals that partial fulfillment equates to failure. In short, life happens. You work overtime, your kids get sick, your dog eats laundry soap. Give yourself some wiggle room. As my friend Keelin reminds me, "give yourself grace. This period of life is short-lived and totally worth it."
Since I no longer work on my feet all day seeing clients, leading boot camps, teaching Spinning, and training for triathlon, my current goal is to simply do something every day. I have had lots of road blocks this year, and have fully accepted that I am starting over. Once I hit some benchmarks, I will start to actually "train" again. Until then, I have a mental list of bare minimum activity choices (sort of a "better than nothing" deal) as well as a list of more focused activities. I can do most of these things while my son is awake (really no excuse not to do them), or any of them while he sleeps.
- Be realistic about the time and effort you are able to dedicate. This goes for exercise AND healthy eating.
I realistically choose to exercise every day because I can reliably count on my son sleeping at least 30 minutes during his morning nap. Sometimes he sleeps for over an hour and I can get both a workout AND a shower. Glorious! To maximize my time, I get changed and set everything up while he is still awake. I keep his video monitor close-by; he normally conks out while I wrap up my warm-up.
As for my diet, I know me, and working on it will take time (see point #3 below). So I am starting off small, with a return to a respectable water intake. December fluid intake consisted mostly of dark roast coffee and alcohol. Time to reboot!
- You'll have the best long-term success if you make small, manageable changes. If you currently eat out 3 days a week and rely on pre-packaged foods while at home, diving into a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or paleo lifestyle will be pure hell. Not to mention the likelihood of long-term success in this plan of attack is next to zero.
My return to hydration is a good example of a simple, pain-free change that is totally doable. Plus, it should help with the occasional cravings that pop up when I am really just thirsty.
I recommend making no more than one feasible change each week. Spread out the changes, if you like. Add a serving of veggies to dinner, cut soda intake in half, whatever. But too much, too soon, is often the reason behind failed diets and failed activity plans. Do you really think you'll go back to the gym on day 2 if every muscle is locked down from day 1? Didn't think so.
This time of year has a tendency to force people into writing resolution-checks that their bodies cannot physically cash. "I've never done a 5K, but this year, I'm going to train for a marathon!" --- Shin splints, tendonitis, and/or stress fracture in the forth week of preparation (aka downloaded a plan that says you must run 6-7 days a week)."I'm going to fast for 5 days, then do a juice cleanse!" --- Made it through 2 days, but couldn't focus and sugar cravings came back so hard that he didn't even go through with the juicing.
Three simple steps: balanced goal-setting, realistic steps to reach said goal, and small, manageable changes. Long-term success is right around the corner!
I want to hear your goals and plans of attack! What works for you? Comment below.