About six months ago I bought an UP band - it tracks your sleep, exercise, eating, and mood as you go through your days. Being a data junkie I thought it would help me to analyze patterns in my life and help me move towards making my lifestyle more healthy. Over the years I have struggled with being healthy in all four of these areas at once, especially when I was in college and graduate school. The last two and half years, as I've pursued my doctorate in science education, have resulted in just as much struggle as before. This past year I have been finishing up course work, completing comprehensive exams, writing my dissertation proposal, collecting data, and now trying to finish my dissertation. The stress has been constant and the struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle ever present. So, I bought an UP band, and thought it might be worth a try.
I started with my sleep. It's amazing to me how much sleep effects EVERYTHING else. It effects your desire to exercise, your eating choices, and your moods. So here's what I did:
1. I stopped setting my alarm clock if at all possible. I wanted to see what it felt like to let my body sleep till it woke up on it's own. It's AMAZING.
2. I started trying to go to bed at the same time (or near the same time) every night. It's hard to do, but it gets your body in a rhythm.
3. If I knew I didn't get a lot of deep sleep the night before (the UP band keeps track of the time you are in deep sleep vs. light sleep), I went to bed a little earlier, or made sure I had time to sleep in a little later the next day.
4. I stopped working at least two hours before bed time. I tried to spend the last two hours before bed putting my mind in neutral, not looking at email, looking at facebook, or playing games. I basically tried to find activities that relaxed my mind rather than engaged it in deep thought.
5. Critically, I stopped drinking caffeine after lunch. An obvious step, but I think it affected my ability to fall asleep more than I realized.
The results of doing these five things...a well rested Brooke...finally. And, a feeling like I could try and address other health issues in my life. So my next step, eating. I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app which syncs to the UP band app to track my food and calorie consumption. I started daily tracking what I ate. At first I didn't worry about sticking to a calorie goal, I just got in the habit of entering exactly what I ate, even if it was 800 calories more than it said I was supposed to have (it's hard to enter what you actually eat - you want to lie to it sometimes). Gradually, over time, entering my food made me more aware of what I was eating and I started to make some changes in my eating habits. Unlike other times in my life when I've gone or crash diets or tried to lose a bunch of weight at once, this time I just focused on maintaining accountability for what I was eating. I didn't restrict myself, I didn't get obsessive about only eating certain types of food, I just stayed accountable, and entered the information. Today marks a 148-day streak of consistently entering my food consumption into the app. I feel healthier now. I feel like I eat with more portion control and more awareness of what types of foods are going to make me feel full and what is going to leave me still hungry.
After entering my food consistently for several weeks, and feeling like I had some healthy habits established, I moved on to exercise. I downloaded the RunKeeper app which syncs to MyFitnessPal and the UP band apps. I don't think I knew what I was getting into with that download. At first it was just a fun tool and something cool to keep track of my walks, but about 10 weeks ago I noticed the Training section in the app. At first I just looked at this section - it has different training plans you can pick from, training for a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, etc. I kind of browsed these options and thought..."Interesting, but I don't really have time for that right now." Then in talking with my dad about the work I was doing on my dissertation and passing my dissertation proposal and the struggle afterwards, I changed my mind. He said in reference to passing my proposal, "It's kind of like you've run to the top of a really big hill in the middle of a marathon. You've reached the half-way point, but you realize you're only half-way done, it hurts, and you've still got a lot of hills and road to go." I realized I already was in a marathon in pursing my doctorate, so while I was writing one, I might as well walk one. So began my 16 weeks of training to walk a marathon.
We are in week 10 and I haven't skipped a training workout. That is a near first for me to have - ten weeks of disciplined, consistent, not just when I feel like it, not just when a coach says I have to, workouts. I don't like to run, so I am choosing to walk the marathon. And I don't like to walk with a bunch of people so I'm not going to actually do a race, but rather at the end of the 16 weeks just walk 26.2 miles. It's a little crazy, but it has given me focus and discipline in my life. I am grateful for the time it has given me to connect with friends, many have joined me on shorter walks, and family. My mom has never completed a marathon so at age 59, she decided to join me. My dad has done a couple so he is going to be our Race Director. But both have been nothing but supportive and the opportunities to do our long training walks together and talk has been wonderful.
So now I am in "Dissertation Seclusion" - spending 3 weeks trying to write the first draft of my dissertation - and all I really do is eat, walk, sleep, and write. I'm doing my long walks by myself and what I've realized is how much this process of walking and writing a marathon has allowed me to find balance. Doing both together has really allowed me thinking time, processing time, and both have required me to be disciplined and focused. For the first time in my life, instead of allowing stress to throw my life out of whack, I am sleeping well, eating well, and exercising well. I think the key has been to make changes one at a time and not all at once, and to make it about being healthy and not about losing weight. For the first time, in a very long time, I can say without a doubt, "I feel healthy" and that feels pretty amazing.
Now, back to that dissertation writing....