Last May, I wasn’t happy. Senior year of high school wasn’t quite what I’d call my golden era. College essays, endless applications and looming decisions had taken a toll on my eating habits, and I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was FURIOUS. Furious that I’d “let myself go so far.” That I couldn’t stand my reflection. That I consistently felt like pre-save-china-and-become-a-hero-Mulan. Who is this girl I see…staring straight back at me…you guys know how it goes.
I knew something had to change, but I’d been trying to change all year. Yo-yo dieting had become my newest extracurricular. My life essentially boiled down to a series of black and white “good” weeks and “bad” weeks. I thought it would all go away once the whole college process subsided, and it did. For about 3 weeks. Then the yo-yo came out again, and I was at a loss. If the external stress factors had been lifted, why on earth was I still struggling with the same demons? That’s when these #100happydays posts began populating my news feed, and I was inspired by how people found happiness in the most mundane of days. I decided to give it a shot, because why not?
So I embarked on #100healthydays, where I focused on being healthy rather than just losing weight. No more calorie trackers or forbidden food groups. I wanted to finally treat my body right, to give it the love and health it deserved (and still deserves). I’m really happy (yes, HAPPY) to say that I’m in a better place today. Completing the challenge was truly life-changing. It taught me so many lessons on perseverance, acceptance and (of course) health. Here are some of the gems I picked up along the way:
1. Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body.
The first roadblock I faced was my perception of food. A year of dieting had conditioned me to see food as either a guilty pleasure or form of punishment. But it’s really not. Food isn’t the enemy. Food, with its ability to keep us alive and give us energy, is a source of nourishment.
2. Progress is progress, no matter how small.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Albeit trite, this quote holds truth. To improve your health, you don’t need to run 10 miles or swim laps every day. Small acts such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, eating more vegetables at dinner and writing in a journal—they all count.
3. A good sweat never hurt anyone.
When in doubt, sweat it out! Here’s a picture of me post-run. Let me tell you, the endorphins released from exercise the most satisfying form of high there is (yup, even more satisfying than the celebrated sugar high).
4. Results come to those who work.
A good month into my health-venture, I started noticing changes. My skin was getting clearer, my clothes were fitting better and, most importantly of all, I was feeling much happier! Work hard and results will follow.
5. Never underestimate yourself.
The body is capable of amazing things. It is, after all, Mother Nature’s most brilliantly engineered machine. After seven weeks, I was able to run seven miles! Who woulda thought?
6. Friends are the most powerful motivators.
College time! Like all high school graduates, I was nervous for what lay ahead. Meeting new people and establishing new friendships is always scary in the beginning, but friends are amazing. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Seriously, though. This is my friend Lucinda, a fellow chronically injured runner who got me excited about triathlons. She’s become one of my best friends and most dedicated workout buddies. Workout buddies do wonders: they can get you to the gym when you’re not feeling it (and when you need it most).
7. Stuff happens.
It’s life’s most fundamental and brutal fact: not everything goes the way you want it to. A week before my first triathlon, I suffered a degree 3 sprain on my left ankle and that was it: goodbye running, goodbye biking, goodbye triathlon. The resulting frustration consumed me and all of the motivation I thought I had. However, this was several months into my journey, so I had a few, ah, spare tires. I used what I’d learned to convince myself that it wasn’t the end. Failure isn’t a matter of falling; it’s a matter of not getting back up when you do fall. As the saying goes, “fall seven times, get up eight.”
8. There’s always a plan B.
I’m not going to lie, the first few weeks of my injury were rocky. My ankle couldn’t sustain much activity, so I remained mostly immobile. No exercise = no endorphins. No endorphins = well, you can imagine. Still, I wasn’t ready to let go. One fateful night in September, I called the Special Services Van and requested a ride to the main gym on campus. Ignoring the baffled looks of pretty much everybody everywhere, I dove into the pool, taking care to go easy on the ankle. Exercise doesn’t have to be a hardcore, hour-long sweat sesh every day. There are so many forms of exercise—so many ways to reward your body.
9. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
A couple of z’s never hurt anyone. As college students, we often aren’t getting enough rest. There are always more exciting things to do, more problem sets to crank out and more essays to write. Still, it’s important to remember the benefits of sleep. Not only does ample rest help your body maintain a healthy metabolism, but also it refreshes your mind and prepares you for the day to come. It’s much easier to make healthy decisions with eight hours of sleep under your belt.
10. “Health” isn’t an actual destination.
You heard me. There’s no holy grail of health, no health-vana to settle in. “Health” is an ongoing journey that begins with taking care of ourselves and ends with…heavens knows what. It’s up to us to decide! Whether it’s nourishing our bodies at meals, exercising regularly or catching more of those evasive z’s, your “health” is different from my “health.” And that’s the beauty in it. “Health” is whatever you make it to be.
Speaking of journeys, it’s time for a few disclaimers. My journey wasn’t (and still isn’t) smooth coasting all the way. I didn’t complete #100healthydays in 100 actual days. It was more like…164. I fell off the wagon several times, sometimes for weeks at a time. You know what, though? I eventually got up, and that’s all that matters. Even today, I still grapple with some lingering demons. I’m still learning, still on the unpredictable journey of health. I’m not perfect, and neither are you. But being perfect isn’t the point. Being healthy is the point.