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Monday, February 17, 2014

In fitness and in health

Marvin L, Flickr

The resolutions of January are fading away much faster than the weight gained during the holidays. The winter still has a few long, dark, cold weeks in store for us. There's no substantial race in the near future.

You know what that means. Motivation for fitness might be at its lowest right now, just like our energy levels.

On top of those defeating circumstances, I personally have been almost constantly sick, at varying degrees, for the past few weeks (which is very unusual for me - I blame extra stress at work for lack of a better explanation). At some point I was bed-ridden, ate pretty much nothing and lost 5 pounds in 4 days. You only appreciate what you have once it's gone, they say? Well, now that I only have a little bit of a lingering common cold, let me tell you that I appreciate my "relative health"!

Even when health is present, a number of obstacles erect themselves in front of us, making our fitness goals harder to reach. The commitment to a healthy lifestyle is definitely not easy to keep. What are we to do? We are to come up with strategies. This week I will share mine. I hope you take a moment to share yours in the comments!


It's too easy to self-loathe when it comes to health and fitness. "I don't eat well enough." "I don't work hard enough." When you start having those thoughts, the next step could be to abandon altogether.

I learned early on in my fitness journey that what matters is not to avoid setbacks, but rather to pick yourself up. If I eat junk at the end of a healthy food filled day, I focus on all the good nutrition I got into my body before the skidding occurred. And as soon as I realize what I've done, I go back to eating clean. (Tricks to stop a binge: have a big mug of tea, or throw a few chewing gums in your mouth, or brush and floss your teeth.)

A bad workout is still better than no workout at all. And as they say, even if you run slow, "you're still lapping everyone on their couch". Focus on the positive.

Do you have any tricks to focus on what you do well?


Should we always be A+ in our food and training, or can A- (or even B+) be acceptable at least part of the time?

Here I will borrow fellow blogger Roy's concept (click here to his blog) of sustainability in fitness. Sustainability might be the first and foremost factor of long-term results. The reason why diet fads and over-the-top training programs don't work is because they are not sustainable in the long run. It's been said time and again: we need to adopt a healthy lifestyle... for life.

Now if you have very specific fitness goals that put intense demands on your body, you might have to find a middle ground. Even top athletes are not at their top 365 days a year, because the intense training one does in prep for a competition/race is not sustainable year long.

What is sufficiently demanding, yet sustainable? You might have to resort to trial and error to figure it out.

I know I can attain wonderful results when I work out every day, and eat only salad and chicken breast. I know that because I did it. Gawd was I ripped. But I also know that there will be moments through the year when I'll want to slack off a little bit, train slightly less, eat chocolate, and drink some wine. If I do that week after week I will not be very healthy and definitely not fit.  But I do want to be able to indulge sometimes. So where's my happy middle?

I have found that when I work hard, I can run comfortable half-marathons and maintain my body fat at 16.5 %. I know that if I worked even harder I would run "comfortable" full marathons and be even leaner. But I don't really want to put in that much effort. I have a life, after all. Being super fit, even if it's a wonderful feeling, involves some sacrifices that I'm not willing to make full-time. The good news is that even when I slack off slightly, training a little bit less and being less spartan about my food (everything is relative - I still have a pretty healthy lifestyle), I can still run 10Ks at a moment's notice, and my body fat does not exceed 18 %. I have come to realize that this is perfectly acceptable and sufficient - most of the time. I'm probably the only one to notice that my clothes fit a little bit tighter. And nobody knows (well, until now!) that I'm finding it harder to do my "legendary" 40 push-ups these days (40 is my magic number when it comes to push-ups, and an indicator of my fitness levels). Once in a while I will decide to set a specific goal for myself, and I will put more effort for a few months. That's fun and motivating. But once in a while I will also allow myself to "sit back and relax".

The "sit back and relax" levels vary from one person to the next. All that really matters is to determine "how low you will go". I have a fitness threshold under which I don't want to fall, because I know it would affect my life negatively. But I don't feel the need to be at the top of my game all the time either.

Have you found your happy medium? Can you define it?

Sneak in the goodies

I'm not gonna lie: like most people, I find it hard to eat clean. Too many temptations (sweets in my case), not enough time (to prep, to cook). Over time I have developed some strategies that help me boost my nutrition. One of them is my "jar of seeds". If you opened my fridge, you might think I host a colony of birds. "My jar" is filled with all the seeds you could possibly imagine: pumpkin, sunflower, flax, hemp, chia, plus wheat germ and slivered almonds. I buy them separately but mix them in the jar to save on time. I pour that mixture in/on anything and everything: salads, oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, homemade muffins, name it. I know it's packed with nutrition, and it adds a nice taste and texture.

Other strategies include eating sprouted bread instead of regular bread, Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt, to never consume any caloric beverages (no juice, no pop, nothing in coffee) apart from the very occasional glass of wine, and to always keep lots of berries and green leafy vegetables in the house (I also make sure I always have washed, cut veggies at hand).

And: eating out or takeouts should be for special occasions only!

What are your nutritional strategies?

Ironman? No, thank you: know your limits

I love training. (I really do.) I'm okay with eating clean. (Even if it's hard sometimes.) I fully appreciate being fit. But I have my limits. An Ironman is not a goal I even contemplate. It's not that I don't think I could do it: proper training can do miracles. It's just that I'm aware of the time and effort commitment, and... it's too much for me. At the moment anyways (never say never!)

Do you know your limits? What are they?

Make the good feeling last : the new and improved "stretch-a-lot" strategy

One of the best parts of a workout is the post-workout: You get to rest. You get to shower. You get to snack. But don't rush it. I don't know for you, but as soon as I put the last weight down, or take my last running step, I can feel the rush of endorphins filling me with a blissful sensation. And since I think I deserve it, I make it last. How? By stretching a lot. I take my time. I indulge in each stretching posture. I throw some yoga poses in the mix. If I have a couple extra minutes, I even sit down on a mat and meditate. Not only does that help me cool down and prevent soreness and injuries, it feels wonderful!

How do you maximize the pleasant feelings associated with your health and fitness regimen?

For more on fitness, health, running, nutrition, food, and similar topics, simply type the word you're looking for in my Search bar on the right hand side of the blog. Happy reading!


  1. As far as restaurants go, I actually eat out every day. Sometimes twice. This has more to do with knowing the restaurants, and ensuring they know me. I do it for ease, but I get good fuel wherever I go, and it still feels like a treat.

    As far as sustainability in exercise goes, a few years back I developed an approach which is still ongoing in its formation. The simple premise is this: My current exercise plan -- that which I do right now today, is something I want to do in my 70s and beyond. I may amend the weights, the duration, the speed, whatever, but I won't execute a plan today that can't be modified to fit my tomorrow.

    I like my workouts. Scale, relative to age, is my key to sustainability. And thank you for the link :-)

    1. Thank you for that useful input!

      I was thinking something similar yesterday: what kind of plan is realistic enough that I will stick to it for the rest of my life, give or take a couple pounds (to lift) or kilometers (to run)? The number and duration of workouts each week can remain the same and will ensure good long term results!

  2. Great Post with excellent tips and strategies! I am training for my Spartan Sprint in May and in addition to the P90X added 30 burpees a day in February. As of this evening I've done 450 burpees thus far. Now to face my angst regarding the obstacles. I'll be in Las Vegas in March and will visit Camp Rhino. It is a crossfit training gym with all the obstacles used in obstacle races, set up inside an aircraft hanger. I plan on getting some one on one training. This will help me learn before the race, what to expect and how to tackle it safely and responsibly. I don't plan on setting a course record, just completing the obstacle race alive without any serious injury. I'm going for fun (and the beer and after party). I'm also sharing what I see and do in Las Vegas with my team mates. Good luck with your upcoming race!

    1. You sound hardcore to me! I love the way you are training responsibly!

      I'm also doing a Spartan race (in July)... mostly for fun. I'm training just so it will feel comfortable, NOT to win! :-)

  3. In my opinion, you are an excellent candidate to do the Ironman! No, not because you have a desire to go to Hawaii, lol, but because you are a great swimmer! Swimming is the most difficult part for most contestants.

    Everyone I know who is able to maintain their fitness is consistent with their training. I've used all kinds of mental games to get me to do it. Everyone has to learn what style of working out and eating will work for them if they are going to be successful.

    1. I know what you mean about the swimming part: I coached triathlon in university. Once they can swim efficiently, those athletes can do wonders!

      Mental games are useful for sure!

  4. Sorry that you've been sick so much of this year - glad that you are on the mend now!!
    Awesome tips and ideas for making health a life-long endeavor. I think that with all things - eating, fitness, training....it is important to realize that we aren't "one-size fits all" and we have to do what works for us in each phase of our own lives.

    1. Yes! And once you've found what works for you... stick to it! :-)

  5. Sorry that you were not feeling too great ... this time of year is never easy. Nor is it easy to juggle family, work, life commitments.

    We are all different - take time - take stock, hopefully life will get back on it's even keel for you.

    Of course life never remains that even, and that's what makes it so interesting .....

    Good post again, thanks

    All the best Jan

    1. Hi Jan!

      I guess the balance resides in finding and sticking with our optimal personal recipe AND embracing change when needed. :-)

  6. Hi Julie, Yes, a bad workout is really usually pretty good if you do anything at all. Even going to the gym to be social with people who value fitness is important. Sustainability--Yes, that's very crucial. Don't set a goal of exercising many more hours than you have time for, or it will be too frustrating. Don't decide to eat all foods you hate, or it won't last for long. :D

    1. Hi Marion! You definitely know what you're talking about. :-) Thank you for coming by.

  7. for me consistency is key to everything--fitness, family and life.

  8. To be honest, I have to give my willpower a LOT of credit. Actually no, ALL of the credit. Without it, I would be a 400 pound Gorilla at the zoo.. Or dead because of all my food intolerances I would not pay attention to! LOL!

  9. Consistency is KEY. Sometimes you might slack off, but if you can keep the habit of working out constant, then you're in a good place. I also love your point about knowing your limits. So often people choose a fitness goal because they think that's what they *should* be doing, rather than what they *want* to be doing.