When I put out my last call for questions that you’d like to see addressed here on the blog (you can still submit them here!), a few people asked me about how I’ve kept up a healthy eating and workout routine while working from home, and if my approach to it has changed at all since I left my former life in corporate America. Due to some recent circumstances, I’ve made a bunch of adjustments to what I was doing before — both a few months ago in my freelance life and a few years ago in my 9-to-5 life — so it seems like the perfect time to share what’s been working for me lately!
Some of you may know that I’ve been working through some more general health concerns over the last few weeks, a process that’s forced me to take stock of how I’ve been treating my body and what I can do to better serve it. I’ve been pretty passionate about nutrition and exercise since my early college days, but the (thankfully minor) bumps in the road I’ve encountered these past few months in terms of my health have been a welcome reminder that there are lots of ways to be “healthy.” Just because I think I’m doing all the right things to stay well and in shape doesn’t mean that those hard and fast rules work for my body. For many years, they did, but I’m learning to make adjustments and it’s actually been a really good thing.
I’ve written previously here about both my chronic insomnia and my long-standing digestive issues, but what I haven’t shared is that I also deal with intense hives. Without allergy medicine every day, I will literally find myself covered in a hot, itchy rash 90 percent of the time. At one point, I thought it was simply sensitive skin or a harmless allergy, but as it grew worse earlier this year, I began to wonder if it was somehow connected to my sleep and stomach issues — and if all of these problems could be addressed with one magic solution. Over the summer, I met with an allergist and immunologist, who worked with me on a few tests that were ultimately inconclusive. I have some other doctors to see that will hopefully have more answers for me, but in the meantime, I’ve adopted some new habits at the recommendation of the immunologist, and they’ve definitely impacted my general health!
Our recent trip to California also forced me to take a step back and reconsider my health habits. I guess it’s pretty cliché for my New York self to come back from the west coast with a new lease on food and fitness, but what can I say? Call me cliché! In the three weeks since we’ve been back from our vacation, I’ve noticed some changes in my health philosophy. Combined with the changes suggested by the doctor, those mental shifts have felt really good, especially within the framework of my work-from-home life.
- Sleep: You may already know that I’ve been dealing with insomnia for the better part of four years now, but one tiny little adjustment has made a big difference recently. Vitamin D! My autoimmune doctor suggested it and I’m so grateful. It’s just the generic drugstore kind, but one pill a day has been making it a lot easier for me to fall — and stay — asleep. Game changer!
- Diet: Since my sophomore year in college, I’ve been managing chronic digestive issues that are still generally undiagnosed. Thanks to some changes in my diet, my belly problems have gotten mostly better, but our trip to California inspired me to test out some other dietary routines, and I’m so happy did! What I realized in California (warning: another total cliché coming up) is that I haven’t been placing enough emphasis on real, well-made foods. I’ve been focusing so much on what’s gluten-free that I’ve almost totally eliminated foods that can actually fuel me, turning instead to anything that had that “GF” label on the package. And guess what? A lot of those foods aren’t really that good for you! I realize how lucky I am not to have Celiac Disease (I took gluten out of my diet a few years ago — along with garlic and onion — when I experimented with the Low FODMAP diet, a process that really did cure most of my symptoms), and I thought it was time that I start bringing a few whole wheats back into rotation. I’m still sticking with gluten-free pastas and staying away from anything too gluten-y (I know it’s not a word), but I’m feeling much healthier since I said goodbye to gluten-free packaged snack foods and started allowing myself a fresh piece of bread here and there. I’m leaner and more energized, and I suspect that this change might also have helped my sleep. Garlic and onion are still my major triggers, so I won’t be bringing those back any time soon.
- Exercise (and not exercise): For years and years, I’ve relied on exercise as the primary factor in my health. I viewed myself as a healthy person because I worked out six days a week, and I pretty much assumed that the rest would fall into place. Exercise is still really important to me, but when I last went to see my doctor, he schooled me on how much stress I put on myself when I go to the gym on just a few (or zero) hours of sleep. This is the kind of stress, he said, that causes hives and an intensification of my stomach pain, so I’ve tried to force myself to take more rest days — and I definitely don’t push myself toward a hardcore workout after a sleepless night. Instead, I’ll take a long walk outside mid-afternoon, which has the added benefit of clearing my head and getting this WFH-er into the outside world! I’m still going to the gym about five days a week, but I’m also looking for other opportunities to be active in different ways when I know it’s better for my body.
- Meals: Figuring out my meal schedule — and resisting the urge to snack constantly from my all-too-available kitchen — has been an ongoing process since I started working from my home office, and lately, I think I’m in a good groove. Here are a few tips:
- Make breakfast the night before. I prep my oatmeal every night before bed so that it’s ready and waiting for me when I wake up the next day. This way, I’m not tempted to creep (yes, creep) around my kitchen considering less healthy options, and I know right when I wake up that there’s a hearty, delicious meal on tap.
- Maintain consistency. When it comes to breakfast and lunch, I pretty much eat the same thing (or a variation of the same thing) every day, at least for a few weeks at a time. It takes the guesswork out of planning my meals for the day and helps me avoid those bouts of hanger that will typically lead me to a handful or five of chocolate covered pretzels. I picked up this routine while working in a more traditional office, and it hasn’t failed me yet!
- Take advantage of meal prep and leftovers. I love a good Meal Prep Sunday as much as the next girl, but we’re on the road so often on the weekends that I usually can’t swing it. Instead, I’ve been upping the quantities I’m cooking at dinnertime (especially salads or veggie side dishes) and packing them away for the next day.
- Plan your snacks. I’m a grazer by nature, and no matter how hard I try to resist temptations, my fridge is always going to be just a few steps from where I’m working. Instead of driving myself crazy fighting off snack cravings, I plan ahead by buying snack foods that won’t make me feel sick or guilty, and budgeting time to eat them into my schedule.
If you’re still working on your health journey (or if you’re in the market for advice that’s way more expert than mine!), check out the Kickstarter campaign for my friend Meghan Meredith‘s Whole Body Fitness planner. I can attest to the fact that it’s an awesome product! It’s also really special to be able to support Meghan’s big dream, which has been such an investment in time and sweat equity for her. Check out Meghan’s recent guest post for a preview of what this resource is all about — then pledge your support on Kickstarter if you’re feeling inspired!