Happy, Healthy Living

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Living a healthy life is always a choice. There can be barriers (financial, emotional, etc), but in the end, how much we move and what we eat are decisions we make. Health professionals are constantly trying to make healthy habits more accessible and understandable to the general population. For instance it’s now fairly common knowledge that one goal for good health is to hit about 10,000 steps a day. In the health field, we still talk about minutes of exercise and intensity, but for the masses, steps per day are easier to understand. What we’ve found, however, is that the problem isn’t not understanding what is necessary and good for our bodies, the problem is with the follow through, because let’s face it, if something’s not easy, we are a lot less likely to do it.

This is one of the reasons I love Australia. Here it is easy to hit 10,000 steps. I hit it every day in fact (usually surpassing my goal) just in my every day activities. Public transport is so efficient around the city that people end up walking to trams, trains and busses rather than just hopping in their cars. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of drivers as well, but overall this Aussie city seems to be very active.

Aside from walking by means of transport, it seems the whole city is buzzing with opportunities to get outside and move. At the Saint Kilda festival my first weekend down under, there were several different setups for exercising (a zumba class by the beach, a yoga session in the park, etc). Additionally, in each of the suburbs of Victoria there are weekly timed 5ks available for free to anyone who shows up. Back home in the states there were also loads of running groups (some free and some not), but any timed 5k I ever went to had a fee associated with it, and though usually it was a small sum of money, it was still a barrier. And barriers turn people away.

Being in the exercise field, I recognize that I am probably more aware of things like steps and avoiding inactivity, but with all the technology that’s available, there’s really no excuse. There are plenty of people here who still need to drive into work, as public transport is not easily accessible on some of the suburbs farther out, but even so I feel like the environment here supports those people who prioritize health. But again it comes back to individual motivation.

Beyond the movement aspect of health, even nutritional options seem to be superior here. At the fresh markets I’ve found, the cheapest things to buy are fresh fruits and vegetables. There are very few fast food restaurants around so the temptation to run out for a quick, cheap dinner just isn’t quite the same as in the states. The cost of dining out practically encourages you to cook a meal in, as it’s likely to be faster and cheaper. Even just a lunch out can run you anywhere from AUD$8-16 at an average café and much more at a nicer restaurant. While the high cost of dining out here isn’t really a selling point in everyday life, it is quite a good motivator for cooking a meal at home (with some inexpensive fresh veggies and fruits).

In the end, it doesn’t much matter where you live or what you do. If you want to make healthy choices you will. You will make the easy choices and the hard ones and barriers won’t slow you down. It is nice to see here at least, there seem to be fewer barriers to making those healthy choices…whether that translates to more people turning around their bad habits, only time will tell.

All I know for sure right now is that I am loving how well this city is supporting the lifestyle I am striving to live.

Cheers!

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Prepare for the unknown

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When I talk to people about moving to Australia, the reactions I’ve gotten have gone past the point of predictability. I can almost say the words with the person as they respond. The top three responses I’ve gotten have been:

That’s so cool. Gonna have some shrimp on the barbie, eh?

Kangaroos are so cute, but I heard Koalas sleep a lot.

You’d better go out to the outback! But don’t get bit by a snake. I swear everything there will kill you!

That’s it. That basically sums up an American’s view of Australia (all initial reactions that I had as well). And it’s funny, isn’t it? All these people who have never been to that side of the world giving input and advice on something they’ve never experienced. Even without having been to Australia, everyone feels like they know SOMETHING about it. And we all do…well, kind of. We know what little is presented to us. We know what movies and the media tell us, which, in reality, is only a highlights (or lowlights, if you will) reel of the top ten things that make Australia unique.

So here I am wondering, as an American going to Australia to live, what on EARTH do they think of Americans? Just imagine the top ten things that make America unique, and I bet even you would come up with a few facts that don’t paint us in a very pretty light. There are SO many stereotypes of America and Americans that are just not true of my life. So how on earth can I show up there assuming anything of theirs?

I’m not going there on “holiday.” I’m going there to LIVE. To live somewhere new you have to find a way to become a part of it. I can’t be an outsider looking in for four years. And if my goal is to be a part of that new world, I need to go there with as blank a slate as I can. For every assumption I have about the way Aussies live their lives, I’m sure they’ve got 10 for how I live mine. And chances are we will both be wrong.

So for me it is blank slate time. I’ve read the American ex pat books. I’ve read Bill Bryson’s Sunburned Country, and my boss has told me many stories of how the culture differs. Heck, I even watched the real housewives of Melbourne (purely for cultural research purposes, obviously). I have been completely inundated with expectations of the reality I will soon face, and now it’s time to simply prepare for the unknown.

That statement seems a bit ironic. Prepare for the unknown. Be prepared to face a future you do not know or understand. I guess what I really mean is that it’s time to prepare myself emotionally for something new. I need to drop expectations, comparisons and preconceived ideas and simply be there. Easier said than done, I know, but I’m trying. I think the idea of preparing for the unknown can be applicable to almost anything in life. Your unknown might not be a new country, but the same idea goes for a different state, a new house, a baby, a new exercise routine. You know what your now is, and you can speculate what the new might be like, but you don’t really know until you’re there—until you’re in it. If you go in comparing the new to the old, you’ll quickly discover all the things you miss.

So here’s my challenge to you and to myself. Face your next big change with as blank a slate as you can. Don’t assume, preconceive or plan. Just show up bright-eyed and bushy tailed and see where the change gets you. Oh, and in about 4 months, please remind me to do the same.

Size Matters

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Today as part of my ‘treat yo self’ day, I dined at the Cracker Barrel near my apartment. I had a gift card and haven’t been out to eat in weeks so I figured, why not? I ate by myself as I just wanted some quiet time and when the waitress came to take my order I asked for a biscuit while I waited. She asked if I wanted one or two and I responded “just one” knowing I had a whole plate of French toast, eggs and bacon coming soon. About a minute later she reappeared with a plate and two biscuits. “I couldn’t bring you a plate with just one…it’s just odd.” I gave a polite laugh, thanked her and enjoyed my one biscuit. I had already decided I would take the second one home and felt very good about that decision until five minutes later when my meal came out and VOILA—two MORE biscuits. Needless to say, I reevaluated the biscuit count and ate another, now having TWO to take home.

All of my southern friends are likely smiling at this point, appreciating this moment for what it appears to be—southern hospitality at it’s finest. And it WAS nice. I wasn’t charged for them and I didn’t ask for them (I actually asked to not have them, technically), but I was still provided with an over-abundance of food. I doggy-bagged half of my French toast and the two biscuits and feel like I have a whole other meal waiting for me tomorrow.

The problem is, 5 years ago I would’ve eaten everything. Splitting my one meal into two would have seemed silly, and even though I would’ve been stuffed full, I would have found a way to eat all of it. I think the vast majority of people follow the same pattern as I did a few years back, and therein lies the problem. We are taught from an early age to get the most “bang for your buck.” The more food you can buy with that dollar, the better. Ignoring all nutritional components of that food purchase, anytime you eat out (with the exception of fine dining locations) you are almost always getting “too much.”

You see, I personally hold the opinion that much of America’s obesity epidemic could be solder with one simple adjustment—portion control. I truly believe you can eat most anything (don’t go overboard with an all donut diet here…) so long as you manage the portion size. Mind the basic nutrition rules of having a good balance of protein, fats and carbs, but don’t worry AS much about what you eat as you do about how MUCH you eat. I can hear some nutritionists buzzing in my ear right now about endorsing a world without consist calorie counting, but hear me out.

I don’t count calories. I eat smaller portions of the things that I know do not provide the nutritional value my body really needs, while setting no portion limits for the “healthy” stuff. If I’m really craving some garlic bread (recent occurrence), I won’t just NOT eat a slice, but I will only eat one. Meanwhile, when I steam some green peas, I polish off a whole three serving bag without thinking twice. Does that contradict my portion size? Maybe a little, but let’s be honest here, most people in America aren’t getting anywhere NEAR their suggested vegetable or fruit intake…so when I am preaching portion control, I’m really speaking to what we presently overindulge in. I have never witnessed a health problem following overconsumption of fruits and veggies.

While portion control may seem an easy enough adjustment to make, sadly, the odds are stacked against us. Food companies list nutritional facts for a personal packaged pizza, but bury in the label the fact that this personal pizza is actually two servings. Restaurants provide “value” to the customer through quantity rather than quality and oftentimes most dishes are packed with enough calories to happily feed two people.

So what do you do? Society tells you beauty is in a small pant size and yet the food corporations are throwing a day’s worth of calories onto your dinner plate.

I’ll tell you what I do…I take back control. I listen to my body and what it needs. I eat when I’m hungry, but stop when I feel full (let’s face it, stuffing yourself full of food is only enjoyable for that one second that you taste the food…after that it’s all a terrible mind game of “why did I do that”). I don’t deny myself desserts or indulgences, but I maintain control over the portion size, and trust me, I’m not starving myself over here.

Dieting is everywhere. You can’t turn on the tv, read a magazine or even talk to a friend without the concept of losing weight or dieting coming up. As a professional in the health and wellness field, my exposure to this is probably about tenfold and I’ve recently hit my boiling point with the chaos that surrounds this topic. If I see one more top secret, magic wrap, pill or fruit I literally might implode…okay, not literally, but it is very possible I’ll hop up on my soapbox and simply never come back down. Take back the power. There’s nothing magical necessary to live a healthy life. You just need to have control. Control over your mind, control over your body, and most definitely control over your portion size. In the case of weight loss and healthy living, size really does matter.

(The video below explains portion control and why it’s necessary for some foods, and why having more veggies and fruits can actually help portion control for other types of food)

Updates on Oz

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Following countless questions in regards to my plans to trot across the globe, I thought it best to provide some more details on my venture to the outback.

I have purchased a flight and officially depart the U.S.A on February 3rd, 2015. Yes, I know, it’s still months away, but since I found out in April and it is now mid October, I’m convinced time is flying past me, and I have already woken up once thinking my plane had left without me. Even harder than that transition of continents will be my departure from the great state of North Carolina- my adopted home state (in spite of despising sweet tea-sorrynotsorry) for the last 17 years. My family has since moved back to the Midwest (still planning to return to the east coast someday), but my “home” has always been here. I know this state, I know these people, and I love the life I have. So on December 15th (approximately) when I pile all my worldly possessions into my little hyundai hatchback (flashback to college when I did that for the first time), I will still feel like I’m leaving part of me here.

Anyway, back to updates. The application process for my planned graduate school in Australia was, to say the least, arduous. Due to changes in their system, a few glitches in the application (and maybe in small part due to the Aussie’s ‘no worries’ laid back lifestyle), it took over two months to get my full application in. Before the questions abound, yes I have a flight before I have a school, kind of. My situation is quite unique in that my boss from Duke (who now works in Oz) has a couple PhD spots available to offer at his discretion. So while I still need to go through the hullabaloo (wonder if the Aussie’s know that word!) of applying for both admission and a scholarship, I really just need to meet their minimums. Obviously meeting minimums has never been a mantra of mine,  so I put a fair amount of work into the application hoping to earn admission and scholarship off my own merits (but it’s nice to know that either way I have a place).

In any event, I won’t hear back about admission for a few weeks-months still and scholarships aren’t even considered til mid-December. Now you see why it’s pretty necessary to commit to a flight over early on, as if I waited for the actual news, my already pricey flight would’ve shot up like a rocket. My mom and I have previously joked about how selling my car was just so I could pay for the flight over (thankfully not true, but not terribly far off either).

Through a series of very FORTUNATE events, I’ve also been in contact with a potential roommate in Melbourne. The whole thing is a bit crazy, but I’ll save the story for when everything is set in stone, and I feel sure enough to type it without jinxing it’s perfection.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a short-term move for me. For some reason, a vast majority of the people I’ve spoken to are under the impression that a doctoral degree takes only 1-2 years. Boy, I wish. Even with my Masters, and even with the course load abroad being less cumbersome (as the focus in international schools is research, while U.S. schools require 1-2 years of classes and then research), this adventure will last 3-4 years. It seems like a long time, and it is. This isn’t a semester abroad or a year of “toughing it out,” and it’s also not an Australian vacation. It’s an opportunity to advance myself in a field I love. I’ve had a lot of jobs throughout my life, but this is my big break to set myself up for a career (read more about my aussie adventure opportunity here: https://time2begin.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/defining-moment ).

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from friends and family regarding this move and so much support. It still kind of surprises me, however, that the most common response is something along the lines of “you’re so brave.” Really? I don’t feel brave. I feel like anyone in my position would have made the same choice I did. Now maybe from your position (you might have a family, significant other, budding career, etc) it seems an impossible choice, but from my viewpoint, going seemed like not only the best choice, but the right one as well. Don’t get me wrong, when I first heard the opportunity was real, there were definitely tears, and I honestly can’t tell you whether they were happy or sad. Can you cry both at the same time? I feel it was both. I’m leaving everything I know for an opportunity to earn what I want in the unknown. So maybe it could be described as brave…I guess I can see traversing into the unknown in that light. To me, however, I’m simply reaching. I’m reaching past the limits I once set for myself. I’m reaching past the limits of where I thought my life would lead, and though it is a bit scary, it’s also incredibly exhilarating.

Everyone’s life won’t lead them to a new country or doctoral program, but we all have things we’d like to reach for but don’t because we see limits. True, sometimes in life there are indeed realistic limits to what we can do, but oftentimes the limits we see are self imposed. Stop setting limits. Stop throwing up walls because you think you can’t or think you shouldn’t. Reach high. I can’t say you’ll always touch the stars, but I promise if you don’t try, you’ll never even come close. Your future is unlimited…who are you to say otherwise?

The power of words

What you say matters. Too often people forget how much influence their words can have. Whether a word said in jest, a whisper said too loud, a praise for a friend’s accomplishment, or a compliment to stranger- your words have influence.

Last week was a hard week. I was exhausted and pushed to the edge with all walls closing in. A weekend of calm restored my energy, and I approached the week with newfound vigor. Still, partway through my morning I could already feel my energy draining. I went into the gym for the afternoon training sessions I lead for our study and got everything setup to supervise our subjects. Thirty minutes can be a really long time for the subjects to just walk in silence on a treadmill, so I usually chat with them. Today’s story time included exchanging stories of training dogs (to which I shared my battle of effectively training my Nana’s dog, only to realize I had NOT effectively trained my Nana–I’ll share story below).

I finished training my subjects for the day and started packing up my equipment when this woman who was exercising nearby motioned to me. “I hope you factor in your entertainment when you look at the results to your study. Surely they wouldn’t go as far without you chatting with them so nicely like you do. I know your voice keeps me going over here. Such a good voice. Makes me smile.”

And with just those few words, she changed my day. I didn’t know her. Sure, I had seen her around the gym as I trained people-never really noticing that she kept moving to treadmills closer and closer (she confessed this today)- but we had never spoken before. She isn’t a friend or even an acquaintance, but her words had power. Her words made my day just a little brighter.

She inspired me today. She inspired this blog post and she inspired my words. I only have a little bit of time left in NC before I start the process of my next grad adventure. Only a little more time being within easy reach of all these friends I’ve made over the last 17 years. I don’t always have the right words, and I don’t always choose to use them, but for the rest of this year I’m going to try. Try to make a difference in someone’s day with just a word.

Your words have power. Use them well and use them wisely.

****ASIDE****

For those interested, here is the training my Nana’s dog story. I have become the token dog whisperer (at least in my Nana’s eyes). I have always had a knack for training animals so when my Nana got Diego ( a perky little too smart for his own good Havanese puppy), she enlisted my assistance in teaching him some fun tricks. She went to puppy class and got sit and stay (and sometimes come) down fairly well. So every time I go home to visit, I make it my mission in that three-five day span to teach Diego something new.

My favorite trick is “bang bang.” The classic make a gun with your thumb and index finger and play shoot your dog as it pretends to die. This was not the easiest trick, nor was Diego the easiest pupil as for days this dog withstood about 20 bang-bangs each time before eventually “dying.” Hard work paid off, however, and I eventually got him to die on cue. Feeling quite proud of myself, I call my Nana in and show her the trick. She loves it. Loves it so much she runs him through the sequence at least 4 or 5 times right then. I fly back to NC feeling incredibly accomplished.

A few weeks later Christmastime hits and I fly home again. Before anything else Nana says she must show me how well she’s kept up with bang bang. Sure enough as soon as she raises her hand and begins the command, Diego is already flopping over. Nana hands him over to me to teach him a new trick and I oblige. Before I begin work on “crawl,” I decide to run him through his others (sit, lie down, etc). As soon as I call him over and begin a command however, the little rat rolls over and plays dead. I drag him to his feet and start to say sit, but again he goes straight to the ground. I call Nana over and show her and she just giggles and gives him a treat remarking on how adorable he looks. Houston we have a problem. I try to explain to Nana that he can’t get a treat when he does the wrong trick–even if he does the wrong trick well. I explain the reasoning and wander off to put my suitcase up. I come back downstairs and hear her asking him to sit again. Peeking around the corner I see him flat on his side “dying” dramatically. Nana grabbed a treat; “well, that’s not what I asked but you did a good job.” Well, I got the dog trained anyway.

Leaping Worriers

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 Ironically enough one of my catch phrases in life is “no worries”, which, my Nana told me if you add a “mate” on the end, I’d be pure Australian. I say it all the time to people when they bump into me, if they apologize for something, or if they are nervous. I say it to everyone in my life, but never to myself. You see, I am a planner by nature and a worrier by nurture. The women in my family have quite the knack for being “worry warts.” Will the plane be on time, did my letter get there, did I pay that bill, and what am I forgetting that I’m supposed to be doing right now. So truly, I come by my worrying honestly.

Recently, however, I feel like I am being challenged to let go a bit. In the last week alone I thought I’d lost a package I sent of Meredith shirts to a t-shirt quilt maker, a pearl earring from my set that my Nana and Papi got me, and a key card to my apartment complex that would require a $50 replacement. All week long my mind has been racing with worst case scenarios for each problem and yet my t-shirts arrived safely, my pearl earring was miraculously found, and my key card was buried in my laundry bag. So what did all that worrying get me? A headache.

In normal life I’d argue that my anxiety is masked fairly well. Normal me would not be kept awake by previously listed issues, and normal me would have decided that even those worst case scenarios are not truly the WORST. There is, sadly, nothing normal about the me I am dealing with now.

Any sense of normality I’ve had has been punched in the face by a giant metaphorical kangaroo carrying a “you’re going to Australia sign.” I’m a mess! Well, ok, in actuality I’m handling it all fairly well (a good thing considering I’m still 6 months away from departure). But I keep having these moments of complete panic. Granted, these moments are typically prompted by some roadblock that’s suddenly appeared, and maybe a non-worrier could take it in stride, but not this girl. When I see an obstacle, I need to conquer in RIGHT NOW, or melt into a puddle of woes. And while I have this get it done personality, sadly the Aussies don’t seem to share my sense of urgency.

For example, for the last 4 weeks I have been carefully collecting every document I will need for my application to Victoria University in Melbourne. I’ve contacted all my schools for transcripts, dug out my passport, found my GRE scores, and even written out my research proposal, all in preparation for the August 1st start of the application period. I log on, type in my information, create a student account and go to the submission page and then….ROADBLOCK. The form I need to fill out isn’t available. Imagine my distress. Ok, now add the whole puddle of woes me and you have a pretty clear picture of my sudden emotional state. After a few email exchanges with my boss and the university I came to find out their system is in limbo as they are adding some components to the international student application (lucky me). In spite of late night skype calls (well, late night here, lunchtime there), and several emails, I am still waiting for the application to be up and ready. The whole thing feels like a “hurry up and wait” situation.

In my ideal world, I’d have my acceptance letter from the university in hand as I hit the purchase button for my one-way ticket to Australia. Worrier Mary likes for all her ducks to be in a row before making big decisions. Unfortunately, this is not the ideal world, it is simply the real world, and in this world if I wait 2-3 months to purchase a flight to Australia I will literally be selling my car SOLELY to pay for my flight over.

So here I am on my computer searching for my ticket to adventure. I’ve found several options and the price, though the most expensive ticket I’ve ever bought, doesn’t seem outrageous, and yet I can’t bring myself to hit the “confirm purchase” button. It seems so final. And yes, it is final. I AM indeed going to Australia…but right now it’s just a thought. A known confirmed thought, but a thought nonetheless. Purchasing a flight there makes it real. There will be paper proof evidence supporting the fact that this time next year, I will be 10,000 miles away. Now that is something to worry about!

….or is it? Purchasing a ticket only reinforces a future I already know to be coming…A future I am incredibly excited about.

And yet, I am a worrier, and I likely always will be. So maybe instead of trying to NOT worry (akin to “ok Mary try NOT to breathe”), I should just try to take more action. I should be a leap of faith worrier. I warily (worryingly) leap into the unknown. I may panic until I find my solid footing, but at least I took the leap. Worrying is a perfectly natural response to the unknown, but rather than letting it freeze you, let it drive you forward. Let’s all work on being leaping worriers. Let your worries become your goals. And if you ever need reassurance that you can do it, I’m right here. No worries, mate.

 

 

Redefine Success

successWhile at times you may feel powerless, in reality you have unimaginable power within your own life. You determine your motivation, drive and self worth. You are both your own worst enemy and your best friend. Success and failure lie within your control. Let me explain…

Too often we measure our achievements, value and worth based on benchmarks set by the people around us. We see someone else passing a test, getting married and having kids and assume that our lack of those benchmarks make us failures. Your success should be defined by how you define it. There’s no prescription for a perfect life, and yet far too often we offer other people the answers to their life problems. With the best of intentions, we push our ideals and expectations into other people’s lives in an effort to help them reach their goals, not realizing that we are actually pushing them farther away.

We need to not be afraid to break the mold. We need to not be afraid to redefine what we consider success. Most importantly, we need to not be afraid to be proud of those achievements. Far too often we minimize goals because, in comparison, they seem to be “less than” those of the people around us. Why should that matter? If my next goal is to be able to do 10 pullups, it doesn’t matter if Jill next door can do 20 and Jack down the road can do 100. MY goal is 10. And I will be incredibly proud of myself when I reach that goal. And you will probably hear about it in great detail.

Confidence is the key. Without confidence, your chances of success are minimal. You don’t gain confidence by reaching for the unattainable goals. Success breeds success, so set a small goal and build on it. In a previous post I discussed the three goals concept (http://wp.me/p4ecwV-A) . You want to always have three goals; a safety, a challenge, and a dream. One goal that you know you will hit, one that you can probably reach, but it will be challenging, and then the ideal dream goal. In this way, you redefine your standard of achievement and literally set yourself up for success.

Lift yourself up and watch others follow. If you want to help someone, just support them. Support their goals for themselves and don’t compare them to yours. You can be your own biggest hurdle, but you can also be your own greatest source of strength. Don’t stand in your own way and never stand in someone else’s.