Building Healthy Habits during a Pandemic
I have always been a fit person, although maybe fit-ish would be more ‘fitting’ (pun intended). I always played a variety of sports, semi-frequented the gym and occasionally ran a few K’s. Despite this, I always struggled with being somewhat overweight. Probably due to inconsistency with my exercise routines as well as my well patented love for food. I had a somewhat middling mindset, always telling myself that ‘I could always lose the weight whenever I wanted’. True to type, sometimes I did, but then it always returned.
These weight loss events happened via occasional ‘force of will’ moments, say every 6 months or so. Like the time I decided to start the grueling ‘Insanity’ routine; 10 weeks of High Intensity Training (I tapped out after week 7). Or when I decided on a whim to register and train for a half marathon with only 6weeks to spare; I actually completed the 21k run but it was super hard! Then there was the time I started Intermittent fasting, to lose some weight. By avoiding sugary drinks and eating my last meal at latest 2pm, I lost a total of 8kg at a rapid rate of 1.2kg/week. However, after 7 weeks I was tired of fighting my hunger pangs at night, so that also stopped. And on and on…
With the start of the pandemic induced lockdown at the end of March 2020, I was living alone and realized that I had to be structured with my time in order to cope with the lockdown. Therefore, I created a schedule to cover all of my time: work and free time, in order to cope with the boredom and prevent from getting restless and anxious.
Based on my history, it was key not to get intense too quickly, but to build fitness in a sustainable manner. This was key, as I realized that my prior exercise-overload events eventually caused my mind and body to rebel against the exercise and then stop. Initially, I noticed that I couldn’t just push out a 5K run without stopping several times for breath, making me realize that i’d likely gotten flabbier over time than I thought. I began small, with home workouts 3 times a week (P90X workouts). I later modified this by running (4–6K max) only on the mornings of my workouts. Thus I slowly began building my fitness, as sustainably as possible.
The next step was to learn consistency. I excercised every other day, (excluding Sundays), and made sure to stick with it. If it rained, I would use my skipping rope instead. If work was intense and I couldn’t exercise, I made sure to do it the next day. The drive to remain consistent began in April. Initially I was somewhat consistent, but in May I decided to take it on and never miss a day. This was key in helping to build the consistency habit.
By early June, I was running 3 times a week, still working out 3times a week and still doing core exercises. My weight had dropped slowly in April & early May, but by June it had plateaued. It seemed I had reached a physical equilibrium, I wasn’t getting faster runtimes or lighter, just stronger. So I needed to change things. First I did a bit of reading on what to eat, resulted in adding a lot more veggies to my diet. Then a friend of mine who works as a fitness instructor gave me some excellent tips, namely;
- Aim for 5 smaller meals over the day instead of 3 square meals.
- Avoid carbs for dinner, instead have protein and veggies, and eat early.
- Workout before the largest carb meal, so the carbs replace lost energy.
- Lastly, drink lots of water and get a lot of rest (average 8hours a night).
I applied these tips and more. I also switched up my workouts from evenings to lunchtime. Lastly, I changed my workouts to incorporate a bit more HIIT workouts. These changes immediately resulted in an increase in my stamina, making me run longer as well. I increased my weekend runs from 6k, to 8, then 10 and higher, till I could sustainably run a half marathon! My weight also began to drop once more, and overall, I’ve gone from weighing 114kg pre-Covid, to 102kg. With my frame, I look a bit lanky, but I’m enjoying the feeling of being 12kg lighter, stronger and fitter!
Looking back on this period, the 3 keys crucial to the results were:
o Sustainability — start from where you are and do what you can sustain. Build on your ‘baby-steps’ slowly. Even with food, eating 5 smaller meals was more sustainable (to me) than intermittent fasting.
o Consistency — keep on keeping on. Keep going, till it becomes a part of who you are. There are many mornings I wake up not in the mood to run, yet I still go out. Granted, one must listen to one’s body, but with practice, you’ll discern when its tiredness or laziness.
o Continuous improvement — keep innovating, keep learning and keep getting better. There are always new nuances to learn and improve from.
These principles can be applied to learning and growing at any new habit (coding, public speaking, etc.), hence I decided to apply them to my next project, ‘writing’, starting with this article. Best of luck with building YOUR new habits!