Incorporating Healthy Habits in the Midst of Chaos

"Instead of saying 'I don't have time' try changing it to 'it's not a priority' and see how that feels." -Laura Vanderkam

^^ For many of us with our overly packed schedules, career and/or family oriented commitments, even when we change our mindset to this, we still don't see eating well, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness as priorities. The reason for this is that the standard to uphold all of these habits is just too damn time consuming, overwhelming, and unreachable. We reach for social media to inspire us, but we're left with ridiculous recipes that call for 72 ingredients and 1.5 hour long workouts that would make any other evening commitment impossible. The all-or-nothing attitude is understandable and hard to break. We feel that doing something "half-ass" is a waste and we can put off living better when our schedules free up.

I'm here to call us out. The time to live better is NOW, and you don't have to give up any of your other priorities.

I've organized my top hacks for living healthier when you don't have the luxury of time.  Working as a resident physician, I've faced major barriers in living/feeling my best, but have committed to making my health a priority on the road to providing health for others. Here's how:

1. Stop comparing yourself to full-time fitness gurus, chefs, and bloggers

This was a big one for me. I got so caught up in thinking, "why can't I make beautiful new recipes all the time" or, "if this person can do that crossfit workout in x amount of time, I can too and need to step up my intensity." The problem is, I was comparing myself to people who have the luxury of unlimited resources and time for healthy living. They were professionals getting paid to live this way. They were successful food or lifestyle bloggers whose full time job was to get creative in the kitchen/gym and put content out there. Why did I think that in the midst of working 65+ hours (or while studying that much as a student) that I would be up to par? I was busy fulfilling a dream career. I had to understand that I can have parts of it all, but I could not have it ALL.  Once I understood this, the pressure for "wellness perfection" faded, and I was on my way to truly living my version of best.

2. Simplify your food.

I get questions from co-workers and on social media of how I could possibly find the time to prepare my lunch every day and eat so much healthy food. Then I ask them to actually look at what I'm eating.  Breakfast: a whole avocado with a vegan protein shake or oatmeal. On repeat. Little fuss or adjustment, and little expectation for the meal to blow my mind. Moving on, 90% of my lunches are salads, which basically takes 3 minutes to prepare.  Throw a bunch of ingredients into a tupperware (most of it raw veggies with zero prep time), have a pre-made protein source to add (hardboiled eggs or fish made in bulk) and I'm good to go. You know how much less stress I have in the day without having to fight the hospital cafeteria crowds? It's amazing. I highly recommend it. Throw in some wholesome snacks throughout the day-- sliced veggies dipped in hummus or tahini or baba gannoush, fresh fruit, and whole food protein bars and I'm good to go. 

If we do cook (and yes, I do have the luxury of my husband's help in the kitchen) It's enough for a full dinner plus extras for lunch the next day. ALL of our dinners are either one-pan stir fry or one-dish baking.  

3. Invest in time-saving food

It seems really obnoxious to pay for overpriced pre-sliced, pre-cut, pre-prepared anything. You'll think to yourself while perusing the grocery store aisles that instead, you will do a massive food prep when you get home. You'll cut up all those veggies to throw in a meal when you want it, or you'll just make that healthy dressing by yourself.  More often than not, we just.. don't do that. The whole cantaloupe goes bad as it sits in the back of the fridge and you never want to make a veggie dish because you don't have a delicious healthy sauce to add to it. I've given up the glorification of making my own hummus, it's not healthier or tastier than the all-natural store bought kind.  My grocery bill may be higher, but I've eliminated this barrier by simply giving into the convenience I've been afforded at the grocery store. 

4. Maximize your workouts, minimize the time commitment

Nothing is more stressful than trying to fit a 1-hour workout into a chaotic day filled with back-to-back commitments. It's daunting and likely will cause you to miss out on another opportunity to spend your time well (social event, relaxation with family) or will cause guilt if you skip it.  The simple answer: don't commit to an hour. How about 15 minutes?  If you're not aware, short but high-intensity workouts provide the same (if not better in some regards) cardiometabolic health benefits as compared to a prolonged low-intensity workout. [For just one study amongst 1000's, read this meta-analysis regarding visceral fat here.]  Sure, you'll REALLY be pushing it for those 15-20 minutes, but what a beautiful thing to lifehack time. I turn to or for HIIT (high intensity interval training) ideas or for short, weight based workouts that I adjust to the equipment I have available.  To be fair, I've been working out for years and have a strong knowledge base in body mechanics and exercise technique. If you're new to working out, I'd stick with bodyweight based interval workouts and using the help of a personal trainer to learn more advanced techniques. Safety first :-)

5. Start glorifying home workouts

I used to hold the strong belief that home workouts were for beginners and I wouldn't feel satisfied if I didn't show up to a weight room.  Fast forward to the time constraints of residency, and I've been forced to prove myself wrong.  Our garage has the following workout equipment: a yoga mat, 2 15-lb dumbbells, 2 kettlebells, and a jumprope. If I can't troll the internet to find a 20 minute killer workout using only that equipment, I'm doing something wrong. (More often than not, my workout ideas come from googling "crossfit workout to do at home.")  It's even more glorious to do outdoor workouts in the summer- no time wasted driving to the gym, plus collecting that Vitamin D. WIN WIN.

6. Create a sleep sanctuary

Two words: BLACKOUT CURTAINS. Do it. If you're not sleeping well, everything else is more difficult.  Figure out what barriers you have to a deep and restful sleep.  And above all, never pick anything auxiliary over sleep. Your whole life will turn over a new leaf if you get the sleep your body needs!

7. Cut out the excess stuff weighing you down

For me, I don't have time for the following: television, drinking too much alcohol, and insecurities. Watching TV would result in missing out on evening walks with my husband, or a little time to prepare dinner. I truly watch nothing. We own a TV.. it sits there in our living room.. but it's only turned on to play music when guests come over.  And drinking alcohol until I'm actually drunk? These days, this happens basically never (except maybe later this week.. I mean, I'm on vacation!) But really, a glass of wine is nice. Anything more than that leaves me foggy with a side of headache the next day.  The fun isn't worth feeling awful the next day, so I made the conscious decision to stop drinking in excess.  And as for the insecurities, I used to be very self conscious with how people would judge my lifestyle.  I'd have attendings telling me to "live a little" and eat the unlimited cookies/pizza in the break room instead of my almond butter and apple slices.  Friends making fun of me for posting about yoga progress.  Strangers questioning the benefits of mindfulness.  But every day I choose to live intentionally, to make decisions and create habits for my health that have allowed me to feel my absolute best despite the chaos of my career time commitments.  I've never once felt restricted or felt like I've been missing out by choosing to live well. Quite the opposite actually.  "Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel." - Kevin Trudeau.  Even you, amongst your own personal chaos, can feel whole. 

Love you all,

Shanny, DO