The 17 health choices that made my year
“I feel sluggish, weak and uncomfortable in my body. I regularly burn out and break down. I wish I had more energy for everything I want to do.”
Those are words I journaled back in fall 2017.
I was taking stock of the different areas of my life — my relationships, my work, etc. — and I realized my health was one of my most frustrating and disappointing buckets. And it had been for a long time.
At the time, I also wrote a vision for how I wanted my health to look in the future, but I didn’t think I’d ever get there.
So, it surprised me when I revisited my vision this past fall — just a year later — and realized it was exactly how I’d describe my health today:
“I feel strong, confident and capable in my body. Movement, nutrition and self-care are part of my daily rhythms, and I feel energized and excited about my days as a result. I’m able to be there for those around me without burning out.”
The thing is, I thought I was pretty healthy before. I’d been long-distance running since high school and I ate balanced, homemade meals — heck, I even flossed my teeth every night before bed.
But even though I seemed healthy, I didn’t feel that way.
After dinner, it was normal to find me holding my stomach, waiting for bloating and stabbing pains to pass.
I was exhausted — as in, trying-not-to-fall-asleep-in-a-one-on-one-meeting exhausted — and whatever little bouts of energy I had would run out fast.
And because I was running on empty all the time, it was impossible to keep myself from bubbling over in tears over the most inconsequential things.
But the real instigator was when my husband and I adopted a dog — a hypoallergenic dog, mind you — and I was so allergic to him that I became a congested, wheezy mess. I’d grown up with dogs, so this was a new allergy; what was happening to me?
So in 2018, I started making some changes — one of the first and most important being paying regular visits to a naturopathic doctor.
Small steps add up
Please hear me when I say this: I’m sharing this not to pat myself on the back but to encourage you wherever you are in your health journey.
We don’t have to crack the code on our health overnight; in fact, the most significant impact often comes from making dozens of little changes over time.
I didn’t set out to make all these changes at the start of last year — many of them were things I didn’t even know I needed. But one small change led to another and another.
And man, what a difference a year can make.
1 | Cutting dairy, gluten, eggs, almonds and peanuts
A food allergy test I took in early 2018 showed I had an allergy or intolerance for each of these foods.
I’d already been experimenting with dairy and gluten elimination diets, but cutting out all 5 was a game-changer. I had no idea how much these foods had been affecting my digestion, skin and mood.
2 | Chugging a glass of warm water with apple cider vinegar each morning
This helps kick-start my digestive system for the day.
3 | Taking all the supplements
As someone who failed to take a basic multivitamin for years, this was an adjustment. But my naturopath assured me these pills would give my body the nutrients it needed to get my digestion and hormones back on track.
4 | Quitting sugar and sweeteners
With my sweet tooth, I never thought I could do this.
And when my naturopath put me on a two-month anti-inflammatory diet (which eliminated all sweeteners) I found myself feeling angry and exhausted for the first few weeks — sort of like an addict coming down from a drug.
But as I’ve experimented with adding sugar back in, I’ve realized how awful it makes me feel — jittery, emotional, anxious — and I’ve been more conscious about cutting it out. I truly feel like I’m a better person to those around me when I’m not eating sugar.
5 | Giving up wine
This was less about the alcohol and more about the sugar and tannins that make me crampy and bloated after even the tiniest glass.
Sorry, pinot noir — it’s not you, it’s me.
6 | Forgoing water with meals
Until recently, I had no idea drinking water as you ate could dilute your digestive fluid.
7 | Making crispy chickpeas
Okay, so this wasn’t a major life change, but with all the foods I’ve cut this year, my husband and I have enjoyed getting a bit more creative in the kitchen.
One of our favorite discoveries has been making crispy chickpeas to add to our salads and bowls, like the ones in this recipe from Minimalist Baker.
8 | Working my way to 60 push-ups
Friends, when I added push-ups to my morning routine last fall, I could barely do one.
So I started doing knee push-ups and added in “real” push-ups over time. And this summer, I reached my goal of doing 3 sets of 20 push-ups each morning before work.
I’ve never had much upper body strength, so this has made me really proud of what my body can do.
9 | Embracing the 15-minute run
I gleaned this piece of wisdom from an episode of the Work, Play, Love podcast with Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas.
Lauren, a retired professional runner, mentioned that if you’re not training for a big event and you’re just trying to find a way to fit exercise into your schedule, there’s no shame in ducking out the door for a quick 1-2-mile run.
In the past, I’ve shamed myself for only being able to fit in a short run like this. But I’ve realized these little runs can add up and help maintain my fitness (and boost my energy and mood) during busy seasons of life.
10 | Signing up for a half marathon... and not running it
This was a tough one.
I take a lot of pride in following through on my commitments. So when I signed up for a half marathon this year, I started training and had every intention of running it.
And then a few weeks before the race, I started experiencing sciatica pain that made running (and walking, sitting and bending over to put on pants) extremely painful. I considered still trying to hobble my way through the race, but I realized the only reason I would be doing it was to save my pride.
So, I let it go, knowing I still achieved my goal of training for a half marathon, even if I didn’t run it.
11 | Becoming a wellness clinic regular
I’ve always wanted to try acupuncture and chiropractic care, and this year I finally made the leap at the clinic where I see my naturopath.
I love having more options for treatments that my body’s natural healing process.
12 | Switching to natural cosmetic products
I’ve wanted to make this switch for a while now, but the thought of choosing all new products was overwhelming. So I decided to do it slowly; each time I needed to replace a hygiene product, I searched EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find a more natural alternative.
13 | Installing a chlorine shower filter
It turns out we inhale and absorb most of our chlorine in the shower, so this year I installed a chlorine shower filter.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how much of a difference this has made, but my filter system cost $15 at the time and I think it’s helped keep my skin and hair from getting dried out.
14 | Taking hot/cold showers
Keeping with the hygiene theme, I also started ending my showers by alternating between hot and cold water 3 times.
This increases my circulation and makes me feel more energized than I would from a regular hot shower.
15 | Saying no
I hate quitting and letting people down, but reading Essentialism this fall was yet another reminder that saying no is not only helpful but healthy and necessary, too.
So I quit a LinkedIn pod I’d joined in the summer because I couldn’t keep up with the daily posts on top of all my other priorities. And I even said no to a few birthday parties and baby showers so I could fully enjoy the other commitments on my calendar.
16 | Implementing tech-free Fridays
With my husband working in the wedding industry, summers in our household are notoriously busy in our household. So this summer, we implemented a new rule to force ourselves to slow down a bit: Tech-free Fridays.
Each Friday evening after work, we’d put away our phones, resist our urge to turn on the TV and just spend time together. One of these evenings led us to plant our vegetable garden; another found us playing drunken Monopoly and making up new rules (this was before I went off wine).
I always felt lighter and more peaceful after these Friday nights, and looking back, they turned out to be some of my favorite memories of the summer.
17 | Going on a real vacation
My husband and I traveled to Texas to spend a few days seeing Austin and catching up with friends who live in Fort Worth.
After two years without a real, hop-on-a-plane, leave-your-computer-at-home-for-a-week vacation, this was so good for our mental health.
Reclaiming my health in 2018
This was a big year of investing in my health, but it wasn’t perfect. I worked myself way too hard this summer trying to build up my writing business, to the point where I had to take a break from it for a few weeks this fall.
And while changing my diet made me feel better, it also complicated gatherings with friends and family. I think the subconscious strain led my husband and me to host fewer friends in our home this year — something that’s usually a high priority for us.
What I’m saying is, each of us has just one bucket. This year, I poured a lot of my bucket into getting my health on track. Next year, I hope to continue pouring into my health — getting more sleep and going to classes at the gym — but I also want to pour into my relationships.
Because as I wrote in my journal, being there for the people around me is one of the main reasons I wanted to be healthy in the first place.
I’d love to hear about your health journey. Which choices were you proud of making this year? What are your goals for the year ahead? Share your thoughts in the comments.