What to Do When Life Gets in the Way of Your Health

computerI feel like a hypocrite.

For more than two years, I’ve regularly contributed to this blog, sharing posts about my own health, fitness and nutrition journey. Two years is a long time to be writing about this stuff. So you’d think I’d be super fit and healthy.

But I’m not. Not as much as I’d like to be or have been in the past. A recent big life change disrupted all my routines and I nearly fell off track entirely.

Several months ago, I left my full-time job to pursue my own copywriting and editing business.

One reason I chose to make this leap was for a more flexible schedule. Instead of sitting behind a desk from nine to five, I wanted the flexibility to work (and work out) whenever I wanted.

Problem is, I wasn’t overcome with divine inspiration to exercise all the time. Adjusting to my new schedule (which really has been no schedule) threw me off. As my business has picked up speed, I’ve had a hard time prioritizing health and fitness.

To get back on track, the first thing I had to do was figure out exactly what set me down this path of unhealthiness. Then, I set out to find solutions to those challenges so I could start feeling more like my healthy self.

Problem #1: Turning Work off to Work out is Hard

I had great expectations for how setting my own hours would revolutionize my exercise routine. With my newfound freedom, I could go running in the middle of the day. I could go to Frank’s lunchtime spin class. I could work out whenever and wherever I wanted.

But when you run your own business, every day is different. Things pop up all the time that are out of my control. A meeting with an existing or potential client might be scheduled for later this afternoon. Since those meetings might eat into a couple hours I had intended to be working, I’ll have to switch gears afterwards to crank out an assignment before my deadline. Then, a last-minute opportunity I can’t turn down might cross my desk. Suddenly it’s late and I’m hungry and there’s no way I’m making it to the gym now.

As much as I intended to prioritize exercise, it simply did not happen because I had too much going on. As a self-employed client-based business owner, my schedule will likely continue like this, maybe forever. Rolling with the punches is just part of my job. So I certainly can’t wait for a time to exercise to reveal itself, because it probably never will.

Solution: Carve out a set time to work out each day -- and stick to it.

I’m now trying to make mornings my time for exercise, no ifs ands or buts. I’m a morning person naturally, so as long as I go to bed at a reasonable hour, I know I can make this happen. Then all that other work stuff can pop up all it wants all day long. That’s fine. I won’t have to worry about trying to squeeze in a workout later.

Even better, CAC clubs offer early morning yoga, spin and BodyPump classes at 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. so there’s always a class waiting for me. If I’m not feeling a class one morning, there are plenty of cardio machines and free weight floor space available that early. Also at West Loop Athletic Club and Bucktown Athletic Club, David is running his pumpkin bread challenge with all his morning spin classes, so I have a little extra motivation to make it to the gym those mornings.

Problem #2: Being Really Busy + Unlimited Access to Snacks = Disaster

Now that I’m mostly working from home, every time I get a bit stuck or the procrastination bug hits, my first tendency is to mosey on over to the fridge and see if there’s anything good to eat. Anything delicious -- cheese, ice cream, chocolate, bread -- gets devoured instantly. Although I’ve been buying “healthier” versions of these snacks (dark chocolate, whole grain bread, fancy-looking organic-y ice cream, etc.), that doesn’t mean any of it is good for me.

When I’m snacking all day, I’m not as hungry for real meals. The result is that I’m generally not eating well. Some days, my vegetable intake is a big, fat zero.

Another challenge with the all-over-the-placeness of my day is that I find it hard to make time for meal prep and cooking. I thought I’d have more time to do this while working for myself, but there seem to be fewer hours in the day than I thought. Ether I eat random crap all day long, or I get so busy that I don’t have time to prepare a proper meal. By the time I realize how hungry I am, I gorge myself on whatever is around or easiest to prepare.

Solution: Cut down the snacking and eat real meals.

I cannot snack in moderation. That’s a fact. If there’s something delicious in front of me, I will eat every last bite until it’s gone. (This tub cheese lasted about 48 hours.) The only solution is not having it in the house at all. So I’m not buying that junk anymore. I’m not even going to pretend like I’ll save it for a “special occasion” a.k.a. breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wine on the other hand… well I’ll have to work on some sort of solution to my weeknight wine consumption. I could probably stick to 1-2 glasses a night (I think.)

I’m also picking back up Meez Meals so I can eat healthier and better-balanced meals. Meez is a Chicago-based meal delivery service that is vegetarian-only, has great variety week-to-week and offers a lot of flexibility.

I’ve tried pretty much every meal delivery service on the market. I prefer Meez because the ingredients are pre-chopped and the sauces are pre-mixed, so there’s very little prep time. I also like that I can change my order size from one week to another or just skip a week by simply not placing an order. Other meal kit services automatically deliver and require several weeks’ notice to skip a week. But I don’t always know what my workload will look like that far in advance. With Meez, if I have a busy week coming up, then I’ll order more meals. If it’s a slow week for my business, then I’ll have more time to handle meal planning and prep myself.

While I wouldn’t exactly call Meez cheap, I do find it to be a great value because 1) it cuts down on meal prep time and 2) helps me prioritize nutrition.

Problem #3: No One is Cheering Me On

At my last couple of jobs, I always seemed to gravitate towards my fellow “healthy people.” One work friend became my gym buddy for awhile, and we’d work out together at lunch. With other health-motivated colleagues, I’d swap workout and nutrition tips. Or if there was a tasty looking dessert in the office kitchen, we’d cut one serving in two and share it. When we went out to lunch together, we’d both make healthy choices. Most importantly, these people and I would help hold each other accountable.

Once, as a long work day was winding down, I stopped by a friend’s desk to complain that I didn’t feel like going to the gym that night. “Just go,” he told me. “You know you won’t regret going, but you’ll regret it if you don’t go.” Those few words were all I needed. I didn’t want to show up to work the next day and admit to him that I’d skipped the gym. So I went that night and dominated the Stairmaster.

In my previous 9-to-5 life, it was work friends like this that helped motivate me and encouraged me to stay on a healthier path. Even though I’m still friends with these people, I don’t see them every day. And so they’re not holding me accountable as often. I have no one’s desk to swing by to find motivation to get to the gym. I have no one to split that delicious dessert with. I have no one to peer pressure me into ordering a healthier lunch.

Solution: Pretend like people are watching.

This one took a bit of creative brainstorming, but I decided that I’ll post one healthy Instagram photo a day until the end of the year using the hashtag #50healthydays. Some people go for #100healthydays, but I decided to chop it in half so it’d seem less impossible.

To follow my progress, you can check the hashtag or follow me on Instagram, but you don’t have to. I’ll just pretend like you did. This is really a way to be my own accountability partner. If I know I have to make at least one teeny tiny healthy decision a day, then I’ll do it. It’ll be a fun little challenge for me to keep track of what those decisions will be. One morning, it was 6 a.m. spin class. Tomorrow it might be a healthy snack. The next day, who knows?

I know that to get back on track and adjust to my new be-my-own-boss lifestyle, I simply need to eat better and be more active -- sounds simple, but it’s not easy. But if I can stick to these three solutions, I think I can make good progress. I’m not saying that these are the three “secrets” to pristine fitness, but hey, it’s a start!


betsy picBetsy Mikel is a freelance copywriter whose passion is telling the stories of entrepreneurs, brands and businesses that challenge the status quo. When she’s not biking or running all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym | betsymikel.com