In the beginning of the school year, I had a health scare that resulted in a week of stress, early mornings, long calls to doctors, and ultimately a last minute seven-hour drive to Wisconsin on a Thursday night to make a Friday morning oncology appointment. My symptoms? Exhaustion, a nagging cough, bruising, and infections that would just hang around. But after one small poke and a lot of tests, it turned out I was completely fine. So why did I feel so terrible?
I promise, this blog is not going to become a lifestyle blog. My lifestyle isn’t anything to model after, and I won’t pretend like it is. But healthy living has been on my mind since the New Year, especially as I head towards the scary “three year mark” of being cancer free. Three and eight years, I’m told, is the most common time to have a recurrence – hence the fear in September. The stress of that, coupled with a new job, writing the book, moving to a new city, planning our wedding, and all the other tasks I give myself every week was making my eye lids so heavy on my afternoon commute, I started having lunchtime coffee and sometimes a diet soda at the end of the day.
February is the perfect month for month-long challenges, being the shortest month. I often go down Youtube rabbit holes about mindset, productivity, waking up early, diet, and exercise, but rarely do any of the tips actually make it into my schedule. But I decided on January 29th that for the month of February, I would go added-sugar free. Basically, I let myself have fruit or dairy, but everything else is checked for “added sugar content.” Thanks to the CDC for adding that on every nutrition facts chart; it’s been very helpful.
I chose no added-sugar as my challenge because of the health benefits while not going into something more strict like keto (which would have less fruit), paleo (which has no grains), whole 30 (which is no-added sugar but even stricter), or vegan (no dairy/meat). These are hugely oversimplified, but I just want to stress that I chose “the easy one.” Some of the health benefits include weight loss – which I have been trying to achieve since November of 2015 when I stopped getting treatment – more energy (something I need being around teenagers all day), a clearer head, clearer skin, and more control over my diet.
I think the control portion is what I like the most so far. It was far too easy before starting this challenge to say to myself “I’ve had a hard day at work, let’s go through the fast food line to feel better.” Or, “well, someone has to finish this bag of chips.” Or, “this ice cream has been in here a while, and we’re not going to throw it away, so…..”. You get the idea. But the inner-fixed mindset in me set on competition and being the best keeps me from breaking the challenge. And when that’s not enough, I have a partner who has promised a movie and ice cream date night on March 1 if I complete the challenge.
What foods I get to eat has surprised me. Most surprising – Cheez-Its. When I need junk food, those are my go to. I have also made a bunch of pizza with no-added-sugar dough and olive oil instead of red sauce. Coffee with milk now tastes normal, and I don’t miss my creamer (shocking to me). Grilled cheese can be made fine, and it can even be jazzed up with tomato, spinach, and balsamic vinegar. That’s a proper meal right there.
I also drink so much tea. My coffee consumption has gone down because I don’t bring it to school anymore, but I have an electric kettle in my classroom that heats up water for tea throughout the day. When I want a soda, hot chocolate, or a “fru-fru” coffee, I first have tea, and that usually satiates the craving for me. My kids actually asked me how much tea I drink every day, and we were all surprised when I realized it was probably around five or six mugs (all with no sugar!).
The last bit of my healthy diet is incorporating exercise. Before the New Year, my exercise was walking Luna, and I felt that was pretty good. But I signed up for a discounted trial of power yoga, and wow, I forgot what it was like to sweat. I haven’t done that kind of yoga since I was in high school, but I love it again. Do I think I’ll end up a shredded, book-writing English teacher who is as fervent as a convert to healthy eating? No. I miss ice cream too much and my discounted membership is ending. But will I continue to work these practices into my daily life so that it is unbalanced towards healthier habits? I think so.
My last “resolution” is career and writing focused. Today I am going to make myself to get tea (after yoga) and sit down to finish my publisher’s package and one chapter of the book. After that, I have one more chapter, the introduction, and the conclusion to go. This March, I will be taking a short vacation to a country cabin where I will edit and revise and cut out and add to the manuscript.
If you like these kind of Maggie’s-life blogs and would like to see more of them woven into teaching, incarceration work, and traveling, let me know. Subscribe to get email updates for when these blogs are written, like Mary M. McConnaha on Facebook, and have a wonderful day.