The Big 3: Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep for Busy Moms!

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Hello everyone!  I am super excited about sharing today’s focus area with you all: your physical health!  And...I *just* realized that I did my own January Renewal Examen in the wrong order!  I posted about “The Mind” as focus #2, when in your examen workbook it’s #3 so...my apologies!  I’m sure you are all smart enough to figure out where things are in the workbook :)  If you’re new here and don’t know what workbook I’m talking about, we are in the midst of a series for the month of January on using the spiritual practice of the “examen” to evaluate where we are in 6 important life areas: spiritual, mental, physical, relationships, home, and homeschool/work.  You can read the introduction to the series in this post: A Fresh Perspective on New Year’s Resolutions.  Then make sure to enter your email address in the sidebar or at the bottom of the page to join us and receive your free workbook download!

Ok!  On to the good stuff.  I will warn you up front: health and fitness are something of a hobby for me.  I am probably a little bit more...intense about it than what is necessary.  Not crazy intense, but I just want you to know that this is something I really enjoy and have fun learning about.  But our focus here is healthy habits.  If fitness isn’t your cup of tea (or protein shake!), that’s ok.  There’s still good information for you here, too.  My blog is not a health and fitness blog.  But I will bring this area up now and then because I believe my physical health is a key component in living a fully effective, well-rounded life.  Full and Generous Life is all about encouraging homeschool moms, and I can’t address the “whole person” without touching on physical health from time to time.  Even Charlotte Mason wrote frequently about the importance of physical activity and proper nutrition as being critical for overall health.  The habits you make for yourself will naturally spill over into the lives of your children, too!

As I went through my own personal physical health examen in my workbook, it once again became clear to me that in this year, just like in the other two areas, my focus needs to be consistent, healthy, sustainable habits.  Last year was a year of extremes in this area for me.  I was either working out like crazy and cutting a lot of calories, or not working out at all and eating absolutely whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I lost about 15-20 pounds over the spring and summer, and then promptly managed to gain 10 of them back in the fall.  Ugh.  I so don’t want to be one of “those” people - the yo-yo dieters who gain and lose the same 20 pounds over and over again!  I think in part this was a reaction to an especially stressful time...the end of 2015 through the beginning of 2016 was hands down the most stressful season I have ever been through.  After all of that, I just couldn’t sustain healthy habits.  Now I am in a different season; a new season.  And I need to get those habits into place.

One examen question in the workbook asks you to thank God for the physical experiences you were able to participate in the past year, and I just wanted to share one highlight from last summer for us: windsurfing!  When I was four years old I said I wanted to be a surfer when I grew up, and I always loved listening to my parents’ Beach Boys records, haha!  I’ve still never actually been on a “real” surfboard, but I can say now that I have windsurfed!  We bought a “vintage” (like 1980!) windsurfing setup on craigslist and took it with us on several of our summer vacations.  We all had such a blast...even though windsurfing, as it turns out, is hard work!  I’m not sure if we’ll keep it up, at least with this particular board and sail.  My understanding is that the newer ones are much easier to maneuver.  But we sure did have fun learning this new sport!

My first attempt at windsurfing!

My first attempt at windsurfing!

So, in your workbook I mentioned that I would tell you about some resources that I like for physical health.  First, I must tell you that I am not a fitness professional, trainer, certified nutritionist, or anything like that.  If you have serious concerns about your health, seek the advice of your doctor.  Nor do I claim to have all the answers, or that “my way is the only way.”  What I can say is that I have studied this stuff...a lot.  So with that in mind, let me share my very favorite resources with you!

Nutrition

Oh boy, the big “F” word...FOOD!  There are bzillions of different “diets” out there, each one claiming to be the best, promising vibrant health, vitality, and longevity.  I have read about and researched many of them over the years, and in the end The Maker’s Diet has stood out as my favorite.  I tend to not like the word “diet” because it brings to mind cutting calories, constant hunger, deprivation, and all kinds of negative mental habits about the body.  But that’s not what The Maker’s Diet is all about.  It’s about developing those healthy habits that I’ve been talking about.  Without going into too much depth, the “diet” involves cutting out processed sugars, eating lots of vegetables and fruits (many raw), properly preparing grains for easy digestion, incorporating cultured and fermented foods, and moderate amounts of naturally raised meat and fish (not pork).   You really need to read the whole book to fully grasp the whole concept, but the author, Jordan Rubin, has a powerful testimony of physical healing through his diet.  

The Maker’s Diet stands in opposition to the SAD (Standard American Diet) of fast food, “healthy low-fat” foods, artificial sweeteners, highly processed bread and carbs, soda...etc.  Another cookbook/resource I like (that falls generally into the same “camp”) is Nourishing Traditions.  While I don’t agree with everything in the book, there are some really interesting (and adventurous!) recipes in there, and the stories and anecdotes about diets of traditional cultures around the world are fascinating.

Finally, one more cookbook I really enjoy: Raw and Simple by Judita Wignall.  I’m not a “raw foodie” or vegan by any means, but I do believe that incorporating lots of raw foods and more fruits and veggies is essential for health, so this book has been a great resource for that.  And the raw tacos on page 112 are one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.  If you don’t want to buy the book, RUN to your local library, request this book, and make that recipe.  With the walnut meat filling from page 123.  Seriously.

Reforming my personal diet and the diet of our family is definitely a work in progress.  We are slowly learning how to incorporate optimal eating habits...but changing cooking and eating habits is really tough.  Set small goals and do whatever step seems best for you and your family right now.  Maybe it’s cutting out soda, or planning a meal to take on the road so you don’t have to stop for fast food.  Maybe you’re ready to move on to learning some new techniques, like making your own bread or cultured foods.  (Speaking of cultured foods, I just got an Instant Pot for Christmas...it’s a homemade yogurt making life-saver!)  Wherever you are in your nutrition journey, just take one small step towards better health and keep going from there!

Fitness

I like to work out.  I’ll just get that out there right away.  Exercising is much easier for me than eating right.  I’m pretty sure I inherited my love of hard exercise from my mom.  She’s been a certified fitness instructor for over 20 years, and can still exercise circles around most 20 year olds!  I grew up knowing the importance of staying fit and active because that’s what I saw every day.  I consider it a gift my mom gave me, and I hope to pass that gift along to my children as well.  

My mom almost always worked out at home, except for the group fitness classes she taught at our local community center and the occasional Zumba class.  I use past tense there because that’s what I remember through my childhood, but she still works out at home and teaches classes :)  So that has been the pattern my life has taken as well.  I have never had a gym membership, although Crossfit is really appealing to me and I would love to be able to join a Crossfit gym someday.  Right now my schedule and budget simply don’t allow it.  The main reason I work out at home is...because I homeschool!  My kids are at home all day; I can’t just up and leave them!  My oldest is 14 now, so that’s becoming a bit more of a possibility, but it’s still much more time-effective (and budget-friendly) to exercise at home.  We live 15 minutes outside of town, so getting myself all packed up to head to a gym or fitness class is sort of a big time killer.  If a fitness class or gym is really what it takes to get you motivated, by all means go for it.  But it’s going to take a whole lot more planning on your part to make that happen.  I prefer to pop in a workout DVD at home and get it done in 45 minutes or less!

So, with that in mind, my favorite resource for home workouts is…

Beachbody.

Ok, before you all start asking...NO, I am not a “Beachbody Coach.”  I’m not going to send you to my business website to sell you workouts and supplements.  I just really love the exercise programs!  It’s easy to joke about Beachbody because of their reputation for flashy late-night infomercials and impressive (though often unrealistic) before-and-after photos...but they really do put out some great fitness resources!  I’m currently 5 days into the 21 Day Fix Extreme program and I really like it.  The other ones I have tried are:

-P90X (it’s fun, really hard, Tony Horton is the best, but many of the the workouts are just too long)

-Insanity (the title is a good description...NOT for the beginner.)

-T25 (not my favorite...kinda boring.  But quick and effective.)

-P90X3 (my favorite!)

What if exercise DVD’s just aren’t your “thing”?  There’s still plenty of other ways to stay active without a gym membership:

1. Walking (great for new moms - my babies always loved a ride in the stroller!)

2. Running - I like to run a few days a week in the spring, summer, and fall.  It gets my heart rate up better than even the toughest of cardio workouts.  

3. Practice sports with your kids

4. Treadmill or elliptical machine - I despise running on a treadmill.  But if you have one and like it, do whatever works for you!

5. Agility exercises in your yard - use the excuse that you’re setting it up for the kids and have them do it with you.  Then you won’t feel so silly when the neighbors drive by, ha!

Sleep

This is one area I have terribly neglected...and probably most other homeschool moms as well!  I’ve always naturally been a night owl, basking in the undisturbed late night hours when everybody else is asleep and I could be my introverted, all alone self.  The problem with that comes when you stay up late and still have responsibilities (like children!) to tend to in the morning!  

There are seasons of life when you will inevitably get less sleep than what you “need.”  I had one baby that woke up to nurse (for 45 minutes at a time) at least three times a night for over a year.  That year was really rough.  But we all survived!  If you’re in that place right now, just do the best you can.  Go to bed as soon as possible and sleep in as long as possible.  Catch naps if you can.

However...if you’re a “night owl” like me and burn the midnight oil on a regular basis, there’s a good chance the lack of sleep is going to catch up with you someday.  I have found that 7 hours seems like the sweet spot for me.  And I have also learned that, even though I like to stay up late, I am much more productive in the morning.  As a result, I have gradually (and reluctantly!) become a morning person.  This also means that I have had to go to bed earlier if I’m going to get up earlier!

Here are a few tips for better sleep if you need help in this area:

1. Have a nighttime routine to help you unwind.  Try camomile tea, lavender oil on your temples or in a diffuser, or reading for a few minutes.

2. Unplug.  Put your phone away when you lay down so you’re not wasting precious sleep hours scrolling through your facebook feed!

3. Invest in room darkening shades or curtains.  Research shows that we sleep much better when it’s completely dark.

4. Avoid intense exercise in the evening.  For the best sleep, try to exercise in the morning.

So...if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, thank you for reading!  This was a lot of ground to cover!  Really quickly, here are my goals for 2017:

-Establish a routine of exercising in the morning before breakfast

-Gradually work toward healthier eating and cooking habits for myself and my family

-Earn my black belt in Tang Soo Do this August

-Run the 8k race at the Crim Festival of Races

-Continue habit of going to bed earlier and getting up earlier

I’d love to hear from you: what are your goals for your physical health this year?  Which area needs the most attention right now: nutrition, exercise, or sleep?  What are your favorite resources for a healthy lifestyle?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Other posts in this series:

A Fresh Perspective on New Year's Resolutions

5 Simple Spiritual Practices for Homeschool Moms

Why Feeding Your Mind is Important for Homeschool Moms