The past five Januarys of my life feel like they were full of the same blind optimism, followed by feeling like I was a failure for not achieving the health resolutions I had my heart set on during those first hopeful days of the year—until 2021.
While I never planned to be someone who worked remotely, having a full calendar year of working from home freed up time in my schedule that used to be spent commuting and at the office, and it left me with the opportunity to prioritize the things I previously hadn’t. No longer were dinners whatever would be the quickest to eat because I was so ravenous when I rushed in the door at night. Now, I had time and energy to give to my health that I just didn’t before—and for the first time, I felt like I ended a year healthier than when I started it.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself about resolutions that—let’s face it—nobody really keeps and would have prioritized small, tangible steps instead. But now that I’m on the other side, I’m keeping up with the things I learned that helped me and dropping the things that didn’t. These are the five habits that got me there and that I’m sticking with in 2022:
1. I prepped ingredients, not meals
I always thought that the quickest way to eating healthy was to meal prep, but after years of being on and off about it, I realized that for me, it was the quickest way to dread meals.
Rather than eating the same thing every day and having a four-day-old meal that needs to be eaten on Thursday, I started planning what I’d eat and prepping ingredients instead. If I knew I’d be making a stir fry, on Sunday after I grocery shopped, I’d take the time to pre-chop the ingredients I needed and then would make the meal right before I wanted to eat it. Not only does this make my cooking take half the time, but it also allows me to actually enjoy what I’m eating.
2. I snacked more consciously
One of my biggest pitfalls when it comes to health is that I’m a huge snacker, and those snacks aren’t usually healthy. When I was busy and didn’t have time to sit down for a meal, I’d grab whatever was easiest and get on with my day. While I absolutely still snack, I’ve changed what I eat when I snack, and it’s made all the difference.
Rather than following my instinct of reaching for carbs, I’ve made it a priority that when I snack, it’s on fruit, protein, or fats, so I’m left actually feeling full. I always keep cheddar cheese sticks and single-serve guac packets to dip carrots and celery into that I actually look forward to eating when I need to reach for something, and I’ve found that they’re the things that keep me fullest. Being more strategic about what I snack on rather than trying to cut it out altogether (which wouldn’t be realistic for me) has completely changed how I feel throughout the day in ways I didn’t expect it to.
3. I was easier on myself
I promise this is something I rolled my eyes at prior to last year, but by practicing it (often not by choice), I’ve been left a believer.
I’ve always been consistent about working out—I tend to feel anxious and jittery when I don’t, which is enough to get me moving—but often times, I’d be too consistent. I’d exercise on days that my body was aching and sore and would force myself to get up and run on mornings I was hungover (which, you guessed it, usually makes for a pretty terrible run).
The thing was, even when I was doing that, I wasn’t seeing progress. Rather than focusing so intensely on getting a workout in every single day no matter what, I’ve given my body days to recover and been easier on myself on days that I just don’t feel like going to the gym. As a result, the workouts I do do are higher quality and more strategic, and I actually find myself looking forward to them more.
When I stopped looking at it as something I had to do and instead looked at it as something I got to do, it completely changed how I felt. My body performs so much better now that it has time to rest and recover, and dropping the pressure I used to put on myself has left me healthier than ever.
4. I fit in movement where I could
The pandemic has taught me nothing if not the power that a good walk can have, and it’s made me have a complete 180 on my mindset about movement.
Since I live alone and work from my apartment, I have to stay conscious about making sure I’m moving and getting out as much as I possibly can. On days when I don’t want to go for a run or head to the gym, I’ve learned to prioritize walking as much as I can. It’s easy for me since I have a dog that has to go out multiple times a day anyway, but I’ve turned my walks around the block into 20 or 30-minute ones where I listen to a podcast, and I’m always left feeling better—and it’s become a part of my routine I look forward to. Even on days I do go to the gym, I make sure I take my dog for a long walk at night to get fresh air and clear my head.
Switching my mentality from requiring myself to do a hard workout in order to check exercise off my list to prioritizing movement when I can has made me enjoy it in ways that I never did before—and it has led to me moving more in the long run.
5. I listened to my body
In a past life, I exclusively worked out in the morning. In a lot of ways, it was great—I started off my day on the right foot and followed it up by showering and getting ready, and I loved the peace and quiet of exercising in the morning. But you know who didn’t love it? My body.
When I didn’t work out in the morning, I would on my lunch break, and I noticed that when I exercised around that time instead, my body felt completely different. I’d run faster and longer and felt like I had the energy of 1,000 burning suns. I realized that when I started off my day with work, after a couple of hours, I felt so excited to move my body, I and was itching to get out and get a workout in. Finally, I wondered why I was abiding by my notion that working out in the morning was best for me and switched to lunch break workouts instead.
Maybe you do work out your best in the morning, or maybe you love to work out at night after it’s dark, but figuring out the time that you’re the most motivated and feel your strongest is worth the effort. You shouldn’t be doing what you think you should be doing—you should be doing what works best for you and your body.