I was ready to retire. I was growing weary and my health was declining. After almost 10 years of being the only caregiver for my disabled husband I realized that it felt like my life force was literally being poured out.
However, I still had much to accomplish in my long and lovely life. I urgently needed to simplify my life in order to slow the pace and find a balance of my own choices.
So I made drastic but gradual changes, moving to Florida and reducing my living space. I revised my budget to be sure I was living below my means. People wondered about me, but I was excited.
I asked myself, in the splendid shadow of Thoreau, what I really wanted out of this final volume of my life’s book. My desire was to continue my writing, spend time with friends and family, and work to achieve a more healthy lifestyle.
Eating to Live — Healthy and Well
Reading and listening to success stories had convinced me that I needed to aim for little goals and tiny tweaks to my daily habits. So the first rule I adopted for myself was to spend at least 10 minutes in the produce aisle each time I shopped for groceries. Pure boredom brings about taking a longer look at possible food choices. This reminded me of my love for yellow crookneck squash, and I gradually began to experiment with eating a wide variety of foods.
Since retirement allowed me much more time to cook, I valiantly resisted filling my schedule with busyness. It seemed necessary to prioritize food first as I worked to revise my habits of cooking and eating.
I started fixing homemade soups, making it easier for us to increase our intake of veggies. Sometimes I used a prepared soup as a base, then chopping four or five fresh veggies to sauté and add. Soups became a glorious expression of creativity and adventure. Then I added the joy of stir-fry cooking!
Half of the time we had a breakfast of oatmeal with Greek yogurt, honey and blueberries all stirred in for fun and health. A banana became a mid-morning snack.
Meanwhile, I faced the fact that in our middle-aged working years we had gotten into the habit of eating our biggest meal of the day at night. Also, much of our social life involved food in the evening. As we made new social connections I kept two issues in mind: 1) Driving at night held decreasing appeal as I aged, and 2) Finding social activities which didn’t involve eating at night was now possible, and vital for my plans.
I had known for years the value of eating more during the day and less in the evening meal, but the pull of work and social obligations made it a challenging task and easy to avoid. So in my new life plans I decided we would not eat anything after supper! I eventually pushed that time to the 5 p.m. hour, with a goal of closing the kitchen at 6 nightly. My husband and I went through a bit of withdrawal but eventually adjusted, even not feeling hunger after that time — due to attending to protein needs throughout the day and at supper.
Afternoon snacks of nuts, fruit and popcorn helped keep blood sugar level while providing a fiber and protein balance. I placed special emphasis on whole grains along with better and less carbs.
There were very few no-nos other than smaller dishes and no eating after supper. I tried to concentrate on what to do, instead of what not to do! So I poured my heart and soul into devising meals and snacks, taking time to savor eating. If someone gave me a treat like brownies, I saved it for the next morning. Then I could relish it with a cup of coffee or tea upon waking since I would have all day to use up those luxury calories.
I allowed myself to indulge about once a week. We had lunch with friends on the weekends, and I enjoyed a small ice cream then. So I didn’t crave anything, since there were no taboos.
Moving Dem Bones
Everyone knows moving is vital for a healthy body. But how to weave this wisdom into habits? We started with a 30 minute walk each evening. Since we were on a budget, taking a walk helped substitute for shopping (a habit many of us know so well!) Sometimes we added a mid-morning stroll. I’ve continued short 5 minute walking sprints of a couple of blocks several times a day. I find that allows me to enjoy nature while taking stock of my day, providing much-needed pause to reflect or just “be”.
When a local hospital offered a class on balance and later healthy lifestyle, we took the classes, each lasting several weeks. This is when I started using ice and/or heat to ease daily aches and pains–preferring it to medications when possible.
A Date with the Dreaded Scales
Finally, I must address the buzz word — weight! For me, weighing each morning upon awakening helped me focus on my goal. (I know many prefer weekly or monthly weigh-ins, but this became a meditative practice to help me focus on patience and hope. If I weigh too much, I simply am reminded to stay on course; if I have a good number, I’m encouraged to stay on course also.)
I don’t set big goals since I’ve seen that fail so often. I set 1-5 pound goals and celebrated even at 1/2 lb. losses. I recognize staying the same as a kind of victory also.
My main goal all along was health. I considered myself a “senior in training” as I tried new combinations and broadened my horizons with more variety, spices, and the ever-fun reading of labels! I made up new recipes as well as consulting Google and magazines for more workable ideas. Workable for me means easy, using what I have in my pantry, and staying within my limited budget.
After over 3 years, I took time to reflect and realized I had lost over 50 pounds. My family noticed a huge difference in pictures from then and now. I lost around a pound a month and continued to keep my goals quite low, aiming either for the next pound down or to hold my own without gaining. Since I’d seen friends yoyo with their weight, I wasn’t interested in fast weight loss, so I concentrated mostly on health and not gaining.
Health is the Bonus of Living Well
But the real bonus is that I am no longer pre-diabetic. Although my knees and hips are not cured, they are behaving better, providing pain reduction and increased mobility.
I have had tough times, as we all do, yet I seem to be holding my own. In hard weeks I don’t pressure myself to improve; I work to hold my own and hold onto faith in the process. When my morning weigh-in shows a rise, I keep that in mind, not starving, but remembering not to eat more than I need. Sometimes I have chosen cottage cheese and salad or fruit for supper, reducing my quantity but maintaining my level of protein and variety of nutrition.
If I never lose another ounce I’ll be OK. But I’ll keep the weigh-in ritual because it reminds me that I live in my body and helps me focus on my health, making life better all around. Even though I had taught that lesson to students for many years, it was time for me to renew my subscription to that vital reality!
Notice I never believed in diets. I strive toward a healthy lifestyle where I enjoy food while keeping in mind its effects on my body and my life. Didja hear me say I enjoy my food? On weekends I allow myself to fall off the wagon a bit and have a piece of cake or ice cream (chocolate please), then reducing my quantity at supper. So I don’t feel I have to give up things–just cherish them judiciously:-)
Yup — Smiling Helps
To top it all off, I’ve hung onto my sense of humor. I tried to stand in my own truth while enjoying the humor of the medication marketplace where there were “experts” everywhere who knew exactly what I should do–give them all my money, ha.
Take That Body to the Doctor
I knew it was working after the first few weeks. Yet I also knew that my body was in a constant state of evolving toward old age. You see, I had figured out that retirement is when you make a calling out of growing old!
So I kept regular medical appointments, even when I had no serious symptoms. Got my cataracts fixed, started glaucoma meds (which could have made me blind had I not had that checkup), scheduled a colonoscopy (yuk), and did regular blood work. The data obtained from these sources also informed my daily living by reminding me to keep my blood sugar in check while maintaining low cholesterol.
I even keep my dental appointments since I want a healthy heart and good breath. Besides, the time spent with my dentist reminds me to keep my daily habits strong to prevent spread of inflammation.
So that is the take of my journey from being at risk health-wise to being ready to face the world in good shape and fine health.
And yes, I will have a slice of my birthday cake–as long as it’s early in the day and my birthday comes only once a year:-) OK, I confess, my friends and family have birthdays too; I”ll have just a small slice.
Copyright 2015 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.