When it comes to health and fitness, I thought I would be the last person to give anybody advice. For years, my bodyweight yo-yoed and I would fluctuate anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds above what was considered healthy. I am a Greek girl from Chicago, so I love food like pizza, burgers, pasta, and sandwiches. Everything was always about food and to a large degree, it still is for me. Thankfully, food is a part of my life in a much different way than it used to; a healthy way.
In addition to my unhealthy eating habits, I have always found it difficult to get into a consistent workout routine. I could sometimes fight my food issues by working my butt off, literally, but it would never last and I could never find a workout that kept me coming back for more. Often times, I would start a regimen and then I would get lazy, disinterested, or a combination and all of my work would go down the drain. Couple that with the food I was eating and my 10 to 25 pound estimate from earlier makes a lot more sense!
The general assumption from people about me is that, because of what I do for a living in the entertainment industry, I am naturally fit. I am always told how easy it must be for me to stay in shape and eat all the right things. Let me tell you all, keeping fit takes work, A LOT of work, but the key is sticking with it and conditioning yourself so that it does not FEEL like work.
1. A few extra steps each day…
As an illustration of what I am talking about, years ago, when I moved to New York City, I started trying my best to walk to everything. The island of Manhattan is pretty dense, so if I gave myself enough time, I could almost always find a way to hoof it. I did whatever I had to in order to avoid taking the bus, the train, or even a cab. I would make it a point to take the stairs instead of the elevator. These types of adjustments to my daily routine changed my approach to exercising and, in turn, changed my life.
Since those days in New York, I have become an avid power walker. But now that I live in Los Angeles, things have gotten a bit more challenging. People in Los Angeles drive everywhere, even if it is only a few blocks away. The automobile is a way of life and leaving my car keys at home takes a lot more dedication. I would have a hard time telling you how often people look at me as though I have two heads when I tell them I walked to meet them. But it is surprising that when you put your mind to it and keep telling yourself that you can do it that habits become instincts.
Just like my adjustments to life in the New York, I have had to adjust to how spread out Los Angeles is geographically. While I have even amazed myself with how far my feet can take me, there are plenty of times where walking is not practical. In those cases when I need to cross town or cover the bulk of the mileage on four tires, I will always park a bit further away to get in some extra steps. When possible, I will park a few blocks away, instead of using the valet or the parking garage. Just read those parking signs, because those tickets can be more expensive than a gym membership if you are not careful!
I had to learn that exercise is different for every individual, and the things that work for others did not mean they would work for me. Just like my instinct to walk, I try to encourage people to find as many ways as possible to keep moving throughout the day. Eventually you will find your thing, and once you do, stick with it. The more you enjoy what you are doing, the more motivated and inclined you will become to keep on doing it.
2. Start with small changes.
After all these years of fighting my bad habits with food and exercise, it became obvious to me that both subjects required the same type of adjustments for me to finally to successfully change. I had to start out slow, make simple changes, and then stick with those basic adjustments until they made way for bigger changes.
I substituted day after day of unhealthy food for one cheat day a week. I started getting up and making sure that I would walk at least 10 minutes and stretch each morning. The next thing I knew, it would be a month in between cheat days and I was walking 5 miles every morning. I got some small hand weights and, in between my post-walk stretches, I would do some simple weight exercises. I found myself forming good habits without even thinking about it and, most importantly, I liked every minute of it!
Now, I do not want to fool anyone into thinking that I never slipped up and got away from my routine. I had my bad days, my sore days, my overindulgent days, my binge days; but the key was that I would always push myself to get back on track. As soon as I would drag myself outside, or push away from the table, I was amazed how much better it made me feel. I started to feel the positive reinforcement that came from a healthy lifestyle and I LOVED IT!
3. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
One secret that I used to keep myself from falling off the wagon was variety. At first I would make sure that I walked different routes and while I was out, I would find new restaurants to help inspire me to try new healthy foods. I would spend extra time walking the aisles of the grocery store and seeing what foods I could add to my diet for a change. I would vary my stretches and do different weight exercises after my walks. Sometimes, I would add music or check out the scenery to see if there where good spots to take pictures along my route. The key was that I would avoid getting bored or feeling too much like I was in any kind of rut.
Rainy days would give me the opportunity to do jumping jacks or jump rope. The summer would take me to the beach or find a waterfall. The winter would give me a chance to hike in the hills. I would vary my diet with the seasons too and try to keep up with the freshest and healthiest foods depending on the time of year. Eventually these types of changes also became instinctual and now they happen without me even thinking about it.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, find what’s right for YOU!
Another secret for me was that I stopped comparing myself to anyone else. If my motivations, habits and interests were my own, there was no way I was going to try and settle for the image someone else created. I wanted to be myself and I wanted to be proud of all my hard work. Getting inspiration from others is one thing, but trying to live up to others is a totally different ballgame.
I would turn to my closet and try on my clothes. If I liked the way that my clothes fit and the way they looked on me in the mirror, then I knew that I was on the right track. When things got tight, or something did not fit the way it did a month ago, I knew it was time to push myself a little harder.
The other problem I found with trying to look like someone else is that results take time. I knew that if I tried to compare myself to someone who may have been more dedicated or working harder and longer was not fair to me. As long as I focused on what made me happy and made me feel good, I knew that I could not go wrong. I had to be dedicated, but I had to be dedicated to me, and only me.
It has been a long road to get to where I am now. I still struggle at times and have my setbacks. But I have been working at this for such a long time and I have enjoyed so many positive moments along the way that it only takes a little time to reflect on those memories to inspire me to get back on track. I know that I will never be perfect, but as long as I keep looking up and pushing myself to be the best me that I can be, I will always be happy, healthy and motivated to keep improving.