Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunday Health Progress

Many of you who read this blog or who know me from real life know that I have long struggled with my weight and had many health issues over the years, most recently being diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease ulcerative colitis last May, for which I was hospitalized in October. The last year and a half, a lot of things have happened to me and the people I love that have made more visceral and immediate something that I already knew: My health is the single most important responsibility I have.

Health is a priori for living a good, fulfilling, and happy life. You cannot do anything else really well--your relationships, your job, your passions--without it. When I wrote my wedding vows (which I will post when I write more about the wedding, I promise), I was thinking foremost about health when I made one of them "I choose to take care of myself and my responsibilities, so that I can take care of you and our family."

This is radically different thinking than how I was raised. In my family, we tend to take care of others to the detriment of ourselves. Both of my parents work hard and are extremely generous, and I love them so much for that example. But sometimes I think my brother and I have been also instructed that thinking of (and caring for) others is more important than caring for yourself. I still believe that. However, the last few years have made it clear to me that you cannot really care for others if you are not in at least reasonable shape yourself. (This thinking extends to more areas than just physical health--it also applies to mental health, financial solvency, and teaching--which is my chosen profession).

Now that I am married, I am responsible to my husband for many things (keeping our household going, communicating in loving ways, not sleeping with other guys--you know, the basics). And while I think my 15 year old self would have found this notion ridiculous, I believe that caring for my health is one of the most important. Furthermore, we recently decided that later this year, we will start trying to have a family. Pregnancy scares the crap out of me--mostly because I know that my current health habits are not good enough for the future child I hope to house in my womb and then raise with my husband. But these two factors are combining to make me get serious about changing my habits in a permanent way to maximize my own health.

Oh, irony. That I have to think of how my health impacts others in order to make it a priority for myself. However, so far, these things have been a far more powerful motivator for me than vanity.

I'm doing it a bit different this time. For one thing, although weight loss is a goal, because my being overweight is negatively impacting my health, it's not the only or even the most important part of my health journey. My goals are to be alive long enough to enjoy my life with Min Gi. To be active enough to keep up with my kids. To be healthy enough to have time and focus for my writing and my career (I have used too many sick days of necessity). To have a strong enough body to support a child and give birth without too many complications. To partake of the physical activities that my husband and I enjoy doing together (get your minds out of the gutter, folks--I mean dancing, hiking, swimming, traveling, running, playing, skiing... things like that).

To accomplish these goals I know that I have to do three main things: 1) manage my disease 2) achieve and maintain a healthy weight--for my height, age, and body type I have set a goal of 64 kgs (141 lbs), which would put me at a BMI of 21.5 and 3) increase and sustain my level of fitness--I was happiest when I was active for at least 10 hours a week, half of which were real workouts at TKD, the other half coming from activities like dancing and hiking, that I enjoy.

To that end, I'm focusing on changing 2-3 habits each week. In the past, I would try to change everything all at once. Then when I (inevitably) was unsuccessful with one thing or wouldn't see progress fast enough, I allowed myself to give up on ALL of my health goals. This doesn't work. I want a change in lifestyle here, not just losing a few pounds. So far, it's working!

I began after getting back from the honeymoon with (1) giving up soda (I usually drank 3-4 servings of diet coke each day for most of my life) and replacing it with a cup or two of green tea in the morning, (2) eating food outside the home rarely, and (3) resuming nightly taekwondo, this time with An Il, my old studio and Sa Beom Nim. I'm doing fabulously with #1. I have eaten out only three times since returning to Korea (not bad for a restaurant-addict like myself) and discovering that I really like cooking at home every day. This has required more planning, creativity, and flexibility than I realized (such as running to the store in the morning when I don't have soy milk for my cereal and planning which vegetables will work with the ones I already have in the fridge), but it's been worth it. As for #3, I had a mild flare up of the UC and a huge foot blister that interfered with my resuming, but I am committed. The four times I've gone in the last two weeks have left me feeling AMAZING and the commute by subway is not nearly as bad as I feared it might be, especially because I can read.

This week, I continued my three previous resolutions and added (1) starting to track my weight and (2) getting enough sleep every night. Last Sunday, I weighed in at 82.5 kgs (179 lbs). It's hard not to get emotional about weight, but I've been trying to see it as one measure of my overall health. That's helping. And as for #2, I've been pretty good about getting into bed between 11 and 12 and waking up at 7 most days. I shut off the computer (with it's many downloaded episodes of Ugly Betty and Lost) and read until I fall asleep, usually pretty quickly. I can feel the difference regular rest makes for my body. I have more energy and patience. I can concentrate longer on what I'm doing (hence why the writing has resumed on the blog), and I'm happier. The biggest challenge with this one so far is that Min Gi's schedule is slightly different than mine, since he doesn't work outside the home, and late at night he likes to start really good discussions or he wants to dance or cuddle with me. This is wonderful and delightful, but I have to be really firm about going to bed, or he'd keep me up until 2 every night.

Anyhow, I've decided to make Sundays on my blog a day to reflect on my health progress, set my new goals for the week, and talk about this process. It helps to be reflective in my health journey, and hopefully the accountability of blogging will give me a little extra push to meet my goals.

This week I want to (1) keep a food journal (this helps with both maintaining my disease and losing weight) and (2) eat mindfully (I tend to eat out of habit, boredom, and in response to negative emotions; I would like to be more present with my food this week and try to focus on the tastes/textures and my satiety). Next week, I'll check in with you about how all this is going!

For now, I weighed in this morning at 80.5kgs (177lbs), which is a good loss (1 kg/2lbs) from last week. I feel better rested and had great energy at swing last night. Yesterday, Min Gi and I went swimming at the pool near our house and I did 50 laps and felt amazing! (His response: "Well, there is one sport you are better at than me!" To which I reminded him: "But what about skiing? And horseback riding? And swing dancing? And sailing?" He laughed: "Ok. You are better than me at lots of things.")


  1. Hi,
    I have ulcertaive colitis too. Keeping up with diet and sleep is essential to keeping away a flare. Also the meds I take make my body weaker. Listening to your body is the best thing. Anyways hope you meet your goals.

  2. Hiya! I DON'T have ulcertaive colitis but love making new habits and trying to improve things bit-by-bit, too. ^^

    Good luck with all this - and I look forward to reading your Sunday updates.



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