You can’t pour from an empty cup

Right now I am supposed to be sitting in my cramped Kia Rio driving from Chicago to Toronto after having run the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Instead, I am sitting at the kitchen island in my Toronto condo after shoving my face with a Thanksgiving feast writing this.

This is now the second year in a row that I haven’t reached my goal of running a full marathon and to say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. Social media is currently agonizing, taunting me and reminding me where I should have been this weekend, but here I am sitting Toronto, having run a total of zero kms this weekend. While last year I didn’t make it to the marathon because I admittedly wasn’t training enough, this year my decision not to run was based off of agonizing hip pain that made even walking feel impossible after any long run. Despite the slow start to my training, I was SO determined to run this year and once the hip problems really set in I tried to ignore it and really really thought I could push through it and find that inner grit and mental strength that every marathoner talks about. I just wanted to get there and finish, even if it meant crossing the line in over 5 hours. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that my hip was so sore I couldn’t sleep after a long run, and then it started happening after shorter runs too, and then it was starting to hurt just from walking down the street. I was stretching, rolling, doing yoga and trying anything to self-rehabilitate.  Eventually, I decided to suck up my pride, look after myself and defer my entry until next year.

While the pain this year was certainly out of my hands, I do keep asking myself if trying harder earlier on would have got me there. While the pain was there all summer long, I also started noticing something else in those early summer days. My head was not in the game. I don’t know if this was from the pain or from something else. I just didn’t want to run. This wasn’t normal exercise procrastination this was a straight up I-hate-running-and-don’t-want-to-run feeling. Training was becoming a chore, and something I absolutely dreaded. If I missed a run, I ended up stressed, angry at myself, and totally let-down. I don’t know if these thoughts were a result of the pain or if the thoughts were making the pain feel worse than it actually was. While all of this was going on work was getting crazy and I still hadn’t settled into my commute and my new routine at my still-new job. A true perfectionist, it took me a long time to admit that my pain and my negative thought loops would keep me from running a decent race, or even finish the race, not the way I wanted to make my debut at this distance. After much reflection and a run where every single step hurt, I decided to defer to next year. I cried and cried and cried when I hit the defer button online. I couldn’t believe I had let myself down again. But then something happened- I felt relief. I suddenly didn’t feel as stressed.

I quickly came to the realization that the very same thing that inspired me to START running was now the cause of one of the main reasons I had to completely stop running for a bit; stress, and the perfectionism in my head I constantly try so hard to quiet. At first, I felt shameful about this. It was hard for me to tell people that I was having hip problems and that I also honestly just didn’t want to run. Being a runner, after all, had become such a large part of my identity and social life. But slowly, after a few weeks of coming home from work and literally doing nothing, I came to terms with it. My body and my mind had been trying to tell me something important, I just needed to stop and listen. I really tried to focus on myself and not on what everyone else would think of me dropping out of the marathon. I normally wouldn’t advocate for this kind of lifestyle but honesty, I was very lazy for a few weeks, I ate what I wanted and drank what I wanted and it felt great. I’m not saying that this is the best way to take care of your mental health, but I think in this situation I just felt so relieved and relaxed and let go of the impossible standards I so often set for myself. Learning that this is okay was a huge lesson for me. Of course, being the active person that I am, my body started telling me it was time to move again. Instead of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement, I listened to my still sore body and focused on walking more, getting off the subway a stop early, taking breaks in the day to do some stairs, carving time in my schedule to get to a yoga class. Mainly, I didn’t stress about fitting tons of activity it. I did it when I felt like it and if I skipped a day, that was okay too. I tried some new fun recipes, I enjoyed lazy Saturday morning coffee walks with my husband and my dog, I made social plans after work with my non-running friends. I like to think this was just as healing for my mind as it was for my hip. I truly believe that we can’t be well physically if we aren’t taking care of our mental health first.

As I prowled social media this weekend and watched my favourite blogger cross the finish line in Chicago, I started finding what I had been missing again. My hip is feeling a lot better, I’ve achieved a bit more (of that impossible thing called) balance in my life, but most importantly my mind is ready. My motivation is there again, and it’s REALLY there.

Getting back into it last week with my fav running pals

 

Am I going to jump back into running 5 days/week? Absolutely not. But I am going to slowly get back into it, keeping up with my yoga and other strength classes, doing some proper physio with a professional and taking care of my head again. Hopefully I will start to rev-up the training again mid-December in preparation for some Spring races, but if my head isn’t there, I won’t force it. So much about being healthy is about finding what works and keeping it as enjoyable as possible. Of course, I want that to be running. But I want it to be running for me, for my goals, for my mental health, for my well-being, not for my perfectionism, my worries about what others will think or because I think I have to run a marathon to call myself a runner.

Thanks to all who have listened to me agonize over this and still loved me anyway, marathon finisher or not. You know who you are!

What does “Wellness” mean to me?

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I will be honest, this post is a contest entry. BUT, in order to enter the contest, I have to explain what wellness means to me. Motives aside, this is definitely an important question to ponder and reflect on and I am so happy that The Healthy Maven, Run to the Finish and Fit Foodie Finds have made me stop to think about this. In my last job, I ran the wellness program in our HR department and I often talked at length with my colleagues about what “wellness” meant. It was quickly apparent that it means different things to different people, no doubt. In the case of our job, we had to learn to separate what wellness meant to us and what we wanted it to look like, from what the organization saw wellness as (and all the complications that came with working in a large organization with a lot of complex policies, budgetary restraints, etc). That being said, our jobs may have been easier if we had just had someone tell us what wellness meant in this context.

This makes me think, because I often talk about my passion for wellness, but I haven’t exactly defined what it means to me, my perspective and where all of my actions come from. Takes me back to my undergraduate years and always making sure my research papers had an operational definition. How can I go about living my life a certain way without a starting point, a concrete philosophy to leap from? Not to say that these things cannot be flexible in the way they can’t be in a research paper. I think wellness is such a personal thing and as we grow and evolve, it makes sense that our definition of it may be a bit plastic as well.

As a classic Type “A”, I definitely struggle with letting perfectionism go. This is hard for me, because I truly used to see wellness as having a perfect body, eating a perfect diet, having perfect work/life balance. However, I (thankfully) have learned that this is not possible, and defining wellness that way is only going to achieve the opposite of what I want it to be.

I came across this saying a few years back and it definitely hits close to home and has become my mantra when it comes to my health and wellness:
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BUT, to put it in my own words; Wellness is about treating my body and mind with respect, activity and nourishment. Wellness is being emotionally present, aware and connected to myself and to others. It is having a positive relationship with my home and work environments, as well as with nature. Wellness is flourishing, living happily, healthily, holistically, and with gratitude.  It is not comparing myself to others but to personal milestones, and how far I have come, whether I have made progress or taken a few steps back and knowing how to better myself (whether this means taking a mental health break, losing weight, gaining weight, resting, connecting with loved ones). It is about doing my best under the circumstances, and not beating myself up when I can’t do my best (like today when I ran very slowly through the rain). It is fostering my ability to live life to its fullest while understanding that the good and bad must co-exist. It is about being me, it is about being okay with it.

To be able to spend a week at Wellfit Malibu would be an incredible experience, a chance to step back from the current chaos, and press the reset button on my health goals. It would be a chance to remind myself to really take care of ME and be in the moment. It would be a dream come true!
#WellnessThatFitsYou

Me!

Hey everyone!

Well, this is my very first time ever writing a blog so bear with me!

Who am I?

My name is Alison (Ali) and I am currently a Workplace Wellness and Health Promotion grad student at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario.

Favourite way to sweat?

LesMills BodyPump, BodyAttack or RPM

Favourite vegetable?

Kale

Favourite fruit?

It’s a 3 way tie between pomegranates, avocados and raspberries

Favourite beverage?

COFFEE

Why am I here?

The short story: To talk about wellness with anyone who is interested. Mainly, I like to discuss fitness, nutrition, mental health and wellness in the workplace. It is my hope that I can provide readers with recipes, reviews about all things wellness in Toronto (and beyond!) and discuss ideas and thoughts surrounding these subjects.

The long story: I used to write, a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, you name it. Then, I went away to University. I wrote a lot there too, but mainly things like research papers, statistic reports and then my biggest piece of writing to date- an undergraduate thesis. But that stuff was boring, I didn’t have time to write the fun stuff for myself anymore.

Through University I found myself struggling with crippling bouts of depression and anxiety. I think a lot of students go through this but society teaches us to keep it to ourselves, and I did. There is nothing as poisonous as the self-stigma we put on ourselves and I felt entirely alone. Anyone who has been through University knows it is a fight. I felt like I was swimming upstream through the rapids for most of my time as an undergraduate, barely staying afloat.

After a horrendous breakup, a friend of mine suggested I join her in a kickboxing class. Her words were “because visualizing his face must be good for something”. She was right, and man did it feel good. This was kind of a turning point in my life. I was shocked to realize just how much a good workout could affect my mood. I wish I could say it was right then that my whole life became perfect and I started going to the gym every day. (I will disclose this now- my life is still not perfect and I still don’t workout every day, and that’s okay!).  However, from that point on, I decided that fitness was going to be a part of my life. I made it through my undergrad, working out as much as I could and really finding myself benefitting from a group fitness environment. While at that time I would have loved to be active every day, I could only manage about 3 days a week- yet those 3 days a week are what I truly believe kept me afloat through it all.

When I graduated, I was sure glad all that stress was over. Unfortunately, as a new graduate I found the world to be overwhelming, and the employment market a huge source of discouragement. I always thought that when I left school, my life would fall into place and I would never feel anxious or depressed again. “Real life” left me with a lot of free time on my hands and an even bigger serving of disillusionment. I had never really been overweight in my life, and I considered my eating habits to be fairly healthy, but I also wasn’t exactly athletic and toned. The months following my graduation lead to a few things, a sense of complacency in a terrible serving job, and about 20 pounds on my small frame.

Around that time I met my wonderful partner Zach. Zach is many things to me- my biggest cheer leader, my support system, my road trip buddy, my best friend and my rock. Being in a new relationship is always an exciting time- but I wouldn’t say it was a driving force in my health goals. In fact, it was kind of the opposite. Zach has made it very clear from the get-go that he thinks I am beautiful. It is hard to stay focused on eating well and working out when you have a sexy man telling you that you always look amazing, no matter what. Here’s the kicker to our story- Zach lives 830km away from me. This has had it’s challenges over the years we have been together, but also has had many benefits. I ended up losing my serving job (a huge blow to my ego) and therefore, I didn’t have an income to afford to go visit him. He was struggling himself and we had a period of being apart for quite some time- this wasn’t a pretty time in my life and was a big contributing factor to this post-graduation 20 pounds.

Instead of hiding away in a blanket of depression I started to dedicate my extra time to fitness and changing my eating habits. As I said, I had never been one to eat terribly unhealthy, but something had to change. The key for me was also realizing how much a healthy active lifestyle affected my mood. I began to workout at least 5 days a week with a healthy combination of strength training and cardio group fitness classes. I eliminated all refined and processed foods out of my diet. I started to feel amazing. I dropped nearly 20 pounds in 5 months. Around this same time, I was realizing that I needed to make another big change in my life. I realized I needed to go to graduate school in order to find a career that fulfilled me. I had been an “A” student during my undergraduate career but I still wasn’t quite cut out to pursue a masters in clinical psychology like I once thought I would. I applied to a few M.A. counseling programs thinking I would like to help people through therapeutic means. Yet, something was holding me back. What I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted didn’t seem to match up anymore. However, I didn’t even know exactly what it was that I wanted. I searched and searched and searched until I stumbled upon health promotion programs. I thought about an M.Sc. in Health Promotion. I thought about Organizational Psychology, but I gagged at the thought of dedicating 2 years of my life to research. I still knew I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know what medium I would do this through. I have worked as a summer camp counsellor and I get an immense amount of satisfaction from mentoring and motivating people. I started to help my friends change their lifestyles as well, and the fulfillment I gained from helping others out in this capacity was immensely gratifying. This is also when I discovered the WWHP program at Centennial. I read through the course descriptions and through the career options. I was thirsty for more information. I contacted graduates of the program and spoke to them about what they were doing now. I didn’t even know that workplace wellness existed! Everything sort of fell into place for me. I slowly started wrapping my head around the fact that I could help people in the workplace, I could even help with mental health in the workplace, and I could do it all through my passion for exercise and nutrition.

To me, health is not just about getting through life and avoiding or fighting off illness. Health is about being present in life, it is about preventing diseases (mental and physical) and it is about  fostering our ability to live life to it’s fullest. I believe that our physical and mental states are so much more connected then we realize. I believe what we put in our bodies dictates so much of our lives and affects our mental and physical health the same way that exercise (or lack of exercise) does. I believe that in our society we do not treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. Instead, we work them to the ground and in the process destroy our mental and physical well-being and develop chronic illnesses. The biggest culprit of encouraging this behaviour is a place where we spend most of our time- the workplace. I think this is all preventable if only we have the information and motivation to change our lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change. It doesn’t have to be a wake-up-at 5am-every-day-to-run change, it doesn’t even mean avoiding chocolate at all costs. It just means doing the best we can, day to day, to incorporate wellness into our lives. 

 

So to come full circle, here I am studying wellness and pursuing a career where I can do exactly what I mentioned above. I love researching about wellness, I love hearing about wellness, I love sharing the messages, I love participating in wellness initiatives. And I REALLY love writing about wellness. Writing has become fun and enjoyable to me again for the first time since high school. Through my writing about wellness I want to share my passion with all of you. Since fitness and nutrition are my biggest passions when it comes to health promotion and wellness I will be sharing a lot of information about those domains of health here, but I will also be sharing information on just about anything in the wellness field. So stick around and read what you can. I hope I can help you head towards a life full of well-being and health, or at least get the wheels turning to help you live your life the best way you can!