I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I learned as a kid that are not relevant to me now. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to stick with the ideas related to health, mental and physical.
1. When and how I eat. If you’re around my age (late forties), I’m sure you were taught the four food groups, how much you should eat of each, that you should eat three square meals a day, and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that all of this is different now. Some of it is just science. There are now five groups (fruits and veggies got split up), and in the old days it was 4-4-3-2, that’s the way to eat for you (or something like that). I don’t remember which number goes with what group, but that was taught to me as a kid. Now, it’s ounces/cups per day, and the amount of each group has changed. I don’t have an issue with that. Things change over time.
When I should eat has always been a struggle for me. I don’t like to eat when I first awake, and usually it’s more than an hour after I get up before I’m even remotely hungry. In addition, I take a medication that requires that you don’t eat for an hour after you take it.
Side note: It would have been nice for my first doctor to tell me that when I was fourteen–which was when I first started having to take this med. He didn’t, though, and he was a bad doctor all around. Then again, he might have said it and I didn’t listen because I was overwhelmed with the new information and was exceedingly depressed at the time. Either way, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that my (new and great) doctor told me that I wasn’t supposed to take the medication with an hour of eating.
Anyway, I sometimes don’t eat for hours after I awake. It just depends. I have a history of eating disorders, so I’m trying to honor my body by eating only when I’m hungry. It doesn’t work all the time (or even most), but I’m working on it. As for the three square meals thing, I’ve found that I feel better if I eat a little bit several times a day rather than a lot three times a day. I think it makes more sense, too, to keep my hunger at a reasonable level, rather than have a feast or famine mentality. When I go out to eat, I never eat more than half, especially if I order an appetizer and/or dessert. I don’t like feeling stuffed, so it’s easier for me to eat many times a day.
I also have to take into account all my sensitivities. I’ve been gluten-free/dairy-free for almost two years, and I’m currently troubleshooting what else is wrong with me. Food-wise, I mean. I thought it was nuts, but now I’m finding it’s not. It might be hydrogenated oil? I’m not sure. I haven’t had a serious stomach issue in a week or two, which is nice, but I would like to pinpoint what made it happen.
2. What kind of exercise I like and how often I do it (and how vigorously) This is a touchy one for me because of how exalted exercise is in this country, but only if it makes sweat pour down your face and your body ache by the end of it. “No pain, no gain” was the mantra on everyone’s lips when I was a kid, and it’s not uncommon to still hear it now. I took dance as a kid, and while my teacher didn’t believe in this, it still was hard work. I hated practicing, even though I loved dancing (tap, ballet, jazz), and that’s pretty much been me for my whole until the last year or so.
Side note II: I’m good at most things I do. Not because I’m good at everything, but because I quit the things I’m not good at. It’s one reason it’s weird that the FromSoft games are my favorite because I suck at them. However, something about them kicks in my obsessive traits and makes me play them until I tame them. However, being quick to pick up most things is a curse because it means that I quit at the first sign of trouble. I’ve done it all my life, and while it’s not something I’m proud of, I have to acknowledge it.
I give a lot of credit to taiji for, well, everything, but in this case because it’s helped me persevere when otherwise I would have given up. Let me real with you. Most of taiji has been ‘easy’ for me. I put easy in quotes because it’s deceptively simple, the forms, I mean. (And I’m grossly simplifying here.) I learned the postures of the Solo Form (movements now, postures when I learned them) fairly quickly except for a handful, and the ‘hard’ section, the kick section, was and still is my favorite section. It’s the same with the Sword Form. I learned it fairly easily, and I actually had a classmate upset because I was learning it much more quickly than he was. Now, we’re learning the fast form, and I have a classmate frustrated because SOME PEOPLE (and, yes, she said that) learned faster than she did.
The thing is, I had practiced it every day since our teacher introduced it, plus I had already learned the follow step during Push Hands class. In addition, I have a really good memory, and it’s nothing I can actually take credit for. Ironically, playing FromSoft games lets me be on the other side of the coin, and I can get frustrated because it takes me hours to do the thing that takes minutes for other people. I also hate guys (and it’s always guys) who say, “I don’t get why this is supposed to be hard, LOL. I beat this guy on my first try with my hands tied behind my back, blindfolded, and with a dance mat.” I could say that about a lot of things but I don’t because I can’t take credit for my natural talents. I CAN take credit for what I do with them, such as practicing the first section of the First Form every day.
Back to exercise. I have read ad nauseam about how exercise is a natural high and how it releases endorphins and whatnot. I have never found that to be true. I have done all sorts of exercise, and hire some of them feel good, none of them have given me that adrenaline rush. Not walking four miles a day (let’s not even talk about running. The less said about that, the better), not dancing (which was my preferred form of exercise), not aerobics, and not weightlifting. Taiji in general also doesn’t give me that high, but I will say the closest thing to it is when I do the Sword Form or practice the Fast Form.
Taiji is the lazy person’s exercise because the basic principle is to expend the least amount of energy possible for the maximum effect. I used to hate practicing so much that I made myself attend more classes per week in order to get in more taiji time. Then, a few years ago, I forced myself to practice at home every day, but it was really minimal and begrudgingly. Now, I do at least a half hour a day, and it’s not begrudging at all. It’s become an integral part of my life without me realizing it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh! I forgot to mention that I did like lifting weights, and there is a taiji weight-set. I used to do it, but I had to give it up when I got sick repeatedly (the two weren’t connected, but being constantly sick made me not want to do the weight-set). I want to pick it up again, and I need to talk to my teacher about it because while I have it written down somewhere, I need a refresher.
3. Sleep. Oh, sleep. Sigh. What can I say about sleep that I haven’t already said? I suck at it. I used to suck at it more, but I’m still not getting eight hours a night as recommended. Honestly, that may never happen. There has been some evidence that we’re not meant to sleep eight hours in one chunk, but that still seems to be the recommendation–probably more because of practicality than anything else. Since most people work for at least an eight-hour chunk (more like ten hours when it’s all said and done) at least five times a week, it’s impractical to suggest sleeping in two four-hour chunks.
I have the privilege of working from home, which means I can theoretically sleep any time I want. So, if I want to sleep in two four-hour chunks, I could. But I don’t. Napping has always been a double-edged sword for me because I often wake up more tired than when I fell asleep. I’m not against naps per se, but my body doesn’t seem to cooperate whenever I most need one.
I have never been able to go to bed before midnight (unless I’m sick), even when I was a little girl. My mom would make me go to bed at whatever time, and I’d place a towel in the crack under the door and read until well after midnight. I got four hours a sleep a night in college, and it’s only after I started practicing taiji in earnest that I worked that up, painfully, to six hours a night. I may never get more than that, but it’s better than what I used to get. In addition, I used to have four or five nightmares a night, really horrible ones, and I’d remember them all. Now, I mostly have anxiety dreams, and I rarely remember them. I’d call it a win.
My takeaway from all this is that a lot of the guidelines are just that–guidelines. They don’t work for everyone, and most of them don’t work for me. The best thing to do for your health is to figure out what works for you (within reason) and do that. Much easier said than done.