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Exploring the Impact of Self-Discipline on My Health Journey


Illustration of a dinner plate full of grilled chicken and roasted vegetables

If you have been following this blog for a while, you may know that I've had high and low moments in my health and wellness journey. There are times when I've been small in weight but not healthy, and times when I've been bigger in weight and exceptionally healthy.

There are times in which my body image was at an all-time high, and times in which my body image was in shambles. Over the last few years especially, I'm learning a lot about how my weight and overall health have been tying into my emotional wellness.

These days I've been revisiting my health journey, but more so what it means for my all-around health, rather than just my weight. But, like with any journey, I'm learning a lot about myself (both good and not-so-good).


Unsustainable Habits are Counter-Productive

Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out exactly when my self-discipline started declining. In the past, I prided myself on restricting certain foods or making sure I got some exercise every day. I remember literally telling a friend "Yeah, I'm pretty good at doing things that I don't like".

Despite absolutely hating it, about 7 or 8 years ago I was consistently getting in my steps and sticking to a strict diet. In all honesty, working out isn't my real weakness. After a few days of consistency, I don't have that much of a problem getting my workout in. However, my biggest issue was (and still is to a certain extent) my eating habits.

When I was at my smallest, I had done so by being very strict and disciplined with my diet. However, I will say looking back on it now that the result may have been ideal when it comes to the number on the scale, but I still wasn't necessarily "healthy". I became hyper-fixated on the weight scale and grew fearful of deviating from my diet at all. I didn't know it then, but my practices were unsustainable. This means that once we hit the 2020 pandemic, it was harder for me to keep weight off by being home all the time (aka within walking distance from a bunch of food) and having to find motivation to exercise at home rather than a gym facility. Maybe for the first year, I maintained it pretty well, but by the top of 2021, I was all over the place again with my weight and steadily gaining. I am also learning that "diets" tend to damage our relationship with food in a way that can make staying healthy difficult.

We fast forward to 2023 and not only did I weigh more than ever, but I wasn't doing too well with my health overall. I was lethargic, easily agitated (more than usual), and struggling with my depression. It wasn't until late 2023/early this year that I began to experience a wake-up call after a check-up with a PCP. While my results weren't necessarily horrible, I was still surprised to see the state of my cholesterol levels as well as the amount of visceral fat I was carrying. At best, when we have unsustainable habits with our health, we tend to revert to where we were when we started after a short period. At worst, you may have an experience like mine in which you piral into bad habits like bingeing, not even attempting to exercise, and overeating what you don't need.


Illustration of a black woman jogging along a trail

Keeping Things Simple

Aside from people with certain medical conditions, maintaining a healthy weight is simple: Be in a caloric deficit--burning more calories through exercise than what you consume. While this does involve making healthier choices with our snacks and meals, overall it still allows you to eat your favorites at least some of the time. The problem with what I used to do is that I would deprive myself of things I liked and reduce my meals to an amount of calories unsuitable for an adult. Not only is this guaranteed to make you irritable, but it's counterproductive because these habits slow down your metabolism. Even if you do manage to lose the weight with deprivation, you leave yourself more susceptible to yoyoing the minute you stop your restrictive diet.

There are things that I like such as chocolate, white rice, and red meat that I still enjoy but in a way that doesn't challenge my caloric deficit. When we put ourselves in a situation where we completely stop eating the things we like, we aren't as likely to get the (lasting) results that we want.

These days my method is simple: getting at least 30 minutes of exercise (typically cardio), having a small breakfast and lunch combined with snacks and plenty of water throughout the day, and a dinner heavy in protein/fiber. I have the benefit of working a hybrid work schedule, so on the days that I work from home it's quite easy for me to get plenty of movement. On office days I won't burn nearly as many calories but I still get in one workout and put focus on water intake.


Illustration of a black woman chopping vegetables in a kitchen

Building/Maintaining Self-Discipline

As I said before, I used to be great at doing things I did not want to do. And this applies to multiple things, not just health and fitness. However, these days I have to shift my mindset on exercising regularly and eating healthy being things that I "don't" want to do. Here are a few ways that I'm rebuilding my self-discipline:


Remember Why

When we understand why we are doing something, it's much easier to continue doing it. Losing weight is one reasons why I'm more mindful of my eating habits, but it's not the only reason. It's actually on the lower end of my list of reasons because I realized that I need something more than "I want to be smaller" to keep up these habits. Your "why" has to move you to do things regardless of if you have the motivation to do it. Here are a few:

  • I want to live happily among my friends and family for as long as possible.

  • I want to maintain emotional/mental health, which is tied to exercise and eating healthily.

  • I want to be a good hosting body for [future] pregnancy.

  • I want these habits to influence other parts of my life.


Accountability Partner(s)

Some people are more likely to keep their word when it means risking letting someone else down vs. letting themselves down. Having an accountability partner can help us stay the course if we fall short of our goals and can keep us accountable to the habits that we have set up for ourselves. And, of course, we are here to do the same thing for our partners! Also knowing that you have someone close doing the same thing is reassuring.

For me, my accountability partner happens to be my husband. Ironically, the person who used to indulge me the most is now side-eyeing me when I take more than a handful of gummy bears after dinner. It's fun chasing our health goals together and monitoring each other's progress! I know that some people enjoy having a gym partner with whom they can do the same exercise routine. Keep in mind that you all may have different goals and needs when it comes to exercise as well as eating habits. This is certainly true for me (5'0/152 cm, 177 lbs.) and Shaquan (6'5/198cm, 245 lbs.).


Be Honest with Your Limitations and Expectations

It took me a while to get my mind right on this point. Especially if you may have lost weight in the past, or you're grappling with how you look now compared to a few years ago. It's tempting to go extremely hard on our diet or try to do the same exercises we used to do. At one point I could get to 3 or 4 miles on the treadmill with no problem, but that's something that I have to work up to so that I'm not fatigued for the rest of the week. I also had to get real about my expectations for my body. Even if I were to get to the weight I used to be when I was 22, the reality is I am no longer 22. In other words, my body has changed with age and that's perfectly fine. I also have to acknowledge that as I age, my metabolism slows down. This means I have to be more intentional about my movement because weight doesn't just come off like it used to. With this in mind, it's easier for me to muster up some motivation to move my body and avoid eating an entire sleeve of cookies at 9:00pm.

Reaping the Benefits

Sometimes when I get discouraged or hesitant about waking up at 5:30 am to do my workout, I think about the benefits I've been getting from doing so. My mental health improves substantially when I'm mindful of my eating, water intake, and exercise.

In addition, when I'm on top of my health habits I have more mental focus on my tasks throughout the day, I sleep better, and I'm far less irritable and lethargic. I have also noticed that when I'm on top of my habits, I somehow feel more motivated to do other difficult things. It's as if to say "If I can wake up and workout at 5:30 am, I can do anything!"

Lastly, a significant benefit I've experienced is simply being happier with myself. I feel proud that even though I have had some hiccups during my health journey, I got back up again and have a new, refreshed attitude for the experience.


Reader, I hope this message reaches you in the way that you need it. You may or may not need these principles when it comes to health and wellness. However, we need self-discipline in any pursuit that is important to us. Whether it's health and fitness, our careers, our families, etc. we have to put certain practices in place in order to achieve them. What are some things that you are doing that are counter-productive to your end goal? What are ways that you can keep things simple with your habits? What is your 'why' behind the 'what'? Who is someone that you can rely on to hold you accountable to your goals? And lastly, what do you gain when you practice self-discipline and what do you lose when you don't?


Thanks for reading,


--Raven

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