Why Healthy Living Doesn't Have To Be Complicated (Or Expensive)

Photo: Thais Ramos Varela

Earlier this week, I (finally) went to see a new doctor. I needed to get my annual physical, which I hadn’t done since moving to a new city a little over a year ago. Not that I hadn’t been taking care of myself lately. In fact, I’ve probably focused on my health and well-being more than ever in the last year. (That’s saying a lot, considering I’m a health and wellness writer, a certified health coach, and I consider self-development books "pleasure reading.") But I was still feeling frustrated about some lingering health issues that hadn’t disappeared, despite my best efforts.

My hyper-focus on my health started after I saw a functional medicine doctor last year. I wanted to solve some minor, yet bothersome, health issues—fatigue, weight gain, some anxiety—once and for all. The doctor was fantastic—attentive, thorough, and understanding. By the end of the first visit, he recommended I completely revamp my diet, supplementation, and even the way I worked out.

When I left his office, I was given a list of supplements to take. Most I’d never heard of before, and none were easy on the wallet. I had five to take in the morning, more at lunch, and a huge handful to swallow at night. I was advised to cut out gluten, dairy, or sugar, and cut down on carbs. I was supposed to eat more salmon, avocado, and other healthy fats and always start the day with a nourishing breakfast to "feed my adrenals." (That part was doable—avoiding sugar, not so much.)

In terms of working out, I was encouraged to cut back on the heavy cardio sessions I’d been devoted to for years and instead integrate more yoga and strength training into my routine. Oh, and of course, I was tasked with starting that elusive yet effective cure-all: a daily meditation practice.

After a couple of months, I definitely felt better after following the functional medicine doctor’s protocol. Not that it was easy. Since that initial visit nearly a year ago, I’ve been thinking practically nonstop about what I should or shouldn’t be doing to improve my well-being.

I spent hours (and a LOT of money) scheduling my workouts for the week, driving to different yoga studios, and stressing out when I missed a class I’d signed up for. I spent hundreds of dollars on supplements from holistic health stores, and I felt like I was constantly at the grocery store meticulously planning what I would eat over the next 24 hours. I turned down invitations to dinners in order to stay at home and cook my own healthy food.

But as the months wore on, I started to wonder: Could I be overthinking all of this? As someone who (admittedly) overthinks most things in life, I started to think that while I’d developed a greater knowledge about my health and wellness, I’d started to lose sight of the basic building blocks of wellness.

Back to this week’s doctor’s appointment. Sitting in my awkward open-faced hospital gown, I started telling the ob-gyn about my last year. She was incredibly patient and down-to-earth, and I suddenly found myself opening up. I told her about the move I had made to a new city, a toxic job I had quit to work for myself, and the health diagnosis that a family member had just received.

I told her about the pesky fatigue and digestive issues I still couldn’t quite shake off. I told her about all the supplements I’d been taking (and spending money on) and how I’ve been trying so hard to be so careful about what I eat and how I exercise.

"It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and you’re doing a lot right," she said.

I caught my breath, and the words stopped spilling out of my mouth.

"Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself."

I swallowed—this wasn’t the normal type of medical advice I was used to hearing. No supplements, no rigorous dietary advice, no workout Rx? I thought to myself.

She continued, "A lot of us, women especially, have a tendency to put up with discomfort and stress, push through it, and handle it all."

That was me. As someone who definitely likes to do it all—and do it all perfectly well—I actually needed to hear that it’s OK to give myself a break. The move, the new job, the various stressors in my life—they all added up, I realized. And many times, stress can manifest itself as those physical issues I’d been dealing with.

What good health really comes down to, she said, is the simple building blocks we all know by heart:

  1. Get enough sleep: seven, eight, or even nine hours a night.
  2. Eat healthy (like Michael Pollan’s classic, simple advice: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.")
  3. Drink plenty of water: eight to 10 glasses a day.
  4. Be kind to yourself.

After all, no one’s perfect. The doctor herself admitted she didn’t go to yoga (which I actually do!) and slept with her phone next to her bed (which I'm guilty of too).

"But really, as long as you’re sticking to the basics," she said, "you’re probably doing pretty darn well."

I smiled. After this past year, her advice couldn’t have come at a better time. Maybe I didn’t need to spend so much time, effort, and money trying to fit it all in and do it all perfectly. Maybe slowing down and giving myself a break was just what I needed to do.

I walked out of her office feeling lighter—and much less anxious than if I’d been given a whole new "protocol" to follow. Over the following week, I did whatever workout I felt like doing—one day it was a run outside, another it was a yoga class. I bought my favorite (healthy) foods at the grocery store, including cereal I hadn’t bought in months, worried it was too "high-carb." It was delicious. I got in bed earlier and actually started waking up before my alarm.

Most of all, I focused on being kinder to myself. Instead of getting angry about missing a workout or not eating 100 percent healthy one day, I forgave myself, told myself I’m doing just fine and moved on. Once I cut myself some slack, relaxed a little, and focused on getting back to the basics, all the lifestyle changes I'd been making really began to mesh. I suddenly had more energy and felt more in control of my health.

With all the distractions and bad news out in the world today, all the trendy workouts and strict diets, maybe we all need to remember that keeping it simple is sometimes the best thing we can do for our health.

Psst: Let's ditch the gym today. Here are five health-editor-approved ways to make your workouts way more fun.

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