Two and a half months ago I embarked on a challenge to reboot my mind and body and take control of my personal health and wellness once and for all. The three-week program, led by wellness expert Magen Banwart, involved not only a change of diet and exercise regimen but also a new way of thinking about how we choose to live in this world. First (if you’ve followed my journey you may be curious), I lost nearly ten pounds.
More importantly, however, is that I feel stronger, happier and have a lot more energy. I’ve gotten back into the groove of exercising and have also established some new food habits that will continue to help me over time. I still feel like I want to loose a few more pounds, but what matters most is that I know that I am treating my body with respect, giving it what it needs. If I continue to do that and loose a few more pounds to boot, well, that’s great!
So, here are my main takeaways from this journey, things I will keep on doing, because they are good for me but mainly because they make me feel good.
Starting the day with a protein shake
During the weekdays, I’ve never been much of a breakfast person. In the past, I’ve usually just scarfed down some cereal or bought a bagel at the cafeteria at work. If I was wealthier and had more time, I would prefer to start each day with a huge bowl of fresh fruit, but that’s not going to happen. A vegan protein shake is the next best option. They were part of my food protocol during the Reboot, and I liked them immediately. Quick, easy, healthy and good—what more can you ask for? The brand I use is called Sunwarrior—a raw vegan protein powder (I prefer the vanilla flavor). In the blender, I mix it with three ice cubes, a bit of water, almond milk, flax seeds, chia seeds and maca powder. Yum.
Lemon water in the morning, green juice in the afternoon and juice cleanses every now and then.
Every morning a make a cup of hot lemon water (using the juice of half a lemon). This restores the alkalinity in your body, which keeps your pH levels balanced and ensures that you don’t run low on energy or experience problems like fatigue, stress and depression. The benefits of green juice are seemingly endless, but basically it’s the quickest and most efficient way to supply your body with high-quality nutrients. You would have to chop on a bottomless salad all day long to get all the nutrients you get in a glass of green juice. I make my own in the morning, and keep some Green Vibrance on hand for when I run short on time (the single-serve packets are great for traveling). During the program we also did a five-day juice cleanse, which really made me feel great. This is something I will definitely keep doing a few times a year, whenever I feel like my body needs a detox.
Eating mostly leafy greens and lean proteins for lunch
Even though I don’t like to, I usually find myself eating lunch at my desk, while working. So lunch for me is more about satiating my hunger and getting through the day. Why, then, would I not eat something super healthy? I figure that if I eat mostly leafy greens and some form of lean protein like quinoa (for a non-vegetarian it could be chicken or turkey) for lunch during the week, I can afford to indulge a bit during weekends. The 80/20 rule is something that I aim to follow—eating well 80% of the time and allowing myself to indulge the other 20%. Every Whole Foods now lists the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) score for all produce, making it easier than ever to eat really well. The top scorers? Kale, collard greens and watercress. Stock up!
Avioding sugar, gluten and dairy
Magen believes that if you only eliminate three things from your diet, they should be sugar, wheat and dairy. Sugar causes inflammation, which in turn makes us age faster, not something most of us want. Many people are sensitive to gluten, and it is a more common allergen than we think. Most good health food stores have good gluten-free options for most foods these days. Avoiding gluten is, like much else, made more difficult by iffy FDA-regulations that enable manufacturers to label foods “gluten-free” even if they are not 100% free of gluten. Dairy is one of those polarizing topics, many people are sensitive to it and believe that humans are not supposed to eat so much of something that’s really meant for baby cows, while others see it as a crucial part of our diet (these opinions may have been helped along a bit by the incredibly powerful milk lobby). There are many reasons to avoid it. Personally, I can feel that dairy is not good for me so I try to avoid it as much as possible, opting for almond milk instead of regular and eating cheese only on occasion.
No coffee after noon
During this program, I gave up coffee for three whole weeks. I didn’t think that I had that much of it and definitely not that I would be somehow addicted. I had give up coffee for weeks in the past when I used to run half marathons and never had any side effects. This time, however, it was brutal. During the first three caffeine-free days I had a constant, mind-numbing headache. I have never had trouble sleeping, in fact in my family we usually had a cup of coffee together right before going to bed, but gradually I noticed my quality of sleeping improving. It was easier to wake up in the morning and I felt more rested. After these three weeks, I started drinking coffee again, because I am a New Yorker after all, and there’s nothing I love more than a good cup of black coffee in the morning. But, I set two rules: no bad coffee (like the one they have in the kitchen at work), ever, and no coffee after noon.
Making time to work out
Living in a place like New York City, it’s easy to get bogged down with work, work and more work. I was always tired and never felt like going to the gym, with the excuse that I was tired, mentally drained and exhausted and deserved to go home and lay on my couch instead. It’s a vicious circle that only makes you more tired, mentally and physically drained and exhausted. Working out gives you energy and it makes you look and feel better and stronger. You owe it to yourself to take the time to exercise. Sure, I still get stuck at work late or decide to go have dinner with friends instead of going to the gym. But, every day I don’t have something (which is at least half the days of the week) make a point to go. No excuses. I pack my workout clothes in the morning and after work I just go, without thinking too much about it. I’m also mixing it up more, adding spinning to my usual cardio class regimen. If I can’t make it to the gym at all, I always have the rebounder at home.
Sweating it out in the sauna
After pretty much every workout I do, I go into the sauna for at least 20 minutes. Sweating is your body’s way of ridding itself of toxins, and it’s something we should do every day. I used to hate saunas, because they made it hard to breathe, but the dry sauna is actually quite pleasant, especially in the winter. I bring a bottle of water—it’s extremely important to drink a lot of water in the sauna—and a book or a magazine, which makes for some really nice me-time after a good workout.
The Neti Pot, the tongue scraper and the body brush
These are three tools you should always have in your bathroom. I have been a fan of the Neti Pot for years, but now I make a point of doing it every morning, even when I travel. I used to use regular sea salt, but found that it stung my nose too much, now I have started using the special Neti Salt instead, which you can find at any well-stocked health food store and seems to be a bit gentler. Using a tongue scraper and flossing is more important to our overall health than I thought, so now I make a point of scraping every time I brush and flossing a few times a week. Besides feeling really good, body brushing gets rid of dead skin which helps your body get rid of toxins more efficiently. Ideally, you should do it before working our of doing sauna, but I just do it at home before showering, a few times a week.
Making time for meditation and breathing exercises
As part of the program, we were supposed to do a breathing exercise called Two Bells (#15 on the site) every morning. You listen to a soundtrack of two different bell sounds, one telling you when you should breathe in and another when you should breathe out. Each inhalation and exhalation is 6 seconds, which is supposedly the ideal length of breath. It’s a lot slower than most of us are used to breathing, but slowing down the breath lets your body know that everything is OK and that it doesn’t have to produce stress hormones. I’m also trying to work more and more on mindfulness, always being present in the moment, something that’s not easy in our hyper-connected society. It can be as simple as just looking at my surroundings instead of checking my email while I am waiting on the subway platform. Doing nothing sometimes is really good for you.
Realizing that wellness is a journey, where every day matters
Crash diets don’t work because they are simply a band-aid. Being your best self is about what you do every day of your life. Forming good habits takes some work. It takes three weeks to break a bad habit, but good ones last for life. The good new is that you are allowed to cheat, as long as you have enough self-insight and discipline to know that you need to be really good to make up for the bad times. Is it worth it? is a question I like to ask myself. Are those cookies or that ice cream worth the guilt that I will feel afterward? Sometimes that answer is yes, but more often it’s no. Save your treats for when you’ll really enjoy them. Scarfing down a bowl of ice cream while watching a sitcom is, at least to me, less satisfying that a good dessert enjoyed around a dinner table with friends. Every time I do eat something I know I shouldn’t I think to myself Magen would so not approve, which feels kind of like I have one of those good angels on my shoulder, looking out for my best interests. Could I have done this on my own? Yes. But having a group to support you and someone you can reach out to anytime with questions, concerns or complaints really helps. I knew that if I cheated I would just not be letting myself down, but also the whole group, which kept me motivated.
The things I told you about here are what I will be doing every day to make sure that I stay in great physical and mental shape. I will cheat and I will eat cheese and ice cream every now and then, that’s just life, but I know that if I am good the other 80% of the time I’m still good! Practicing kindness and forgiveness toward yourself is the key to happiness and success.
Below is a comparison of how I did, which, overall, was really well. Two and a half months later, I am nearly ten pounds lighter (I probably lost more during the program but have since been traveling and most likely gained a few back, but this is a more realistic measure anyways). I lost a lot of inches all around, the numbers may look small but if you think about it a half inch on an arm is quite a lot. My two biggest surprises was that I lost so many inches around my waist (clearly I am a girl who holds weight around her hips), and that I didn’t loose more body fat—the scale showed a significant decrease and I have been working out a lot which should mean that I lost fat and gained muscle. It’s a mystery, but all I know is that I feel a lot better and, in the end, that’s all that I ever wanted.
January 6, 2011
Weight: 157.8 lbs
Body Fat: 30.4% (goal: 18-20%)
Chest: 37.5″ (over clothes)
Waist: 31.875″ (goal: 30″)
Hips: 41.875″ (goal: 38-39″)
March 22, 2011
Weight: 148.4 lbs -9.4 lbs
Body Fat: 27% -3.4%
Arm: 10” -0.5″
Chest: 35.325″ (over clothes) -2.175″
Waist: 28.25″ (goal: 30″) -3.625″
Hips: 39.5″ (goal: 38-39″) -2.375″
Leg: 22.75″ -0.625″
Also read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4 of my Mind & Body Reboot challenge. Magen Banwart is starting a new Best Body Reboot program on April 25, if you are in NYC and feel inspired by this, sign up!
Top photo by Marc Alt.