Are you going crazy trying to #stayhome during this COVID-19 crisis? Are you craving to be free and go back to normal?
I am right there with you. But have you thought that there could be some life lessons and health benefits of covid induced boundaries?
As someone who loves being outdoors and active, being inside almost all day is definitely getting under my skin. I feel trapped. I want to be FREE!…..to go on a trail run or swim a few laps, or just be safe to go buy some kombucha and spinach for goodness sake.
As I pondered those feelings the other day, I realized that so often in life, we think that boundaries are like prison. We believe that total freedom is what we need to be happy. This is actually a major issue as it relates to health, fitness, and achieving our desired weight.
I’d like to propose that limitations – even ones forced on us during COVID-19 – can be exactly what we need.
Benefits of Being Limited to Home
This quarantine is almost like the seventh year sabbath they used to have in biblical times to let the land heal and to take a break from all the toil. Not only was there a sabbath year, but the sabbath (seventh day each week) day of rest was created for us to break away from the stresses of life and work, and enjoy the fruit of our labor. It was created FOR US. To REST. To stop stressing. It was not intended to be a harsh restriction, but a time of restoration and reflection. It is a time that allows God to teach us that we are not in total control, that we CAN trust Him, and the importance of rest.
Could it be that God wants to use this time to heal and restore our taxed and over-stressed bodies? If you haven’t been able to catch the news, the earth is being dramatically healed from effects of less pollution, consumption and busyness. Why not let this time of quarantine also be a time for healing from the disease of busyness as well?
While we won’t be on lockdown for a full year (at least we pray not!), the boundaries from this mini-break are doing so much good, for many relationships as well as our health. I understand there many troubles to consider as well, but in spite of such things, we can stay positive as we look toward all the good things that have come from it:
- Families are spending more time together and finding creative ways to stay entertained.
- Family meals – and therefore communication – are coming back.
- Worship and prayer together at home is taking place since churches are closed.
- Parents are getting more time with their kids (well, maybe that doesn’t always feel like a blessing, but I’m sure you’ll look back on this time with fond memories, right?)
- Spouses are getting more quality time together.
- Communities are supporting each other more, and people seem to be acting much friendlier as we all go through this together.
- You may be getting more sleep, more time to try new recipes, or getting to read a book
- Many people are taking up new hobbies, or catching up on old ones
- Things that needed to get done around the house are finally getting done
- We’re commuting less, saving money on gas, and reducing pollution.
- Many of us are spending more time with God in prayer, reflection, and envisioning new dreams. Some are even “facing their demons” and finding emotional healing in the extra space.
Have you thought that being free from our temporary restrictions to go back to “normal” isn’t what’s best? That perhaps having this time of boundaries and restrictions can actually be used for the good of our bodies and minds?
Benefits of Food Boundaries
The idea behind this post came the other day when I saw an Instagram post the other day from a popular fitness site for women. The graphic suggested we don’t need to make any excuses for our snacks during quarantine. As in, feel free to eat junk food to help you cope. It made me angry, especially coming from a “fitness” organization. I couldn’t disagree more!
I believe this is a very damaging teaching because processed and junk foods can make us feel worse and more anxious in a time of high stress. Sure, temporarily the comfort of an entire bag of chips feels good, but a few minutes later it will make us feel bloated and tired; a bottle of wine will bring on depression and mood swings; a huge slice of cake will make us feel worse about ourselves and our inability to lose, or simply maintain, weight. The chemicals from man-made foods throw our hormones out of whack and effect our mental state negatively.
Removing all limitations when it comes to food will only make this whole situation worse, leaving us with more messes to clean up when it’s all straightened out.
Stop the MADness
Boundaries and restrictions in our diet are NOT a bad thing. Similar to being forced to stay home, it can feel just plain “mean” to be told to not eat sugar, fried foods, bowls of pasta or quick packages of processed food-like items. However, in reality, we would be far better off had these foods not been created, lying to us that they’re even “food” at all. These items, although they taste amazing, wreak havoc and chaos on our immune system, our mental well-being, our digestion, and our waistlines. Aren’t we trying to avoid any more chaos right now?!
The Modern American Diet (MAD) is full mostly of these unhealthy, processed foods like white breads, sweets, canola oil, cheese, baked goods, etc. Taking a break from these foods can help to heal and reset your body, allowing you to fight off disease better, feel stronger and more energetic, lose weight, and even crush depression and anxiety.
According to Pip Waller in Deeply Holistic “Even one serving of sugar, including concentrated fruit sugar, lowers immune activity immediately and for hours. Dr. Linus Pauling, who discovered the beneficial effects of vitamin C on the immune system, found that sugar has the potential to reduce the body’s defenses by 75% or more, and that the effect would last for four to six hours.”
To be fair, I also need to give credence to the flip side of this. We can create just as unhealthy a mindset when restricting every little morsel we put into our mouths. Panicking over how many calories were in that smoothie we just made or guilt and shame over two pieces of chocolate is likewise not healthy for a peaceful state of mind.
While self-discipline is good, too much (often in an attempt to control things), can be very damaging as well. I’ve been there! I know how mentally and emotionally taxing it can be to count every single calorie and feel like a bad person when you decide to indulge. So, while I will not say “Eat whatever you want because we’re in a hard time”, I will “bless” you to have a sense of rest about what you eat.
If it’s just one of those days and you want a brownie, a glass of wine, or some chips and salsa, then make a conscious decision that you’re going to “let go” and enjoy an indulgence. Sometimes we need these, and that’s okay! Don’t panic over it, but don’t stay on that path. Don’t bake a whole pan of brownies and eat two a day for the next week. Don’t eat the entire bag of chips with the whole jar of salsa. Don’t “treat yourself” every single day.
How to Maintain Your Weight When Home All Day
If you want to feel good during this time and not gain weight, choose healthy, life-giving foods in their most natural, organic state. Eat lots of organic fruits and veggies, some organic meat, eggs, and unprocessed carbohydrate sources like sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, rice.
Allow yourself an opportunity to “plan” or schedule your indulgences. Choose an appropriate amount, and once you’ve had your treat, then go right back to your clean eating. These little indulgences can help us feel sane and “free”, so don’t tell yourself how awful you are after you have already made the choice. If it helps, then make another choice to add 30 burpees to your workout tomorrow to help burn some of the extra calories. Either way, enjoy your treat and move on, letting your body continue to heal and grow stronger.
These are the choices that will actually help you feel more in control!
(If you want to make some healthy treats that you can enjoy every day in moderation, check out ChocolateCoveredKatie.com. Her brownies and cookies have never done me wrong!)
Exercise Boundaries for Better Health
Speaking of burpees…. Like eating, there are two sides of the coin when it comes to exercise. This is another area where we need to learn to have some restrictions and boundaries. There are two types of people and goals, and I will address each below.
1. When to Limit Your Rest
If you are someone who struggles with staying motivated to move or rarely works out, then creating restrictions around your leisure time may be needed. It could be an issue of priorities, deciding to restrict your time spent in a less important area in order to create space for physical activity. Just as eating can improve or hurt your mood and mental state, so can exercise. Doing nothing can lead to more fatigue, depressions, and health issues.
Especially while being stuck at home, fitness is an area where you could set some boundaries, like a set time when you will be active. For instance,
- Limit TV watching by 30 minutes, and workout during that time.
- Set an alarm every two hours during your workday to take a 5-10 minute walk around the block.
- Spend 40 of your “quality time” minutes you normally spend connecting with your spouse, children or friends, and go for a walk or run or lift some weights together. That way you can still connect, but do it while fitting in some activity.
This will do wonders for your stress – and we could all use some extra stress relief!
You can also find body weight workouts for home on YouTube, or just start with a few rounds of planks, push-ups, jumping jacks, squats, and lunges. Or contact me for a specific at-home workout plan!
2. When to Take More Rest
For others, like myself, learning to take breaks from exercise can be very tough. I generally take one day off per week which normally turns into an active recovery day where I go hiking, rock climbing, or do yoga. At times, that one day can often feel similar to being stuck at home feels right now – restricting and unproductive.
I like moving – it makes me feel better, it improves my digestion, it wakes me up, it reduces bloating, it helps loosen up my body, it brings mental clarity. So taking a full day off, or even two, can be very hard. And when you’re trying to lose weight, these days off are a mental challenge. But I also know that if we don’t take them, then somewhere in the near future we’ll crash and burn and be forced to rest.
It’s easy to become so obsessed with losing weight or improving our fitness that we feel we can’t take a break and we can’t take it easy. We “need” to keep pushing, running ourselves into the ground until we can fit into those size two pants.
Did you know that many triathletes, marathoners and Olympians have died from heart-related issues? They appear to be healthier than all of us, but the amount of taxation they put on their bodies from too much training actually damages their heart and health in the long run.
It took me a LONG time to learn this, but moderate (or varied) exercise is better than constant intense exercise.
I still fight this battle, too, but now I am very mindful of how I feel, and I take my HRV (heart rate variability) each day to see how my body is truly doing. The HRV measurement (I use Elite HRV with the Wahoo Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor) shows me if I’m overtaxing my body, if it’s craving rest, or if I’m in good shape to push hard that day. More often than I’d like, it tells me “slow down, take it easy today”. Sometimes, I actually listen. If I don’t listen, I will eventually feel it. I may think I can keep going hard, but soon that HRV is in the “red zone”, basically saying “Ok, now this is critical, STOP!” I used to ignore it more, until I found that if I didn’t, I was more prone to sickness, body aches, and exhaustion. Especially now, this is not the season we want to become more prone to sickness!
The days my HRV is low, or my body telling me it’s rundown, are when I choose to do a yoga class, work on mobility and core strength, or just take a relaxing walk.
Our rest days can be some of our most fruitful and freeing! This is where our body truly heals, repairs, gets stronger, and prepares for the next week. Plus, an hour or so is freed up to do something else that engages our hearts and minds in way that can add to the feeling of rest, productivity, and overall well-being.
How to Vary Workouts & Rest to be Your Best
This COVID-19 crisis can be the perfect time to learn this balance, because most of us are dependent on a few items we have at home and YouTube videos.
This push for embracing the rest doesn’t mean don’t exercise with intensity. We know that high intensity intervals can be incredibly good for cardio and muscular benefits, as well as great for weight loss. Just don’t do it every day! (Similarly, there is no need or extra benefit for going moderately easy for several hours every day).
So, do the HIIT workouts one to two times per week (these are SO easy to find online and many are geared for home workouts with little equipment), and on the others take it easier, like a light aerobic or calisthenics video or yoga. (Note: true HIIT is all out, breathless effort, not just intervals of work like 80% of YouTube videos portray.) You can lift heavy weights, but take a break on the burpees and sprints from time to time.
On your lighter days, take a walks, an easy jog, yoga, Pilates, or other active recovery training, to move while keeping your heart rate low. (When pools aren’t closed, swimming is another great way to workout at low intensity).
One of the benefits of this quarantine you can embrace is walking more. It’s one of the few exercise options for many of us right now. Walking is good for the immune system and helps balance hormones. And at the moment, it’s one of the only things keeping many of us sane. In fact, on these easier days and walks around the neighborhood, I’m able to spend time in prayer and contemplation more frequently than before, and often walk with my husband which is a great time of connecting.
Let This Be a Season of Renewal
This may be one of the only times in our lives like this, and just maybe it could turn out to be the most fruitful times ever! I pray you find renewal of your spirit, mind, and body in this season.