How to change your life in 8 weeks

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Five months after giving birth to my twin boys, crawling out of the fog of survival mode, I was ready to get back to an active lifestyle. Caring for and nursing newborn twins and my three-year-old had left me perpetually tired, hungry and sluggish. Aside from occasional winter walks, I was not getting much exercise. And I was treating myself to plenty of take-out coffee, baked goods and fast food as a way to reward myself for getting through the long days.

As a runner and a fairly healthy person, I knew I needed to kick these habits – which had almost become crutches – before they became routine for me as a busy mom of three.

I partnered with 3rd Degree Training Saint John, with the goal of getting in 3-4 high-intensity interval training workouts per week, and to share my story to help others see what it is like for someone like me to take on their program. I followed a customized Actual Nutrition plan for an active, breastfeeding mom (so much food!). My goals were simple: to get “in shape” again and feel good about myself. I was honestly not sure if four workouts and eating clean would be enough to see a significant change in my body. And to be honest, I was OK with that because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose and I knew once I returned to running, eventually, that weight would melt away.

By week four I was already seeing significant changes, not only in how my clothes fit but, more significantly, in how I felt.

I had so much more energy, I felt mentally clear and my mood was lifted. I felt like a better mom, a better spouse and closer to the old “me.”

The combination of cleaning up my diet, simply by eating whole, real food and eliminating junk (which I didn’t eat loads of, but I certainly indulged at least once a day), and blasting my body with quick, effective workouts, was a magic combination.

It was so perfect to end my first round of bootcamp as I celebrated 35 trips around the sun. In eight weeks, I lost eight pounds and nearly eight inches. I love the program so much I decided to keep going for another round, with the goal of improving form and continuing to get stronger while I ease back into running.

Every day is not a cakewalk – sometimes I find it challenging to focus on making healthy meals for myself as well as my family (moms are used to being last priority, eating the leftover Timbits and crusts of peanut butter sandwiches!). I often scarf down cold food while babies are screaming. And even though the 10:30 Baby and Me class (Mon/Wed/Fri) is the perfect way to get in a workout with kids in tow, it’s certainly tough to get two babies out the door, while balancing whatever my older son is up to that day as well. Sometimes I ask my mother-in-law to come by while I squeeze in an evening workout, or sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m., feed my babies and pray they go back to sleep so I can hit up the 6 a.m. class.

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My boys: Callum, Leo and Silas.

But the perseverance and consistency pay off in spades. It is so motivating to see results and see other members change, too. We are all just regular people trying to fit a healthier lifestyle into our already busy, challenging lives.

Actual Nutrition is not billed as a diet, it’s almost the opposite. By setting out a guideline of what are commonly known as macro-nutrients – carbs, fats and protein – the program provides ultimate flexibility and never leaves you feeling hungry or lagging energy. That means no calorie counting and no feeling of deprivation. Instead I look forward to every meal and snack and enjoy the taste of real food again.

After eight weeks, I have put myself back onto a healthy path. When I have treat days (Easter and my birthday), I immediately feel the effects… tired, headachy, and moody. I always thought I was the kind of person who could never eliminate sugar or treats because I love them too much. I thought I could always just run off the calories. But now I know I can save these things for every once in a while, knowing they don’t do my body or my mood any favours anyway.

I am so grateful to 3rd Degree for the opportunity to try their program. Witnessing the impact it has on its members has been truly inspirational. It’s more than about seeing results in your before and after pics, it’s about changing your habits, clearing your mind and treating your body with the respect it deserves.

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Easter sabotage

I was thinking about the Cadbury cream egg, hidden behind chicken breasts in my freezer, all evening. Through the sounds of crying twin babies while I fumbled with bottles like a first-time mom, through the exaggerated whines from my almost four-year-old because his stickers kept ripping, through the bedtime fails, through the piles of dishes and laundry and any other tired mom cliche you could think of.

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I wasn’t supposed to eat it, but God, I wanted to. I could almost taste the gooey insides.

So when my kids finally fell asleep that night, I ignored the mess in my home and day-four unwashed hair, and dug out that chocolate egg, wondering if it would be too frozen to eat, or if it should sit out for a few minutes first.

Yes, I did eat the damn egg, and yes, it was delicious. But when you are writing down everything you eat for the sixth week of the Actual Nutrition program, your brain plays tricks with you. Especially after Easter. You wonder how much damage can one innocent little egg do to six weeks of hard work?

“Let’s just pretend that never happened,” the little devil on your shoulder whispers. Kevin will never need to know.

But the thing is, I will know, and that’s worse.

So I wrote it down, hung my head in shame, washed my hair and went to bed.

The kids, and the Easter Bunny, won that round.

“Doing better than you think,” Kevin wrote to me. “Time to evacuate the treat cupboard.”

Clean eating is actually not that hard. Especially when you have a plan, and accountability. And control over the food in your house.

But life includes holidays and social occasions. Shopping trips that run late into babies’ supper times, which means mom eats last, which means mom is ravenous.

That’s when you need all the will power in the world not to fall into old habits and reach for those chocolate eggs, or your husband’s chips, or the Goldfish crackers. This is the hardest part, and this is where I need discipline.

So, Mr. Easter Bunny, you can hop away now and take your chocolate with you. I don’t need you tempting me when I’m weak anymore!

Back to my hard-boiled egg and salsa.

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Cleaning up my diet: one week in

When Kevin and Catt suggested I try the Actual Nutrition program that goes hand-in-hand with their workouts at 3rd Degree Training, it actually intimidated me more than the idea of working out four times a week.

I have never once gone on a diet, and I hate depriving myself of treats. I have always enjoyed healthy foods, and once cut out sugar for a few months, but I have never followed a prescribed eating plan. I wasn’t sure if I could do it!

Still, I wanted to give it an honest shot, and share my experience so people can see what it’s like for a mom of three little ones trying to return to a healthy lifestyle.

The idea behind Actual Nutrition is simply to eat whole, real foods. Based on my age, current weight, activity level and particularly the fact I am breastfeeding twins, Kevin designed a plan that helps me chose what kinds of foods to eat at every meal and snack. Lucky for me, and the bonus 1,000 calories a day I burn by feeding my five-month-old twins, this means I get to eat a ton of food. But now it’s all healthy, rather than full of carbs and sugar, my weakness.

My favourite part has been that the outline gives me full control of what to eat: for example, I can pick 1.5 servings of protein for breakfast, along with 1.5 servings of complex carbs, a simple carb (fruit) and one serving of fat or dairy. This way, I find myself thinking about all the food I get to eat, rather than what I can’t eat.

The most significant adjustment for me has been the volume of protein I need to consume each day. I always suspected I wasn’t getting enough, but now I know this is sort of the secret sauce to feeling satisfied and keeping cravings at bay. I now eat three eggs for breakfast(!) plus toast or oatmeal, fruit and peanut butter or avocado. YUM! Also, salsa and hot sauce are my new favourite condiments. For dinner, I need to eat two servings of protein. Two chicken breasts! After eating a big old plate of food, my body no longer searches for that sugary goodness it once desired. And if it does, that usually means I didn’t get enough protein, fat or healthy calories during the day!

I feel like this solves a mystery that never should have been so tough to figure out. Protein will not only help me build muscle from my workouts, but it is also a key factor in maintaining my milk supply. I may even be eating more now than I was before!

Here are a few more early revelations:

  • I have spent a lot of money on groceries this week. I haven’t added it up, but I hope now that my house is full of healthy food, the bills will level out.
  • I used to avoid eating too much meat as a cost-saving measure but I’ve realized I was just spending that extra money on junk food we really didn’t need.
  • My husband and my three-year-old are eating a little better now too. Silas asks me if different things he is eating are healthy and if they will make him big and strong.
  • My taste buds have adjusted to savour the taste of real food. My sweets are now fruits. At Costco I had a couple of pitted dates they were handing out as samples and it felt like I was eating a jube-jube!
  • I went through a couple days of adjusting to not eating as many carbs later in the day. For dinner I just have one serving then it’s just veggies for snacks in the evening. One night I had two servings of salmon, 1/3 cup of brown rice, two servings of vegetables and felt completely full. Half an hour later, I felt peckish and was like, “How can this be?” I realized what I was missing was that sugar kick I usually got from dessert or filling up on rice/potato/pasta with my main course. The fullness I get from protein is so much nicer.
  • Eggs, so many eggs. I am eating so much for breakfast and just made a pot of hard-boiled eggs to have on hand for snacks. They pack such a punch and yummy too!
  • I actually enjoy all this clean eating and I don’t miss the junk at all. Will this stick for seven more weeks? I hope so!
  • I wonder how easy it would be to maintain this style of eating if I was working full-time in addition to managing family life with three kids. Right now this is like a project for me while on maternity leave to think up healthy meal ideas and take the time to make them, even if it’s while wearing a baby.
  • The eating really complements the workouts. I feel great during and after the workouts and I think the food aids in my recovery from sore muscles.
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Salad with hard-boiled eggs, chicken bacon, snap peas, mushrooms, tomatoes, hummus, sriracha and brown rice.

 

Trying to avoid the winter blahs

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It’s been a very long time since I have taken a moment for a little self-reflection. While this blog evolved over time to share my running journey — especially last year’s marathon — I have also used it more recently to share some of my writing and stories about others. But for those wondering what the heck April has been up to (is she even still running?), here it is.

Yes! Still running, just not as much, and for the first time in a long time, without any immediate goals. It’s actually quite liberating!

Instead of focusing on mileage or training plans, I have been trying to mix up my exercise with more cross training, yoga and strength training. Trying to become a less injury-prone runner for when I sign up for that next big race. While I didn’t suffer any injuries during the previous two half-marathons, my IT band was under duress during the marathon, and I certainly don’t want to go through that again.

I don’t think I ever shared my New Year’s goals on this blog, but they were to do yoga once a week, do strength 1-2x a week and read one book a month. So far I am more or less on track. Even if I don’t get to yoga or a strength class, YouTube to the rescue.

Our membership at the Saint John Y has certainly helped. It’s also been a blessing to keep Silas occupied (in child-minding) while I exercise after work. So far we have only attempted to do that one day a week, but it’s been awesome to get back into spinning!! I also try to go to Group Power (like Body Pump at Goodlife) on Saturday mornings, and on Sunday, Silas and I go to the early years open swim. It’s a beautiful facility and so perfect for this point in our lives.

As far as running, my goal has been to aim for three runs a week. At first I was hoping for two short and one long, but realistically, they’ve all been short, “easy” runs. On the treadmill. I feel as though that, combined with the other stuff we’re doing is pretty reasonable. This week Silas and I even got out for a stroller run. Holy, it was tough! I’ve been used to #netflixandtreadmill!

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At this point my biggest challenge has been to stay motivated to eat healthily. Craving carbs and sugar, hard. Even fast food (ugh, I know). I always joke that I hope all my running and exercise cancel out my bad eating habits, but I know that only goes so far.

So as the mountains of snow slowly melt outside, I hope to stock my fridge with healthy snacks and get inspired with fresh, family-friendly recipes to carry us into the spring. No more blizzards, please.

Happy trails, everyone. Run on!