The Year of the Cabbage
Working full time while staying really fit can be very difficult -- if not close to impossible. But if you commit yourself fully, you can do it.
Last year, I started an intense, new job in the Northeast that required more hours and more energy than I had ever experienced before. I was super excited about the opportunity and was motivated to perform well in my position, but I made a promise to myself that my fitness wouldn't suffer as a result of it. I had already built up a pretty strong foundation in my fitness, so I said to myself: if nothing else, at least I would maintain what I had.
I decided that I would work out five days each week, and try to get in a second, lighter workout on three of those days. I resolved to take Mondays and Tuesdays off (since they were the most hectic at work) and work out on Saturdays and Sundays instead.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I drove to the office before the sun came up. There was a gym in the building so I would work out there (the routine involved an intense run, followed by core exercises and stretching -- I didn't have time to get too complicated with what I was doing), shower, and then head directly to my office. In many instances, I ended up eating the bulk of my breakfast AFTER my workout, once I had gotten to the desk.
When the lunchtime lull hit, I didn't wait around. I used my hour break to head back down to the gym for another (lighter) workout. Usually it would be another 20 minutes on the treadmill followed by a 10 minute plyometric routine (squat jumps, lunge jumps, and kangaroos). I would eat my lunch at my desk when I returned. While this was hard in the beginning, the workout routine soon became automatic -- and mentally restorative. It became a welcome break in my day, a stress reliever. It also helped my appetite when I finally sat down to eat my lunch.
But the workouts were just one piece of the puzzle -- and figuring out the food was a whole other issue. Not just what to eat, but the timing of it was equally important.
I knew the best way to manage the food was to prepare it the day before. I always knew what I would be eating for my next meal, which eliminated any possibility that I would be caught hungry and forced to eat something unhealthy. Thankfully, there were several large refrigerators at work so it was easy to store groceries and the prepared meals there.
I quickly figured out that the simplest meal for me to eat would be cabbage...steamed red cabbage. While the accompaniments to the cabbage changed -- wild rice or kasha, avocado or a piece of fish, raw carrots or raw celery -- the cabbage itself was the foundation. On the weekends I had a little more time, and so I would prepare stir-fry vegetable dishes with more variety: broccoli, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, etc.
My coworkers often teased me about my cabbage intake and my mom voiced her concerns over the “lack of variety” in my diet. But it was my only option. Sure, I could have bought pre-packaged frozen vegetables, but I didn't want to shortchange the quality of my plate -- and eating fresh vegetables (ideally organic) is the only way to go.
I was so busy when I wasn’t eating and so hungry by the time that I sat down to my portion that the cabbage always tasted AMAZING to me. Mind you, I had to eat it cold because I didn't want to use the microwave. That's when you know you're truly hungry -- when you find cold cabbage that was steamed the day before delicious.
The thing is, it worked! During the year I not only maintained my fitness level, but it actually improved. I was soon running faster and feeling lighter -- and my weight hadn't changed one pound despite the high intensity of the new job.
The lesson here is that planning ahead and keeping things simple are the keys to a successful fitness program. And it IS POSSIBLE to accomplish this while working a full time, demanding job in the real world. I'm proud because I was able to prove to myself that I could do it. And it made me tougher. I'm living in Florida again, and while the job I'm working now is certainly no walk in the park, the mental and physical strength I gained from the Year of the Cabbage hasn't left me. I'm more resilient and feeling better than ever.
So if you find you're lacking time and energy, start to get back to square one. Forget the fancy equipment, trainers or gym classes. All I did was get on the treadmill and run as fast as I could...with the goal of trying to go faster every week. I didn’t buy a small library of diet or recipe books either. I just picked up some cabbage at the store (maybe a few other veggies on the weekend) and prepared my meals ahead of time – by steaming or baking. I focused on eating the absolute healthiest, simplest ingredients.