I am not a fitness guru, a wellness guru, a nutrition expert, or a yogi. But on my personal journey of life, of all the lessons I have learned, one lesson seems to have come forward as the most valuable.
Loving oneself is the only way to be able to love others, and self-love begins with taking care of your own body. Respecting it, nurturing it, coddling it, challenging it, treating it as a temple.
For many, an apparent focus on self-care through diet and exercise are seen as an impossibility, such are the demands of a modern working life. It is just such a life-style, however, filled with so many demands which pull you away from wellness, where you need to focus and be intentional in how you care for yourself.
These are the things I have done and how I have incorporated them into my life. What I know is that I feel better, have more energy, and am healthier and happier than I have ever been.
Sleep. I have always been a sound sleeper. But like many ADD people, I would go to bed very late, usually after midnight, only getting into bed when I was completely exhausted and struggling to stay awake. I would fall asleep within seconds of getting into bed, and sleep soundly until the alarm went off the next day. Fine right? Only I wasn’t getting enough sleep. We do need 8 hours a day, or very close to it, for our bodies to have time to heal themselves, for stress levels to reduce, to be able to have full mental alertness.
I credit a Domme for fixing this, and it was more an accident than by design, but one night she told me to go to bed at 8:00. And I did. And I fell asleep. I ended up waking up the next morning naturally, feeling refreshed, and enjoying how early it was. This soon evolved into a daily occurrence, and it stuck. One part of it was having my phone and other devices go into “lockdown” mode from 8 pm to 5 am. I get warnings from 7 pm to tell me to wind down and start going to bed. At work? Yes, at work. And I have been open to my colleagues about it, about how it is time to go to bed, and I leave the office. There are always exceptions, and those can be dealt with separately, but I have a full, natural sleep every day, and tons of productive time.
What I have since learned is that it is very good for your mood hormones and for the body to live in tune with the cycle of light—to rise with the sun and to go to sleep with the sun…And that is essentially what I have been doing.
Food and Diet. I have stopped eating all processed foods. Period. Okay, every now and again on a plane I will accept a bag of Cheez-its. It is a rare exception. I make everything myself. From scratch. But it takes time you say. Yes. A little. But not much. Simple meals with simple preparations take little more time than ready-made. I find the prep steps involved, chopping, mise-en-place, even thinking about it, are all very therapeutic—real stress busters. I do most of the prep and setup on the weekends, and then have my meals ready for the week, so that during the week I have very little extra work to do.
By doing this I have much better control over the quality of the food that I put in my body. It allows me to avoid all harmful ingredients and questionable agricultural or animal husbandry practices, and it allows me to exercise creativity in the kitchen, which also has its own rewards.
Intermittent fasting is good for the body. It allows your digestive system to recover before having to deal with the next meal. I will eat 2 meals a day, not 3. Usually the big one is lunch. I do have a sweet tooth. Lunch is the only meal where dessert is acceptable. We certainly don’t need a sugar spike at night after dinner. If circumstances allow, I will also aim to fast one full day each week, typically on Sunday, which is my rest day, without exercise, but with stretching and mindfulness.
Exercise. I was never into exercise. As we age, we lose 10% of our muscle mass each decade after we are 20. This has enormous consequences: you can’t eat as much for sure, but your body also forgives you less. Managing inflammation, fighting back the consequences of aging in your skin, joints, and mental health all require an active body. There are many people who were athletes as young adults, even professionals, who let their bodies go to pot. Maybe they figure that they have done enough exercise for a lifetime, or they just haven’t processed that they aren’t athletic anymore. It is easy to put this off, or to just not face it.
I realised I couldn’t work and travel, couldn’t maintain the same pace or energy levels, unless I started to exercise and do all these other things to take care of my body. In my case, the spark was a desire to remain competitive. But I was also hopelessly out of shape.
You can change your diet from one day to the next. You can do the same with your sleep patterns. But getting started with exercise is not nearly so easy. It is hard, and rather painful, particularly at first when you seem to just get the pain without the endorphins.
How do you do it? Forgive yourself. Start small. Don’t push too hard. Simply start with structure. In my case, it was a daily 15 minutes. I would run maybe 1km, which was about all I could manage. Or I might do some floor exercises in my hotel room to a video on youtube. Or it might be stuff that I remembered from my youth, jumping jacks, situps, pushups…whatever. 15 minutes each day. One day off. And if I forgot a day or missed a day, that became my day off.
Little by little, day after day, week after week, I began to find a willingness to increase the distances, increase the challenge, increase the time. And I also started to see and feel a difference in my body. And that was its own reward.
Several years in, I don’t recognise me anymore. Mentally, physically, emotionally. You can’t want it all at the beginning or it will never happen. It becomes too easy to give up. Too easy to fall off the wagon. But if you make it attainable, a doddle, you can do it.
The last part of this journey is beginning for me now. Mindfulness. I have begun to discover the importance of daily relaxation. It started with daily stretching. Again, this is thanks to a Domme who is a dancer and fitness bunny, and who helped me to incorporate it into my daily routine by issuing an order. Whatever it takes. But it has stuck.
This stretching time is also a time of contemplation and restfulness, and that has led to my own discovery of mindfulness, of being quiet, being alone, focussing on inner strength. I know that I have never been healthier, more resilient, energised and motivated than I am today. I credit these changes to lifestyle with a change in outcome and outlook. I have lost 15 kilos, my exercise routine is now an hour, I run 10k several times a week, and I feel great. No fads, no diets, no supplements, just good clean living. Apart from all the benefits mentioned, it is also a lot less expensive to live this way. That too is its own reward.
Needing less = having more.
Post-script. Gender dysphoria in my case has been a helpful motivator. When I was young I came to terms with the idea that not only was I in the wrong body, but that it was too late for me to do something about it in a way that would have been acceptable to me. I don’t regret my choices, but also recognised that I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t. My choice to keep my male shell was made in part because I believed that the pain of being dysphoric wouldn’t go away post-transition, at least not completely. In part too, because the consequences of living as trans, either post or pre-op is a life of marginalisation, of economic hardship, discrimination, and difficulties. I recognise that not choosing that path was the easier choice. That was my perception for me, at that time, and one I hold to be still true for me. Total respect for those who have the courage, and lifelong support from me to those who do.
With the above caveat in place, I will admit that much of my approach to fitness, wellness, exercise methods, diet, etc are related to this underlying dysphoria. As a teen, and certainly as a pre-pubescent child, I was interchangeable. As we age, this becomes more difficult, particularly if we gain weight. Focussing on staying fit, and exercising in a way that is designed to keep my waist tight, my butt tight and round, and to avoid building muscle at all costs, is what is right for me, for my version of an aesthetic body image. To be lithe, supple, lean is for me what it means to be sexy. Being your own kind of comfortable about you is where self-confidence comes from.
As a gender dysphoric, the idea that I will never get there, or even close, hurts a bit always–sometimes a lot, sometimes less so, but its always there. Health, wellness, fitness, exercise, diet, all these things written about here have very pleasant consequences. But in my case, they are not luxuries, they are questions of survival. They are existential. It is what sustains and motivates me.
I ask, what sustains and motivates you? How does wellness fit into that? Find out what it is and make sure it stays at the heart of your journey. It will change your life.