Before we got into the minimalism, decluttering and dishing out healthy lifestyle tips business, Sporty and I were a tad unhealthy.
We used to eat bacon pizza for dinner, drink tequila for breakfast and smoke vast quantities of tobacco the rest of the time.
We also guzzled more chocolate on a nightly basis than most kids do at Halloween.
Now that you know who you’re taking health advice from, let’s continue.
It’s true, Sporty and I were wooly reprobates when we were younger. We smoked, drank too much (coffee and alcohol) and subsisted on a diet of mostly junk food.
Then Oprah introduced me to Dr Andrew Weil and everything changed.
We bought his book 8 Weeks to Optimal Health and two months later we were living off the grid with a like-minded community of non-smoking, teetotal vegans. I’m kidding, we didn’t really
buy his book move in with a bunch of hippies.
The book was a catalyst though, and despite taking considerably longer than eight weeks (our fault, not the book’s), we’re closer to optimum health than we’ve ever been.
We stopped smoking about 10 years ago, we drink the occasional glass of organic red wine and we eat a plant-based whole food diet. Sugar is no longer the all-consuming drug it once was either. Nowadays we favour treats sweetened with dates.
Oh my God, we sound like a couple of dreadlocked hippies who live in a teepee in Noordhoek.
If they ever perfect the art of time travel, our younger selves are going to fly to the future and slap us back to reality with a slice of Domino’s deep crust pizza.
What follows is a list of things we believe to form the basis of a healthy lifestyle. But first, the obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, dietician, life coach, personal trainer, shrink or sangoma (and neither is Sporty). We’re just a couple of happy, healthy gals living our best lives in Cape Town.
1. Quit Smoking (or Don’t Start)
Healthy lifestyle tip #1: Smoking is dumb and smelly. It’s time to quit
Side note: I initially thought it was lame to add not smoking as a health tip, because it’s so obvious. But then the other day I ran into a guy at work who has just started smoking at the age of 42. WTH!?
We all know about the negative effects of smoking cigarettes, so this one’s a no-brainer. Still, it bears mentioning. Perhaps you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to stop. Hopefully this will help you realise that it is possible. Believe me, if I can stop, I reckon pretty much anyone can.
At thirteen I swore I would never smoke; by the time I turned fourteen I’d taken my first puff. When I looked again that first puff (which nearly made me throw up) quickly had turned into an expensive addition. Sporty’s story isn’t that different.
We finally managed to kick the habit for good about 10 years ago and it remains one of our proudest achievements. It took us about a year to quit the habitual ‘pack a day’ kind of habit and another couple after that to stop the social ‘oh I’ll have a cigarette ‘cos I’m having a beer’ type of smoking.
We decided against the cold turkey approach because we knew it would take more than pure willpower to stop. So often you hear of people who start smoking again after a year or two or even ten. We didn’t want to risk that happening.
Instead of quitting right off the bat, Sporty and I chose to stop smoking certain cigarettes. First we said we couldn’t smoke in the car and then we expanded that to not allowing ourselves to smoke inside. Once we were comfortable with that, we stopped smoking at work. Eventually we were going entire days without a cigarette.
It might have taken us a long time to stop, but now we know for sure we’ll never, ever smoke again. It’s like we’re non-smokers, not just ex-smokers. We actually cannot remember what it was like to smoke.
2. Everything in Moderation
Healthy lifestyle tip #2: Moderation is the new black (or, why you should go easy on the doughnut holes)
Sporty and I are recovering extremists (read: all or nothing crazy people). Whether it was smoking and drinking too much or embarking on a raw food diet, we’d always go all in. Moderation was a word in someone else’s vocabulary.
We’ve since adopted a more easygoing approach to life (hence the name of our blog) and are much happier for it. We’ve identified our non-negotiables (e.g. a plant-based diet), but outside of that we just try our best to be mindful about what we eat and drink and how we live our lives.
Rather than saying things like ‘I’m giving up coffee!” or “I’m only eating whole foods!” or “I’m never, ever, ever eating anything with sugar ever again!” we aim for moderation.
I’ve been trying to break up with coffee for years (the caffeine doesn’t agree with me), but we keep finding our way back to one another. Rather than fight it, I’ve decided to allow myself two cups of home-brewed decaf a day (plus an additional decaf out on my birthday, wild I know).
Being German, Sporty has no issue with caffeine and would take it intravenously if she could, to which I say, “Pfffffffttttttt!”
We’re both snack piglets though, so rather than tempt fate, we simply don’t buy more than one or two treats each at a time. If it’s there, we’ll eat it. If it’s not, we won’t. The moral of the story is simple: if you can’t exercise moderation on your own, find a way to trick yourself into being moderate.
3. Exercise (or, Get Your Butt off the Couch)
Healthy lifestyle tip #3: Get your arse (that’s South African for ass) off the couch and start exercising
The benefits of working out extend to more than just your physical self. Exercise makes you mentally and emotionally stronger as well. Besides, if you don’t get your arse off the couch you’ll be spending your golden years hunched over a Zimmer frame.
Find something that appeals to you and do it for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Two key motivators when it comes to exercise are enjoyment and goals. Sporty and I love running, but that’s not enough to get us out of bed when it’s dark and cold outside. We signed up for a marathon that takes place in spring, so now we have no choice but to keep our training up throughout winter.
We’ve also found a programme that feels more like play than exercise. We spend so much time laughing while trying to master the various moves that we only realise afterward that we’ve been working out i.e. when our muscles are sore!
4. Work Life Balance
Healthy lifestyle tip #4: Work life balance isn’t just for those lucky Norwegians
Yes, that old chestnut. The interwebs might have turned it into an overused buzz phrase, but there’s a reason why everyone is talking about work life balance.
In another life Sporty used to be a workaholic. I know, right. I can barely imagine her like that myself and I was actually privy to the transformation from highflying career mogul to easy going urban hippie.
It’s great having something you’re passionate about, but don’t let it consume your life to the point where there’s no room left for anything else. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown advocates doing less, but doing it better. He reasons that this will allow you to make your highest possible contribution to the world.
Likewise, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, emphasises the importance of filling the well. You can’t expect to continually draw on your inner resources without that ‘well’ eventually drying up.
In short, you need to ensure that all areas of your life are fulfilled. You can’t do that if work is your only focus. Make a point of leaving the office when it’s still light so you can spend time with your kids, your spouse, yourself, your dog, or whoever.
Also. Don’t eat dinner too late and make sure you get enough sleep. Just as starting the morning constructively is a recipe for success, flying out of bed at the very last minute can only spell disaster. Nothing good ever came from being late.
5. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Healthy lifestyle tip #5: Eat a plant based diet (no, it isn’t like sucking on a lemon #mythdebunked)
Sporty and I have been eating a plant-based diet for a good few years now and we can’t emphasise the benefits enough. That said, mealtimes without meat, eggs and dairy can be a terrifying thought for many omnivores.
If you want to take care of your health but aren’t ready to vegetarian or vegan, start by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. Five a day used to be the goal, but now a new study has found that increasing your intake of fruit and veg from five to 10 portions a day could significantly reduce your chances of heart disease and cancer.
How to prepare them? Back when we were extremists we ate all our vegetables raw, but now that we’re being mostly mindful we’ve found middle ground with steaming and the occasional stir-fry. The point is not to completely destroy the nutrients during the cooking process, so ixnay on the deep frying.
Obviously, if you’re on a fast-food diet, eating anything resembling an actual vegetable is going to come as of a shock. Sporty and I are happiest when faced with a huge green salad or bowl of steamed veggies, but that’s not to say we don’t also enjoy something with a little more flair.
When the desire arises, we invariably turn to the Will Yeung or The Happy Pear for inspiration. Their recipes are great way of introducing more plant-based meals into your diet without feeling deprived.
I sound like my mom now, but try snacking on fruit when you’re hungry and leave the crisps, bread and sweets on the shelf where they belong. They’re only going to spike your blood sugar levels before coming to rest on your hips. I know, it’s happened to me.
6. Drink Your Vitamins
Healthy lifestyle tip #5: Drinking your greens is waaaaayyyy easier (and more effective) than eating them
A daily dose of green juice (first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) is like mainlining nutrients into your bloodstream. Sporty and I have been juicing on and off since 2008 and two things are always apparent whenever we pick the habit up again.
It’s a schlep, but it makes us feel amazing. In fact, I had a good old whine about juicing when I weighed up the pros and cons of juicers and blenders a few months ago. But that was before I went on yoga retreat where I was treated to fresh juice every morning for a week. I was in heaven. More importantly, my body was in heaven.
The recipe Sporty and I use when we’re juicing includes cucumber, celery, fennel, spinach or chard, grapefruit, apples, lemon and ginger and yields about 500ml (16 ounces) each of undiluted goodness.
It takes some getting used to, but once you’ve acquired the taste it really is quite delish. It eliminates the need for store-bought supplements, plus, drinking your greens is a hassle free way of upping your daily quota of greens.
We’ve used a masticating juicer and a centrifugal juicer and while both result in fresh juice, the quality differs quite a bit. At least, according to the purists. Like anything, you get what you pay for. If you’re in the beginning stages of your health journey it’s a good idea to start with a cheapie.
Ideally, you should be using only organic produce, but if you live in the the city like we do, that’s easier said than done. However, you can clean your non-organic produce by soaking it in a sink of water containing half a cup of vinegar and a few teaspoons of bicarb. Apparently four tablespoons of salt and the juice of half a lemon will also do the trick.
Healthy lifestyle tip #6: Meditation keeps you grounded, even when you’re sitting on a rooftop
Meditation is the shizz. There’s something about quiet time first thing in the morning works wonders for the soul. Our brains (with the exception of maybe a couple of seasoned Tibetan monks) are wooly and undisciplined.
Like toddlers without boundaries, they’ll keep running rampant until we teach them otherwise. Even five minutes of focused breath work will have a positive impact on your day (and teach your mind to keep it down).
And don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to learn how to meditate before embarking on your journey to inner peace and happiness. Just breathe. One of the easiest ways to get going is to just follow your breath.
There are tons of guided meditations out there too and they’re definitely a great place to start your practice. Headspace is a fantastic app and they have a free 10-day trial.
But learning to meditate solo is amazing. For a long time I could only meditate if I had someone talking me through the process, but then it occurred to me that if I ever got stranded on an island (stranger things have happened) my phone battery would eventually die and I wouldn’t be able to meditate.
So, wake up a bit earlier and start breathing. Quietly and mindfully, breathe in your intention for the day ahead. Remember, if you don’t go within, you go without.
8. Prioritise ‘Me Time’
Healthy lifestyle tip #8: We all need ‘me time’ (even rabbits)
Men are much better at ‘me time’ than women. For whatever reason we ladies seem to have a harder time putting our needs first. Ironically, by not taking care of ourselves, we can’t properly take care of the people that matter most to us.
Taking a couple of hours just for you on a weekly basis will do wonders for your soul. Book a spa treatment, watch a movie, go for a long walk, whatever. Just find something that appeals to you and then do it by yourself. This is ‘me time’ remember, so no kids, partners or clingy spouses allowed.
If you’re not used to spending time by yourself it’s going to feel a little weird. That’s okay. You may even find yourself rebelling, looking for ways to sabotage your ‘me time’ date. That’s normal too. Just commit to the time and go.
We’re constantly drawing on our reserves, so it follows that we need topping up at regular intervals. We’ll easily spend time taking care of our possessions, yet we’re hard pushed to put our feet up for five minutes and enjoy a cup of tea.
People —women in particular— argue that they don’t have time for frivolous activities. But when your car’s fuel gauge is in the red, you wouldn’t say you don’t have time to stop for gas. That would be silly, wouldn’t it?
Doing this on a weekly basis will pay dividends, and not just for you. Your family will also reap the rewards of living with someone who deems themselves worthy of a little ‘me time’. Think of it as a way to simplify your life because when you’re happy, you’ll be less stressed.
9. Take Responsibility for Your Health
Healthy lifestyle tip #9: Arm yourself with knowledge (and a banana) and take responsibility
I used to run to the doctor for every sniffle and stomach ache (drama queen much?), but now I take the minimalist approach to health. What this means is that I’ve learned to listen to my body and treat most problems with natural remedies.
I’m not saying doctors don’t have their place, they do. It’s just not front and centre of our lives the way most people imagine. Our bodies are infinite in their wisdom. Nine times out of ten will be able to heal without antibiotics or other western medicine.
We just need to learn to work with our bodies and to be patient with the healing process. Nowadays, we want everything to happen immediately, so we’re always looking for a quick fix.
What we need to do instead is look at why we got sick in the first place.
When Sporty and I first came across Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body, I’ll admit we scoffed a little. (It’s pretty out there if you’re new to this way of thinking.) But we quickly realised that the woman was onto something.
Essentially, your physical state is a reflection of how well you’re doing spiritually and emotionally. When you get sick, it’s a clear message to slow down. Think about it, how many times have got sick after an intensely hectic period in your life?Our lives are so busy it takes being ill for us to agree to spend a day in bed doing nothing. Sometimes not even then. Hands up, who goes to work when you’re obviously unwell?
Sporty and I both used to do this. We thought the world would fall apart if we didn’t show up. And let’s not forget the hero/martyr syndrome: “Look at me, I’m so dedicated to my job that I’ll even drag my sorry self into the office when I’m sick!”
Let’s all agree not to do that anymore. It’s not good for us and besides, we run the risk of making our colleagues sick as well. Taking responsibility for our health also has the added benefit of helping us age better.
And there you have it. The nine healthy lifestyle tips that got us from where we were to where we are now. It’s taken a long time and it hasn’t always been plain sailing, but it’s definitely been worth it. Health and self-improvement is a slow and steady learning curve, so just go with it.
What is one thing you can do today to start improving your health and wellbeing?