Back in the day (yes, I say that now), my diet revolved around these four food groups: coffee, chocolate, beer and whatever-I-can-grab-and-eat-right-now. My work — not to mention all of my favorite activities — involved sitting. I knew television characters better than I knew my own family (OK, this one’s still kind of true), and there were days when my cat looked at me like, “You really need to get your s*** together.”
And I was totally going to, I’d promise myself. Tomorrow.
Only, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, tomorrow never became today. I knew that one day my über-unhealthy habits would come back to annihilate me. But since it hadn’t happened yet, I just moseyed on with my haphazard sleep pattern, nonexistent exercise routine (unless lifting the remote counts) and my love of everything caffeinated — and I’ve been in the doghouse with my body ever since.
Once your unhealthy lifestyle catches up with you, it hits you like a Mack Truck, runs you over a few times rolling-pin style, and drags you along behind it until there’s nothing left of you but processed carbs. Anytime I found myself struggling to keep up, working on an uber-tight deadline or fighting to stay awake (you know, at 9:01 a.m.), my solution to everything was simple: More coffee. It got to the point where I couldn’t remember what it felt like to have a natural source of energy. No coffee, no comprende.
After a while, not even coffee would do the trick. Like, even a little. I discovered this in the most embarrassing way possible: I fell asleep in the middle of a Stone Temple Pilots concert. (I wish I was joking.) While everyone around me was jumping around like lunatics, soaking in their blood-pumping tunes, I was out cold. I’d pushed my body to a point of no return, and afterward made a promise to myself: “This is the worst I am ever going to feel.”
Yep, I was one of those stupid, smart women who only started turning my lifestyle around when I had no other choice — but the one good thing about being severely burnt out (also known as “adrenal fatigue”) is you’re too tired to eff up your life anymore.
You learn a lot of lessons too:
1. Admit you’re not a robot.
I used to create these ridiculous to-do lists that were more of a scroll, seemingly in denial of the fact that I wasn’t the Terminator. There was no room on them for breathing, eating, sleeping, bathroom breaks, personal hygiene or emotions.
Lesson: Not dying first, work second.
2. Feel like s***.
You’re allowed. Don’t pretend you’re fine. Doing so doesn’t make you brave or tough — it makes you stupid.
Lesson: How are you supposed to know what you need to change unless you admit something’s off?
3. You have to start somewhere.
And you really can start anywhere. Pick a spot in your life you want to clean up and bust out the Mr. Clean (literally and figuratively), focusing on quality over quantity.
Lesson: When one area of your life is going really well, it starts spilling into the rest naturally.
4. Change one thing at a time.
Drop the multitasking thing. It doesn’t work.
Lesson: Change one crap habit at a time. You’ll know you’ve changed it when it doesn’t feel hard anymore. Then move onto the next one.
5. “All or nothing” leads to nothing.
I’d always say to myself, “What’s the point if I don’t have the time to do it properly?” Ironically, in not allowing myself the freedom to test the waters and screw up, I screwed up. Instead of looking at the big picture, which is enormous and overwhelming, focus on your individual decisions instead.
Lesson: Each decision you make, big and small (cookies or salad, nap or coffee, Scandal or Project Runway), is its own little fork in the road and they add up over time.
6. Get up earlier (or stay up later).
As you’re making changes, you need to take time out to assess how you’re doing and adjust your course. Whether you get up earlier or stay up later to score some alone time, make it happen.
Lesson: It’s not about setting your routine in stone — it’s about evolving it as your life does.
7. Don’t ignore your body.
If you’re tired, have a nap. If you’re upset, cry. If you’re excited, twirl in a meadow and sing “The Hills Are Alive.” If you’re hungry, eat.
Lesson: Well, you get the idea.
8. Put yourself first.
Nothing and no one should ever come before your health. Like, ever.
Lesson: Over time, you’ll feel too fabulous to feel guilty.