A year ago around this time we were getting ready to move to Europe, just a couple of weeks out from take off. Our plain tickets were purchased, the packing list had begun. I was in a routine where I was training pretty hard every day at the gym, a long with training for my first marathon at the end of May. Most days consisted of waking up extremely early, driving, training clients back to back, then I would go to my second job at Altra Footwear and fit in my own work out in between. I would then drive back up to Salt Lake from Orem to teach night classes and train night clients. It was nuts.
I was thinking I was in the best shape of my life and one of my biggest fears of moving to Europe, which now sounds ridiculous, was getting fat. I laugh about it now but it was an honest concern. I thought that all I would have to eat in Germany was bread and potatoes. Then I would move to France and only have baguettes and cheese. While this is partly true (I have eaten my fair share of baguettes and cheese) I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my bodies reaction to the move. Rather than adding on a nice fluffy layer of carb chub, I’ve actually lost around 12 pounds while being here and feel the leanest I ever have! How is this possible you ask? Well as I’ve thought about this same question, I’ve compiled some observations. I trace it back to the beginning of our adventure, getting out of my routine rut.
Lets go back to June. On our way to Germany we made a stop in Iceland for 4 days. Keep in mind I had been in the routine of training hard, and eating a good amount of food to refuel my body every day. I was in that cycle of going harder and harder, and eating more to provide the energy. Planning our travels I got a little anxiety knowing my workout routine would have to change a bit, and I knew I wouldn’t be expending as many calories, so I would need to lower my intake. I think this was the best thing for me. I needed to get out of that cycle and get my metabolism back in check. Reset my system a little bit. Our 4 days in iceland we rented a car and drove most of the day, making little stops along the way, hiking a bit here and there, and taking in amazing scenery. I noticed my hunger levels went down, so I obeyed. We survived on a little oatmeal in the morning with fruit, and cracker, meat, and cheese sandwiches on the road. Not the most glamorous or nutritious, and I don’t suggest that meal plan for an everyday thing. But for 4 days of car camping travel it got the job done, and smaller portions were key.
We made it to Germany and our expat life began. The first 2 weeks were spent getting up early and going to offices, where we would wait in line to take care of administration stuff. These processes are SLOW and can be frustrating. The first thing I learned about Germans is that they love their paperwork! We were at the mercy of limited office open hours and the people who could help us translate. My regular morning workout routine had to be shortened or put on hold until the evening, or the next day. This was weird for me! But again, with less calories going out, I wasn’t eating nearly as much as before.
So lesson #1 learned: Take a reset. Lower activity level to lower food intake. You will become more in tune with what your body actually needs. More in tune with your intake and output correlation.
The administration work settled down, and we were able to have more freedom and I picked up my morning workout routine again. It felt great! My appetite increased a little bit, but I noticed that I had freed myself from that cycle of eating more to fuel training more. I was more in control now. I had re-calibrated my exercise and food need. So combining the exercise routine with a more controlled food consumption was good. Also, the next change made was instead of being stuck to a rigid eating routine of every 2-3 hours or my muscles will eat them selves, I learned to only eat when I was hungry. And I actually allowed myself to feel hunger! (I used to teach to not allow yourself to really feel hunger, but I humbly stand corrected). I had been following the typical fitness model/bodybuilding commandment of eating every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism going, and to keep your body from breaking down your muscles. I have now learned that this is totally unnecessary. Why should you eat if you’re not hungry? Allowing ourselves to feel hunger keeps us in tune with our bodies needs and we are more mindful with our eating.
So lesson #2 learned: If you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat! don’t try to force feed every 2-3 hours because you think your muscles will break down, or that your metabolism will shut off. This is not necessarily the case. Mindful eating is what we want to master. Your body can adapt to burning fat if you fuel it right and train. (that is a whole other blog post though :)
After just a few days in Germany, my pre-assumptions were proven wrong. Germans eat other foods besides potatoes and brats haha who would’ve thought! They actually have amazing produce! And the same goes for the French, Its not all just baguettes, cheese, and croissants. Some of the best produce I’ve ever had, fresh, seasonal, and very affordable! I’ve loved it. My diet as been full of fresh veggies, organic fruits, lean meats sparingly (about 3 nights out of the week), and yes the occasional baguette and cheese. And I would be lying if I didn’t include all the fresh pastries and crepes that I’ve consumed (how can you pass up all those delicious french bakery’s?) This brings me to the third lesson learned.
Back in the states I could definitely notice the sweet treats and splurges that I had. I was always working extra hard on Monday to make up for the Weekend desserts. Each day I worked hard for an hour at the gym, and was active while training clients, but the rest of my day was sitting at a desk, or sitting in my car. I could never get past a certain weight and body fat percentage. I wasn’t necessarily looking to loose weight, I just thought that I had reached my comfortable peak. Here I’ve felt like the extra carbs and pastries have gone right through me, and taken some extra pounds with them. I contribute this to the power of walking! I used to think walking was just for old people who couldn’t do “real” exercise any more. Or the Sissy person’s form of exercise when they couldn’t handle the gym. I know, horrible thoughts. But my time in Europe has changed me. By adding at least 30 minutes of walking to your day, your fat burning potential will soar. I haven’t driven a car for an entire year (only on the occasional weekends being chauffeured by my husband on our adventures) but I myself have not driven. From our apartment I have to walk 1/2 mile (each way) to get to the train station to go anywhere. I walk 5 minutes to the grocery store, and carry 2 full grocery bags back. The gym I worked at in Düsseldorf was a mile run/walk from our apartment, which I went to most days. Our apartment was on the 6th floor with no elevator, and here in Paris we’re on the 13th floor. We have an elevator but each day I have to go up at least once with out it (a weird ritual I started that now I can’t break!). To go to church on Sunday we walk 10 minutes to the train, 5 minutes in between the train up and down stairs, 10 minutes from the station to church, and then repeat on the way back. I would say at least 3 days of the week I wander around Paris, walking for a couple of hours or more. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I walk A LOT!
So Lesson #3 learned: Walk more, move more. Daily activity (outside of your structured workout) is a huge contributor to weight management! I give most of my weight loss credit to this simple change. I’m still working out hard 5-6 days a week for 40-60 min. I am still eating very clean and healthy 80% of the time. But the combination of the 3 has been the golden ticket for me.
My goal is to take this lifestyle change and bring it back to the states and inspire others to do the same. What if the stress and struggle of losing those last 10 pounds, or really reaching your best level of fitness could be solved with simply walking!? I’m sure most of us have a grocery store within walking distance. Have you ever thought to walk? Trust me, I used to drive my car across the street to the grocery store and never thought twice about it! I challenge you to find little parts in your day that you could add in some walking. You can start small. When given the choice of the elevator or the stairs, always take the stairs. If you’re faced with an escalator or stairs, take the stairs. Park at the back of the grocery store parking lot instead of battling for the front and center spot. Make it a family event. After dinner, rather then vegging out on the couch together watching TV, go for a walk instead. These have turned into some of my favorite times to talk with my husband, or just think on my own. Just try it for a week and see if you notice a difference. A difference with how you feel, with your energy and hunger levels, and a difference with your bodies fat burning capabilities.
So to sum it up, the 3 big lessons about health and fitness that I’ve learned while being here in Europe have been ….
#1. When you’re stuck in a fitness rut, take a reset. Lower your activity level so you can lower your food intake. Get re-calibrated.
#2. Practice mindful eating. If your not hungry, you don’t have to eat!
#3. The power of walking is greater than we think! Walk more, move more, every day!