Going Zen

I’ve recently made a huge change to the way I work out. Something some people do regularly, something other people couldn’t imagine doing.

As my new boss at the running store put it – I’ve gone “zen.”

In other words – I’ve gone gadget free.

I went through a bit of a crisis when I moved to Toronto. I put on a few extra pounds from travelling and moving. Having previously lost 30 lbs, I know what it takes to lose weight. All I needed to do was track the calories I ate and burned to keep them at a reasonable level. Easy enough, right?

Not anymore.

When I did it the first time around, tracking calories was fascinating. I had no clue what was in the foods I ate until I started doing it. It kept me on track, motivated me, gave me goals to work towards.

But to be honest, I’m kind of sick of being haunted and driven by numbers. How many miles I’m running, how many reps I’m doing, how many calories I’m burning, how many days I worked out this week.

I’m at the point in my healthy living journey where I just want to be. Even more I just want to be normal.

My relationship with food has changed immensely since I began losing weight. I now know that I can’t eat a plate of nachos chased down with a litre of beer several times a week and get away with it. I know it’s better to have more veggies on my plate, and that asking for dressing on the side really does make a difference. I don’t need to track every calorie to be reminded of these things, nor do I need the numbers to inflict guilt on me when I do decide to indulge.

I used to divide my food into a certain number of calories and tally them up in my head. Meals were “x” amount while snacks were always at “y.” Now I eat depending on my hunger levels. If I’m starving at lunch, I eat my meal and afternoon snack. Lo and behold, I’ll be so satisfied I won’t need to eat until suppertime anyways. Funny how that works out when I listen to my hunger cues.

The same goes with exercise. Being a personal trainer, fitness is now my LIFE. I’m in the gym all day and there is no excusing workouts. I find myself doing exercises not only for me, but also with my clients in mind.

Meanwhile, I’m head over heels for yoga and working at the running store has ignited my love for running once again. It’s not about squeezing in a certain number of workouts a week – but just getting them in when I can. I know I’ll never fall off track, so skipping a couple days here and there won’t send me into the same spiral of panic it used to.

Ditching my gadgets has been a huge learning process for me. Not knowing or caring about how many calories I burn in a workout has made my lifting sessions better because I’m not anxious about keeping my heart racing the whole time. Running has become so much more enjoyable now that I’m not beating myself up about my slow pace. I don’t even know my pace. I just go :)

It’s amazing how such a simple change has changed my quality of life. For the first time ever, I feel like a normal healthy person. Eating delicious, nutritious food and being active regularly. Without all the numerical hang-ups. Without a hidden agenda. Who knows if I’ll ever lose my Toronto weight. But for the first time ever I’m making choices based on lifestyle and not aesthetic. Being happy and healthy goes way beyond food and exercise. Now that I’m not putting so much mental energy into those two things, I feel like I’ve really been able to open up in other areas of my life.

So yes, I’ve ditched my gadgets. That’s not to say I’m against them (in fact, I support them in this post). But for me, right now, at this time in my life, I am all about the zen.


**In case you’re behind**
Voting for Round 2 of Project Food Blog is now open!
Click here to read & vote for my Taste of Scotland post.

And don’t forget to check out the other entries while you’re at it :) Thanks a billion!

Posted on September 28, 2010, in Lessons Learned and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. I’m the same way with calorie counting now. I tried to log back on TDP to do it to lose weight again but mostly it just drove me batty so I stopped.

  2. You know, I’m in the same place. I want to lose a little weight but I still choose to indulge and do it intuitively – sitting and tracking and depriving is doing nothing but making me crazy. Sure it may be more efficient to meter everything out, but I want to keep my sanity and do this the healthy way this time around. Zen all the way :)

  3. quietisthenewloud

    I think I’m a couple steps behind. I can’t help but at least estimate my daily calories. BUT…I feel like I’m letting go of a lot of restrictions I used to make. A year and a half ago I was vegan….a week ago I was vegetarian. Now, I’m completely an omnivore. I know it was the right decision for me. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to give up counting calories.

  4. I’ll start by saying that I’m so happy my parents would not have allowed me to buy any exercise gadgets that calculate calories. I still can’t go without counting calories and measuring. Obviously, a large part of this is the fact that I’m still “recovering” but I think a lot of people who decide to “be healthy” or lose weight walk along that fine line until they have cemented habits and trust their bodies. So I think this post is especially relevant for everyone in this healthy living community. I know I say this like every time I comment but I really mean it – you’re an inspiration. Such a fabulous role model =)

    Nicole G
    PS. I voted! (for you of course ;) )

    • Thank you for voting Nicole. And of course, always reading and commenting :) I definitely believe that this whole thing is a “journey.” I would not have believed I could write a post like this one year ago. I thought I was doomed to dealing with numbers forever. Hopefully it shows at least a few people that it’s possible to eventually live without the constant nagging of calories in/calories out.

  5. Yay for Zen! I only have my bike computer now. I ditched my HRM and watch when I run. I doubt I will ever get my pre-herniated disk running speed back and I am tired of thinking about it, so I stopped timing my runs.

    Being happy is more important than being a certain weight or running at a certain pace.

  6. Woman, I love you. I also ditched the gadgets and it’s been amazing! My watch broke last year and it was pure laziness in not replacing it that led me to a gadget-free zone. I ran the Madison Half Marathon sans watch – with no idea of my time. I have got really good at running intuitively and I now beat myself up FAR less than I used to about times and goals. Training for the Madison Half was so fun because I just ran according to how I felt and not forcing myself to be a certain pace.

    I think you’re awesome – you’re doing what feels right and that is SO important. Much love xx

  7. Good for you! I think reaching this point means that you’ve truly and permanently changed you’re lifestyle so you don’t have to think about it so much anymore. I hope I get there someday:)

  8. Thanks for this, Susan,
    I’ve been counting calories and tracking exercise, on-and-off for, WEIGHT for IT – 6 years! I just realized this and was pretty shocked by it! I stared in university, dropped 20 pounds, topped for a few years (actually, when I was least healthy and most skinny) but then gained weight back and started counting again before my wedding in summer 2009 to slim down again and have been back counting since then with weight fluctuations all the way. I’d really like to stop but I feel pretty tied to it. Maybe I’ll just stop cold turkey…I go to so many events with random snacks and I’m almost always lying to myself about how much I enter, but it’s a big crutch for me.

    I can’t give up my run monitoring because I’m just getting back o running and have some training goals in mind (5k this weekend, 5 miler in three weeks, 10k and half in the spring). But counting my calories burned is different from counting training miles and maybe I should try that too.

    Great food for thought. Thanks!

    • I found putting an end to counting my calorie burns from workouts was a HUGE step forward in my ditching counting all together. Even though I haven’t tracked anything for a while, I always had tallies going in my head so I could ensure it went with the number of calories I burned that day. But now that I have no idea how much I’m burning during workouts, I find that I’m not thinking about the numbers from my food as much anymore either. The two were always intertwined for me, and it’s reeeeeally nice to let them both go :)

  9. Yeah, the funny thing about the human body is that you don’t really need to read a user manual to operate it ;)

    If you listen, it basically runs itself. (Assuming it isn’t bogged down with garbage)

  10. Susan- you know how I feel about this: pea green with envy! :-) I admire the courage it took for you to do this and I have no doubt that you will succeed. No doubt whatsoever.

    Sadly, I am still stuck in the tracking/counting stage. The last time I tried to stop was a total disaster and I got back on track by counting (not limiting however) calories. If I have a day that is above what I would like, it somehow feels freeing to me to write it down and move on.

    I am sure that at some point in the future I will try to back off the data again- probably with training wheels on. Like writing everything down, yet not totalling it- and seeing if I’m really listening to my body without knowing how my calories are tallying as the day goes on.

    This is also funny as my post that accidentally got sent to about 1000 people talks down and dirty about calories and goes totally rain man. Feel free to NOT read it when I post it for reals in the next day or so! :-)

    I do want you to know that I am very proud of you for doing this! One day, perhaps I will be able to trust my body. Perhaps if I would have treated it better than I did at your age, I would be in a place of trust now. Let’s see I think at your age I was doing the carrot, frozen yogurt and popcorn diet. The latter two because they were (and still are) my favorite foods. The former because it’s healthy. Um, yeah, but I wasn’t :-)

  11. Beautiful post! I’ve been going through a similar thing.. and although I could NEVER give up my iPod while working out, I recently made the step to not wear my heart rate monitor.. and it feels oddly freeing. Similarly, I stopped counting calories, which isn’t the easiest for me, but in a way I feel like I’ve know my balance point better than I use to, and even though our bodies are always changing and there will always be a trial & error component to it, not stressing about it.. I think helps :)

  12. PS. Forgot to mention that I need to keep tabs on my HR as I tend to work out in really high zones for long periods which was burning up my muscle (I used to get tested on a regular basis) so now I try to limit ‘hanging out’ above my Lactate Threshold for too long for this reason.

    AND I forgot to check the box to receive subsequent comments so I’ll do that now! :-)

    • One thing that has definitely helped me in the process of letting go, is also letting go of that ideal body I’ve always wanted. Or better, changing my perception of what an ideal body is. Before it was a fit and thin body. Now my ideal body is just being at a healthy weight and level of fitness regardless of how it looks in the mirror :)

      • I totally agree with ‘letting go of the ideal.’ I did that a few years ago. Now it’s a matter of being at my comfortable maximum before my clothes stop fitting and I start feeling just icky and gross. So at this moment, I feel that I have no room to try letting go of what has worked for me in the past: tracking stats.

        But with posts like this, I am sure that I will continue to try to take baby steps toward being more zen. I realize that it’s something to strive for and I’m grateful every time I’m reminded of it!

  13. I can totally identify with this. Last year I worked out A LOT and lost some weight in doing so. I was happy with how I looked and felt, but always looked at exercise in terms of how many calories I was burning. Then I let Christmas and injuries get in the way and because exercise wasn’t something I LOVED, I let it lapse.

    I think I put on about three kilos to what I had been – so not massive in the big scheme of things – but I realised in the last month or so that I needed to start exercising consistently again. At first I was attached to my HRM. Then I ditched it for running. But I was still obsessed with tracking it in spin. This week I went cold turkey – no HRM – and funnily enough, it has been enjoyable and successful because I am NOT focusing on calorie burn, just pushing myself that bit harder.

  14. It is so amazing when you can come to a place like that! I run with my Garmin only for the GPS, and try not to get too focused on my pace!

  15. I love your attitude. Zen is a great place to be when it comes to healthy living. I’ve never been a numbers person (when it comes to my health – I love data though) and love this approach. I’m going to continue to use it while losing my baby weight.

  16. I already voted for you! And I don’t ever use gadgets to workout. Not even music. I do take classes, do DVDs, or workout at the gym though where there is music but I like being able to zone out a bit. Which I always do. My workout time is my biggest ME time and I love just getting in my own head and living in the sweaty moment.

  17. Awesome post! I feel the same way! It took me a long time to get here, but I couldn’t be happier. Working at a running store truly is good inpiration to run. I love it!

  18. I’m with you. At this point in my life, I’m too busy to worry about numbers and tracking and fitting in certain types of workout. I am content with walks, yoga, and just wheneve rI can fit other things in.

  19. I’m good on not tracking my food but not so good on not wanting to track calories burned. In fact I have misplaced my HRM and I’m embarrassed to say that I have skipped more than a few workouts because I feel like without knowing the calories burned it’s a waste. lol I know that is completely counterintuitive but my mind is screwy sometimes!

  20. Let me say, that was an incredibly beautiful post. :)
    I feel like i’m that way now, too.
    I’ll eat foods that less than a year ago I would have hid from! (ordering fries out at a restaurant..eating WHITE bread with a meal (unbleached flour).
    I workout now because I like how I feel, not to wear off X amount of food I “binged” on the night before.
    It’s all about balance..it really and truly is. :)

  21. I read this on my phone last night and it was so good that I just read it again. I kind of felt like you were reading my mind. It was definitely a post that hit home, and I am so glad you wrote it. I have seen you change over the past 1.5 years and I think I have made a lot of similar changes myself. I wear my heartrate monitor sparingly, if ever, and I really just lift weights for fun rather than HAVING to get that lower body workout in. I now do exercises that entertain me rather than bore me and are simply there to “go through the motions”. I have see you make this change, too, and it really is awesome how you have embraced fitness. You made it your job and I can tell you enjoy all of your workouts. You never stress if you miss one. And you are just living a healthy life, as it is meant to be lived. I can’t even tell you what sentence was my favorite of this post, because I was nodding my head in agreement through the whole thing. To hell with counting every calorie, it is so nice to just be mindful of what we are eating and making sure everything is balanced. Cake and veggies, beer and water, that sort of thing. Cheers to changing the quality of life! And double cheers to the Foodbuzz Festival! SO EXCITED!

  22. Good for you, Susan! I keep saying that I want a Garmin to run with, but in all honesty I’m pretty content without one. I think if I were constantly tracking my pace/distance I’d get really discouraged if I had a bad day/week! It sounds like you’ve come a long way and I admire you for getting to such a balanced state of mind.

  23. whenever i want to lose a few pounds and think about counting calories, i always feel discouraged! i find that trying to just eat healthier helps. i mean, i know that a fudge brownie is higher in calories than a bowl of broccoli and i don’t need a number comparison to remind me of that and make me feel guilty, you know? your past calorie counting has given you a great base to go off, and i think your plan will help your body settle exactly where it wants to be!

  24. Loyal reader here but I rarely comment. That said – I HAD to chime in on this one!

    I felt like I could have written this post myself. I used to be so intrigued by counting calories and weighing my food when I first started on my “healthy” journey. Now, after two years and a handful of bizarre health scares I realized that focusing on working out and how much I’m eating (or not eating…) isn’t what matters. Happiness IS healthy, mindfulness is too.

    Yay for being zen!

    • Jessie, I’m a reader/rare commenter of your blog too. Yours is a perfect example of being shown what it REALLY is to be healthy. And often, obsessing over diet and exercise seems so trivial in comparison. I think you’re amazing!!

  25. I love the concept behind going “gadget free” at the gym, although I love using that time to catch up on podcasts. I think we should live all of the moments in our lives more mindfully. Keep up the good work! :)

  26. sorry i haven’t commented in a while, but i love this post!
    it’s one of my life goals to be in a happy, balanced place with food and exercise, and it makes me happy knowing that you’re in that place. :)

  27. I just found your blog, and I love this post! I used to rely on my Polar all the time, and then one day I just forgot to bring it to the gym. It was SO NICE to not be looking at my wrist all the time, disappointed that my HR wasn’t “that high” or whatever. Now, I wear the watch part so I know how long I’ve been there, but never put the chest strap on.

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