Over the years, people who come to me for help, seem to have very little time, or at least they imply that they have very little time to plan meals and to plan their formal exercise routine. There is no question that today’s world is quite different in terms of demand on people to produce in the workplace, and at home. Add to that our daily obligations of davening and learning. It seems that the old days of leaving the house at 8 in the morning and being home at 6 to do the 9 to 5 job are behind us. There is barely enough time to get the required amount of sleep at night with everything we have to do on a daily basis.
Now many times, we actually do have time for our health, we just don’t realize it. For instance, a client of mine, Mendi, routinely complained about having no time to do his muscle building assignments at home. When I asked him if he was doing his daily 35 minute walks, he said of course, he just had no time for any of the other exercises. So, we timed his pushups—50 seconds, we timed his ab work—2.5 minutes, and he also was doing bench dips at home, another whopping 45 seconds. That is what we mean by perception being off. He had 35 minutes to walk every day, but having four minutes to do a small assignment that done over time would be incredibly valuable for him, was out of the question—no time!
For people like Mendi, we have to help them understand the difference between reality and perception. Even though I concentrate on exercise, activity and eating, when I am able to get a person to see the difference, it carries over to other aspects in their life. All of a sudden, they aren’t the first person at a simcha anymore and they stop getting to the airport 5 hours before their flight—because they begin to understand time and how much they really have.
But, there are people who really do have a packed schedule. And for them, scheduling normal exercise and eating at fixed times can be a challenge. Shimon was someone I worked with many years ago. He was overweight and his doctor was very unhappy with his cholesterol readings. His blood pressure was also creeping up. But Shimon worked as a Vice-President of marketing for a high tech company and was always under pressure. And because his company sold their product all over the world, he was working in time zones that encompassed North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. He woke up in the morning at 5:30, learned Daf Yomi, went to daven and helped his wife get the kids out of the house to school. Then it was out to the office for a very long day of work. Even from home, if he needed to be in contact with someone in America, there would be work in the evening. Yes, some days were easier and he certainly would take advantage of those days and do formal exercise and eat his 3 meals and two snacks as he needed to. What does someone like Shimon do when life has truly overwhelmed him?
As far as eating, if we put in place a few rules, it can help you even if you aren’t able to be careful about portions and planning your meals.
1) Arrange your environment for success. If you work in an office most of the time, keep easy and healthy snacks around. Fruits, small packages of nuts, some whole-grain crackers and lots of water can get you through without resorting to junk food. Having healthy food on the premises also means that you can eat small amounts often which is a lot better than skipping meals and leaving huge gaps between eating which results in ravenous hunger, over eating, and insulin spikes. If you have to travel, keep healthy snacks in your car or your carry-on luggage.
2) Look for activity opportunities. When you are very busy, a staircase here and there instead of an elevator, walking in an airport instead of taking shuttle trams of buses, even getting up in your office and just walking around for a few minutes a few times a day is of value. Stretching while sitting at your desk a couple times of day will make you feel good and improve your circulation.
3) Stay away from junk food and processed food. Even if your eating is unplanned and “here and there,” at least go for the better choices. Buy snacks low in sugar and whole grain when you are able. Try to eat real food like fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins. Processed snacks are not good for you and are usually high in fat, sugars and calories—and there is very little nutritional value in them. Look at food labels to see what ingredients are in the foods and how high in calories they are.
4) Set a curfew for yourself! Try not to eat after 8:00-8:30 PM. Drinking is fine, water and herbal teas are the best choices. Eating late at night means you don’t use the calories you consume, you simply sleep on them.
5) Keep both sugar and salt to a minimum. Again, even though you can’t plan your eating accurately, try to avoid these two items.
6) No matter how busy you are, get 7 hours of sleep. Even if you get 6 at night and nap for an hour during the day, this will help keep you functional, alert and will keep your metabolism normal. It will also prevent the secretion of excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol which can cause you to overeat.
7) Stay hydrated! It’s not just a question of avoiding sugary soft drinks. It is vital that you stay hydrated so that your metabolism doesn’t slow down. Also, thirst is often mistaken for hunger and then you would be taking in unneeded calories when just a few glasses of water might satisfy you.
Life will never be perfect in terms of schedule. Things happen and things come up that are unplanned. And with our too-busy schedules these days, we all need a fall-back position to perfect eating and perfect exercise. In short, we need to learn the little tricks that help us make the best of any situation. If you are like Mendi, learn how to use your time a little better and plan your meals and snacks and plan your exercise sessions. But, if you are like Shimon, and really don’t have time for formal meals and formal exercise, use these tips in order to make sure your health can stay intact in spite of your busy schedule.
Making the best of your busy lifestyle and schedule will “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your lives.”