When I started my health journey, I had just moved away from home, and was living in a new state with my boyfriend. This had both good and bad implications for me.
On the one hand, I was far removed from my family and friends. Sure I could call and video chat, but after this Past year, I think we can all agree that it’s just not the same. It was hard for me to be away from my support system.
On the other hand, this ended up working in my favor in a lot of ways:
Since I didn’t have many friends (in the beginning) to make plans with, I had more free time to workout. Also, I was not going out to dinner as often because I didn’t really have anyone to go out with. When I did find myself some friends, I was lucky enough to find people who encouraged me on my journey and included me in their own healthy lifestyles.
My friend Brenna in particular was a huge element of support in my journey. Since we worked together, I saw her every day, and she would check in with me and encourage me to join her at the gym for classes or make up our own workout. The gym became our hang out place. It wasn't just a place to work out, it was a place to spend time with friends. It doesn’t feel like a work out (as much) when you’re laughing the whole way through.
In addition to finding new friends, I also found a new(ish) family system while I was in Virginia.
Part of the reason we moved to that area was because I had an aunt and uncle who lived there. I quickly realized that this side of my family did things a little different than I was used to.
First off all, my uncle is probably one of the most athletic outdoorsy people I’ve ever met. He loves the outdoors so much that he’s made his living on it. He worked for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Land Trust of Virginia, and now that he’s retired, he’s on the board for the Continental Divide Trail. This guy knows how to enjoy the outdoors.
When we got together as a family, it was often for an activity like kayaking or hiking (or “death march” as his wife calls it). If we went out to dinner, it was usually an afterthought.
If the family gathering was a dinner, it was almost always made from scratch by my three aunts, who are all incredible cooks. They made tons of vegetable dishes I had never tried before, like Collard Greens, and they even made their own salad dressing! They had a way of getting everyone involved with the meal making, whether it was setting the table or doing dishes - it was always a wonderful production!
Now, I love my parents, but often when we had family get-togethers, it was to go out to dinner, get takeout, or watch a movie. We went for hikes all the time when I was a kid, but as I grew up we all became more sedentary. Perhaps a short walk after dinner, but I don’t remember many death marches in my young adult years.
The support I received in Virginia was different, somewhat effortless. My family there was already living a healthier lifestyle, so it was easy for me to fall into line with them, rather than work against a system I had known all my life.
When I moved back home to Massachusetts, I found myself struggling to keep up with my habits. I didn’t have a gym to go to at first, and I didn’t have a gym family either. That’s part of the reason why I decided to become an instructor - so I could create my own fit-family. I heard someone say not that long ago that “when you teach, you learn twice,” and I really believe that now that I’m a teacher. I’ve learned so much more about exercise and fitness since I became an instructor.
A few years later, Jim joined the gym I worked at, and we started doing some strength training together. He taught me so much about lifting weights that I had never learned anywhere else. Eventually, our schedules changed and life got in the way and we couldn’t work out together anymore, (we also realized that we have very different workout styles) but I remember a lot of what I learned from him and I’m glad we were able to support each other. We’re still looking for a workout we can enjoy together.
But even with all I’ve learned, I still struggle with food choices and exercise. This past year has been stressful - to say the least - and Jim and I both turn to food to cope. Virtual workouts are just not the same, and some days I just don’t want to teach. Right now, I’m the only instructor at my gym, and I often miss being a student in a class, or even just working out with a friend. Because of my foot injury, and of course covid, outdoor activities with friends like walking and hiking are less available than they used to be. Being active is so much harder without a buddy to pass the time.
I can’t stress how important a social support network is when you are trying to be healthy. For some people, myself included, an unhealthy lifestyle is like an addiction. Imagine trying to quit smoking and your roommate lights up right in front of you. Or being an alcoholic at a bar. Research shows that unhealthy foods can affect our brains the same way that substances can.
Having a partner or roommate or family member that is making unhealthy choices and- more importantly, not being supportive of your efforts to be healthier -- can make it that much harder to achieve your goals.
On the flip side, having a supportive social system, and building upon it by making friends at the gym or inviting your friends and family to participate in healthful activities can make all the difference in your success!
This weekend, try to find a way to boost your social support - do some physical- activity with your loved ones, have a zoom meal-prep party instead, or search for a running group or a group class that looks interesting to you.
Your ability to succeed will increase exponentially if you have a good support system.