I have been doing CrossFit for just over six years. During this time, I have gone through a lot of peaks and valleys with regards to nutrition. There have been times that I have been super strict and regimented, and there have been times that I’ve taken the approach of just not worrying about it. Honestly neither one works for me. When I’m strict and regimented, I feel great. My performance is better, my body image is better, my body just seems to click at all levels. However, I can get so caught up in it that I forget to stop and enjoy the simple things in life, like an IPA with my husband on a summer night or a dinner out with friends. My personality tends to be all-in, and it doesn’t make for a happy life, even if I’m achieving what I want on the fitness/nutrition side (one small sliver of my life). On the flip side, there are times when I enjoy the simple things a little too much. These are times when I go out to eat three nights a week with my husband and enjoy beers at each dinner. I’m not usually making the best decisions with regards to the food I’m ordering. This leads to me staying up late or not sleeping well and not waking up for my workout the next day. It also doesn’t lend itself to preparing food for the next day, so I typically end up with two days of less than optimal nutrition. My point in all of this is that the general theme of my nutrition journey is that I’m always lacking balance, and this is also true in my life.
So, when I heard about the Fall 2018 SMERF challenge, it sounded interesting, but my initial thought was that I didn’t really want to do it. I didn’t want to get caught up in the scoring aspect of the challenge. Based on my experience with previous challenges, I know my tendency is to strive for perfection. I had a lot going on during challenge time – Thanksgiving, bridal showers for my sister, and a trip to Florida to celebrate my best friend’s wedding. I didn’t want to stick to the rules of a challenge during these celebrations and miss out on the experiences by obsessing about food. What I realized is that I wasn’t really opposed to the challenge and getting more sleep, meditation and real food in my life, but I was opposed to MY REACTION to the challenge. The cool thing about that is that I can control my reaction to anything. So why not look at this as an opportunity for personal growth? I know that being balanced and not getting caught up in perfection are things that I need to work on in general, not just with nutrition, so why not look at the SMERF challenge as PRACTICE for applying these concepts in my life. My goal was to stick to the challenge as much as possible and absorb the information provided. If I went off track, no big deal. I just wanted to take time to look at why I went off track, learn from it, and move past the experience without getting caught up in not being perfect.
The SMERF challenge focused on habits: Drinking water, eating real food, eating veggies, sleep, meditation, gratitude, etc. I loved that week one started with what I thought was the easiest habit: drink water. Duh, this is like the most basic of needs, and something that I had not been putting focus on in my life. To get water at my job, it is basically a seven-minute task due to the location of available water. I made the excuse that I didn’t have time, I was too busy, I didn’t want my workday interrupted with pee breaks. Really? Talk about excuse queen. My body needs water. This is something that I know I should do but for some reason I let myself make excuses and got out of the habit. THIS WAS LITERALLY THE EASIEST THING EVER FOR ME!!! I noticed a difference in how I felt almost immediately. This was eye-opening for me in that a tiny change that actually didn’t require a lot of work or planning on my part made such a difference. I’m so grateful that Jackie and Crystal included this habit in the challenge. This was always an easy win for me, and it made it easier to build on the success of this habit with other habits.
Eating real food was the other week one challenge, and this was a little harder for me. While I generally eat healthy, meal prep is a big commitment for me. It takes time, which is a hot commodity for me. Through the challenge, I learned how to be more efficient in my meal prep. I developed a process and meal prep took me less and less time each week. Currently meal prep takes me about an hour per week (not portioning but prepping the food). I like to portion day before, because I feel like that gives me a little bit more freedom to eat based on “what I’m in the mood for.” I keep meal prep simple with easy, low ingredient recipes. Think chicken in the crockpot, ground beef or chicken that I can easily portion throughout the week, hard boiled eggs. I buy a lot of frozen veggies that I can just heat up in the microwave and go. It doesn’t have to be this big complicated thing if you don’t make it a big complicated thing. There are times that I want something different or more complicated to make, and I weigh that desire against the time it’s going to taking and what I’m losing (usually time with my husband). Simple food and meal prep almost always wins this battle. The habit of meal prep that I thought would be a time-stealer actually ended up being a time-saver. I also love that meal prep really sets me up to win my week with regards to food. Yeah, I still have the choice to indulge if I want to, but I’m making the decision because the experience is important to me and not because of poor planning.
There were other habits in the SMERF challenge, but the last one I’ll talk about is sleep. As several of you may know, I’m an early morning person. If I am not waking up early to get to the gym, I’m waking up early to go teach my yoga class. What I recognized during the challenge is how much I fight sleep, which is necessary for my body to function and recover. I was committed to embracing the challenge, but I would find myself not wanting to leave my husband to go to bed at the end of the night. I told myself I would just lose the points, it was worth it to have more time with him. What I recognized is that I sacrifice my health and recovery because I have so much on my plate and I’m not willing to give anything up. Yeah, time with my husband is important and at the top of my priority list, but why does time with him have to be what I sacrifice in order to get sleep? Why can’t I give up a different activity? Instead of sacrificing an activity to get more time with him, I would just stay up later to with the delusion that I was able to “have it all.” This left me tired and unenergized. Teaching my early morning classes is where I recognized the most difference in getting sleep versus not getting sleep. I am a pretty powerful and energetic person, but I noticed that getting an appropriate amount of sleep made me so much more alert, present and commanding. I had energy and focus, and I was ready to lead people first thing in the morning. This is still a work-in-progress for me. I still fight sleep. Since the challenge, I recognize this behavior and I understand how it is going to impact me. I’m realizing that I don’t have to say yes to everything; I can have balance and moderation in my life. This is where I hope to see the most improvement in myself in this next SMERF challenge – this is the habit that I want to focus on building and keeping consistent.
WHAT I LEARNED
It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing. I can focus on one small thing and be a better person because of it. For example, when I celebrated my sister’s bridal shower and my best friend’s wedding, I knew that I wouldn’t be eating perfectly. However, I looked at what variables I could control while still enjoying myself. I could damn sure drink half of my bodyweight in water (seriously people, this is such an easy habit). I carried my water bottle around all day and drank more than the required amount of water. I also drank alcohol and ate non-compliant food. I felt accomplished for drinking water, even though I wasn’t perfect. It was a mindset shift for me of celebrating the small victory instead of focusing on the failure. Small, simple changes really make a huge difference. I invite everyone at Uncommon (and beyond) to participate in this challenge. The SMERF challenge focuses on one or two habits at a time, which allows you to build up your nutrition skillset slowly and without becoming overwhelmed. Even though I just maintained a couple of the habits with consistency (eat real food, drink water, eat veggies) and failed at continuing some of the others (meditation, sleep, gratitude), I’ve noticed a huge shift in my life. Yeah, maybe I failed on a couple of habits and that’s hard to face, but how do you get better if you are too scared to at least recognize where you can improve? Even though I have been doing CrossFit for quite a while, there are still so many opportunities for me to grow and challenge myself within our amazing Uncommon community. It’s about being open to the experiences and not taking everything so seriously.
When I do the upcoming SMERF challenge, my habits from the first challenge will still be in place, and maybe this time I’ll be able to tackle sleep. Maybe there will be another shift in my life; maybe I’ll fail again. That’s okay – I will figure it out eventually. There will continue to be peaks and valleys in my journey based on the season of my life, and I am okay with that. CrossFit Uncommon is a place of acceptance, and I truly feel that everyone at the box is rooting for me. Through my experience here, I’m learning that life is about progress, not perfection.