So here’s a confession: I’m a personal trainer, I am deeply curious about fitness and nutrition, I love strengthening the body, both mine and others', but I am really, really lazy in my own practice of fitness.
I am not the kind of fitness person who wakes up every morning and goes for a 5-mile jog. I’m not the kind that weighs their food on a scale and makes sure their protein shakes have complete amino acids. I pay for my own personal trainer to make sure I work out at least twice a week, and while I generally try to eat enough proteins and micronutrients every day, you’ll find me enjoying my dessert and not thinking about the consequences.
I was offered to join Comfy Lifestyle as I was just starting my new career as a personal trainer at Comfy Fitness. I took the opportunity with gusto and curiosity, but I had next to no knowledge on what to expect. For those of you who are also curious but unsure about the program, I’d like to share my experience.
First we get into the habit of tracking our nutrition. No need to change anything, just record the things I eat and send to our group chat at the end of the day (I often sent the next morning). What I realized throughout the program is how personal and even vulnerable this is. People have days when they have an emotional breakdown and undereat. People have days they stress eat. I’ve done both, many times. But what was remarkable was that the group started sharing not just the nutritional reports, but also reflections on the days that went well or didn’t go well. And that led to our members giving one another support in their unique ways.
I once asked the group, after three consecutive days of undereating from stress and anxiety, what would be some nutritional and calorie-dense foods I could eat when I have severely low appetite. Kira, our Comfy Lifestyle coach replied and told me to stay away from sugar if you can, try to eat fatty foods that are easy to swallow like nut butter, cheese, avocados. Samee, the therapist, suggested I plan out eating times in the day, and try to eat something when that time comes, even if it’s a small amount. Other members expressed empathy and support, which was of immense help for me at the time.
Even though there was no specific agenda or meal plans assigned to us outside of tracking and reporting, a support system like this helped me make changes that I needed for myself. While the stress hormones tried to convince me to eat sugar, I started choosing less-processed fat to fill me up and get enough calories in to meet my body’s minimum needs. These were things I already knew from my educational background, but hearing it from the group at the time of my specific concern gave me better reason and motivation to follow through. Very different from learning about it in books and test prep.
The second module was physical activity: all the other movements we do throughout the day besides intentional exercise. One month into nutritional tracking, we started reflecting our days and estimating the amount of time we spent on our feet. During this month, I was still having panic attacks on a regular basis, so I asked the group if those count as physical activity, as they were as physical (if not more) as a light walk or even a core exercise. The initial answer from Kira was no, we want to define physical activity as something we want to increase in our lives if possible. That’s also why fidgeting doesn’t count either. Made sense to me, and I carried on tracking and reporting accordingly.
One night during this module, I was having an intense panic attack verging on psychosis. The symptoms were so severe that I started feeling suicidal. What was left of my sanity made me reach out to the Comfy Lifestyle group. “I’m having a really difficult time, emotionally. Please send me some support if you can.” Messages of love and concern started coming in, and I read them out loud to myself as I battled my emotions and thoughts in a dark bathroom. The next day, I confided to Kira about the details of the night. She expressed love and concern, and talked to Samee about how to support me through my anxious moments. The suggestion they came up with was this: try to be standing during panic attacks, and that would count as physical activity. If I can find one simple way to claim some sense of control over an otherwise turbulent condition, if I can find a way to make myself more active and physically present even by just a little bit, I can give myself credit for doing physical activity.
It wasn’t always easy. In fact, most of the time I had a panic attack, I still wasn’t able to even sit. I was curled up in a fetal position, trying to calm down from convulsing and hyperventilating. Sometimes I was struggling to take a breath in. When I did manage to stand, I was still struggling, physically and emotionally. Goddamn you, Kira, this isn’t working!
But looking back, this suggestion planted a seed in my mind. In times of chaos, I can always carve out a small room in my heart to be curious: what one thing can I do to claim a small victory for myself? The amount of trackable physical activity I got from standing during panic attacks was miniscule, probably less than an hour total. However, this shift in approach, along with the encouragement from the Comfy Lifestyle members, amounted to one of my proudest moments of that month. I saw a panic attack coming, and live-streamed my process of exercising it off. Again, this might seem insignificant, but after months of helplessness and self-harming, and weeks of trying to merely sit or stand during panic attacks, this was a huge achievement for me.
Our third module, my personal favorite, was mindfulness - trying to practice at least 5 minutes of guided meditation a day. Outside of the recommendation to use the Headspace app, there were no requirements or rules so long as it was minimum 5 minutes of intentional, focused breathing time.
As it was for other modules, we all took about a week or so to get into the habit of introducing a new item to track. For me, I didn’t meditate for days until I decided to just try it so I can say that I did it. I felt so lazy about it that I scrolled through my Calm app to find ones that sounded relatively fun: Winnie the Pooh meditation series. After a few more days of meditating just to get it out of the way, I realized that I actually feel better once I’ve meditated. Surprise!
There are so many studies that show the incredible benefits of mindfulness. Yeah, I know that it helps you relieve stress, be more focused, and have a more positive and constructive outlook on your life. I know it even helps strengthen your immune system and regulate hormone levels. But this is one of those things that you have to practice regularly to start feeling the positive effects tangibly - just like nutrition, physical activity, and exercise.
I used to feel needy and anxious around bedtime. I had the TV on to keep me company, woke up often to find a different episode to watch and fall asleep to, and then when morning comes I’d still be anxious. Don’t be misled: anxiety is still a daily visitor in my life, but now I have an ongoing practice of meditation to ground me, carry me through the day, and help me rest at night. I wake up with an intention: I find home in my breath. And I go to sleep with freedom: I can set down my worries tonight and revisit them tomorrow.
With this skill to recognize emotions and thoughts as temporary and manageable, I eat more regularly, exercise with more purpose, and approach tasks and obligations with focus. Most importantly, I recognize that I deserve and need rest, and I feel more competent than ever before at allowing myself to rest fully. Again, easy enough to know this, way harder to internalize and execute.
As I said, I have a solid amount of knowledge in fitness and nutrition. But applying it to my own day-to-day life was often confusing, because the more you know, the more you realize there is no single answer that fits everyone.
A couple weeks after the Comfy Lifestyle program concluded, I continue to surprise myself. I went on a vacation. Still tracked my nutrition, indulged in desserts and cheesy, deep-fried food, but balanced my macros and calories with the food I prepped at home. I meditated every morning and evening. On top of that, I visited the hotel’s fitness studio and did a solid 30-minute workout every morning I was there. This was an unprecedented change.
When I returned home, I got a membership at a nearby gym (something I’ve been resisting with passion). I was about 60% certain that I would go a few times and never return, a pattern that happened several times before. I went once to get a massage after a night of panic attacks and non-epileptic seizures. The next day, I woke up at 4:30 from residual anxiety and trembling, couldn’t go back to sleep. Tried meditating, no immediate relief. Ate a lot of junk food. Cried out of frustration.
At 6:30, I found myself steadying my shaky arms to drive to the gym, desperate, self-loathing, surprised: ‘I don’t know what else to do.’ ‘I’m such a useless piece of shit, least I can do is to strengthen my body.’ ‘What the fuck am I doing to myself? I hate exercising.’
And I worked out. Then I went back two days after, and then the next day. Now I realize that, amidst the confusion and desperation, I was going to the gym because the small thought-seed that was planted in my head had been sprouting and growing: In times of chaos, I can always carve out a small room in my heart to be curious: what one thing can I do to claim a small victory for myself?
My answer usually comes back to taking care of my body.
Any change, good or bad, comes with some fear. I am scared because I’m not used to feeling good about my lifestyle and body. I’m not good at feeling good in general. Feeling good used to mean I’m letting my guard down, and something or someone unexpected will spring out of nowhere and hurt me. But I remind myself daily what a fellow Comfy Lifestyle participant said to me during one of our community meetings: “Have trust in the pattern. Look at all the tracking you’ve been doing, and take comfort in the general positive trend. Inertia is a strong force, and trust that you’re on the right path.”
I could share the improvements that I’ve seen in my body composition and circumference measurements. But I choose to stay away from any aesthetic or numerical standards of fitness in this piece, because what I strive for, what I wish more people would strive for, is much more fundamental and internal than numbers or looks. After months of tracking and reflecting on my daily habits in nutrition, physical activity, mindfulness, and exercise, I come out with a much better understanding about what works and feels good for my body, mind, and soul. This is what leads to happiness and freedom.
So why am I so eager to jump back into the next round of Comfy Lifestyle? I’ve tracked my food intake before. I’ve meditated daily before. I have been regularly exercising for at least two years. But here’s the thing: tracking, reporting, and making gradual adjustments for my well-being are way easier when I feel heard and seen. The power of a supportive community kept me going, kept me curious, kept me grounded through months that were laden with great physical and emotional challenges. This time, I want to step in as a coach and hold the torch to keep others’ torches burning, to light their way towards self-love and self-care, to help them feel supported and acknowledged in their personal journeys to health and fitness.
** The next round of Comfy Lifestyle begins September 23rd. To register and find out more, click here!
++ This blog was contributed by Comfy Fitness Trainer extraordinaire, Wanda Jin.