Working On It: My Fitness Quest for Immortality (Or as Close as I Can Get)

Welcome to Working On It, where you can follow along as I try to right all the wrongs of my youth and treat my body like a temple, or maybe a national monument. A revered tree? Something beautifully important. All superfood feelings welcome.


I did a super bang-up job of trashing my body in my teens and twenties and I have a sudden desire to make up for it. It’s a thing that my 30something friend group talks about a lot, how many of us are suddenly desperately attempting to reverse certain unhealthy habits of our Youth, like not wearing sunscreen or surviving on < 5 hours’ sleep or doing blow. We all have own special reasons for living how we lived. Mine’s probably that the instinct of self-preservation (or common sense) (depending who you ask) (hi mum) never seemed to kick in. I’ve been a smoker for 15 years (now former, mostly) and a big fan of hot chips and pastry since birth. I’ve battled an illness that nearly killed me and I’ve pumped a bunch of damaging substances into my body. I’ve been a mess.

It’s taken 30 years but I’m finally paying attention to my body’s increasing limitations and failures and the harsh fact that I’m a mere mortal who’s gonna die one day. So, I’ve been giving health and wellness the ol’ college try. I’m taking it day by day, one burpee and failed quinoa recipe at a time. Literally one burpee because fuck burpees, I’m not a machine. Also, quinoa? Is it meant to be a little crunchy? Mine’s always on the crunchy side and if cook it longer it turns into porridge, and somehow this is the only dumb question left in the entire universe that hasn’t yet been posted to Yahoo! Answers. Please don’t make me.

To date, my biggest obstacles have been 1) I love food, every kind, especially artery-hardening ones, and 2) I strongly dislike being uncomfortable and therefore strongly dislike exercise. I’ve started dabbling in it anyway, since conceding that it really does have a positive impact on my mental health. They tell you that, don’t they? The Fitness People. You’ve probably heard all about endorphins and science and shit, perhaps from a super buff, ultra smiley trainer on a morning television show, or Lauren Conrad, or that one friend who runs marathons for “fun.” That’s part of my struggle, I think. Being outside of your comfort zone can be terrifying, in any context, so it helps to get your info from someone you can trust or at least relate to in even the smallest way.

So, this will become a regular thing — a weekly recap of what’s working for me and what isn’t (yet, or maybe ever, tbd) on my personal quest for improved health and wellness. Come with me on this journey, if you want. There’ll be a lot of ground to cover because I have no fucking clue what I’m doing. Everything I know about health was taught to me by a giraffe that lived in a trailer. Australia!

My strategy as of right now is to randomly test out healthy habits and the occasional fad that I’ve heard or read about and see which ones stick. Maybe you’ve been here and have a suggestion or two. Maybe you’re currently here and just want to ask about superfoods in a safe space. Welcome.

Before diving in, there’s this: I’m not trying to live up to any particular conventional/social standards or expectations re: what shape my body is in and/or how I should take care of it. This is about self-love, not self-hate. Similarly, I’m sure as hell not implying that you ought to be making the same decisions as me, even though my most recent decision was rewarding myself for a 50-minute workout with a vodka diet and peanut M&Ms’ and frankly, it was bliss. This is just about me, wanting to live forever. It’s that simple.


Working: Going to the gym

WEEK-ONE-GYM

Several years ago I signed up to a $400 annual gym membership and attended maybe ~nine times, which unsurprisingly didn’t result in the unbeatable value or the “New Year, New Me” that I’d been sold on. So, several months ago when I felt the urge to re-explore my potential as a gym-goer, I was highly motivated and enthusiastic but not totally confident that I’d actually attend on a regular and on-going basis. But I have, sorta! My average right now is 2.5 visits per week. That may not seem impressive but it’s actually a 792 per cent improvement on my last gym participation rate, so.

In addition to having become slightly more disciplined in my old age, I’d say these are the main reasons why this is working out better than last time:

  1. I prioritised location above all else and chose a gym that can be walked to. That means it’s not the nicest or cheapest gym, and it’s still a 30 minute hike from home, but at least I’m not forced to hop on a crowded bus with my beet-red post-workout face. It gets SO red, you guys. Visualise the reddest face you’ve ever seen and then quadruple it and that’s how red my face is on a rest day. After the gym, it’s horrifying. Children stare. The other benefit is that it’s impossible to make good excuses to bail, knowing that I’ll be walking right past the damn door on my way home.
  2. I change into my gym gear before leaving my workplace. It’s just something ridiculously simple that makes me feel 10x more motivated to get my gym on.

This is not to say that the gym is working perfectly for me. It’s not. So many aspects currently feel a little uninviting or overwhelming (strength training! group classes! omg group classes) and I’ll process those feelings in future posts. But right now, as far as my very basic goal of showing up on a somewhat regular basis goes, I’m crushing it. *bicep emoji*


Not Working: Gym Dudes

You know what isn’t really working for me? Being sweated on by beefed up dudes who have this perpetual need to disrupt my flow every other minute by enquiring how many sets I have left. What about my needs? What about my need to finish my reps in a zone that is only achievable by listening to “Shake It Off” in full? That means UNINTERRUPTED, BRO. But also, if you see me wheezing and puffing and generally struggling to complete that 20lb lat pull down and your first assumption isn’t that I won’t be crawling away to die in just a quick moment, maybe you should be pumping up your powers of deduction instead your guns.

I don’t know what the solution is. Is this all gyms? Maybe this is a universal thing. I briefly investigated joining a female-only gym but the nearest one was basically a yoga studio with some treadmills and a few light-weight brightly coloured dumbbells for my little delicate lady hands.


Working: Breakfast

YOGURT-CRYSTAL

I grew up at the school of hard knocks, the ol’ college of real life, where breakfast was not served daily or hardly ever and so it just never became part of my adult routine. The only time I eat breakfast is at A-Camp and it’s because the cereal buffet is filled with glorious sugar crack that we don’t have back home. But now that I’m in my thirties? I’m starting to feel a little embarrassed for myself. It’s the most important meal of the day, did you know? Even five year olds seem to get that.

So, last year I began testing out some breakfast basics, like bagels with cream cheese and wheat toast with Vegemite. But they just made me super hungry immediately after and so it felt pointless. It seemed pointless to wake my stomach up early with breakfast when it only compelled me to smash every pastry in sight until lunchtime. That feels the opposite of healthy.

I didn’t give up. I researched foods that make you feel fuller for longer and the internet’s unanimous answer was “protein.” I tried the most practical approach of eating protein bars but they left me with a stomach ache and a super unpleasant synthetic taste in my mouth and also, they’re hella exy. Then I tried a low fat Greek yogurt situation and so far that’s been a winner. I enjoy it a lot more than I ever imagined possible, and somehow a tiny little tub holds me over until lunchtime. Protein! A+.


Not Working: Pyjamas as Workout Clothes

Until recently, my workout clothes were just last year’s winter pyjamas: baggy American Apparel tees and heavy woollen sweatpants. I was super resistant to buying proper “gym” gear because I felt like a poseur, I guess? Because I’m not a fitness guy! It felt silly to wear Nike when I can barely run for five minutes without keeling over. I know that it’s not actually silly. What’s silly is believing that I need to earn the right to wear workout attire, or that other people in the gym actually give a fuck about whatever I’m wearing or doing. Silly is sweltering in suffocating clothing when I could be feeling the cool cool breeze swishing through my thighs as I climb that incline. But even knowing all this on a rational level, I still struggle. I’m still reluctant to walk into the exercise section even though I could really use a second or third gym outfit. (Recently I broke down and bought one set of workout clothes online and they don’t fit perfectly but at least they breathe better than wooly pyjamas. So it’s a start to solving this, I guess).


Working: Podcasts

What’s your workout jam? I’ve been struggling with how boring the treadmill is, however, it’s the only exercise I feel confident about right now, so rather than give it up I want to distract myself from its mind-numbing dullness with sound. Music felt like the obvious choice but it just hasn’t been effective? I think because when the beat slows down, my feet do too. However! Podcasts are really working for me. I’ve had a ton of success with using them as bribery to get my ass to the gym, i.e. not allowing myself to listen to new episodes of a super addictive series unless it’s when I’m working out. Serial worked like a charm, I was gagging to get back on the treadmill to find out what Don’s whole deal is.

Other effective podcasts include:

  • This American Life because I never want to hop off the treadmill before the hour ends.
  • DeAnne Smith’s Questionable At Best because the conversations are so interesting and funny and the perfect length for a quicker workout.
  • Bring A Plate in which funny Australian queers, Rebecca Shaw and Peter Taggart, retro review all your fav nostalgia teen movies, like Coyote Ugly and Save The Last Dance, in a hilarious way. Among other things. The only downside is that it makes me giggle on the treadmill which is off-brand.

So, this is everything that I’ve been up to. Enough about me. What about you? Where are you at with this health and wellbeing thing? Are you curious? On a journey? Already nailing it? Do you need an outlet for your feelings about quinoa and gym clothes and workout jams? Because this this is it. Let’s talk about everything.

Coming up next week: I’ll probably talk about calorie counting but not in a way that’ll make you throw side-eye, I hope, as well as ‘social’ drinking and smoking.

Crystal is a 33-year-old Australian living in Chicago. Founding member, does HR stuff, writes now and then.

Crystal has written 329 articles for us.

130 Comments

  1. This is great! Still trying to figure out better eating habits that are sustainable and emotionally/psychologically healthy.

    On the exercise front, though, I completely tricked myself into liking running by using the Zombies, Run! app (first the 5k training, and now just the regular app). Like, I thought running was the woooorst, and I’m still not great at it, but now I do it and I actually want to do it. Recommended!

    • seconding this! Zombies Run made running actually kind of fun, and I’m much more motivated to go for a run in the first place knowing I’ll get the next part of the story. AND the voice acting and writing is excellent and diverse—there’s a fair amount of queer and POC characters.

  2. Super late to the party, but this is so relevant to my interests. I was a super fit gymnast until I finished uni, then I mostly stopped working out and developed an autoimmune disease that made me feel run down and exhausted and put on quite a bit of weight, despite still having a mostly healthy diet (It went undiagnosed for a long time so I just thought I was stressed and overworked at a desk job). I got out of the habit of exercising and I was really unwilling to get back into it because I felt like crap and also I really didn’t want to be reminded of how unfit I’d really become.

    Being diagnosed really gave me a kick in the ass though. Two years ago I started once a week in an activity I’d always wanted to try (circus training ftw), now I’m training four times a week and loving it. My stress levels and anxiety are so much better, I’m managing my health without medication, my body is just so fucking FUNCTIONAL, you know? I have visible muscles that work really well and I’m still sore all of the time, but I’m at the point that I can see myself getting stronger and being able to achieve things I’ve struggled with previously. I’ve also found that I just naturally want to eat better, because it feels counter productive to leave training and eat rubbish.

    My treadmill jam is Netflix. I stick my iPad over the panel that tells me how much torture I have left (fuck I hate running) and put on a show that is the length I want to work out for, and then I don’t stop until its done. Failing that, I have an absolutely tragic playlist that is a mash up of past Eurovision finalists, Taylor Swift and most of the volumes of Smash Hits from the early 90s. Internal dance party distracts me from the boredom of running

  3. Awesome article!
    I’ve been on a similar path of reversing years of bad bad choices within just a few months and I wish someone had taught me this stuff in high school – eat well, lift heavy, sleep a lot, yadda yadda. The result for me this year was sure, a ton of weight off, but the biggest thing for me was a mental transformation into an athlete. I get to do things that most people consider superhuman – triathlons, half marathons, 6-7 minute miles, killing what people consider brutal workouts with ease, etc. I realized I wasn’t a low energy person, quite the opposite, and it actually helped work, habits and everything else.

    Here’s my personal list of working/non working stuff:
    1) Tracking. I don’t do it anymore because I understand nutrition a lot better and I can do the math in my head, but having a calorie and macro budget in the beginning was eye-opening. It made me understand what exactly made me unhealthy and naturally made my habits better. I got a heart rate monitor, logged my food and kept a consistent 750 kcal deficit and lost 1.5 lbs a week(note: I don’t recommend this, it’s too fast). If i wanted to eat something, I had to budget for it. Simple, but really worked for me.
    2) Lifting. it’s voodoo magic, seriously. Especially during weight loss. It’s kinda kick ass to drop 30 pounds in 4 months and still have a working metabolism and the muscles of someone who had to carry those extra 30 for years. Plus, newbie gains.
    3) High Intensity Interval Training. Love it. Find the hardest Tabata class near you, you won’t regret it
    4) Running. If injury prevention wasn’t an issue, I would do it all the time.
    5) Waking up early. i just set a recurring alarm for 5am every day and it worked magic. I have sworn for over 20 years that I am NOT a morning person. Turns out it was a lame excuse. Waking up early gives you time to work out, have a healthy breakfast and be the first in the office. And it cuts off useless TV time in the evening.
    6) Eat More Exercise More. I tried the low calorie nonsense. It was stupid. Upped my exercise and got to enjoy more food and it worked.
    7) Yoga. I resisted it at first. If it were up to me I would be running and lifting all day. 3 injuries later I came to my senses.
    8) a gym that’s convenient and that you enjoy going to. I switched gym memberships and it worked. I love my gym therefore I go there. And I am yet to encounter bros.
    9) Personal Training – worth every penny.
    10) Reading up on metabolism and how your body actually works.

    Not working:
    1) Juicing, hunger and other metabolism killing nonsense. At least it didn’t work for me – it made me binge after to a reverse effect. Granted it could help other people with insulin sensitivity etc., just never worked for me and I find it amusing when people just say: “I need to start juicing” or ‘i need to go paleo” etc.
    2) Unfortunately I couldn’t do the same process being a vegetarian for many years. I know a lot of people do it, I could’t. I started eating chicken and fish and it helped meeting my protein macros within a restricted calorie budget.
    3) Undereating. At the beginning it was great see the scale going down like crazy, but I did do some metabolism damage I wish I hadn’t done. It makes the plateaus hard to break.
    4) Overtraining. I trained for a half marathon by doubling my mileage one week. I bust my knee and had to stop running for weeks and missed the race.
    5) cheat meals. Sure, I indulge every now and then but I try not to be stupid. Eating junk food makes you wanna eat more junk food – especially true for sugar. I just make the right substitutions. I practically don’t notice the candy in the office because I have my own stash of peanut butter, fruit, oatmeal and nuts and I don’t let myself get hungry. You just don’t crave the stuff. You start craving other stuff(Damn you, peanut butter).

    • Peanut butter is amazing. I’m going to be talking about diet tracking next week. I’ve just started doing it and I’m finding it so helpful in making better food choices and learning about nutrition in general.

  4. I find that signing up for a class or team sport really helps me, because I’ve shelled out the money and/or have a team relying on me to show up, so I’m much more likely to do it. I’ve taken ballet classes through my school’s athletic centre and Toronto has a delightful queer women’s soccer league :D Since I’m away all summer I didn’t join the league, nor am I a member of a gym at the moment, so I’ve been running outdoors and doing yoga/body strength workouts by following YouTube videos. I’ve mostly just been walking a ton, which is better than nothing!

  5. I first started running (trying to run) on treadmills at the local community center gym. This was excellent because the community center gym was pretty much only frequented by geriatrics and a few dudebros who only really used the free weights.

    Even though I could hardly run 1 minute without thinking I would die at a pace my mother can do walking, I always had an encouraging grandpa or grandma next to me to say “oh my, you young kids go so fast”.

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