Sometimes, when we change just one thing in our lives, everything else shifts with it.
I was concerned about my health going into this road-trip. Worried hours of driving would aggravate my ornery hip and I’d become a slow-rolling van potato. I was already carrying 30 uninvited pounds with me, and didn’t want to bring more on board. I practice body acceptance and self-love no matter what size or shape I am, but also know when I’m not caring for myself the way I deserve. I was uncomfortable coming into the trip and wasn’t feeling the love. That had to change. I wanted to bring my values and habits back in line with one another.
Before I set off, I made efforts to get back to the habits that would return me to a state of being comfortable in my body. Although I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t eat too much junk food, I discovered through a period of food-tracking I was eating a lot of complex carbohydrates and often snacking on high-calorie foods, much more than I realized.
I began eating less and practicing “mindful eating” so I’d be more aware of the habits that were making me feel slouchy and lethargic. Because I wanted to feel confident and energetic!
I then got a Fitbit, which helped me pay attention to how often and energetically I moved. Or didn’t, as it were. (Numbers don’t lie, like I do!) Although I had been walking, I wasn’t really walking vigorously enough to get my heart-rate fired up and I was often over-estimating how long I’d walked. With a bit of focused determination, and some new accountability, I worked on increasing both.
Although I saw some small changes from these dietary and activity changes over a period of six months, change was slow to come. Still, I celebrated each small achievement. I started at 8,000 steps a day and struggled with increased pain. Over time, and with conditioning, I regularly reached 10,000 steps, with Tylenol as a reward. I ate less and more mindfully.
It wasn’t until I hit the road in July that my lifestle changed to such a degree that my body started sending me regular thank you notes.
When I made a quick stop back in Ottawa after six weeks on the road, I discovered my fall clothes were too big. A happy hop on the scale revealed I’d left 15 pounds somewhere along the back roads of eastern Canada. This was much more effective than any gym membership I’d ever had!
Why has a van-tramping lifestyle had such measurable impact on my health when other efforts were less fruitful? I’ve come to see it’s much more complicated that simply having the “will” to make changes! My environment and frame of mind has played a huge roll.
In the city I’m surrounded by food and food advertising; literally on every corner. Enticing food. Super-sized food. “Enhanced” food designed to hijack the pleasure centre of my brain and make me crave more. This results in food being “on one’s mind” almost continually throughout the day. Very effective as I thought about food all the time!
Out here in rural Canada, I’m more likely to see a sign reading “no services or gas for 175 km” than one urging me to eat processed food! Instead, I see signs like “Fresh Blueberries in 100 meters” or “Smoked Fish Ahead” …. neither of which have been enhanced with fat, sugar, salt or additives designed to make me want more. Who ever binges on smoked fish or blueberries!? I’m guessing almost no-one! That’s because they are simple, natural and nutritionally dense foods that nourish us and leave us satisfied.
I regularly look for farmer’s markets in towns I visit. This adds pleasure to my day and diet! I love knowing where my food comes from, and discovering the people who grow it makes for really pleasant social outings. I meet the most interesting people chatting over fresh produce! Just yesterday I began my day in Watrous, Saskatchewan visiting with a cool, story-weaving-fruit-seller named Jason, who just happens to also live in his truck! He is tasked with the important work of getting fresh Canadian produce to the lovely folks in the rural prairies and I was tasked with relieving him of some pears and peaches!
Because I am not inundated with processed food advertising, my body now seems better able to determine, using it’s own regulation system, if and when I am hungry. My appetite is no longer being constantly ambushed! This means I have less cravings and emotional eating episodes.
As I began this journey, I got thinking about some initial habits. Times of change are a natural time to start new routines. So, I don’t carry sugary or processed food with me in the van. Sugar is cocaine to me, and if I take that road, I have trouble finding the off-ramp. It’s best I save treats for times I can safely drive away from them after I’ve enjoyed them. Ice cream is my one big indulgence, and I usually wait until I find a local ice cream, which makes me very happy. Note my happiness, below. I’m not interested in deprivation, I want balance!
I also don’t eat while driving, unless it is fresh fruit or vegetables. Food I eat while driving disappears without my noticing. This means I am tricked into thinking I haven’t eaten when in fact, I have. Sometimes I do need a little “something” on the go though, and eating only fruits and vegetables in the van helps me get lots of that goodness into my diet.
Thanks to my Fitbitit, it became obvious I spend much less time sitting in the van then I did at home. Pleasant surprise! Despite driving 350-400 km most days, these kilometres are broken up with hourly walks and I have added about 5000 steps per day without even making an effort, making my average step count between 12-15,000 a day during nice weather.
But how did this happen? I think it’s my frame of mind. I wake up somewhere different every day, I roll out of the van curious about my surroundings. My first walk with Pippa is often longer than intended and it’s not uncommon for a 10 minute stroll to turn into 45 before I even have coffee. I camp largely in provincial and national parks, all with trails in or nearby, and I try to hike at least one at each. They are often between 2-5 km on various terrain. Not knowing what the walk is going to be like adds interest and combats “workout boredom”! I’ve learned that when I am where I want to be, activity is a more natural, rather than forced, state of being.
In retrospect, I sometimes found walking in the city discouraging or uncomfortable because of the social issues and difficulties downtown, so my walks were shorter and more of a chore. If I’m truthful, they were sometimes downright stressful. Not so out in nature, where each walk is nurturing, interesting or soothing in some way.
As I have gotten physically stronger, I have begun doing trails with more elevation. I never know what is around the next corner, so I can’t avoid them either like I used to! Pippa ensures I never skip the stairs!
I no longer eat out of boredom, either, simply because I’ve yet to experience anything like boredom since setting off.
I rarely eat “out” now, unless there is a regional delicacy I must enjoy, like Lobster in the Maritimes.
At home, I ate out a couple times a week. I see now how these “treats” added up over time. I used dining out as a stress-reliever or a reward at the end of a difficult day. I have less difficult days now, with less need to numb out stress with food!
In summary, I am more aware of what I’m eating, eating only when hungry, getting a lot more enjoyable exercise and choosing lots of local and fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m also sleeping really well at the end of a physically active day, which is shown to be a factor in weight maintenance. I love how food tastes when cooked and eaten outside too!
I feel more playful than I have in years, and play naturally results in physical activity! I swim every chance I get and this always involves a proper frolick.
Because my energy has increased significantly, and my pain decreased notably as I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve even decided to add a daily strengthening program to my routine of walking. Which makes me think this journey into a healthier lifestyle has only just begun!
Other health habits I’ve learned:
- I try not to let bad weather deter me from my activities. Waterproof boots or shoes and jacket go a long way.. Unless the weather is extreme, Pip and I get out there!
- I keep an eye on the weather and plan for physical activity around it.
- I use a Fitbit to help set goals and celebrate my progress. Even if weight maintenance isn’t an issue, keeping fit and flexible are worth while goals for anyone on the road. Especially as we get a little older. I like the weight watchers food tracking program and I’m about to begin a fitness app with short workouts each day on my iPad. Most cell phones have a step counter.
- I keep a mental list of my favourite healthy foods and try to keep them stocked in the van. Running out of food is a sure way to get sucked into buying gas station “food”. I do a little grocery run each week, just like at home. When I make a more labour-intensive food like a stew or lentil dish, I always make enough to have leftovers. I love my popcorn, which is my go-to camp snack. I make kettle-popped corn and mix in trail mix, top with cinnamon, sea salt and a tiny bit of maple syrup. Who needs junk food when you can have this?
- I always keep a water bottle full and in my coffee holder and try to drink at least two a day. I once read we often think we are hungry when we are only thirsty! I don’t buy drinks at all, preferring to use every thirst opportunity to rehydrate with water. This was hard at first, when I avoided drinking because I knew it meant a rest-station stop. Now I plan for it each hour.
- I encourage you to think about what to give yourself and your beautiful body, rather than what you are going to take away from it. Strive for balance and moderation. You deserve to be nourished – not deprived – enjoy the process with as many natural foods that make you happy as you can.
- Having a canine companion is not for everyone, but if you are considering taking a furry friend with you on your adventure, a dog can be a tremendous motivator and a fantastic health and wellness companion. Pippa is probably the most insistent, but fun-loving personal trainer I ever could have asked for!
- Practice the art of getting lost. This happens regularly to me. I wonder if it happens to you? I set off for a 10 minute walk at dawn, in a new campground, and an hour later I am sure our site has been moved into a parallel universe to which I have no access. Campground loops are labyrinths I am perpetually lost within. Despite this being somewhat unnerving, I’ve made an effort to roll with it because I’m now quite sure it accounts for about 30% of our daily exercise!
Wishing you all a day of self-care, no matter how you are currently travelling in this world. You deserve it. If you happen to be in a van and struggle with healthy habits, I hope you find encouragement in my experience.
Membership in #vanlife has some potential health benefits!