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A journey of mind and body transformation (during the pandemic)

My house wasn’t the only active renovation occurring during the pandemic. There were other more important things that needed my full attention. Mainly me.

Dealing with COVID impacts to my body and mind

Shortly after quickly putting on the “COVID 15”, I was starting to feel a lot of pain in my feet and back. Daily headaches were plaguing me. It wasn’t just the weight bothering me, but I felt real mental anguish looking back at all the time and effort I had spent to get fit and strong. And the speed with which the decline happened was alarming. I tried to be gentle with myself; the impacts of the pandemic were new and a lot to deal with, so though I didn’t beat myself up, I did acknowledge I had to make changes to address my physical and mental state.

Pre-COVID I was super active – playing dodgeball at least 4 or so times a week and walking daily. So, after few months of pandemic pity (on myself) which for me looked like eating without planning, eating late, having drinks to soothe the stress and dropping like a fly for a nap at 6 pm from fatigue, the weight piled on fast, as did the negative thoughts and poor mental state. By the end of summer, I was in a bad place.

The weight was only an output of the stress and load I was carrying. I needed to find a better way to tackle the mental anxiety I was feeling beyond being careless with my diet. My head wasn’t right. I had been dealing with anxiety before the pandemic, but by the end of July, it was nearly out of control. Work was chaotic and adding even more pressure to my plate, as was the whole situation with the kids being locked down for summer. I had a long-term relationship under duress as well. It was too much.

Upon reflecting on how easily this occurred – my slip into unhealthy patterns, I knew that I needed to take action that would be sustainable. I truly want to live my next few decades pain-free and as healthy, happy and fit as possible.

It was time for some real change.

Disclaimer: What I share with you now is based on my own trial and error. I’m not licensed to give medical advice so please don’t take it as such. There are a lot of amazing and reputable resources out there so please do your own research on programs that might be right for you.

My step by step transformation

Now this may be a bit granular to break it down step by step, but I want to drive home the fact that change does not happen overnight – and it is different for everyone. This is the process that worked for me and I share it to encourage those wanting to make changes, to make a plan and start small.

Knowing habits take time (some say 66 days is the norm, but others say it can take as little as 18), I started with the basics

Free Fuel 

My transformation – I say this word intentionally as my focus was to work on my overall health, all started with water. I noticed that since I hadn’t been physically in the office and not working out as much, my water intake dropped drastically.

Admittedly inspired by friend and influencer, Sasha Exeter (seriously follow this woman, you won’t regret it), I picked up a QuiFit water bottle (linked here – it is a game changer!) and have never looked back. Ask my friends – I’ve even bought a few of these as “gifts” for those who are somewhat water-challenged. I love water and I love this thing – especially the timeline feature. You may think taking in a 3.78L or a gallon of water a day is impossible, but I assure you it isn’t. Yes, you will spend more time in the bathroom but fun fact: it doubles as an arm weight!

Trust me when I say, you NEED this.

But really, simply upping your water intake helps with so many things. For me, the result has been increased energy, better skin (seriously the deep forehead wrinkles were not as deep anymore!), improved sleep, less pain, and meal control. (Here’s a decent article with 15 benefits of drinking water.)

Getting all my z’s at the right time 

Speaking of sleep, I tackled that next. I had been ignoring my tired body and mind that urged me for earlier slumber. When I started listening to it, I found a more natural rhythm of sleep and wake times that allowed me to feel rested. It really is amazing when you allow the downtime your body needs to occur. The changes are like night and day.

With better sleep came even more energy. Here are some tips on regulating your sleep.

Kicking the screen to the curb

This as a no-brainer. The Netflix binges weren’t doing me any favors nor was scrolling endlessly until I fell asleep. I put the phone down more and chose to spend my time, especially before bed doing other things such as drawing a bath, adding in a new skin care routine and lounging with my kids or dogs. This helped instantly with anxiety – that is once I got used to not picking up my phone every two minutes.

Adding exercise slowly

With more energy, I bumped up my exercise regime from my once a day walk. Soon, that became twice a day – once with my dogs and one alone. Walks began to further energize me. Eventually, I started adding formal yet brief workouts into my routine (HIIT/strength training, etc.). As a former athlete and personal trainer, I’m fortunately the type that is driven and disciplined when it comes to working out, even at home alone. I’m happy to share some of the best programs that have gotten me through (hello future post!).

Prairie crocus spotted during a spring hike at Wascana Trails.

I know it’s hard to fit time in to exercise but your brain needs a break too, so taking the time to mentally reset with a walk or quick workout is necessary for well-being.

This is a great article about the physical and mental benefits of walking.

The benefits of zen to the brain

I’ve always loved walking, but it has also served as meditation, as has any time in nature. I have joked before that birds have saved me (I’ve even written about it) but what I really mean is that when I take the time to immerse myself outdoors and be still (or walk), it really allows me to channel that energy I truly need.

I also found myself meditating more and more, generally each morning on the deck when the weather permitted. This set the tone for the day and added much needed calm to my routine.

Birdwatching and walking are activities that put me in a healthy, meditative state. I’m almost always more productive on days I take time to zen out for a bit.

Meal planning

Meal planning is something I always said I needed to do but never committed to doing. Well, with all my newfound time there was no excuse to tackle this! I made a rotating list of four weeks’ worth of meals and then simply planned my grocery shopping outings. Each week, I write out what we are having on a white board so everyone knows, and we can plan to take food out as necessary. This simple change has been the biggest time, energy and money saver I’m no longer scrambling to cook dinners that are healthy. I choose meals that are balanced but also don’t sweat the fact that they aren’t all “clean” meals. This helps everyone feel happy at the dinner table.

I do tend to eat clean during the day and for breakfasts and light lunches, I choose protein rich meals with healthy fats. I even caved and bought a Vitamix for smoothies – best investment I’ve made in a while!

Kickstarting my metabolism

After a lot of research, I decided to try intermittent fasting, specifically the 16:8 routine – eating for an 8-hour window and fasting for 16. Somedays, the number of hours varied (hello: sometimes I needed an 9 pm glass of wine!) but that’s ok too.

I feel like I need to stress here that doing our best is ok and if we break from healthy habits such as these, that is ok too. For habits to be sustainable, you cannot restrict yourself to the point where you are unhappy – so if that looks like enjoying some sweets, a glass of wine or eating a bit earlier/later while fasting, I say go for it.

I’ve been really surprised with the effects of intermittent fasting. There are many benefits (anti-aging, decreased inflammation, heart health, etc.) that go beyond weight loss. My mental focus in the mornings is so much sharper and my memory has been steadily improving. The most impressive thing however has been the increase to my energy levels. I attribute this as well to properly fueling up after workouts and choosing to eat wiser during my 8-hour window. Again, fasting is something you need to do your own homework on as it may not be for everyone.

Weight loss occurred almost as soon as I started fasting, at a healthy rate of 1 – 1.5 pounds per week until I plateaued to where my body felt best.

My slightly overcrowded basement gym – was I happy that I had invested in equipment years prior. I spent a lot of time here over the past year.

Yes, this is great but again, this was never about losing SO much weight as it was finding the right balance of physical and mental wellbeing. Do I feel fabulous now? Yes, but it isn’t just because my clothes fit me again, its because I’m stronger and happier and more balanced. I’m also grateful as all these things have really stuck and I don’t feel like I’m missing out or living a lifestyle I can’t maintain. Here’s a decent introduction to intermittent fasting. *It is not recommended for everyone.

Enjoying alone time but also enjoying connection

Pre-COVID I’d describe myself as more of an extrovert however, I learned just how much alone time improved my peace of mind. It allows me to be present with myself, to correct negative thoughts and refocus them instead into positive self-talk. Over this time, I’ve come to really appreciate being alone using it as a time to look deeper, be reflective and practice gratitude.

Conversely, I also stayed connected with my favourite people and made sure they knew they were important to me. These connections gave me the energy, laughter and love I needed during a time where I was changing, and it felt good to listen, share and commiserate with close friends.

All this change resulted in …

I finally feel like I can breathe again and really smile again. My confidence has really improved and friends will attest that I’m calmer than likely ever, and I feel it. The time I devoted to turning a challenging period into an opportunity for reflection, much needed perspective and efforts, was beyond worth it.

The best part is the real and tangible transformation that occurred. Without question, I don’t think I would have had the success with my physical changes without tackling some of the mental challenges first. Being ready and open to change really is key.

The biggest and best changes have been increased mental clarity and focus, energy and strength, the lack of pain and the decrease in anxiety. There’s also weight loss that occurred. I’m happy about it but it really isn’t the big win for me here. I’m more content and as a bonus have really learned along the way to love myself for who I am, shortcomings and strengths.

I am proud to say I’m healthier today than I’ve been in decades. I hope you find me sharing my struggles, journey and wins along the way, helpful and inspirational to your journey.

Keep on and get strong! A mind and body transformation is something anyone can do!

Wishing you all the success in becoming the best, healthiest version of yourself.


4 thoughts on “A journey of mind and body transformation (during the pandemic)
  1. Wendy Lynn on said:

    Yeah Jenn!!! This is a wonderful post! I highly enjoyed reading this (although I love everything you write) and am beyond happy that you’re feeling and LOOKING so fantastic! It’s definitely been a challenging 15 months (as you know I’m a Registered Nurse) and I feel like I have lived in my hospital and in masks. Sadly, I did NOT make all the healthy choices you did but I am working on finding my groove for my spirit, mind and body again and this was a very encouraging read! Water bottle ORDERED! 😉
    Thanks my friend and cheers to you!

    • Jenn Smith Nelson on said:

      Aww that’s great, Wendy! Thanks for reading and your kind words. I can only imagine how challenging this last year must have been for you. Healthcare workers are heroes. ❤️

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