I recently read through Kelsey Miller’s Anti-Diet Project series. An experiment I stand behind 100%. In this project, Kelsey is mainly focusing on intuitive eating, and figuring out how to make reasonable exercise a part of her daily life in a consistent way, and she’s writing about her experiences in doing that. She’s been at it for a while now.
As much as I love Kelsey’s series (she’s an engaging writer, and what she’s going through on this journey is much like what anyone following a similar path would be experiencing, I’m sure), I wonder what it would be like if she were a 43 year old working (single) mother in a suburb of a Canadian (or US for that matter) city (hey, like me!) instead of a 30 year old child-free writer living in Manhattan.
Everyone knows (or has been told on Pinterest) that fitting in exercise should be easy if it’s a priority, and there should be no excuse, since a one hour workout is only 4% of your day. Which is bullshit. It’s 4% of a 24 hour day. Most of us sleep 8 hours at day, or are told we should for optimal health, and work at least 8 hours day, whether we want to or not, so a one hour work out is minimally 12.5% of an average person’s available daily hours, and even that number is deceptively low because once you take out other obligations of life besides sleep and work (overtime work, commute, grocery shopping, prep meals, eat, shower, care for children) you’re probably talking more like at least 25% of available hours. More if you have more than two kids, kids with special needs, two jobs, a long commute etc. And if you want to spend time with your partner or watch TV? Big middle finger to you my friend.
Anyway, in one of her columns, Kelsey talks about how to fit in exercise, which is a big question for many people. And the answer she came up with — get up an hour earlier. This is not new advice, nor is it a surprise. Almost everybody who is advising you on how to fit in whatever it is that you want to do in your life will tell you to get up earlier (interesting that nobody ever says to stay up an hour later). Want to find time to exercise? Get up an hour earlier. Want to make sure your house is clean? Set your alarm for 30 to 60 minutes before your family gets up. Want to write more? Get up an hour earlier and do morning pages. There is sense to doing these things early in the morning — because then they’re done, you get an sense of accomplishment at the beginning of your day that will fuel other accomplishments, and you don’t have the rest of the day to find excuses not to do them, which gets easier and easier as the day goes on. Keep in mind that no one seems to mention that they go to sleep an hour earlier to make up for getting up earlier. Which makes sense, since then they wouldn’t actually be gaining any time, they’d just be shifting their waking hours around.
So, what’s going unsaid here, is that if you want to fit in (exercise, writing, cleaning), you need to sleep an hour less each night. And that might be a perfectly reasonable trade off for some. Or maybe not — for those who are already getting by on 5 or 6 hours. I swear, If I got up an hour earlier for all the things I want to do, I would be getting almost no sleep at all. Maybe I’m just particularly pissy about this because I hate mornings with the passion of a million red hot suns. Every morning, I wake up feeling as though I’ve been driven over by trucks all night.
But that aside, there are a couple of things that make this potentially impractical for the average 43 year old mother of two. First of all, Kelsey’s reasons for having a hard time getting up earlier have to do with staying up later than usual, spending the night at her boyfriend’s or having too many cocktails the night before. The answer to all of these is along the lines of “suck it up and get up earlier.” That’s a little harder to say when you’ve been up all night with two kids who have been puking like Linda Blair in the Exorcist and you know you’re going to have to take care of them all day. Or work all day if you can manage to get your daycare provider to take the kids in spite of what might be demonic possession. Or the Norwalk virus. They’re essentially the same thing right? It also is impractical if, like me, you were/are a single parent when your children were too young to be left alone. There was no way I could have gotten up earlier to go to the gym, because I wasn’t going to leave my 2 and 3 year old kids alone in the house to go to the gym. Some people have the space and equipment and what not to work out from home which would make it entirely more practical (and for the sake of transparency, I am one of those people, and also, my kids are now old enough to stay home alone, and further, even then they wouldn’t be alone because my boyfriend would be here) but some people don’t. Secondly, apparently for Kelsey, getting up an hour earlier means getting up at 6:30. For me, getting up an hour earlier means getting up at 5:30. For many people, it would be even earlier than that. Where exactly are the bounds of practicality here?
If you can get up an hour earlier to work out (or do whatever) and it makes you happy, fits with your lifestyle, and doesn’t have any detrimental effects on your life (like excessive tiredness) then I think that’s completely awesome. I wish I could be like you. And, if you can’t get up an hour earlier (or don’t want to) that’s okay too. Maybe there’s another way to fit all that stuff in, and you and I just haven’t figure it out yet.
For the record, the reasons I don’t get up early to exercise are, in order of importance:
- Aforementioned red hot suns hatred of mornings.
- My body has this really awesome thing it does where it randomly imposes absolutely urgent needs to use the toilet accompanied by stomach cramps and “oh my god I am not going to make it” panic sweats for the first 3 hours that I am awake. Not every single day, but at least 50% of days and it is impossible to predict which days. It’s my body’s way of keeping things new and exciting I guess. This would mean that in order to work out at 6 am, I would have to wake up at 3am. If I am awake at 3am (like, for example, now), it is because I am still awake from the night before. Also, the need to get off the treadmill and run to the bathroom with your butt cheeks clenched together is no fun, even if you are in the comfort of your own home. And doesn’t make for satisfying workouts.
- I have, believe it or not, actually tried this. I have consistently gotten up early and gone to the gym in the morning. I found that by 10am, I was so tired, I had difficulty focusing. It did not add to my overall enjoyment in life. Or in other words, the benefits did not outweigh the costs.
This probably comes across as an excuse not to exercise at all. Which is actually isn’t. If I didn’t want to exercise at all, I would just say so, and then not exercise. I do actually want to exercise, I just need to figure out how to fit it in to my life consistently. I believe it’s doable. I shall be experimenting with this over the next couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll end up having to eat all my morning hating words when I figure out that getting up an hour earlier is the answer.
Stay tuned for a future installment, where I compare approaches to intuitive eating for a 30 something Manhattan-ite with a 40 something suburban working mother.