Fitness and Nutrition: The Key to Enhanced Functionality

  • In the gym I go to, motivational quotes are stenciled on the walls. My favorite? “There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.” Imagine this: I gained 20 lbs. after I started taking the meds, and it took me six years to lose the weight. I could’ve given up, and stuffed my face to comfort myself. On most days, I did find myself diving into a tub of Haagen Dazs.

    When I lived at the halfway house, we cooked meals like noodles with butter and cream, and subsisted on hamburger and sausage patties. Vegetables were a skimpy afterthought. At my first jobs in the City, the only lunch options were nearby fast food restaurants. Now, I’m able to cook soup or create colorful salads in an actual kitchen.
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    After I got out of the hospital the first time, I gained the 20 lbs. in just under two months. My Mom gave me a gift certificate to the Lovely Lady Spa, but when the membership was up, I stopped going. In my mid to late 20s, I had better success with going to the gym, where I hit the treadmills and took aerobics classes.

    Fitness doesn’t have to be complicated or heavy-duty. I admit: I only go to the gym twice a week, where I do the upper and lower body machines, and pound the treads. Options for you might be walking briskly for a half hour a day, which also has cardiovascular benefits. Lifting hand weights at home as you watch a strength training video, two or three times a week for a half hour, promotes bone health.

    Exercise boosts our mood, and protects our immune system. It can also be a social event. Find an encouraging fitness buddy who you can share your goals with and get support on the days you don’t feel like doing anything. You can always work out at home solo, if that is your thing. I like the gym because of the music, and though I don’t talk to any of the power buff types while I’m there, I love that we’re all in it together when it comes to self-improvement.

    My suggestion? Take baby steps with your physical activity, at the same time you gradually replace your food choices with more healthful options. Losing weight, a concern for those of us on certain atypicals, isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you take control. Like I said, it took me six years to lose the 20 lbs.—and the good news is I haven’t gained it back.

    This involved a wholesale lifestyle change. To make it easy and as simple as possible to execute, I changed my habits one at a time. First, I cooked skinless chicken, using fat-free salad dressing, or spices such as lemon pepper, or salsa, for taste. With that under my belt, I switched from whole milk to skim. Then I replaced iced tea, a sugary drink, with water.

    My earliest goal had been to eat a proper breakfast instead of grabbing a muffin when I got to the City. My solution: I poured myself a bowl of high-fiber cereal at home. What I like now is Kashi’s GoLean because it’s a good source of fiber and protein.

    My foolproof healthful eating involves having small meals throughout the day, and I’ll walk you through. Breakfast: high-fiber cereal with skim, an 8 oz. glass of calcium-fortified orange juice, and a glass of water to wash down my vitamins and supplements. A.M. snack: a container of fat-free yogurt (try Stonyfield Farms for flavor and variety).

  • Lunch includes any of the following: a baby spinach salad with tomatoes, chick peas and olives, and shredded cheddar, with low-fat dressing; lentil soup dunked with a slice of whole wheat bread, and two slices of mozzarella on the side; two slices of whole wheat pizza, or sometimes fresh mozzarella pizza; turkey-and-Swiss on whole wheat; or a tuna wrap. One day a week, I treat myself to whatever I want!
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    Next up, I have a p.m. snack, that’s usually fruit, such as raspberries, a banana, or strawberries. Though I hate apples, if you like them, kudos! —They’re known to lower cholesterol, and are cheap. You can spread some all-natural peanut butter on them for some protein. On occasion, I have some string cheese (mozzarella) with a handful of almonds.

    For dinner, I cook chicken, fish or turkey with a serving of vegetables such as cooked squash, chopped spinach or broccoli, and a cup of brown rice or whole wheat couscous. (White foods, aside from being bland, have virtually no nutritional value. I’d recommend going to a health food store for the whole-wheat versions of pasta and couscous, as well as tasty whole grains such as quinoa and wheat berries.)

    I admit: one or two nights a week, I eat what I want. The times when I don’t feel like cooking, or money runs tight, I scramble eggs or cook up a cheese omelet with chopped broccoli, or have soup, bread and cheese, or a peanut butter-n-jelly sandwich. (You could add banana slices to this last item.) These “shortcuts” are actually healthy options because they provide protein and nutrients.

    If it seems like my fitness and nutrition routine is extreme, well, I’ve made that choice because, as a person in recovery from schizophrenia, I know how vital good physical health is to our mental health. Feeding your body what it needs to function well also nourishes your brain, and helps boost your mood.

    To be honest, I feel better when I eat healthfully, and I believe you will, too. That said, you and I aren’t saints. To maintain consistent habits, it’s important to budget in a splurge now and then, such as a square of dark chocolate or a guilt-free pastry once a week, no questions asked.

    When we feel good about ourselves, it improves our outlook, and puts recovery within our reach. In the next entry, I’ll talk about how our environment contributes to this as well.

Published On: February 05, 2007