#SweatOnceADay

I never thought I’d write an entry about fitness and nutrition, but here I am. While it’s a departure from my usual topics, I think it’s vital for our physical, mental and spiritual health that we pay attention to what we’re eating (i.e. shoving down out throats) and how active (or inactive) we are. So I thought I’d write about my own journey in the world of fitness and nutrition and how much I’m continuing to learn, about myself and what I’m eating, as I go along.

First, I need to address a little pet peeve of mine. I cannot stand it when women, who usually tend to be Muslim aunties, comment on how “skinny” I am, how I should be eating more, and how they’re sure I’ll be fat after I have children.

“Wait until you have children, beta,” they taunt.

“I was skinny like you when I got married, but wait a couple of years, you’ll see,” they threaten.

“Have you lost more weight?! Eat!,” they advise.

I tend to let these go into one ear and out the other. But it still bothers me that people look at my build and judge me. They think that because I’m “skinny”, I must starve myself. First of all, I despise the word skinny, just as someone may not appreciate being called “obese”. “Skinny” is such a misused word, and gives me images of size 0 models limping down the runway, their collarbones jutting out, sunken in eyes, and a thigh gap so large I could fit a watermelon between their legs. That is not me. I am not skinny…I am fit. There’s a vast difference that people don’t understand. I eat 3 well proportioned meals during the day, snack twice, and enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate (70% and organic!!) every day…this is not the routine of someone “skinny”, but of someone who values her body enough to exercise and nourish it with what it needs to become stronger.

So please, don’t call me “skinny”.

Second, I work hard and will continue to work hard, because I know that God has provided me with one body and one body only. This body is busy with work and the role of wife, daughter, sister, friend, etc. It will InshaAllah in the future bear children and will need energy during pregnancy and beyond. I understand that there are toxic radicals in our body that can cause short and long term issues, that our bodies need to be provided with vitamins and minerals, and that we truly are what we eat. I believe in prevention…so that’s why I exercise and eat right. Because if you’re not setting the foundation for aging in a healthy way, it’s harder when you’re older and set into your bad habits. We already know that our bodies start to decline and slow down in our mid-30s. So we should not wait until we are in our 40s to start living a healthy life.

Also, I find that physical fitness is linked to spirituality in such a huge way…by placing your mind over matter when you’re training, you’re able to become in tune with yourself in a way you may not have felt before. I purposely head into the hot yoga studio 30 minutes before class because I need that time to myself for reflection. I find myself saying dua’a (prayers) before class, praying for help during class when I feel like collapsing, and at the close of class while everyone chants “Om”, I say another prayer under my breath, thanking God for getting me through an intense 75 minutes. Yoga especially has enhanced my spiritually by teaching me how to focus in the moment. And it’s made me realize who you are on your mat is who you are off it. If you give in before giving yourself a chance, allow preconceptions to sneak in, and are inconsistent with practice…perhaps this is a sign that things that need to change? Do you make up excuses to give in? Do you push yourself 1 mm further in a pose or do you resign to the same place you’ve been to many times before? When it’s just you, your breath and a yoga pose, what do you do in that moment when nothing else matters?

Keeping fit will happen in different ways for all of us, since we usually choose methods that resonate with us. For me, my weekly workout routine consists of 2 yoga classes, 2-3 visits to the gym, and a Zumba class. Variety is not only the spice of life, but your body loves it too. The more variety you add to your workouts, the better…you need to keep your body guessing, shocking it if you will, if you want to see results and avoid falling into a rut. So even when you go to the gym, don’t do the same moves over and over again. Throw in bursts of cardio, whole body exercises, or cross fit moves in there so your body never knows what’s coming its way. That’s why this mix of exercise works for me. And you’ll have to find what works for you.

It’s been a long journey for me and it continues. Starting yoga a year and a half ago, I thought I was “strong”, but seriously, I was not. I may have been “gym fit” with good endurance thanks to cardio-rich Zumba classes…but I was not fit by any means. I was inflexible, had poor balance, and couldn’t do a full push-up. Seriously. It took class after class to build up my flexibility and strength and the gains were and still are in very small steps. I couldn’t lower from plank to hovering for the longest time during Baptiste classes, I’d collapse down too fast. My triceps ached in downward dog. I couldn’t touch my toes in any position. My warriors were weak and I couldn’t sustain crescent lunge let alone with an added prayer twist. My limbs would shake in many poses. It takes your body time to adapt and you need to be patient, regardless of what type of fitness you’re doing. You won’t see results overnight and while this is frustrating, you need to stick with it! You need to build up strength, flexibility and endurance slowly but surely.

So if you can’t do a push-up, you do NOT give up and do nothing instead. You work on holding a plank position for 10 seconds, on forearms first if you have to, and then gradually increase the time. You do modified knee push ups, slowly lowering and pushing up, to allow for muscle memory and strength to kick in. You do triceps dips on a bench and triceps pull downs to build up muscle strength. You do wall pushups as well. You do everything you can to build up your strength while you continue to try doing pushups. It’s not easy, and it takes time, but this is how you achieve your goal. Small steps towards the larger goal.

And then you keep going. And going. For me, I have tight hips and tight hamstrings, and my upper body strength will always use improvement. I will always need to work on these areas but I do it with patience, pushing a little but not to a point of pain. I don’t compare myself to other yogis or other women at my gym since they are not me, have not lived with my body and I cannot look like or be like them. You should only compare yourself to yourself, if that makes sense! Start to notice the gains in strength and endurance you’re making and celebrate that. Keep track of what you couldn’t do in the past that you now can. Set goals and train relentlessly, but respect your body enough to know when it needs rest. It’s a balance between exertion and restoration, as many of my yoga teachers will say.

And so, below are a few tips that have helped me along with my health and fitness journey. Take what you will, as these are what have worked for me and may guide you as well on your journey :)

1. If you’re not going to change your eating habits, then there’s no point in exercising.

Seriously…why go through the agony of a workout if you’re just going to keep eating the same stuff? Healthy eating and exercise are partners, you need both!

2. Know what healthy eating means.

In order to eat well, you need to know what foods to avoid and which to buy. So start getting educated about reading nutrition labels, paying special attention to salt content, sugar content, saturated fats, and nasty ingredients such as glucose-fructose. And then STOP buying those foods! If you know you don’t have any willpower, then don’t buy or bake anything in the first place. For us, Asif has a serious sweet tooth so I don’t keep anything sweet in our house except a bar of organic dark chocolate. That’s it. It works wonders. Also pay attention to portion sizes and remember what Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) guided us with: your stomach should consist of 1/3 food, 1/3 water and 1/3 air. That’s right, no overeating is stated directly in our faith.

3. Stop being disrespectful to your body.

Yes, that is what it’s called when you’re not eating well and not exercising. You’re being disrespectful to your body. Our bodies are not machines, they cannot digest whatever we eat and be OK at the end of the day. Your liver has to work harder to detoxify, high sugar foods means more insulin runs through your body, and high salt content means water retention and bloating. There’s a cascade effect every time we eat something. So read up on metabolism, how it works, and what to eat so that you’re fuelling your body and not treating it like a garborator.

4. Exercise, exercise, exercise.

There’s research that shows that working at your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes 5 times a week is a protective factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The fitter you are, the fitter your brain and heart are. Exercise can help shorten your menstrual cycle, decrease blood loss and alleviate cramps, both before and during your period. Need any more reasons to exercise? Getting rid of free radicals in your body which cause damage, release of feel good endorphins, cellular repair, and higher metabolism. Whatever your motivation is, find it and hold onto it. Exercise should be a priority since we are only given one body.

5. You don’t always need a personal trainer.

I’ve never had a personal trainer. I research exercises and fitness, observe what trainers do at the gym, and luckily have enough knowledge of muscles that I pay attention to my form and posture so that I don’t injure myself. Or, get a Pinterest account and go to the “health and fitness” tab, where you’ll find endless examples of exercises for free! You have no reason not to get fit…memberships lower in price this time of year, so join a gym and stick with it! It’s not about a new year resolution, it’s a lifestyle change.

A note about this: stretching is vital to all forms of exercise. If you are unsure what to stretch and how, a personal trainer would come in handy. I didn’t realize the value of stretching until I started yoga and I never end a workout without stretching. So don’t forget to add this into your routine!

6. When you do exercise, give it your all.

Stop giving half-assed attempts when you exercise. Pardon my language, but it’s true. Put 110% into every exercise. You are not going to make any gains by doing 3 sets of 10 bicep curls with 3 lb weights. Your last rep should be so hard that you can barely complete it. You should be short of breath and tired at the end! Yes, you’ll be sore the next day but it’s so worth it, since that’s how your muscles grow stronger.

7. Make time and stick with it.

I don’t think having children or being too busy with work and other activities are good enough reasons to not exercise. You need to make time for yourself. There are so many types of workouts you can do at home that require minimal or no equipment. Invest in a fitness ball, for example. And make healthy choices, both with eating and exercise. Take the stairs. Park your car further away from the grocery store door. Go for a walk with your kids, go skating or tobogganing. Stick your youngest child in a stroller and go for a run. I find that many Muslims, although we are going better, are not active with their children. Yes moms, I’m talking to you. Set an example for your children by showing them how active you are and how much you love it.

8. Understand what you need to do to get the results you want.

For example, to shrink your belly, abdominal exercises won’t cut it. You need to change your eating habits, incorporate cardio AND strengthening exercises all together. You will see more results if you combine these 3 together than just doing one of them. Muscle targeting may work for some other parts of your body like your biceps, but it won’t work for spot weight reduction. Take a whole body approach and you’ll likely see results faster.

9. Wearing hijab and/or dressing modestly is not an excuse for not getting fit.

Oh please, really? Find an all women’s gym or cover up and hit a co-ed gym! These are excuses, not reasons!!!! If you need inspiration, search up Nandoona and you’ll seriously be amazed at how fit this Muslim chick is.

So my friends, that’s a wrap! I’m not a nutritionist nor a fitness expert, so I’m speaking from my own experiences and research in these fields. I’m on a continuing journey to improve my physical, spiritual and mental sides. So I hope you take something away from this post and that it gives you some healthy food for thought.

And please, don’t make a new year’s resolution…make one that will be life changing :) My God help you be steadfast in your journey!!

Comments

  1. Even with 2 kids ive been making time for fitness & good diet. Ive given myself another reason to workout: to take better care of my girls. Thankfully found enough motivation.

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    Replies
    1. You’re an inspiration to moms, Rimsha!! I think our generation is doing a better job at taking care of themselves. InshaAllah may you and your family be granted with a long and healthy life :) We still do women’s Zumba on Sundays and Wednesdays, at Almadina school, so let me know if you can make it!

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