On Huge Lifestyle Changes, or My “Holy Hell, I’m Actually Doing This” Journey to Being Healthy


FYI, none of these photos are mine. I had no idea what kind of photos to use in this post so I just went with arty stock images of fruit and vegetables, because why not

Oh hello. How are you? It’s been a while… nearly two months, it appears, as I haven’t posted anything here since January 3rd. NOT the auspicious start I wanted for this year in blogging, but, as I’ve written about time and time (and time) again, I’m kind of the world’s worst blogger. You know how I try to write those blogging advice articles once in a while? Yeah. I should listen to my own advice sometimes.

I haven’t been posting here, that’s true. Social media has also taken a hit in 2019, as I’ve barely posted on Instagram, Facebook, or… wait, those are the only two I use anymore.

The truth is, I didn’t mean to be so quiet. As you may know, despite the fact that I straight up abandon this blog now and again, I fucking love it. It’s part of my identity, and always will be. It’s kind of like that childhood best friend that you might go a few months without talking to, but when you meet up, it’s like nothing’s changed. After 16 years of blogging, I’m not going anywhere, even if I take breaks here and there.

And the other truth is, just because I haven’t been posting here doesn’t mean I’m not writing. In fact, I’m writing tons. I’ve written dozens of blog post drafts, started putting the pieces together of a new manuscript (my old manuscript, for those wondering, is still happily collecting dust in my drawer, right beside my collection of Muji multicoloured pens and receipts from 2016), and established a few regular freelance clients.

The REAL truth is (this is getting monotonous) is that, since the beginning of January, I’ve been working toward a huge, life-changing goal. I’ve been working really, really hard, and the best part is, I’ve been succeeding.

It started as it always does, every January, when I decided to analyze my lifestyle, especially my eating and exercise habits. In 2017, I wrote a series called My Month Without Alcohol (and Men) and in 2018, I wrote My Month Without Bread, Booze, or Boys. They remain some of my favourite posts on this blog, and I had every intention of writing a similar series this January.

But by January 5th, two days after I joined a brand new gym, I had a thought that changed everything.

“I don’t want to be unhealthy anymore,” I thought to myself as I laid in bed that cold Saturday morning. It sounds like the simplest, most obvious thought to have, but this time it hit me in my core. I didn’t want to just be healthy in January. I wanted to be healthy all year round, all the time.

I’ve never thought of myself as unhealthy, but I’ve never thought of myself as healthy, either. I always thought I floated somewhere in the middle, if that makes sense.

But as I laid there, I started being honest with myself. I held nothing back. The truth – there’s that word again – was that I didn’t feel very good a lot of the time, both mentally and physically. I knew I was constantly coming up with excuses for why I didn’t eat well, why I didn’t exercise, and why I allowed my mental health to suffer when I knew there were things I could be doing to help.

Mentally, I spent most of 2017 in a very dark place, and revisited that place in late 2018. I cried often, though I wasn’t always sure why. I often felt extremely lazy, bored, and complacent. I’d lie around watching TV and then lament that I didn’t have enough time to work, see friends, AND go to the gym.

Physically, I easily felt winded, and sometimes had very little energy to even walk my dog Dottie for half an hour twice a day. I almost never exercised, never broke a sweat. On days I didn’t walk Dottie – when she was at day care, for example – I barely broke 1,000 steps. I’d pat myself on the back for a low to moderate twenty minutes on the elliptical once every two weeks at a gym I hated. I was in near-constant back pain, suffering from regular bouts of sciatica. I wasn’t sleeping well.

In terms of food, I added up my estimated daily calories and realized I was easily consuming 3,500 or more calories per day, a lot of them coming from alcohol, sugar, trans fats found in a lot of packaged food, and refined carbs such as white bread and pasta. I wasn’t drinking enough water, nor was I getting enough vitamins and minerals from food. The scale showed me that I weighed the most I ever have, and some of my favourite clothing no longer fit. My skin was breaking out regardless of my menstrual cycle.

I’m telling you, when I was completely honest with myself, it hit me hard. I had, for so many years, thought, “Oh, I’ll get in shape someday,” or “Oh, I could eat healthy if I tried/if I wasn’t travelling all the time/if I had more time/if I had more money.” But I knew I was out of excuses, I knew that, being home in Winnipeg, time and money were no longer issues. That’s part of the reason I moved home: so that I could have more free time and save more money, both have which have happened.

Now nearly 35 years old, I didn’t want to approach my forties and do damage to my body that might not be as easy to fix later on. I’ve always said that I feel so incredibly grateful for the body that I have, and I stand by it no matter what; the fact that I am able-bodied, am not on any medications, and have been healthy enough to travel through nearly 100 countries means I’m one of the most privileged people on the planet.

Thankfully, I’ve always been pretty happy with my body image. I like how I look, despite the hundreds of thousands of ads and images in the media that have bombarded me for the past three decades. I’m very lucky in that regard, and I wish I could explain how or why I feel that way, because it breaks my heart that so many people suffer from low self-esteem regarding their looks. I definitely have days where I feel unattractive, but for the most part, I’ve always felt confident and beautiful, even as I was teased in high school or called fat by ex-boyfriends (or Internet trolls… what’s up? It’s been a minute). Bottom line, this lifestyle change is much more internal than external.

Because I knew I could do better. I knew I was unhealthy, even if I tried to tell myself I wasn’t. I knew I didn’t want to just write a series for a month that, once the 31st rolled around, meant I was no longer held accountable to healthy living. And I thought back to those previous Januarys, when I’d taken much better care of myself, and remembered how good I felt.

So I did something about it.

I’ve tried this before; I even wrote a post about it, only to break about three days in. But today, two months into this drastic lifestyle change, I truly feel as though I’ve made enough of a change in both my mindset and my fitness that I can’t see ever reverting back to that lifestyle. They say it takes 66 days to form a new habit (21 days is apparently a myth, thank you Google), so I’m right around that mark. Although I’m aware that I’m riding the new high of all this extra serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, I know that I couldn’t let myself go back to such a sedentary life. I don’t want to write a fun series about one month trying it. I want this to be forever. Because… you guessed it…

I feel fucking fantastic. I feel better than I have in a very, very long time. I dare say I feel the best I ever have.

I wanted to write about this change because I wrote about it on a (rare) recent Instagram photo, and a few people commented that they’d like to read about my journey. I also wanted to dip my toe back into blogging and, seeing as this has been a huge part of the last two months for me, it seemed natural to write about it.

View this post on Instagram

Well hello there, it’s been a while. 👋 It’s rare that I share a photo in real time – or even within months of it being taken, hah – but this was taken two days ago on the Apache Trail in Arizona. 🌵 What we thought would be a quiet, scenic drive through the Superstition Mountains was actually a pretty harrowing drive of unpaved roads, steep drops, and having to drive over massive rocks/potholes/rushing water. You just know all those jeeps and off-road vehicles were looking at our car like, “City slickers.” 😂 ••• I’ve been very quiet here and on the blog as I’ve been focusing on something else in my life: my health. I was so tired of being tired all the time. I was tired of feeling stressed and unhealthy, tired of constant back pain and bad sleeps. I was tired of being out of breath doing simple tasks. Most of all I was tired of feeling complacent, bored, and bummed out when I really had no reason to be. Over the past two months I’ve totally changed my lifestyle, and I’ve never felt better. I’ve fallen in love with the gym (I’ve even gone every day here in Arizona) and eating as cleanly as possible (though I’ll never give up my bourbon 🥃❤️). ••• In only two months I’ve seen huge improvements in my mood and fitness, and I’ve had zero back pain (I’ve suffered from sciatica since I was 15). And while my blog has been quiet, I’ve been super productive elsewhere, which is great. I’m writing a blog post about this lifestyle change right now, so hopefully it will be live this week! 💪🥦 ••• Arizona is my first trip of 2019, but I have lots more exciting adventures ahead that I can’t wait to share. It feels great knowing I’ll be in the right space – physically and mentally – to travel. Now does anyone know of a good gym in Tirana? 😉

A post shared by Brenna Holeman (@thisbatteredsuitcase) on

Because I am the absolute queen of brevity (*cough*) I wrote everything out and it quickly added up to nearly 10,000 words (hint: productivity and creativity may be two things I’ve seen skyrocket since changing my lifestyle). I’m assuming most people don’t feel like reading an entire novella on someone else’s lifestyle changes in one go, so I’ve broken those 10,000 words into five blog posts that will be posted within the next two weeks, this being the first. Instead of the weekly blog posts I wrote in previous years in a series like My Month Without, I’m posting them all in a row. It just made more sense to me that way.

Coming up, you can read about how I’ve approached fitness (and stay motivated, including my favourite online resources), how I’ve approached food (including a few tips that have worked to stay motivated to eat healthily), how I’ve approached mental health (AKA why the fuck I’m not online anymore), and finally, the results I’ve seen and more importantly, the results I’ve felt, both in body and mind.

Before I get started, however, I want to point out a couple of things. Firstly, I am NOT in any way licensed or certified in nutrition, fitness, mental health, etc. This is simply what I have done to feel better and to feel healthier. I also want to point out that I have never had an unhealthy relationship with either food or exercise. While I’m currently keeping track of calories and exercise, I’m also aware that these can be triggers for some people.

Secondly, I need to point out my place of absolute privilege in embarking on this journey. Part of the reason I started in January was because I realized that if I don’t do this now, I might never do it.

For the record, I have no dependents, I have savings in the bank, I work as a freelancer/blogger (meaning I make my own hours), I am able-bodied, and I have no medical issues or serious injuries. What I’m doing right now requires both time and money, so I could never in good faith say, “Anyone can do this!” Because no, not everyone can do what I’m doing. I want to be sensitive to those who have medical issues, who have children and/or other dependents, who have a disability, or who are not financially able to do the same at this moment. Or, you know, people who have 9-5 jobs and all the other shit life throws at us. I am fully aware that my schedule and career have allowed me to dedicate so much time to this. As I said… if not now, when?

You’ll also notice that there are no goals written down here, and that’s because I don’t have any. I don’t have some number on the scale that I believe will magically make me happier. I don’t have some measurement I need to reach in order to feel like I actually accomplished something. It pains me when I read that from other people; that belief that if you “just lose X pounds”, everything will be OK. That if you have a thigh gap or a round butt or a six-pack you’ll suddenly be this perfect person, which is of course a giant myth. It’s not about that for me, as I feel that’s harmful thinking.

You can’t hate yourself into loving yourself, if that makes sense. I’m on this journey not to reach a certain number on a scale, but to feel strong, both physically and mentally.

I just want to be healthy. I just want to feel good.

Giraffe Manor Nairobi Kenya

Striving to be this happy, always, regardless of proximity to baby giraffes

I hope you’ll stick around to see what I’ve changed in my life, and what the results have been so far. While I’ll still write about travel whenever I can (and I have some exciting travels coming up), I really want This Battered Suitcase to be about what it says in the header: travel, love, life… and whisky. You best believe I didn’t cut out the whisky.

Up next: how I’ve approached fitness, how many guys I have a crush on at the gym (answer: trick question, I have a new crush every single day), and why I recently googled, “pulled muscle in butt” for the first time in my life.

Have you ever gone on a similar journey, or have you considered it before? 




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