Fed up with calorie restriction and yo-yo dieting, Kathy Andrews found the paleo lifestyle in the fall of 2012 and has effortlessly maintained a healthy weight ever since. More importantly, with the help of a low-FODMAP autoimmune protocol, she has discovered unprecedented improvements in her energy levels, skin conditions, hormone balance, and digestive health. As a grad student, Kathy is practiced at making her paleo lifestyle fit into a busy schedule and a tight budget without sacrificing her health. She writes about her health journey, her struggles with disordered eating, her suggestions for making paleo work in real life, and her favourite meal ideas at her blog Me, Myself, and Bacon. You can also find Kathy on Facebook.
There’s never enough time in a day. Whether your life is monopolized by work, school, leisure activities, family commitments, or anything else, it can often seem as though there are too many things to do and not enough time in which to do them. In the midst of such a busy life, it can be overwhelming to think about devoting even more time (time it feels like you don’t have) to living a healthy lifestyle. The temptation to rely on convenience foods like frozen meals and pasta with sauce from a jar can be very strong, and sitting on the couch at the end of a long day is generally a much more attractive idea than heading to the gym. There’s just not enough time in the day, it seems, to be healthy.
In the Paleo community, however, we know the long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle. By reducing fatigue and brain-fog, by reducing or eliminating chronic medical conditions, and by preventing the development of other conditions, eating good foods and avoiding harmful environmental factors can greatly improve any individual’s quality of life for the long-term. By living a healthy lifestyle, individuals are able to save money and time by avoiding medical bills, time off work from illness, diminished productivity from general fatigue and blood sugar crashes, and general costs from skin creams and over-the-counter medications that are often used to treat chronic issues like acne or allergies.
The difficulty with maintaining this sort of healthy lifestyle, however, is that it takes some extra time out of the day. Shopping for fresh meat and produce and preparing healthy meals usually takes more time and effort than eating out or reheating something from a box, and incorporating exercise can be time-consuming, but it is completely possible to fit this healthy lifestyle into an already busy life. The following are ten steps which can help immensely in making your healthy lifestyle successful and sustainable for you.
1. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
It may surprise you to find sleep listed as such a high priority: doesn’t sleep take up even more time in the day? Sleep is often the first thing people cut in order to make more time for work, exercise, or leisure activities. The problem with this time-management strategy is that sleep isn’t just something we do to waste time: sleep is EXTREMELY important (you can read more about how important it is here and here). Most people need AT LEAST eight hours of sleep each night, and without it their productivity, problem-solving skills, and general health will be greatly affected. For this reason, sleep has to be your number one priority even when you’re extremely busy. Being well rested will help you deal with any problems that might arise in a more effective manner, and it will keep you at peak productivity, making it easier to accomplish tasks on time.
Note: Meditating (even just ten minutes per day) can also be a valuable use of your time; it can increase focus and productivity while also helping to relieve stress.
2. Slow Cooker = Best Friend
For anyone looking to put healthy meals on the table while balancing other commitments, a slow cooker is an absolutely essential tool. All you have to do is throw a bunch of ingredients together, set the temperature and timer, and then let it do the rest of the work! You can even prep dinner the night before so all you have to do the day-of is turn on the cooker. On top of that, a large slow cooker will make tons of leftovers, so you don’t have to cook something new every day.
I highly recommend also buying one (or several) of the paleo slow cooker cookbooks that have been published in the last few years. I like Paleo Slow Cooking by Chrissy Gower and I’ve heard great things about The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian.
It’s hard to find time to cook every day, and if you had to cook three meals a day from scratch, you wouldn’t have much time left for anything else! That’s why I like to rely on leftovers. Leftovers can be frozen or refrigerated and then reheated quickly on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave. For dinners, it’s always a good idea to make large servings (sometimes doubling or even tripling a recipe) so that a single meal will last for several days. Similarly, you can use leftovers from dinner for the next day’s lunch.
Setting aside some time each week for a cook-up day can be helpful so that on busier days you don’t need to worry about cooking anything. I personally also like to avoid cooking breakfast because I’m impatient to eat in the mornings; I therefore make a week’s worth of breakfast once a week, and it takes less than five minutes for my breakfast to be ready each morning.
4. Meal Rotations
It can be really fun to experiment with new recipes, but it’s also time-consuming. On an everyday basis, it can be useful to have a list of a few recipes (enough for a few weeks’ worth of meals) that you know how to make easily and that your family loves. In my household, this is a list of fourteen standard meals that I rotate through every four weeks, occasionally adding in a new one when I have some extra time. By using the same fourteen or so recipes, you can get really good at making those meals quickly and easily. By using them on a rotating basis, your family won’t get tired of eating the same things all the time.
5. Quick Meal-On-The-Go Foods
If you’re someone who’s out of the house most of the time, you’re going to need to find some foods that are easy to take with you so that you’re not tempted to stop at a fast food joint or eat packaged convenience foods. If you’re going to be somewhere with a microwave, leftovers are always a good option, but if you’re on the go, something that doesn’t require heat would be a better choice. Snack foods like jerky (homemade or store-bought), nuts, raw vegetables, canned fish, canned olives, and fruit can all be put together to make an easy-to-prepare, portable meal.
6. Short-Duration Fitness
Preparing healthy food is not the only aspect of leading a healthy lifestyle: it’s also important to maintain some level of activity. The level will greatly depend on your own fitness level and goals, but if you’re trying to balance a variety of demands on your time, it’s likely you’re not going to want to spend hours at the gym every day.
The great thing about the paleo lifestyle is the number of leaders in the community who talk about the best ways to optimize health and fitness in the shortest amount of time possible. Mark Sisson, for example, talks about spending no more than 45 minutes on a weightlifting workout (including warm-up and cool-down) and about spending more time on sprints. Whether you’re doing heavy lifts or high-intensity interval training, focus on doing short workouts that will help you stay fit and active.
Note: If you’re not getting enough sleep, SKIP THE GYM. Staying active is important, but exercise is a stressor, and you need to have the proper rest in order to handle that extra stress on your body.
7. Multi-Tasking: Food and Social Life
When you’re trying to balance multiple demands on your time, a great thing to do is to combine some of those demands by multi-tasking. The next three tips all revolve around combining elements of your life to make better use of your time.
Social activity is a valuable part of a healthy life because it can greatly relieve stress. However, often when we’re really busy, hanging out with friends ends up taking a back seat. One way to balance a healthy lifestyle with a healthy social life is to invite friends over for dinner. This takes an activity you would have been doing anyways (preparing a meal) and combines it with a social activity. It will be less expensive and healthier than going out to eat, and you get to keep the leftovers!
8. Multi-Tasking: Stress-Relief and Fitness
As mentioned above, both stress-relief and fitness are important aspects of a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. They also, however, tend to be very time-consuming parts. What can help is finding a fitness activity that is also relaxing or stress-relieving. For me, this means walking and yoga. Both of these are low-impact fitness activities that allow for relaxation and quiet reflection. By combining these two aspects of health into the same activity, you’ll be able to make the most of your valuable time.
9. Multi-Tasking: Social Life and Fitness
Fitness can also be incorporated into a busy life through group activities like hiking, rock climbing, skating, tennis, or team sports. Participation in these sorts of activities with friends or colleagues can give you social interaction, stress-relief, and exercise all at the same time.
10. Take Baby Steps
My final piece of advice for fitting a healthy paleo lifestyle into an already busy life is to take it slow. Don’t try to change too much too quickly. Change takes time, so don’t rush into it: give yourself time to adjust. Think about where you are right now, and then think about where you want to be: what are the steps you need to take from Point A to Point B? Figure out the steps that will work for you and pick your priorities. If eating healthy food is more important to you than incorporating fitness, focus on food first: once you have that down you can move on to walking or weight lifting or playing a sport. No matter what stage of life you’re in, no matter how busy you are, by taking things slowly you’ll make your transition to a healthy lifestyle much easier and much more sustainable.