McKenzie Paterson, 129 TCCS
Healthy Living: Caring for Yourself to Care for Your Community
We all want to be the best Volunteers that we can be for our communities. That means we need to be there for ourselves as much as we are for our community. 27 months is a long time, and it can seem longer if we aren’t caring for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If we aren’t 100% personally, we can’t serve our communities 100%. These are some methods I’ve adopted to care for myself so I can care for my community.
To supplement healthy eating, I aim to sweat five to six days a week. It helps me wake up and be present. It helps me sleep. It helps me stay accountable. It helps me retain perspective. It helps me fight anxiety and any other mental hardships I experience – an especially useful tool in the Peace Corps. Simply put, it does a whole lot more than battle the dreaded Peace Corps weight gain. I put it at the top of my list of things to do for the day because I know how important it is for my emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. So I do one HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout a week, two LISS (low intensity sustained state) workouts a week, and two resistance workouts a week. Although I’d love to move my body every day, I don’t want to over-exhaust my muscles. I listen to my body. So some weeks I take more rest days than others to prevent injury and getting burned out. Here is an example week of my workout routine. I ALWAYS stretch after I exercise and drink 1 liter of water throughout.
Monday: LISS – short run at a progressive pace
Tuesday: arms & abs resistance workout – I like to use Kayla Itsines’ BBG or Amanda Bisk’s FBFM program
Wednesday: HIIT – interval run, plyometric circuits, or 10-20 minute cardio Tabatas
Thursday: rest day or yoga/stretch
Friday: legs resistance workout – Kayla Itsines’ BBG or Amanda Bisk’s FBFM program
Saturday: LISS – long run at a progressive pace
Sunday: rest day or yoga/stretch
Have trouble honoring your fitness commitments? Make sweating a social thing. When we make plans with other people, we’re more likely to fulfill them. So take advantage of the kids in your neighborhood who never. leave. you. alone. and invite them along on your runs or bike adventures. Play some pickup soccer, or start a weekly yoga or Zumba session. Get creative. We’re here for 27 months – that’s plenty of time to explore new fitness regimens that work for our personal goals. And bonus: social sweating doesn’t just encourage us to stay active, but it’s also a great way to develop and sustain a relationship with our community members.
Now, you’ve mastered working out at site, but still haven’t quite nailed the discipline to sweat while traveling? Me neither, really. But I will try (maaaajor emphasis on try) not to go more than two days without moving my body. Luckily, both the BBG and FBFM programs are travel friendly. There’s an abundance of Tabata and plyometrics workouts on Pinterest. Jump ropes also take up little room in your bag and are extremely versatile. And it’s always more fun to workout with friends! Bangkok has a free pool and outdoor gym at National Stadium, and a path in Lumphini Park great for jogging. There are plenty of (free) options to get active if you prioritize it. Elsewhere, take advantage of nature and go on hiking, swimming, and kayaking adventures. We eat healthy and work out to feel our best self physically, but also do it to feel our best self mentally and emotionally.
Okay, I think it goes without saying healthy eating and exercise are both great things. But, the most challenging goal to achieve, at least for me, has been perspective. My personal journey with and understanding health, fitness, and self-love has been lifelong, but it’s never been contested and remolded as many times as it has in Thailand. I’ve seen my body change like never before, and I’ve (almost) become indifferent when I’m called fat on a daily basis. Being from America, a country that attributes a woman’s (and man’s) worth to her body, I’ve been my own biggest critic and approached fitness from a perspective of fear – working out to lose weight or punish myself. Ironically, though, it required me to come to another country that also places an over-esteemed value on body image to learn to become my own biggest champion and approach fitness from a perspective of love – working out to reach my potential and to feel good.
I’m constantly learning to redefine my definition of a healthy me. Because sometimes it’s not easy to approach healthy living from a self-love perspective. Even when I eat healthy and exercise routinely I still have some bad body days. Oh, do I have those days. On those days, it’s harder to find my authentic voice and to love myself. It’s easier to feel crappy and like a failure. Those days aren’t always avoidable. But the difference between pre-Peace Corps McKenzie and Peace Corps McKenzie is that I’m learning to work through them. I’m learning to acknowledge the negative thoughts, but to not let them dominate my space. And, ultimately, I’m learning to love my body (even on the bad days) and the stories it tells during it’s continual evolution. How cool is it that my body sees more curves and cushion today because Thailand is my new home and food is a centerpiece of its culture, the ultimate expression of love. I’m so loved here. I’m damn lucky.
All of our healthy living journeys in the Peace Corps will certainly have their ups and downs. If we love ourselves through it all, regardless of what our community members or (social) media tells us, those bad body days may hurt a little less. And, remember, we’re in this thing together.