Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is the Field making you Fat and Ugly?

Another wonderful guest post by Satori Worldwide. This one really hits home because I am always finding that work and children take priority to exercise (because that is just selfish and vain), even thought I've had various health experts tell me I should exercise (for my asthma, my allergies, stress...). And when I am on mission.... how the hell am I supposed to exercise in a different hotel room every night?!

sound familiar? read on...

oh! and I think this applies weather you are an aid worker or not...


Periodically I have Fat and Ugly days. Admittedly, they are often the result of prolonged personal neglect (not eating or exercising well, being extra- busy with work, not sleeping enough… and let’s not forget the equally defeating effect that hormones can have on a gal’s life). In my mind, when I am staring at myself naked in the mirror, hair disheveled, gut protruding, shoulders hunched, I am indeed, without a shred of doubt, Fat and Ugly. Oh ya, and lazy too.

When it comes to getting me back on the tread-mill, this is not the most inspiring attitude.

And it helps even less when there is no tread mill to get on…as is often the case hardship duty stations. In the absence of a gym, and without fitness instructors to goad me, when I am forced to be more creative about maintaining physical fitness, this mindset is tantamount to forfeiting the race before I even get to the starting line. Excuses are much easier to make.

Even though physical fitness is universally recognized as essential to well-being-- not to mention among the most effective ways of managing stress, processing difficult emotions, and building immunity-- many aid workers complain that it is hard to stay fit in the field. This is valid (more on this problem in an upcoming post) but my suspicion is that there may sometimes be something more insidious at play than a simple lack of facilities. When I confronted this problem in myself, here is what I learned:

Time to Switch off the Script!

If you have a hard time engaging in physical activity, it’s worth paying attention to the story you are telling yourself about why you “can’t’ do something, and ask yourself: is it absolutely true? Many of us have been hobbled by experiences from our past—old injures, smarting memories of being laughed at in the playground, or smoldering rivalries with an athletic sibling-- that have no business limiting us today. If this sounds like you, your ‘script’ is like a barbell weighing you down. It’s time to take a load off and replace those stories with something more inspiring.

Enough with the Olympians; Forget all that ‘Expert’ Advice.

As the Desiderata says “Do not compare yourself to others, for there will always be greater and lesser people than you.” One could also add: “and there is nothing wrong with being average”. Thanks to the media many of us have become so used rating ourselves against the achievements of high-performance role-models that our perfectionist side has stymied us. So make your last- best-score your measure of achievement and get on with the show. Try not to get caught up in the latest fitness or nutrition rage but instead, learn to listen to what your body is telling you by following this simple process:

Step 1) do what you normally do (eat what you like, do what you like)

Step 2) wait 30-45 minutes, and see how you really feel (physically AND emotionally)

Step 3) try something different, and repeat steps 1 and 2

The result you get is a far better indicator of what will work for you in the long run than expert advice.

Be adventurous

Ok, so there may not be a gym where you are, but what resources might be in your immediate surroundings that you could take advantage of? Open your mind here, because even in the most war torn countries you will find people keeping up with indigenous practices (dance, martial arts, or even climbing coconut trees) that may be an interesting way to stay fit AND connect to the local culture at the same time.

If that doesn’t work, look to your peers. Do you have any friends or colleagues that have dabbled in physical practices-- like yoga, biking or boxing-- that they would be willing to guide you in? This will not only keep you fit but will also create community around you, with the added benefit that you will be accountable to your peers to stay on target with your fitness program.

Bite off what you can chew

Beware of setting your expectations too high, because it’s a set up. How many of us have decided that come Monday, we are working out every day for an hour and never drinking/smoking or eating a morsel of unhealthy food again, only to discover that we can barely make it a week before we realize we can’t keep it up? What’s the point, we think, we are failures (says our script) and it’s too hard anyway (says our excuses) so pass the chocolate cake!

Baby steps is the secret here. Set yourself achievable goals and reward yourself (with something healthy, of course) once you’ve accomplished them, and it will be much easier to keep up your momentum up.

Bottle the Benefits

When you do manage to get out there, and you are feeling really good, take a snapshot of that feeling by closing your eyes and picturing yourself right where you are. When you are feeling unmotivated, close your eyes and remember that image again so you can remind yourself why you need to do this. It’s simple, but it works.

Get over the selfish talk.

When there are always more important things to do, remember that physical exercise makes you more effective and efficient in almost every aspect of your life, so you are doing everyone a favor by taking the time to do it.


At our Satori Sabbatical in May, we will be experimenting with different physical practices that suit life in the field. Join us and build your own tool-box for resilience by deciding what works for you. Go to www.satori to learn more. We also collect research on practical and creative ways to stay healthy in the field, if you have something to contribute to the discussion by contact us

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