The newest in our Healthy & Whole series is a fantastic longer-form article from Sara Cornelius of the illustrated food blog Cake Over Steak. We are huge fans of her work, which features hand-drawn illustrations of her culinary creations. Sara has a huge passion for wellness–not only physical, but mental and emotional. Her tips on how to make a healthy lifestyle work for you are approachable and entertaining, and we couldn’t agree more with her philosophy. The side-by-side photos and drawings you’ll see below are Sara’s own, and the remainder of the photos are shot by her husband Robert, himself an incredibly talented photographer. (The talent of these two!) Without further ado — here’s Sara!
Hello there! I’m super excited to be talking to you guys today. Alex and Sonja are a major inspiration to me in the blogging world with their fresh recipes, gorgeous photography and heartwarming personalities. They’ve been supporters of my blog from very early on, which means so much to me. I also feel as though they are kindred spirits, being design people like myself and a creative couple like my husband, Robert, and me. Their Healthy + Whole series is one of my favorite parts of their blog, and it’s a topic I haven’t covered too much in my own space. I’m delighted to be able to share with you a bit about my health and fitness journey, a subject that’s near and dear to my heart.
Fitness Early On
My interest in health and fitness came about quite naturally. I’ve always been active – I started participating in organized sports in second grade, and by middle school and high school I was playing three sports year-round. In high school, these constant exercise habits led me to being curious about how to eat healthfully. It was kind of out of necessity; I needed the right food to fuel my body all day long while I was at school and then at sports practices and games. I could tell that eating junk and “empty calories” were doing nothing for me, leaving me hungry again as soon as fifteen minutes later.
Living an active lifestyle and eating healthy foods can sound easy enough as the key to being a healthy person, but it’s not always that simple. Figuring out what works best for my body has been one thing, but finding a healthy mindset about diet and fitness on an emotional level has been a whole separate journey.
Due to my involvement in sports growing up and being blessed with a somewhat insane metabolism, I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain a very steady weight my whole life. Give or take a few pounds, at 26 years old I’ve been the same weight since I was 15. But because of this, I’m very sensitive to changes in my weight. I started running “for fun” (instead of just for my sports) in tenth grade because I had begun to gain weight. I must have hit one of those age walls where I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted anymore and expect my body to stay the same. Naturally, I freaked out. I began running in the evenings for extra exercise, and in my diet I cut back on portion sizes and reduced fatty foods. It worked! The sad part was that I was doing it out of a fear of becoming “fat,” not necessarily to have a healthy body.
Honestly, this was probably a good experience. I learned to love running, and to this day it remains one of my favorite forms of exercise and stress relief. It also helped me to develop some basic healthier guidelines for how to eat. The more I learned about diet and nutrition, the more I came around to the idea of just eating a healthy, whole foods “real food” diet. For example, I no longer avoid fat like the plague because I understand our body needs it. I now focus on consuming healthy fats, like nuts and avocados, etc.
My Approach to Food
I believe in finding a balance within my food choices. My blog doesn’t claim to be a whole foods blog, a baking blog, a special diets blog, or anything like that.
My goal is to have fun with food, and I hope to inspire others to have fun with food as well. I want people to get excited about being in the kitchen, and I want cooking to feel like a worthy investment of our time. I believe the practice of making your own food can only lead to healthier eating choices.
So on my blog you’ll find everything from indulgent sweets to salads to cocktails to crazy things like dessert sushi. It’s all fair game, but you’ll find that 95% of my recipes start with real, whole ingredients as much as possible, because that’s how I eat. It’s been a process of getting to this point with food. I feel like I’ve finally found my “home” in the food world, and I’m getting a better sense every day of what my body prefers.
Body Image–A New Mindset
Recently, I hit another road block with fitness and body image. In the past few years my body has changed more than it ever had before, which has been startling for someone who’s grown accustomed to having the same body for the past decade. I’d like to attribute a lot of that to age, but I know there have been some other factors. First up is what I might call my “post-college dark days” – that weird transition period into the real world when uncertainty and life changes abound. Somehow the anxiety of that lifestyle caused me to lose several pounds without even trying. Overcompensation for that led to the weight returning, and then eventually the stress of planning my wedding caused me to hold onto weight no matter how much I exercised. All of this resulted in me feeling the least confident in my body that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been a whirlwind.
After the wedding last year, the stress practically melted off of my body, and the extra pounds along with it. My husband and I cleaned up our diet a little more, but I also became obsessed with working out. I would say I’m still obsessed with working out (because I truly love doing it), but I had become obsessed with the idea of being “skinny” again. While I was going through this phase, I went through another transition. I realized I was working out because I wanted to feel skinny again, and I noticed that I didn’t like how that felt. But through that process of getting my body back into shape, I started to love my body again. I noticed that I wasn’t working towards a certain number on the scale or a certain look in the mirror anymore. I simply loved knowing what my body was capable of, and I wanted to keep it that way. I liked that reason for working out much better.
There is no end goal for me with fitness now: Every workout is the goal – that feeling I get after a workout and knowing what I’ve just accomplished is the daily reward for treating my body well. I love exercising because I love having a strong, healthy body that I’m proud of. Perhaps I needed to go through the desperate quest to feel skinny in order to get to this point, but I know now that the reason I want to work out is to be healthy and strong. I enjoy feeling confident in my own skin, and I know I won’t look like a supermodel, but I’m also not trying to. I have to believe that I am my own brand of “beautiful,” and it has to do with a lot more than just how I look.
That being said, keeping myself in this mindset is still a daily struggle, and I’m nowhere near 100% there yet. I have days where I don’t feel great in my body at all, but at least I’m working on it. I have to remind myself about what’s truly important to me, and sometimes I need my husband to verbally whip me back into the right mindset. (That always helps.) Some people might think I’m crazy for even talking about this (seriously – a few pounds?!), but it comes down to being more about how I felt in my body, not really about the extra few pounds on the scale. It had to do more with my perception of myself rather than my pant size. I wanted to share my experience in hopes of reaching someone who might be going through something similar.
Tips to a Healthier Lifestyle…Physical and Mental
Every person is different in terms of what “being healthy” means to them, and you need to figure out what works for YOU. Here are some of my tips for adopting a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally:
- Find cookbooks or blogs that get you excited about healthy food.
This one has been huge for me. Many of my favorite blogs and cookbooks celebrate plant-based meals and using whole ingredients. (A Couple Cooks is a great example!) You don’t want healthy eating to feel bland and boring. Find some healthy recipes that are approachable and get you excited about eating them, and you’ll be more likely to work them into your daily life.
- Ditch the gym — or join a gym.
I haven’t gone to a gym in a year, and I’ve been having better workouts ever since. I discovered that I had more effective workouts at home by following along with a video than when I went to a gym by myself, and it took me less time. I also appreciated being able to work out in my own space. That extra hour at home each day helps to lower my stress level. I’m away at work all day, so it feels better for me to just come home rather than go to the gym after work. However, some people work from home and need to get away, or they simply struggle with motivating themselves to work out at home. In that case, try a gym membership! Find the space that works best for your lifestyle.
- Surround yourself with supportive people.
This goes for friends, family, spouses or fellow gym members. My husband and I both value staying active and eating healthy food. We respect each other’s workout times, planning around them as necessary, and we encourage each other to eat healthfully throughout the week. We also understand that we might have more indulgent meals with friends on the weekend, and we occasionally mutually agree to have a lazy movie night with excessive amounts of Chinese takeout. The important thing is that we’re on the same page and help each other stay on track with our goals. Workout buddies are also fantastic. You can hold each other accountable and keep each other motivated. This camaraderie helps to keep us from falling off the wagon.
- Have someone tell you what to do.
It can seem a little daunting to work out if you don’t have much experience. This is why gym classes, workout videos and exercise plans are so helpful. They often help you to work out multiple body parts in an efficient time frame. This will have a much greater impact on your body than if you just wandered around the gym doing various exercises. I also like them because it makes it more of a mindless activity. I show up (often to my living room), do the work, and then I’m done. I’m not wasting my precious brain power on figuring out which exercises I need to do. You can also try this idea with food. There are plenty of different services out there for meal planning (such as PrepDish), as well as blogs and cookbooks (like Dinner: The Playbook) that focus on weekly meal-planning.
- Put it on your schedule (and make it a priority).
If you know you want to go to yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays, put it on your calendar. You want to try that spin class on Saturday? Put it on your calendar. Plan around it and make it a priority. If you treat it like an important appointment and put it on your schedule with the rest of your priorities, chances are you’ll start treating it like one. I follow the Tone It Up weekly workout schedule, which I plug into my to-do list for the week. This way I always know what I need to be doing each day, and it’s right there on my calendar with everything else, staring me in the face. If you want to prep healthy meals for the week, put that on your calendar too! Figure out which day of the week works best for you, and block out a chunk of time to plan and prep for the week. Thinking about meals ahead of time allows you to take into account planned events and activities. Perhaps you’ll need a leftovers night on a busy evening so you can get dinner ready as quickly as possible. Making large batches of items for healthy lunches and snacks is also a great thing to work into your meal prep routine.
- Try getting up early.
I know, I know … This sounds terrible. I never thought I would be a morning person. Strangely enough, back in January I started getting up early to workout before work, and I became a convert. Because working out is now the first thing I do every day, I hardly ever skip it. Afternoon and evening workouts would sometimes get pushed aside because I had too much work to do or I just didn’t feel like it. When I workout first thing in the morning, there’s a much smaller chance of me ditching it for something else. Also, there’s something to be said for starting your day by doing something entirely for yourself. It’s a great feeling to be at work knowing that I already accomplished something for the day, and it was something that makes me feel good. Thanks to my morning workout habit, I now easily fit exercise into my daily routine 6-7 days a week, and I get even more work done in my evenings. I love it. If you can’t bring yourself to exercise in the morning, that time can be great for other things instead. For example, throw something in the slow cooker or some chicken in a marinade for dinner later. This could free up time for exercise later on.
- Figure out what motivates you (in a positive way).
Even though you might have every intention of waking up early to work out, there’s a good chance that when your alarm goes off you’re going to want to roll over and go back to sleep. I’m going to let you in on my little secrets for staying motivated. First of all, put your alarm across the room. I have to physically get out of bed to turn off my alarm, so getting back into bed and hitting snooze just seems stupid after that. My other secret is that the last thing I look at before starting my day (and getting up to workout) is my favorite fitness Instagram accounts. I personally love @toneitup and @kayla_itsines. Both of these accounts are geared specifically towards women. The accounts are full of photos of the trainers working out, healthy meal ideas, and – this is my favorite part: REAL WOMEN. They highlight real people who use their programs and focus on how healthy and happy the women are, not specifically on how much weight they lost. Many of the accounts they highlight are also great ones to follow for similar inspiration. Looking at these photos always gets me excited about starting my exercise for the day.
- Make it fun.
There are so many different options out there for ways to work out, there’s bound to be something that tickles your fancy. If you can figure out what kind of exercise is fun for you, you will be more likely to stick to it and therefore see results from it. Let’s be honest – there’s NO WAY I’m going to get out of bed at 5:00 am to do something I hate. It needs to be something I look forward to, or else it’s pointless. Exercising shouldn’t be a punishment; it should be a reward and a highlight of your day. So whether it’s doing YouTube videos in your living room, surfing, rock climbing, going to a kickboxing class or taking your dog for a long walk, find some form of physical activity that’s fun and sustainable for you. Once again, this goes for meal prepping as well. Make it fun! Perhaps you meet up with a friend, make it a date with your significant other, or turn it into an activity for the whole family. Put on your favorite music, podcast or TV show, maybe drink some wine, and just hang out while chopping veggies and preparing healthy meals for the week. It doesn’t have to feel like a chore.
- Give yourself a break.
Let’s be real: some days your heart just won’t be in it. It’s totally fine to eat “naughty” foods from time to time or skip a workout. It’s important to listen to your body. Sometimes you need to sleep in for that extra hour or take a mental health Saturday where you spend most of the day on the couch and order pizza for dinner. In those instances you’ll be better off taking that short break, and hopefully you’ll come out of it feeling revived and excited to get back on track. You don’t need to beat yourself up over it. It’s all about finding a balance.
There you have it—some of my most important tips for how I attempt to lead a healthy and fit lifestyle. Now if only I could figure out how to go to bed earlier, I would feel like I’ve solved some of life’s many mysteries …
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.