Healthy Habits: Intentional Steps Required

By Valerie Peralta

When I started chronicling my journey toward healthier habits in Reckon Review, the stakes were high. I had eaten myself to high cholesterol and the largest pants size I had ever needed. Never one to embrace the phrase “it is what it is,” I did not want to take a spate of prescription drugs to reverse the damage I’d done. Instead, I promised my doctor I would exercise regularly and trade my nightly ice cream and occasional serving of fatback for green smoothie breakfasts and a daily cup of legumes. As an added bonus, committing to writing an essay three times a year about how my fitness and writing lives converge seemed a great way to continue the writing habit I had cultivated during the MFA program I completed a few months prior.

When I told one of my Flower Power training partners about my plan, she did her best to keep me grounded in reality.

“Are you sure you want to write about losing weight?” she asked as we walked along a gravel-covered levee on an unusually cool South Florida morning, days before my first installment was due. “What if you don’t meet your goal?”

Pish posh, I thought.

With my health at risk, I had no choice but to succeed. Plus, I was convinced that as long as I found an exercise I thoroughly enjoyed — that is possible, right? — I would stick with it for eternity. Besides, if by some infinitesimal chance my resolve faltered, it’s not like readers of an online literary journal would ever see me.

My first attempt at an exercise that was so wonderful I couldn’t resist was “Move – 30 Day Yoga Journey” on the Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel. Body weight exercises I can perform at home are a bazillion times more appealing than stacking weight plates in a gym where I’m all self-conscious about how geeky I look, so I was positive this would be the exercise I would stick with. I definitely saw and felt a difference in my body definition at the end of the month. But, the next month it was too easy to skip a day, which turned into days and, finally, an uncompleted second round of “30 Day Yoga Journey.” After a while, I decided to try one of Vshred’s three-month plans. The 20-minute HIIT workouts were doable, didn’t kill me, and improved my physique, but I definitely didn’t love that form of exercise. And once again, as soon as I finished the program, I didn’t follow through a second time.

My efforts at eating better waxed and waned as well. I didn’t count calories or follow a specific meal plan. I just ate what I thought I should eat — lots of greens, some beans, and little to no meat or carbs. But after a few days, my cravings for a burger, fries, and chocolate shake from Five Guys could be quenched only by a burger, fries, and chocolate shake from Five Guys.

To make my faulty fitness and nutrition habits worse, my doctor canceled the appointment for my follow-up lab work. Nine months later, and I still haven’t rescheduled. Thankfully no catastrophic health events have befallen me yet.

Determined not to give up, I was all in when a friend asked if I wanted to join her in Run The Edge’s Run the Year 2023 challenge. Because biking and walking are acceptable ways of completing the miles this year, I knew that with some planning I could do it.

Logging 2,023 miles in 365 days averages to 5.54246575 miles a day. Going into the challenge I knew there was NO WAY I would move my body 5.5 miles a day every day for an entire year. Looking at the different training plans RTE suggested, I settled on 40 miles a week. That averages to 5.71428571 miles a day, but 40 miles a week means 40 miles a week. I can bike 10 miles one day and then afford a two-mile day, making the average for the remaining five days of the week 5.6 miles. Still more than the original, but to take this huge goal — which some people shake their heads at and say is impossible — and break it into smaller pieces is doable for me.

At this writing I have 900 miles left. Have I enjoyed every minute of the miles I’ve already completed? Meh. I’m not even going to try to paint images of all the nature I took in during the first 1,123 miles.

In the beginning, I approached my mission of adopting healthier habits the way a novice composition student approaches a writing assignment. I skipped the planning and research stages and headed straight to the draft. Is it any wonder I struggled? I have learned that year-long goals work for me. They’re big and scary — just like trying to write a final draft on the first go-round —  but when I break seemingly colossal goals into smaller pieces, I can accomplish them.

The same is true of better nutrition. Rather than restricting myself to a caloric number so low and untasty it’s unsustainable, 80% of what I consume needs to be food that won’t lead to a heart attack or stroke. The other 20% can include some ice cream.

And just like I didn’t fall into a perfect exercise plan, I’m not going to fall into a writing habit that’s so wonderful I’ll just write. Three essays a year for a writer is worse than limiting an adult to 800 calories a day. I have to be intentional about writing regularly, daily.

What is my goal?

I want to write often enough that I lose the fear of writing and instead use my voice without hesitation. To do this I need to establish and commit to when, where and how much I am going to write each day.

There are plenty of writing challenges, but month-long ones like NaNoWriMo will probably bring the same result as a “30 Day Yoga Journey.” One round and then nothing. If year-long goals work for me when it comes to exercise, the same timeframe should work for writing too. Having done some research, is where I plan to write. Seven hundred fifty words a day is 273,750 words a year. This is equivalent to about three novels. But that’s not my goal. I’m ok with some of the words being journal entries, others being poems and R&R craft essays, and who knows what else.

Like the thesis of an academic paper, I now have a plan to follow for my fitness and writing goals.


But if I take Sundays off, will readers of an online journal ask me where the other 39,000 words are? 

Read Valerie’s other work here at Reckon.

Valerie Peralta

Valerie Peralta is an intermittent practitioner of just about everything she does striving to be more tortoise and less hare. After copy editing for two decades, she’s finally trusting her own words on the page. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University; her work has been published by The Blended Future Project and is forthcoming in Heart Balm. She lives in South Florida within running distance of the Everglades.