I Tried Packing Lunches For A Week And My Life Fell Apart

I set about my Wellness Week challenge with a simple goal: spend less money and eat better.

I have bad food habits, in that I’m incapable of packing lunches. I eat out for lunch far more than I should, or bring leftover take-out food the next day. I have an almost daily Starbucks habit, much to my embarrassment, and the result is that I’ve been treating both my body and my wallet badly. I outlined my gameplan for the week with simple, attainable goals: make coffee at home, and pack lunches the night before. No Starbucks, no runs to Wendy’s, no microwaved pizza for lunch. Super easy, right?

It turns out that I picked just about the worst week of my life to try to implement this.

Monday was a surprise holiday from work that I hadn’t expected, and was spent around the house. I broke my pact almost immediately, and bought breakfast burritos and coffee for the family. I told myself that it was basically like a weekend, so I could let my project just go an extra day to make up for it. Already, I’m beginning to realize I may have motivation issues.

Tuesday was off to a great start–I made my coffee, I packed my (healthy) lunch, I took my water bottle and was feeling like the world’s healthiest person. But I had an appointment with a new pulmonologist that evening, to help me manage my mismanaged chronic asthma. It’s an area of my life that causes stress, pain, and anxiety for me, and although I’m not a stress eater, I stopped to get fries and a Coke to give me strength before I went in. So chock Tuesday up to a fail.

To say that my appointment went smoothly would be a lie. In the course of one appointment, I got put through the ringer. Along with a great new diagnosis about my severe asthma, I got a big dose of reality: change your life, or suffer the consequences. “You’re the kind of asthmatic that dies from your asthma,” my doctor told me. “Because you don’t take it seriously and you don’t take care of yourself.”

I had always thought of my asthma as a battle I would eventually win, once I figured out how to fight it. It’s caused issues with friends, family, and work at times. It comes on suddenly and can linger for hours, days, weeks. I’ve had doctors tell me it’s generalized anxiety, and I’ve had doctors tell me it’s just an allergic reaction. I’ve had doctors throw more and more steroids at the problem, and never stop to consider why they aren’t working. Because of this, and because asthma is something people know about but don’t understand, I’ve always felt the need to undervalue it—both to make others more comfortable, and because I did start to wonder if it was in my head. Until now, I’ve never had someone sit down and explain the full details to me, to take me and my health seriously, and to give me the real talk I need.

Wednesday morning saw a follow up appointment with so many tests I lost track. I was given a new medication plan and a comprehensive guide to lifestyle changes. Get off the unnecessary steroids. Cut back caffeine. Eat more veggies. Take a supplement. Lose weight. Manage your anxiety. Treat yourself better. If you want people to take your health seriously, take yourself seriously.  

I came home from that appointment both terrified and electrified, feeling like I had finally gotten the push I needed to get my act together, to pull myself up and deal with my issues. Exhausted from the tests, I called out of work, went and got lunch with my sister, and spent the day with family enjoying the warm weather. I downloaded a calorie counter, went out to dinner with my boyfriend to discuss my new health information, and ordered a salad.

By Thursday my goal had completely switched: no longer was I worried about money or packing lunches. Instead my focus had become on calorie counting, a nutritional tip I know very little about, but watched my friends obsess over through high school and college. Water was replacing all my major liquids, and I didn’t care if I ran out to buy $20 worth of snacks, because they were low calorie. I wrote out a schedule for myself on how to walk more, when to make time to exercise, and what my goal was. My doctor told me that the key to getting my asthma under control was to get my body working and feeling as good as possible, and I was determined.

Unfortunately,  I work late on Thursdays, and we always get food from the burger place downstairs. So with one soggy hamburger my calorie count for the day was shot. I went home and ate a slice of cake. On Friday I tried again by making a “skinny” version of my favorite coffee drink, which tasted like battery acid, and I counted out my pistachios and blueberries for lunch. But I had grown so scared of ruining the calorie counter again that I was hesitating on eating lunch, because I didn’t know what dinner was or how many calories it would bring.

I gave up my pathetic attempt at Wellness Week at approximately 2:35 on Friday afternoon, when I surrendered to my hunger and ate some more cake. Later that night I washed down my chicken enchilada with a much craved Coke.

I failed. There’s no way around it. But I think I set myself up for failure from the beginning. I didn’t approach the week seriously, believing I could play it off or fudge the details, because I’m not accountable to you, internet stranger. I took a very easy goal–saving money and packing lunches—and changed the outcome midweek, setting myself rigorous calorie budgets and food rules that were too much, too soon. Instead of acknowledging that I was in an emotional state from my new diagnosis and taking time to process, plan, and prepare for the life changes I needed to make, I dove into them all at once.

This failure of a week was not without some merit though. Having never calorie counted, I had little to no understanding or context of how much I was consuming daily, or how my favorite drinks and snacks sized up. I bought a water bottle to help me stop buying soda, and, with the exception of one small Coke and the occasional unsweet tea, I’ve hit a week of replacing my many daily liquids with pure water. I go through about three refills of my water bottle a day, and although this still isn’t near the recommended dose, it’s a 300% increase over my previous record of zero bottles a day. I hate the taste of water still, but the adage is true: you do something enough, and you get used to it.

As small and pathetic a victory as it is, my success with my water drinking venture has proven that I am capable of doing more. I just need to set reasonable limits and goals for myself—and find ways to hold myself accountable.

Hope Racine
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Hope Racine

Associate Editor at Literally, Darling
Hope is a freelance writer and editor who makes her living writing things about Jane Austen and editing things about taxes. She has an unhealthy relationship with George Washington. Hope is currently working toward her life goal of being on Jeopardy! and owning all the dogs.
Hope Racine
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  • Meredith

    Honey… your doctor literally told you that you would die if you didn’t get your health under control, and in response to that, you binged. Your emotional relationship with food sounds like it needs to be healed first. Don’t jump into the world of calorie counting and restriction, but focus on what you can ADD to your diet, not what you take away. You’ve ADDED water. You can ADD vegetables, fruits, supplements. Practice mindfulness and portion control.

    I don’t think meal planning made your life fall apart. Your already strained relationship with food and failure to plan in addition to other stressful events “made your life fall apart”.

    You work late on Thursdays? Ok, that’s where planning comes in. And even if you didn’t have a meal planned prior, you didn’t *have* to get a burger. You could’ve order some salmon, grilled chicken, salad or other balanced dish from a takeout place.

    This “article” reads like a diary entry full of excuses. You’re finding every single justification possible to not take care of yourself.

    • upside-down smiley

      And you’re finding every single justification to be judgmental and bitchy. This is her story about her health journey and you’re just a little gray icon with a sass problem. Go eat a handful of almonds and think about your attitude.

      • Meredith

        Nope, just a little grey icon with a “harsh reality check” serving problem and years of eating disorder recovery under her belt. I’m telling her to pay attention to her emotional cues because they’re indicative of a larger problem. I’ll enjoy my almonds and my attitude, thanks!

        P.S. Just because the truth isn’t wrapped up in a nice little bow spritzed with perfume and ass kissing doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said. Grow up.

  • Alexa Groninger

    Habits take a lot of time, energy, and practice to break. It’s obviously difficult to overhaul your entire diet and lifestyle in one week. I would think that an insanely small fraction of people would be capable of turning everything around in one week and keeping it that way—add dealing with serious, chronic health problems on top of that and what can you expect? Even certified trainers and nutritionists wouldn’t expect some kind of magical transformation. It will take time and consistency, but it’s possible.

  • alexa annibali

    Habits take a lot of time, energy, and practice to break. It’s obviously difficult to overhaul your entire diet and lifestyle in one week. I would think that an insanely small fraction of people would be capable of turning everything around in one week and keeping it that way—add dealing with serious, chronic health problems on top of that and what can anyone truly expect? Even certified trainers and nutritionists wouldn’t expect some kind of magical transformation. It will take time and consistency, but it’s possible. P.S. I enjoyed the article! It is really admirable how you share your issues with the public. I think that people really benefit from hearing stories like this :)