Exercise Links

Don’t want to hire a personal trainer? Here ares some links I love that give you exercises you can do on your own. This post will be updated regularly.
General:
Moves to Sculpt, Shape Magazine
Upper Body:
Stomach:
Flat belly tips A – Z, Health Magazine
Lower Abs Workout, Shape Magazine

Lower Body:
Last updated: April 30, 2014.
Please note: These are just tips. You should consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise program. This is not medical advice and I’m not trainer. Or gym expert. Just a gym rat. Who loves seeing my arms become more defined.

Resources

Southeast Asia is comfortable

After being an expat in Chiang Mai for almost two years, there is one thing that I can say for certain: I am comfortable.

Which means, as a part of The Comfort Zone Project, it’s time to get out of Southeast Asia … at least for a little bit.

It has become second nature to navigate the tiny sois throughout the Old City. It has become too easy to tell a songthaew driver where I want to go and then negotiate — in Thai — how much I want to pay. I’ve become so used to smiling at the same people on my walk each day, going to the same restaurants for lunch …

It’s time to get out.

Tel Aviv travel

Fly away … with me.

So, in the middle of May, that is just what I am doing.

I’ve got my friends manning my house and keeping an eye on the cats, and I’m heading on a solo European adventure. Why? Because I want to feel my heart race a little bit. I want to wakeup in the morning and not know if I am going to stay put, or hop on a train to another country where there is a different language, a different currency …

I want to challenge myself emotionally, the same way I have been challenging myself physically since February.

It is time to get out of the comfort zone of Thailand for a month and head to the gorgeous, cobblestoned, steepled Europe for a month.

The challenge will continue there — I will be looking for gyms along the way so I can put together a cheat sheet for others who want to work out while traveling. Plus, I’ll be documenting the activities I do like finding gorgeous hikes and healthy places to eat while I Europe trot.

I’m also partnering with FitWeek to help me with a fitness plan for my time abroad. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to go to the gym everyday. And, let’s face it. There’s wine. And pizza. And a quest for the best gelato in Italy. And the best chocolate and beer in Belgium.

After all, what’s the point of getting out of your comfort zone if you can’t at least have a little fun?

Diary Get Your Shit Together
DIY Yoga

Health and wellness magazines on Facebook

There are plenty of places to get information on how to break the right sweat, what work outs will give you those killer abs, the foods you should be eating now (!) to give you energy, the ultimate cleanse … and it goes on and on.

DIY Yoga

Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons: Rance Costa

I’ve been following all of these tips like a mad woman since I started the Comfort Zone Project. Fortunately, Facebook makes it easy to get a myriad of information delivered straight to your news feed.

Now, I’m no expert (but promise I will be talking to one soon), and it is important to make sure the information you are finding online comes from a reputable source and isn’t just a quote pasted to a photo of some celebrity, but there are places with helpful information on how to become a healthier and more mindful person.

My current obsessions/online cheat sheets for fitness when I can’t go to the gym or need some extra motivation/eating ideas, etc. on Facebook are the fitness/wellness magazines constantly churning out great content:

Shape Magazine

Women’s Health and Fitness

Self Magazine

Even when I lived in the States, I had subscriptions to each of them. I loved them for the awesome workout tips (like the five exercises to build gorgeous arms) and recipes (even though kitchen goddess I am not).

If you want some motivation and do-it-yourself workout ideas and recipes, follow along on their Facebook pages (I’ve linked them above).

DIY

Muay Thai and living in Thailand: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

When I first began The Comfort Zone Project, I had it in my head that not only was I going to join a gym and get fit, I was going to learn the art of Muay Thai. One reason being that muay thai is one hell of a workout, and the other being that the sport is so popular in Thailand, it would be great to learn more not only about it in terms of the physical aspect, but also the cultural.

Well.

I have yet to get involved in the learning of the sport, but I did manage to connect with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu. The Muay Thai fighter has been living in Chiang Mai with her husband for two years. I wanted her take on the sport, what it’s like to live in Thailand and what takes her out of her comfort zone.

Sylvie practicing Muay Thai

Diana: Why did you become an expat in Chiang Mai?

Sylvie: I don’t consider myself an “expat.” We came to Thailand in order to focus on Muay Thai because this is the best place in the world for learning and practicing the sport/art. We chose Chiang Mai because we’d been here at this camp before and my opportunities for frequent fights and a variety of opponents near my size is greater than in other areas of Thailand.

D: It is very easy to fall into the trap of not doing much/drinking/etc. What is life like for you as an expat in Chiang Mai?

S: Muay Thai camps see a lot of tourists in and out, with varying degrees of commitment both in time and effort. Some folks stay only for one session, some for a few days and up to a month or more. But, more than a couple weeks is pretty rare. None of the folks here on the short-term are “expats” but they are mostly young travelers who seem to experience their tours in foreign countries through the lens of partying. I think for a lot of tourists, Thailand is a fantasy space and it’s both viewed and treated as an adult playground — an extended “Spring Break” trip. That’s unfortunate, I think, although for many of those people that experience is satisfying. For me, because I have a focus, spending all my time training, studying Thai language and writing my blog, 8 Limbs, is very gratifying.  I simply don’t have an interest in hanging out all night with westerners who are on a transient path through Thailand, one stop of many.  For me, it’s easy to avoid because it holds no appeal for me. And one simply cannot commit to both late nights of booze AND 6:30 a.m. start to six-hour days of training. I consciously, and happily, choose the latter every day.

 

Sylvie writing for her blog, 8 Limbs
D: How did you get involved in muay thai? Did this happen in Chiang Mai or before you relocated?

S: I started Muay Thai in the US in 2008. I was living in New York and commuting an hour in each direction to train with an absolutely incredible man named Master K, who is a 75-year-old Thai man still practicing Muay Thai and teaching it out of the basement of his home in New Jersey. He instilled in me the love for Muay Thai that is a “way of life” rather than simply an exercise or sport. My husband and I relocated to Chiang Mai in order to pursue Muay Thai full-time (for me; my husband doesn’t train) and get as much fight experience as possible; something that is very limited in the US at this point in time.

D: What makes muay thai such a great work out?

S: Muay Thai is also called “The Art of 8 Limbs” because it uses strikes from the fists, elbows, knees and legs. Using every part of your body in the practice means both that you are going to be exercising your full body, but also it is rare (especially for women) to appreciate all of your body at once, rather than picking one limb or feature to highlight or hide. There’s no hiding in Muay Thai! However, an important point to realize is that Muay Thai is a job for fighters, nakmuay, in Thailand — it’s a job for me — so simply calling it a workout does not come close to what is invested by those of us who practice Muay Thai as a way of life.
Sylvie von Dugglas-Ittu

D: How easy is it to get involved in the Muay Thai scene in Chiang Mai?

S: Very easy. There are numerous gyms in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. Most of the camps are within a proximity to one another so that you could easily visit more than one from a central location and decide for yourself which suits you best. My camp, Lanna Muay Thai/Kiat Busaba, is located near Chiang Mai University and near the foot of the Doi Suthep mountain, so it’s a really lovely area and easy to access by bike or public transport, as well as being near lots of accommodation options. All gyms offer day rates (single session or single day, depending on the camp), as well as weekly and monthly, so it’s very easy for anyone to just “drop in” and try a session or get a discount for longer stretches of training.

D: Can you describe the muay thai scene in Chiang Mai?

S: There are about four stadiums in Chiang Mai, almost all of which are within walking distance of each other, and located around the Night Bazaar. There are fight programs scheduled for every night of the week and big shows on weekends. Fighters come from all over, from big camps with familiar names (once you’ve attended two shows you’ll start to recognize the names already) to tiny gyms in family yards where the pedagogy is passed down from parent or uncle to children — very traditional. There’s a lot of gambling at some of the venues and that lends to the excitement of the atmosphere. Usually, westerners fill up the seats directly around the ring and the gamblers stand in the back. There are usually one or more  “foreigner vs. Thai” bouts on a card, which are a big draw for tourist audiences. Sometimes, the matchup looks a little funny, simply because westerners can be pretty big and there aren’t Thais of that same size, so you’ll see a big western guy against a much smaller Thai — but usually the Thai makes up for the size disparity in experience and these fights can be really exciting. The cards usually start with the smaller and less experienced fighters, like young boys with a handful of fights, and progress toward the “Main Event” of bigger, more experienced fighters or the westerners on the card.
Sylvie sparring in muay thai

D: Has muay thai changed your body image? How was your body image before you started the sport?

S: I’ve always been athletic but I’ve never committed to a practice like I have to Muay Thai. My body is very “functional” for me, so how it looks is much less on my mind than how it performs. I’m quite muscular, which gets a lot of attention in Thailand, but I’m recognized as a fighter almost instantly here — like an assumption to explain the aesthetic — whereas in the US I was often asked “do you work out a lot?” So, there’s a level of pride to that recognition that I think makes up for the unwanted attention I get for looking the way I do. Muscles on women is not so hot in contemporary Thai aesthetic, so I think I’m more self-conscious of it than I would be back home.  The women I fight don’t look like me – but because a strong body is appreciated in Muay Thai for its function, that lends to confidence nonetheless.

D: What challenges do you face to maintain your health and fitness in Chiang Mai? And how to you solve these challenges?

S: I don’t face challenges.  I’ve heard western men at the camp complain about the expense of protein powder and supplements in Thailand, but I don’t partake in either so it’s not a bother to me.  I find no difficulty in locating nutritious and delicious food and health care is significantly more affordable here than in the US, so if I need to see a doctor I can actually afford to go see one, which I couldn’t do in the US.  So it’s actually easier for me here.

D: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get out of their comfort zone?
S: One of the beautiful things about training Muay Thai is how hard it is. It never gets easier, the level of “hard” just moves right along with you so you are constantly facing new challenges.  Spending six to seven hours a day being uncomfortable is not something that sounds appealing from the outside, but it’s absolutely good practice for being able to push yourself in every area of life.  It’s that saying, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” It doesn’t have to be a huge degree of discomfort, but just pushing a little bit past the comfort is where growth happens, where learning takes place.  And you never know what you’re capable of until you try.

Follow along with Sylvie’s Muay Thai experience on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or go check out her gym when in Chiang Mai. 

Photos courtesy Sylvie von Dugglas-Ittu

Perspectives

My Kind of Life: model Emily Nolan

Emily Nolan is beautiful. Both on the inside and outside. A model, a vegan, an inspirational role model for those looking to lose weight or get healthy, this writer/model/awesome woman has been helping to change the way women perceive themselves.

I first came across her work on Mind Body Green, and now love following her Web site — My Kind of Life — for reminders that I am fine just the way I am.

Recently, I was able to interview her on everything from her days of being underweight and unhealthy to her life as a model, her lifestyle and more. Enjoy!

Emily Noland

Diana: Can you talk about your struggles with weight over the years? Specifically, can you address when you decided to embrace your body as it is versus being unhealthy to be a small size?

Emily: I struggled for 10 years with painful eating disorders, starving my body from the nutrition it craved to blossom into a woman’s body. I worked very much during that 10th year to be as skinny as possible, so that I could be a model with one of the largest modeling agencies.

I was working out for six hours a day, and one day, I walked into the cardio room, hit a wall (figuratively speaking) and said, that I’d rather be dead than torturing myself for the very little appreciation and recognition that I was getting. That day, I left the gym, and promised myself that I was going to model (or continue my journey) at my own size–wherever that equilibrium falls for me. I chose to connect with my food instead of eating what magazines and fad diets were telling me to eat, and I ended up choosing a plant-based diet (my Mom also did this with me).

I continued to work out, but this time around, I was focused on happiness. I was constantly asking myself, “Does this exercise make me happy?” When you live in the land of excessive habits and disorder and you’re trying to heal on your own (for the most part), the best way to do it is to constantly ask yourself helpful questions that remind you of where you are and how you feel. So, I was asking myself questions and I was answering them honestly. Questions like, “Should you go back to torturing your body to live someone else’s dream, or is it worth giving up their dream to build your own miraculous life?” After realizing that I’d rather be dead than going through the torture I had put myself through, the answers were very clear and I was able to chart my new course for a healthier lifestyle.

D: What is the worst thing someone has said to you about your weight? How did it make you feel? How did you overcome it?

E: There are so many things that people can say about someone’s weight, height, color, etc. In the past, I let it dictate who I was. “I am fat, I am tall, I am athletic.” Now, I just live life as the best version of me, and much to my surprise, people have stopped negatively commenting and started complimenting who I am. Maybe it’s because I surround myself with a network of safe friends that are nonjudgmental, highly supportive and intelligent.

D: In society, it seems like a person’s weight is directly attributed to the respect, love and success they deserve. Do you agree with this statement? How do you suggest people can change the way society links weight to these things?

E: The internet is much to thanks for the rise in “respect for ‘perfect’ body pictures,” which can be attributed to certain men and women being idolized to a god-like level. If we realize that everyone is human, even high-paid supermodels, and that we all struggle with our own issues, we can start to understand that we are all the same–billboard or not. The important takeaway is to know that we all struggle, and we all have things that we’re great at, too. The size of your thighs or waist does not define your beauty or importance–but your brain and heart, do. And if you are setting out to make a difference in the world which I highly recommend, the latter two are the only things that matter.

Model Emily Nolan

D: You’re gorgeous. When did you realize you were perfect just the way you are?

E: Thank you very much. I always thought that beauty came from the way I appeared on the outside, and what I came to realize is that beauty is like a flower. The flower grows from the dirt, through the spine or stem and into a tight protective bud. Only when the bud feels like it is pretty enough, does it open up to show the world just how pretty it is–and that all came from a seed in the ground. I realized my true beauty when I started to make decisions that were deeply authentic and true to my seed; beauty has to do with living a compassion-filled life.

Have you ever looked at a fat manatee and said, “Ew, how gross and fat?” I didn’t think so. Most likely we say, “Oh, look how cute and big that manatee is! How amazing! How majestic and incredible.” By reframing the way that we see beauty, as well as sharing the same spirit with friends and family, we can move past the pressure that’s placed on outer beauty and begin to focus on that beautiful seed that is planted within us all.

D: What is your comfort zone? How did you step out of it to get to where you are today?

E: I am part German, which means my tolerance for torture and rule-following is quite high. That being said, my comfort zone is anywhere that I feel safe. It is important to note that in the beginning of My Kind of Life and my modeling career, public speaking and being in front of a camera were not always the most comfortable feeling for me; however, I always felt safe–to fail, to succeed, to be myself–so I allowed myself to work through the discomfort of a new task or job, in a safe environment.

Build self-confidence by being hyper sensitive to your authenticity, and seeking out safe environments to practice your truth is a great place to grow your comfort zone. And I highly encourage pushing your limits if your goal is to share a message that is great and life-giving.

D: What advice would you give to other women in the world who struggle with their weight?

E: If you’re like me and have struggled with your weight, the best advice that I can give you to feel more confident in your size is to eat healthy, exercise and buy clothes that fit. If you like what you see in the mirror, who cares about what the magazines are promoting, or what fad diet your friend or partner is on. We were made to be beautiful in our size, color and personality–let’s be unique and embrace the paradox of life, we’re all so different, and yet we’re all very much the same.

D: Can you talk briefly about your modeling career, why you don’t like the term “plus-size” and how your modeling career has empowered you and can empower others to love who they are?

E: My modeling career has been an incredible journey; it’s given me a platform to get up and speak to other people and share that the size of our body is insignificant. Plus size, straight size (skinny), men, kids–we all take beautiful pictures. So what makes us unique? Our brains and our hearts.

I stopped calling myself a “plus size” model because I don’t believe that women who are looking at me in their catalog should feel that they are different from thinner women. We are all beautiful and we all deserve to look stylish and feel confident, no matter the number on the tag of our clothes.

Some women disagree and think that I should embrace the label “plus-size,” but I just think, if I was a man, I would not say, “I’m a male model.” It is so obvious that I’m not skinny, so there’s no confusion as to what size of clothes I wear. I can understand both sides of the discussion–I just choose to be inclusive, since I don’t endorse any form of labeling. If I do label someone I’ll say, “She is very inspirational. She is highly intelligent.” Those are positive labels that grow from the seed within us.

My Kind of Life Emily Nolan

D: What are the most important lessons you have learned about loving yourself? What would you tell others to do to honor themselves above others?

E: Notice the patterns of your personality. From day one, I was an animal lover, an athlete, a family person, and highly self-aware (I’m a taurus–again, I can’t be blamed). To stray from that path–maybe if society encourages another lifestyle–is to deny yourself the ultimate truth, and the opportunity to live your life with a bright mind and a brilliant, open heart.

Be true to who you are, and you’ll find nothing but love and fulfillment in your future. That is how I define success.

D: When you realized you could be happy as you are, how did life change for you?

E: As soon as I started to reconnect with my authentic interests, my career(s) started to take off. I built a very unique vessel to navigate life–because no one else has the same story that I do. I dedicate a lot of the hours in my day to fulfilling my interests and helping others find theirs. When I started to help others with no strings attached, my career again, started to build on another, higher level.

I stopped seeing money as a means to life, and started to see how giving life to people is a highly rewarding way to live. Put your heart out there and let it work miracles; money comes and goes, love and good work is consistent.

D: What is your fitness routine these days?

E: I try to sweat everyday. I love the way I feel after I workout. Sometimes I don’t make it to the gym–like twice a week–because I’m on a plane to another country. Sometimes, I just feel like taking my dog on a nice long walk along the water to look at the colorful fish swimming by and to take time to reconnect.

I’m a fan of group exercise because I work a lot harder than if I were to do a workout on my own. I like to use weights, I love spinning, kick boxing, yoga–I’ll do it all. If you’re afraid to jump in to group exercise or any exercise at all, know that even Lance Armstrong had a first day–no need to feel afraid or intimidated. I take a kickboxing class with a 90 year old woman, who shows up every week and spends the whole class going at her own pace. No one at the gym is there to judge her, we actually want to see her succeed! That woman is an inspiration to me. I hope when I’m 90, that A) I’m alive, and B) That I have a gym membership or fulfilling exercise routine.

D: Can you give us an example of your daily meal consumption?

E: This is a popular question that piques a lot of interest. If I were to tell you exactly what I eat, it may encourage others to aspire to the same habits. So when I tell you, know that this is what works for me, and you could require more or less–and your decisions to eat what you do, are great enough. Also, my entire diet is vegan, which is all plant-based, whole foods.

Note: I drink Yerba Matte all day long and drink way too much sparkling water for my own good.

Breakfast:
Soy latte
Organic granola with coconut milk greek yogurt with fresh organic fruit on top

Lunch:
Lettuce wraps with tempeh and grilled vegetables.
Side of wild rice with veggies mixed in.
Bowl of raw crudités with a baba ganoush

Snack:
Candied nuts
Mandarin orange

Dinner:
Barbecue tofu over mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and root vegetables

Dessert:
Plant-based whole food dessert. A healthy cookie or a few bites of a cherry cobbler with nuts and seeds as a base

D: When do you feel most beautiful?

E: I feel most beautiful when people come up to me and thank me for the work that I’m doing to make a difference in the world. Whether it was a speech I gave, a picture I published, an article I wrote–those are the things that matter, and the things that I value the most. To know that my labor of love has touched someone, that is when I feel the most beautiful.

Do you want more Emily? Be sure to check out her Facebook and Twitter to help motivate you to improve your lifestyle.

Photo credit: Mary Beth Koeth

Perspectives

How I quit smoking

Olympic stairsI sit, tuckered out from a long day of travel. Situated on the former Olympic Steps in Sarajevo, surrounded by green mountains dotted with homes which used to be in the middle of a war zone, I take it all in.

Then, I light a cigarette, inhale deeply, and really begin to take a look around what is — in this moment — my world.

The dilapidated steps, crumbling into the weeds growing alongside what used to have been something bustling, something grand.

I sit, and as I pull the toxicity into my lungs, I get it. I let myself open up to the history of Sarajevo being surrounded, the struggles, the pain, the rebirth of this city.

When I stub my cigarette out, I light another one and ponder some more.

Smoking and Travel. The perfect couple.

The lure of the nicotine

This moment doesn’t just happen once. It repeats itself throughout Europe. In the technicolor island paradise of Solta. Against an ancient stone wall when I get word of my grandma’s passing. And, it transcends travel and creeps back into my re-entry. Into my life in America.

Sure, I quit smoking a few times. In fact, before I went to Europe, I had not smoked for almost two years. But, it all changed when I grew stressed. When I grew lonely. I began to make justifications.

Just one rollie is fine. I won’t get addicted to smoking again.

I believed that. Until I was buying a pack-a-day in Europe. Until I was sitting on my balcony in Vegas, hiding the fact that I had fallen off the wagon to everyone.

On and off it went, my little love affair with smoking. My best friend who played any role in my life I needed.

Lighting up in those moments of stress seemed like a way to calm down. But, lighting up in those moments when I wanted to take it all in made even more sense.

I mean, nothing lets a gorgeous scene in Samui sink in better than inhaling sweet tobacco, right?

It isn’t just me who makes those excuses, either. It is plenty of travelers I meet. Travelers who, in their real lives, don’t smoke at all, but when they hit a foreign patch of land, they light up.

Why? What is it about traveling that makes us just want to smoke our faces off?

I look at them and think, “dude, if you don’t smoke in normal life, why on earth are you putting this into your body now?”

Then, I look at my orange, glowing cherry and relish the fact that I smoke. That I don’t have to give myself permission on holiday to pollute my body — I do it every day. That I am a grown-up and just like if I want to eat an entire package of Oreos, I can smoke until I can’t breathe.

I get it. I enjoy nothing more than savoring a new place, an old place, a moment, a situation, with the company of that glorious, burning, stick of nicotine. It just feels right. 

Smoking compliments travel in the worst way. It is a chance to be outside of the normal self. It gives us permission to do things we normally wouldn’t do. It lets us sneak nasty habits back into our lives. I mean, I cannot count the number of times I have given myself permission to act a certain way because of traveling.

Being conscious

I’m one of those closet smokers. When I’m around people who don’t smoke, I am incredibly conscious of it. I am conscious of the way it smells, the direction the smoke blows, whether it bothers anyone else. Yet, I still smoke. I just sneak off to my own quite corner of a place, where I cannot poison anyone else.

Now, with The Comfort Zone Project and working on my health and fitness, I know it is time to break up with my best and most cancerous friend, the cigarette. (Really, Cigarette isn’t my best friend at all. More like my worst enemy … but cloaked in an addiction that makes it far more friendly.)

So, the other day, I finally stopped putting it off. Actually, I had an attitude adjustment.

I’m typically not one for self-help books. I mean, I read “The Secret” and all, but really … it is just about the power of your own mind, and we all know this and don’t need to pay X amount of money for a book to reiterate that. Or … do we? Because, I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and damn if he didn’t say everything I didn’t already know. But, reading it made it seem that much more … real. Like, I needed to read that I have been brainwashed, that I have brainwashed myself to the power of smoking, in order to actually smoke that final cigarette.

It hasn’t been that long since I crossed over into a world I feared desperately — the non-smoker’s world — but I actually feel pretty good about it. I quit for me. I didn’t sacrifice anything. I gave myself a gift.

Before I quit, I had a conversation with my friend about kicking the habit. I mentioned how worried I was to quit smoking just before I go to Europe because all the wine … the cheese … the views … the travel-related stresses … the social situations … but the book reminded me I don’t need to smoke to enjoy (or not enjoy) any of those things. That smoking does not calm me down. It does not make meals taste better. It does not make me a more social person.

Unlike other times I have quit, this time it isn’t about willpower. It isn’t about sacrificing smoking for not smoking. It is about giving myself the gift of treating my addiction, and coming out healthy.

Now … I am finally going to readjust the habit. Spectacular view? Great. I’m going to sit outside and take it in. I’m going to breathe that fresh air deeply. And, I’m going to love it.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

Bye bye, Booze

The Comfort Zone Project and my quest to not be “fat” in Thailand are leading me down a path of mindful eating, five-day-a-week workout sessions (three of which are with a personal trainer) and breaking up with booze.

OK. So, not really “breaking up,” but more like “we’re going into a very restricted relationship. Almost like a break-up, but from time-to-time, we can still hook-up and remember how much we loved each other.”

Diana drinking in Prague

Cause, yeah … I’m not ready to quit you, sweet red wine. I just need more time for me than you.

Remember Zima?

My relationship with alcohol began when I was a teen, as most stories of underage shenanigans begin. I didn’t even like booze at first. It tasted nasty, but that is likely because as high school students, we were totally inexperienced drinkers.

While I didn’t drink much in high school, I definitely had my little trysts with the hooch. At my friend’s house on some half-days, we’d go down to her dad’s liquor cabinet and grab the chocolate liqueor because, well, it sounded tasty and a shot is supposed to get you wasted, right? Then, we’d ruin it with orange juice (see, I told you we didn’t know any better), fill the bottle back up with some water, place it back in the cabinet, then head upstairs with a cheeky buzz.

I remember when Zima came out. It was the rage at my high school. People would doodle the brand’s name on their brown-bag-covered text books and most epic weekend party stories began and ended with name-dropping the clear (and crappy) alcoholic beverage’s name.

Fake IDs and Freshmen Life

In college, we were a bit more civilized. We opted for picking our poison, rather than being at the mercy of the grown-up’s stash. Armed with fake IDs or an upperclassman, we’d head to the drive-up liquor store and purchase tasty cases of Keystone Light or Natural Ice (yeah, we still didn’t know any better and uttering “micro-brew” would have made us wonder what science lecture we missed). Occasionally, I’d be bold and try some hard stuff like Southern Comfort or Seagrams 7 (which, to this day, I cannot stomach thanks to the way that crap tastes coming back up).

Nights in Bowling Green, Ohio (where I partied … er attended college … for 1-1/2 years) were a mix of frat parties, dorm room binge drinking and the worst — filling up a mug with boxed white zin and taking it into the shower and drinking it there because the hot water thins your blood and then you are drunk quick — and then promptly the puking of said alcohol content thanks to the gruesome image of warm mayonnaise sandwiches in the microwave when the spinning got to be too much.

Of Legal Age

When I finally turned 21 in Towson, I had already done my fair share of partying. After all, I had someone else’s expired Maryland driver’s license and was a regular in the college town bar scene, so the owners and staff of the bar I went to knew I wasn’t 21. When someone did card me, they’d turn the card over in their hand, question me as to why it was expired, and then did a shot with me.

At 22, I got into a relationship with an alcoholic  10 years my senior, and the boozing continued. Our poison back then was shots of Gran Marnier in little thimble glasses at the bar where I used to work. Followed by pints (yup) of Red Bull and Grey Goose, Blue Moon (see, I got a little classier) or Coors Light bottles (and there goes the class).

It really never stopped.

On the road

In my travels, going out for drinks has always been a bonding experience with fellow backpackers. I never thought to pass on the booze and just sip water. I have always wanted to be in the moment, to be engaged with others (i.e. make out with the cute backpacker boys with foreign accents), and I always assumed the only way to do that was to be like them.

Plus, when traveling, I feel like the world gives us permission to have a glass of chilled white wine while overlooking the Adriatic Sea … at 10 a.m. Or, having a Pilsner because, hello, I’m in Prague. Or a shot of Jameson because Ireland and my liver isn’t vital, right?

So many of my most incredible nights in foreign countries have included booze. It served as a celebration for new friends, a reward for finding the hostel with crap directions, something to calm my nerves.

I could never pass it down because it always seemed like it was the right thing to do … the right moment to have that beer/wine/shot/moonshine.

Until now.

Chang and Chiang Mai

Granted, I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. In the environments I have lived, I have always kept up, but never needed booze. I have never woken up with the shakes (although I have had some nasty hangovers), but drinking has never impacted my life in a negative sense — unless you count the general unhealthiness of it.

Living as an expat in Chiang Mai, I noticed something about myself I didn’t like — when I wasn’t at the office, when I wasn’t sleeping, I was drinking. Why? Well, a lot of it stems from sheer boredom. I’d get home after a day at the office and didn’t want to sit in my house, alone. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to do anything … but leave and go hang out with the other expats who like to have fun.

I was stuck in this comfort zone that I knew wasn’t good for me, but made me feel good.

Buckets of booze are prevalent in Thailand. And tasty.

I liked the company. I liked the buzz. I didn’t like the hangover, but I learned how to skip that with the help of 500 mg of Paracetamol. (Not healthy, I know.)

I quit you (ish)

So, with the launch of The Comfort Zone Project, I decided to change the way I engage with others. To replace nights of Sang Som and Coke with nights of Singha Drinking Water. Not every night … I let myself not be straight-edge once a week or so … but that’s it.

It’s been interesting so far.

Sitting at Tiger Bar, one my local hangouts, I pull up a shallacked wooden bench to join my friends. The owner of the bar, Dang, comes up to me when she sees the chilled bottle of water her husband had given to me, sitting on the patterned tablecloth.

“You drink water?” She asks, looking confused.

“Ka,” I say, smiling and grabbing the little bottle.

“You not drink wine?” Disbelief.

“Ka,” I say.

She smiles, slaps my shoulder playfully, and then walks away.

Thankfully, most of my friends don’t pressure me. They all know I am trying to make changes in my life. To escape the suck of Loi Kroh, the candelight of The Lost Hut, the raunchy talks at Smith.

I go home early as the rest of my friends continue on with their night. I don’t go home because I am bored. I go home because I want to.

For the first time in a long time, I am listening to my body, listening to my mind. Not listening to the part of me that says “you have nothing else to do with your time.”

Cause, you know what?

do have other things to do with my time.

I explore more of the city. I communicate and keep in touch with friends from all over the world. I catch up on all of the television shows I miss. I cuddle with my rescue cats. I write. Goodness, I  write. I plan my next trip (coming soon!). I go to sleep early. I wake up feeling energized instead of groggy and shity. I  pick up more Thai since being sober is my new lifestyle choice. I am more mindful of my living and how I choose to live, and the company I keep. I  have revitalized and stronger, healthier relationships with like-minded people and have established boundaries I needed with others. I’ve learned more about the things — and people — I want in my life. I talk to my parents more. I focus more on me. I work my ass out. And, I am happy and have a good time without being drunk.

Even in the early stages of my decision to only drink twice a week (I’m five weeks in to this new lifestyle),  I feel really good about it. I’ve even surprised myself. My two nights a week of “party” have turned into maybe two nights a week. And the “party” has been replaced with a few select beverages. The first real party I allowed myself was seven drinks in six hours, plus plenty of water. I wasn’t drunk. But, the next morning, I had a hangover that lasted 36 hours. Yes. Thirty. Six. Hours. The following week, I had three beers over six hours and woke up with a headache. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fair. But it is my body’s way of telling me to keep with the healthy behaviors and leave the toxic ones behind.

So, Comfort Zone: 0; Diana: 1.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

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