There is an incredible amount of passion residing within me. It seems obvious that I would have such strong infatuation for animals and nature, given my career of choice. Growing up, I jumped at every opportunity to increase my knowledge and experience with wildlife and their environments. As my admiration for nature grew, so did a third, very prominent obsession: conservation. The more I learned about my favorite animals, and the more I studied nature, the more I wanted to do everything in my power to protect both. More than one person can relate to this story, I’m sure.
As an adult, I found new subjects for my enthusiasm. Nothing that replaced my originals, but being such a passionate person, it was only a matter of time before I found other outlets. I want to tell you about one of my latest passions that began early 2014. It’s important to mention because it converged my zeal for animals, nature, and conservation into one of the most meaningful ventures I’ve ever discovered.
In January of 2014, I had had an epiphany of sorts. Pinpointing the exact event is difficult, as there were a couple incidents that led up to an awakening. I was not satisfied with my appearance, my health, my fitness, my job, or my life, really. My knees and back were in horrible shape. I often woke up in pain and went to bed with throbbing muscles. Working out was difficult because it hurt too much to try running, squatting, or any kind of high impact.
I also didn’t eat well. My eating habits were justified, though, with rationalizations like “I’m too busy to fix healthy meals”. What I truly meant was “I’m too lazy to eat healthy.” The funny thing was, I would preach to the public about the environmental dangers of consuming palm oil, and there I was munching on donuts, pastries, cakes, and cookies whenever I had a hankering. So, rather than change my behavior, I shrugged everything off, dismissing my pain, my weight, and my diet as just some of the hazards of the job.
Ironically, as zookeepers, we ensure the animals in our charge want for nothing. We are their nutritionists, their nurses, their personal trainers, companions. We provide a healthy diet, exercise, enrichment, and exemplary care to our animals. I did everything I could feasibly think of to provide an incredible life for “my girls”. Everything, except, taking care of myself. Why was that? Why wouldn’t I consider taking care of myself as a part of taking care of my animals?
That was it. This wasn’t just a vanity or self-conscious act (although, I admit, those played a major role). It was an animal welfare act. How could I expect to give great care to my animals when I didn’t provide even decent care to myself?
I won the challenge by losing over 25 kg total and decreasing my body fat by 10%. The big question everyone kept asking me, “How did you do it?”
By practicing what I was preaching to the visitors about palm oil, for example, processed foods were eliminated from my diet. By avoiding all processed foods, in my own small way, I was helping to conserve Asian rainforests, and coincidentally, cut unnecessary calories to lose weight.
I also worked on reducing my carbon footprint. I started driving places less, and biking more. I biked to work. I biked to meet-up places. I biked to the gym. The more I biked, the better I felt and the more I wanted to be outdoors. Riding was a great cardio workout, but it also gave me an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts as I raced down the bike trails. I wanted to not just bike, but get even closer to nature. I started spending my weekends outdoors more. Hiking had always been an enjoyable pastime, but now there was a stronger connection between my health, fitness, and my connection to the earth. Spending time outdoors made me appreciate nature even more, and the importance of conserving it, as well.
The ideas I started during the challenge continued on afterwards as I found new enjoyment in playing on outdoor jungle gyms, or working out after my shift close to the zoo. Some fellow keepers, noticing my transformation and wanting a little of what I had, asked to work out with me. We started out calling ourselves “Zookeepers Keeping Fit”. Our routines generally utilized body weight, but we also found great uses for broken rake handles, old enrichment devices, and other reusable objects to create dynamic exercises that tested us, challenged us, and improved our physical abilities. We worked hard on squats, lunges, and other skills that were utilized on a daily basis at our jobs. And we incorporated stretches and movements that helped us stretch out the muscles we often overuse.
My habits have evolved even further the more I have learned about fitness and the connection to conservation. I wanted to share my experience, strength, and hope with the world! I started incorporating tidbits from my experience into keeper chats, bridging something a large majority of the public is already motivated to work on (fitness) to something they feel inspired to improve (conservation). I found this to be an excellent recipe to hook an audience into listening, learning, and providing the necessary impact for action. In fifteen years of doing public talks, I had never had such a large percentage of guests stay for after my talk just to let me know how meaningful my conservation message was to them.
What kind of difference could we make in our lives, our animals lives, and conservation efforts in our own lives if we bridged our health and well-being with an attitude for protecting the earth? Would you resist eating foods you really didn’t want to eat in the first place? Would you begin practicing what you preach about small behavioral changes being key to saving a species?
Every year, millions of humans make new year’s resolutions. How many of us make a commitment to save the earth’s wildlife or the environment? How many of us instead resolve to lose weight, or eat better, exercise more? What if, by eating better, and exercising more, you could also do your part to save the world, or your favorite animals?
EarthFit isn’t a temporary change to reach a goal. It’s not a workout plan. It isn’t a diet. It really is a way of life. It inspires me to be the absolute best version of myself, and motivates me to share my passion with the rest of the world. The big question is, are you ready for EarthFit?