You may have seen Alex’s latest book Loving My Actual Life on Instagram, perhaps it’s on your summer reading list, or maybe you’re currently reading through it (like me!). Either way, you’re in a for a treat today. Alex Kuykendall is an author and speaker who has a heart for encouraging women.
In today’s interview, Alex shares about her new book and what happened when she changed her mindset about her health and body.
(Be sure to scroll down to see how you can win a copy of her new book – Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me.)
Hi Alex! First, would you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey there, I am happy to. I am a mom to four girls ages 13 to 4. I spend a lot of time in my car driving them to three different schools and multiple soccer practices and games. In between all of that driving I try to work on some writing projects. My husband Derek and I are raising our daughters in the shadows of downtown Denver, it’s where we work and school and live.
I was on staff for many years with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International, but the last few years wanted to focus on my writing and being available to my girls, so I have been freelancing in the writing world. I had a new book (Loving My Actual Life) release last month.
I love the title: “Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me.” What inspired you to begin this experiment?
My decision to change some things in my work/life balance is all tied to the decision to do the experiment. I wanted to discover what would really make me love today a little more. I was living an overextended life. One where instead of making choices and saying “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to others, I was saying “yes” to everything.
It was simply not sustainable.
I was afraid to cut anything because I was afraid of missing out. And then I realized I already was missing out on my life because I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to enjoy the most important, beautiful parts. I looked around me and suspected other women were feeling the same way, so I decided to document my experiment in a book.
On top of the chaos of daily life, I had two significant life events happen. First, I had a friend my same age die unexpectedly. I realized tomorrow is not promised and I didn’t want to miss what today had to offer. Second, my eldest daughter started preparing for middle school and I could see the beginning of the countdown in front of us.
Seven more years of her at home.
Seven more years to connect, to be together, to make memories, to have important conversations.
I wanted to be able to capture these years with intention and not just let the slip away in the whirlwind of our busy lives. And so the experiment was born.
You have a whole section on health in this book and we have so many questions! First, you are a mom to four young girls—does that change how you think and talk about your body?
Yes! Before the experiment I was very aware of how I spoke about my body in front of my girls. Because I have so many of them, I’m often asked to write and speak on the topic of raising girls in today’s pressures.
In my research, I’ve found a girl’s body image is often linked to her mom’s body image. So I’ve always been careful about what I say.
But the truth is, I haven’t struggled with my weight until a few years ago. I was size tiny for a long time with no effort (I know!). And breastfeeding did wonders for me every time, so I lost baby weight quickly. Though I wasn’t making negative comments in front of my girls, for most of my life I wasn’t having many negative thoughts either.
But as I approached and passed my fortieth birthday, I could see my body changing. My metabolism screeched to a halt and my grey hairs were more than a few. And with the physical changes came my attitude changes. I started making comments about my waistline and my pants and my wrinkles in front of my girls. I knew I shouldn’t, but they came out anyway. And right in the middle of this transition and realization, I did my experiment.
My girls happen to have four very different body types, genes are weird that way. My goal is to reinforce that they have amazing, healthy bodies that were made to do great things.
Before beginning the journey of this book, what did your health mean to you?
Before this experiment, my health was something that was simply ignored. I’d have spurts of paying attention to it, a week of determining to “do better”, a month of exercising or drinking more water, but the truth is I spent (and still spend) most of my energy meeting other people’s physical needs.
One great example of this is doctor’s appointments. As moms we are often the ones in charge of our kids staying up on their well checks, getting their vaccinations, going to their appointments, but we aren’t as on top of our own. This is one small step I encourage moms to take, make a well check appointment for yourself. If nothing else it is a symbol to both you and your family that your body is also worth caring for.
You said that you changed your mindset on how you take care of your body. In a practical sense, what changes did you make?
I realized that much of my, and other women’s, motivation for exercising and eating well is appearance. We want to look a certain way. But the truth is my body is not going to look like it did two decades ago before four babies and twenty years of aging.
If instead I do an inventory of what I use my body FOR: hugging my children, standing in the kitchen while I cook for them, being intimate with my husband, using my mind for writing, I begin to see my body as a tool. A tool to love and care for people. I then want to take care of it for it’s function and not for it’s appearance.
Does that make sense? I ask myself, what is my body used for? And when I remember why I need to be healthy, I’m motivated to take care of it.
When I considered what changes I wanted to make, I focused on the small. I figure if you can make the change in the next 24-hours it is more likely to happen and more likely to be sustainable.
So over the month of health I did things like:
-Drank more water (one small thing I could easily implement)
-Exercised in 20 minute increments (more sustainable in my chopped up daily driving schedule)
-Bought new running shoes (as a symbol that I too am worth taking care of)
-Banned Netflix at night (so I would go to bed at a decent hour)
None of the changes I made were earth shattering, but that was the point, they were so small I could easily put them into practice and keep them going, past that month’s challenge.
What do you think is the biggest challenge we face as women when it comes to taking care of our bodies?
I’d say we get overwhelmed with the task in front of us. The longer it has been or the more we feel like we need to overcome, the more daunting the idea of entering into an exercise and eating routine becomes.
That is why I’m a fan of small changes.
One ten-minute workout a day. One salad at lunch. When we try to overhaul our entire lives we are more likely to fall back to our old patterns. But if we slowly introduce exercise, sleep routines, changes in diet, we are more likely to make them part of our entire lifestyle.
Here at The Balanced Life, we spend a lot of time talking about balance. What does balance mean in your life?
Balance means making sure I’m doing things I love, that give me energy and get me excited, as much as I’m doing the drudgery.
Part of the experiment was recognizing there are some tasks I just don’t like to do but I can’t ignore because they need to get done. Like doing the dishes. Or making lunches. Or in my case working out. But if I can make small changes that help me enjoy these tasks more, I’m more likely to complete them, but also less likely to resent them. So it’s in part making tasks as enjoyable as possible.
It’s also making time for the things I truly love. In my case that’s writing, being with my husband, and spending one-on-one time with my girls. When I prioritize those things and make sure they are in my weekly routine (because there are some days they just don’t happen), I’m much more able to push through the mundane.
And it’s summer, so our family routine is different than it is the rest of the week. I am storing up in my heart all of the extra time I’m getting with my girls. We are in a different rhythm, one that allows for more of that one-on-one I love, so I’m trying to be as present as possible now, knowing the school year will be here soon with all of its chaos.
Finally, if you could give us one piece of advice, what would it be?
Pay attention to your life.
We can get caught up in the busy of all we have to do that we miss the gifts we get each day. The small details that make this life so incredibly miraculous. Pay attention to the small moments because moments become days, which become weeks and then months and then years. Our small moments matter. They are the building blocks of our lives.
Alexandra Kuykendall is the author of Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me and The Artist’s Daughter: A Memoir. On staff with MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) for nearly a decade, Alex continues as a regular contributor to MOPS’ Hello Dearest blog. She is an established and trusted voice in mothering circles.
Alex is co-hostess of the annual Open Door Retreat and speaks to women’s groups around the country on issues of parenting, faith and personal growth. From church basements to the set of Good Morning America, Alex offers women grounded perspective on how to approach the “crazy busy” in front of them. Find out more about Alex at AlexandraKuykendall.com.