Welcome to Busy Bodies, where we ask busy Washingtonians how they balance health and fitness while working crazy hours, raising a family, and meeting the demands of the daily hustle. Know someone who’s killing the fitness game while getting it done (maybe it’s you)? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Collinson spends 9 AM to 5:30 PM working at the International Monetary Fund, but outside of those hours, the 25-year-old is exercising six-to-seven days a week and teaching five-to-12 Solidcore classes a week, too.
In order to work around her busy schedule, she’s discovered some life hacks like letting her hair air-dry on the way to work and pre-made Trader Joe’s salad kits. (It helps that she lives on U Street, “blissfully close to Trader Joe’s.”)
Collinson didn’t think of herself as athletic growing up, but she realized that living a healthy and fit life is more about training, not innate ability. “Athletic people don’t just happen, they train and practice and work hard as hell,” she says, “but you have every bit of inner strength as your neighbor.”
And no—working out doesn’t have to be a chore, she says. “This might sound crazy, but if you love your workouts and you have fun doing them, you’ll be excited to get out of bed in the morning.”
Here’s how she gets it done:
“I wake up on a typical weekday around 5:15 AM. I hate rushing in the morning and starting my day on a stressful note, so I give myself plenty of time to wake up and eat my pre-workout snack (two bananas and a coffee) before hitting a 6 AM Solidcore or spin class, sometimes doubling up and taking a 7 AM class after, as lots of my favorite studios are close to each other. After working out, I have a low-sugar protein drink and oatmeal before getting ready for work. I often leave the house with wet hair, I don’t really know how to apply makeup, and I don’t have the patience to straighten or curl my hair, which really cuts down the time I spend getting ready in the morning. I feel really lucky to live so close to the office and to be able to choose to walk the almost two-mile journey out of enjoyment, and not due to necessity. My morning routine puts me in a really good headspace, which I credit with earning my reputation at work for being generally ‘chill’ and not easily phased by potentially stressful situations.
“My hours at my day job are a little flexible, but I’m generally at work from 9 AM to 5:30 PM. Then I’ll coach between five-to-12 Solidcore classes a week, spread between evenings and weekends.
“Personal time and alone time are really important to me. I’m still working on learning how to say no and protect my down-time, and I’ve definitely had to cut corners in terms of keeping my apartment tidy (though to be fair, I’ve had a consistent clothes pile as long as I can remember, even when I wasn’t particularly busy).
“Finding exercise classes that I genuinely enjoy has made all the difference in the world, and seeing and feeling the results of my hard work keeps me enthusiastic even on the hard days. In terms of consistently eating healthy, the thing that keeps me motivated is paying attention to the way my body feels with and without lots of nutrients and fresh fruits and vegetables. On days where I eat a ton of sugar, don’t hydrate enough, or don’t get the nutritional content my body is literally craving, I can feel it in the way I carry myself and see it in the way my skin (hello, adult acne) looks. For me, it has been all about creating healthy and sustainable habits that don’t leave me feeling deprived, hungry, or tired.
“Exercise was something that I originally viewed as a chore or a form of punishment; as I grappled with body image issues I would workout to be able to ‘justify’ eating, and was constantly focused on a calorie deficit despite never experiencing weight-related health issues. Not only is that relationship with food and exercise unsustainable—if you don’t like your workout, it’s going to be very hard to consistently do it—but it was pretty toxic from a mental health perspective, too.
“It’s so satisfying to overcome obstacles that I had once accepted as personality quirks or permanent shortcomings. I was one of the last kids in my grade to finish the mile run every year in school, and wasn’t competitive enough to push myself for the sake of a team because I didn’t want to come off as a try-hard and then fail. It’s okay not to be athletic, so I just put myself in that box and falsely assumed sports just weren’t for me. As an adult, I would walk into a fitness studio and assume that everyone else there was stronger or more athletic than me. [I realized] that I have a healthy body and while I might be at a different point in my journey than my neighbor, I’m every bit as capable.
“My biggest accomplishment so far isn’t necessarily a concrete milestone, but more the fact that I keep accomplishing small physical feats during my workouts that give me the confidence to keep amplifying. In March I’ll be running the DC Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon, which, like Solidcore, is just as much a mental exercise as a physical one. It’ll be my first race, and my only goal is to finish with a love of running and a newfound sense of accomplishment having done something I’ve always told myself wasn’t a strong suit.
This interview has been edited and condensed.