Wellness

Karen Akunowicz on Powerlifting, Gardening, and Chilling in a Kiddie Pool

The chef and owner of Fox & the Knife in South Boston folds wellness into every aspect of her routine—offering yoga to her staff, biking to work, lifting heavy weights, and above all: staying hydrated.


Karen deadlifting with her new barbell and rented weight plates / Photo provided

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Boston’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Boston. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one area resident to spend a day tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email [email protected].

Who I am: Karen Akunowicz, @chefkarenakunowicz

Where I live: Roslindale, MA

What I do: Chef/Owner of Fox & the Knife in South Boston

Health memberships (and what they cost): Pre-pandemic: Boston Sports Club ($79). After the pandemic, I bought a barbell and I rent plates and dumbbells from the Training Room in Somerville (weight rental: $144)

Average weekly grocery bill: $150

A day in the life 

My days really vary in terms of nutrition and exercise. Some days are busier than others, and I struggle to get in a workout, but all in all, I work on balance. Also, COVID-19 threw all of my routines into a tizzy. I’m just working on getting back to some semblance of a schedule.

7:00 a.m. I wake up at the same time every day to keep myself on a normal sleep schedule, even on my days off. I know from years of poor sleeping (and not enough of it) that having good sleep habits contributes as much to good health as anything else.

7:30 a.m. Make coffee. While the coffee is brewing, I stand at my kitchen sink and drink at least 16 ounces of water. I have a rule that I can’t have coffee before I drink at least that much.

8:00 a.m.  Email, social media (I do all of the social media myself, Fox & the Knife, and Fox Pasta Boston), and I talk to my partner LJ about the day and what we have on our schedules.

9:00 a.m. Stretch! I will do a few yoga poses, stretches, and foam rolling. One or two days a week, I will use this time to do a class with Radiant Yoga Boston. Pre-COVID, we’d hire a teacher from Radiant Yoga to teach a free class for our staff every week.

A harvest from Karen’s garden / photo provided

9:30 a.m. I get outside and water my gardens, flowers, and herbs. We’ve got a pretty big yard, and I try to get out every morning to water everything and get a little sunshine and fresh air before my day starts.

9:45 a.m. Shower, get dressed, get out the door. I try to ride my bike to work 2-3 days a week. It’s about 6 miles door to door. The ride home can be tough, but the ride in always energizes me.

Karen getting ready to embark on a bike ride to work / photo provided

10:00 a.m. I usually eat one hard boiled egg before I leave the house and put one in my bag for when I get to work.

10:30 a.m. Arrive at work, meet with managers, and go over the day. Prep for service. Try to remember to eat! I usually meal prep on Mondays and bring food with me, but some days, it gets left in my bag or I just get too busy to eat. I really need to set an alarm on my phone.

Karen performing overhead presses / photo provided

2:00 p.m. In regular times, this is when I hit the gym four days of the week. I focus on powerlifting and currently don’t have a coach so I use an app—5/3/1 Boring But Big—it sets up a workout and tracks my progress in squats, bench press, and deadlifts. It also programs accessory work. For me, this is my meditation, my workout, my hobby, and passion all in one. Right now, even though gyms haven’t opened, I’m not going back yet.

3:30 p.m. Family meal (my favorite part of the day). We try hard to make sure family meal is balanced and there are vegetables and salad. I love sitting down to eat with my team. It’s not only the calm before the storm, but it gives us a chance to spend time together, just like folks who sit down at home with their families every night.

Karen doing yoga at her restaurant, Fox & the Knife, before an evening shift / photo provided

4:30 p.m. Right before service starts, our kitchen team does a few minutes of yoga poses and stretching. It’s a great start to the night and always makes me feel like it’s going to be an awesome service.

4:35 p.m. Cook! (Drink water!)

9:00 p.m. I am usually leaving the restaurant by this point. Some nights LJ and I will eat together when I get home, sometimes I just make a sandwich, or in the summer I eat a popsicle. Not the best game plan, but it’s so hot! (Drink water!)

Additional Healthy Routines

Sundays: Grocery delivery. We make a list and have groceries delivered on Sunday afternoon in enough time to cook dinner that night. We also try to make a trip to Allendale farm. We are lucky to live so close.

Sunday and Monday dinners: I try to cook Sunday nights and Monday lunch and dinner. I make enough so that there are leftovers for LJ’s lunch or dinner during the week. I make fried rice at least once a week to use up all of the leftover vegetables in the crisper drawer. We grill a lot in the summer. We have a live fire grill from Kudu and when we fire it up, I tuck sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions into the embers wrapped in tin foil so we have them for the week. I split a CSA share from Siena Farms with Alex, my general manager, so I make sure to process, cook, and preserve our box every week.

Karen’s backyard in Roslindale where her Kudo grill and kiddie pool await / Photo provided

Monday meal-prep: LJ makes me hard boiled eggs for the week, and I braise a lot of greens and grill chicken, turkey burgers, and vegetables. I make brown rice and lentils to use throughout the week. This helps me remember to eat well during the middle of the day. I know when I’m busy I eat whatever is on hand, or I don’t eat at all. This is always my downfall, so I try hard to have healthy options always available.

Powerlifting: At home! I don’t have a garage or a bench or squat set up, so I work out on my days off (Sunday and Monday) and usually one other morning. I do deadlifts, overhead press, front squats, and lots of dumbbell work. I have four 45 pound plates and four 10 pound plates as well as 20, 25, and 30 pound dumbbells. Powerlifting has not only changed my life, but is physically and mentally the best and most thing I have ever done. When you lift thousands of pounds before you start your day, you pretty much feel like you can face anything. It helps me sleep, controls my mood, and is an overall game changer.

 

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Overall wellbeing: I see my therapists via telehealth and I’m finally back at my chiropractor. They both keep my body and mind in good working order and are just as important as physical workouts. I spend a lot of time in my yard gardening, weeding, planting, and enjoying the outside space. We all need vitamin D and fresh air, especially in New England when winter is so long. I also got a kiddie pool this summer and getting in the water, even six inches of it, is awesome. I’m a water baby and I love to swim, so just being in the water is so good for my wellbeing!