Obstacles

I had a text exchange with an online pal today about working with her trainer. At the end of their session on Tuesday, he told her they needed to have a serious discussion about her diet. It’s fascinating to me the different style of training relationships other people have with their trainers. For this pal, her guy is more of an accountability partner and suggester-in-chief with regard to her workouts. Very different than how I work with fab trainer J. Then again, I’m a little different in this regard.

But the exchange got me thinking. And rather than telling you all about the amazing session this morning, I wanted to capture this thought stream before it completely escapes.

The more time I spend working at improving my eating strategy for weight loss and better health lifestyle, the more I realize I do much better when I can address a specific obstacle about food, diet, exercise on a one-at-a-time basis. While it’s not always practical or possible, I’ve come to realize that gaining some mastery over all the little complications of adopting a healthier lifestyle does not happen all at once, at least not for me.

The easier parts were the healthier eating basics – cut out the junk (just don’t buy it), eat lots more fruits and vegetables (meal plan, eat at home, bring lunch), supplement with protein shakes, drink more water. All good things.

While I would also say become consistent about regular exercise, I was already doing that when I started my current eating strategy. For purposes of this post, I will confine myself to diet and food.

A few obstacles in my way right now:

  • Eating out just because or meals with friends.
  • The food concessions at special events.
  • Celebrations and special occasions.
  • Feeling the “deserve” whim because I have been good or I’m bored with my regular meals.

Each of these have their own triggers and emotions and become stand-alone obstacles in my forward progress. The holidays are also coming, and I’m already thinking about what I want to do, how I will handle the pushers and enablers of less-desirable-for-me food in my life.

Some of those obstacles I have mostly worked through, others will be addressed as they come up and feel like an issue to be addressed. Right now, I’ve fallen back into the habit of lunchtime convenience food with the demands of work. Rather than continuing with cans of soup and meat-and-cheese sandwiches from the deli, I’m going to experiment with making my own soup at home for lunches with my piece of fruit. It’s a small thing, but I’m playing the long game and upgrading my lifestyle habits for the balance of my life.

I often think I’m on a 7 days fast loss/20 days slo-mo loss plan. I have started, stopped, given up, restarted too many times to count over the last couple of years. With food and diet, sometimes I feel myself losing discipline and focus on just making positive food choices and meal templates and will go strictly compliant on counting calories and macros for a week, then slowly acclimate back to the habits of slo-mo loss mode. Since I’ve broken it down to “what’s bugging me this week?” I am doing far, far better with the balance. Frankly there is an emotional cost that I attach to falling off the wagon and then feeling as if I am watching it leave me sitting in the dust, so I have really focused on my personal “why” each time I feel myself falling into that dark abyss.

I am doing okay well with all this, and I am grateful every day for my less burdened frame and how far I have come in my lifestyle renovation. As I remind myself just about daily, I am in this for the long game that is the rest of my life.

FILO

Nope, not talking pastry dough today. Sorry for any unexpected excitement that I might actually be offering content of unusual substance in my post today. In truth, I have no idea what one actually does with filo dough to transform it into something tasty edible.

During training yesterday, fab trainer J and I were discussing weight loss (always a random topic of conversation) and my progress in this endeavor. Being an accountant, I adopted the “first in, last out” method of managing inventory – only it’s more like “first on, last off” – with regard my personal fat storage inventory and retention. My theory is where I gained weight first (abdomen and waistline) will be the final frontier of coming off my body. Where I gained weight last (probably my back and butt) tends to come off first.

This will hold true no matter how many sets and reps of core work I manage to choke down daily. Or not. I admittedly do more now than I have in the last 2 years, and I’m sure once more of the buttercream (my new word for fat) is burned away there, those core muscles will be iron-woman strong.

I posted this on my FB fat loss group this morning:

My weight loss and reshaping my shape is tending to follow a “first on, last off” method of fat stores inventory (I’m an accountant, so kind of geeky in that characterization). While I am smaller all over, it was most noticeable first in my back and legs where most of the excess fat seems to have burned away with this program and regular exercise. My waistline/abdomen have shrunk down as well, but far and away that remains where I still carry most of my fluff.

As of this morning, I was at 179.8, and officially over 20 lbs. down in 2017. That said, I’ve only been more (maybe averaging 75%) compliant with a maintenance version of the program (1 shake per day, 2 sensible meals that typically include a big-ass salad, very rare between meal snacking) since June, and my weight loss is not super fast or in a straight trajectory downward. I’m perfectly okay with that. Adapting to a new eating strategy is not easy, and sometimes I just want to eat a cookie or calorie splurge on a cheeseburger or worse. Most important to me: I have a much better understanding the impact of my food choices and know the opportunity to do better starts with my next meal.

I have come so far, and I actually cried with this morning’s weigh-in. Not for the typical reasons I cry when I get on the scale, but because I cannot remember the last time it said I am this light. It remains a data point, nothing more, nothing less. Yet on days like today, when the results are good and make me feel so justified and satisfied with all the work I have put forth in my better health quest, it’s hard to not want to elevate this as a bigger milestone that is lit up in flashing neon lights with lots of bells and whistles.

But it’s just a data point. Tomorrow it could (and likely will) bounce back up to 180-something, and it will remain a data point that tells me nothing more significant than how much I weigh today. My objectives continue, no matter what numbers read out every morning. Maybe days like today it is a time to take a victory lap; other days it is a call to action to take a look at my eating and exercise efforts. Life continues, and as long as I have days to live, I have chances to improve and do better.

If you knew me in real life, had been traveling in my wake the way M, trainer J, many of the friends I have picked up along the way, you know know how black-and-white the transition of my mindset. About exercise. About food. About who I am and my own sense of self. While my physical footprint is smaller, my mental and emotional states are far broader and more resilient from my better health efforts.

Who knew. Certainly not me.

Yesterday I remarked to J how much smaller my forearms seemed to me. While I see them each and every day, I had my Fitbit off my wrist to take a shower and was sort of startled with how tiny my wrists seemed. In true fab trainer fashion, J commented on the muscle definition rather than the skinny of them, which is also an excellent point. Friend K has these amazingly muscled forearms from kayaking, and I am very aware of how we are different people who layer in muscle and strength in different fashions. My admiration of her strength, capabilities, and accomplishments is not jealousy or despair, and I feel really great about my ability to celebrate our differences and valuations of success.

And that, my friends, is huge progress. While I want to celebrate with cake, it’s a big-ass salad with steak for me tonight instead.

Because occasionally I have to hitch-up my big girl capris and be responsible. Yeah, that’s everyday. But oh well. My life means I need to adult more of the time, and I’m okay with that.

PT-82: Hello push-pull; it’s been awhile

Monday morning, training with J. After dramatically shortened Saturday practice and a whole day rest day on Sunday, I was well rested and 100% healthy this morning. It was a good session, back to working at building strength.

Key Takeaways

No major breakthroughs with exercise today, but some internal realizations from external observations. Occurred to while J interacted with other members while we were working – how much do I trust my trainer? In my case, absolutely. I can tell him something hurts or is bothering me, and he adjusts the List to suit the situation. When left to pick what I might want to do, I’m nearly always going to revert back to a something where I have a lesser degree of confidence in my own ability. Part of this is simply my personality; trainer-trainee partnership says he is operating from a much wider, more diverse library of exercise that I possess and can on-the-fly pick and choose what we’re doing without the laborious thinking and research would be required for me to do this for myself.

My concern about weighty weights and backsliding with progress is less about weights I may be using or the competency I may surrender by not practicing them than it is about the habit of being in the gym doing something on a regular, consistent basis. If I did more or were habituated to cardio, I would probably not be as addictively obsessive about my various Lists. But I don’t do steady state cardio, and I do think about my core work and have dreams of various exercises where I have a strong desire to practice and improve. Last we did this particular push List, I was using more weight. But oh well. I’ll get back there soon enough.

Good health comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and forms. I love my emerging self-confidence outside of my professional pursuits and endeavors. There is a real sense of the long-term benefits of all my present-day pursuits in my getting regular exercise and making better food choices. The scale is still not my friend – it’s a data point-generating device that inspires a lot less feeling of anxiety and dread.

Online sources of support and shared objectives with regard to fat loss and improved fitness are not working for me, and only partly because I am a bit of an awkward weirdo with social media. Going forward, other than the few friends I have made outside of the groups, I’m likely to step even further away from participating in either. Either that or risk irking trainer J with my questions of obscure concepts I come across in my reading. I learn few things of any value, and I can live a very long and happy life without ever exploring further.

What We Did

Today was the push version of our push-pull Lists:

A1  Heavy DB Goblet Squat (45 lb. KB)
A2  Incline DB Chest Press (30 lb. DBs)
A3  DB Biceps Curls (15 lb. DBs)

B1  DB Bulgarian Split Squat (15 lb. DBs)
B2  1-arm DB Overhead Press (20 lb. DB)
B3  Bent Over DB Rear Fly (5 lb. DBs)

C1  DB Sumo Squat (35 lb. KBs)
C2  Seated DB “hang and bang” Lateral Raises (5 lb. DBs)
C3  Lying 2-DB Triceps Extensions (15 lb. DBs)

How It Felt

We are back to the weightier weight version of goblet squats. Last we visited this List, it was with a 55 lb. dumbbell. Today, the 45 lb. kettlebell felt like this ginormous chunk of vinyl-coated metal that was never meant for me to elevate off the ground without help. I did okay, but I continue to be amazed how a 45 lb. kettlebell feels so much heavier than a dumbbell equivalent. I already know that I have to work hard at staying upright – I think of it as “tippy-tippy-break” when form goes all wrong – and pressing down through heels. It also seems like after this much time it should be easier, or more routine. But nope, not for me. Every day, every time I do squats of any stripe, I am thinking and wondering if my butt back is back enough or if my knees are breaking first enroute to the bottom of the squat. At the bottom of the squat, what are my heels doing? So many times I catch myself with heels elevating and the tippy-tippy-break in progress before I can catch myself and make it stop. Consoling factor? How boring an hour it would be for fab trainer J if I form were more perfected more of the time.

On to the incline bench press, starting with a pair of 25 lb. dumbbells and stepping up to the 30 lb. dumbbells. Okay, I admit to being a lot proud of myself with these, if only because the rest of the day contained so much conversation about form, technique, correcting my arms and hands flailing around in a mostly uncontrolled manner. I am particularly liking chest presses lately because I can really feel the muscles working the weight and I have trained myself to not lock my arms out at the top. It’s so tempting to just press up until my elbows lock, and I seem to be into the habit groove of stopping with elbow bend remaining. Big win.

I am still not quite given over to being a full-blown curl monkey, but I have a strong preference for the alternating version of dumbbell bicep curls versus the 2-arm version with a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells. We did start with a few 2-arms, for compare and contrast, and while I flunked the pop quiz (the 2-arm can include more shoulder involvement), I truly thought it was all about personal preference and how it felt easier and not so heavy to do an arm at a time. There has been issue with my right forearm in the last several weeks, but it seems to be coming along nicely. Hammer curls with a 15 lb. dumbbell – probably not this month, but forearm is improved and my babying it is now an afterthought than an ongoing issue that I am considering every single day. As for the bicep curls, they went well and I can still feel that I was working them this morning. My biceps getting stronger, but I’m far from bulky or sporting the biggest guns in the gym. All cool with me. I’m happy to be capable of doing the exercise no matter how boring I find it.

I don’t think I know anyone who looks forward to Bulgarian split squats, and these are not my favorites either. However, I’m improving. Last week I did bodyweight on at least 2 occasions, so I felt more ready today with 15 lb. dumbbells in hand. J reminded me of the learning curve with these – overcoming the balance with a single foot on the floor – and look at me now. My competency with everything in the lunge family is a huge point of pride for me, because I had genuine lunge anxiety when we began and it took quite a long time for me to come to learn and gain baseline proficiency. Today we used 15 lb. dumbbells, but I looking through my notes I see that I have used a pair of 20 lb. dumbbells in the past. Either way, I’m glad I have no lost any significant ground with basic shape and ability.

The 1-arm dumbbell overhead press – we switched from a split stance to a squared stance today, a new progression in stability. Other than retraining my habit from split stance to squared stance, I was surprisingly ready for the transition and handled it well, even with hoisting a 20 lb. dumbbell overhead. Maybe it’s the relative simplicity, or maybe it’s just that I like the feels and impacts on my shoulders, maybe it’s that I have a good understanding of the scapular plane positioning, but I like when the standing version appears on Lists.

First troubling exercise of the day was the bent over rear fly. Even with 5 lb. dumbbells, this is the most corrected exercise in quite awhile. For whatever reason, my arms and hands do not want to cooperate and instead wish to flail around like some sort of crazed windmill. Or so goes my thinking as I am trying so hard to keep them in line. Problem first arises with hands wanting to turn sideways and flash the whites of my lower forearm. No, no, no. Hands are supposed to stay level, with pinky fingers above the thumbs gripping the dumbbells, elbows flare. In my case the hands want to flip upside down and who knows where the heck elbows are in the process? Have to work on keeping upper body parallel to the floor, knees slightly bent. And pulling from the shoulders, not flailing with the arms. Ugh. These look so easy. I watch J demonstrate; carefully observe exactly what his hands, arms, elbows, and shoulders are doing. Can I replicate it? Not easily. I am oh-so-slowly getting the hang of it, but crap – talk about thick-headed slow learner. Overriding the separate impulses of hands and arms is going to take some concentrated practice.

It’s been awhile since I have done dumbbell sumo squats, today with a pair of 35 lb. kettlebells rather than just a weightier weight dumbbell. First thing I noticed: how heavy those kettlebells are to lift, much less do squats with. But going along through the exercise, no way was I going to reach the 12 to 15 rep range J tossed out there. I did make 12, but after that – I was so done with those. One of my knees made a poppish sound, loud enough for super-hearing J to take note of and give a closer look at my foot placement (turn outward more). For the record, knee was and remains fine; no idea what the poppish sound was and doubt it anything serious. BUT, there was another member working out near us, resulting in a well-deserved spontaneous compliment for trainer J’s abilities. And it’s a small, small world: she’s also a runner and knows and “loves” my son G. That made a pretty awesome training even that much better.

On to the second troubling exercise of the day – the seated dumbbell “hang and bang” lateral raises. Like their close cousin, the bent over rear fly, arms and hands have independent ingrained habits that are going to be some work to break. I’m going to be going in slo-mo on these while I am trying to get hands and arms and shoulders doing the lifting all in line and working together. Another deceptively simple exercise. But something closer to perfect practice is required in this, because I am not hitting the right muscle groups if I am losing track of what all my limbs are doing while we are focused on the lateral raise. At least my wild misstep exercises are in the same general family and can be worked at and worked on together.

And finally, an established favorite, the lying down 2-dumbbell triceps extensions. These remain a constant on the favorites list, and only marginally because I feel like I have well and truly learned the shape and the way they are supposed to work to be most effective. I love them because they are effective, and after doing them faithfully for the last 2 years, I can actually see and feel the triceps muscle. Before, I only saw or felt the batwings. Now, I see the sleek little muscle there and greatly diminished batwing. That’s huge for me: actually being able to see the new muscle emerging.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

An interesting thing to me about training days is this section of the recaps. Frankly, I’m never sure what I might be thinking about before, during, and afterwards. Usually I am all a-glow with happy-happy-joy-joy for new things I learned, exercises I am improving upon, weightier weights I have used. Plus I just feel very good, as if this were a grade-worthy event and I came out with a better that expected score. But I don’t know what will stand out as most relevant to talk about here.

I have had a lot of thoughts lately about why I continue to train with J, quite probably because we are in the fourth quarter of 2017 and my plan is to renew and purchase my next chunk of sessions using 2017 dollars (money geek; I divide my planned spending into buckets and like to clear it out as much as possible before the end of the year). I have certainly learned a lot in the last 2+ years. Days like today, when we are working at and breaking down my form and technique on specific movements, I remember why I have not quite with a defeatist attitude, choose to train with him, and plan to continue for the foreseeable future. Chatting with another member about her needs for her session and what she wants to do in it based on how she feels, I have a better sense of who I am in trusting J’s judgment, knowledge, and experience to get me wherever we go next. I speak frequently of exercising safely and sanely, and other than talking about it in passing conversation, I never say to him “remember I have this, that, the other thing ….” as far as aches and pains. If something hurts, I tell him and we work around it.

Why I choose to continue training with J: he makes me better.

Strong word, “makes.” Like he’s standing there with the bullwhip primed and ready and forcing me to do this stuff. Sometimes I think this is the vision most people have when they think of personal trainers. Or that they are standing beside you with encouraging and inspiring platitudes and happy dance celebrating every single squat or curl. Or giving you the frowny face when you confess eating tons of crap and sugar all weekend and not being in the gym since your prior training session.

It’s been a long, long while since no practice between sessions has been an issue for me. Confessions of eating crap and sugar are no longer an issue either, and even if they were, there are worse things in life. Whatever visions I once had of what training is like, reality is our sessions are all about teaching, modifying, correcting, improving, and enhancing form and technique. In my experience with J, it is all about the teaching than it is about motivation and accountability and all those cool marketing words and terms used in gym advertising that trainers are available for hire to assist members in reaching their exercise objectives.

Motivation? That comes from me, and in truth, most days I don’t even think about it. I chose to avoid thinking motivation and went straight for creating exercise as a habit, so I didn’t have to seek another external force that I could use as an excuse to prevent me from getting up and to the gym and busy working at something. Motivation is like candy to me; something really enjoyable yet absolutely unnecessary for a healthy life.

Accountability? J and I are both pretty well-grounded in reality and its reflected in our training partnership. He’s not going to chastise me for falling off the healthy eating and regular practice wagons when it happens. Worst case scenario he will point out the consequences of my actions and choices, but most of the time – honestly, he does not care. Or more accurately, he does not manifest the caring emotion in the ways expectations of mainstream populations seem to anticipate and project. I’m a client; of course he has high hopes that I will practice what he’s trying to teach me, that I will improve and move closer to achieving my current objectives. That said, he’s not my babysitter or my conscience. If I’m struggling with something, I have to speak up, tell him that I just don’t get it (although he can usually read that clearly from my expressions) and we figure out where I’m going wrong (this time) and break it down and keep breaking it down until something sticks and I can gain some traction. I’ve learned there is no shame in not knowing, making mistakes, having to break bad habits. I know now that I am not the village idiot, and the exercise impacts and changes different bodies different ways.

Perhaps it is just time and maturity that comes with regular practice, achieving some success, and building on what I know, but I have written extensively about how my mindset has healed and improved as I continue my odyssey in the gym. When we first started, I took correction extremely personally and with an intense sense of shame for all I could not grasp and replicate in the first couple or few tries. The basic methodology of a lot of practice to mastery of the same basic things works well for me and improved my overall sense of confidence. Corrections to form are just corrections to form, not being called out for real or imagined character flaws that should be addressed. Big difference.

I don’t precisely feel weaker returning to this series than I did last we visited, but I do feel rechallenged by it. J did forewarn me that with the months of huffy-puffy focus that I may not be quite as strong woman in the same sense, so I was anticipating that the potential issue existed. But I was not disappointed; I did okay, probably could have pushed hard, but I think that every training day. Maybe I need to change my attitude, become the trainee seeking to impress the boss in session and go light the rest of the days on my own. But … doubtful; so not my style. Session days are learning days for me, my opportunities to ask the questions in the moment, to try out the cues, to find the best practices. I have 5 other days every week to do more sets and more reps, to up my intensity and practice what I am learning.

I am somewhat of a one-off weirdo in how seriously I try to learn and adapt to the exercise, but from firsthand experience I know what an impact is has had on my overall health. Today feels a bit like a crossroads. Finally over a bug, weather turning colder, going to yoga with a client on Tuesday – I’m thinking about what I want to do next with my fitness pursuits. Someday soon I will strike a balance with practice that includes a push day, a pull day, a couple of huffy puffy days, and then of course, training sessions. And one day per week, probably Sunday, a get outside day. Ultimately I think that’s my bigger picture and still quite tentative plan for routine weeks.

But I’ll see. I love the challenges being in the gym every day brings, love trying to improve and to get better. In my living room sits a Cybex arc trainer, for all that dedicated (and boring) cardio I’m not doing. I am going to a yoga class with a client, because he invited me and it will be fun seeing his self-professed non-bendy self in action. I think about more stretching, but to be perfectly candid, it holds about as much appeal as going on the 20 mile death march (for me) that M calls daily workout.

I have a lot of options, and no burning need or rush to make a decision or try something new immediately. As always, I’m thinking about it. Improvement is an infinite cycle available for me, and the only thing stopping me is me. I feel confident I am in the strongest place of my life to keep moving forward.

And speaking of improvement, having another brand of push-pull with diet. Healthy food choices – the bane of my existence. Well, not really – that would be or at least could be still be reserved for the single-legged everything and push-ups in the gym. But still; I don’t know why I continue to torture myself with trying to make food work better for me. Stick with what you know, Janelle; new things are less likely to work for me than they are for other folks.

Yep, starting to think my fickle-picky eater habits are having a somewhat adverse effect on my better health quest. Since I seem to only like/consume certain foods, I eat them over and over and over again. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Just writing that down – no wonder I find my eating so tiresome.

I am, however, learning. M and I ate out both days of the weekend, which is kind of rare for us anymore, and burger joints – extremely rare for us. Saturday was my favorite casual burgers (The Habit Burger) and Sunday was his (Islands). Saturday I did indeed have my cheeseburger quota, and it was divine. Sunday I went with the chicken caesar salad, my usual choice for this location, but the waiter either didn’t hear me or forgot to input my request to hold the parmesan cheese. Rather than send it back, I figured it would be fine and ate it anyway.

Or tried to eat it. A few bites into the salad, and it was far too salty for me to finish. So I ate the plain grilled chicken and some of the drier lettuce leaves and called it a day. I have always been more sensitive to salty foods, but rarely has anything overwhelmed to the point of abandonment. Fab trainer says this is a symptom of clean(er) eating, that I will become more sensitive to flavors. Boy howdy – I had no idea. Next time I’ll not be so agreeable and send the not right dish back to the kitchen.

I suppose it worries me (the tiniest bit!) because I am already such a fuss-bucket when it comes to food, as in there is so much I don’t really care for and will avoid if at all possible. Unfortunately stuff I love tends to be heavy in fat and carbs, so I am practicing moderation, most of the time (anymore) successfully. But I don’t let myself get to fixated on favorite things (pizza comes to mind immediately) and have a reasonable portion a couple of times per month. In the case of pizza, I will order a tiny personal size and a side salad. If I’m lucky, I’ll be eating with a friend willing to split it with me, otherwise I eat half and take half home for M. Pasta was once a weekly staple in our diet, but now it’s maybe once every 2 or 3 months and always in a restaurant. Once I discovered how high it spiked my blood sugar, pasta was moved to the treat column. Same with most chinese food, with all its sugar and carb-laden goodness.

My nutritionist friend suggests this could also be a good thing, perhaps I will find new foods or preparation methods for vegetables that make me enjoy them more. Perhaps. But I feel like such an old dog at this point; I’m not sure teaching my tastebuds new tricks is in the cards.

But maybe. Hope is eternal, after all. At least in my world.

 

 

 

 

Right for you, wrong for me

A few of my closest female friends are crossfit fans and encourage, cajole, try to bully me into joining them in this endeavor. Mostly we agree to disagree, but 2 of my friends have completely guzzled the koolaid and are born-again crossfit disciples. L started about 2.5 years ago, and B about 2 years ago. Friend M has been doing crossfit about 5 years. Just some brief background of their longevity in this pursuit compared to my training partnership with J (about 2.25 years).

L is having shoulder surgery next week, her second this year. Both shoulders were injured doing something at her crossfit box. B had to have her knee repaired last year, and just did something very serious sounding to her low back earlier this week. Either way, she’s not going to be doing much other than walking until that heals. M has had 3 serious exercise-related injuries in the last 5 years, 2 of which resulted in surgical procedures, and has been sidelined for more than 12 weeks on various occasions this year due to exercise-aggravated injuries.

All have lost significant amounts of weight: L is down 86 lbs., B is 60 pounds light, and over 100 lbs. for M since taking up this hobby. Each of them average about 4 days in their gyms each week when healthy and capable of that type of exercise. They use their weight loss and lesser time commitment as rationalization in our discussions about diet, exercise, better health. I would not classify them as arguments, but we have many times had discussions escalate and grow heated and shut down that topic by agreeing that we  disagree about priorities and what matters most to each of us in our overall health pursuits and reaffirm that we remain caring friends.

I am not especially strident in defending my methodology, but when the topic comes up, I start ticking off the injuries, surgeries, weeks and months of physical therapy for them as a group versus me with none of the above. And when it comes to their weight loss progress versus my own, I believe we are speaking in terms of apples and oranges. I am diplomatic and tactful in not pointing out how much weight is regained or how much more lock-down restraint must be deployed with diet while they are sidelined with injuries.

There was a time when I would remain silent in such discussions, having limited experience or confidence in my own opinions and no skin in the game. But that’s changed; I have now notched my second year of consistency in the gym and do have some thoughts about the reasons we do not exercise or improve our eating habits.

It’s too hard. It IS hard, especially at first. Social media, television, glossy magazines in the checkout line in the grocery store are full of promises of quicker, easier methods to drop weight than spending hours in the gym or eating rabbit food for the balance of our lives.

I don’t have time. Our world is full of distractions that are far more interesting and pleasurable than slogging through sets of squats and rows and presses or the cardio equipment. There are way too many more cheap and easy food sources than buying and preparing healthier meals at home.

I need to lose weight before I can exercise. Our minds are full of the idea that everyone else in the gym or who exercises regularly is thin and fit and not struggling, not breathing very hard, not sweating, not swearing where our untrained selves want to die on the floor in a puddle of sweat in the first 5 minutes.

I don’t know how. This is one I can completely get behind, because it can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Everyone knows how to walk. If that’s all you feel confident to do, go forth and do it. There are also millions of online fitness resources and videos. Or if you have the resources, join a gym and book a few sessions with a personal trainer.

If you’re just getting started, I feel your pain. From direct personal experience, I know how difficult and how painful it is to take the first baby steps into altering our lifestyle habits. But there is no fool-proof supplement that melts fat or minimizes the need for a consistent movement program. There is no magic bullet or perfect program that is fun, easy, and fast. Obesity is an expensive condition, both on our bodies and on our wallets.

So yes, I am well acquainted with the excuses and reasons we don’t take better care of ourselves. Heck, I still employ a few of them on occasion myself. But telling me what I’m doing is somehow less correct than what you are pursuing with regard to exercise and diet is a lot less effective than just letting me go forth to work toward the best version of myself possible. Why does anyone do that? Why do we (sometimes) insist there is only one true way?

I posed the question in an email to my crossfitter friends. They all responded, a bit embarrassed that I perceived it that way, particularly with the specific examples I cited. In their defense, they are very excited about their weight loss and what they have found, what has turned their lives around, and they are eager to share their success. I’m very excited for them, delighted they have found something that works for them and provide satisfaction and success. My polite declining their invitations to try it is not a snub or disapproval; it is simply that their program does not suit me. We are friends, and they were understandably upset that I received their enthusiasm as criticism of my own approach. Faced with their words from prior conversations, they have the grace to admit that they have gotten carried away on occasion. That’s fair; it’s not like they are clubbing me over the head every time we chat. (Most of the time we’re too busy talking about work, parents, kids, other family relationships, and their dating interests to talk too much about exercise and diet.)

In many ways, I understand why it happens. We are middle aged women, taking control of our health and fitness and making genuine forward strides. There are a lot of reasons to be very excited about where we are now, where the path leads next. My concern about the injuries they are sustaining mostly relates to my concern for their health and longevity as well as to their criticism of my own efforts. Fab trainer J describes crossfit enthusiasts as “cult-like behavior” and from my own experience I know it a genuine and accurate observation. Anyone pursuing crossfit as their mode of exercise – I wish you well and hope you get stronger, stay safe, remain healthy. But is it the best method when you are continually getting injured in the process?

I love these ladies and I only want them to remain happy, healthy, and physically capable. Anything that gets all of us up and off the couch is important and to be applauded, and while I have reservations about their choices, I fully support and encourage all efforts to move more and lengthen our lives with regular exercise and movement, better food choices, healthier lifestyles.

With so many injuries between the 3 of them, I simply question the sensibility of their choice of sport.

I freely admit the very idea of getting hurt, being sidelined from injuries is extremely frightening to me. I have worked so hard to get this far and do not want to lose any ground because I am stupid in or out of the gym. As someone who could trip over hairline cracks in the sidewalk, I am accident prone and well aware of all the dangers in the day-to-day business of living my life aside from all the perils of the gym with the weights and machines (death traps, all of them if I am not careful). So I hired fab trainer J to teach me how to do things correctly, to hopefully minimize my access to injuries from poor form or general exercise ignorance. Our training partnership has never been about motivation, inspiration, or even accountability; it has always been about teaching me and expanding my level of understanding with regard to an area of life (exercise) I knew little to nothing about.

Perhaps this is a difference in perspective between me and my crossfitting friends. They are strong-minded, intelligent women, and I suspect that quality alone relates to the depth of our disagreements. But they are more independent and blaze-their-own-path whereas I accept that my natural brilliance has a lot of built-in limitations. I have endured plenty of frustrating setbacks in the gym – everything from completely baffled by hinges and Romanian deadlifts to balance to the limitations of generally untrained muscles getting slowly whipped into shape. I am painfully honest that I can only handle so much disappointment from my own independent effort before I simply abandon the program and the quest.

I strongly disagree that a crossfit gym program is equal or somehow superior to my training partnership with fab trainer J. I also do not believe that one-size-fits-most when it comes to our individual better health quests. So imagine my lack of delight when anyone suggests I’m somehow “wrong” in my approach. Excuse me – off diabetes drugs, losing weight (albeit slowly), reshaping my shape, HAPPY –  please do not be so bold as to tell me I am doing something incorrectly.

The email exchange on this topic has been a productive and ultimately positive conversational interaction and cleared up a lot of misconceptions about what we say and how we say it. Yes, I too have developed strong opinions on best practices when it comes to exercise. I don’t think anyone deserves to get hurt; I know injuries happen no matter how careful we are in our individual pursuits. However, I am true believer in learning how to exercise safely and sanely, including consistent practices between training and absolutely committed to the idea that warming up appropriately before getting started on my List of the day will go a long way to prevent injury. While I am not someone who does a lot of stretching, I do understand the benefits and anticipate that it will become a component of my exercise routine at some point in the future. Time is a finite resource and right now I prefer to spend my available allotment in the gym and primarily with resistance training.

What prompted this discussion among my friends today? Injuries in my fat loss group. Not crossfitters there, but a torn back muscle while doing goblet squats and some other back injury from chest presses. Both were admittedly more inconsistent exercisers utilizing more weight than was wise to burn more calories and fat in this outing. Now they are both gym/weight training sidelined for 6 to 8 weeks and confined to walking and physical therapy. Nothing wrong with walking, but they also lose any flexibility with diet if they wish to achieve their fat loss goals.

I honestly don’t get it.

I know I am far more conservative in my exercise pursuits, but I’m a true believer in the long game. A healthy lifestyle includes a sensible diet and regular exercise, and it is a process, not a goal to be achieved and then celebrated as a triumph. If there was a way I could get from fat to fit significantly faster that did not feel like I am living a miserable life, I might be willing to consider it. Ultimately, I value my joie de vivre too much to be so reckless about abusing my body with exercise or winnowing my diet so severely that I instinctively know is unsustainable.

For me, this is the right path. And as I told my friends, your mileage may vary.

PT-80: Recovering

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday late morning, training with J. I have been sidelined for a couple of days due to illness (fever and severe sore throat/tonsillitis), so I have been quite literally on the couch for the past few days. By yesterday I was feeling significantly better, yet still in a weakened state, and yet I did not want to cancel my session or try to reschedule to what is typically a back-to-back busy Tuesday on J’s schedule. Instead J offered a compromise – a later (11 a.m.) training appointment so I could get some extra sleep if needed.

Key Takeaways

In the last 2 years, I have learned how to do a lot of different exercises in the gym and gained strength from it. I have come a long way in cleaning up my eating habits and lost weight in the process. And I am very proud of those accomplishments. But what I am most proud of is how much stronger, more powerful I have become with my thinking and my mindset. Inside my own head, negative girl still dwells and screeches out messages that can stress me out and lead me down the path of destructive self-doubt if I listen to them. I have grown a much thicker, stronger skin. In my opinion, my self-possession is the most attractive attribute to emerge from this process thus far.

This is my second 2-day streak of not going to the gym this year. First was kind of a mini-vacation, when I resolved to take 4 days off and could not stand it after 2. This time the situation was different – there’s no way I could have practiced even if I was not concerned about spreading my illness germs. But what I found curious this year, both times of skipping practices were essentially non events. This is poignant for me because as focused to the point of obsessed as I am with my exercise habits, I was not worried or upset on either occasion. Maybe I gain a couple of pounds from literally lying on the couch for a couple/few days. Maybe I get weaker from the time away. But so what? I’m in this for the long game, which means I will lose weight I gain and regain strength that may fade.

I appreciate the small differences of doing huffy-puffy on slowed way down pacing to match my ability and energy today. On my very best day, I am the client least likely to push herself too hard to impress the boss (trainer J). Training, exercise is probably 2/3 doing and 1/3 thinking about what I’m doing. It’s part of my process and possibly, probably what will restrain me from making me the poster person for amazing success story in shortest span of time.

What We Did

Because this is a former version of a huffy-puffy List, the descriptions and names may not be typical or how J might label them. But I tried to be descriptive where I lack a formal name for the exercise. Our List today:

Mini band warm-up – kickback, side kick, forward walk, lateral walk, kickback.

Goblet squat
1-arm row
Box elevated plank with kick-out/up/in

KB hip hinge
Pushup
Crunch / leg lift

Landmine 1-arm overhead press
Band facepulls
Band horizontal chops

How It Felt

On the mini band warm-up series: I still love, Love, LOVE my mini bands. And seeing so many others in the gym using them for zombie walks (it is October, after all) and lateral walks and using them for glute bridges and goblet squats, apparently J has been working with other trainers and building the mini band fan base. They are effective and add value to other exercises in the List rotations. Plus it’s absorbing and FUN to be forward, backward, sideways up and down the blue grass with rubber bands around the ankles.

The oldie but perennial goodie – goblet squats with the 25 lb. kettlebell. I do this often yet less frequently than days gone by, but I note how different my reactions to lighter than typical weights and rep ranges is in the present day. Still on antibiotics and recovering from random sickness, I was not in top form for training. Once upon a time, I would mentally beat myself up over my weakness and slacking. Today, I was simply happy to be back in the gym doing something, even shorter sets, lighter weights, significantly slower pacing. Plus squats – I always seem to make room for new improvements and enhancements in my form. Lately, it’s about the feet – always the damn feet! I have to watch my upright-ness and ensure my feet stay flat on the floor and pressing upward through the heels. Slow, slower, slowest-ing the squat points out all sorts of simple corrections too easily overlooked when pursuing the huffy-puffy pacing.

Next up is the 1-arm row with the lighter 18 lb. kettlebell. Since we started doing these with the landmine, things I know about foot placement and form had gotten misplaced. Rear foot turns sideways 90 degrees and knee is bent, stance is wider. Once I got there, everything worked the way it is supposed to work, pulling upward with the shoulder. I do love the row, and with the lighter weight, felt really dreamy pleasant. We did step up with the 25 lb. KB in the second set, and while more challenging than usual, it was not uncomfortable in my recovering state. That was encouraging. I will live to row another day starting with my typical 25 lb. weight.

We used the foam plyo box instead of the bench for the plank with kick-out/back/knee in. Glutes tight, rib tuck, rib tuck, rib tuck, and keep those glutes tight! I am pretty simple with planks – all of them – and staying straight with abs (rib tuck!) and glutes tight has my full attention. With the kick out, go as wide as possible without twisting the body. With the kick-back, rib tuck even more and kick back only until the glute tightens. With pulling the knee in, only about half way, before the tailbone tilts and tucks under. I know how it’s supposed to look and feel, but it is still not easy. Today on the plyo box and from the elbows, it was far easier on my shoulders and upper body, which is as much a point of fatigue as the abs waving the white flag and pleading for relief.

We returned to the kettlebell hip hinge, from the very first of my Lists back in 2015, only now I was using the 35 lb. kettlebell, which is fairly light for me anymore. But no matter; I made it work, and it was certainly more than enough challenge. I do love these, because it took me a long time to get the shape and technique of how they are supposed to work. Now, I am strong enough to hold the kettlebell in a stable position for the hinge and can feel my muscles all working together. It’s gratifying to revisit exercise I struggled so mightily to get some competence with and feel how far I have progressed.

The former arch nemesis and bane of my existence, the pushup returns today. This exercise hops in and out of my nemesis stable, but lately it spends more time on the outside. Progress, right? Today we did them on the foam plyo box, and I do think my habit of doing a set of at least 8 on the TRX or the bench most mornings as part of my warm-up has helped me progress. But I felt really, really good about my effort today. I actually feel them across my chest muscles now. While sweating profusely and breathing hard (even while going in the slowest of slo-mo pacing), I got them done. Glutes tight, ribs tucked, lower down to the point of chest stretch – done, done, and done. I’m improving.

On the latest ab/core template, we have done the crunch/leg lift combination. These are hard. Really hard. But I have been doing at least a set of floor chops most days and core is stronger. Not bullet-proof stronger, but definitely more capable than even 3 months ago. With this version of the crunch, knees are bent and feet closer to the bum, and elevating shoulders and reaching up as far as possible. Maybe there are people in the world whose shoulders actually lift up off the mat while pressing abs into the floor, but mine are not presently in that group. I tried and could definitely feel it in my core, but I don’t think there was any air flow between my shoulders and the mat while I was crunching. But oh well; this is where I dwell right now. On the leg lift portion, this version has elevated to 90 degree angle with knees bent at 90 degrees as well. Press core into the floor while slowly lowering the legs with knees bent. Low, lower, lower just until my abs let go and my back wants to bend, then pull those knees back up and start over again. OMG – these are so awful! Yet for some perverse reason, they appeal to me on so many levels. I like the challenge. I like the feels. As I said, I can actually feel the building strength in my abs, and it’s very exciting. I have never felt very capable in this regard, and I am finally feeling some changes occurring and progress being made.

The landmine 1-arm overhead press without a weight plate remains hugely satisfying for me. I cannot quite articulate how satisfying it is to use the big bar with or without additional weight, but I love that it’s now part of my Lists and rotations. My feeling in this moment is that this is an upgrade in personal responsibility over the dumbbells or machines, if only because I think there is a wider margin for errors that could result in an injury of some sort. Plus they are effective and build better shoulders in lots of ways.

Of all the facepulls I have learned, I like these with the big giant rubber band the most. It is not just the pulling backward against the band but the resistance of the band between my hands and the resistance pulling sideways as well. The feeling is are broader range across the back and through the shoulders.

The band horizontal chops continue, and I will keep plugging away at trying to improve my form and technique. Lean forward, side rib tuck into these, and try not to get so enthusiastic in the chopping motion that I lose my footing and have to reposition and adjust. As in everything, I will keep working at it, keep practicing, keep striving for improvement. But I gotta say – as part of my core template, I am starting to see some carving into the fat around my waistline and the faintest shadow of obliques emerging. Success is always very motivating.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Honestly, this is the shortest section of any training recap in well … forever. My primary thoughts today were that I’m glad to be well enough to be in the gym, period. No longer worried about spreading illness germs, fever had been gone without medication for more than 36 hours, and day 3 of the 7 day series of antibiotics had me feeling so much better. Still low energy, still not my usual levels of strength and endurance, but I did okay and felt good that I was at least in the gym and back to something akin to normal. Big win.

I am such a creature of habit, though, and I do not really enjoy being outside my routine, especially because I’m recovering or something else. The gym has a different vibe and feel at other times of day, and I am not familiar enough with it to feel completely at ease. Far from the end of anything or worthy of comment for anyone else, but I’m more sensitive to such things and like my routine and familiar sights and sounds.

But I was there. I didn’t spend my whole session whining or making excuses. I did what I could, and while I am never going to be voted most likely to push myself too hard in training, I was very conscious of the consequences of over doing it. I’d much rather go light on effort and return tomorrow than go big and have to stay home because I’ve relapsed.

A Tuesday Footnote

I was back in the gym today and going through this List again this morning. While on Monday we went lighter and did only 2 sets of everything, today I was feeling better and wanted to try for my the regular 3 sets of each block.

How I know I am not yet 100% over being sick: what normally would take maybe 40 minutes at even semi-leisurely pacing took me almost 2 hours. I had to stop many time. I have had to pause, wipe the sweat from my face and take a drink of water, and then finish the set. While I do care, I allowed myself plenty of time to spend 2+ hours to do everything I wanted to get done today. My energy is not back to normal obviously, but I remain very pleased with my effort.

I did make a mistake setting up my landmine overhead press, in that the bar got away from me and very nearly wrenched my shoulder. Fortunately I caught it and myself with a very minor pain tweak to my arm and elbow. The distraction as much as my faltering energy is a wake-up call, and I got very focused while I had the bar in my hands.

Experience for me is a great teacher, and the way I am handling my recovery from illness is a good measure of me listening to body and its reasonable requests. I’m not doing anything crazy. I’m not pushing and trying to use my normal weights if the lighter versions feel taxing to my system. But I’m also not giving up or giving in to my lazy side that whispers that I could go back to sleep or consume more calories because I’m getting over being sick.

Weighing myself on Monday – I had managed to gain 3.6 pounds over the weekend not exercising and eating whatever sounded good in the moment (primarily watermelon and Lipton noodle soup). But oh well; I don’t care. Or rather, I do care, but I am not particularly worried about it. I refuse to let the scale dictate the value of my efforts or my better health quest. Back on my feet, in the gym, getting caught up on work, and essentially up and moving around more – the scale will take care of itself. My eating is fine, not doing anything weird or crazy or stalking the nearest donut shop.

Life, and weight fluctuations, happen. So does getting sick and getting better. My freaking out about it is a waste of energy.

And that, my friends, is huge progress for me.

 

 

Another milestone

While I kicked restart with this blog and moved milestones into more a calendar perspective, this one is too significant to me to ignore. So bear with me for a partial year milestone recap.

It was October 17, 2015, when I began my resolution to make the gym a habit. I’ve told the story many times, but between our first training appointment at the end of June and the training appointment on October 15, 2015, I was rarely in the gym outside of training sessions with fab trainer J. The balance of my practice time on my own would not consume the fingers on both hands during that period. In a casual parting comment after our training session on that day in 2015, J remarked that he’d like to see me in the gym at least twice over the course of the next week. It was just a standard, throw-away wish-list comment, something he probably says to clients 2 or 3 or more times daily. Yet me being me, I took it incredibly personally, as if he actually noticed my lack of practice and therefore lack of progress with my program. Deer-in-the-headlights panic overtook me. I was sure I was going to be fired after our 20 appointment run, and while I was not yet sure if I could or should continue, I wanted to retain the choice.

Then and there I resolved to do better.

My thinking at that time was 30 days of daily gym visits would make a habit, and after that, I could be trusted with the training day session, then 2 practices per week schedule. I could do it. I could overcome my gym crazy and do that.

And so 2 days later, I started my 30 days quest. For the last 2 years, I have averaged at least 6 days per week of gym attendance. In fact, for 2017, this weekend is only the second time I have only strung 2 days away from the gym when not out of town on vacation. I take a day off here and there, but for the most part I practice or train every single day. It is not something I preach or judge others for maintaining their own schedule, and at the same time I find people suggesting I’m overtraining, addicted, obsessive, or worse to be tiresome. I am listening to body, and body says go forth and do something every day.

On my calendar, there is a G for every occasion I went to the gym, and some days there are notations for 2 gym visits. But for my purposes of reporting on this milestone, the extra G does not count. Still, the numbers are impressive to me:

Days to date in 2017: 290
Training sessions in 2017: 80
Days in the gym in 2017: 272
Total gym visits in 2017: 299

For a woman who hated exercise and sweat when she first started, that’s a pretty impressive amount of days and chunk of time spent in the gym routinely getting sweaty and gross. A lot has changed in my life. The changes are positive improvements by anyone’s standards.

I’m healthier. First and foremost, good control of my type 2 diabetes without insulin injections or oral medications. Nothing for high cholesterol or blood pressure. I do still take a vitamin D supplement, which makes me feel rather vampire-ish and sun-avoidant (resulting in me being vitamin D deficient). But oh well. From what I understand, nearly everyone is vitamin D deficient anymore.

And I’m leaner. From a purely pounds lost perspective, I am down about 30 lbs. in 2 years. Yay me! I avoid the camera still – some habits and feelings may never fade – but I can tell from the way my clothing fits and comments from others all around me that I have shed fat and gained muscle through this process. Heck, even I can see the sleek little bundles of muscle peeking out on my arms, legs, butt and back. On top of which, I have this new sense of hopeful optimism that I have abs and a waistline lurking. Probably there will be a press release and a news conference once they are sighted and confirmed.

Stronger too. Fab trainer J started me out using dumbbells and stretchy resistance bands. This time last year, I was cresting with 15, sometimes 25 lb. dumbbells for various exercises. I now use a wider range of dumbbell weights, most from 15 to 55 lbs., and while it is important and does matter, it is not something I pursue with any sort of focused intensity. My power-lifting pals are far more capable with weightier weights, but our training objectives are also very different. Building power and strength is not that important or the source of satisfaction for me. Those characteristics of progress are more consequences of my better health pursuit, not a goal.

I’m more confident. Working with J, practicing on my own – I have learned a lot in 2 years and I have grown more skilled with that new knowledge. Exercising consistently, learning to lift weights, becoming a gym hamster in my mid-50s seemed so out of character and out of reach when I began, yet it has become a defining quality of my life. I’m comfortable in my club; I have made friends and know many members by sight. While training with J is a wonderful luxury, I know enough now to continue on my own if he takes an extended sabbatical or even moves on elsewhere in his life and career. Concern about getting fired as a client is a humorous footnote in our history.

New and different outlets for time and energy. Exercise is a huge component of my life now. But it has also influenced the ways I think, work, read, write. Relationships are different now, and friends I had this time 2 years ago are now more acquaintances than people I have known for a larger chunk of my 56 years. And I’m okay, even relieved with those situations. Relationships, friendships are akin to living organisms that grow and change over the course of time and are dependent upon their environment to evolve and to thrive. My new hobby and lifestyle focus was not a good fit anymore. There is no guilt on my part; life happens. I bear them no ill will and genuinely wish them well in any and all future endeavors.

Even the empty can be filled, the broken can be strengthened. Personal growth is very individual, and a lot of my own cannot be measured in blood tests, the scale, or the gym. It cannot be measured in friends lost or friendships born and/or expanded. I have never been a scholar, but I am a good student. Actually, I’m a great student, and one of the most powerful lessons that come with my better health quest is not just confidence, it’s elevated self-esteem and self-assurance. Bad things do happen to good people, and I am good people. My overall self-possession – I’m extremely proud of it.

When I’m blogging here, it is so odd for me to feel so positive and upbeat and talk so openly and with genuine pride in my accomplishments. The idea of becoming so self-centered and saddled with conceit has been a lifelong concern for me. Talk of narcissism – entire blogs devoted to what it is and how bad genuine narcissists are in real life – I can understand my own phobia. Coming from a dysfunctional and emotionally fucked-up family of origin does mess with the mind, and it has taken me a very long time to work through the minefield of self-destructive measures I have laid down in order to protect myself.

I doubt I am extraordinarily vain. I doubt I will develop narcissistic tendencies this late in my life. If only because I try hard to not be an asshat or develop new mental or emotional disorders to replace the ones I cope with now.

I am not a gold standard for which anyone should compare themselves, because I can do better and more than just showing up every day. For me, showing up is 80% of the battle, and in the better health quest, 80% majority of the time means significant, measureable progress.

But I’m very, very proud of my deliberate consistency efforts. It has done more for me than just reshape my shape. It’s truly saving my life. And tonight I’m giving myself a little pat on the back for this accomplishment. I never imagined a day like this in my history, and even if I dared, my hopes of what it might feel like would have been so far afield. I feel as if I started out as Jane average in my unfit, untrained, exercise-ignorant body and mind.

I’m not average anything anymore.

 

 

 

Shame

Winter is creeping up on us here in northern California, and my thoughts are turning to business clothes. While my office tends to be here in my home, I have been spending a fair amount of time in client workplaces the last few months. While normal ratio is 80% of my hours from home, 20% meeting with clients at their offices or elsewhere, I kind of need something other than jeans and gym clothes for such events. Summer I’m all about dresses and skirts – so much cooler than slacks – but winter, I’d like to have a couple of pairs of slacks. For variety. And in a couple of cases, extra warmth.

Friend K has been down this slack-searching road many times before, and she hates to shop. I hate to shop when I’m on a mission to find something appropriate, but I am also fine with ordering several of the same things in different sizes and then returning what doesn’t work. Such is the case with a recent (read: this morning) Banana Republic online shopping spree. Several pairs of slacks and a couple of jackets in various styles and sizes. Hopefully something works out for me from this lot.

I have never shopped at Banana Republic, and the mere idea of setting foot in their store filled me with apprehension and free-floating anxiety. Because up until recently, I felt they did not have clothes that fit me. Not because body was oddly shaped or proportioned (although that may still be the case), but because I was simply too big, or more accurately, too fat. I am, or was, too fat to fit into BR-size range of clothes. The mere thought of going into a store like that and their largest size 16 (if they even carry size 16 – I honestly never bothered to check and do not need it now) not buttoning around my waist filled me with shame.

Shame, my old friend. If there was ever a destructive and near-death like emotion, it has to be shame.

I have written entire volumes on what my gym crazy is like, i.e., the intimidation of entering and using the gym at first. The big machines. The weights. The row after row of cardio equipment. The sleek and fit women. The buff and muscled men. If you have no idea what the machines are supposed to do, how to safely use the free weights, and you are overweight and everyone else seems to be normal-weight slender, of course you feel intimidated and as if you do not belong.

Even if he majority of that is all in my head, and rarely does the vision within my head match the reality of what I see within my club. But in my fear and anxiety, I was just sure those who were heavier knew precisely what to do, how to do it, and I would quickly be exposed as the imposter that was trying to fake it until I made it. As for asking for help – it felt humiliating that I did not know and could not just figure it out on my own. Hiring J to help me – truth is I was amazed I stuck it out long enough to get comfortable. I liked training days, but I was still intimidated when I went by myself. I would not even say hello to J in passing during those first few months, because even in uniform, he was part of those who belonged in the gym versus those of us who were just pretending.

Crazy. Normal, common, regular non-athlete type feelings that I can completely understand, but even recalling that range of emotions, I cringe thinking about my own brand and level of crazy and feel grateful to have overcome it for the most part. I still have issues when the club is very busy and crowded. I tend to retreat to a single piece of real estate and do whatever List that lets me stay there with a pair of dumbbells for company and then get out as quickly as possible. But I can and will stand my ground if pushed by the crowd, something I would have quickly surrendered and scurried away in the beginning.

Shame fuels that. Shame is what makes me feel some other member has more rights to the space I’m utilizing than I do. Shame is what fuels my excuse factory as to why I am not pursuing my better health quest more consistently. Shame will bury me if I let it.

I am still overweight, still feel fat. But far less so. And my attitude – oh well. The fat burning, muscle building, leaning out will happen when it happens. Key for me is to stay the course, keep my nose to the consistency grindstone on healthy eating and regular exercise. The battle of the bulge is never going to end for me, although I expect to reach a truce plateau at some point where my weight is normal and I feel like I have arrived at whatever balance point I am chasing. Trainer J departed on a 23 lb. weight loss journey this summer and yesterday arrived at his 165 lb. goal (with a 164 lb. weigh-in). Yay! I happy for him achieving this milestone and proud t be on the sidelines with his effort and marvel at both his discipline and focus in this pursuit. M too has been chasing weight loss as well and broke through into 150s yesterday at 159.5. At 5’11” I’m hoping he does not drop too much further, but again, his long-distance running pursuits seem to demand a lighter load.

I am genuinely happy for both of them. I want them to be happy and successful in pursuit of their personal goals and objectives with regard to what it takes for their overall health.

Not that long ago, my own reduced sense of self-worth would have tainted those feelings. Shame again. My own efforts would shrink and wither in comparison to them achieving their goals so much more efficiently. I must be not working at hard, slacking in my exercise, overeating in my supposed eating discipline, just an abject failure because it has taken more than 2 years for me to get to 183 and J went from 187 to 164 in 2 or 3 months and M has dropped from 195 to 159.5 in about 6 months. I should just throw in the towel and grab my junk food and sit here waiting to die. If only I were as disciplined and dedicated I too could be more successful in my health pursuits, and my latent jealousy for their success and my real or imagined ongoing failures made me feel even worse and more ashamed. A vicious cycle.

Yep, such is the mindset of negative girl. Shame is a big tool in her arsenal. Unfortunately I think I’m not alone in this quagmire. The paradigm of behavior for obesity is all too familiar.

I would not say I have broken out of it so much as learned to control it. I have had success in my efforts on my own terms and in my own way, and I think finally accepting that patience and flexibility are required had made it happen for me.

Hiring a personal trainer only gets me so far. I still have to be in the gym, practicing what I am learning, trying to improve to make any sort of forward progress. There are so many quick, easy, important and reasonable reasons to not go to the gym and/or to not get any exercise. It seems like I can make myself physically ill, or at least manifesting the symptoms of illness that make exercise seem like a poor choice in the moment.

Having an obesity doctor to walk me through what a healthy diet for weight loss looks like is another luxury I enjoy. But I still have to prepare my meals, and I still have to make myself do that rather than stopping at the nearest drive through when I am hungry or think I am hungry. I still have to find something else to distract myself when stress or boredom creates thoughts and plans to acquire donuts or salty snack foods with sugary soda in my head.

It occurred to me this weekend that I am not so much a lazy slug (although I really am, just to a lesser degree than for what I typically take credit) as overwhelmed with shame at letting myself get into a configuration that made me fat and less capable. Before I can shed fat, I have had to find a way to let go of shame.

I did not want to be fat, and I do not know anyone who wants to be overweight. But once in that configuration, there was this huge, overwhelming feeling of shame that kept me (and others who share this issue) in hiding. I used to talk about this all the time, about my desire and imaginings of an invisibility cloak between me and the rest of the members in the gym, so no one saw me trying and faltering in my exercise efforts. Because it seemed like all I did was falter. J would say 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, and I’d be dying on the floor in the first set of barely making it to 8 reps. Even now I struggle mightily with some of my current Lists, and I know my pacing is not how J envisions it when writing the program or teaches it when we are in session.

But oh well. I will get there.

This is not that I don’t care, but I also recognize that I am only so capable at any given time. I typically try my best, but my mind gets in my way. And building strength and skills with the exercise takes time. Especially for those of us who do are not athletically gifted, lack confidence, and are always learning. I don’t care how bright I might be; mind-body connection are frequently sometime in conflict with each other.

I feverently wish for a simple, sure-fire way to overcome shame, something I could bottle and sell to those who need it. From personal experience, I know all about overcoming shame. And until as individuals until we are ready to face our demons and slay our dragons, progress will be slow at best. Shame is not an easy emotion to escape. From a lifetime of coping with it in one form or another, shame is not easy to escape. While intellectually I have understood that my insecurities will not be completely alleviated with shrinking myself to ideal weight, behind all the negative noise was a tiny ray of hope that the shame would fade along with the fat.

Nothing is so easy as all that, though. It’s especially difficult when I see the same process occurring with others I care about. Unhappiness, depression, anxiety from being overweight is real; we all see it or deal with it directly. Fat shaming is a thing, and it’s truly awful. So much worse than that is the awful negativity and self-loathing that happens in our own heads.

It’s a complicated problem and takes trained professionals far more skilled than I to unravel the knots that keep us tied down and in place. I know, because without my therapist, TM, I would have likely given up yet again and still be stuck with negative girl in the rut we had dug together. So I don’t have real answers to others suffering from the complications and burdens of not only the excess weight but the expectations from society and those around us, many of who mean well and only want the best for and to help us.

The internet is full of helpful ideas, diets, programs to help us lose weight. I feel the pain, and despite where I am right now in my own journey, I know how impossible it feels to climb out of the deep, dark hole we have created for ourselves.

I have a long list of former close friends that I have released back into the wild as I have moseied along on my journey. Their tendency was to reinforce my old feelings of shame and misery and negative girl then does her best to bulldoze me back into my dark hole and bury me there. It is not my fault, or really, my former friends. Our relationship was built on me being under the influence of negative girl and their liking that version of me. I have always been pretty low-key and unobtrusive within the boundaries of close relationships, yet I am unflinchingly supportive of those I adopt within my tribe. It was very hard for them to accept the changes I am implementing. The cynical side of me says it was a power dynamic, that for my former buddies needed me fat and insecure about my life and times so they can somehow feel better about themselves?

Shame keeps us isolated within ourselves. Shame taught me how to be supremely organized about compartmentalizing my life and emotions and doing my best to keep the darkness from touching my day-to-day life and times. Hiding it, running away from it has made me more driven to work harder at my profession, at my marriage to M, to be a decent parent, to be a caring and supportive friend.

So there is some upside to being fearful and ashamed.

On good days, I like to believe that I would still be driven to succeed professionally, to be a good mom and a caring friend. On really good days, I like to believe I would be even more successful in these endeavors.

On the bad days, I wish I had never been born.

Shame kills. Of that I have no doubt. My better health quest, I am saving myself. For myself, first and foremost. I’m not special in this regard; everyone deserves a normal life. I had tough breaks early in life and have had to work harder my whole life to put it behind me.

And there is no shame in that. I could do well with a lot more of this feeling, and learning how to share it with others.