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.

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.

Repurposing

My fat loss group is a mixed bag of people who want to whine about lack of results yet post pictures of the calorie-laden food and drink they are consuming restaurants or people (like me) who are struggling to find their happy place with diet and exercise. Both can be frustrating, but the former is enough to incite the urge to throw things. Lately there is a whole new crop of people coming in just starting on their individual better health quests, and reading the intros and questions had me diving down the rabbit hole of my own thoughts on the topic. Repurposing it here because it’s the most substantial thing I have published this week.

Mindset and consistent compliance with the program is on my mind a lot lately. I’ve started and stopped a few times since this group began, and I have seen a little improvement with my effort each time. I still don’t do fat funerals – sticking with the basic premise of the program is enough challenge for me – and from the beginning I accepted that results would be or at least could be slowed by that.

But I really don’t care much about the scale. I care more about better health and building sustainable lifestyle habits that will support that effort.

Despite not being obsessed with the scale, I still tell myself daily the it is just a fluttery .1 pound increment data point for me, especially on the days like today when that .1 pound data point is an actual 1.2 pound gain from the day before. My theory is body is adjusting, because it has been a few uneven weeks of steady loss due to unintentional extra calorie deficit by skipping or skimping on meals. The tipping point was when it started to manifest in the gym in unexpected early fatigue and began to impact my regular workouts as well as my efforts to improve. So I have been putting forth some effort to eating in my typical calorie range, and I know from personal experience things will level off. But I gotta say – it’s a little disconcerting to see the scale jump like that no matter what the reason.

What has helped me cope with disappointing data is my attitude toward it. Once I stopped thinking about the judgmental scale in terms of all I have to give up for better health, being consistent with compliance and sticking with my exercise routines has become easier to incorporate into the fabric of my life. I look at all I have gained from eating better, getting more exercise. I’ve made a new circle of friends who share my interests in improving health. I have actually fallen in love with exercise, and I’m stronger and more capable because of the hours I spend in the gym moving weight to and fro. My feelings of dread and despair every few months when it’s time for lab work (I am a type 2 diabetic) have been vanquished because I have enjoyed some success on the insides where it is not visible on the outside.

Giving up a snacks and junkier foods, going to the gym daily, having less screen time (in favor of more sleep) does not seem like such a huge sacrifice when contrasted with these gains. I’m learning and incorporating new skills that make my life better, and while it’s not been easy, it is worth the effort. Balance is no longer eluding me completely so much as being refined and fine-tuned.

My concern about a scale up-tick is actually less than my concern about shoulder and upper body soreness the last few days when it seems I have been doing nothing new or especially heavy. Getting back into my regular routine and menu of foods does contribute to the scale, but so does the extra water I have been drinking lately.

But yeah, my minor emotional freak-out is real. It probably exacerbates the larger freak-out brewing about my gym pursuits. Yet, even though I am using the incendiary term (“freak-out” has historically had very bad implications), it is just a flare in me overthinking it. This is not something where I’m deploying nuclear options on J’s brand new phone with frenzied texting while having a meltdown about my faltering with Lists; I’m mostly thinking about it and prioritizing the thoughts and feelings in the overall better health quest.

My evolution in the gym is simply that: an evolution. While it does not seem to me like I am doing more or putting forth greater effort, maybe I am? Perhaps my adaption is cresting some new, unforeseen level? To be perfectly honest, any “next level” is pretty much unforeseen for me, so yeah, it will happen. Whatever it is, for the first time in what seems like forever I reached out to trainer J yesterday with an actual training-related question about what else I might do as far as upper body warm-up. I have my basic warm-up routine I do religiously before every practice or training session morning that includes squats, single leg RDL, rows, pulldowns, chest and overhead presses. Sometimes I mix it up and do the squats and single leg RDLs and then add the upper body portion of the dumbbell matrix List. But my conclusion regarding the stiff and sore lats and tiny shoulder muscles, I felt I might be was missing something in my preparations. Being off-base about the warm-up is fine, too, because more warm-up is not going to harm or hurt my ongoing efforts.

I do take the warm-up process seriously. I want to be prepared for whatever comes next on the List or in training, so I allot time and energy to doing something List-related in advance. I’ve done my fair share of reading on the subject and judge no one for their efforts and process in their own exercise pursuits. For me, it’s as much about sharpening my mental focus as well it is physical preparation, my time to go through and listen to any joint creaks and corresponding ouchie-ness that may occur. I’m not tough; if something hurts or has potential for hurt, I use my words and report it, versus letting the bad thing happen and then yelping (in pain) my concerns.

Soooo, other than very busy with work, things are good in my world. While my FB comment is the most substantial thing I have published this week (thus far), I have Monday’s recap in progress and hope to get it posted soon. Like before tomorrow.

Until then, hope you are all well and thriving in your own better health pursuits.

Being the decider

Dinner out last night with dear friends has me pondering adultier adulting. Or, I’m thinking about decision making and how it works for me.

I was listening a very brief FB chat yesterday with my fat loss group about motivation. Pat was talking about the role of motivation in adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and how he does not believe motivation should be emphasized as much of a factor. Rather, expectations are far more important when it comes to anything in life where we seek improvement.

Pat stated his opinion that tying actions to level of motivation is not a good idea, because motivation tends to run in cycles – we all have periods when we are very motivated and times where we are not. Building habits is what matters, and we build habits through repetition. I agree with him as well that shifting from an “all or nothing” to “always something” mindset is crucial for ongoing consistency in any area where we are struggle to implement significant change.

For me, motivation is dependent upon my personal perception of success. Using motivation as a driving component in our model for change, it is no wonder that we become wildly inconsistent in regular exercise or healthy eating if we are waiting on or depending upon motivation to get us or keep us moving forward. If I have a mindset of all or nothing and it’s anchored to motivation, first low motivation day and I will quit. I know this about myself from personal experience, i.e., many many tries and fails.

Pat stressed that the fat loss program was created around building habits, something that absolutely resonates with me.

Lots and lots of days I do not feel motivated to go to the gym or to eat healthier foods. Once I decided that I would go to the gym in the early morning, I had to create a process to get me up, out of bed, and to the gym each day. I experimented with time to wake up, arrive at the gym, time to leave to ensure I made it to the office on time each day. After much trial and error: my alarm goes off at 4 a.m. during the week with a goal of arriving at the gym by 5:30 each morning. Sometimes I’m earlier, frequently (anymore) I am much later. But I am still up and out of bed shortly after 4 a.m. on weekdays. It is now my habit and really does not matter much if I feel like it or not.

I am noticing a similar process with healthier food choices and eating strategy.

Every day I have a protein shake before the gym. Every day I make it in the same way with the same ingredients – 1.5 scoops of protein powder, 2 scoops of branch chain amino acid supplement (because it makes the shake taste even better, not because I think the BCAA are so mandatory for me), 1.5 cups ice water, 5 ice cubes. It’s a habit and I do not get tired of drinking the same meal each morning for the last 2 years. Every now and again I go wild and use M’s vanilla protein powder and feel very free spirited for not being so stuck in a rut. I also take a piece of fruit out of the fridge – right now it’s a peach, but most of the time it’s an apple, because apples are so universally available – and when I get home from the gym I cut it up and eat it with a glass of water. That’s breakfast. Every single day.

I decided a few months ago that I needed to stop snacking between meals, which had continued to be a self-sabotaging habit. My blood sugar is well controlled and holding steady in the normal range, but my reshaping my shape progress seemed to be glacially slow. Food and eating habits were the root of this issue; it is not a problem because my overall health is so much improved. I decided to make some small changes: no more snacking, no more soda with our restaurant meals out (typically one lunch or dinner on the weekend). No more occasional sugary treats, because the cravings and desire for more are so painful to deny.

Essentially, I decided I want to see if I could jump-start something by being more faithful to the fat loss program as it was designed.

The results are not amazing, overnight success level of achievements. But after nearly 6 months of averaging about 70% compliance with the basic framework of my fat loss program, I finally feel like I am making inroads toward whatever vague appearance objectives I might have secretly harbored. For me personally, tiny measures of success are huge indicators that the small changes are working as well as huge motivator to continue to do the hard work toward building better habits.

I have done pretty well with adopting more flexibility of mindset when it comes to exercise and eating, but it is still a work in progress, likely always will be to some extent. I don’t feel guilty about my choices, because I am well aware of my food and exercise sins as I make them. But I do still have moments when I wish for more backbone, more strength of character that lets me have near perfect impulse control nearly all of the time. Such is life with all its imperfections.

The process of my better health quest is understanding and accepting that the choice is not made once in the beginning and then implemented over the course of the rest of my days. The choices associated with pursuing a healthier lifestyle are made every single day and then implemented on each of those days. Some days I make really good choices, other days I may choose something with less desirable outcomes. I now have the confidence to know that one or a few poorer choices does not doom me forever. I can and will adjust, adapt, and return to the foundational pillars of my better health quest.

I am really a big proponent of personal responsibility. I am also a recovering self-flagellation expert for failing to meet the lofty, unrealistic expectations of perfection I have created for me and me alone. While intellectually I completely understand that no one is 100% compliant with good choices and decisions 100% of the time, emotionally I have felt inferior much of my life for my own basic humanity. It’s a legacy scar and part of what defines me as a person, but I know it has become part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a habit of setting myself up for failure. It’s a habit I have broken many times in many areas of my life. Perhaps with my improving sense of self-esteem, I can put that fork in it and call it done when it comes to exercise and healthier eating.

Directly, success in any endeavor is more than just a choice to succeed or to fail. Improving ourselves or building skill at anything is bunches of smaller choices or decisions that build and lead to overall success, a distinction that seems to be lost in the instant gratification culture we seem to be living. I have agency to make a choice even if I dislike the choices available to me. In my view doing the hard work now does mean opportunities for different, likely more desirable choices later. After nearly 2 years of consistent resistance training, I’m stronger and more capable now and I genuinely enjoy the escalating challenges presented in the gym. After 6 months of mostly compliant with a lower carb and lower calorie eating strategy, I find choosing to eat a salad or plate of steamed vegetables an acceptable and enjoyable choice for meals out. Days I choose to take a day off from the gym or eat a sandwich instead, I feel no guilt or anxiety. The habits are established and stable enough now that it is just a day off or just a sandwich.

I am not a victim of circumstance. I am the decider and in control of my own choices available about and attitude towards such circumstances.

Progress.

And that was the super positive takeaway from dinner last night as well as just an enjoyable evening. Being with dear friends, just talking about a free range of topics and ideas, I recognize that I have come a long way. I am consistently making better choices in the company I keep. The difference it has made in how I feel about myself is astonishing. Life is long and stretches out further than the boundaries of my own imagination. To have such companions woven into my journey is a truly priceless to me.

#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #friends, #gym, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #influences, #mental-health, #motivation, #positivity

Goals, motivation, attitude

Ugh. Just … ugh.

This morning in my email was a huffy-puffy-fluffy motivational sermon-istic email about what it takes to be healthy and fit. Buff, even.

And it depresses the living daylights out of me and reminds me again why I should not be reading fitness professionals’ blogs, emails, facebook posts. Those people mean well and really want to make a good living restructuring people’s bodies and minds. But I have to remember first and foremost: they are not talking to or about me.

I don’t have goals for good reason: the stress of failure. Rather than being energized by how much closer I am with every pound of weight lifted, I fret about the days (like today) where I did not catapult myself out of bed, shower, dress, Vitamix my protein shake, and dash out the door to get my workout done. Or obsess about the 0.2 lbs. the scale says I retained from yesterday and what it all means. Or carefully weigh everything from the protein powder I mix before the gym to the leaves of lettuce in my big ass salad tonight. For goodness sakes – it’s freaking LETTUCE, one step above water but with nutrients.

But I become mired down in the weeds and the minutia of details. I seem to set myself up to fail in a big giant ball of frustration that ends with a pint of Baskin Robbins chocolate chip mint ice cream.

So I prefer to avoid setting results-oriented goals. If anything, I set simple goals for the next 24 hours – like get up, shower, dress, consume protein shake, and ass in the gym with at least 90 minutes before I have to enter into the fray of getting ready for work and the rest of my day. Most of the time, anymore, I am successful. Days like today, where I half plan to call for a rest day. Except not really, because I’ll be in the gym this evening with friend K and doing something for a set amount of time.

But I have been mulling motivation lately. With work-related changes underfoot and new challenges ahead, do I even feel much like working and pushing ahead toward my good intentions these days? Then again, what does it matter if I feel like it or not? Hyper-responsible self will not let me get too lazy or too slack too much. A little, for sure, but not that much.

I had not intended to sound like all that ails me is related to my piss-poor attitude about the better health process, but in my head, it’s coming across that way. Weenie-whining because I don’t get to be gym-free and eat whatever I want whenever I want – oh woe is me. Yeah right – me and my first world problems again.

My food-related battles are never ending. Understanding it’s not what I am eating so much as how much and how frequently is not translating into improving those impulses. Stress is off the charts right now. Even if I look calm and relaxed on the outside, on the inside it’s hair-on-fire panic because the entire world is teetering on its bitter end and I am the only one aware enough to make it stop.

Yeah, me and my delusions of grandeur again as well.

The feels I have right now about my better health quest are circling around burnout, for lack of a more descriptive, all-encompassing term. Much of the time life soldiers onward. Get up, go to the gym, strive for healthy balance in eating, work really hard at work-work, have some fun, enjoy some me time. Seek balance between responsibility to good citizenry in my personal community and selfish pursuits of my wants and whims.

June has been a month of imbalance, with uncertainty and emotions running high all around me throughout the work day and beyond. Family and tribe are mostly well and thriving, a few friends facing milestones in life that come with aging, faltering health or injury, circle of life type changes. I recognize and value the good things in my life that keep me grounded and stable: my relationship with M, work that keeps me engaged and financially afloat, grown children who are pursuing their own hopes and dreams and thriving as well. I also desire to be a good friend and tribe citizen and help others whenever and wherever I am able. Unfortunately, sometimes personal stability is not enough to keep me from being mightily buffeted by outside forces, and even the most resilient among us has to make allowances for life’s turbulence, floods, tsunamis.

I feel deflated from the month’s events, as if need of a change of scenery or reordering of the daily schedule. Change of scenery is not on the agenda right, because of other responsibilities we have at home AND it is essentially a holiday weekend. The idea of reordering the daily routine also causes my hand to hover over the panic button. What would I do, what would I change, how does it impact the big picture? At the end of that particular exercise (which takes place routinely every single week on something or another), I recognize that things are fine, the circumstances causing the current level of freaked-out-ness are temporary and will fade, regular programming resumes.

It just does not feel good in the moments.

At the end of this long and rambling post, I feel better. Sometimes just talking about my brand of crazy backs me away from the edge of doing something I may come to regret in the future, like that pint of Baskin Robbins chocolate chip mint ice cream that seems to be in grocery store freezers everywhere these days. I deliberately took the morning off from practice because yesterday I was having elbow pain. Elbow pain! Of all the things I think of that could go wrong and cause me physical issues, elbows would be awfully low on the list of potential suspects. Shoulders, knees, wrists, ankles, even glutes, hamstrings, palms – for sure. But elbows? Not even in the top 5. Anyway, I am following J’s usual recommendation for gym tweaks – 24 to 72 hours to let it pass – after a fashion. I read that and had another sort of anxious panic attack, ala “nooooooo! Don’t make me bench myself for 24 to 72 hours!” Ridiculous, I know. But since I knew I wanted to meet friend K tonight, I prioritized and compromised and skipped out on practice this morning. And voila! No elbow pain as yet today. Then again, not nearly as much mousing either.

 

#better-health, #diet, #emotional-health, #fitness, #goals, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #mental-health, #stress

20-month consistency span

Recaps from the last 2 weeks have not been published. There are a couple in progress, maybe half written before stalling out completely. It’s not that I am less into training, writing the recaps, losing my interest in blogging. It’s not even that I am busier than usual or being particularly lazy about taking care of business. There is perhaps a trace of each in the why of it all, but broader truth is that I am extraordinarily stressed and in a funk about work-related events (to the point of losing sleep every night for 2 weeks straight due to nightmares about work and the job) and not motivated or willing to string coherent sentences together. My heart has not been in writing my usual entries, even though I am thinking about it throughout my days, but my mind refuses to slow down and type much outside angry vitriol towards work-related personnel and temporary situations.

Reality bites. Part of why my distaste for work right now is that it makes me feel poorly about myself, including my efforts in the gym. I have had to really fight hard to stay present and in the moment and remind myself repeatedly that I am competent and making positive progress. There has been the occasional urge to just give up and quit. Once this might have been a pity-party type indulgence. Now the thought is a terrifying wake-up call as to how impacted I am by recent events.

So today, instead of trying to catch up on my recent training sessions or the ways I feel kind of crazy, I am choosing to reflect on better health quest positives. Life in general is different now and has taken such a positive 180 since I began pursuing regular exercise.

Blogging and training recaps matter. One of the more upsetting things about life happening is when it impacts my better health quest routines. Training days are Mondays and Thursdays, and I am still in the gym every other day of most weeks. I know practice is critical to me for improvement, understanding, and progression, plus it is a healthier method for burning off venomous rage at things well beyond my control. But more than that, after 2 weeks of not writing my detailed recaps, I am finding that recapping those sessions here on the blog is crucial for me as well. Friend K casually remarked on Wednesday that I am someone who needs a deep understanding of exercise, and writing the detailed blog recaps enhances and cements the cues and the bazillion of small details associated with the exercise. Part of me regrets my lack of discipline to have more control of wayward mind, but under the circumstances, I have to just let it go. At worst, recaps will return the first week in July. But I’m hoping to implement some discipline and return to it next week.

Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity. Who knew this quote is from Bruce Lee – besides everyone except me before just now looking it up. I am extremely proud of myself for sticking with training and regular, daily practice. Not sure my consistency is accurately described as long-term, it has been just over 20 months since I began my commitment toward regular practice at the gym. I began my consistency march in October 2015 – after J gave me The Talk about seeing me in the gym at least twice between that Thursday and our next session the following Thursday – and I took it terribly personally, as if this were not a regular suggestion he provided all clients every single day of the week but something he was using to tree me, personally, for being a slacker client. Other than out-of-town vacations and my attempt to take a few consecutive days off from the gym (only managed 2), I am in the gym pretty much every day most weeks doing something. While 20 months is not much time in the overall big picture, it’s huge for me. As for short-term intensity, I am not sure “intense” is a word that ever applies to me, and I am absolutely okay with that. My better health quest has no finish line; burning out is not an option I wish to will entertain.

Goals are still not my thing. From the very start, letting go of the idea of setting goals immediately brightened my outlook and made me feel like my chances for long-term success increased. I completely understand this strategy does not work for everyone, but for me, not chasing the scale or the weights I can move to and fro relieves me of self-induced stress and pressure. Tiny steps and incremental progress is still progress. The primary objectives I pursue with relentless consistency are ensuring I am on time and prepared for sessions with J each week and then practicing at least 4 other days each week. That’s enough for me.

Progress measures are also still not my thing. I am ready to pitch my scale yet again. Because I am unhappy with the results? Not exactly. Because I am unhappy with my inability to not be negatively influenced by the results. While I limit myself to weighing in only once per week, the sense of dread and anxiety that comes with knowing weigh-in day is coming has impact on my mood and sense of well-being. Maybe I have had a near perfect week full of big-ass salads, fruit, protein shakes. Perhaps every single practice in the gym has me feeling like an empowered badass when I leave for my effort. I have gotten my 7 hours of sleep every night and a work week that while busy and hectic, was not especially stressful or frustrating. I’m feeling good, great, excited about all my good choices and strong forward progress. I jump on the scale, and I am up 2 lbs. from the prior week. As mind reads and processes that result, instant sense of hopelessness. Forget talking to me about hormones and general body weight fluctuations; negative girl is on the loose wreaking havoc with all my good and positive energy. IF I keep my scale, I am returning to weighing in once per month to see if I can cope. If not, scale shall be returned to the garage.

Judgment Fitbit data gathering has it place. M likes me to ensure I keep track of my heart rate at the gym because I am a diabetic. I am a well-controlled diabetic and since modifying my diet there have been no further low events, but still – he likes me to be aware of what’s going on with body if I should start feeling weird. For the most part, I like it for keeping track of my daily exercise, as if I need some sort of proof that I am working hard enough and gotten my 6 hour minimum per week. I also like it for the sleep tracking feature, in that I know for sure I should be tired when I am told “you look tired.” But after having one for a while now, I can see trends and progress in my overall health and fitness. That’s something. On the flip side, it seems like it takes significantly more effort to elevate my heart rate into the cardio zone. If I were someone worrying about closely tracking heart rate, I would be more distressed than I am. Steps and other tracking features – not something I consider or take very seriously.

Empirical measures matter. There are a lot of things I can point to as indicators of my success – well-controlled diabetes without medication, the progression of weightier weights I use routinely, my capacity to do the work on a List. Yet there are other measures that have at least at much impact on me from this period of regular, consistent exercise.

My gym crazy is mitigated. I still have anxiety in the gym, but where it was once centered on the optics of how I look or my ability with the exercise I was attempting to perform, now probably 95% of any anxiety I feel relates to form, technique, and safety. The thought of hurting myself still looms large, so I try hard to be careful without being overly cautious.
The training tribe keeps me focused. My friend K is doing some awesome work with her barbell deadlifts. It is purest joy to watch each progressive weight increase as well as her evolving and improving form and technique. This a bucket-list level dream for her, and to be present and part of watching it become reality is inspiring. From a major, traumatic car crash a few years ago to present day working hard and lifting weights, it shrinks my weenie-whining about being tired or bored or my princess tiara crooked into proper perspective. She and other friends who are kindred spirits in our individual better health quests keep me honest and on the journey.
Self-esteem and relationship with myself are better. This month notwithstanding, my confidence in general and internal view of the person I am has improved and stabilized in the higher/highly positive zone. Negative girl still bleats pitifully from her box, but when I hear her, I am not really listening. I observe that she still exists and move on with whatever pursuit I am chasing. The days of beating myself senseless over imperfect efforts are 99% over. It still happens occasionally, but for the most part, ongoing practice and trying again and again have replaced analysis paralysis.
There may be stupid questions, but I ask anyway. If I don’t understand the way body is supposed to be executing a particular exercise, I speak up and ask. My concerns about safety, my desire to improve – if I don’t know, can’t remember, or would just like confirmation of what I think I know, the fastest solution is to just ask and get clarification. I am not stupid and what other people think of me is less important than ensuring I know what I am doing, especially with weights in my hands.

Getting enough sleep makes a difference and is still hit and miss. My alarm goes off at 4 a.m. weekdays, 6 a.m. on weekends. While sleep optimum is 7 hours per night, I am happy if my Fitbit says 6 hours completed. Once I began focusing on getting adequate rest, life became a lot easier and more pleasant. I find the early morning exercise a lot easier to bear as well when I am rested. My focus is sharper and I am more engaged and energized by the List I am pursuing. Starting my day with the workout has tended to even out the workday as well. Balance, elusive balance. At least in this area, I can point to ongoing success for the most part.

Diet matters and changes in this area remains difficult. While I have been successful with the exercise portion of my better health quest, I readily admit that less consistency, fewer wins on modifying my diet and improving my overall nutrition patterns. In my own judgment, telling myself it is a process is not quite the same excuse-factory production. Because it is a process. I’m controlling my diabetes without losing tons of weight, because I am adding muscle to my frame. Things I have tried, abandoned, backslid, and continue working on getting my healthy eating choices consistent and in order again – no shame anymore for me. As a component of overall health dropping some weight will make a difference. Deciding not to do anything crazy and unsustainable is also a valid point, not a reason for me to delay making better choices. However, I know there is more mindset work to be done, and from long experience I know it is not so simple as willpower alone. I’m better. I have and continue to do better with food choices. Perhaps there is a time in my future where it becomes more habitual and automatic. But for now, I continue to work at it and strive to make good choices each day.

Writing about general thoughts and feelings about exercise, diet, fitness and the broader impacts on my mental and emotional health – hard to describe what an impact blogging has had on my overall mental and emotional balance. I still have areas (eating!) where work must be done to make consistent inroads. Overall, though, I am healthier, happier than where I was 2 years ago.

Despite the overall ugliness inside my head these last few weeks, I know it’s temporary and has an expiration date. The habits that matter, the smarter choices and positive behaviors I want to expand upon – it will happen. Taking the timeline out of the equation makes a difference for me, and I am getting this better health shit done. Results matter, and while my results are not glamorous, flashy, or social media-worthy, the positive improvements are there. Periodically I have to break them down and highlight them for myself.

Happy weekending everyone! I’m anticipating our regular programming returning on Monday.

 

#balance, #better-health, #blogging, #diet, #emotional-health, #exercise, #fitness, #goals, #gym, #habits, #happy, #health, #healthy-eating, #inspiration, #mental-health