Tag Archives: Body image

Possible Side Effects

On Friday I had a doctor’s appointment, and I really hate going to the doctor’s office because of all the germs that I imagine are lingering in the air and on the seats of the waiting room and because, it seems, all doctors run at least thirty minutes behind schedule, but yet another small annoyance accompanying a big move is that you have to actually meet your new doctor before you can have any prescriptions refilled. Since I’m still searching for a job here in Hawaii, the longer than normal wait time wasn’t really an inconvenience and I was able to concentrate fully on my fear of all of those germs trying to float their way into my upper respiratory tract. Seriously, it should be standard operating procedure for everyone to carry a plastic bag around with them, and, if we have to sneeze or cough, we can do so into the bag and trap all of our germs inside. Or maybe I should just wear a hazmat suit to the doctor’s office. I’m generally not a germaphobe, but something about the doctor’s office turns me into one in the same way that being at the vet’s office turns me into that owner who keeps her dog on a short leash and won’t let him sniff, touch, or generally associate with the other dogs. Some might say I’m overly cautious, but, like that country song says: it’s like being too lucky, a car too fast, a girl too pretty, with too much class, no matter what they say I’ve done, I’ve never been overly cautious. Or something like that.

After I finally made it out of the germ immersion chamber  waiting room, my appointment was pretty straightforward. Essentially I just had to meet with the Doctor and have him sign off on my refill, but, and I think this is a reflex for doctors, he first took a listen at my heart and lungs and this is where an ordinary visit became extraordinary. While listening as I took deep breaths but not so-deep-I’ll-get-light-headed-and-pass-out breaths, the Doctor asked what I did for exercise. At first, I bristled because I thought he was implying that I didn’t do any, so my response began with “I do more than it LOOKS like I do…” and I went on to explain that I do a combination of weight training and cardio. He then asked how frequently I did cardio, and when I told him the truth (4-5 days a week, thank you very much), he said “yeah, I can tell; it seems to be working for you.” Apparently my resting heart rate was slow enough that he could tell that I consistently do a fair amount of cardio, go figure. Gold star for me!

This was a great reminder that the benefits of regular exercise aren’t limited to only what we see in the mirror or even to the amount of weight we can lift or speed/distance we can run. Even though I can’t see it, my heart is in there, soaking up the benefits of my active lifestyle and because my heart is stronger, the rest of me can get stronger too. This was an appropriately timed reminder because, of late, I have been feeling a little annoyed at the determined layer of fat that refuses to budge from my belly and love-handle area (maybe because I’ve been frequenting the beach my body has decided to keep this ‘inner tube’ as a precautionary measure to prevent drowning?), and it forced me to remember that health isn’t about what I look like in my bathing suit (although, custom inner tube aside, I look pretty darn good if I do say so myself) but about how my body feels and how smoothly it functions. Remember, one of the side effects of a healthy, active lifestyle is that your doctor will know, without a doubt, that you are telling the truth when you tell him you exercise regularly. Unfortunately it also probably works the other way. If you claim to exercise regularly and you don’t, I bet your Doc can tell if you’re lying, so there really is nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain but lacing up those sneakers and going for a walk/jog/bike/whatever. Not only will it make you feel good, but you’ll save face on your next doctor’s visit.

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“Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes… how do you measure a year?”

cupcake

 

Today my blog turns one!

This means that one year ago I become fully committed to reconciling my lifestyle with the needs of my body, and, to insure that I remained accountable and put my money where my mouth is, as the saying goes, I decided to make this attempt at better health and fitness a very public spectacle. One year later, I have a better understanding of what it means to be “fit,” a lengthy list of personal achievements, goals to work toward, a sense of belonging to a community of health-conscious, supportive people, and no regrets.

I have Jamie Eason and a too-tight dress to thank for getting me kickstarted on the road to healthy living, and while some things will probably never change (I still hate sweating even though I make sure to do it on an almost daily basis), I’m super proud of the things that have changed. I’m more confident in the things my body can do and I rely less on the mirror for feedback and more on how I feel. This is not to say that I don’t want to look good  or that I’m not checking out how my jeans make my butt look when I get dressed each morning, but I’m placing a higher emotional value on things like the fact that my rock-hard quads allow me to squat almost 75 pounds and that my overall fitness has improved so that I could conquer this workout (see below) on Tuesday than I am on whether or not I look like Emma Watson (FYI, I do not).

This comes to me from my Boot Camp instructor, Sarah.
Round 11: go into cardiac arrest in a pool of your own sweat. I snagged this bad boy from my Boot Camp instructor, Sarah. I felt like I was going to die, but I did it.

This year has presented some opportunities that I may not have chosen to accept in the past. I had always wanted to try a Spinning class, but had been too intimidated to actually do it because I was concerned that I wouldn’t be ‘good’ at it. I finally tried it and Spinning has become my favorite cardio workout, and, come to find out, it requires no special skills- it is riding a bike without the need for balance or steering, go figure. Prior to this year, I would not have considered signing up for a Boot Camp especially one that was advertised as means of “stepping up your average hour of hard work” (I have grass-burn on my elbows from so much planking), but I mustered up the courage to sign up (even before I found out that one of my friends was also signed up- I was willing to go it alone!) and have been grateful that I did. I’m learning a lot about proper form and getting quite a few ideas to spice up my normal workout routine on a day to day basis.

One year later, I’m still not a Fitness Freak and I doubt that I ever will be. I’d rather curl up on the couch with a good book than lace up my sneakers and do some sweating and if I could manage to live on a diet of cheese and cake without my arteries exploding, I totally would. I still look up to the Fitness Freaks in my life and see them as sources of inspiration in the way that people see Mother Teresa as a source of inspiration- we’ll never be exactly that committed to the cause, but it’s nice to know that someone is and that, if we were willing to put in a lot more work, we could maybe come close- but I’m not yet ready to declare a love for anything exercise related (although Spinning would be the number one candidate for a passionate declaration of love), and I’m still not interested in subscribing to a specific diet (I have learned the importance of eating sensibly, but I’m not bidding the bakery on the corner adieu any time soon).

I’m assuming the first year of making big life changes like the ones I’ve made is the hardest year. I have hopes that everything will become even easier, that I won’t have to remind myself that I’m supposed to eat nine servings of vegetables per day and not nine servings of Ben & Jerry’s, or that going for a jog outside will start to feel more natural and less like an excursion onto an alien planet where I can’t breathe the air or maneuver across the terrain. My goals for the past year were essentially to take control of my health and to trim down so that I could fit back into my clothes, and I can confidently say that those goals were attained. In the upcoming year, I’m hoping to make peace with running and to greatly improve the strength of my cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and I’m also hoping to continue to enjoy my workouts and feel as much pride for the small milestones as I do for the big ones.

When I look back over my year, I see how much progress I’ve made. It used to be a struggle to do ten pushups (even if I did them on my knees), and a few weeks ago I did a workout that called for 176 pushups and I did them all the ‘real’ way. I once measured my runs in minutes and could’t go much faster than a 12 minute mile, now I measure them in miles and average a 10 minute mile. I valued my body by how it looked compared to others and now I value the things it can do for me- the burpees, the lifting, the running, the cycling. I’m giving myself a pat on the back!

 

For shame!

Several weeks ago, I was admiring my bodacious booty in the locker room mirror post-workout (don’t pretend like you don’t do this too) and congratulating myself on taking control of my health and well-being  when I overheard two young ladies (I’d put them in their early twenties) discussing their own physiques and personal goals. One of the gals had apparently consulted a doctor about her fitness goals and was venting to her friend that while she wanted to slim down to a specific weight (120 lbs), her doctor was encouraging her to work toward the more attainable goal of 140 lbs.

While gazing into the mirror, I was silently agreeing with the health professional (it seems like an obvious course of action to me: lose a little, reevaluate, lose a little more if need be), when the young lady said something that snapped me out of my ass-admiring reverie-

“140 pounds is still way too fat.”

It was a record-scratch moment for me; 140 pounds is roughly what (after almost a year of sweating, huffing, and puffing) I currently weigh. I hazarded a glance around the corner to see what this girl looked like and she was about the same height as me and maybe had twenty pounds to lose before she hit 140. Moments before, I had been happily noting my progress in the mirror and was satisfied, maybe even pleased with how my body looks, but her comment sucked all of the wind out of my sails.

In the span of a few seconds, my reflection changed in my eyes from a healthy woman to that of a woman with big upper arms, a kinda flabby middle and thighs verging on the size of THUNDER. I quickly went about the business of showering and leaving the gym post haste and vowed to eat nothing but lettuce for the next month (a vow I broke as soon as my next meal, thank goodness).

After stewing, then pondering and later reflecting upon the situation, I have adopted the view that the young lady does not, in fact, know what 140 pound looks like, and maybe, if I had been bold enough to step out of the shadows and say, “hey, that’s what I weigh, girlfriend, and I look pretty damn good!” she might have reevaluated her views or, at the very least, learned that bodies are not one-size-fits-all, and she should not be so quick to dismiss a randomly-selected, intangible number as “too fat.”

Most importantly, that situation reminded me of something we learn when we are little kids but seem to either forget or misinterpret as we grow up, and that is the fact that words, even when you don’t mean them to, can hurt. In the words of Thumper from the movie Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” This advice should apply even when we are talking about ourselves. Body shaming, whether done by so-called Fit-spiration memes on Pinterest or by people gossiping among friends and picking apart their perceived trouble spots, is one of the most annoying instances where words can make a big impact on how we feel.

Just the other day, I was joking with a friend about the little bit of extra weight I can’t seem to get rid of around my middle and I compared it to always wearing an inner tube around my waist and at least I didn’t need to worry about drowning. I said this to be funny; I don’t have that much extra and it is probably only noticeable to myself, and, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at, but, for the rest of the day, all I could think about was that little bit of a spare tire. I kept fidgeting with my shirt trying to simultaneously pull it down to cover and billow it away from my body to conceal. That joke was at the ready probably because my stomach is the part of my body that I am most self-conscious about, and I did myself a great disservice by making fun of something I am sensitive about. I could also have been doing my friend a disservice; if she thinks I look fit and healthy and I’m picking myself apart, I could cause her to question her appraisal of her own body and of bodies in general.

We all need to remember that our words have a huge impact not just on the ourselves and the people we are speaking to, but also on those who might overhear us, and we need to be careful about basing our appraisal of ourselves strictly on how we look and how much we weigh. What I want to say to the girl in the locker room if I could go back in time is that not only does she not realize that she is unconsciously insulting me and trivializing all of the exercising I have done since last August, but also that at 120 lbs, she will probably still find things she doesn’t like about her appearance. At 120 lbs, I wanted bigger boobs and curvier hips; it felt decidedly un-sexy and un-feminine to be flat-chested and have boy-hips, but now, with bigger boobs and curvier hips, I still have things I want to change about myself.

The message here is not that we should all give up because we will never be happy with how we look; it is that we can learn to be happy with who we are despite the fact that there may be things about our appearance we’d like to change, and that our weight as described by the number on a scale is an abstract concept that is, really, meaningless. What is meaningful is our weight as described by our health and the things we can do with our bodies. At 140 pounds, I can climb over 130 flights of stairs in one day, I can run 4 miles, I can bike 50 miles, I can pick-up my large dog and lift him over the backyard fence when I accidentally lock us out of the front door, I can ride a horse, I can carry all of the groceries from my car at once negating the need for a second trip, I can swim, I can do, pretty much, anything I want to.

We need to turn our attention away from what we think we should weigh and how we think we should look, and instead, make goals that are conducive to better health and a more functional existence. Instead of griping about wanting to lose 40 lbs, how about focusing on walking up the several flights of stairs in your office without being winded or on biking to the top of the really long, REALLY steep hill without stopping to walk. As I’ve become more aware of my body, I’ve learned that these are much better ways to gauge my health than comparing my reflection to photos of myself at 22, and I’m trying to remember that a wisecrack about my love handles isn’t always funny. As my friend said in response to  my joke about my built-in inner tube “at least you’re healthy, that’s the important thing.” My suggestion is that we keep the body-shaming, of ourselves and of others, to a minimum, and we’ll be better able to focus on what really matters.

Itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, yellow polka dot bikini….

As we moved father away from January 1st, I had been noticing a drop-off in gym traffic and was feeling disappointed for everyone who started the year out ready to tackle their fitness goals only to lose momentum and get waylaid by everyday things. But lately I have been happy to note an uptick in gym attendance and see unfamiliar faces furtively sneaking glances at other exercisers (I know what you’re doing, you furtive glancers, you! You’re trying to figure out how the machine works! There is no shame in not knowing how a metal contraption that looks as if it could have been used to torture Theon Greyjoy works- just march up there and read the directions or ask for help) as they navigate the gym for maybe the first time or maybe just the first time in a long time.

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It is that time of year again. The time when we strip off our bulky winter coats, our heavy sweaters, layers of scarves, and leggings and look down at our bodies and think “oops! I thought all that was just the 700 fill goosedown in my puffy vest!?” Yes, folks, this is the prelude to swimsuit season. This is the time when we realize that extra bowl of warm, comforting mac and cheese took up residence on our left hip, the delicious holiday gingerbread on our right hip, the King Cake that we found the recipe for on Pinterest and made to celebrate Mardi Gras is playing a permanent game of ring-around-the-rosie on our midriff, the St. Patty’s day green beer cheerfully waves from beneath your tricep every time you reach for something, those Valentine’s chocolates are clinging to your thighs… and the season of near-nudity cometh.

There is a certain desperation in the eyes of the person struggling to get in shape for swimsuit season, a desperation that I totally understand. It’s not like trying to get fit for your health or even fit for a wedding- you can always find everyday clothes that hide your weak spots and highlight your strengths and wedding dresses are big and poofy making every bride look like Cinderella, but there is no such thing as a flattering swimsuit. And if you are about to tell me that “some suits have lower-cut leg holes and they kinda hide your thighs” or “a tankini covers your mid-section without giving you a permanent wedgie like a one-piece” or “some suits have a skirt-thingy at the bottom and it covers YOUR bottom” just stop and save your breath. There is nothing that a thin layer of spandex-swimsuit material can do to cover anything even if it is fashioned into a skirt-thingy. The only way you can go swimming and hide your body is if you wear a wetsuit….under a sweater.

Swimsuit shape is not just about slimming down, it is about total and complete control over every part of your body that wobbles- arms, legs, butt, belly and, for some of us, boobs- and I say, forget about it! Nobody looks perfect in a bathing suit, not even bathing suit models (that’s why air brushing was invented) and, honestly, our ideals of swimsuit fitness are a little, well, unhuman (that’s why we have lately seen some embarrassing photo edits circulating on the web.). My favorite bathing suit (and the one my husband detests) looks like a neon orange/pink/yellow/and blue version of something the Hippo in the original Fantasia would have worn (with a top of course), and last year, I actually kind of resembled a hippo when I wore it, but wear it I did. I wore it sunbathing in my backyard, I wore it to the thermal baths in Budapest, I wore it to the lake, I wore it to the public pool,  I even once wore it to dinner under a dress and nobody ever gave me a second look, nobody told me to cover up because I was assaulting their eyes with my hippo-esque physique and nobody arrested me for public indecency.

At all shapes and sizes, even at my slimmest, I have never felt completely at ease in a swimsuit. There is always a certain amount of fidgeting (usually with a leg hole that’s riding up your bum) and you can’t help but feel exposed when wearing a thin piece of fabric that barely covers your unmentionables. Its not that the suit itself is really all that uncomfortable, really, it’s that wearing a swimsuit is sort of a sign that you are ok with your body and, in wearing it, you open yourself up to judgement. I’d like to encourage us all to relax a little about Swimsuit Season; it is possible to simultaneously be ok with your body and also see room for improvement. The goal of fitness should be to feel great in general, feel great about how you look, and be healthier; the goal is not to be so terrorized by a spandex garment that you miss out on a fun beach adventure because you failed to drop the ten extra pounds.

The only advantage to being guilted into going to the gym by swimsuit phobia is that perhaps this pre-summer fitness mania will lay the groundwork for a consistent and healthy workout routine that can be continued. If you have started to kick it up a notch in honor of the summer,  you might as well stick with it the rest of the year, right? For sure. So, if you are running your little legs into the ground trying to make a beach vacation deadline, its time to cut yourself some slack; instead, try making a workout routine that you can incorporate into your lifestyle and work toward your goals in a way that won’t make you burn out and never want to see an elliptical again. Chances are, if you stick with it, next year you’ll be super psyched for swimsuit season.

 

 

I’ve been thinking quite a bit, lately, about the many reasons for prioritizing fitness. It is probably a safe generalization to make that many of us initiate a fitness routine based on a desire to look a different way- I know that was the main reason for me when I first started to get serious about getting in shape. I did not like seeing the extra doughnut of fat blobbing out over my (too-tight) waistband or my bloated face that was threatening to obscure my (already teeny-tiny) eyes from view, and I didn’t like feeling winded going up stairs while simultaneously trying to have a phone conversation, nor did I enjoy stuffing some of my favorite clothes in the back of the closet because they wouldn’t zip or, if they did, they cut off my circulation when I sat down; these were the things that motivated me to START getting fit, and now that I have and resemble a more normal-sized version of myself, I have found all sorts of different reasons to motivate me to CONTINUE to be fit. I think probably the most important thing to remember is that fitness is not simply about looking good in a bathing suit or even just feeling good about yourself (but it IS nice if you feel good about yourself too); instead, it is about treating your body (the only one you get) in a way that insures you will live a long and comfortable life.

If you feel like you need a little extra convincing to get you off the couch and onto an elliptical, check out the following articles (mostly from NPR, my favorite news source) that discuss how exercise and fitness can help prevent things like cancer and senility. Sometimes, you need to see the bigger picture to realize just how important good health really is.

It’s never too soon to start!

Give your brain a fighting chance!

Feeling blue? Strap on your workout shoes!

Ditch diabetes!

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, start small.

Kick Cancer to the curb!

Strong bones are made from more than milk.

7 Good Reasons

Is your heart working overtime?

 

I’ve just rolled out of bed and every part of my body is stiff or sore. Yesterday was cardio day and I spent some quality time on both the treadmill and the stationary bike (read: full-blown ‘tomato-face’ and lots of sweat!); the day before was legs day so I squatted, pressed, and lunged until I thought my legs would snap off. Getting back into the swing of things after vacation has been rough, but I’m finally feeling like I’ve found my groove.

Tonight I have to head straight from the library to a function for Don’s work. The bad news is that my most flattering and most favorite dress which I last wore in December was accidentally given to somebody else by the dry-cleaners (they are still awaiting a response from this someone, I’m about to give up hope of every seeing this marvelous dress again). Since  my go-to dress is MIA, I’ve had to do some rummaging in my closet for something that is both work-appropriate and dressy enough for a corporate dinner and the only thing I could come up with was the infamous grey Calvin Klein dress that I have previously referred to as ‘the dress that broke the camel’s back.’ A year ago (almost exactly, in fact), I tried to wear this dress to a similar function without success; try as I might, I could not get the zipper to close more than a couple of inches. It was a really hard moment, but one that was ultimately for the better because it kick-started my dedication to better health, and THIS time, one year later, when I slipped the dress over my head and said a silent prayer to the Gods of the Greased Zipper, the dress fit! No tugging, no fussing, no holding my breath as someone else yanked, two-handed, on the zipper pull, it just fit. This is actually better than good news, it’s great news! I will post a photo later, I promise.

Snow Day! or WTF is a Runner’s High?

Last night we had our first real snow of the season and the allure of the white-frosted trees and fresh, crisp air seemed like a great excuse to ditch the gloomy confines of the gym today and take ‘fitness’ into the great outdoors. Jack and Don were happy to oblige and accompany me on a run followed by some at-home strength training (push-ups, eeew!) and a brief snowball fight (which I lost).

This was the second time this week that I opted out of the gym and into a run in the fresh air; once in a while a change of scenery is necessary in order to avoid the ‘workout doldrums’.  We have been blessed with a very mild winter here in Germany with temps staying consistently in the mid-30s (F) or higher, so it has been pretty easy for me to switch things up and take my workout on the road whenever I get bored with my normal routine. There is just one teeny-tiny little thing that would make it easier for me to skip the gym and get my cardio en plein-air and that would be if I actually enjoyed running.

There are a lot of things that I like about running… I like the thought of doing it, I like making an iPod playlist for running, I like the way I feel when I’m finished with a run, but I don’t enjoy doing the actual running. I find it slightly easier to do on a treadmill when I can control the speed and make sure the terrain stays absolutely flat, but running is never easy.

I’ve heard people say that they like or even LOVE running, and I don’t understand how that can be possible. In fact, I don’t believe them. I do believe, however, that they like or love the way running makes them feel, I like that too. There is something very satisfying about dripping sweat with your heart pounding and your legs aching from a good long gallop; it feels great to be finished with a run and know that you have just done your body a lot of good at no cost aside from the price of a pair of sneakers, but it just can’t be possible that anyone likes the actual running part!

From start to finish, running is more work than something that supposedly comes naturally to people should be. When moving from a warm up walk into the first steps of a jog, my body feels stiff and clunky. Whatever muscles I worked on at the gym the day before twinge in protest at having to move at speeds greater than an amble, and it takes a lot of concentration to establish a rhythm. And why is that??? Human beings have been running since the dawn of time- either toward something that will become dinner or away from something looking to make a human its dinner- so it seems like running should be as easy as walking, but it most certainly is not.

When I finally manage to jog out all of the kinks in my body and feel a little loose, the next challenge is that I can no longer breathe and my heart threatens to explode. I know that it wouldn’t be considered a cardio exercise if it didn’t tax our cardiovascular system a little bit, but why oh why oh why does running make my heart pound so that I have to turn up my podcast in order to hear Ira Glass tell me about Act One this week on This American Life over the drumming in my ears ? And why does every breath I take feel like fire in my lungs? Or worse, in the cold air, why does it feel like my trachea is no larger than one of those coffee stirring straws forcing me to gasp air like a goldfish whose bowl has been knocked over?

The grand finale of running discomfort comes when I have resigned myself to the fate of not being able to breathe and knowing that I could go into cardiac arrest at any moment. Just when I think that I can live with these things, my limbs turn into lead. Little by little, it takes more effort to lift my legs and pump my arms until it feels like I am running underwater, or maybe it’s more like being the Tin Man in a rain storm; my joints get creakier until I can’t possibly move them anymore.

So when people talk about getting a runner’s high, I think about how I feel- stiff, sore, lungs on fire, heart beating faster and louder than the bass line in a Ke$ha song and then, as if in a terrible nightmare, it all starts to happen in slow motion- I can only assume that a). these people black out while running because they can’t suck enough oxygen through their swizzle stick tracheas and they don’t accurately remember what the experience of running feels like, or b).  these people are trying to make themselves feel better by imagining that there is some payoff from running greater than simply checking off the exercise box on their to-do list. Either way, I’m not buying it.

For certain there are benefits to running. It is stress-relieveing and anxiety-reducing (no extra energy left to be stressed or anxious after a good, long run), it gets your blood moving which is great for all of your organs, it can help clear your thoughts (I spend most of my runs thinking about anything and everything so that I don’t have to think about the fact that I am running and I get a lot of planning done that way), but none of those benefits include a high of any sort. A Runner’s High is like a Unicorn or a pleasant-tasting cough syrup; it would be nice if any of those things existed, but they are all fantasy creatures and it isn’t fair to delude ourselves by pretending that they are real.

Sometimes I entertain the possibility that maybe I just haven’t run fast enough or far enough to experience the mythical Runner’s High, but I can’t find the motivation to want to try this theory out mostly because it would involve running faster and farther than I presently do. Once in a while, I’ll have a run that is kind of enjoyable. I’ll get through the first stages of creaky zombie-legs warm up and hit a rhythm and feel pretty good for a few miles, but most of the time I just feel like I would rather lie down on the pavement and call Don to come pick me up in the car than run another step.

Those are the days that I have to remind myself that running is not optional. I don’t have to do it every day, but I do occasionally have to do it if I want to be a fit and healthy person. Sure there are plenty of other cardio options, but every once in a while, even if its just for a short distance and at a very slow pace, it is necessary to remind my body what it feels like to run if only for the sake of proving to myself that it is not IMPOSSIBLE because it generally feels like it is. Also, even though all cardio exercises help to strengthen your cardiovascular system by insuring that you have a good, strong heart and big, healthy lungs, each exercise is slightly different in the way it works your body and it is always good to vary your exercise so that you are well-rounded in your fitness; focus too much on one thing, and you run the risk of looking like Popeye- scrawny all over with one concentration of big muscles!

Running is awful, it is difficult and sometimes painful and I often feel like I am failing at being a human being because I think running should come more naturally to me, but it is something that we must all do once in a while (even if we do it while pretending we are in the Hunger Games because that is the only way we could ever justify its necessity to ourselves). When I read articles about running either online or in magazines, it seems like the world is full of half-crazed running fanatics who swear that running is SO FUUUUNNNN or that it makes them SUPER HAAAAPPPPPYYYYY, and I’d like to remind everyone else out there that you are not alone. There are plenty of us who feel like running is an awful chore and the only thing about it that we look forward to is being done with our run so that we can spend another two or three days in the warm embrace of the elliptical machine, but when the gym starts to feel like a gloomy dungeon and our normal workout routine seems stale and boring, it is really nice to have the option of throwing on a pair of sneakers and getting a (literal) change of scenery. Running: I absolutely hate it, but I also kind of like it.

Jack doing his post-run stretching.
Jack doing his post-run stretching.

You Can’t Outrun a Bad Diet: It’s Resolution Time, Baby

As much as I love the holidays and all of the merrymaking that accompanies them, I am looking forward to not having to be on guard against hidden calories every time I put something in my mouth. Don and I have a friend who is an excellent baker and she gave us a basket filled with goodies that we have finally found the bottom of, our stash of chocolate that ‘Santa’ left in our stockings is dwindling, and our roaring schedule of parties, dinners out with friends and celebratory feasts has toned back down to normal. I admit to indulging over the holidays (you show me the person who claims to be able to resist a sugar cookie and I’ll show you a liar), but I was diligent about staying active as much as possible.

There were a several days over the last few weeks where I had perfectly legitimate ‘Get Out of Jail Free Cards’- the gym opened later and closed earlier most days, I had to work longer hours to accommodate for holiday closures, and the weather has been damp and dreary- but I didn’t use them! It would have been so easy to hit snooze and nestle back under my covers for another thirty minutes of sweet, sweet sleep or to use the spare hour I had in between work and a holiday party to blow-dry and accessorize, but I didn’t choose the easy route! Instead, I chose the healthy route; the sometimes-I-had-to-get-up-at-4:30-and-go-running-in-the-dark-with-my-faithful-husband-and-hound route; the I’m-sorry-I-showed-up-to-your-party-with-wet-hair-and-only-one-earring-but-I-managed-to-squeeze-in-30-minutes-of-cardio route, and while I didn’t always feel like I was getting in the best workouts, I was grateful for having even the teeniest bit of exercise to both ward off the Ghosts of Christmas Treats Past and help relieve some of the anxiety that accompanies the holidays for everyone over the age of thirteen (why isn’t the Post Office a 24-hour operation and why can’t I buy tape, wine and mittens at the same store?).

Now that the tree has been dragged to the curb (or, if you are from Vermont, placed in the bed of your pickup to be forgotten about until it is a skeleton shedding rust-colored needles and you need to take it out to make room for a deer carcass)*, it is time to start thinking about your resolutions for the New Year! Probably, since it is the 6th of January, many of you have already pledged yourself to some form of betterment and maybe you have even begun to act on this pledge (if so, you should make a resolution to be an over-achiever because you are well on your way, my friend), but for the rest of us, the time to make a resolution is NOW and what better thing than to resolve to be healthier?

Being healthier means different things to people. Over the last five months, I have made a huge commitment to my health and have been impressed with myself for both finishing the LiveFit program and sticking with my workout routine after the program; a year ago, I would never have gone running in the wee hours of the morning unless I was thrown into some weird sort of Hunger Games scenario and my life depended on it. Even so, there are still things I need to work on and one of the biggest components for good health is a good diet, so I have resolved to eat better. I have been saying that I am trying to eat better for months and months and months, but as a wise Jedi master once advised a young Luke Skywalker “Do, or do not, there is no try.”

“Do, or do not. There is no try.”

We’ve all heard the sayings: ‘You are what you eat’, ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’, ‘abs are built in the kitchen’, ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’, etc. It is a sad situation we have created for ourselves; we have an abundance of food available to us at all times of the year conveniently packaged in cellophane so that it stays fresh pretty much forever, but unfortunately all of that food is crap. It is tasty crap, it is convenient crap, but it is crap just the same. My first order of business was to trade pre-packaged processed fake food  for real food whenever possible. Why grab a can of overly salty soup from the store shelf when I own a knife, cutting board and a crockpot and can make my own soup? Why buy a tube of pre-made pizza dough that stays fresh for a suspiciously long time when I can dump flour, water and yeast in a bowl before I leave my house in the morning and have pizza dough waiting for me when I get home at night? Before I grab a package of something with vegetable flavoring from the grocery store shelf, I consider whether I have the skills and time to use the real vegetable instead, and if I lack the time, maybe I can do it tomorrow instead and eat something else tonight? I have been exploring new recipes (especially recipes for kale, if you have any of those, pass them along) so that I don’t get stuck in a boring health food rut.

In order to start eating better, I also had to identify the worst parts of my diet and the best parts of my diet.

The Worsts!: Cheese, bread, sugar

The Bests: kale, fruit, tea/water

What I have going for me in my current diet is that I love fresh fruit, I drink mostly tea and water and never soda, and since Thanksgiving, kale has been abundant in the grocery store so we have been eating it about five nights a week (hence the request for kale recipes, my husband has not uttered one protest about the month-long kale parade but I’m reaching the end of my creativity). My weaknesses are cheese (the stinkier and creamier, the better!), anything made in a bakery but particularly the German Weißbrot that I can get fresh from the oven at my grocery store, and, as always, sweets. My plan, and it is working so far, is to simply reduce the amount of the ‘worsts’ I eat and substitute more of the ‘bests’. When I have a hankering for something sweet and crunchy, instead of reaching for a divine chunk of hazelnut and raisins Ritter Sport, I grab a handful of juicy grapes. I have also been making plans for my meals so that I don’t get caught starving at dinnertime in a grocery store and snacking on a mozzarella ball as I wander the aisles wondering what I am going to make for dinner.

Kale!
Kale!

Eating healthier doesn’t have to be a big challenge. It seems like an overwhelming task and one that involves depriving yourself of treats, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m still treating myself to cookies, chocolate, beer and glühwein, I’m just not treating myself to them every day, and I’m keeping in mind what little I know about human biology and evolution. We are an animal that once spent its days wandering in search of food sometimes finding it, sometimes not. We evolved and developed a storage system (hello fat cells) for the food that we did not need at the moment but were able to consume so that we could use it later when we couldn’t find food, and then we evolved some more and developed ways to store food for longer (hello freezers and preservatives) so that there would never be a time when we couldn’t find it. My diet philosophy is this: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are not. If your sweet tooth is calling, see if fruit will satisfy before you reach for the Snickers. Fresh is best, frozen or canned is ok, chemical flavoring is to be avoided whenever possible. Fill your plate with veggies, leave a small space for protein and an even smaller space for carbs. And please, send me your kale recipes!

*I joke about Vermont because I love Vermont. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Champlain, I recognize that there are a multitude of things we Vermonters do well (pretty much everything), but getting rid of things we are finished using is not one of them.