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Archive for January, 2013

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I am so sore today. Everything hurts. More than it has in a long time.

Today my trainer decided it was time to kick things up a notch again. There were three separate occasions when it seemed like I might throw up. One cardio interval was so hard that at the end of it, the “fuck” I meant to breathe out quietly came out as a sharp yelp the whole gym heard – because I was too exhausted to modulate my voice. I sweat profusely, and muscles in every part of my body screamed at me.

But I did not quit anything before I was supposed to. I held those motherfucking forearm planks even though it felt like someone was filleting my arms at the bone. I did all 50 crunches even though my entire body was shaking. I kept going on the spin bike even when my vision started to swim. I just bared my teeth and snarled my way through it because I do not quit anymore, dammit.

And now every part of me aches. This is how it is supposed to be. It’s good, the aching, because I know my body is working, and strengthening. But oh, it tires me out. I’m reminded of the early months of training when I went to bed by 10pm every night because I was so exhausted from the gym.

If that sounds hard and kind of miserable? It was. But it was also a damn good thing. I was suffering in my weakness. I couldn’t move properly. I didn’t have the strength I needed to get through the hours of my day. Everything was hard; everything was uncomfortable. I only felt good when I was lying in bed.

Things are pretty uncomfortable right now too, but it’s a different kind of hurt. A good hurt. It will fade in a couple of days, and in the meantime, I will have more energy. Over time, I’ll get stronger. And all along, I’ll feel more capable. For everything that seemed too hard to do that I did anyway.

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What am I willing to do to care for myself?

This question was posited to me earlier this week when I was sharing the ways in which I’ve started slipping back towards habits that don’t benefit me (like eating more than I need, slacking off on exercise, not caring for myself).

I was talking about how everything’s hard and I feel overwhelmed sometimes, and I was very caught up in those feelings. Because it is hard to be conscious of what I eat every time I eat and to make time every day for exercise. And I do get overwhelmed. Right now my fiance and I are in the crunch of planning our wedding, with dozens of decisions to make each week. Our dog is ill and has taken a turn for the worse, which breaks my heart (and makes me want to eat absolutely ALL of my feelings). My job is getting busier. There’s a lot going on, and I get pulled under by the energy it takes, how much it stresses me out, how challenged I feel to do everything.

That question, though, cuts right through all the noise, right to the core. It says, What about you? Yes, there are many tasks and much work; yes, it all takes a lot of energy; yes, shitty things happen; yes, others need help. But also: you, your self. It all starts with the self, my self. If I can’t care for myself, what else am I going to be really successful with? It’s like the adage about how before we can love others, we have to love ourselves. I have to love myself and prioritize my self in order to care for others, to do good work, to be focused and grounded and able to live my life well and meaningfully.

So… what am I willing to do for myself?

When I put it that way I understand so much better that of course I need to prioritize my health. If I’m not willing to care for my own self, then what’s the fucking point of anything else? This is the fundamental: me. It’s so easy to focus outwards and forget that I am the origins of everything in my life. If I can’t take care of the body I live in and the spirit I have, why am I bothering with anything at all?

I can take care of myself. Of course. And I will. Which means I prioritize eating well and exercising – because these practices care for my physical being. It’s not something I’m doing because I should do it, because there’s some obligation; I’m doing it because I value myself. I’m doing it because why would I do anything besides what will take the best care of me?
Because it’s easier to sleep in than exercise?
Because it’s fun to eat lots of cookies and get drunk?
Those reasons (which I have used often in my life) sound ridiculous when I am choosing them over myself. It may be true that cookies are fun and laziness is easy, but guess what’s a lot more important than cookies and ease? Me. And you. Each of us and all of us.

We all matter so much, and we forget how much we matter. We’re often encouraged to do so – by a consumer culture, by easy distractions. But that’s why I like this question so much – because it brings me back to myself. It cuts through all the crap and reminds me of what’s fundamental. It reminds me that caring for myself is always worth it.

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I just discovered Rachel Wilkerson’s blog through one of my all-time favorite websites, A Practical Wedding. I have Rachel’s blog earmarked because there are about a hundred more posts I want to read. (She lives in Houston, has lost a lot of weight, is engaged and used to be afraid to fly – clearly we have things in common. (Edit note for those who don’t know me: I don’t live in Houston, but I did grow up there).) I immediately went down the rabbit hole of clicking links on her blog and quickly ended up on her old blog at the post discussing her weight-loss story. That’s where I found this excellent quote:

“When I talk to people who want to lose weight, I stress what I call ‘positive nutrition.’ This is the idea that what you put in your diet
is more important than what you take out. Don’t just focus on what you don’t (or “can’t”) eat; appreciate the great things you do you eat!
I wish I had been taught at a young age to appreciate healthy food; sometimes, when I’m eating something amazing, wholesome,
and natural, it makes me so sad because I think, ‘What the hell took me so long?!'”

THIS! YES! Completely and one-hundred percent. This is what I need to remind myself of every day right now. I have slipped back into the mindset of thinking about what I can’t have and feeling like I’m being denied. It’s a completely unproductive way of thinking. And it will be my undoing if I keep with it.

Because I’ve never been able to work productively from a place of denial. And part of the reason I have been so successful so far has been because I have focused on what my body does need to be healthy and how I benefit from eating those foods – lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats – instead of the crap I used to stuff myself with. When I am in the right – which is to say, most productive – mindset for myself, I am thinking about how everything I eat fuels my body and strengthens it. I am appreciating the nutritional benefits of vegetables, how kale and blueberries are super-foods, how plain yogurt keeps me full without spiking my blood sugar, while still tasting delicious. I’m thinking about the benefits of whole foods and the value of eating, as Michael Pollan recommends, like my great-grandmother did. When I’m thinking this way, I don’t want a stupid scone or a piece of candy or “just a few” fries. What I want instead is what I need: to care for myself and my body.

I’m going to keep reading this quote until I am fully back in the mindset of positive nutrition. I’ll probably go reread some Michael Pollan too.

 

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I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

That’s half of a coconut scone. And it’s caption is what I had to tell myself to keep from eating it.

I’m like a dry drunk right now. The halcyon days of extreme focus have slipped away (temporarily), and everything is a decision again. I don’t eat sugar, so a lush coconut scone offered by a lovely inn at its complimentary breakfast should be NO PROBLEM ME, right? It’s not even on my radar – right?! Except there I was, sitting in the thoughtfully appointed main living room, at a cute table eating breakfast to the soothing sounds of classical music, and I thought, “Well, why not have just a bite?”

The fuck is that about?! Here’s why I shouldn’t have a bite: sugar. Also, butter and processed white flour. My body takes those ingredients and holds on to them like a long-lost lover returned. No good comes of me eating a scone. And yet… when we walked in to the eating area, and I saw the nicely arranged plate of bakery-made breakfast pastries, I wanted them. I got myself plain yogurt and a grapefruit a hard-boiled egg, but my heart was not in it. My heart was busy composing sonnets to scones.

I thought I could resist when my fiance brought one back to the table. But then he took a bite and said with disappointment, “Aw, it’s coconut.” Whaat? What’s that you say? Did you say coconut?! I LOVE COCONUT!!! GIVE ME THE COCONUT!

That’s not what I said out loud, but I did reach out immediately, break off a bite and pop it in my mouth. Oh sweet delicious coconut and sugar and butter and flour. Stephen said, “I hate how chewy coconut is.” I said, “Om nom nom nom nom!!!”

And I was about to eat more. I was ready to do it. I had the excuses lined up: We’re out of town! It’s a special occasion! I already ate a huge meal full of questionable ingredients last night (the tasting menu for our wedding reception)! Why not just make a weekend of it?!

I looked at the scone and thought about how good it would taste. And then I thought about the rush of happy feelings it would bring me and how, at least for a moment, those would overwhelm the stress of wedding planning. But then I remembered what would come after: the regret. The sense of disappointment with myself. The eroding of my confidence in my ability to choose what I truly want for myself. So I took a picture instead and tagged it with what truly defines that scone for me.

And you know I was glad I didn’t eat it. Of course. Always.

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I was talking to my trainer this morning about a former client of hers. This woman – we’ll call her Ella because that’s not her name – was working with my trainer when I started with her. At that point, Ella had lost 60 pounds and raved about how much her life had changed and how much better she felt. She stopped working with my trainer in the middle of 2012, and my trainer hadn’t heard much out of her – until recently when she saw something on Facebook and learned that Ella has gained more than half the weight back and is having back problems (which she had completely gotten over during her training) again.

There is an important reminder in this for me as I struggle with my own resistance and plateauing: The thing accomplished does not stay accomplished without continued work.

I have lost almost 60 pounds now, and I have changed my life. I feel great. But these changes will only continue to be my new normal way of being for as long as I continue the new habits that created the change.

I want to remind myself of this for the days when I skip the gym because I feel like I’m too busy to go or the times I eat the cheese or cheat and have the piece of zucchini bread because it’s easier or I feel like it. Each of these actions in isolation is fine. Not every day will be a day I can exercise, and sometimes eating some decadent piece of food is a delicious and lovey treat. But most days – almost all of them, in fact – should be days I exercise, and the treats should be few and far between so they actually are special and truly treats.

For more than a year now, I’ve corrected people when they refer to my diet. “No,” I say, “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.” It’s important to make that distinction, for myself more than anyone else. If I don’t see this as the new normal, then it won’t last. And it matters so much to me that it lasts. Now that I know what it feels like to be healthier, to have more energy, to be more truly present in and with myself, I do not want to give that up. There’s not a damn piece of cake in the world (as much as I love cake) that’s worth losing what I’ve gained.

And it’s important that I remind myself of that truth and that I remember that this is a daily practice, a choice I get to make over and over again, for myself. Even on the days I don’t feel like it, when everything in me rebels and pouts and just wants to stay in bed, the truth is that I’m doing it for me, for my best self, and what I want most in my life.

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Yesterday was a hard day at the gym. An ugly day. There were two moments when I honestly thought I might throw up and had to consider whether or not to excuse myself to the bathroom.

It was my fault too. I showed up for my training session feeling sick to my stomach because I’d eaten too much the night before. The food I ate was healthy – I was at a vegan, organic restaurant that focuses on healthy, nourishing food – but I ate a lot of it. And that’s been a trend for the past few days anyway: eating a lot. I like to spread my birthday celebration out over many days (I learned this from my mom, the master of the extended birthday), and this year I have used the celebratory period as an excuse to overindulge.

I know better. But I did it anyway. Because as I have previous mentioned, I’m struggling. And it’s much easier to go out for a bunch of delicious meals than face that struggle. I haven’t run away entirely; I’m still eating mostly well and exercising almost as much as I should. But I’m cutting corners and cheating where I shouldn’t; and I know it. And I let my birthday be an excuse to do it. Which is not the worst thing in the world, as long as it stops.

So I went to my training session because it’s time to focus again. And I knew it was going to be hard and painful. And boy was it! I felt like ass and I was getting that ass kicked. But I anchored in and pushed through it. I know now that there aren’t a lot of valid excuses, and “I ate too much last night” is certainly not going to be one. So there was no stopping, and there was no begging off. And it felt awful, but then it was over. And then this was the amazing part: I felt so much after it was done.

Once I had recovered from the exertion of it, I realized I felt more awake and more energized than I had in days. The feelings of nausea and overfull-ness were gone. I felt buoyant and good. And I was glad for that reminder. This is why I do it; this is why I keep at it even when it hurts: because it makes me feel better. And stronger. And happier.

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It’s birthday time again, and I have always loved my birthday. I look forward to it and celebrate it because at it’s most simple it is an indicator of the great good fortune I’ve had to live another year.

As I’ve gotten older though, a certain element of dread has also crept in. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re younger and you want to get older, but as time continues to pass, the horror dawns that aging will come for you too. Yes, you too will age and get wrinkles and fall out of cultural relevancy. Yes, you too will get old. These are obvious statements, but in a youth obsessed culture, I didn’t understand at all the degree to which I valued my own youth until it started to slip away.

It started in my late 20s because each year indicated I was getting closer to 30. Closer to 30 and still unmarried, still overweight, still floundering with my creative work and career. But the real awareness of aging set in after 30. Now well into my 30s, it seems hilarious to me that I once thought of turning 28 as “getting older.” Now there is no hiding the fact that I am moving, at the steady rate of time passing, towards middle age. I very much want to add that I’m not there yet because I’m not totally comfortable with that truth, as much as I try to remind myself that each year is a blessing and aging is a inevitability I’m lucky to have.

These reminders help me to let go of any anxiety about getting a year older, about seeing that new higher number. But what has made the biggest difference in me being able to more gracefully accept my age are the changes I’ve made. The more I have focused my energy on accomplishing what matters to me and on making significant meaningful changes in my life, the less I care about my advancing age.

As it turns out, a lot of what scares me about getting older is missing the chance to live my life truly and fully. The more I move towards becoming the person I know I am capable of being and doing what matters most to me, the more content I am.

So I’m older, and it’s no joke. I can’t even call this business the mid-30s anymore. But it’s okay. It’s great in fact. Primarily because I am alive and well, and extraordinarily fortunate in the people I know and the life I live. But it also doesn’t hurt that I look better now than I did two years ago!

Here I am on my birthday two years ago:

Me35thBday

And here I am celebrating this year’s anniversary of my birth:

me37thbday

It feels good. To know that even though time passes, I can always become more of myself is a gift in itself. Getting older doesn’t mean anything more than the chance to more fully become who I truly am. As long as I’m willing to take that opportunity and work with it. And I feel very grateful indeed to have that opportunity.

P.S. – Also note the change in beverages, from a margarita to a glass of water. That’s not irrelevant at all!

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