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Archive for February, 2013

If your trainer lets you talk for more than a couple of minutes about anything not related to training, and if you’re not breathing too hard to talk for most of your workout anyway… it may be time to fire your trainer.

And if you and your trainer hang out next to a weight bench or strength-training machine and talk for 5-10 minutes between each set (which takes one minute or less)… guess who’s just hanging out instead of doing his or her job? Your trainer. And guess who’s paying upwards of $100/hour to sit and chat? Yeah, you. Is small talk really worth nearly $2 a minute? You’re paying that premium for guidance and expertise, not to talk about what happened on “Downton Abbey” or why your boss is a dick.

If your trainer lets you look at your phone at all during your training session (emergencies excepted obviously)… it may be time to fire your trainer.

And if you and your trainer are sitting on stability balls with your phones out, showing each other pictures and tweets for half of your one-hour training session… you are getting fleeced. And also? You need to sort yourself out. Because this is your fault too. Exactly what muscles do you think you’re strengthening? Are you sweating? No? Are you aware that you’re not sweating? Because you should be, and when you are, you should start wondering what the fuck this person, whom you’re paying good money, is doing. Besides taking you for a fool.

If your trainer shows up in work boots, jeans, bootie shorts, pajamas or other gym-inappropriate clothing… it may be time to fire your trainer.

If your trainer shows up in one of these outfits and then proceeds to braid your hair and let you braid hers in return… I mean, really? Do I even have to say it? And are you aware that other people in the gym can see you? Because you should have more shame.

These examples are all things I’ve seen other trainers and their clients do. For real! And it blows my mind. Personal training has a very specific purpose: to whip you into the best shape possible. It is also not cheap. So if training isn’t getting you into great shape, what’s the point of it? There are cheaper ways to hang out around exercise equipment – like just joining a gym. I think it’s crazy on the client’s behalf to let this kind of thing happen, and my trainer gets particularly incensed at other trainers who perpetuate this behavior. She’s offended on behalf of the clients who are not getting their money’s worth and are not getting into better shape.

When we see people behaving in this fashion, my trainer will point out to me how many exercises I can do while the slacking trainer and client just talk. Usually it’s three. Usually I can do three different weight exercises in the time others will spend just standing around. Because that’s what good personal training should be like: constant movement, constant work. Obviously, you can’t work the same muscles over again in repetition, but there are many muscle groups and plenty of ways to fill a full hour without taking a break. I barely have time to drink water during my sessions, and as tired as I feel at the time, I’m grateful for it. Because my trainer puts her focus and energy into making sure I am working as hard as I can to get as strong as I can. And it works.

I’m lucky that I found my trainer. And I hope anyone who hasn’t been so fortunate will know that they deserve the best guidance they can get, that they’ll fire that mediocre or crappy trainer and find someone better. Someone who will pay attention, who will demand focus and consistent work, someone who will care but still kick your ass.

 

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In the run up to the Oscars, I discovered a fascinating series of articles by Sally Holmes on New York Mag’s The Cut about the various steps involved in getting one’s physical self “red carpet ready.”

What I found so interesting about Holmes’ series of five articles is how they illuminate the magnitude of the work required to get a physical look that is then presented to us, the viewers/consumers, as an ideal way to be. And of course that ideal way to be is not at all reasonable or achievable in normal life, as is evidenced by the gargantuan lengths celebrities go to to achieve this level of looking good. It’s a pretty quick jump from there to seeing how this kind of thing can, oh I don’t know? TOTALLY MESS WITH PEOPLE’S HEADS. And give them serious self-esteem problems since they can’t live up to impossible standards (what with them being IMPOSSIBLE and all).

To give a better idea of how crazy the hoops are that these men and women jump through to look so “effortlessly” glamourous, I have picked out some of the most fascinating quotes from the article.

On dieting for awards shows:
“Also snacking, the damn snacking. One apple or two celery sticks covered in peanut butter is like an appetizer for my typical snack. So, basically, during awards season, when your entire celebrity posse is in town and you’re attending fabulous parties every night, you can’t actually enjoy the appetizers or open bar.”

This is exactly what eating healthy is like all the time, if often seems to me. There’s the way food is presented to you: decadent, delicious, and abundant, and then there’s the way you need to eat it to stay healthy: very sparingly. But no one ever points out that those amazing meals and fancy bar drinks are really more for show than actual consumption by people with normal metabolisms.

On exercising:
“The one thing about having a fitness plan that you have to stick to is that it’s hard to do a lot of other things. Even to make it to three classes a week, piloxing has to be a priority. I had to switch my normal class so I could have dinner with a friend who was in town, and ended up missing another class because I had to work late. For most celebrities who work out regularly — many twice a day — exercising isn’t just a priority, it’s part of their job, but it’s hard to imagine being able to maintain that on a weekly basis for, uh, forever? Even thinking about that has me wondering how these women have the energy to be a celebrity in the first place.”

I mean, preach on this one… exercise takes up a LOT of time. Committing to consistent exercise caused me to significantly restructure my days and how I spend my time. Imagine if I had to do it for more than an hour a day! I can’t even.

On skin care prep:
“Three weeks out from the Oscars, on top of the skin-care routine and drainage, Lancer’s best clients also get a treatment that uses ultrasound or radio waves to bring up the jawline and lift the skin to give it more definition. ‘If you look at those people on the red carpet, they have very tight jawlines. And that doesn’t happen naturally,’ he points out….Five to ten days out, they might also get placenta applied on their face, neck, and chest — this nourishes the skin and supposedly makes it glow. And, on the morning of the award show, a touch-up LED light treatment makes everything look more perky. ‘If they start going with the styling and hair and makeup at 8 a.m., they may show up here at six in the morning.’”

I mean, this is INSANE to me – those are a lot of involved and expensive steps for a person to take just for one element of an overall look. And yet, to get red-carpet ready, this is normal. (I mean, who doesn’t get a placenta application on their face, amirite?)

And finally… the granddaddy of all how-to-create-unrealistic-beauty-expectations: plastic surgery. For when celebrities find themselves in need of more slimming help than their rigorous workout regiments can give them:

“People have to be naked, or in a swimsuit for a shoot, or get into a dress for Cannes, and they try on their dress with their stylist and their love handles are poking out,” [Dr. Aaron Rollins] says. “What’s really good for my business is Hervé Léger dresses, because they really leave nothing to the imagination.”…“But for the red carpet, right now it’s basically a necessity, like tooth-whitening,” he adds, almost congratulating himself.

Like tooth-whitening, people. Which is also annoying and, depending on how you do it, not the cheapest.

So there you have it. I read all of Holmes articles, and when I finished, I took a minute to appreciate how I look right now, just as I am. Because I will never look like an actress on the red carpet, and that is fine, thanks. The fact that I don’t look like Charlize Theron? Well Charlize Theron probably doesn’t even look like Charlize Theron. This unrealistic expectation of beauty was something that fucked me up for years – because clearly I wasn’t good looking enough – so I felt bad about myself and didn’t love myself, when in truth, I was completely loveable. And also damn good-looking.

I think it’s so important to expose just how much of a fallacy all of these ideals of beauty are. They harm us by implying that we need to chase these ideals – waste our energy and resources on something fleeting and barely attainable, when we could be spending our time creating and contributing, finding ways to matter to ourselves and the world. These beauty ideals diminish us, and they do it in part by pretending they’re easy to achieve. They’re not. Don’t be fooled. And especially don’t be fooled into thinking they matter because they don’t.

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Maybe I’ve done enough. 58 pounds is a lot of weight to lose. I’ve changed my life; I’m fitter, healthier, stronger. Maybe I should just be happy with what I’ve done.

Several friends have suggested this idea to me. They’ve pointed out that, if my body has plateaued at the same weight for this long, maybe that’s because this is the weight it naturally wants to be. They remind me that I’ve done so much and suggest that I should be happy and content with what I’ve already accomplished. After all, if it’s so hard, is it really worth it?

These are interesting questions, and I’ve thought about them, of course. It would not be the worst thing in the world if my current weight and size stayed; they are certainly a vast improvement over where I was. And I am, for the most part, very healthy. Healthier than many people I know, in fact, which for much of my life was not something I ever thought I’d be able to say. But…

But. That answer does not feel right to me. In my gut, where the truth of myself lives, I do not feel finished. Most simply, I set a goal for myself, and I have not finished accomplishing it yet. I want to see it through. It is a huge goal, but not an unreasonable one. I am not looking to become a size 4 here. But I do want to be in the 8 to 10 range actually. That should put me in the middle of my healthy weight range. It seems reasonable to me.

On a much more practical level though, my physical gut is the reason I know this is not yet enough, that I am not done yet. I’m still carrying a good chunk of fat around my middle, and pretty much every study ever links excess belly fat to a higher risk of you name the disease: cancer, heart attack, diabetes. And it’s a decent percent higher too – like 30%, or more. Clearly, I need to re-reference some of these studies. But I remember enough to know that it’s really dangerous. And as I get older, these statistics start to mean more to me. My dad was 46 when he had his first heart attack (out of 5 – yeah). I have his genetics, and I do not want to realize their potential in this regard.

It’s a serious issue. It blows my mind how uninterested I was in it for so many years; I can only chalk it up to the arrogance of youth. I still can’t believe how many people don’t seem to take it seriously, just act like everything will be fine, that an unhealthy lifestyle won’t have consequences for them. I mean, maybe it won’t; some people get lucky; but probably, actually, sooner or later, it will. I know I can’t prevent illness with good health, but I also know that I can help my odds. And I intend to do that.

A friend of mine, regarding all my dietary choices and encouraging me to lighten up about them, recently said, “I mean, you don’t want to kill yourself over this. Sometimes it seems like you’re killing yourself just to meet this goal.” I looked at her in all serious and said, “You know what I’m doing is exactly the opposite. You know the way I ate before was what was killing me, right?” Now… I’m saving my own life.

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Cheese-Infested Salad

Cheese-Infested Salad

I just re-read my post from last week on why I’m not losing weight and was pained by this line:
I consume no sugar, red meat, fried foods, cheese, or processed foods. I consume very few refined carbohydrates, and the only dairy I eat is nonfat plain Greek yogurt. I have maybe one drink a month.

…Pained because this past weekend, it wasn’t true. I think I ate literally all of those things. The crazy part was that I was still being relatively self-restrained and thoughtful in my eating choices. But man is it easy to go off the rails on the crazy food train.

It looked like this:
Drinks: Margarita (first one in over a year) – check; sangria – check again. Two drinks in one day. That gets me druuunk now, incidentally. I am a cheap ole date. I managed to not drink anything the second day we were there. Virgin Bloody Mary’s are pretty great, as it turns out.
Red Meat: Pork in a potsticker at the zoo. I don’t know what to say – we were at the zoo; we needed a snack; theme parks are impossible that way.
Sugar: Oh, the sugar… this one has always been my favorite, my true drug of choice. I indulged in…
stupid Valentine’s chocolates – 4
some delicious high-end chocolate – 1 and I’m not sorry
that margarita
three bites of my friend’s bread pudding dessert
Fried Foods: This one is the most annoying because I don’t even really care about the fried foods, but it’s EVERYWHERE. I ordered a chicken sandwich, which was not listed as having a side; yeah, that shit still came with fries. And then they were there, and I was hungry… and I was weak. I ate like 10 of them. Also, those potstickers at the zoo.
Cheese: You know what lots of restaurants use to flavor all their food? Cheese. Even when I was trying not to eat it, it still showed up in my dang salads – at three different meals. Also, my friends ordered fondue, and I had a bite (three bites) of it.
Processed foods: I mean… half the stuff I just mentioned. I managed to stay away from my BFF’s CheezeIts, though. So at least I have that going for me.

Total food disaster. I think the only thing listed that I didn’t eat was the Greek yogurt – which is actually good for me. I mean, yes, I was on vacation, with two of my best friends from college, for a bachelorette-type celebration of my upcoming wedding. So really, this is how life goes sometimes. Shit-food happens. And I just have to dust myself off and get back in the game.

It’s just hard when I know I’ll see it reflected on the scale, and that will just be one more week that my weight has stayed the same, inching me towards seven months without a real change. I know what kind of look my trainer will get – even if I don’t tell her the details, because she’ll know from what the scale says. And if I do tell her the details, I know I won’t get understanding. This is a zero-sum game we’re playing. And it’s not really a game. It’s my life. But because it’s my life, sometimes I find it really hard to trade in absolutes.

I did have fun though!

Close enough to pool weather in San Diego

Close enough to pool weather in San Diego

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Shopping for a wedding dress is a fraught experience for me. I think it is for many women because there is a lot of cultural expectation around it: this idea that you’ll have a Moment when you find The Dress, and it will be emotional and happy and amazing. Yeah… That’s not really my way.

I am a slow decision maker, in part because I’m too able at seeing every angle and option and thus am often very indecisive. And the more important the decision is, the harder it feels for me. I knew dress shopping was likely to feature this problem. Also, I was not excited to spend tons of money on a white dress I’ll wear once. I have watched “Say Yes to the Dress” enough times to know that I am not a good candidate for the high pressure, This Is Such an Important Purchase intensity of the wedding dress industry. And I also saw this video about why wedding dresses cost so much, which further solidified the idea that a lot of the industry was a racket.

But most of all, I think of clothes shopping as a fraught emotional experience. This is because I have been shopping as an overweight woman for most of my adult life. And it’s not fun to have trouble finding clothes that fit. It sucks in fact to have to look for stuff with enough give to fit, to eventually give up on regular size stores and just go to the plus-sized ones, to even there have to worry about whether or not the clothes accentuate or hide fat. I got really good at finding clothes that made me feel happy and attractive, but it took years of effort and heartache to do so. As a result, I’m always a little touchy about having to buy something and needing it to look good.

It has not been easy for me to find a wedding dress. Everything either cost way more than I was willing to spend or didn’t feel at all like me. And I want to feel like myself on my wedding day. But there was one part of dress shopping I didn’t expect, which has been a wonderful surprise: I think I look good in everything.

I was so nervous the first time I put on a dress. It was a sample size too, so I knew it wasn’t going to zip up or anything useful like that. But I looked in the mirror, once all the clips to hold it on were in place and I looked bangin’. I was thrilled. Instead of worrying about how fat the dress did or didn’t make me look, I was just like daaayum! And it wasn’t a fluke. The majority of the (many) dresses I tried on looked good on me. And it was SUCH a great feeling.

Because I have worked my ass off to lose weight and be in better shape. I’m still not super skinny (I wear a size 12 – 14 depending on the brand), but I’m a fuck-lot skinnier than I used to be (size 22). And it feels amazing. Because I know I EARNED IT. And I’m so proud of myself. So when dresses didn’t come in my size or wouldn’t zip, I did not give one single fuck. Because I knew how good I looked and I knew how much effort I had made on my own behalf to get to this place. And I felt – and still feel – fucking great about it.

I’ve tried on what seems like an endless parade of dresses, and it’s been frustrating a lot of the time. But never because I felt too fat, never because I didn’t feel good enough about myself to feel good in a piece of clothing. It has been one of the great rewards of all my hard work to try on these many dresses and, each time, feel really good about myself, my body, and everything I’ve done and am doing to care for myself. I finally found a dress. I went back to the store three times before making up my mind, and I still might not have done it if I hadn’t had my best friend in town, there to help me realize that, yes, I could keep looking, but also, this was a great dress and a very me dress and getting it was a good idea.

NOT the dress I'm getting married in, but I think I look pretty good in it all the same!

NOT the dress I’m getting married in, but I think I look pretty good in it all the same!

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Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

I have asked myself this question many times in life, and while I might have had an inkling of the truth deep down inside, I buried that knowing under a lot of protestations and reasoning. For many years, I tried to lose weight and failed, and I threw my hands up in the air in despair over how it could be that all that hard work didn’t get more results.

Here’s the hard truth: It wasn’t enough hard work.

I see that now. I put in a LOT of work for my health, and currently, I maintain weight instead of losing it. I work out six days a week, and my workouts are always intensive. Two of those workouts are ass-kicking, nausea-induced-from-effort personal training sessions that, along with my cardio warm-up, take more than 1.5 hours. On top of that, I consume no sugar, red meat, fried foods, cheese, or processed foods. I consume very few refined carbohydrates, and the only dairy I eat is nonfat plain Greek yogurt. I have maybe one drink a month. And with all of this work, I can maintain the same weight. Not lose. Maintain. What I am doing right now is not enough focused effort to actually lose weight. Because I cheat a little bit – just a little. I eat more dates and prunes and nuts than I need. I have a real weakness for bread, which I will sometimes indulge in the form of half a roll or slice at a restaurant. I eat still for entertainment or to relieve stress sometimes. It’s not much, but it’s enough.

I’ve been running this experiment with myself for many months now, because I clearly needed to prove to myself that, actually, it all matters. All the little cheats and treats, they really do make a difference. And if I could go back in time, this is what I would say to my 19-33-year-old self…

This is why you’re not losing weight:

*All those little bites, they actually do count. While it’s true that “just one bite” really won’t hurt, that actually means just one bite – one time (or at least, very infrequently). Just having a bite of dessert every time it comes around, just having a taste of every cupcake that’s brought into the office, just having a few fries whenever a friend has them on her plate – that’s actually more than just one time. It adds up to a lot of times. And once you can count on more than one hand the number of times you’ve just had a bite in the past month, you are not longer doing it right.

*In the same vein, all those cheats also count. Yes, you probably can have a cheat meal once a week. But that’s one meal, once, and it can’t be an all-out gorge-fest. If your one meal is a whole pizza washed down by a bottle of wine and rounded out with a pint of ice cream, then you’re no longer indulging a little bit, you’re sabotaging. A meal should not contain more than a day’s – or several day’s – worth of calories. And one meal does mean one meal. Not one day. Not parts of three to five different meals. You should be able to easily remember the times you’ve strayed from healthy eating because you do it so infrequently. Once you start doing it frequently, you’re not going to lose weight anymore.

*Good food in large quantities is still large quantities of food. Obviously it’s healthier to eat a rice cake with some all-natural peanut butter on it than it is to eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup, but if you’re eating a whole bag of rice cakes slathered in peanut butter, you’re still eating a whole lot of food you don’t need. Giant bowls of granola and cereal, all of the trail mix, five slices of toast… all of these also count as Way Too Much of a Good Thing.

*Seriously, it all counts. All of it. Really. The margin of error is not large. That doesn’t mean you can never have chocolate again or never eat another indulgent meal, but it does mean you shouldn’t be sitting down with a whole chocolate bar ever, and those big fancy meals need to be actual special occasions (meaning: rare). Just because you say you’re on a diet and the days that it’s easier you mostly stick to that diet doesn’t mean you’re going to lose any weight. Saying it and doing it are not the same thing. You have to live it.

Which is why it should never be a diet. It has to be a way of life. It has to go down deep because how you feel and what you think will ultimately guide your success. If making a healthy change doesn’t mean more to you than eating a treat, it will never work. This isn’t something you can pay lip service too. You have to want it fundamentally, for reasons that are about yourself and your own needs. Because if it’s about pleasing someone else, or fitting a cultural ideal, then it’s not really about you. And if it’s not about you, it won’t have true meaning, and you won’t care enough. You have to care about caring for yourself more than all the noise, so that you can honor that choice in every decision, all day, every day.

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When I first switched changed my eating and exercise habits, it was fairly easy for me to lose weight. Cutting sugar, cheese, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates out of my diet was a shock to my system, since that was pretty much all I had been eating (washed down with alcohol frequently). Taking those foods away was enough to cause real weight loss; adding intensive exercise on top of it made the changes happen even faster. In the first two months, I lost 15 pounds. By the beginning of December, three and a half months in to my lifestyle change, I was down just about 30 pounds.

And that’s when things started to slow down. It took another six months to lose the next 25 pounds. The math there is pretty easy to figure out. I was taking twice as much time to lose the weight. Part of it was that I was getting thinner and so the weight was not coming off as easily. But around this time was also when I discovered Trader Joe’s freeze-dried mangoes.

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It was an accident – something bought as a a one-off, maybe even by Stephen, probably as a cereal or oatmeal topping option. But holy hell, they tasted just like candy to me. It was all the sweetness and flavor of a mango, but dense, at a perfect level of crunchy where there’s still just enough give and chew to make it feel like candy in my mouth. I started eating a lot of it. When my parents came for Christmas, my father told me he thought it was cheating. I defended my right to eat fruit – that was the only ingredient! – and resented being told what I shouldn’t eat when I already wasn’t eating so much. Obviously I was going to keep eating it!

One package of those mangoes has just under 200 calories, and I was eating four to five packages a week. A 1,000 calories isn’t enough to make someone working out as hard as I was gain weight – or even stop losing it – but it was enough to slow it down. And there were other loopholes to treats. Kind bars have a lower sugar content than most bars and were all natural; they also tasted like frickin’ candy bars to me. So I started eating those too. I found restaurants and food stores that sold sugar-gluten-dairy (sgd) free treats. I understand at some level that a cupcake is still a cupcake, even if it’s made with maple syrup, coconut oil, soy butter and brown rice flour. But it seemed okay to me given everything I wasn’t eating.

piesgdfree

Only it adds up, all the little treats. And suddenly, I discover that I can lose 55 pounds one year and then a mere five pounds in the six months that follow. I took myself off the mango treats. I got rid of the golden raisins and gluten-free waffles. But I didn’t get rid of all of it. In fact, just today, I ate some delicious raw “coco-roons.” They’re made with cocoa powder, coconut, and maple syrup. All natural, totally reasonable. And also not necessary.

This is where I struggle now. My fight with food has always been emotional; I want treats because they make me feel good whenever I eat them, and most of all, they make me feel better when I am anxious, overwhelmed or sad. I learned through a lot of hard work that I don’t need these treats, that I can live without them and be better for it. And yet and yet… the struggle is not over.

It takes so much focus and discipline to really cut out all the unnecessary crap and not just most of it. I need to get back in touch with the motivations that helped me keep that focus for so long.

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