Category Archives: Body Image

Physical Fit: New programs, pain, and horror monkeys

The first conversation of a morning not so long ago went something like this…

Co-worker: I feel like six shades of horror monkey turds.
Me: Oooookay… How many shades does it actually come in?
Co-worker: Eight.
Me: Ah. In that case, you aren’t completely dead yet. Carry on… (pauses before continuing) So…out of curiosity… what are the particular characteristics that make a simian “horror” instead of the usual run-of-the-mill variety…?
Co-worker: Severity of head pressure and the color of discharge from my nose.
Me: I see. So, sinus discharge is somehow related to differentiation of primate species occurring in horror vs naturally occurring ones… fascinating.

Why am I beginning this post with the above conversation? Well, I will tell you… I think I almost grasp horror monkey “turdness”. While no discharge has made evident the particular shade, I believe that today I might have fallen somewhere upon the color wheel of that excremental descriptive. Again… why? Oh, yeah, I’m a masochist.

My friend (Yes, Tess) will often remark that life is a series of experiments. We try various things, whether socially, physically, mentally, or emotionally and evaluate the outcomes for quality. Well, I’m paraphrasing… I think… hopefully not fouling up the actual premise, but you get the general idea. We do a lot of the experimenting when we are adolescents and trying to figure out who we are as independent persons. However, the experimental nature of humanity doesn’t end with adulthood. If so, we’d never have any new ideas from anyone outside their teens. And thus, it is good we continue to explore, create, and ponder the ponderings of new ideas. Where was I going with this… oh yeah: Horror monkeys.

As my experiments documented and shared with readers (all two or three of you, my undying gratitude for your loyalty) will attest, my explorations in the realm of fitness and diet have definitely had their ups and downs. Recently, I have embarked upon a new training program. I decided it was time to up my game. I needed to face my fears and make my first forays into the dreaded free weights area of the gym where the wildlife is more competitive (and spends a good deal of time looking in mirrors… yes, I know, form… but then there are the “swelfies.” That is apparently a thing, but I digress).

For those of you who possibly engage in weight lifting and fitness yourself this may seem like a ridiculous thing to fear. Am I right? You are thinking “Really? They’re just weights.” But y’all don’t understand the level of courage it takes for me to leave the safety of the cardio and mechanical advantage machines to make a complete ass of myself trying to replicate the movements with the weenie little dumbbells that were the only ones I seemed to be able to budge. It’s humiliating to have some cute little fitness model in her designer workout garb curling 50 pound weights with ease while I look like a busted can of biscuits in my free t-shirt from the local pizza place and nearly bursting a vessel trying to curl my 15 pounds. And so… I hide in the corner where I hope I will go unnoticed and not disturb the “professionals.” It also helps that I go super early most days which avoids much of the crowd. And off I went again… It’s Friday, what can I say, I’m a bit distracted.

So, the new plan is a 9-week thing. I’m on week … 2. Yes, 2. I’ve been at it for a sum total of 9 days. Last week was mostly me very awkwardly learning the various exercises from the videos on my tablet (very helpful, by the way). I still ended up aching from the new movements and different ways that the body uses free weights as opposed to the machines. I also found out that I can’t do chin ups. I used to… I did. I remember in school doing those phys-ed assessments. I could do chin ups all day. Now? Nope. My arms just said, “Aw… that’s cute.” So, again, humiliation. I have to use that assist thing that allows you to set it for counter weight so that you are only lifting a portion of your full body mass. Regardless, I was sore… everywhere. I thought for a while that I would either have to wear the same nasty clothing for a week while I recovered or I would require assistance with my activities of daily living. I’m not going to go into details, but aching leg muscles and trying to ease down for sitting upon ANY surface… think about it. It wasn’t pretty.

However, much as my more physically proficient friends predicted, my body started recovering and the soreness faded to a dull presence that was manageable. And yet… Week 2. It all starts over again. Shocking, right? One week of working out on the new plan is not going to make a miracle of my body. It is a 9-week program. If I want any results, I’ve got to give it the full trial. This is where those monkeys come in…

Leg day… makes me want to puke. I am not joking Quite literally today, in fact, the up-chucking occurred. I have some more than rudimentary knowledge of physical ailments and how the body’s chemistry works. I expect that several factors contributed. By the time I finished my workout, I could not have appeared more drenched if someone had stuck me fully clothed into a shower. So, electrolytes and temperature. No bueno. This is why people drink those nasty tasting beverages trying to replace the salts. Lifting and cardio can also draw blood flow away from the stomach adding to that not so lovely feeling. Additionally, lifting weights and training actually does create tiny tears in the muscle tissue which then heals and grows, and that’s totally oversimplifying, but the process does dump some chemicals into the system that might contribute to the world-spinning, full-blown, ralph attack. Now, why leg day gets the full brunt more so than arm, chest, back, or abs? Possibly due to the size of the muscle groups. In fact Dr. Joel Seedman confirms this:

“Basically, your gastrointestinal system isn’t getting adequate support when your body is moving blood to where it’s needed most. Some workouts are worse than others when it comes to commanding tons of blood flow—for example, leg day can leave you more prone to nausea. ‘This is due to the size of the muscles as well as the overall volume of work that the legs are capable of handling.'” (from Alexa Tucker in Self)

So… maybe three or four shades of horror monkey excrement today… At least not the full eight. I am careful enough to keep an eye on things like heart rate and such to be sure the nausea is not a symptom of something more dangerous. So far, just a symptom of me being a leg day weenie on this new program.

All of which is to say, I’ve started this new experiment. We’ll see how it goes. If the results are positive, I’ll be sure to share it. So, stay tuned. It will also help keep me honest and sticking with it even when arm day makes my pen soooooo heavy and typing somewhat difficult. Cheers!

The Mirror and the Scale

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Social media has gotten on a kick of traipsing down memory lane… whether you wanted to be reminded or not. However, just the other day, a friend posted a picture of herself from a few years ago on her social media page. It was not even that many years ago that the picture was taken, but her own comment was “I wish I felt that pretty again.” The post sparked a number of rebuttals from her friends and family to say she was still remarkably beautiful. I was one of the contributors, and it prompted a conversation between her and me about the self-image downswing that we were mutually experiencing.

Like it or not, the majority of individuals in western society are consistently comparing ourselves to an arbitrary image set forth as ideal beauty. Whether you are male or female, young or old, chances are that you have at some point in your life fallen prey to the superficial grading system imposed by public assumptions of what is attractive. It isn’t anything new. This stuff has been going on for decades, centuries, hell… probably millennia. I expect that if someone invents time travel, we can take a trip back to the stone age where we will watch as Og or Una looks at their gender rivals and thinks, “You know, I wish I had a heavy brow and back hair like Erm,” or “Wonder how she gets her hair to mat like that?” It is something to do with competition for resources and mates. We want to look our best and most attractive to make sure that we get more hubba-hubba from our chosen ones than the next individual of the species.

And no… I may be oversimplifying, but we don’t develop these ideas about our own appearance just because we want to stare at ourselves in a reflective surface… well, at least most of us don’t. Even our internal opinions of worth and attractiveness originate from some sort of external input and observation. While we may embrace the idea of looking good for ourselves, the ideas we have of what looks good are still sadly over influenced by the collective opinion of society. The good part about that is that it tends to evolve and change itself. The bad part is that society hasn’t always reflected health and wellness as beauty.

For instance, the ideal beauty image of 19th century fashion in Western Europe involved looking consumptive. I’m serious. There was a fashion and beauty trend of the time where women tried to appear as if they had tuberculosis. Not so much the coughing up blood bit, but they would exaggerate pallor and wasting physique and spots of color in the face… Yep, sure enough, what was thought to be lovely was actually symptomatic of pulmonary contagion. What fun! Let’s not stop there. To swing the entire opposite direction, we can visit the 20th century and the tan generations. People worked very hard and exposed themselves to extended quantities of UVA and UVB to achieve the golden and darkened skin tones found to be attractive from the 1950’s through 1980’s. We’ve all seen how that turned out for some of the rich, Corinthian leather types, at least those who managed to narrowly avoid melanoma. Finally around the 1990’s people started heeding the advice of dermatologists and respecting their natural skin tones enough to invest in sunblock and avoid over tanning.

No matter what the trend or the evolution of image ideal, we all risk that day when we look in the mirror and think “What the hell happened?” It is the natural consequence of living a full life. We age. We change. And yet, our society still wants to tell us that the only way to stay beautiful is to stay young. In truth, some of us are gifted in that department. Genetics and self-care can be seen on some people as a fountain of youth. They do not appear to be ravaged by time, while the rest of us note every line and crease and bulge and dimple that changes the surface and circumference of our physical form. For others, medical science has provided various options to attempt to turn back the clock.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have looked up into the bathroom mirror to be startled by the middle-aged (or old) woman that looks back at me. Why am I startled? I know precisely how many times I’ve made the trip round the sun. I understand how time and biology (and gravity) work on the body to result in certain effects. I know precisely how much sleep I did not get the previous night. Knowing how it all works and knowing my own age has not changed the impact of seeing it reflected in the mirror on upon other measurement devices like my bathroom scale. In my mind, I’m still supposed to have the physique of that 25 year old (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, also felt herself to be ugly and falling far short of the “ideal” of the era). I see the extra bulge here, the dimpled skin there, the uneven complexion due to hormonal changes of pregnancy and age (and yes, too much sun), the lines on the face… and I’m appalled. Who is that? That isn’t the image I have of myself in my mind!

Fight as I might against the idea of succumbing to social pressure, I have still absorbed all the unnatural expectations that say I must be thin, athletic with perfect skin and hair, looking like the models I see in clothing, lingerie, and fitness adverts whether it bears any resemblance to my own genetics or not. Anything else falls short of that ideal and must mean that I am no longer even passably tolerable to look upon… and I want to run and hide.

Usually with a little bit of effort and sufficient time away from the offending reflective surface, common sense and humor return. I look my age. I should be pleased to do so. It marks me as a victor at least in some aspect of the war with time and element. I’m still here. I’m also in decent shape (decent meaning that I’m still motivating under my own steam and without an entire pharmacy to keep me so). I could possibly take better care of myself. Who couldn’t these days?!? I could pay more attention to my diet, my fitness routine, my sleep schedule… So, why haven’t I done so? Was it because I gave so little value to that 25 year old that she deteriorated from neglect? Maybe. Perhaps if I had seen then what I now appreciate I would have retained some part of her to be visible now?

Again, that is just silliness on my part. Each of us can be happy with who we are by accepting that it is all part of normal growth and evolution. Does it help to make healthy choices and occasionally pamper ourselves? Sure it does. One of the most beautiful ladies I ever met was about 98 years old when I was called in to see her in the emergency room. She was genuinely the loveliest woman I had seen. Her hair was perfect, silvery white and still very thick. Her skin was not without lines, but was clear and a beautiful cream. Her eyes were bright hazel like light on water with very mischievous twinkles, and she had also had her nails done that day in a shocking pink tone that most nonagenarians would never have chosen. I won’t go into the reasons I was there to see her. I just recall being stunned by her beauty and thinking to myself that I would never be so lucky to arrive at those year with that much stunning loveliness. In my reverie, I heard her say, “You know, gal, you are very pretty.” My immediate response was to think, No I’m not. I masked it quickly, but the lady was too quick. She said, “You were about to contradict me. Don’t you do it. I don’t say things that aren’t true. So, don’t pull some sort of false modesty bullshit with me. Stand up and accept it.” Whereupon I realized that the twinkle in her eye was no lie, and I laughed. I had to. She had called me out on my southern upbringing and lack of self-esteem. So, against all that self-defacing programming, I thanked her and proceeded with her exam. I still didn’t believe her, but that was ok.

That lady had made me think. I wondered if she recognized her own beauty or if when she looked in the mirror she merely compared herself to what was likely the stunner she was as a young woman. I hope she saw the truth at every age. I hope she recognized the image in the mirror for the loveliness it was, and I hope that at some point I can look at the reflection in my own glass and appreciate what is there without weighing the present image in the scale against a past that is gone.

 

Physical Fit: Surviving the Holidays without Losing My Mind or All My Willpower

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It is that time again… Well, it is that time for me again. Starting in the first days of air getting crisper, sweaters and hoodies making their appearances all over, and the epidemic of pumpkin everything, I start to feel that budding anxious feeling of pounds creeping back onto my body. My email is full of “The 7 Ways to avoid Holiday Weight Gain…” and “Follow these 17 Simple Rules to Avoid All Happiness this Season but at Least You Won’t Gain 50 Pounds Before New Year’s…” I can feel the panic and guilt sliding into my mind.

It’s true. Many a willpower has fallen before an overflowing display of favorite holiday treats and fountains of celebratory beverage. Even when I am being my most cautious and careful, I’m pretty sure that the increased caloric volume of the actual air is working against me. Every year, I promise myself that I can and will resist the holidays and their overabundance of tasty goodness. I will resist the urge to snuggle up before fire instead of getting out for my run and workout routine. Yet, I hear the fallen angel on my shoulder whispering softly things like, “It’s just once a year…” or “It’s the holidays. That negates calories and fat…” Um… yeah, get thee behind me betrayer! And so goes my struggle, much as the rest of the world. So, at least I know I am not alone. How do I know?

Well, as it happens, I read. A lot. Sometimes I even read for pure enjoyment without any graphs or statistics or comparison studies… Unfortunately, I read a lot of incredibly dry (at least to some opinions) scientific journal type articles and medical journals. Thanks to my (incredibly) pedantic reading choices, I actually came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clearly defined exactly how much of a detriment that the Eat-All-The-Things season is to our health, wellbeing, and bathing suits.

Turns out, instead of setting our resolutions for better fitness and health with the clock restarting at December 31st, we should be thinking about bettering our habits starting at the end of September (Helander, Wnsink, & Chieh, 2016). According to the scientists who made a study of weight gain during the holiday season in three countries in the northern hemisphere, people are at their lowest weight during early October. Starting sometime before All Hallow’s Eve, the weight starts to increase and the average does not appear to get back to the pre-TrickorTreat days until sometime in April. The highest weigh-in on average was New Year’s Day. So, it seems that people above the equator start packing on the pounds (as much as 5 additional pounds on average) when the bulk candy starts hitting the aisles and doesn’t start depleting until Gym-crowding Month (or Gym-tending Season).

Makes you wonder… Is it just the availability of the sugary sweets and sugar plums dancing? Maybe not. There are a number of contributing factors that seem to be in play. Aside from the candy, cookies, and pies, there are multiple opportunities for celebration that surround gorge-fest food extravaganzas. It isn’t just the sweet-teeth out there that are in danger. Turkey and dressing with all the accompanying starchy sides make Thanksgiving a quagmire of dietary ruin. The unending calendar of holiday gatherings with all the favored seasonal treats beckons. Every time you turn around, people are getting together to celebrate the season, and it usually involves munchies… and drinks. Yep, that’s a definite part of the equation, specifically the equation that keeps adding numbers to the scale. Alcohol consumption definitely adds to the caloric intake. Egg nog, holiday punch, mulled wines and meads, and celebratory champagne toasts are everywhere you turn.

Then, there is the weather. It is dark later and gets dark earlier (remember, we are talking about the northern hemisphere). It’s harder to get out in the dark and cold for that early morning workout, and the cool and dark of the evenings make working out at the gym or a run less appealing than being home in front of a fire with snuggly clothes, a book, and some warm mug of your choice. And speaking of temperatures, the fashion options aren’t helping matters. Big fluffy hoodies and slouchy sweaters hide a plethora of inconvenient waistline issues. The beach-ready body that was shown off with form fitting styles and skin-baring swimwear is now safely camouflaged by woolen knits and multiple layers. “I’m not fat… I’m big sweatered.” I’m not body-shaming anyone, and some of those cooler weather styles are just legitimately adorable. However, it does make it that much easier to lose sight of our health goals as well as those waistline goals we’ve been working towards so diligently when they were more visible. (It does make me wonder if a follow up study could be done to see what the trend is for the folks Downunder.)

And now for the feels… Who are my emotional eaters out there? I can sense my people. I know that you are waving at me across the ether… or else hiding under your keyboards with your hoard of stashed Reese’s Cups saying “Nothing to see here! Move along!” The point is, I totally get it. My emotional eating isn’t depression or sadness, it is boredom and stress. Unlike some who soothe the wounds with pints… quarts… ok, gallons of Ben & Jerry’s, I am more likely to go reaching in the larder and fridge for the cure to the stress monkey hanging on my back. I’ve talked about my boredom eating previously, but I shall now propose a different scenario. The hordes of holiday visitors have landed upon the shores of the abode. Is the house ready? Is the food prepared? Is it the right food? Are there sufficient items for all, including the allergies and medical restrictions? Are you preparing that dish that is a family heirloom quite the way the ancestors prescribed…? You get the idea. All the thoughts are currently perking, bubbling, boiling, and smoking inside my cranium making the peace and good cheer… well, not so much. Rampaging around the kitchen and house trying to address all the imagined fires popping up, my hand sneaks out to grab a crisp or a spoonful of some concoction or possibly a chocolate whatnot. I mean, I have to taste it to make sure it is all right… right? Well, the occasional bite and crisp becomes mindless hand to mouth exercise that increases my food intake by an unknown amount because it was precisely that… mindless. I didn’t actually pay attention. Heck, I probably didn’t even taste it. And while we are in the kitchen trying to prepare the feast often with unsolicited advice or critique from helpful others, it might not be so unusual to find a shot, a glass… a second bottle of various liquid remedy being imbibed. It’s the holidays. Just trying to keep the peace here! The point being, aside from the added calories, stress doesn’t help when we are trying to keep the figure and fitness we achieved pre-Labor Day. On top of which, the addition of the happy sauce sometimes clouds us to the amount of food we are washing down with the cocktail(s).

So, those are the struggles. What are the fixes? I’ve read a lot on that as well. Summarizing some of the most helpful tips would be one word: Mindfulness. Mainly, be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. That will help a lot of the automatic feeding. Most of the experts say to indulge (not overindulge) in your favorites, but leave off on the holiday dishes that generally are a “Meh” for you. It isn’t necessary to eat everything. One of the no-brainers that I know I am guilty of myself is the “saving myself for” syndrome. Knowing I have a party, get-together, or buffet of treats on the horizon, I find myself skipping meals to save the calories for the goodies. The problem with that would be that I’m so ravenous by the time I get to the feast that I eat way more of everything than I would have otherwise. Better to maintain a nice balanced and healthy feeding schedule.

Watch the cocktails. Seriously, there are way more calories consumed in our celebration shots than we give credit. Remembering to rotate non-alcoholic beverages, water, or seltzer for a happy fizz will help decrease the amount of booze calories without pooping on the party.

The stress eating and drinking… this is my big one, and I have a couple of big allies to help on this one. First of all, keeping a decent sleep schedule despite the parties is a big one. With packed schedules and various obligations hitting at the end of the year, it is sometimes more difficult than usual to catch the Zzzz’s, but I know that I am trying to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and follow the good sleep hygiene habits I’ve worked on this year. I am hopeful that will help me keep on track. And, of course, my physical fit… While my workout routines and running have been fueled by a desire to be less horrifying when naked, I have found that the physical activity (specifically the aerobic portion) also keeps me sane and less at risk of dissolving into a fanged she-beast ready to bite the heads off unsuspecting family and friends. I know, there are those of you out there saying “If I had to run a mile, something better be about to bite me…” but I promise there is science behind my madness. It turns out that several studies have been done showing that aerobic exercise increases brain activity, specifically of the alpha wave variety (Bergland, 2015; Crabbe & Dischman, 2004; Gutmann, et al., 2015). In fact, during and immediately after aerobic exercise (the kind where you breathe harder and your heart rate goes up) alpha wave activity significantly increases, much like meditation. So what? It turns out that this particular type of brain activity is what happens when we are in idle, drifting, daydreaming, or meditating. The impact on creativity has been shown in studies as well as the use of this type of thought pattern in treating anxiety and depression. Voila! I brought it back to the point without flying off planet. Keeping up with your exercise routine with some aerobic activity involved can help with holiday blues or seasonal angst. Meditation is all well and good, but when you have the house full of people, running (quite literally) away might be more effective than trying to find alone time to get in some “Ohms.”

delicious-how-grinch-stole-christmasI think I have a game plan, now. At least I have a fair assortment of options and strategies to help me get through the season. Actually, if I rope in a few teammates and coaches to remind me when I start wandering off the path, I should get through fairly unscathed. Enjoy your holidays!

 

Bergland, C. (2015). Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

Crabbe, J., & Dischman, R. (2004). Brain electrocortical activity during and after exercise: A quantitative synthesis. Psychophysiology, 41(4), 563-574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00176.x

Gutmann, B., Mierau, A., Hülsdünker, T., Hildebrand, C., Przyklenk, A., Hollmann, W., & Strüder, H. K. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Individual Resting State EEG Alpha Peak Frequency. Neural Plasticity, 2015, 717312. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/717312

Helander, E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12). Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1602012

Physical Fit: Well-meaning saboteurs…

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It is so very important that you keep the right sort of approach to any positive change, but as important to your self-talk and mindset is the natural supports that you have around you every day. No matter who you are and how confident you believe yourself to be, each and every one of us upon taking those first toddling steps into healthier choices need cheerleaders and the occasional guardians. We need the positive reinforcement and the positive influence. Why? Because habits are hard to break and hard to form. It is difficult enough to decide to cut a favorite treat (or even just cut down on same) or get up earlier to make sure you get in a workout before your day gets so out of hand that you can’t even visit the restroom without your message alerts or phone exploding.

One of the most difficult parts of any change you elect to make is that you are not the only inertia faced in the process. Change is hard enough when you are working on your own resistance to long-term habits and poor choices. The additional problem is that the people in your life may also be resistant to that change. Everyone gets used to certain patterns and expectations. It’s comfortable. It is something you can count on through thick and thin… or maybe not so thin. It is not simply a situation where the people in your life want you to remain miserable and unhappy. It is just that they have gotten used to you in a certain form and function and any changes that you make in your normal appearance or behavior may upset their own fragile status quo. There is an underlying, subconscious (yes, I know it is redundant) fear that if you change, you won’t be the same person anymore. You will destroy the expected norms, and they won’t know you the same way. Consciously, the people who love you may see that this is a positive change that you are making, but beneath it all, they are unsure how they will like this “new you.”

Think about it. I’m sure you have seen television and movie stories all about this type of scenario. Enter pudgy, geeky, awkward Sally or Billy. They are the best friend or the confidant or the unlicensed therapist or confessor for their entire social group. Bless them. They are the person to whom everyone goes when they need to “run something by.” They have served as the plus one when the date fell through, but they always knew they were never the first choice. So, Sally or Billy with or without assistance of a fairy godmother/father goes through the extreme makeover. And just like that *poof*! Sally is stunning, and Billy is beautiful. They look like Venus and Adonis. Their friends who were shining in comparison before are fading as these ugly ducklings turn into swans. Now, on occasion the physical and superficial transformations also come with an attitude adjustment that may or may not be so very positive. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the change of personality may be merely perceived by their friends and not truly what has occurred. The point being that all the friends who have relied on Sally and Billy this whole time feel that they have been robbed of a rock-like figure in their social circle, and it destabilizes their tiny world… And so it goes. You know the tale. It is the Cinderella story or Emma (for my Jane Austen fans). However, that is fairy tales and Hollywood. It is a cautionary piece to keep us grounded and remembering that what matters is what is inside and to not let alteration of the superficial or circumstance change who we are. The underlying message is, of course, that everyone can be loved for who they are, it’s what’s inside that counts, and even if they stay an ugly duckling that is better than being an asshole.

And that is just marvelous… except everyone should be able to make changes in their life if they want, and of course, if it leads to better health, self-concept, and emotional well-being. However, not everyone can let go of the anxiety that changing your outside might change your inside. Additionally, there may be some people in our lives who (whether they admit it to themselves or anyone else) do not want us to become more… successful, attractive, confident… whatever, because if we do, we might not need them or have the same role in their lives. Now, this is just totally selfish, not to mention completely infantile, but it happens. Those particular people are probably not what I might call healthy additions to a support network. One might even call them toxic, but they aren’t even the most dangerous or deadly foes of any attempt at healthier living.

So, now, I will talk about the well meaning saboteurs of the world. These people have convinced us and themselves that they have our best interests at heart. They love us and are so proud that we are making good choices. Sometimes, they are even the ones who have encouraged us to step on the path to better nutrition and physical activity with subtle hints about possibly trying to lose some weight or “Have you considered going on a low-carb diet?” They are being helpful. They want us to be healthy and happy with our lives… What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well… I’ll tell ya. Immediately upon declarations or suggestions of embarking on a new diet, joining a gym, or considering any number of ways to get the lard out, these folks present an obstacle course of dietary and fitness torpedoes to sink even the most stalwart of will power. You know the type I mean. Upon informing your loved ones and supporters that you are going on a low carb inception phase (meaning that you want to keep your carbs to 50g or lower per day), you walk in to find cupcakes, fresh baked bread, and a dozen cookies. Someone will bring donuts and bagels to the breakroom, and every meal has only one type of side dish… potatoes. They say, “Good for you!” and follow it with, “Would you like to split a large pizza and an entire package of doublestuff Oreos?” Yes, my brothers and sisters, they parade the plethora of starches and sugars before you seemingly oblivious to the nutritive content of any of their choices.

These are the well-meaning saboteurs. It is my belief they really do not understand what they are doing. After all it isn’t truly their responsibility to change their lifestyles or desires just because you have elected to restrict your own dietary intake. They are not the keeper of your will. Sometimes, especially with the older versions of these, they have preconceived ideas about dieting that predates current science. I’ve actually had some express concerns that I had an eating disorder or would damage myself by choice to remove carbohydrates… or at least decrease them. It was a lack of knowledge and understanding. It was just a foreign concept. Perhaps it is also that knowing that we are giving up or reducing our intake of some of these favorite foods, we’re just more aware? Nope, that doesn’t explain all of it, because too many times when you look at the patterns, those well meaning saboteurs weren’t going on baking binges or filling the house with bulk purchases of snack cakes and processed sugar before the announcement of going back on Atkins. Perhaps it was the announcement that somehow subliminally put it into their minds to hoard all sugars and starches like they were going to be put on rationing? That’s as good an explanation as any.

The point is, I don’t think they even know that they are doing it most of the time, and when we get cranky and snap at them because they are undermining our efforts and because we are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, they often look bewildered and hurt. Sometimes, they become defensive and angry with comments like, “Surely, you don’t expect the rest of us to adhere to your dietary restrictions?” or possibly, “Just because you can’t eat carbs doesn’t mean I should have to give up my donuts.” The truth is that none of us expect everyone to change their own habits or inconvenience the rest of the group due to our own food choices or decision to change our habits. Usually a gentle conversation and avoidance is sufficient to remedy the situation. I have generally found that they are apologetic. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about that.” It doesn’t really occur to them that their expressions of remorse merely highlight and emphasize the situation, “Oh my lord, I forgot you can’t eat this double-stuffed crust, full gluten, large pizza with all your favorite toppings! I’m so sorry.” They do not always change their ways, but at least they apologized. Usually they even try to be supportive by hiding or looking guilty when they eat fries in front of us or chow down on a piece of cake. They mean well. Truly they do.

Eventually, they may even learn to be legitimately helpful. I have found that in most cases, with relatively few exceptions (those exceptions typically being the known and proven supporters who can be relied upon to chain me up when the cravings get too intense), it is best to keep my dietary plans to myself. It helps stave off both the well-meaning and not so altruistic saboteurs in my life. And when I don’t tell them what I’m not eating… they don’t even seem to notice.

Random hair incidents…

I woke up this morning and looked like a crested crane. That is truly the only way to describe it. It didn’t have the fauxhawk majesty of a cockatoo, and yet it appeared to fan out around my head like I had inadvertently attempted to plug flatware into the nearest available power outlet. Whoever came up with the trend of “bedhead” has obviously never encountered my own follicles or their delight in creating what I might call… um… a “fright wig” out of the stuff on the top of my head.

Oh, I hear what you all are saying. What does it matter first thing in the morning? It’s not like your coffee is going to judge you (you just don’t know, do you). However, when one is facing the chock-a-block calendar o’ fun and the early morning gym is the only option you have, having Phyllis Diller’s Homely Friendmaker hairdo is not helpful. See… I heard you again. What does it matter? You are going to the gym. Well, that is entirely accurate, and I’m not one of those perfectly-groomed-going-to-work-out sorts with their fashionably matched Lycra, makeup, and hair-ties. However, I don’t want to traumatize any of the other patrons or staff. I’m telling you, the hair is terrifying. My mirror screamed.

S’ok, you would think this is easily remedied. Stick your head under a faucet and wet the stuff down. Oh… no… for whatever reason, my hair defies all attempts to tame. Water, gel, mousse, pomades… my hair just laughs. I’ve seen industrial adhesive types of hairspray whimper and cower away from my hair. The only thing that will occasionally remedy the situation is a rather long shower and shampoo. This is not always the option first thing in the morning, nor is it something I want to do before the gym just so I can do it all over again after the sweating.

Regardless, I cannot imagine why anyone would actually choose to style their hair in this fashion. Yet, I see it all the time; products to make your hair look like you have “bedhead.” So, apparently there are actually people out there in the world that deliberately work to make their hair look like how it allegedly appears when they get out of bed. Baffling.

While we are on the hair subject, I’m going to probably push it a bit to far and discuss other hair. I will try not to get too graphic, but what is it about hair on the human body that wants to grow where it shouldn’t and not grow where it should. I listen to friends of both genders complain about thinning hair and degrees of receding hairlines that eventually decided to just retreat in a full-out rout looking more like a reverse Mohawk than any other description. While I have not had the experience of losing all my hair, I have had some of the thinning occur due to various issues… including age. I’ve never quite felt it was fair that as we get older, most of us thicken in body and thin in hair.

And yet… we still grow hair. For those of you out there who have reached that age of wandering hair, you know what I’m talking about. Ears, nostrils, eyebrows… They all start sprouting like someone hit them with Miracle Grow. Not that people should be ashamed of what seems to be a natural occurrence, but serious nostril spiders should definitely be tamed back a bit.

In my own case, it is the eyebrows. I can’t fathom why they decide to wander. I’ll have them all groomed and in place with the appropriate curve and balance and, for me, just a hint of snarky arch. Then… BOOM! There it is… that little hair that seems to have gotten lost entirely from the group and is now trying its best to be an eyelash. Seriously?!? Where are you going little one? Get the hell back up there where you belong! No? Fine. I’m sorry for your shortened life. 

Now, I’ve told you that I was not going to delve into the overly graphic. I won’t, but just a brief word about the -scaping thing. Whether it is man or woman, keep it neat. It is my personal opinion that hair down there is appropriate and more importantly a secondary sexual characteristic of an adult. In other words, I think it is a little creepy to shave it bare. To each their own, but I just don’t think we should groom to look like pre-pubescents.

That being said, though, take a moment to groom. If the jungle is taking over and presenting to the world outside your bathing costume, it’s time for a trim. As for our guys out there… (again, sorry for dipping into the graphic) if your partner needs a machete and a native guide to find the twig and berries, it might be time to prune the shrubbery.

Ok, whew! I’m glad we’ve dealt with that. Back to safer subjects. Let’s talk extremities and the pits. Yeah. So, I know it is very un-liberated of me, but I’m not an au naturel gal myself. Again, to each their own, but I just really do not think that the arm pits are places to grow luxuriant locks. It’s a hygiene thing for me. Again, call me old fashioned or societally submissive, but an attractive woman in a fashionable sleeveless ensemble raising an arm to reveal BUSH!!!!! is not attractive. If you feel that is discriminating, fine… it’s distracting as hell! It disturbs the line of the attire. There. Also, the gorilla look is a little bit overwhelming as well. Now, to firmly put me in double standard mode, I don’t like the whole bare body thing on dudes. The guys who wax everything and are baby smooth all over… not a turn-on. I think it goes back to a couple of paragraphs ago for me. I like guys who have passed puberty. So, I’m ok with those secondary sex characteristics, like chest hair, hairy legs and arms, and the facial fuzz… within certain limits. For instance, I don’t want to sleep with Chewbacca. I don’t need a pelted guy, and back hair is just a little bit off-putting. It’s cool, though. They make procedures for that, and I think it’s only fair that occasionally guys have to experience a little of the discomfort we girls have been putting up with for years in the name of beauty.

And speaking of the facial displays, beards have come into fashion. I’m not sure what precisely influenced this, except the entertainment industry managing to put male leads in various versions of manly facial fuzz. As a young woman, I really never liked the facial hair on men. I liked clean-shaven, smooth faces. However, as I’ve gotten older, my tastes have changed. Now, I see a clean-shaven face, and all I can think is “Is he 12?!?” Nothing wrong with the clean face, but I have become more accustomed to men with mustache and beard. That said, Grizzly Adams or any of the Duck Dynasty crowd need not apply either. There is such a thing as too much beard.

Well… that about covers all I felt the need to say about the follicle struggles and wayward coifs. May your hairs be ever in place and may no random incidents ruffle your day.

 

Rock the body…

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I believe I have spoken of my own fashion despairs in the past. I am an accessory moron, and I will likely never quite grasp the aspects of chic.

I can recall pouring over the various fashion magazines and teen tomes that addressed all the latest when I was actually of an age to start exploring my own personal style. I even followed certain fads and fashion trends back in the day… I will spare you the mental images of me in the 80’s, but suffice to say I tried my hand at a variety of different looks. However, I have to admit that no matter what I did, I can say with some amounts of confidence that it always carried the aspects of someone going to a fancy-dress party rather than any style that I could own as mine.

Through the years, I’ve actually been told that I have the stature and build that can get away with following the trends. Be that as it may, I always feel when I try to embrace the fashions that I see displayed on so many others that I am a set of clothes walking about the world with a dowdy frump of a woman hidden inside. Or worse, the cute outfits on little petite things, and I try them and look like the linebacker from the football team in drag… yeah. It never feels comfortable the way my rattiest jeans and t-shirt do.

All that said… I do have an eye for these things. I see looks and outfits and general styles that appeal to me. I find them looking sharp and smart and wish that I could wear it myself with the same aplomb as the model or my friends and colleagues who manage it so well. I observe the writhing humanity about me on a regular basis and recognize that some of them obviously struggle with this as much or more than I do. I have to admire some of them for the bravery they espouse by merely trying to exhibit the fashions of the day. And then… I am also very certain that there are people who must not possess a mirror, or at least, they’ve never actually gazed upon their own image after dressing. I know, it’s catty and horrid and possibly engaging in the shaming of some type or other… but seriously… let me preach on it.

As I have said, I spent a good deal of time in my teens and adolescence trying out the latest trends. What all that playing about with fashion taught me was that just because something is the latest thing doesn’t mean that it is meant for my body. For instance, pleated jeans and tapered legs were all the rage at one time, but I assure you… NO ONE LOOKS GOOD IN THEM. That diamond shape that is created by the “mom jean” and little skinny ankle cuffs is not flattering to any body. And don’t get me started on skinny jeans… Additionally, while I do not think that you have to always “act your age” as they say, and people can stay young by acting young… there are limits, people. There is such a thing as dignity, and no matter what they say and how physically fit you are, no one should be wearing a micro-mini in their 40’s. In fact, I would say that to be perceived as an elegant and sophisticated individual, the whole miniskirt phenomena should probably have left the wardrobe before the 30’s were in the rearview. There are exceptions and leniency for certain people who really do have the “rockin’ body,” but the problem becomes that the skin of our knees gives away our age and is not so very attractive no matter how well we try to maintain otherwise, and it sadly has not a thing to do with weight or fitness.

There is also, for me, the leggings argument. I’m going to say this once. LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS. Oh, I’ve seen the video of the gal who says “Well, they aren’t a shirt… or a hat…” Yeah, I get what you are saying. They go on the lower half of the body. That doesn’t make them pants. It just does not, anymore than my panties, tights, socks, or support stockings are. Just because you wear them on your legs and lower bits does not mean that they should be your external wear and exhibited to the general public. No one wants to see cameltoe or every dimple of cellulite in the hindquarters. And guys, unless you are with the Bolshoi or Met company… I do not want to be able to tell your religion by looking at your crotch. Invest in some support and wear some pants. Have a little common sense and modesty. Leggings are great for wearing under long sweaters and tunics and sometimes skirts (though, seriously watch that! The 80’s were not that flattering, remember). Running tights, bicycle shorts, yoga pants, and other sport bottoms are fine… at the gym or on the track or in the yoga studio. They really are not that attractive worn out in public.

There are people in the world that seem to look amazing in anything they throw on their body. It’s still not advisable to go to a black tie event or even a nice restaurant wearing stretch pants with an oversized sweater or your latest phenomenally expensive workout clothing purchase to a job interview (See TNC: Dress for Success). It just isn’t on. Have some respect for the occasions, the workplace, and most importantly yourself.

I do not care what shape you are in… or are not in for that matter. Just because Vogue exhibits models that occasionally look like they have just been rescued from the camps at Auschwitz does not mean that everyone should aspire to a body mass index closely approximating emaciation. Additionally, as foreign as the concept is to many of us… and definitely to myself… there are people who are embarrassed by the fact that they feel too skinny and just can’t gain weight. It happens people.

A lot of high fashion designers (I’m talking the haute couture stuff that would never be realistic anywhere but a runway) tend to sculpt their creations around forms that tend to resemble clothes hangers… the wire kind. It is just easier to make fabrics drape and show off the form of the costume rather than the form of a normal, and varied, human form. Which brings me back to where I was going originally. We all see things in advertisements and billboards, red carpet events televised and entertainment media. We like them. We wish we could emulate them, but most of the time, we are looking at people who have entirely different body types than the ones we currently possess (or are likely to possess at any given time). It’s the nature of the species to admire ideals and aspire to emulate, while often lacking the natural foundation approximating the type. It’s fine, honestly. Beauty and attractiveness and health actually occur in many different forms.

It is entirely possible to be stylish, smart, and fabulous without exactly replicating the fashion of a different body type. It merely requires throwing out the trendy expectations and evaluating what actually flatters your own shape. There are too many out there who are bound, bent, and determined to wear a look that does nothing but accentuate the negative (think bound and bent some more)… and in the end people notice nothing but the clothing because it is positively screaming, entirely missing the person wearing them. Regardless of what anyone thinks, this is not the attention or assumptions that you should want. There are others who give up on looking stylish because their bodies will never look like that of starlets and supermodels. Those souls tend to hide under clothing that once again, does absolutely nothing to exhibit the amazing qualities of the person wearing them. Clothing is like window treatment. It shouldn’t be the entire focus. It should merely accent and draw the eye to the view.

Sure, it might be easier to choose wardrobe if one has won the genetic lottery, but even if you don’t look like the latest runway angel, that doesn’t mean that you have to relegate yourself to the sackcloth and ashes line. Additionally, while pursuing physical fitness goals is great for health and can help with some wardrobe concerns, it doesn’t solve all problems (ask anyone who lifts or does body building about finding a shirt with long sleeves that doesn’t look like they might turn green and shred the material at any moment). No matter whether you’ve got a rockin’ body or not… Just remember to rock the body you got!

Physical Fit: The boredom trap


I know that this sounds unnatural and most people will not even believe it, but I assure you that I do not tell an untruth here when I say that I sometimes actually forget to eat. Yep. It happens. I get engrossed in projects. I get super busy multitasking like a ninja, and before I know it, it is the end of the day, and I’ve missed breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, pre-lunch, lunch, mid afternoon snack, tea time, cocktails… and dinner is looming. At these times, I really don’t even get hungry. Occasionally, if I pause, the stomach will growl and I will think, When did I last eat?However, if something further captures my attention… that thought generally flees before the SHINY only to be recalled at a much later time. Sometimes, I’ve been known to get through a day look at the clock and think, It’s too late to eat now, and I need to sleep. And so it goes… No, I’m not anorexic. One look and it will be obvious that I am not. When I do eat, I can generally put some food away. I do like food. It is just that eating frequently takes away from other things. When I enjoy food, it is planned meals and outings and times where the food is an event. Sounds odd, right? But for me, this is normal. Even as a child, I would tear up some breakfast, but especially during the summer, there was just too much to do for the rest of the day’s meals to be a priority. It was difficult for parents, grandparents, or anyone else to get me to come inside and eat throughout the day.

But then… there are the down times. I don’t mean depression exactly. I mean literally nothing to do. Days where I have no plans and nothing to occupy my time and attention, I can (and have in the past) eat everything that isn’t nailed down. Even the cat becomes truly terrified.

Turns out, I am an emotional eater. Boredom is an emotion, right? So, boredom it is. I get bored, I eat. Oh, if I am perfectly honest with myself and with all of you reading this, I eat for a lot of other emotions, too. I’m pretty sure of it. Perhaps I will delve into that little issue in another post, but for now, I’m going to talk about the boredom emotion and the impact it has on a tendency to eat when not hungry. I’m probably not the only one that has this particular failing. Too many people today confuse boredom with hunger. In my case, I actually know the difference. When I stand looking in the refrigerator or pantry for hours and nothing looks appealing but I grab something anyway only to chuck away an empty container feeling unsatisfied. That wasn’t it.

If I consciously take stock while I stand there staring at Inspiration Point (the space in front of said refrigerator or pantry) longingly looking for the food item that will satisfy the craving, I will realize, usually, that I’m not hungry. Not in the least. So, what am I doing? I’m trying to fill something else. Time? So, provided I am not on autopilot, I can usually close the door to whatever receptacle or storage compartment and walk away. Better yet, I can go find a project or a book or a computer game or go to the gym, anything, in fact, that will occupy my mind and body with something that isn’t mindless eating… just because there is nothing better to do. I can take it from my younger self, back when I had limitless imagination and energy. There is ALWAYS something better to do.

I know that my family and friends get annoyed with my myriad of projects and sidelines and even taking second jobs on occasion (maybe more about that in TNC post later), but when it comes to my health, diet, and body image, that boredom character is my greatest foe. The best way I know to combat it is to keep busy. If you are reading this and find that boredom is trying to sabotage your efforts to eat more mindfully and make healthier choices, find a new hobby, keep a list of activities. If you find yourself standing at Inspiration Point staring at a bunch of food and not “feeling” any of them, shut the door, turn around, go for a walk (or a run, or do some yoga…). Do not let the saboteur win.

Here endeth the lesson… just kidding. This lesson will never end for me, but I will keep on fighting it.

Physical Fit: Mind the Gap

This is not so much a rant as a rambling, trip around my thoughts regarding appropriate gym etiquette. I’ve discussed some of my issues before about crowding and personal space. Lately, it has beset my thoughts with ruminations of “Why?” And so… here we go…

I recently posted about what I like to call “Gym-crowding” month. This is always a bit of a difficult time for me as I am not a fan of the press of human flesh. So, with the turn of the year bringing colder months and the recognition of “Oh, hell what all did I eat during the holidays?!?” it makes it all the more difficult to return to the gym and get back on track for my fitness and health routine. I just really dislike having to fight for my right to elliptical or experiencing the awkwardness of jostling to get to a machine or weights with another patron as we race to see who can get there first. It just doesn’t work for me. In truth, had I been lucky enough to choose the right numbers in a recent lottery; I would probably invest in my own home gym and be done with it. However, I didn’t win any large amounts of cash, and I still believe it is probably in my best interests to get out of my house to workout.

As it happens, my gym recognizes those of us who are decidedly introverted, and in an attempt to cater to our dislike of our own kind and possibly good business sense of spreading their business through the day, the management of Planet Fitness provide information about gym population based on time of day. It’s fairly accurate (while experiencing some off tally fluctuations throughout the year). I can look at their numbers and see that there are times when I would encounter fewer rivals for the tricep machine. Most of this information is rather intuitive. You know that there are going to be more people right after work. You can pretty well guess that the middle of the night is less populated (my gym is 24-hour). There are a few surprising things, though. For instance, lunch is a little bit of a rush. There are a good many people that like to take their lunch break at the gym, I suppose. Additionally, there is some sort of strange mid-afternoon spike. So, the data provided by the management, is appreciated. I find that my favorite times are early morning before I go to work or sometime before the actual lunch rush. I take an early lunch to hit it before the crowd does. I avoid the place after work. My absolute favorite is my weekend workouts. I can usually rely on Saturday and Sunday mornings being a ghost town with only a few of us rattling around in the big place like dried peas in a tin can. It’s heaven. I can also take as much time as I like without having to rush back to work or get out of someone else’s way. But… I digress. I told you this might get a little rambling.

I suppose, if I veer back towards topic, I would have to say that I noticed an odd phenomenon starting about 5 or 6 months ago. It was subtle and random at first. I was fairly certain it was merely coincidental. However, after some generally consistent repetitive occurrence of the incidents, I can say that there appears to be a pattern.

I am a striking person by appearance. I am tall. I am by no means delicate or fragile in appearance. I am Amazonian rather than willowy. I believe that I have discussed this before in a previous post. I do not precisely fade into the background, but I am not winning any beauty pageants. I’m totally ok with this. However, recently it seems that if I take on the appearance of a soaking wet rag and smell like an overheated horse, I can’t beat people off with a stick. I have started to wonder if by chance I have some sort of powerful pheromones that can knock people out of any common sense they might possess. However, for those of you who may even remember biology class when we discussed various biological and chemical processes of the mating behaviors of fauna, you would remember that pheromones generally have the impact of attracting the opposite gender and, to put no fine point upon it, totally pissing off members of the same sex.

Something is very, very wrong with my chemistry. I have come to this conclusion after months of observation and frustration. Picture it: I schedule my gym time to give me a mid-morning break from job stress and hopefully give me the best shot at a less crowded gym. Sure enough, walking in, I perceive that there are a mere handful of individuals scattered through the facility. It was great. I figured I would be completely in my groove sans molestation by the talkers, walkers, and generally intrusive members of my species. I was sadly mistaken, and I was approached by no less than three… yes, three men that all used as their initiating salvo “How you doin’?” or something equally ridiculous. Seriously, this happened. So, this was my first inkling that something had gone wonky in my universe. The pattern continued, and as time wore on, it wasn’t just the men. Nope. Women joined in and wanted to talk to me about everything from workouts to soap opera characters (of whom I had literally zero knowledge nor did I wish to have).

Over time, it happened more and more frequently. I switched up my routine and started getting in my workout earlier in the day. I figured people don’t want to talk to you at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. For the most part I was correct. Then, the sad day arrived… it seems my sweat has powers to rival the most powerful of attraction tonics. The gym was all but empty. There were no less than 15 empty elliptical machines, not to mention a plethora of other cardiovascular exercise equipment. I chose one on the end so that I was safe from incursion on at least one side. It didn’t save me. Two ladies entered and while one stood on the empty side of me looking around and talking to her friend loudly, the other took up her progress on the other side using the elliptical immediately adjacent to mine. I resisted the urge to stop and in my best tour director impersonation identify and direct them to the now 14 other options for elliptical that would not require them being right next to me.

I focused my attention on my own progress, listened to my headphones, and tried to ignore the intrusion to my personal bubble. I figured that they would probably do their own thing and as I had not made eye contact nor acknowledged them in any way. I was… mistaken. Oh heavens, I was!

They had started by talking over around and through me, but then, each of them attempted to draw me into conversation with little comments, questions, remarks… Any of you try to hold a conversation while running on an elliptical? Well… maybe folks reading this are more adept with their physical coordination and maybe have more stamina and breath. I do not have that capability, honestly. If I split my attention from what is coming through my headphones, the display screens in front of me, and the physical movements of arms and legs, I am very likely to be catapulted into the treadmills immediately behind and cause quite a commotion if not some nasty injuries to myself. Additionally, I do not speak English before coffee. I don’t speak human before coffee, and most people are lucky if I do not sink fangs in response to any attempts to communicate pre-caffeine. These women had very obviously not gotten the memo. However, after their 10 minutes of talk and elliptical, they departed to allow me peace in which to finish my own 40 minute “run.”

The whole experience and that of the previous months has caused me to wonder what prompts people to invade the space. A friend called it the “gym equivalent of the guy that doesn’t respect the urinal gap.”

I cannot decide if it is just the overtly friendly nature of extroversion, or if it is generally some lack of social perception that would prompt people to push into another human’s personal bubble. Like I mentioned, I briefly considered the pheromone prospect, but I don’t know if that is a viable thesis. It remains to be seen and I suspect testing that might be a more disgusting journey than I am willing to embark upon.

So, for the time being, if you, dear reader, happen to be out there in the world of the workout, be respectful of the personal bubble. You may feel compelled to speak to that person lifting weights or sweating on the cardio machine. You might assume that they, as part of the human race share your desire for social interaction. You can think about it… but don’t do it. Seriously, take a moment to consider that the person is there concentrating and working towards their goals with purpose. If you truly wish to converse with a stranger at the gym… do so in the lobby or at the water fountain or for the love of all that is holy in that little area where people sit to consult with the trainers, but let the person enjoying their gym have some peace in which to do so. Additionally… always mind the gap.

Physical Fit: ‘Tis the season…

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And all the people said… “She’s lost her mind… or her calendar because we just finished all that nonsense.”

No, friends, I do not actually mean the holiday season. I mean the Oh-dear-lord-I-ate-everything-my-resolution-is-to-get-fit-by-swimsuit season. This is the time when former couch tubers, or even gym frequenters who let things get a little on the slidy side (yeah, I made it up)… during the holiday gatherings, parties, and all out gorge fests that started sometime around Halloween… start to head in droves, pushed by self-loathing for their slackness, the fear of cellulite, or New Year’s resolutions, to the temples of physical fitness. Yes, it is gym-crowding month.

I say “month,” but it can sometimes last all the way into March. It’s a well-known phenomenon. Several of my friends who go to the gym discuss the frustrations. It isn’t that any of us begrudge the people for wanting to make a positive change. However, while we applaud their desire, there is generally a lack of follow through, and in the meantime… we’re tripping over them. It just seems that the gym-crowders think that merely showing up is going to transform them overnight. It’s probably similar to my own feelings about skiing the first time.

I was excited to go. I had several friends that love to snow ski. So, off I went. I rented the skis and boots and all that. We went out and had a few trips down the “bunny” slope. I was told that I’m a natural… awesome. This will be fun. I rode up on the lift. Got off and was the only one who did not fall doing so. And… that’s pretty much the end of the fun. Going down the ”not-bunny” slope I was not a natural. I finally figured out that my best way of stopping was to just fall over. I got to the bottom. I was damp, cold, and had zero feeling in my toes because the boots cut off all circulation. While I knew that I couldn’t expect to become an Olympic skier in a day, I also figured out pretty quickly that the après-ski was probably more my thing that the actual ski.

In truth, there are a lot of people like that with the gym. They are excited to get started. They make the preparations (membership, shoes, yoga pants). They have every intention of making that change, going to the gym at least 3 times per week, becoming a healthier, happier, leaner self. And that is where it stops. They get there and figure out in a hurry that this sweating thing is not their thing. Or perhaps they realize that exercising in a public place isn’t their thing… or driving to a gym and fighting for the elliptical is not their thing. The list goes on and on, but for whatever reason, they start tapering off. One by one they go, until the gym population stabilizes usually sometime in the summer, with minor fluctuations for people panicking before trips to tropical places where clothing is more revealing. Eventually, the population starts declining again in autumn, but sometimes that’s hard to really judge in a college town due to student gym members adding to the “usual crowd.” By November, the decrease is more noticeable until the end of December brings a ghost-town-like feel to the place… and we’ve cycled back around. It is familiar. Those of us going through a few years of the cycle have come to expect it. New to the scene regulars have a momentary panic followed by intense frustration with the newbies wandering around aimlessly hoping for insight about how to use the contraptions.

This is really only my second year of observation. I was a newbie myself not that long ago. So, I feel for these folks who want to make good choices and live healthier lives (and look better in their clothing). I’ve been there. I’ve done this, and I watch with sad eyes, trying to pick out the folks who will have the stick-with-it to hold out past the first quarter.

What I have found, purely through my observations, is that there are common threads to the people who actually make the gym a new, healthy habit instead of a short lived fad in their lives.

Buddy System vs. Going Solo. There is a lot to be said for an “accountability partner.” A lot of people who start going to the gym to support someone else find themselves getting healthier, and there is a sense of, “I need to go to support John (or Sylvia or Bruce).” The problem with this? If that person stops going, that impetus of supporting them and going often stops, too. Accountability should be to oneself. There is nothing wrong with peer encouragement to get the ball rolling, but for true sustainability, internalize some of that encouragement to have it with you even when your friend can’t be. Another problem with what I will call the partner system is that sometimes one or the other partner outstrips the progress in the working out process. If that social part of the gym-going is all that is keeping it going, that will eventually be a problem because one will be holding the other back, or the other will feel left out and stop. In the meantime, may I say, that the social-goers and clique brigades also can cause some problems for the regular gym population by stopping in the middle and tying up machines just to have a conversation, sometimes in large clumps. There is nothing wrong with a little conversation and social support to make gym time a fun time, but when clusters of people block the flow in a crowded gym while spewing negative gossip (I’ve actually been subjected to this and heard well more about people than I ever wanted to know; headphones were not able to prevent their loud conversation from penetrating)… it can really detract from the experience for all.

Ignorance vs. Instruction. Literally, I mean ignorance. I don’t mean it as a derogatory term. I mean that people have no knowledge of fitness, physical exercise, or more importantly how that thingie works. So, when they fumble around and misuse equipment (misuse their own bodies), occasionally, there is injury. That puts a kibosh on the whole gym-tendance (I made that up, too).

Embarrassment vs. Intimidation. This relates to the topic above and then bleeds over to other areas. I am lucky enough to belong to Planet Fitness. I say lucky because of a topic I will address in a moment. However, one of the great things about the organization is their “no gymtimidation” thing. They mean it. There are still going to be some people who see people working out at varying degrees of expertise and, in a panic, run for the door, but for the most part, that atmosphere of the beefcake club is not present at my gym. People seem genuinely welcoming. Most people will leave you the hell alone (I said most). There is less of the designer workout gear and perfectly toned physiques displayed. People tend to wear comfortable, sometimes ratty athletic wear and they sweat and look sometimes pretty flaming atrocious (at least I usually do). The people there look like they are there to work out and not judge. So, it is a comfortable environment for people who are new to gym membership and may be a little more self-conscious about their appearance during exercise. Embarrassment and discomfort are a major reasons for drop-out.

Not-asking-for-help (see Ignorance). Playing into the embarrassment factor is the not-asking-for-help thing. All those contraptions! Most people are familiar with the stationery bikes and the treadmills. Additionally, anyone with a television has probably seen ellipticals in varying forms (I can actually attest that using one is not intuitive… it takes a minute to get the hang of it, and there is coordination involved… it nearly did me in the first time). However, there are a lot of machines that people have never seen, certainly never used, and moreover are disinclined to go find someone and ask. So, they pay for gym membership, go a few times, can’t figure out how to work the thingie-with-the-whatnot-that-does-something, and eventually stop going because it is “Just a waste of time and money. I can do most of that stuff at home” or they get hurt because of not using the machine… or their body correctly. The point being, that there is usually someone working at the gym that would be more than pleased to help anyone learn how to properly use the equipment. Often there is a trainer there who not only will help a member learn how to use the thingie-with-the-whatnot-that-does-something, but they will actually help design a specific program to achieve the goals desired. There should be no embarrassment in letting the people do their job.

Proximity. This is a big one, bigger than you realize. Everyone gets excited after making their New Year’s promises to themselves and heading out to purchase a gym membership. However, if you have to drive more than 20 minutes, it is unlikely that you will continue that pattern of behavior. In fact, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that there is a negative correlation between distance of the gym from your home and the amount of time you go (meaning that you are less likely to continue going to the gym the further away it is from your house). For my experience, I will admit that the reason I am in my second year of post-holiday-pocalypse-gym-invasion is because I am literally 5 minutes away. This is the lucky thing that I was talking about earlier. My home Planet Fitness location is nice, clean, and 5 minutes from my house. It’s perfect for me. Seriously. When I travel, now, I have a membership which will allow me to go to other locations for the franchise (bless that black card membership). Occasionally, I have driven as far as 20 minutes to get to the closest gym. However, I know good and well that I would not have done this had my routine and gym habits not already been established. If my gym home was further away or I had to drive well out of my way to go, chances are that work, home, fatigue, and general lassitude would have intervened eventually, and I would have dropped out and gone back to my tuber-like ways. Choosing a facility that is convenient is so important to the longevity of the gym-going. If your workplace has a gym, excellent! Use it. You will be more likely to continue because it is right there. If your apartment complex, condo, home owners association neighborhood has a central recreation center with a workout facility, awesome! If none of these scenarios are available, and if you work outside the home, try to find a gym that is on your route. If you have to pass by it on the way to work or the way home from work, you have a better chance of actually going. If you have the dollars and space to dedicate to a home gym… it’s better than driving over 20 minutes, but you may be less inclined to stick with a workout routine because “I can do that later… or sometime… or *zzzzzz*.” So, with the proximity, there is also the idea that if you go with a purpose and schedule the time to actually go, you may be more likely to make it a continual thing.

Where was I going with all of this? I think I started in one direction and ended up meandering all over and winding up somewhere else entirely. And that’s just fine, because even if my gym feels a little crowded at the moment, and I may growl a bit when I’m having my personal space bubble decreased, I do truly want people to make healthier choices for themselves. So… Merry Gym-Crowding!

Physical Fit: It doesn’t have to start with a marathon

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Unless you are that famed persona of the film, I really can’t imagine that anyone starts off running marathons. I mean, you can start with a goal of wanting to run in a marathon. It’s not really my cup of tea, but most humans don’t go from tuber-hood to marathon-runner immediately.

That’s the thing that people keep saying to me. For those of you following along in my struggles, rants, embarrassments, and victories, you know I never saw myself running anywhere (unless something really nasty was chasing me). Several friends have expressed the desire to get into some sort of fitness routine. When I talk about my running habit, they say things like “I wish I could do that,” or “I could never run,” or “Wow! I don’t think I could ever do that!” Honestly, it’s spectacular for my ego, but it is absolute hogwash.

As of now, I’ve managed to get to a point where I’m running (elliptical, remember the knees) 40 minutes almost every day. On the elliptical, that usually averages close to 5 miles. On the beach, it is considerably less… mainly due to sand and such making it slightly more of an effort, but regardless of distance, the effort is still there. I’m still sweaty and generally feeling it in my legs and backside. That’s really more of the point, no matter what anyone thinks. The effort in the exercise is really what matters. I’m happy that I’ve improved my time and can actually get good distance in those 40 minutes, but I’m not in a race against anyone but myself. What my friends with their comments don’t seem to recall is that I did not start there, and I certainly did not get here very quickly. I had my physical fit over a year ago, and I’m still struggling.

When I first decided to join the gym, I half expected that I would let that lapse like I had before. I would have spent my money and find every excuse on the planet not to go. I’m as surprised as anyone that I’m still going… and regularly. I was also fairly certain that I did not have enough coordination to be on one of those machines without causing myself (and likely anyone in the near vicinity) bodily harm.
What was absolutely zero surprise was that my first efforts were laughable. Quite literally. Grace is not my middle name. However, once I mastered the not-falling-off-and-killing-myself part, the next big hurdle was to actually keep up movement for 10 minutes… in a row. I mean, really? Ten minutes does not sound like a huge amount of time, but when you are trying to coordinate your arms and legs and looking at a timer that is viciously sneering at you… it might as well be a marathon. It was sad. By the time the digits went up to the 10 minute mark, I just stopped. I was out of breath, struggling, muscles weak and hamstrings screaming “What the hell are you doing to us?!?” I had been talked into this by a friend who said, “You need to do the ‘cooldown’ minutes, now.” I won’t repeat my response to that.

From there, I really only had a goal of being able to finish the 10 minutes without dying. I wanted to see if I could get to a point where 10 minutes didn’t seem like an Olympic event. And you know, it actually happened. I got to a point where I could do the 10 minutes and the3 minute cooldown. Not bad. Then, I happened to notice that I was close to a mile at the 10 minute mark. I made it my mission to break my 10-minute-mile.

And I did.

Little by little, I found myself decreasing the amount of time it took me to get to that mile. From there, I had to increase the distance to get in more time. I pushed and before I realized what I was doing, I was at 15 minutes, then 20. I was almost in shock when I looked one day to realize that I had been running for 25 minutes and had 3 miles registered on the machine. That’s where I settled for a while, actually. It was enough, I thought. However, I started throwing in a little cooldown period after my resistance training. So, another 5 minutes or so after weights? Now, I was up to 30.

I felt like I was plateauing again. I was looking for results and not really seeing them. A friend and one of my fitness support group started talking about changing my routine and said something about increasing my run to 40 minutes. What the actual…? Is he insane? I can’t run 40 minutes. I’ll die. And out loud I said, “Do I have to do all 40 minutes in a row?” He said that I did not, but that I needed to keep moving and do my resistance training, weights, whatever in between if I was going to break it up. Ok… I’d give that a try. So, I did. I started with 25 minutes before, did my resistance/strength stuff, and then 15 minutes before heading home. Not too bad, actually. It hurt a lot less than I thought it would. After doing that for a while, I decided to increase the before time to 30 and do 10 minutes afterward. One day, I just decided to do both in a row, and voila! I was doing 40 minutes consecutively. No break. Just straight through. I didn’t die. Crazy, huh?

Psychologically, that 40 minutes looked just sooooo unachievable, but somehow I managed to get through it. I managed to fool myself into seeing it in smaller chunks and it wasn’t so insurmountable. My body appears to be much more willing to accommodate the activity than my brain. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be running any marathons in the near (or even possibly distant) future. I don’t think that every trick I know to fool my brain and body could accommodate 26 miles, but who knows? I didn’t think I could run a mile when I started. I still occasionally feel a sense of shock that I run at all. So, it doesn’t have to start with a marathon. It starts with a step.