Category Archives: Health

Physical Fit: The “D” Word

Before the 12-year-old mentalities start kicking in, I’m going to let you know that the D-word in this case is DIET. What? You weren’t expecting it? Of course you were. I even warned you in an earlier post that it would happen. However, more than that, it is a new year. One of the most popular resolutions for the New Year is related to weight loss, physical changes, and nutrition.

I am already completely over the number of different diet plans that are currently vying for my attention and hard-earned wages. The holiday jewelry, vehicle, and electronics commercials have given way to various diet programs, weight loss supplements, and work out videos. Every other commercial on radio or television right now is some type of weight loss, weight management, quick fix, just-send-your-money-and-you-can-look-like-a-pro-athlete program… Social media is no exception, and they are tricky: “Look at what this celeb has been lying to you about!… See how this starlet lost 30 pounds in just 6 weeks!… These exercises will lead to a firmer backside in just a month!… Five surprising food items you should never eat!” It is overwhelming and really, really annoying.

There are a lot of people that on January 2nd (let everyone have their holiday) said they were changing their approach to life, liberty, and the pursuit of junk food. Sadly, New Year’s resolutions frequently lose their resolve right around Superbowl Sunday. I mean, seriously, who can resist the Superbowl party foods and … yeah, party beverages.

The upshot of all of it would be that people kick themselves for falling off their proverbial wagon and their resolve for better living, healthier eating, and a smaller waistline tends to find its way into bin 13.

As a species, humans are indolent. I don’t mean that necessarily as a criticism. We are designed to be efficient in our use of energy so that we can put more of that energy into survival replicating our genetics in the next generation. The more efficient; the more energy. The more energy; the more available for the aforementioned survival and replication processes. So, we tend to crave high calorie and high fat foods and expend as little energy as we can. It isn’t really laziness or gluttony. It is merely a factor of evolution that said ancestors who put on enough fat to get them through the lean times survived while those who didn’t pack on enough storage perished. If you think about it that way… it’s not really our fault.

However, we live in a society and modern era where food is generally available to most. Even the destitute have options (despite what the commercials on the television will tell you). Unfortunately, the most available and least expensive foods generally have the least nutritional value and are, for the most part, horrible for you: Packed with processed sugars and preservatives that most people cannot pronounce. It is an unrealistic goal in this day and age, but I personally feel that if I can’t make it come out of my mouth readily with correct pronunciation, it probably shouldn’t go in my mouth and body. Just a thought.

So, back to what I was saying: The diet thing. Part of the problem is the word itself. Seriously. Just think about it. You hear the word “diet” and immediately, you mind jumps to every wonderful comforting edible that you will have to deny yourself until the pants fit. This is never a good way to approach a lifestyle change. The word itself really doesn’t mean that. In fact, the first definition in the dictionary isn’t related to denial or restriction at all:

Diet /ˈdīət/ noun. The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

As you see, the word was completely innocent; innocent of negative connotations and ill feelings towards calories and restrictive eating habits. It just meant what we eat, but now… it to most people, it means counting calories, giving up favorite edibles, crying into our bowl of rabbit food… <sigh> Am I right?

This is a recipe for disaster and sets us up for failure in the healthy goal-setting scenarios. Initiating any change with a negative feelings and expectations does not bode well for making that change a habit. The human brain is more likely to adopt behaviors that relate to all those positive, feel good brain chemicals. The fact that in modern, western cultures we equate diets with punitive measures just doesn’t help matters at all.

You know what else doesn’t help? Television. The boob-tube, the idiot box, the… well, you get the idea. There are so many reasons why our electronic masters counteract positive measures in the dietary line. If you are a curious sort and are interested in how much our brains are assaulted by the visual and auditory media of the television, sit through an hour long television show and let the commercials play. Yes, I know, most of us DVR or record by whatever device we can to avoid that precise thing, but just for one show, try it. While you are sitting through the show and all the commercials count the number of food commercials (pizza, fast food, buffet restaurants with all-you-can-eat blazoned on their ads and signs). I’ve actually remarked on this little phenomenon for years, and mostly bitched because they would show the most mouth-watering deliciousness after closing hours for those particular entities that might provide said sustenance. The thing is, all of these commercials are designed to make that food look appealing. They are trying to get you to come in and drop monetary reward upon them in exchange for the feast laid before your eyes. However, you know what happens when the commercials play with their beautiful food items? Your brain thinks it is hungry. Seriously, even if you just had a meal, your brain says “Ooooh, I need that. Look at it!” And… your stomach ignores that it is full and prompts you to seek out something to make the brain shut up.

Other ways the telly is not your friend: Eating in front of one generally increases the amount of food you consume. That’s right. If you sit down in front of the tube and eat your meal while watching your favorite shows, you are likely to eat more because you are paying more attention to the show than on what you are eating or the sensations of fullness. This is true of snacks, too. So… here’s a scenario with which I am sadly too familiar. I’m watching a show on the TV and the first commercial break shows steaming, delicious food, piled with all the best and most favorite flavors. Brain says, “Hey, that looks sooooo good… I want some of that.” The body is a willing follower and suggests, “We might be hungry.” So, instead of leaving the house and going out to the establishment responsible for the suggestion, the legs take brain and body into the kitchen where upon the eyes stare into the pantry or fridge. Though the beautiful and appealing food from the television is not present, I grab any old snack to satisfy the perception that everyone wanted food. The giant bag of chips from the pantry is brought back to the couch and opened. The show is back on, and the hand to mouth ritual begins. The show being a riveting appeal to the other senses, attention stays focused until the cliff-hanger ending and credits roll. The eyes look down and find what, do you think? The entire bag of chips is gone. I have consumed an entire family sized back of greasy, salty crisps and barely even noticed. Does this sound familiar?

Another big enemy of healthy eating: Boredom. Yes, friends, being bored can lead to eating when we are not hungry. Our bodies seem to mistake all sorts of emotions for hunger, but the boredom aspect is definitely a big one. For me, it usually manifests as feeling antsy and “blah” and then, I go to the kitchen and stare at all of the things that might be edible, but nothing really screams “EAT ME!” So, I grab something… anything really. I eat that, but it wasn’t satisfying. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. By the end of an inactive day, I could have eaten a fridge full of food and not one bite satisfied.

Getting too hungry is possibly my biggest pitfalls. I’m one of those people that doesn’t plan well when it comes to daily nutrition intake. It is a combination of time constraints, laziness, and distaste for grocery shopping bordering on the pathological. It probably wouldn’t take all that long to just prepare a week’s worth of lunch and snack options that I could take with me to work, but even with the best of intentions, this doesn’t seem to occur. Instead, I frequently get caught in projects, meetings, and crises at work that occupy my mind and distract me from a growling belly only to find that somehow it is close to 3:00PM… and why eat at that point? Close to quitting time and then can just eat dinner when I get home. Yes, this is a routine for me. The problem is that by the time I leave the office (often later than I expected) and run to the gym, it is even later than I expected to get home. At this point, my stomach has given up on subtle hints and is loudly proclaiming that hunger strikes are not ok! Anyhow, instead of eating a reasonable meal with appropriate helpings, I am prepared to eat an entire herd of cattle by myself with accompanying sides. When we get too hungry, we eat more and we eat fast not giving our system time to recognize that we are full.

Temperature is also a trigger for me. When it gets cold, my appetite skyrockets. Perhaps my body is trying to add blubber to help insulate, but along with not being able to feel warm, I seem to always be hungry.

Oh! While we are exploring all the various ways we can be enticed into less than appropriate intake, let’s not forget the ridiculous portion sizes at most restaurants. This is possibly a touchy subject, but I cannot help but think that eating out is more of a detriment to healthy eating and diet, not because of the quality of the food, but because of the portions. I can almost hear the willpower-gifted among you say “well, you don’t have to eat it all…” Um… yeah. So, I see things like “$5 for two feet of sandwich! What a deal!” What?!? Who needs two FEET of sandwich. That is 24 inches. Let’s put it in perspective. The most calorie conscious of the commercial sandwiches is 230 calories for the vegetarian option and 280 for turkey… for 6 inches. That is also with no condiments. So, no mayo. No mustard. No cheese. Do the math. That is 920 calories for your $5 value of two feet of sandwich with nothing but vegetables and bread. That is a lot of calories. Now, if you were sharing that deal with 3 other people, it’s not a bad situation. Each person for a little over $1 can have a 6-inch sandwich, or if one person buys the $5 worth of sandwich and eats one 6 inch portion, they could save the rest for later. Potentially, they could have 4 meals worth of sandwich for five bucks! Not bad at all, but the truth is that if someone goes in and spends $5 for two feet of sandwich, they are probably going to eat every blessed inch themselves. There are too many people that do not have the willpower to divide an oversized portion appropriately and save it for later, share it with someone else, or (heaven forbid!) leave it on the plate. It just is not going to happen. And why won’t restaurants serve appropriate portions with appropriately divided prices? Because they have market analysts and business planners who know psychologically people are more likely to pay the higher price for larger portions than the cheaper prices for what they may see as inadequate portion.

For what it is worth, I honestly do not know the magical formula and perfect nutritional plan to increase satisfaction and decrease adipose tissue. If I did, I am fairly certain I would be getting paid for my valuable insights instead of just ranting about my feelings of frustration. There are some remarkably successful plans out there that are not crazy, unhealthy, or astronomically expensive. The best diet is going to be sustainable and safe. Everyone is different. The same diet that worked perfectly for your friend may not have the same results for you, and it is a good idea before embarking on any drastic changes in lifestyle or diet to consult your doctor. Yeah, I know, it sounds trite and cliché, but it isn’t a bad idea to get some baseline measures, too (like your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.). Also, restricting your intake of edible nutrients can also impact your intake of water (we do get some of it from the food we eat) and natural vitamins and minerals. So, it’s important to stay hydrated and a good idea to take a multivitamin.

Anyhow, for myself, I believe that my approach will be to avoid boredom, avoid a lot of television, try to eat at regular intervals to avoid being over hungry, and pay more attention to the food I put in my mouth overall. We’ll see how that goes.

Physical Fit: Your Charts Do Not Define My Feelings

While the majority of my entries on this topic have been a collection of anecdotes and observations about a middle aged woman’s efforts to shed some undesired adipose tissue and maybe acquire a healthier lifestyle along the way, there is really more to all of this than exercise. And, no, I’m not talking about dietary changes either (though stay tuned, because that is coming… go ahead and groan). I’m actually talking about other parts of health and wellness that include healthcare professionals.

Yes, I’m going to talk about going to see your doctor. Before you start to close the browser window, just hear me out (or at least continue reading).

Healthcare in the USA is a bit of a trigger point for some emotionally charged political discussions. I am NOT going to be dealing with those issues here¸ other than to say the government is pushing for everyone to have some sort of healthcare coverage. Again, not going to talk about the merits of how they are doing this. The point being there are more people who are complying with the mandate to get insurance, though not enough are financially able to do so as it stands.

Most health plans (I won’t generalize to ALL) actually cover preventative care at 100% or at least at a higher percentage than “sick call”. Preventative care is your yearly check-ups, routine labwork, cholesterol and triglyceride checks, colonoscopies (at certain ages), gynecology checks, and mammograms (again at certain ages). Some even give you incentives to get these things done. Regardless, part of living a healthier life and pursuing any sort of physical fitness means being aware of these factors that impact health and taking the steps to stay healthy and catch anything that might be a sign that something is not right early enough to do something about it.

However, visiting the doctor is not without its “slings and arrows,” as I discovered when I was being appropriately health conscious and having a bit of a check in with my oncologist/hematologist (not all my medical interactions have been preventative, unfortunately). Part of these visits, aside from the vampiric portion of the program (that part where they take what seems to be all of my blood for their own purposes and then tell me that I’m anemic), is to weigh me. I will tell you, that while I am not the epitome of vanity, I dread those damned doctor scales every time.

Unlike the spring or digital version of the friendly (or not so friendly) bathroom scale, these monstrosities compound the insult with injurious placement of little weights at varying degrees to measure and using lever and fulcrum with little leaden weights to accurately determine the amount the body weighs in response to earth’s gravitational pull. Keep in mind; you are being weighed without the psychological benefit of removing shoes and clothing to ditch a few extra ounces. Yes, I know they are more accurate, but seriously? Watching the nurse wait to see if the indicator rises or falls below the midline and trying to imagine myself being light as a feather or holding my breath as if that would possibly make the numbers go in my favor… she reaches out and keeps adjusting… adding more and more weight and sliding those little bastards further towards the end to balance the leverage against my ponderous mass. It is a humiliating experience. Not merely just watching the numbers is agonizing but also because, in this particular case, the scales in question are in the high traffic area right next to the counter where the next appointments are scheduled and the “checking out” ritual occurs. So, everyone passes by and can view my shame… it is very unlikely that they give two rips about my weight, but it is just the perception, you know.

So, while I have not the svelte or willowy physique of a runway model, nor do I have claim to the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe, I am a solid specimen and as I have been working out there are fewer bits that jiggle than there used to be. Since embarking on my fitness journey, I have shed a few pounds, but not any drastic offloading of weight, as the scales do attest. I am, however, what is considered tall for a female. I am about six feet of human female, and I have always tended to be more on the athletic, Amazon build than otherwise. I’ll even share with you the actual number that was on the aforementioned apparatus: 194. So, like I said… solid. I will not be blowing away in a good gale nor will I have any problems remaining firmly grounded upon the earth.

Anyhow, after the weighing in process was complete, I waited in my appointed examination room for the appearance of the doctor (or more likely one of his myriad of minions). Sure enough, in walked one of my medical staff with my chart in hand. All in all, the results were in my favor. My values were the best they have been in many years. I basked in the glow of all the positive praise of my good health when I happened to glance down at the chart and my eyes riveted on one diagnosis… OBESITY.

Yep, that is what it said. I will admit that from that moment, no other words or information permeated my brain. I was stuck. I had been labeled as obese. I couldn’t tell you what more was said before I took my little paper to the desk to schedule my next follow up. I mechanically responded to questions and took my appointment card. I wandered in a trance-like state to my vehicle in the parking lot and made my way back to the office. For the rest of the day, I ruminated on this term: Obese. I immediately saw it as a criticism, and I pondered what more I could do. I had changed my lifestyle and been working out. I was tracking every morsel of food that entered my body. My medical provider had labeled me with an unhealthy, primarily self-induced condition that could have devastating impact on the rest of my physical health. I work in the healthcare field. I see this term applied all the time. I know what it means technically, but while as a clinician I know the terms and criteria of the diagnosis, I also cannot rid myself of the emotional connotations of the term in our society.

Think about it. What do we think of when we hear “obese” or “obesity”? Immediately, we have the image in our minds of the lazy, couch potato with rolls of adipose tissue bursting from the straining fabrics and elastics of their clothing while they continue to absorb billions of empty calories and high fats from junk food and sodas. Admit it. That image is there.

Clinically, what that term means is that on a chart somewhere in a text book, on a wall, in a computer program, there is a BMI that corresponds to weight and height and some assigned level of normalcy or healthy. BMI stands for Body Mass Index and involves some mathematical gymnastics using weight and height to give a number by which some medical professional can determine your health risk due to carrying unnecessary poundage… or conversely have concern that the patient may be underweight and suffering from malnutrition due to starvation. There are tons of BMI calculators online. There are also a plethora of charts that show what constitutes a healthy BMI range. Strangely, not all the charts appear to be in agreement. However, while they do not all seem to agree with where I fit in precisely, they all appear to think I weigh more than I should.

I left my oncologist’s office less focused on the positive aspects (namely my blood pressure being 98/60 and my blood values representing me as all but the perfect specimen of hematologic health) and instead, completely obsessed with the “obesity” word. In my mind this word had taken on a character and importance of a proclamation from heaven. It destroyed my whole day. It’s true. I had the pervasive emotional funk wrapped around me like the proverbial cloak, and I’m pretty certain that there was a black cloud hovering over my head that shot lightning bolts at passersby. True story. Ask my staff. Some are still recovering from their burns.

Eventually one brave soul actually asked me what was wrong, and to my extreme shame, I told him… “I am obese…”

This admission and declaration attracted the attention of another friend who stopped in his tracks and the two stood there staring at me as if I had grown a second head or possibly a second ass since my weight was the apparent issue. Their continued appraisal was beginning to make me uncomfortable when they both responded with “What?!?” I repeated the shameful statement, and to my amazement they just started laughing. I did not particularly appreciate the humor in this case, but then they started both talking at once to declare the complete inaccuracy of the diagnosis. I explained to them where I had seen it and how it had been determined. Both of these guys have some knowledge of the fitness realm, and finally they were able to tell me why what I had seen was ridiculous. It seems that these charts to which so many of our medical professions are adherent fail to take into account muscle mass and fat to muscle ratios. My friends recounted various individuals who were the epitome of fitness, weight trainers, and body builders who were by these charts considered obese because the chart compares weight to height… and nothing else.

Finally, they asked me how I felt. And I had to actually consider it. How did I feel if I ignored that word that was still indelibly burned into my temporal lobe (obese…ob-ese…o-b-e-s-e…)? I thought about it. I felt pretty good. I can run three miles without wanting to die or feeling that I am expiring. I go to the gym five or six times a week. I seem to have more energy. I’m eating better. I notice that some of my clothing fits differently than it formerly did. So… yeah, I’d have to say, I feel pretty good. Why did the numbers on a scale have that power over me?

And that… my friends, is the moral of the story. Those numbers and charts and scales are not always the best measure of overall health. Do I suggest you ignore them all together? No. But I do believe that there has been too much emphasis placed on how much a person weighs instead of body composition, muscle and bone density (especially as we get older), and the feeling of wellbeing and fitness. What matters to me is that I continue to run and do my strength training and feel healthier and keep my blood levels and vitals where they should be. Too much attention to the numbers on the scale can lead to eating disorders and vicious cycles of weight loss and gain that is unhealthier than trying to be more active and eat good things.

If you, like me, are struggling with the numbers on a weighing device, try taking a break from it. Try using other body measurements (yes, like with a tape measure). If you have access to body fat calipers, use them. Keep a log of your activities and truly assess how you feel when you are physically expending energy. Make that scale a once in a while thing instead of a daily or even weekly thing. Realize that we are all different in our composition and that the charts are designed based on the averages and sometimes are not even using the most updated best-evidence models of health. I personally still have some pounds to shed. My knees tell me this, not the scales or charts. I focus now primarily on my lifestyle not my weight. I have declared to all that the charts will not define how I feel.

Physical Fit: And on the 8th day she rested… or was it the 3rd day… maybe the 6th?

Lately, I have been investigating the various opinions and versions of the “rest day” or “skip day”. I shall endeavor to summarize and synthesize what I have gathered… and maybe by the end of it, I’ll have some clue about it myself.

I recently experienced a plateau that set me back and made me reconsider the wisdom of my fit of mad fitness. I started feeling fatigue and felt myself slowing down. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I should have been noticing changes and improvements and things getting easier. Instead, I saw the numbers on the scale not moving or changing in any way, and I felt that somehow things that were previously getting less arduous were starting to require more effort.

It was disheartening, to say the least. This prompted a good many conversations with people I considered more knowledgeable, especially with regards to the gym and fitness routine, than myself. Many, many helpful tips were given. Several plan suggestions were outlined. And one rather vehement admonishment was presented. This last bit, I will say, was the most difficult for me to actually appreciate or believe. It came upon the headwinds of an Autumn cold, and it went something like this:

Friend: You need to take it easy.

Me: I’m ok.

Friend: You want to stay that way… You need to take a break. You push too hard, and you are going to compromise your immune system.

Me: I’ll be fine. I just don’t want to lose my momentum…

Friend: Um… yeah, you will lose more ground if you make yourself sick.

Me: Ok, I’ll take it easy.

Friend: I don’t believe you…

Whereupon, I proceeded to ignore the sage advice (I didn’t want to lose my positive inertia). It wasn’t really that I discounted the advice as untrue or ill founded. It was that I had gotten myself into a panic that if I slowed down, even slightly, I would lose valuable ground… or worse, I would backslide into furniture-tuberness (yes, I made that up). I knew my own weaknesses and my tendency to come up with excuses to avoid the gym. I strongly suspected that given any opportunity, the devil on my shoulder would dig in and convince me to give up this whole silly idea of getting healthy and persuade me to embrace some old, bad habits. The point being is that my brain could not really grasp the idea that taking a break could, in any way, be beneficial towards improving my training.

And then, the elephant seal took up residence in my chest. How do I know it was an elephant seal? It barked… sometimes all night. I coughed, I hacked, and I certainly did not sleep. My immune system said “You didn’t listen? Fine, now see what we can do.” I suspect I was very lucky that it wasn’t worse. A few years ago, a compromised immune system resulted in a bout of the shingles that rivaled close communion with a blowtorch and made a burn unit look like a resort spa. At any rate, on this occasion I was forced to slow down by mere fact that I couldn’t expend much effort without being immobilized by a coughing fit that made complete strangers want to leave town and call the CDC.

So, I took it easier. I stopped looking to set any new speed records for myself. I focused on just staying active, but I tried not to push very hard. About this same time, the other aspects of my life decided that the health crisis intervention was just not doing the trick and decided to hit me in some other particularly unpleasant ways. The upshot of it all was an unexpected, unplanned, and entirely unwanted break from what had become my rather comfortable routine and a trip out of town in order to put some things back in order. It was not a mere decrease in intensity of activity. It was a complete absence of any of my usual cardiovascular or strength training or even flexibility exercises. This is not the way I would suggest that any of you who are currently reading this be introduced to rest or skip days.

When I was finally given opportunity of getting back to the gym, I dreaded how my body would respond after the forced decrease in activity. True to form, the first day back, my mind started concocting all manner of excuses and reasons to postpone my return to the gym. However, I am happy to say I countered the internal arguments and pushed myself back through the doors to face what I was sure would be “starting over.” Much to my surprise, the first thing I did was break my own record to run 3.37 miles in 25 minutes, and I did it without keeling over. This was astonishing. I was genuinely dumbfounded that being away from my workout for several days had not completely undone all the good work of the previous months and set me back firmly in the realm of inactivity. And… so… I started considering (and reading about) the importance of rest, routine, and muscle confusion in any plan to improve health and well-being.

What my friend said is true. Over-exercising can negatively impact the immune system resulting in illness, and overworking certain muscle groups and body parts can result in fatigue and injury. However, fatiguing the muscles is part of the strength training process, and how is this related to rest days or staying on track with the formation of healthy habits? Well, I’ll tell you what I’ve found…

  • According to most sources it takes about three weeks for a behavior to become a habit. So, try to still with a consistent (no rest/skip days or weeks) routine for at least a 21-day cycle when starting.
  • Most health journals and online medical information sites indicate that exercise promotes good health, prevents illness, and wards off disease and depression.
  • Overtaxing the system, even with health-promoting fitness regimen, can impact the immune system in a negative way and overstrain muscles and connective tissues resulting in injury. Incorporation or recovery time is important to the overall efficacy of physical activity.
  • Most physical fitness recommendations are to engage in some sort of exercise at least three times per week, but it is also recommended that for good health, people should have some sort of physical activity (even just taking a walk) each day.
  • Many fitness programs recommend one or more day of rest per week… Not necessarily zero activity, but less intense activity.
  • Some training plans advocate for a rest week (again, not quality time with your couch cushions… but instead taking a break from your regular workout intensity or type). The recommended frequency depends on your routine and chosen focus, but no more than every other month.
  • Often a break now and then from the usual workout routine will give a kick start to training goals and can help get past a plateau.

The point to all of it is that pounding away at workouts non-stop is not always the best approach to a healthier lifestyle or to reaching physical goals. Additionally, taking a break (planned or not) doesn’t mean that you are slacking, that you have failed at physical fitness, or that you will lose hard-earned ground in the pursuit of better physique or better health. In fact, inserting a rest day or two into the workout plan can boost the efficacy of training. If nothing else, it is important to remember that a day or two away from the gym doesn’t have to result in a derailment of healthy lifestyle. Now that I have experienced it for myself, I can say with sincerity that my body responds better and benefits more when occasionally I remember to take time out to rest.

Physical Fit: Oh! There IS a reason for that thingy…

 

So, my workout journey continues. I’ve experienced my various slips and backslides and general lack of motivation, but on the whole, things have gone pretty well.

I have spoken previously about necessary equipment for the ritual of working out. For the most part, I would say that you can get away with very little in the way of purchases when starting down the road to a more active lifestyle. Provided you have appropriate footwear to provide support (though obviously footwear is not necessary for all forms of exercise), workout apparel that is comfortable (unless of course you belong to a nudist organization and are content with the effects of gravity upon pendulous parts), and… well, honestly that pretty much covers it. You really need nothing else. It is entirely possible to have physical activity for the purpose of health and well-being without a lot of props.

That said, most people have some form of headphones with appropriate technology to provide background noise of some kind. I am lucky enough to belong to a gym that provides television screens and headphone jacks so that I need not even have my own device. I usually do, though. I’m as attached to my phone as anyone else… and so begins my tale of woe. Well, maybe not so much woe as oh my did anyone see that?!?

Anyone who has jumped on the physical fitness wagon will find themselves bombarded by a variety of “must haves” and “needs” from athletic merchandizers. There are health monitors, gadgets, breathing apparatuses, self-filtering water bottles, attachments for measuring all manner of vital statistics, and of course the clothing and shoe fashions. It is a constant pull of the commercial industries to get your money, and I personally was taking a firm stance to not give into this flagrant display of capitalistic whoredom. I am made of stauncher stuff. I would not be moved (just don’t advertise the stuff on late night television because my will is weak in the wee hours).

One of the silliest devices, in my opinion, was these little holster-like objects that fasten around one’s arm or other appendage and would hold sound production devices or mobile phone. They are frequently made of some neoprene like substance that reminded me, for all the world, of my SCUBA wetsuit. While I didn’t completely dismiss them out of hand, I mostly considered them a vanity for the high fashion conscious workout set. You know the type, the ones with matching outfits made of coordinated spandex and triple digit footwear. I was most decidedly not one of those people, and so, I saw no need to invest in the cute little arm/phone belt that comes in a variety of colors. In fact, I strongly suspected that a lot of people wore them for the sole purpose of showing off their biceps. This was clearly a douch-nozzle or spandex nazi object unworthy of my serious pursuit of better health. I could do very well with my handy phone holster that attaches to my waistband. I certainly did not need to spend my hard-earned wages to be fashionably equipped with my phone holder.

Miscalculation number one: Phones these days, though technology is getting more miniature and compact, are heavy. They respond to gravity much like little talkative paperweights.

Miscalculation number two: Not all workout pants, shorts, or leggings come equipped with drawstrings.

Miscalculation number three: Cardiovascular activity generally involves some bouncing and jarring of the body and all attached items.

And my fourth and final miscalculation: Pants stretch.

You are probably already getting the idea. I think I heard a few snickers back there in the back. One bright and sunny day in the not very distant past, I betook myself to ye ol’ proving grounds for my daily workout. That day, I happened to be sporting one of my purchases that you may recall from an earlier article. This particular pair of leggings was of the cropped variety and was without the drawstring option. They fit well enough when I changed into them. Sadly, the sadists who designed said apparel also decided that a firm elastic waistband was also unnecessary. I believe that this garment was meant to be held up by hopes and magic. Nevertheless, I had attached my trusty holster, put in my earbuds, and mounted my favorite elliptical machine.

I started at a good pace and set the timer for a nice cardio session. About halfway into my run on the elliptical, I noticed that something was happening at around waist level… or rather what should have been waist level and was now slowly creeping towards my groin area.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the equipment known as an elliptical machine, I will tell you that it is a marvelous device for those of us with fragile knees. However, it is also designed to require some attention to technique and has the potential of mayhem if not attending to the poetry of motion associated with the ski-pole like handle movement and pedal like running steps. In other words, taking my hands off to adjust my waistband against the forces of gravity was some high risk behavior. Needs must when the devil drives, and so, I quickly removed one hand from the grips to jerk my waistband back up to its appropriate location and continued in my progress.

I listen to books when I run typically. I must have gotten to an absolutely riveting portion of the narrative because the next sensation to draw my attention was the feeling that my backside was receiving a good deal more breeze than is normal for my appropriate clad posterior, and to my horror I found that I had, in fact, been pants’d by my phone. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the moon (well at least my chunnies) was shining for all the world to see… or at least the poor souls that occupied the elliptical and treadmill rows behind me. Oh the humanity!

And that is how I came to own my very own arm holster… I think it shows off my bicep quite nicely, don’t you?

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Physical Fit: Um… Can Someone Please show me the Plateau Exit?

Well, it was bound to happen. I’m no stranger to the weight loss/fitness battle, and plateaus are just part of every journey towards better health. Since I experienced my inaugural physical fit, I have experienced pretty consistent progress… until just in the past couple of weeks. Whether it is the autumnal allergies that seem to be depriving me of oxygen (with the elephant that has taken up residence on my chest) or the apparent lack of coordination resulting in a couple of embarrassing injuries (twisted ankle from falling off my shoe and a strained boob… yes, strained boob! Go ahead and laugh),  I found myself slowing down quite literally, with an inability to perform to the same levels as I had achieved, and I just plain hurt. And though weight loss was not the entire goal of my fitness journey, it was part of the original plan. That stopped as well; came to a screeching halt.  So, it seems that I find myself on this butte, hoping that I can find my way out of the sluggish lack of progress.

As usual, with this type of situation, there is no lack of helpful and and sometimes less than helpful advice available. Aside from the widely conflicting explanations available on the internet itself, there are friends and family members with a plethora of contributions to the mix. I have heard them all at this point.

You are eating too much.

You aren’t eating enough.

You need to do more strength training.

You need to do more cardio.

Drink lemon water.

Fast for a day.

Are you stressed?

You name it, I’ve read it or heard it. There are so many offered options for “LOSING WEIGHT FAST!!!” and “Meal Plans for Fat Burning,” the mind boggles. Often these little gems involve a price tag. The truth is that I have been desperately seeking any and all information that might provide an alternative to my own sinking suspicion that I am fighting a losing battle against an aging metabolism (not to mention reaping the benefits of fighting rollercoaster weight issues my whole life). Well-meaning friends have tried to be supportive and helpful, offering their variety of experiences and winning solutions that have worked for them. I am grateful. Truly, I am. However, my recent influx of contradictory advisement has created a maelstrom of info-overload that threatens to breach the boundaries of my cranium. The bad part is that the frustration was starting to work its evil magic upon my mind and whisper the sweet nothings that say “See, it didn’t work. You should just give up. Here, have some chocolate.”

That is where the true negativity of plateaus get us. We are human. We like to be rewarded for our efforts and see that our hard work has achieved what we intended. When that doesn’t happen, it is very tempting to give up. The common sense philosophy would be, just power through it, and you should get right back on track. BUT… how long do you power through? What happens if nothing seems to jump start the process again?

My research and introspection have turned up the most likely culprits in my own situation:

1. Age – Whether I like it or not, I have reached an age where metabolism is not my friend.

2. Gender – Along with the age demographic, I’m female. Hearing me roar is all well and good, but as women, our bodies like to hold on to adipose tissue and our male counterparts on average have less resistance to offloading pounds.

3. Eating habits – Yes, I watch my caloric intake, but for increasing metabolism, I need to eat small meals more frequently. Therein is my problem. My work schedule sometimes results in forgetting to eat until it is time to go home in the evening. Not good. I’m starving my body and putting it into “starvation mode.” Not to mention that I am just starving and hangry and end up eating more than I should.

4. Stress – There has been a lot said about stress hormones, like cortisol. It is true, cortisol is increased when we are stressed. Cortisol is really helpful in stressful situations, allowing the body to break down glucose and activate it for use (fight or flight, you know). The problem is that when we maintain high levels of stress (and high levels of cortisol) over time, the hormone works against us and can break down muscle tissue and result in fat deposits (especially in the mid-section). We also end up craving a lot of simple carbohydrates and sugars. Bottom line? I’m stressed… for a number of different reasons, and it isn’t helping my little plateau issue.

5. Sleep – This goes with the stress issue. A recent discussion with a friend reminded me of some of the important functions of proper sleep. It isn’t just a matter of rest vs. fatigue. Sleep, or rather the deeper levels of said sleep, allow our brains and bodies to dump the excess cortisol and “reset” in order to start all over again for the next waking cycle. Lack of sufficient sleep or unhealthy sleep habits that disrupt the normal sleep cycle prevents the cortisol dump and we start out the next day at a higher cortisol level. Sleep is not my greatest skill either. I generally do not get enough of it (per recommended standards) and wake up several times per night.

So, those are my big five: The most likely reasons that I’m hitting the plateau, but I also wanted input from someone I consider very knowledgeable about fitness, because my plateau has not been solely about the scales. It has also been something I’m experiencing in my performance with cardiovascular training and strength training. My friend had some incredibly helpful ideas to contribute. First, he confirmed that not all beings are created equal, and that what works for some do not work for all… Thus, I need to pay attention to my own body. However, he did indicate that habit and getting into a regular pattern with our workouts is the enemy. He talked primarily about “muscle confusion” as the weapon to use on this enemy.

Our bodies are incredible machines. They adapt and learn. The human body is going for the most efficient use of the resources available. Engaging the same activities over and over provides just the opportunity for our body to adjust to save calories. So, we need to confuse the muscles. How do we do this? Change up the work out and don’t get into a rut of the same routine day after day. Using different types of activities helps, but focusing on different muscle systems on different days will keep the body guessing and prevent it from shutting down the metabolic systems for efficiency or developing a muscle memory that will limit the benefits of resistance/strength training.

So… thanks to helpful friends, review of high school biology, and a perusal of YouTube workout videos; I have my new strategy and game plan. I am going to check in with the fitness trainer at my gym to work on updating my initial plan. I am going to focus on muscle confusion by focusing on different muscle systems. I will be more consistent about my meditation practice and have at least 20 minutes per day, and I will attempt to get more consistent sleep (that may be the most difficult task). We’ll see how well it works and how faithfully I follow the plan. If any of you are feeling the plateau blues or experiencing lack of motivation for starting (or restarting) healthier habits, realize that we are not alone, and we can find the exit to get us off the plateau and back on track!

Physical Fit: Battling the Summer Vacation Doldrums

Summertime when I was younger was a time when I could get up early and enjoy long days of sunshine, swimming, climbing, running, playing, and generally expending an enormous amount of caloric energy while the adults around me chased me around trying to get me to sit still long enough to replenish said calories with something resembling nutrition. Yes, I was one of those kids that felt that eating was primarily just a waste of my time that could be better spent on other adventures or completing my chores in order to have more time to spend on other adventures.

I miss those days. Now, summertime is a time when I can sleep late (if I am on vacation… not that it ever happens, but it technically could happen), enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while I sit on my rather sizable back side and check the internet and social media to see what outside looks like from friends posting pictures, and eating goodies and treats not always available to my wallet or local eateries.

What the heck happened? When did I stop enjoying physical activity? When did lethargy and inactivity enter my unwilling spirit? Well, as you know, I have been making the effort to change my outlook, health, and general wellbeing through the deliberate expenditure of energy in what might be considered in a generous heart as physical exercise. Those of you who have been following my progress since my maniacal fit of madness will know that I am probably the most surprised by my perseverance. I am completely astounded that I have not argued away my own ardor for the gym and instruments of torture.

Does that mean that I have become a paragon of physical virtue and health? Um, I think the technical answer to that might be… Hell, no! There are absolutely days when I look at my workout bag and think to myself, “Oh my goddess, I do not want to do this today.” However, that particular epithet has presented itself less frequently than I might have expected. More than that, I am currently finding myself on vacation. This was possibly the greatest challenge to my new healthier habits. My general habit on vacation is to wake up naturally (meaning without an alarm) and lounge around drinking my favorite caffeinated beverage until I feel compelled to consume some food. Eventually I will wander down to the ocean to sit and read all day until the afternoon thunderstorm and/or sundown drives me back into shelter for refreshing beverages and more food. You see a theme here, right? The point being that I stood a significant chance of losing any possible advances I had made on healthy habits.

Recently, I had achieved a goal I never expected. I broke the 10 minute mile that I could barely even finish when I started. I not only broke it, I shattered it into pieces and went so far as to run my mile in 8 minutes and 43 seconds. What?!? Me? The woman who always said, “If you see me running, try to keep up because whatever is chasing us is bound to be bad”? Yep, that woman. I recklessly set a goal for myself for vacation. I wanted to run a mile on the beach.

I know this does not seem like much of a goal, but to someone who resembles some sort of vegetation during vacation, this is a pretty steep hill to climb. I packed a pair of running shoes and clothes that would be appropriate for a morning run. I still was not entirely certain that my inner slug would not surface with the usual excuses and rationalizations to remain on my generous posterior instead of getting up and moving about.

It didn’t happen. I actually ran a mile on the beach. Granted, I did not set in land speed records (running on sand is very different). My body protested and whined the whole time, but I did it. I ran on the beach. I ran a mile on the beach. I did it for two days in a row. Like I said, I am as surprised as you are. So, what was the difference? What changed my habit?

I blame it on the fit of madness. I blame it on a stubbornness that did not want to lose ground from what I had accomplished. I blame it on something that feels like… dare I say it? Pride. I actually am proud of myself for not giving up. Not that I have been transformed bodily into a picture of middle age sexiness… That definitely has not happened, but I do feel healthier and stronger. That is what is important (so, I’ve been told).

For those of you who may also be struggling with new healthy habits, I will make a few suggestions:

Keep a log of your journey – This can be something on paper or typing a journal (include pictures when possible to remind yourself of the before, the after, and the journey), but there are also a number of applications available out there that help (I like LoseIt and Runtastic, but there are a lot of others out there, too).

Reward yourself – It is ok to have a treat now and again. All things in moderation, but it is actually ok to reward yourself with things that you enjoy. In fact, restricting yourself from things that you love is one thing that can derail a plan faster than anything. Your new healthy living should be enjoyable, not a punishment. So, you really need to keep some of the things in your life that you enjoy (while adding new things you enjoy).

Share your progress with your support network – What? Support network? Yeah, those people who like and love you, who want you to be healthy and happy, who make you laugh and keep your spirits up, and who cheer you on. Tell them about your successes. Heck, tell them when you trip and stumble. The point is that they will help you celebrate the wins, they will hold you accountable, and they will remind you that you can try again tomorrow when you fall. Everyone needs a cheering squad.

Anyhow, this entry is a bit different than my usual tone for these pieces, but I know I’m not the only person who struggles to stay positive and making good choices all the time. If anyone else reads this, consider me part of your support network. I’ll tell you that I have definitely been there, and no one can be gung ho all the time. Every day I overcome the doldrums is a win. Now, to reward myself with a tasty beverage and the beach.

Physical Fit: The consequences of a momentary madness

So, madness overtook me in a screaming fit of angst Saturday before Mother’s Day. Yes, indeed. It was something akin to full on psychopathic mania or possibly demonic possession, because I know that had I been in my correct cognitive state, I would never have been compelled to do what I did.

I joined a gym. Good heavens! What was I thinking?!? How could I have possibly been influenced? Yes, friends are consistently talking about going to the gym. Swimsuit season is upon us. The pool in the backyard is nearly ready for occupation by other than algae and other debris. However, I am still going to blame demons… or possibly aliens. They are always a good scapegoat. After a rather enjoyable dinner with friends from work, all of whom talked about various physical activity, and at least one works out regularly (and is the visual aid promoting said practices, I will say), I felt my jeans to be tighter than I would like. The constant reminder that gravity has impacted my physique in ways not pleasant to me, and the fact that diet alone does not appear to have any sort of impact at all these days has resulted in a desperation that could lead to pacts with evil entities… and that never works out well.

I have been asked multiple times by friends to join them in their workout routines. I have also been the recipient of workout propaganda that would have already been more efficacious than waterboarding except for one small thing… very small: My bank balance. Many people would say, spend the money for a monthly membership, and you will go because it would be a waste of your money to not go. That never worked on me. I hated going into the gym. I could always talk myself out of it, and before I knew it, months of membership fees had passed and along with it, many, many dollars. And, so, I told all my so very caring companions that it would be throwing good money after bad for me to even consider joining anything. I would just be wasting money I did not have. At one point in my life, I considered myself rather fit, and despite the continued learned commentary of several of my acquaintances on what I need to do to improve my physique and health, only one thing has ever worked for me: Aerobics. Sadly, and with shame, I admit I was one of the lycra clad women bouncing around to music with and without props (weights, bands, steps, etc.). I never was one that could lose myself in continued reps with free weights or a nice long jog on treadmill or elliptical. There was a time when I could ride miles on an actual bicycle, but to sit on a stationary bike pedaling away while watching inane talk shows or anything else was something that made me want to stab my own eyes out. Therefore, I would continue to do my progressive squats, crunches, push-ups, and such in the privacy of my own home where I would not feel shame comparing my own over-40 body to the myriad of spandex wrapped hard-bodies blithely climbing their invisible mountains on stair step and elliptical machines.

And then, it happened. I honestly cannot say what did it. Was it the conversation with my very fit friend? Was it the over tight feeling in the waistband of my jeans? Was it the unwelcome reflection in the mirror reminding me of time’s passage, or was it (most likely) my resistance failing in the face of too much peer pressure that resulted in my fingers, as if by their own accord typing in the pattern of key strokes that would make me a “joiner?” Before I realized what had happened, I had my very own gym membership. Hell hath frozen over.

Faced with Armageddon, there was only one thing left to do. I printed out the emailed version of my contract and took it down to the temple of fitness to get my “key” and free t-shirt. On a side note, I truly believe that we can take over planets with free t-shirts. Anyhow, the deed was done. I have been assimilated (Someone please tell me that I will soon have the physique of Jeri Ryan, Seven of Nine). Thus ends the tale, right?… not quite. You would think that purchase of membership and having the courage to walk in would be sufficient to insure the end of days, but no.

Working out is not exactly a simple matter of physical activity. There is apparel to be considered. No, I am not so vain as to require designer gear to be a physically fit clothes horse. However, appropriate clothing and footwear is necessary, because this facility is not in a nudist colony, and I don’t want shin splints. Once I had established my susceptibility to peer pressure, it dawned on me that I had no shoes that would actually protect my feet and joints from damage. I had a representative pair of tennis shoes that appeared to come from an archeological dig. I also (to my abject mortification) have a pair of platform sneakers advertised some years ago as able to firm your backside merely by having them on the feet and walking around. Needless to say, attempting to wear these for a regular workout will not only look ridiculous, it will also result in an injury to my lower extremities and/or me plummeting to my death… from humiliation. So, at the very least, a new pair of sneakers were in order.

Have any of you tried to purchase athletic footwear these days? I think I’ve bought a set of tires that cost less. I have been truly amazed at the prices on these things. At first, I thought it must be a matter of fashion again, noting the bright colors and brand names. Given the size of my feet, I tried the men’s section instead, naively hoping that the less fair sex might warrant less dear prices. Boy, was wrong! Men’s athletic shoe prices make the women’s shoes look like a yard sale find. Granted, the reason for the increased expenditure is that allegedly the construction of these beastly shoes provides the support and cushion that prevents injuries, like shin splints and compression fractures. That being said, I truly resent being charged triple digits for shoes, especially shoes that look like alien technology in neon colors. Thankfully, I was able to find clearance racks that provided a more reasonably priced alternative.

With my feet taken care of, my mind turned to the rest of my body. As a friend said, just wear a t-shirt and a pair of old sweatpants or shorts. A very reasonable and logical idea. Have I mentioned that working out in any public venue has not been part of my life for more than ten years? It isn’t an issue of being fashionable. I sincerely could not care less whether I match or have the latest thing on my body. However, my old clothing fall into three categories: Inappropriate, uncomfortable, or damn near pornographic due to strategically placed ventilation (not part of the original design). I felt it was necessary, therefore, to supplement my wardrobe with a few pieces to have at least three or four decent outfits that could be rotated through laundry, dresser, and wearing.

It is a testament to the amount of time it has been since I last purchased so much as a pair of sweatpants. I was again gob smacked by the sheer digits involved on the price tags attached to tiny pieces of stretchy cotton or spandex. Thank goodness again for the clearance bin without which I would not be able to afford so much as a tube sock. Three bins and six clearance racks later, I was sweating and exhausted, but I was able to find sufficient covering for my bottom half without depleting my checking account… well, at least not more than I already had. Making my way to the checkout, I saw other women already clad in color coordinated leggings and fashionably layered sports bras with tank tops. I clutched my meager purchases and timidly went through the check out. I made my way through the outer doors to my waiting vehicle and drove the rest of the way home.

Walking through the door, I found that my physical and emotional limits of the day had been reached. I sank down on the couch with my hard-won purchases resting on the floor at my side. Well… my journey of physical fitness has begun. I am sweaty, exhausted, and completely emotionally spent… and I didn’t even have to get dressed out. Let’s hope that my next outing is a bit more productive physically and less draining financially.