Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

For the record, today is January 20, meaning I tried on a bikini in the dead of winter and didn’t hate myself. That’s next-level crazy.

pants

Clearly not a bikini shot, but I’m loving my strong legs these days. Also my lion’s head garbage can.

 

By no means was there an Instagram faux-perfect body staring back at me. First of all, I’m paler than any swimsuit model would dare to be. Six-pack abs still elude me, mostly because I’m not giving up ALL of the good things in life, like the occasional glass of wine and chocolate croissant. The thighs could be spindlier, but they just don’t seem to want to (even when I was seriously tracking meals and workouts and weight and body fat percentage, they didn’t want to be tiny).

What I saw in the mirror was … OK. My abs are in good shape (I have a little oblique action going on). I’m loving my arms and shoulders — although my lifting game is not impressive weight-wise, my tiny muscles are a joy.

Finally, my legs are STRONG. They have a few muscle cuts. They can climb and lift, which in the end is more important than being skinny.

At 43 years old, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and I feel fabulous.

Over the past few years, I started rethinking my nutrition and fitness goals. I stopped having a “goal weight” (I have no idea what I weigh right now, but my clothes fit the same week after week, so SCORE). I began to pursue weightlifting not as a weight-loss activity, but as a bone-building, let-see-what-these-muscles-can-do activity. I’m not lifting super heavy – my condo gym is small and frequently not populated with spotters, so I have to lift only what I can safely carry (a good travel rule for suitcases, too).

The husband helped me make a standing desk for work – it’s hard to get sleepy after lunch if you’re on your feet.

The biggest changes I’ve made have involved food. I cook. A LOT. We eat more whole foods than processed foods. Note I didn’t say NO processed foods – we still eat meatballs from the Trader Joe’s freezer. I still make a weekly trip to Moe’s Southwest Grill with the office crew (Moe’s Monday waits for no one). We eat the occasional frozen chicken burrito at home (a Trader Joe’s original, yet again).

But for breakfast? Oatmeal. Not instant. Sometimes steel-cut. Topped with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins.

Lunch? Leftover quinoa. Always a salad (sometimes only a salad) with good greens, grape tomatoes, feta and sometimes banana peppers. I like the Caesar dressing from Trader Joe’s, but after reading  about “natural flavors” in The Dorito Effect, I’m considering just topping my greens with a little vinegar.

Dinner? I have a great recipe for chicken tacos from The Complete Cooking For Two Cookbook by my favorite cookbook authors at America’s Test Kitchen. Also included in that book is a stuffed manicotti recipe – that one is a two-day affair, since it’s easier to make the sauce one day and complete the dish the second day.

We eat a lot (A LOT) of cheese and salad. I make a mean meatloaf. The aforementioned meatballs come into play at least once a week with my homemade marinara sauce – sometimes with stuffed ravioli (yo, Trader Joe’s again), sometimes on a bun from Publix for sandwiches (although I’m notorious for leaving at least half of the bun on my plate – simple carbs aren’t taboo, but they aren’t a requirement, either).

I drink a lot of water. And a bit of coffee. The occasional glass or three of wine.

Perfect dietary guidelines? No. Better than some, worse than others, but it’s working for me. My meal-planning is a combination of deciding what I would really enjoy and what’s good for my body. Not good as in, oh, this will keep/make me skinny, but good as in, oh, this will help with today’s deadlifts, or help me stay upright and focused while I finish making this presentation.

Good as in, I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0314 (1)

I have donated or thrown away five pairs of shoes over the last six weeks – none of the shoes pictured, mind you. These are stalwarts: my trusty gym shoes, my oh-so-comfortable short boots and my somewhat comfy dress heels that see the artificial light of holiday parties two to three times a year.

The ones that went away were relatively nondescript:

  • A pair of low brown work heels that should have been super comfortable given their brand and my experiences with it, but were instead torture after four hours of relatively low-key daily wear.
  • A pair of Clark’s mules, with just enough of a heel to feel dressy, but also with a fatal seam that threatened to rub a blister on my inner right foot if I dared to walk too much. A quick stroll to the grocery store next to my office was a no-no.
  • A pair of pricey black flats bought last year specifically for conferences, where I do an interminable amount of walking. They proved to be pretty much MADE OF SEAMS on the interior, and if I didn’t have Band-Aids strategically placed at various locations on my feet after three hours of wear, I was in trouble. They never “broke in.”
  • A pair of casual leather sandals that proved blister-happy after too much walking.
  • A pair of uber-sexy burgundy boots that made me look like a superhero, albeit a superhero walking unsteadily on 4-inch heels. They were, frankly, way too sexy for everyday wear, and I constantly felt in danger of imminent ankle collapse. Zooming up from 5’8 to 6’0 means that you’re not only instantly taller than 90% of the population, you’ve also got farther to fall.

Several months ago, I organized my shoes into these handy stackable boxes from the Container Store. One of the features (and, perhaps, consequences) of placing your possessions in clear containers that can reside in one small space is that you actually have to face the things you own. Like five pairs of black heels (all of which I wear, at some point or another, during the year, FYI).

The funny thing about owning the requisite average of 20 pairs of shoes, however, is that sometimes you STILL don’t have the proper footwear. After realizing last summer that I needed a nice pair of black dress flats to wear at a couple of upcoming fall conferences, I began a fruitless, infuriating search. I found sparkly ballet flats, flats with huge bows and flowers, and clunky loafers that screamed “I give up on looking cute, now get off my lawn.”

After a ridiculous amount of browsing, online and in stores, I finally found a promising, if expensive, pair of black flats that turned out to be horribly uncomfortable. When I wore them to the office for a few days to break them in and test them, they seemed OK, but the minute they sensed that I was away from home, without a backup pair of shoes and without an extra minute to find another pair, they turned into super-tight, seam-wielding torture devices.

That’s right: I owned the only pair of shoes in existence that broke out instead of in.

I finally found a pair of comfy flats on a quick trip to New York, during which I was decidedly NOT shopping for shoes simply because I didn’t want to have to stuff them into my carry-on for the trip back. Alas, there they were.

flats

They proved to be so comfortable, in fact, that I ordered two more pairs in black and one pair in gold, since they were on sale because they were being discontinued.

I won’t be caught without proper conference shoes again for a long time.

But back to my point (and there is a point): Why do women settle for uncomfortable shoes? How on earth are we convinced year after year that toddling around on high heels, unable to walk quickly or even comfortably, somehow puts us in a position of power?

I’ve known older women whose feet were completely reshaped by years of wearing heels every day. Bones shift, tendons shorten.

I’m on an all-flats shoe rotation at work – I put together a standing desk and got myself a decent gel mat. Heels are for parties and nice dinners out (provided I don’t have to walk a half mile to the train station).

These are only two feet I have, so I’m done making them uncomfortable.

Read Full Post »

It’s been about two months since I pretty much gave up artificial sweeteners. I say “pretty much” because I’ll sometimes find a packet hiding behind another pantry inhabitant, and I promised to quit after all of the packets are gone. These packets are, obviously, not gone.

Do I miss my little yellow packets? A little. They gave me free license to make coffee, tea and oatmeal obscenely sweet, without caloric consequence.

I’m glad I tapered off instead of going cold turkey. By the time I really cut myself off, I was accustomed to oatmeal flavored only with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins and cups of coffee and tea sweetened with only a teaspoon or so of sugar.

I haven’t gained any weight from using sugar instead of sweetener. I figure as long as I don’t try to make foods taste as sweet as artificial sweeteners do, I’m good in the calorie department. I can afford the 15 to 30 calories that real sugar adds to a cup of coffee or tea, especially considering I’ve cut back on coffee and tea consumption in general.

An unexpected side effect: My usual cravings for holiday sweets are non-existent. Of course, this may have more to do with the fact that I’m too busy to even THINK about making cookies, much less figuring out how to make eggnog that doesn’t suck.

Read Full Post »

This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

Read Full Post »

Despite a general aversion to most things mathematical, I sometimes have a thing for numbers.

(And before anybody goes all “girls can do math, too” on me, I didn’t say I wasn’t any good at math. I made a B in college calculus, and I totally rock a balanced checking account. I CAN do it, but sometimes I’d rather not calculate the square footage of my back yard. You know how big my back yard is? TOO big.)

I have to be careful with numbers in the fitness arena, however, lest my “thing” for them becomes an obsession. I don’t weight every day, or every week, usually, as I’ve learned that constant monitoring isn’t very helpful OR very accurate.

Cue my surprise earlier this week, when, after a two-month regimen of running and relatively healthy eating in addition to a slightly downscaled weightlifting routine, I found that I had actually GAINED two pounds since February.

Nothing fits more tightly, mind you, and at least one pair of jeans actually seems a bit looser in the upper leg area. I can only conclude that my body packs on muscle more efficiently than I knew it could.

More muscle in the same amount of space — or slightly less space — equals two pounds. Fine. But it’s not exactly making me feel dainty.

Then again, maybe it’s simply time to redefine the definition of “dainty.” Or simply forget about feeling dainty in favor of feeling strong.

Read Full Post »

I’ve finally become familiar with the terms thinspo and fitspo.

Short for thinspiration and fitspiration, both describe inspirational images of — let’s face it — women who are skinnier than most of us. Thinspo images are sometimes associated with eating disorders (you inspire yourself to get thin by looking at them and feeling ashamed of your own body). Fitspo is supposedly thinspo’s safer, healthier cousin; these women aren’t bone-thin, after all, they’re muscular and fit. I mean, come on. They’re wearing GYM CLOTHES.

Thanks to Pinterest, thinspo and fitspo images have flooded the Internet over the past few months.

Haven’t seen any? I don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ll wait here while you check out thinspo and fitspo on Pinterest.

Many of the women in these photographs present us with new variety of unobtainable physical ideals; they’re underwear models topped with a thin veneer of musculature, with nary a hint of cellulite. Sometimes they simply appear to be skinny ladies standing around in their underwear, without even a pretense of any association with fitness.

One pin features a topless woman, photographed from the back, lounging on a bed with her jeans halfway down her backside. Exercise is, apparently, exhausting.

I’m torn. I like images of strong women because I WANT women to be strong. But I also fear that these images may trigger shame and self-hatred in women who don’t live up to these physical ideals (in other words, most of us).

Several bloggers, including Helena Handbasket (whose post alerted me to this controversy) and Virginia Sole-Smith have expressed similar reservations about fitspo. On The Great Exercise Experiment, Charlotte Hilton Andersen says fitspo may simply be “thinspo in a sports bra.

To obtain the musculature of many of the women in these photographs, you’d have to follow a very strict diet and work out A LOT. I don’t mean five times a week instead of four, I mean every day, possibly for several hours. (I used to know a woman who looked like a fitness model, and she exercised three hours a day and would never go out for dinner or drinks because she didn’t dare deviate from her special diet. BO-RING.)

Admission time: Fitspo images make me feel bad about my abs — I wish that they were rock-hard and better defined. My abs are NOT a trouble spot for me, so you can just imagine what such imagery makes me think about my thighs, which feature — gasp — cellulite. Cellulite that didn’t even go away when I went through a dangerously skinny post-tonsillectomy phase in college. (I got down to a size 4, which today would probably be a size 0. You can, indeed, be too thin. Maybe not too rich, though.)

That said, my legs are AWESOME. Running combined with a healthy regime of squats and other muscle work has left them strong and capable. They’ve just got a little bit of padding up top.

This is the kind of attitude that I worry slips away when we see fitspo images. We can’t be content with “look at the awesome things my body can do” when the mantra “it’s not good enough if I don’t look like that” is running through our heads.

In the introduction to Eating Our Hearts Out, a collection of women’s personal accounts of their relationship to food, Lesléa Newman writes, “Our culture makes it nearly impossible for us as women to have a healthy, easy relationship with food. On one hand, we are supposed to be the nurturers of the world, perfecting recipes to delight our families, and, on the other hand, we are supposed to deprive ourselves of these delicious meals in order to look the way our society deems it best for us to look, which can be summed up in one four-letter word: thin.”

I argue that we also have an uneasy relationship with fitness. For many, the simple act of challenging the body is not enough; exercise without dramatic transformation toward perfection — thinness — is simply pointless. This all-or-nothing attitude has to be the root cause of the many January fitness programs that are abandoned by March.

It’s exhausting, really, this constant obsession with food and calories and carbs and measurements and weight. Honestly, what more could women accomplish if we weren’t so completely preoccupied with the scale and the tape measure?

If fitspo inspires you, pin away. Just make sure it’s inspiring you to make yourself stronger and healthier, and not prompting feelings of self-loathing.

In “A Weight that Women Carry,” an essay in Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Sallie Tisdale writes, “In trying always to lose weight, we’ve lost hope of simply being seen for ourselves.”

Similarly, in mirroring ourselves against the perfection found in fitspo images, we risk being unable to simply love ourselves and acknowledge the positive things about our wonderfully imperfect bodies.

Read Full Post »

I always thought I hated running, for one good reason (although maybe it counts as two): boobs.

I was on the girl’s basketball team in seventh grade, which also happened to be the year that my breasts started sprouting in earnest. Sports bras weren’t a thing yet in the ’80s … boobs bouncing down the court were just part of the scenery of practices and games (the Lady Hawks included eighth- and ninth-graders in all stages of development). I wasn’t comfortable with the bouncing itself or spectators watching the bouncing, however.

And the utter stupidity of being called the Lady Hawks: DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED.

When sports bras began to become more popular in the ’90s, they still weren’t worth much for ladies with anything bigger than B cups. (And don’t think I’m bragging until YOU try to fit them into an Ann Taylor blouse that isn’t so big the shoulder seams are drooping toward your elbows or so tight that the top button is threatening to put someone’s eye out.)

I tried the double-down trick for aerobics classes (SHUT UP) in college, but wearing two sports bras at once pretty much doubles the amount of boob sweat you produce in half the time.

I made peace with the non-bouncy elliptical machine for a few years, then discovered weight training, which I simply LOVED. My body responded quickly, toning here, putting on a little bit of muscle there. Best of all, I didn’t feel skinny or fat, just STRONG.

Even the most effective fitness programs become ruts after a while, however. Bored with weights and walking and the occasional foray into the neighborhood gym (and vividly aware that my cardio stamina was rapidly diminishing), I signed up for Madison Adventure Boot Camp in November.

Finally, I had a reason (and marching orders from Joe Martin, boot camp owner and official trainer of the Rocket City Bloggers) to buy one of those pricey new and improved sports bras that I had read so much about the past few years — a Moving Comfort model from Fleet Feet, which carries a huge variety of bras in a tiny display area and will let you try them ALL on if you need to.

We ran in boot camp, and ran some more. I almost hurt myself — luckily, my shin splints turned out to be less splinty than some — but I discovered that, with the bouncing problem solved, running not only wouldn’t kill me, it could actually be fun.

I’m not the best runner in the world, mind you. I stop to pet dogs. I slow down so I don’t scare ducks. Sometimes I slow to a stroll, convinced that I’m going to die on the street of a heart explosion like a 1985 cocaine addict with really bad judgement.

But then I start running again. One more sidewalk segment. Then another. To the end of that row of hedges. No, wait. THAT row of hedges. I shave two minutes off my route and think, next week, another two minutes is coming off.

Running makes me feel like I can do anything, as long as I can find the right bra and stop to pet dogs. ANYTHING. And that feeling is worth a LOT of $50 sports bras.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: