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Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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First of all, guess what? I’m totally going to boot camp. At 5:30 a.m. Three days a week. During the kickoff of the holiday eating season.

I’m not trying to lose massive amounts of weight, although a little trim-up here and there wouldn’t go unappreciated. I really just need to get out of my fitness rut — working out by yourself often means that you stop really challenging yourself. Three sets of three different lifts, 30 minutes of cardio … meh. It turns into an uninspired check mark on the daily to-do list.

I’ve been lucky enough to inherit my maternal grandfather’s height (not ALL of it, but I’m taller than most other female relatives) and his tendency toward the slender end of the spectrum. I’m not stick-figure thin, mind you: I have curves that will grow curvier if left to their own devices.

What I want is muscles. Not big muscles, but toned muscles. And not just for display purposes. I like it when my muscles can DO things, like effortlessly move piles of books or march up the stairs two at a time. I like it when I can SEE the muscles outlined on my back and stomach, not because they’re making me look skinnier, but because they’re making me stronger.

They’re also helping me have better bones. Having watched my grandmother suffer with advanced osteoporosis, I want to do everything I can to prevent my own diagnosis.

So back to my first day at Madison Adventure Boot Camp: It was fun and difficult, very reminiscent of the workouts I completed the year that I was on the basketball team in junior high (note: tall girls may not be aggressive enough to play basketball – they may just be tall).

A workout with variety will draw me in me every time. A little jogging here, a few side squats there, some shoulder work (wait, MORE shoulder work?) … boot camp is the workout for those of us with fitness ADD.

Tomorrow’s going to be an achy-muscle kind of day, but in that good way where you can picture little bits of muscle breaking down only to rebuilt with better, stronger muscle.

One advantage I’ve already noticed: a general aversion to the office bowl of leftover Halloween candy. After all, I’m not counteracting all that early-morning work with cheap milk chocolate. (Expensive dark chocolate … maybe we’ll talk.)

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