Monday, December 21, 2009

The Goal Is Flexibility! Just not mine.

Last Friday I sent out my Daily Dose, which I do each morning on Twitter and via email for twitterphobes, and since it was a Friday I had to think of a word beginning with "F" to complete the sentence, "TGIF: The Goal Is.....". I started doing that on Fridays months ago and now it's a thing and each Friday I have to come up with a new f-word. Unfortunately I can't use that one.

Last Friday I used "flexibility," and planned to write something about how we all have to be flexible during the holidays to stay on our healthy plans despite travels, well-meaning family members who made special food, and the like. But then I thought....wait a sec.....why do I have to be the flexible one? Why can't they accomodate me?

I felt a little bad about thinking that seeing that its the holiday season and I am supposed to be giving, not receiving. But I pushed that feeling aside as I recalled an article that a friend sent to me a few weeks ago that illustrated my point. You can read it here.

The article is pretty much a non-apology letter for being a stubborn clean eater in the midst of holiday food, and an explanation that being a health-food snob is not personal, its just food. As I read it, I wanted to take out a full page in the New York Times to proclaim my love for the author, Jennifer Merritt, who had obviously somehow managed to tap into my soul without my even realizing it. She laid out my thoughts so eloquently I felt like I should pay her a commission or something.

I'm here now at my parent's house, having arrived with my ice chest and taking over the beer fridge in the garage with my spinach, egg whites, turkey, soup, fruit, veggies, and whatnot. I sipped soup while everyone else ate pizza, I stopped at the grocery store to stock up on pears and oranges to snack on, and I bought a week's guest pass at my family's gym so I can stay on top of my workouts. And what I have to keep reminding people is that this is what I want to do. Indulging in sugar and fatty creamy holiday food would be like having the Grinch steal Christmas from me. I really honestly truly would rather eat fruit.

Its not that my family is super unhealthy; they're not. But you know what I mean, the holidays cast a spell on all of us that makes it seem like we're un-American if we don't maintain a diet of rum balls and eggnog for the rest of the year, and practically tars and feathers those of us who pass on the traditional seven holiday pounds gained. I used to embrace the calorie-fest of December and feel like I deserved to "treat" myself because, after all, it's the holidays. But over time, I began to realize that I wasn't doing myself any favors.

So, I am asking my family to give me a very special gift for Christmas this year: flexibility to let me do my weird food thing and maybe even try it out yourself. :)
I'll settle for the beer fridge. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Desperately Seeking Jumper Cables

I read my horoscope every morning. I know, go ahead and roll your eyes. But each morning on the way to work I open my handy little horoscope phone app and read aloud to my husband what the stars have in store for us that day. Then I provide my own unsolicited interpretation of what it means and how we can maxmize our day just by anticipating potential obstacles and planning ahead for them. My husband loves this. He can't wait for me to analyze and critique his decisions and advise him on his daily activities before he's even had a cup of coffee. Okay, that's not entirely true. He tolerates my happy chatter in the morning and silently counts down the minutes until I can pick up my car from the body shop so we don't have to carpool anymore and he can drive to work in sweet silence. Not a morning person, that guy.

ANYHOO, today's horoscope was particularly revealing. Allow me to quote (I am a Cancer):

"Corruption begins with a small lie, usually to oneself. When you begin to justify something you that you know deep down is not right, that is a sign that you are on a crooked path. Right now you are not the instigator of the corruption but may be the victim of it. Someone who preaches one set of rules but lives by another is currently disrupting your life. This person doesn't go by what's right, but by whether he can appear to be right, and consequently he fools many people. You, though, are not fooled. Find peace in knowing that what goes around comes around."

I know who the culprit is - my inner voice. You know the one....the one that tells you one glass of wine will be okay. The same one who forgives little nutritional indiscretions and rubs your back and nuzzles your neck when you promise to be better tomorrow, purring that it's okay, there is always a fresh start. But it laughs because it knows the truth. That crooked path has very few u-turns.

Personally, I blame my husband for waking her and getting her all dressed up and perfumey. He took me on a date last month. We went out for dinner, and apparently had a third wheel tagging along. She convinced me to have a glass of wine, which made it pretty easy to also have a frappuccino. Then she abandonded me and ever since, I have been playing solo defense on a muddy field, fending off more and more opportunities to engage in the kind of "moderation" that results in me being, well, where I am now. At the end of one month of wavering around, accepting less than satisfactory work and feeling the physical manifestation of my choices. As in, I feel like crap and am pretty cranky, too.

I don't do moderation. I've tried, and I hate it. It's just not my scene! We've already established that I need to lighten up but it is not going to happen so please just work with me here.

That being said, I can look back at the last month and make some not-crazy assessments:
  1. I've taken a break from heavy workouts and control-freak nutrition, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need a break whether we want one or not.
  2. Now that the Ultimate Fitness Challenge is over, which has been my focus for the past few months, I don't have an immediate goal to work on except the triathlon in April, which seems too far away to need to start training now.
  3. The combination of number 1 and number 2 equals one cranky me.

So, today I don't have anything super-motivational or enlightening to say, just kind of stating the facts of my current state. I need some jumper cables. I need to start triathlon training now, which seems pointless since the next few weeks are going to be dominated by work meetings and holiday travel. Maybe my goal should just be making it back to the start of that crooked path by the end of December so I can start January on the straight and narrow. I'm sure I can throw in some kind of wacky benchmark to make that goal seem not as lame as it does now.

My husband and I have another date this weekend. I hope he doesn't mind if we leave the third wheel at home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Cheat Day

Last night I was reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my son (and thanking the Lord in heaven that I was not reading Wheels for the millionth time) and found myself wondering once again whether author Eric Carle wrote the book after coming off of another crazy diet. If you're not familiar with the book, it follows the story of a very hungry caterpillar who spends his week trying to satiate his hunger by eating through pieces of fruit only to find himself on Saturday doing what most people who have lived on fruit for a week do: pigging out.

After a week of eating one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three blueberries on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday, he then arrives at Saturday and eats, "one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon." As you can imagine, "that night he had a stomachache!"

And I think, "been there, done that!"

The caterpillar's diet sounds like one or two ill-fated schemes about to inundate the post-holiday airwaves with promises that America's overweight can eat whatever they want and still lose weight. And I guess that is true in a way, if everything you want to eat is clean, natural, healthy food in reasonable portions eaten in several small meals throughout the day. But I'm guessing it's more along the lines of cheeseburgers and pizza, according to the commercials.

I used to spend my Saturdays like our stuffed and woozy little caterpillar, because I thought that after a week of "being good" and eating well, I deserved a cheat day. I read in fitness magazines about diets that encourage people to have one day when they can eat whatever they want without guilt. I hear about celebrity trainers who give their clients a cheat day to go off of their diet. I even read message boards filled with advice from one fitness guru to another about carb-cycling, re-feeds, and splurge meals all designed to trick your body into revving up its metabolism and get out of a plateau. And it might work, I don't know, I'm not a dietician. All I know is that when I spent six days taking care of myself by eating well and one day abusing and sabotaging myself by having a "treat," I spent a lot of time being frustrated at how bad I felt and how little progress I was making in my quest to become a fitter person. It took me a long time to realize that a cheat day only cheats me.

Your cheat day only cheats you.

I can't say it enough! As you go through the holidays and attend parties, bake goodies, receive tempting calorie-laden gifts, and browse the grocery shelves, please remember that we live in a country where food - healthy or not - is abundant. Food is not a limited-time offer. People are. This holiday, focus on the people, not the food. You can bake yourself whatever Christmas cookies you want any ole time of year. If you really feel like you deserve a treat after being so "good" on your nutrition all week, go get a pedicure after a day of shopping for gifts! But don't let yourself be lured into thinking that you are treating yourself by eating something you know will sabotage all of that hard work.

Oh, and that caterpillar? On Sunday he ate through one nice, green leaf. And after that he felt much better.

You know, just sayin'. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exercise ALONE Won't Make You Thin. Exercise ALONE. I'm ranting, FYI.

Yeah, I'm all riled up.

This article keeps rearing its ugly head, being emailed around offices, posted on Facebook pages, and sensationalized on the front pages of online news sources, letting people know that they can relax and go back to the Cheez-its because, thank GOD, exercise is a waste of time. It turns out that exercise won't make you thin after all. So that gym membership you bought back in January? You should have spent that cash on a new La-Z-Boy because exercise is good for nothing.

Okay, warning - I am really fired up about this so if I say something insentitive, just know that its because this is a passion point for me. But honestly, I've heard countless (incredibly unhealthy) people tout this argument for not exercising and claiming that exercise is a waste because it doesn't make you lose weight. Every time, I grit my teeth and smile and nod and try not to scream. But please read this part in a screaming voice:

Weight loss is not the only reason to exercise!!!!

Exercise ALONE may not cause you to lose weight. Keyword: alone. If you eat too many calories of crappy food, or even if you eat the appropriate number of calories of crappy food, and you exercise, you may not lose weight. That is true. Because exercise ALONE does not cause you to lose weight.

If you walk all day on a treadmill while eating fried twinkies, you may not lose weight. Because exercise ALONE does not cause you to lose weight.

That does not mean you should not exercise. Exercise because it increases your bone strength. Exercise because it elevates your mood. Exercise because it keeps your joints limber. Exercise because it makes your heart stronger. Exercise because it keeps your lungs strong. Exercise because it makes your calves look nice in high heels. Exercise because a good sweat makes you feel alive. Exercise because it postpones the effects of aging. Exercise because it lowers your blood pressure. Exercise because it makes you a nicer person. Exercise for the rosiness in your cheeks. Exercise because your health insurance reimburses your gym membership. Exercise to talk to the cute guy or girl on the elliptical. Exercise because you like how you look in running shoes. Exercise because it reduces your chance of developing cancer. Exercise because not everyone can. Exercise because you need some alone time. Exercise to crank up your iPod to your favorite song. Exercise because running up a hill feels so damn hard and so incredibly great at the same time. Exercise because coasting down a hill on your bike makes you feel seven years old again.

For years and years I exercised every day and didn't lose a pound because I ate crap. I still exercised because I enjoyed it and believed eventually it would work, but I spent a lot of time being bitter that even though my hours in the gym were great for my heart, they made no discernable impact on my waistline. Eventually I made the connection and realized that exercise ALONE would not make me lose weight: I had to get my nutrition in order as well. Once I did, wow. There are no words. The magical combination of clean eating and daily rigorous exercise is one that cannot be explained, only experienced. And sadly, as long as your only purpose for exercise is to lose weight, it will remain an exclusive club for those of us who understand that a lifestyle of wellness offers much much more than a single-digit clothing size. Sure, I could probably regulate my weight now with nutrition alone, but the other benefits of exercise far outweigh the side benefit of weight control.

Exercise may not make you thin, that's true. That's not why we exercise.