Lighter Fare

Last week covered some pretty heavy subject matter. I think emotions are tied up with our eating patterns more than we might realize. I hope that my successes and failures can help others who are also struggling the way I have been. That said, let’s talk about yoga farts.

Yoga farts are a reality of life. You simply cannot bend yourself like a pretzel and not expect a little pfffttt to sneak out. If you’re lucky, it will be silent and not smell too bad. But you probably won’t be that lucky. I’ve avoided the dreaded yoga fart thus far but only with acute belly grumbling.

That’s dried sweat on my eyelids and cheeks. I did not know sweat could do that.

Let’s also talk a little about how gross running is. I’ve had a black toenail, nearly pooped myself, and had so, so many blisters. Snot related incidents are high. Coughing and spitting, chapping and chafing are also common. Bloody nipples? Yup!

Why would anyone do any of this?!

One of the things I like so much about running, yoga, and exercise generally is that it challenges me to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. It may sound silly but I’ve always felt a lot of pressure to be clean all the time. Being willing to get dirty was a big hurtle for me. I want everyone to embrace the dirt!

Being dirty and injured is part of the human experience. I’m not saying people should roll around in mud and run holes through their feet; I’m just saying that it is so easy to stay locked into our houses and businesses, away from nature and risk, easier than ever before in history. What are we missing living this way?

Shin splints. Treatment? Soaking both legs in a trash bucket filled with ice water.

And the risk is not just in the physical discomfort. It’s also in the many levels of psychological discomfort. For me, I’ve had to conquer my aversion to being dirty and hurt, but also to sharing these human experiences with others.

I ran solo for the first few years of my running experience but as part of a goal to become more social, I joined a running club (Greater Lowell Road Runners) and started getting involved in their events, from group runs to a holiday party. This was a big step for me as I prefer isolation.

Taking a yoga class was also a big step for me. I had so many fears. What if I couldn’t do any of the moves? What if I hurt myself? Would I be too embarrassed to ask for help? And the truth is that I haven’t “conquered” any of these difficulties. I am privately hard on myself if I don’t think I’m executing the full expression of a yoga pose. And I’ve had times where I was hurting my back but I didn’t say anything or change my posture because I felt pressure to follow through. These are normal responses to these situations. I’m trying to see them as an opportunity to challenge myself and how I respond.

And sometimes that is the best I can do!

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Mental Health and Wellness

I missed last week! Yikes! I’ve been working really hard on applying for jobs in a field that is entirely new but a fantastic fit for me. Over the last several months, I’ve been sharing my weight loss journey. I’ve shared a lot of research, tips, and ideas on how to do it but I think my greatest contribution to the weight lost canon is why to do it. I talked a little about this in an earlier post but little bits of my why are spread through all my posts.

Figuring out your why is hard stuff. You have to develop a sort of internal Socratic method. You’ve got to chase down all the answers you can and doing so can be a painful process.

People overeat for a lot of reasons. But a big one is emotions. And overeating is not restricted to the overweight; people of average weight overeat when they feel sad or when something bad, or even something good, has happened to them too.

I have struggled with emotions all my life. When I was very young, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve been through hell and back. I’ve spent time on locked psychiatric units and in residentials. I’ve been through all kinds of therapy and all the medications.

Nothing has helped me more than finding my why. I bring this up now because I know a lot of people who struggle with mental health and wellness also struggle with physical wellness, as I did.

I’ve never thought of overeating as self-medicating but I can see how that has been true for me. When I feel anxious at a party, for example, I eat and eat and eat. And that is something I still do, despite all this success I’ve had in other areas.

Anything that can make me cry can also make me eat. I’ve been crying a lot lately because I haven’t been able to run so I’ve also been eating a lot. I’ve put on about 8 pounds over the winter. This has been a big challenge for me, learning how to eat without the ability to exercise off excess. I’m losing a few battles at the moment but I fully expect to win the war.

Another time I overeat is when I’m happy. I just celebrated my ten year anniversary with my husband, and I ate an enormous piece of cake (we get a small version of our wedding cake every year). I’m sure that cake accounted for at least 1,000 calories.

And I overeat when I’m busy. Busyness causes me to stress and makes me more likely to look for takeout options, even if I have healthy alternatives available.

I suspect most people are like me too in these respects. Life is hard for all of us. A lot of my earlier posts make it seem so easy. “Just weigh your food” I say! But that’s just a small piece of the situation. It doesn’t account for all the emotional stuff weight loss and gain and management in general brings up.

More next week, but in the meantime, be well.

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The Yogi not in the Room

So I’ve written a lot about diet and shared some of my tips and tricks. I’ve been exploring exercise more and more in my own life and I think I have a few insights to share. Exercising should not be the most difficult thing in your life. That’s hard for me to say because I am a competitive person. When I don’t win the contest, I take it personally. I’ve been known as a sore loser. So even trying to exercise when I was 280 pounds was a daunting mental task. To be successful, I had to shift my thinking; instead of competing against others, I needed to compete against myself.

This works especially well with running because it is an easily measurable activity. You can track distance, time, heart rate, and probably 100 other metrics to see how you’ve improved. And you can also see when you’re falling short, which happens sometimes for all kinds of reasons. Not every run will be a great one. But the key for me is that I enjoy most of my runs. They are not the most difficult part of my day; I don’t dread them. And now that I can’t run, I miss them. I think it’s important for everyone to find activity that makes them feel the same way.

That said, running is not the only form of exercise I do. I also lift weights (sometimes) and do yoga once a week through my local recreation department. I’ve done hatha, kundalini, and now twilight yoga. I added yoga in as part of my strength training routine to support my running but I’ve come to love it almost as much as I love running. I’m not especially skilled at it. I can’t keep my feet flat on the floor doing downward dog; I can just barely touch my toes. I’m not exceptionally flexible, though stretching has improved my flexibility a lot. In short, I’m not what you’d call a yogi.

But yoga is fun! I go with a friend, we laugh at ourselves and talk about how hard the poses are. When I get home, I tell my family all about the new forward fold or high plank I did and how I don’t think I’ll be able to walk the next day (in jest, of course). And the right yoga teacher makes all the moves accessible no matter your skill level. The teacher will typically show off a few modified versions of a pose and you’re free to do whatever feels best to you. I’ve worked with three different yoga teachers thus far and I’ve found something to love about all of their classes.

The thing about yoga that I find more difficult to accept is its non-competitive nature. Yoga is, essentially, unifying the breath, the mind, and the body. Doing this really requires locking out competition between yourself and your neighbors. I find faster-paced classes help me with this, but that I still steal glances around the room to see how I’m stacking up. I am also critical of my performance compared to earlier classes.

These expressions of pride are unavoidable, at least for me, in nearly everything I do, so I’ve accepted them. I allow myself space to be critical, but I don’t allow my criticism to stop me from doing what I love. I try to think of at least one positive thing to say about my performance each run, each yoga class, every lifting session. And I forgive myself when I fall short. I also use the analytical portion of my brain to see if I can figure out why I may have missed the mark. Sometimes it’s just because I slept poorly. It’s easy to forgive that!

In the end, I don’t enjoy life if I’m huffing and puffing and hating myself. So I don’t. It’s not easy to get there, but it isn’t impossible. More next week!

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Short Post

Having a little technical difficulty today (new modem) but I (almost) never miss a Monday. Last week I wrote about my first race. I’ve learned a lot about myself while running and it has become a joy to me. It’s not always easy but I keep on going back for more!

But I never thought I would like running at all. Not even a little bit. It looks so hard and boring. Truthfully, all exercise seems boring to me. I never got into any sports as a kid. I did like to ride my bike and rollerblade but I always relied on my legs to get around and those were a logical extension of that. I didn’t understand what it meant to be an athlete until I finished my first marathon.

It doesn’t require eating protein bars and wearing spandex. You dont have to do anything with a ball or a stick. You dont even have to sweat to be an athlete. To me, ask one question: am I doing something athletic? If your answer is yes, then you are an athlete.

You don’t have to run or swim or cycle, though those things certainly are athletic. You can do yoga, dance, jump rope, whatever gets you moving and brings you joy! I wish someone had told me that when I was struggling with my weight and feeling low about how little I could do myself. When I started walking, I became an athlete.

More next week 😁

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More On Running and Exercise

My first race was a half-marathon. I tell people this and many of them are surprised. Most people start with a 5k race, figure out they love running, and go from there. I wasn’t in the mental shape to actually run a race though until I was capable of running what I considered a truly long distance. It wasn’t enough to run 3.1 miles, I needed 13.1. So much of this comes back to my poor mental state and low self-esteem.

Runners can be funny photo bombers!

In my head, I couldn’t possibly be a runner. Runners are people who get up early and eat salads all the time. They wear tiny shorts and bright shoes and they have their own little club that I wasn’t in. I made a lot of assumptions early in my running career that were terribly unfair to others and to myself.

In any case, I did about a year of solo running before I decided I wanted to try a race. This was good and bad. Going it alone meant I didn’t have the advice I desperately needed about things such as foot strike, stretching, and good footwear. But it trained me up mentally. It took me just over 2 hours to finish my first race and (seemingly) countless hours in training runs. I listened to music to break it up but it still comes down to spending hours moving in the same pattern and just watching the world around you. This can be incredibly uplifting and also incredibly challenging.

I picked the race I was going to run more or less at random. I had found a program I wanted to use, Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Program. It was a simple, easy to track program. I understand now that it lacks some things I would have loved to have known to do, but it is still a great program and I would recommend it or really any of his programs to people who want to take up running.

My favorite photo from the race, coming down the finisher’s chute.

The race was in its inaugural year, it fit the 12 week time line, and it was for a good cause. It lined up so I took the risk and registered. And that’s when the nerves set in. I was going to run a race. That’s such a loaded word. When you run a race, you run to win. But there was no way I could win this thing. Dan Vassallo, an Olympic Team Trials qualifier was running it. I did not understand that winning a race isn’t just about the competition between oneself and others, it is also a race against yourself. Of course I’d never beat Vassallo, but I could beat my own best time and maybe a few others in my age group. Running is incredibly flexible that way. You can set your own goals!


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New Year, Same Me!

Only three pounds heavier! 2017 was not a weight loss year for me. I ate too much to reach my goals. I was set to lose a pound heading into December but I fought the holiday demons and lost! This was an amazing year for me though; I learned so much about myself during my marathon training and now during my recovery. I now know that exercise is absolutely critical for weight maintaince for me and that I have some serious work to do controlling eating. I’m finding myself bingeing at night and when I’m feeling low. This is an opportunity to do a little research and find new ways to help myself.

Last post I wrote about how I started running. Running started out for me as the logical next step from walking. Who is more physically fit than runners? Healthy people jog; that’s just what they do. More assumptions about weight and health that carried me through that first year of weight loss. But I also found myself getting excited when I would jog. I did absolutely no research into running or how to start; I just added it into my walking by full out sprinting until I couldn’t anymore, walking in between bursts. I loved the way it felt to challenge my body that way and I still do.

But let me say that while exercise, running in particular, has improved my health in many ways, it has also caused me quite a bit of pain. I made the classic mistake of failing to get fitted for good running shoes. I failed to do so not because I didn’t know I should but because I was 260 pounds or so and I was ashamed to go to a running store where fit people are. How could I ever go into a place like that and say I was a runner? My other fear was cost. I just wasn’t willing to lay out any money on yet another exercise plan. I was determined to make do with what I had and that’s exactly what I did.

I started running in old cotton shirts and shorts and Walmart brand running sneakers that I already owned. I can still remember the feeling of the pavement in those old shoes; I could make out every nick and pebble on the road through the thin soles. Each step brought a sting of pain not unlike the sensation you get when you land after jumping off a curb. And those little shocks turned into a raging case of plantar fasciitis.

My first pair I only just threw away. I took this photo to remember them by.

But I kept running. I got myself in to see a podiatrist who gave me a cortisone shot where my pain was most intense. She gave me a list of approved shoes and off I was to pick up my first pair of real running sneakers. I actually cried when I put them on and knew I was going to be taking them home. They cost $150. But I could barely feel the road in them. It was like running on little clouds.

I ran my very first road race, the Torigan family YMCA half-marathon in Peabody, Mass in a pair of Asics, the Nimbus 17s I think. And that’s when I picked up my second running injury: shin splints.

I’ll share more lessons learned as these posts go by but for now I’ll just say that I wish I hadn’t let shame dictate my behavior and that I hope it never does again.

Happy New Year everyone! May this year bring out the best in you!

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Getting my Sweat On

I didn’t eat that banana bread! I’ve been eating a whole lot of other stuff though so this year might wind up being a wash or I might even gain a pound or two. It’s important to keep these things in stride though because before I lost the majority of the weight, I was gaining 10+ pounds per year.

I’ve written a lot about nutrition and how I was successful (and failed!) in changing my eating habits but I haven’t spent much time writing about exercise. Exercise, as we all know, is the key to weight loss. At least that’s the message from all those exercise machine advertisements.

However, it is very difficult to out-exercise your diet. If you are routinely eating two to three times more than you should, you will need to do two to three times the amount of calorie-burning. It’s great that exercise can help with weight loss but it does have limitations.

The big secret is that you don’t have to do any exercise at all to lose weight. So long as you are consuming less than you burn, you will lose weight, and there are many, many ways to do that through diet alone.

But, exercise definitely allows you to eat more and it has other benefits. It can improve mood, reduce the risk of diseases, and even boost energy levels. For those reasons, I think everyone should exercise. But in a practical view, I don’t think just wanting to lose weight or boost energy is enough motivation to exercise regularly. If it were that simple, everyone would be doing it.

That’s why I advocate setting an exercise goal based on likes and interests instead of accepting the sort of societal messages we have about needing to hit the gym and lift a bunch of weights or spend hours on an elliptical. The truth is those things can incapacitate you with boredom. I read this great comic over at The Oatmeal about the vanity of gym culture and it has always stuck with me. You have to fall in love with exercise. And you can’t do that if it makes you miserable.

Now, it’s totally possible that gym culture speaks to you and gives you joy beyond measure. If that’s true, great, you fell in love! But if you’ve already tried going to the gym and failed, maybe the problem isn’t you; maybe the problem is the gym.

When I first started out, my goal was basically walking. Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise out there. It’s low-impact, you can do it for a long time, you don’t need any special equipment, and it’s free! What I enjoy most about it is that it is accessible. You can pop some shoes on and head out the door. You don’t need to drive anywhere, you don’t need to sign up for a gym membership. It’s all right there.

But a funny thing happened when I started walking. Before long, I wanted to run. And so I did. But I took many missteps along the way which I’ll share in my next post.

Everyone deserves a day off so I will be taking next Monday off to celebrate Christmas, but I’ll be back in time for the New Year, hopefully with some inspiration to share!

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My Emotional Eating

We gain weight because we consume more energy than we burn but the reasons for over consumption vary wildly. I overeat for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, I genuinely feel hungry and I simply overestimate what I need, but more often, I am reacting to something in my life or environment.

I’ve had some medical problems recently, namely knee injuries picked up from when I ran that marathon back in October. I’m in physical therapy now to help heal but my ability to run is reduced. By a lot. I was logging 40 mile weeks leading up to the marathon and now I’m lucky if I manage 10. And half of those are painful.

Because I’m not exercising, I can’t eat as much as I want. I also have many hours to fill that would normally be spent running. And I’m upset a lot of the time. I’m angry about my injuries. On top of that, running releases endorphins, and I’m really missing that. So I’m filling my time and salving my wounds with delicious food. As a result, I’m now on track to gain weight this year.

I’ve gained this kind of insight into my eating habits after these two years of watching my diet. Unfortunately, I often don’t catch myself and figure out the cause until the eating is done. The only time I can really control my eating is when I have some thought behind my efforts so I can try to predict what my triggers might be and how to overcome them.

One of my biggest issues now is eating at night. I’m definitely doing more of it than I should. Sometimes it’s because I’m bored. Other times it’s just because I find myself in front of the TV and what goes better with a movie than popcorn?

What I am working on right now is coming up with a short list of approved snacks and a few things that I absolutely cannot have. Resisting something (like that delicious banana bread on my counter right now) gives me a sense of accomplishment but having a few approved snacks gives me a bit of a pressure release valve. I’m also trying to keep myself busy. Playing video games mostly but always something interactive.

I also know that there are some days that I simply can’t control myself. Thanksgiving or Christmas, anyone? This is a hard season for weight loss or even weight management. So I’ve turned into the skid. Instead of trying to restrict myself on those days, I eat whatever I want. And I plan on eating a little less the day before and the day after. Things even out over time and one day of poor eating habits won’t tip the whole table over.

The most important thing for me has been learning to take the shame out of eating. And that’s really hard so I try to be very clinical in my approach. Learning about nutrition has certainly helped me in this. It’s very easy to see weight management in a disinterested way when you’ve read up as much of the research as you can. And I remind myself that I can change right that very moment. That I don’t have to let what I’ve done haunt me and that I can do something different next time. It sounds silly, but it helps.

I’m learning that the truly hard work is controlling my eating habits when I can’t exercise and when it seems like everything is going wrong. And for me, it’s time to go to work.

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Scary Phrase

I’m starting this week by sharing some of my numbers. Right now, I weigh around 170-173. I wear sizes 12-14, large, in most clothing. I don’t have a goal clothing size because sizing is so ridiculous across brands but my goal weight is around 150. I arrived at that goal based on my body mass index (BMI) chart but I’m not married to it. The BMI has faced a lot of deserved criticism but it is the primary tool in the doctor’s office so it is the one I’ve used to set a weight loss goal.

This last twenty pounds of mine is often referred to as “vanity weight” though for me it’s also functional. I’m still 6-9 pounds overweight per my BMI and further, because I run, the lighter I can get the faster I can be, to a point at least. I still need strong muscles and bones and those weigh something!

Also, I have a healthy waist-to-hip ratio now, which is often considered a better predictor of health than your BMI number. Because weight stored around your waist is more dangerous, keeping your waist measurement in a healthy range, particularly as relative to your hips can reduce your risks of heart attack and other health issues related to weight. You can calculate your BMI here and your waist-to-hip ratio here.

I started losing weight in May of 2015. I lost around 90 pounds in 2015, around 15 in 2016, and I’m on track to lose 1 pound in 2017. You’ll note that I’ve really fallen off. This is sometimes called a plateau, though there’s no solid definition for that word (sometimes refers to weight, sometimes to fitness). The cause of my (weight loss) plateau? Eating too much.

It’s that simple. I’m eating too much to lose. I think I am struggling with the concept of weight maintenance. It’s easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off, so if I tell myself that I am perpetually losing this last 20 pounds, I never have to face the long road in front of me that is keeping it off.  Weight maintenance is the scariest phrase in the world to me.

We don’t really have a whole lot of data about weight loss or weight management in general. But the National Weight Control Registry has been tracking weight loss and maintenance results since 1994. Their findings are interesting but are limited by many factors (participation is voluntary, 80% of the volunteers are women, data is gleaned from a questionnaire). Like the BMI chart though, these results are what we have. Those who keep the weight off do things like weigh themselves weekly and exercise at least an hour a day. You can read more about their data here.

I am sharing all of this because seeking this information out has been one of the most useful components in my weight loss quest. The best advice I can give to anyone looking to manage their weight is to read, read, read. There is a lot of information out there. Some good, some bogus, you’ll have to weed through it all (including what I have to say!). But the results will be worth it!

Next week, I’m hoping to share a little about emotions!


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It Hurts

I’ve been as candid as possible about my weight loss experience. Sharing my story is a way of finalizing this process for myself and I do hope that others may benefit from it. Being heavy is difficult. I never realized how hard life had become until I got lighter. I had constant aches and pains, breathing trouble, and emotional stress.

But here’s the thing, I still have some of those troubles and for the ones I’ve alleviated, I’ve gained a few new problems. When I envisioned being lighter and being able to do more, I did not imagine negative side effects. It’s really easy to imagine weight loss as a magic bullet, tired as the cliche is. If only we could fit into that dress, play that basketball game, or run that marathon, things would be perfect.

The weight loss mirage fools us into believing that if we can just get over the horizon to that sweet oasis, all our troubles will disappear. We’ll really burn up our high school bullies at the reunion or get that promotion. Flocks of people heading to the gym January 1st has become a societal skit. We all laugh at the prospect because we know that few people will stick it out through the month, never mind achieve long-term success.

I raise these specters because I worked through all of this on my path. I had a few failed attempts at weight loss before I found any success. After the birth of my son, I joined a fancy gym, but never went. I had another attempt after the birth of my daughter. I picked up a pair of rollerblades and tried to use them, only to discover that my muscles could no longer support me. And I joined a gym again a few years later, only to stop going within a few months. I couldn’t bear the shame of cancelling the membership!

This time, I fell back on all the marketed ideas I had in my head. I made smoothies, bought fat-free and no to low sugar foods. I ate salad everyday. What I’ve learned since then is that none of these things are necessary for weight loss. They may be helpful to some people but they are not required. When it comes to food, what makes you feel most satisfied is best. For me, that means a lot of volume, but also some indulgence. A large salad has very few calories but a lot of bulk. But salads are boring by themselves, so, for me, making it satisfying requires a nice full-fat dressing.

Some people do really well on high fat diets, others on high protein diets. My diet is variable. When I am preparing for a road race, as much as 80% of my calories come from carbohydrates. I can’t begin to tell you how much pasta that is. Typically, I get 50% of my calories from carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fat. My point is that there are so many diet plans out there, from counting calories like I do, to counting macros and intermittent fasting. You just have to find what works for you in particular. It will be hard. But it is possible.

Next week I’ll share more of the research that helped me and some interesting statistics on weight loss!

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