Tag Archives: habit

No Substitute For Self-Care

There’s no way to fool yourself into not being broken down, injured, or tired. Sure, you can give yourself all the pep talks you want, but when you feel like you’re walking on pins and needles, when you’re so tired you can’t even get off the couch, when you have small shooting pains in familiar places, it’s time to take a step back and rest. Rest, damn it. This is your only body, and sometimes, the reset button is broken, so you have to take the cooldown instead to let everything recharge, even if it’s not going to go back to where you want it to be.

Recapping my summer: I progressed well through 6 weeks of New Rules of Lifting for Women. The program calls for a barbell and some gym equipment, but since I don’t have access to much of anything but barbells and bodyweight, I did what I could with the materials I had on hand, and I put out a request on social media to borrow weights. I misplaced my 10-pound dumbbells and had only 2- and 5-pound weights to dink around with. A friend had 15-pound weights and 25-pound weights she let me borrow, but no 10. Another friend let me have her single 10-pound weight. And since this is the summer of being broke, I did what I had to: I tied my 5-pound weights together with a shoelace and lifted for a while with that. GOOD ENOUGH.

Sadly, my feet began hurting not terribly long after this. Contributing factors include taking on a role at my part-time job where I walk around the building quite a bit more, and the shabby shoes I’ve made work over the last several months are showing their fit issues, their age, and their quality at last, and the result was aching feet. As someone who let a broken foot go untreated years ago, I was not about to go down that road again and decided to take some time off from lifting. It was time for my rest week anyway, which I took advantage of quite gladly. Sadly for me, the rest week has turned into more than a month of not lifting weights.

However, there is a silver lining: my guts healed enough that I could run again, and it didn’t happen until I had been working on my core through NROLFW for those six weeks. Should I directly credit lifting weights with closing up the hole and helping me to be able to run again without abdominal pain? There is strong enough circumstantial evidence that I will take it on face value and call it good enough.

We had a temperate July, all things considered, to the point that I had to wear a light jacket to finish mowing the lawn on the fourth of July. This is usually a day of sweat, sunscreen, and humid warmth. It turned out to be a day I took the dogs for a nice cool walk in the mid-afternoon, and it was downright chilly in the afternoon shade. With all the great weather, plus a purchase of obnoxiously bright and wonderful new shoes (and some awesome free socks and new sports bras), I went for a lot of walks that sometimes turned out to be walk/run events.

I started tracking on four apps at once: Charity Miles, to donate to Feeding America; WoofTrax, to donate to my local animal shelter, Runkeeper; and MapMyRun. I have been getting inconsistent distance readings from one app to the next, so I like to multi-track to get a more accurate average. For instance, today, my apps disagreed by 0.3-0.4 miles. That’s a huge difference.

I’ve also been tracking small walks on the Charity Miles app in an effort to get a free t-shirt and support Team Red, White & Blue and the Wounded Warrior Project. The app is issuing more small challenges that scale up where participants can earn prizes from corporate sponsors for tracking a set number of days for particular charities. If nothing else, it’s a great daily reminder to work out, even if just a little bit.

My weight is still not in a place where I want it to be, and my stomach in particular is not where I want it to be – it’s making wearing some of my cute pants less possible, as some pairs cut into my gut in a way that they didn’t used to. I recently discovered that my favorite diet soda (I know, I shouldn’t be drinking any diet soda, I know! Jeez!) has concentrated orange juice as a main ingredient, and a diabetic woman who pointed this out to me said it messed with her sugar levels. She says this is the only diet soda she drinks that affects her; others that have plenty of caffeine do not affect her in the same way at all. While I’m not diabetic, and my doctor never diagnosed me as pre-diabetic, I have been watching my sugar for going on three years now, and Alzheimer’s and diabetes are in my genetic destiny, and I need to remember that even the diet “cheats” that I think are safe are only ok in moderation. I’m bad at moderation. So I’m going to cut back drastically and see how I can diversify my natural treats and go back to drinking diet tea and water instead. I’m discouraged, though. It feels like I’ve strayed from my original path, and it’s even harder to get back into good eating habits than it was to make them in the first place.

Finally, I am really getting old. I push mowed the lawn the other day. The yard is fairly large, and the grass was wet, so it was hard work, and it took me 3 hours to finish (I took plenty of breaks, too). I wound up with bruised palms, muscle soreness all over my body, a slightly aggravated ankle, pain in my left pointer finger from lifting the mower to scrape wet grass out from the inside so the blades would spin, and right wrist pain from turning the mower. And my feet hurt like hell the next day after I stood around at my retail job, then took the dogs for a walk. Even my magic new sneakers couldn’t save me from hurting myself.

Getting rest, making sure to eat before undertaking big physical efforts, resting body parts that hurt, and remembering I’m not as invincible as I think I am or want to be seem to be the only ways to age gracefully while maintaining some amateur level of fitness. But this is why I continue to work out: so that when I’m older, I’ll still be mobile enough to take my dogs for walks, to enjoy being out in nature, and to live independently as long as possible.

Running On Glass

I’ve been running lately, and so far, it hasn’t killed me or completely destroyed my joints (maybe). Fancy!

With nice end-of-summer weather, I’ve been walking along a quiet, hilly country road that takes me past pastureland and farmland, farm houses, small streams, and churches. I have a sheaf of small stories about the bucolic delights of my exercise, from shutting off my music to better hear Mennonite churchgoers sing hymns in German to collecting red clover for some inquisitive horses to photographing butterflies.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

One day, while walking down a long hill, I tried to pick up the pace a little to get my heart rate up more and to tax my leg muscles more than walking does. That turned into a very light jog. I was surprised, delighted – words you don’t usually use when you talk about working out. “This should stop soon. When is something going to start to hurt?”

I ran for maybe a full minute. As someone who hasn’t tried running since a failed C25K attempt in 2006, a minute felt like a long time to run. I had so much fun that when I caught my breath, I ran again. I didn’t attempt to go up any hills and did a lot of walking, but every time there was a downward slope, I ran a little more. I shaved 15 minutes off my usual 5K walk lap time and soaked in the tub when I got home.

With two jobs, my time is stretched a little thin, so I don’t run more than once or twice a week – which is great for me, as it is probably wise to let my body rest and heal for several days between those workouts.

The ankle brace and knee brace are necessities, of course. I tried running without my ankle brace a little over a week ago, which turned out to be a mistake. I went out on Sunday afternoon, and I had shooting pains in my ankle while I was walking up a hill – to the point where I seriously considered calling my boyfriend to come pick me up. I stopped for a moment and rolled my ankle in circles, tugging on the elastic at the top of my ankle. The pain quickly subsided, and it felt all right enough that I actually ran on it again before the end of my walk. When I got home, I soaked in the warm tub for a while, then propped my ankle up and wrapped it in a cold pack while I watched TV.

Will I keep running if I’ve hurt my ankle? Probably not. I don’t want to do lasting damage. I’ll give it some time to rest, and then, the weather will get really cold, and I won’t want to run or go outside, and I’ll get halfway through winter before I’m bitten by the exercise bug again, and I’ll put on all my braces and my neck gaiter and 14 layers of flannel and go out and run two miles and feel awesome, and then I’ll slip on black ice into some horse poop in the road and break my leg. And my phone.

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an "accident."

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an “accident.”

The constant thought I have as I’m running, besides “Just get to that tree shadow/driveway and then we can stop and walk… JUST KIDDING, go to the end of that driveway! I should REALLY eat breakfast before I run! I don’t know how I’m going to make it home!” is that I’m on borrowed time with this body. I feel like my brain is tricking it into doing things that could break it. It’s easy to be a hypochondriac and easy to be reckless. I’ve got to find the balance between having the gumption to test my limits and having the common sense to know when to stop and how to take care of myself properly when things do go wrong.

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

The Good Hurt After The Bad

Last summer, when I was having abdominal issues that are now thought to be related to a hernia from torn surgical scar tissue, I figured rigorous abdominal exercise was off the table for a long time. I was right. Activities such as pilates, carrying heavy items, running, and even walking too far were painful and exhausting.

In the fall and winter, I started taking my dogs for long walks out of necessity when we’d moved and had no enclosed yard. I had a little weariness in my joints and muscles toward the end, but I was also taking them for hour-long walks in 23F/-5C temperatures several times a week and not eating enough.

At the beginning of this year, I bought a house that had an enclosed pen, and ever since then, I’ve taken the dogs on zero planned walks (does chasing down a dog in the rain at 11 on a Sunday night really count as a walk? I can’t find that activity anywhere on MapMyRun) and took myself on one long walk before the weather started going all wonky. Seriously, snow during the first week of April? As a Kentuckian, I have only seen such things before while playing Oregon Trail.

A cartoon parody of an Oregon Trail screenshot.

Congratulations, weather. I have died of ridiculousness.

I took several months off from physical activity of any kind at the beginning of this calendar year when I was working 65-plus hour weeks. My  job has slowed down quite a bit, but I haven’t ramped up my activity. One-and-a-half pilates workouts in a week’s time do not a ramping make. But if I can make it several sessions a week, I’ll count that as a re-engagement in physical activity.

A chirpy host was leading a pilates workout I stumbled across on one of my long mornings last week, and I figured I might as well make the most of this easily accessible workout, since I’m paying out the wazoo for satellite service anyway and had nowhere to be for an hour and a half. I’m old hat at this stuff, so it should have been easy. But I sometimes forget that when you haven’t worked out in a while, your body’s not as flexible or as strong as it once was.

Roll-ups were once so easy; surprise crunches, now saturated with disappointment and with an odor of failure, were all I could manage. I regretted the side kick series toward the end of the first leg’s workout.

And let’s not bring up the modifications I had to do. With wrists that require braces and special keyboards, a knee that has worn a brace during most workouts over the last 8 years, ankles I bought hiking boots to support, and a shoulder that sent me to physical therapy, there were some exercises I just could not do. Thread the Needle was off the table. Anything related to planks and push-ups had to be done with bent knees and a small towel supporting my weak left knee. Sometimes, it feels useless to even pretend to try those exercises, for the net good they would do my body. In fact, several years ago, I made .mp3 files out of my favorite pilates routine so I could listen to them on my phone and exercise anywhere, and while making the files, I specifically edited out any exercises that were beyond my physical limitations.

Everything that I could physically do, I did, or at least tried. I remembered to bring in my weightlifting gloves for my next session to make working out a little easier on my wrists. And I have the little towel on standby, ready to cushion my long-suffering knee when I have to put any weight on it.

As I was driving home from work the day of my second workout, I felt a little abdominal pain. But it was a good pain. It was the sting of aching muscles complaining that they haven’t been used in a while. It felt very different from the sharp stab and lingering nausea that indicate something is physically wrong, and that you should probably skip eating for the next month. I was happy to be able to hurt that way again.

Roller Coaster of Food

Whee! I’m eating healthy!

Just kidding, chocolate oatmeal cookies and sugary cappuccinos forever!

No, wait, carrots for dinner. Nothing but raw carrots. 40 BABY CARROTS.

Woman from the fake Nutrigrain ad "I Feel Great."

CARROTS EVERYWHERE. (If you recognize this image, you’ve been on the internet too long.)

OK, if I could just figure out what my body wants and stick to it, that would be great. Thanks.

I’ve maintained my weight through the month of December through the power of never wanting to eat, not stocking food in my house, going on long walks with the dogs, and eating more at holiday meals than I mean to do. But it is now January, and people have stopped cooking for me out of some sense of familial obligation and holiday spirit. Well, fine, I didn’t want to eat their delicious bacon-wrapped Parmesan and avocado cracker sandwiches. I’ll just go look at my condensed beefy mushroom soup and not think about Danish wedding cookies and soft bread covered in cheesy spinach dip.

Listening to my body is something I have historically had a hard time doing. I’ve tried to develop that skill for my own good and my own health, as lately, I have found myself ignoring hunger pangs and letting my anxiety tell me that everything is terrible and nothing will ever go right again because of some uncontrollable factor.

So if I see a plate of freshly-made dessert things in the kitchen, and if I haven’t had much else to eat that day, sometimes, I just say, “All right. Let’s do this.” At the grocery, I try not to police myself so hard on the food items I buy for myself. “No, soup is fine. Get more vegetables to put into it. And get a different type of apples this time. Eggs! Get some damn eggs!” And then, I prepare these foods when I’m hungry.

I had a dinner of foods that were not on my usual eating-stuff list on New Year’s Day. The ham was pretty much fine, though I ate a lot of it; I also had baked corn, hoppin’ john, homemade mashed potatoes, and peanut butter cookies. How many peanut butter cookies? Hmm. Maybe, like, 5 or 6. Worth it. I hadn’t eaten a lot in the days leading up to that day, and I had two plates of that food. It was pretty awesome. I felt so much better.

I worry sometimes that I’m restricting my foods too much with my lower carb, paleo-ish diet. I worry, too, that my lack of consistent weight loss, my plateauing, and my public straying from my declared eating lifestyle will come back on me as judgment from others and from myself when my body turns all these marvelous things into fat and re-glues some weight to the parts of me that have gotten smaller since last year.

A cartoon of an alien accusing a remorseful human woman.

JUDGED FOR FOOD CHOICES. No amnesty.

There’s letting your diet go completely by the wayside as you eat nothing but sugary snacks and non-nutritious foods. And then, there’s rebuilding, learning new limits, and eventually, eating foods in moderation. I like to think I’m engaging in the latter and not the former.

Some days, it really does feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of food choices. I have to remember that life has peaks and valleys, and self-care is no exception. Nothing is smooth sailing forever. If you learn to recover from the valleys and take them in stride rather than freak out or give in to the temptations completely, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself in the long run, stick to a plan that works, and learn to live with the choices you make rather than learn to begrudgingly tolerate sacrifice for the sake of ephemeral physical transformation goals.

Inclement Clothing

Northern hemisphere snow party! Whoo!

It’s around the darkest days of the year with the least sunshine, and it’s not so bad, to be honest. Yeah, it’s in the 20s F in the morning with highs rising all the way to the 30s F by the middle of the day, but as long as it doesn’t rain and get all damp and gross outside, that’s not so bad!

Unfortunately, it’s been damp and gross – the wet kind of cold weather that isn’t pretty and doesn’t have the decency to not soak through every layer you have on – for a lot of the last couple of weeks. Snow flurries fell over the weekend, though, and didn’t stick to much, melting and refreezing almost as soon as they hit most earthbound surfaces. This morning, it was cold, clear, and dazzlingly sunny.

As I’ve said several times before, I’ve put together a cold weather wardrobe. It proved to be inadequate the other night when it was just above freezing and started to rain very hard as the dogs stood in the back yard, alternating between finding things to eat in the bushes and pulling away from me toward the house without having used the potty, which was the entire reason we were out there. I have a rain coat, but I wasn’t wearing anything warmer under it than a sweater. I don’t have waterproof boots or pants that resist rain. My flannel pajama pants I’d worn out into the rain got pretty damp, and I let my shoes dry out for a day before I took the dogs out for a long walk again. So basically, those things are next on my list of winter-wear gear. I’ve got being warm enough down, now I just have to stay dry as well.

Rain hasn’t been much of a problem for me for years. Texas doesn’t get a lot of rain, and the last two summers have been phenomenally dry and included a record-breaking drought. Now that I’m in Kentucky at the foothills of Appalachia, it’s a different story. We’re not quite far north enough to get snow, and we’re not quite far south enough to have a warm winter. We get a wet, damp January, leaf-stripped forests for three months, occasional snow. It seemed worse when I was young and didn’t always have adequate protection from the elements. But now, I’ve grown up, accessorized with fleece and a dozen different garments, and I’m good to go when it’s snowing in my face.

This is what I wore last night on a circuit around the neighborhood across the hard gravel road, around frozen puddles, into the murky night lit via light pollution caught by low-hanging clouds. I was so toasty.

A woman's leg clothed in hiking boots, argyle knee-high socks, black tights, and purple pants

Pants layers – long socks, tights, yoga pants, and boots.

A woman in a leather jacket, fleece hat, and two sets of gloves giving the thumbs-up

Gloves and face layers.

A woman in winter clothing wearing four shirts.

Shirt layers – tank, thermal sweater, fleece pullover, and leather jacket.

Next on my shopping list are rainproof pants and boots. I could probably apply some water resistance to the boots I have now, but it might be easier to upgrade to another pair at some point.

The ability to be comfortable as I go out into the world is the only thing that makes it tolerable going out. I went into the cold woefully underdressed a few nights ago and didn’t really get almost comfortable until about 20 minutes in, when I’d warmed up from the exertion. By that time, my hands were frozen, and we were almost back at the house. Lesson learned.

Compelling Cold

What is it about the cold that makes me want to be outside?

I took two accidental hour-long walks with my dogs today. We’ve been strolling through the nearby ballpark (where I spent 7 happy summers on various softball teams as a kid), expanding on our neighborhood exploration, and apparently that’s enough to boost our outdoors time past the 60-minute mark. I took the dogs out on an intentionally long stroll this morning to reward them for being so good during the rain of the last several days.

This evening, I called my sister, wrangling the dogs with one hand, and we probably moved a lot more slowly than usual. I also wore my knee brace, because the walk this morning, plus stumbling in the mud in my work shoes during lunch, made it feel necessary. When I hung up the phone and checked the time, we’d been out for over an hour and 10 minutes.

The temperature this morning was about 32F/0C; this evening, it was 25F/-4C. I guess I’m not a Texas girl anymore if I can put up with that with a smile on my face.

I was super cozy this evening in a new sweater I picked up for $15 at Kohl’s: a Tek Gear 1/4-zip microfleece jacket. Lows in the 20s are about as cold as it regularly gets in this part of the country, so modern fleece is just fine for this climate. I practically live in my performance fleece zip-up jacket from Old Navy, bought for $12 about a month ago. My hiking boots are still amazing performers. My long socks are warm and comfortable. A fleece hat that a friend gave me 13 or 14 years ago still looks good, feels soft, has kept its shape, and is warm and familiar. It’s great to feel so well-bundled, so well-prepared.

A woman in a pink plaid fleece jacket

Me in my new fleece jacket, late November. I wore this zip-up damn near everywhere the first few weeks I bought it.

The only part of me that got remotely cold this evening was the hand in which I was holding my phone, and then only because I took my glove off in order to dial. I don’t think my life has gotten to the point where I need fancy gloves that allow me to use touch-sensitive devices, but I’m sure everyone will offer those in 5 years.

The dogs have weathered the cold very well for being suburban beagles their entire lives, too. When it was chilly and wet out the other day, they actually went chest-deep into standing water in drainage ditches; they got a nice bath when we got home. Today, they dragged me through some red Georgia clay, a subsoil with a lot of iron in it, and came home with their little white feet turned orange. They didn’t seem to mind getting a quick feet and belly rinse-off with warm water. Like me, I suppose, they don’t mind getting cold and gross in the out of doors, as long as there’s warmth and comfort waiting on the other side. I don’t think they’re the kind of dogs that require clothing or protection from this level of cold; they rather enjoy it, from all appearances. And their enjoyment helps feed into my own enjoyment. My girl dog gets mesmerized by wildlife and shatters the peace of whatever time of day we’re out with short yelps or excited whimpering. But seeing her so excited, smelling everything, rapt with attention, studying a tree, solving problems, is such a joy. The only time I’ve ever resented being outside with the dogs is going out at 5:30am with inadequate clothing, sometimes without shoes, and waiting for one or both of them to go potty… without result. But what can you do? They’re my companions and my compulsion to exercise. I’ve built my wardrobe around the activity of taking them outside to enrich their existence. As long as there’s a need for them to go out, I’ll keep outfitting myself to withstand whatever weather I must to be a good steward for my dependent, loyal dogs.

Several dogs on a paved street in late autumn.

Dog walking. Sometimes, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s damp, it’s raining. Most of the time, it’s fine. Every time, it’s worth it.

Quality Time With The Out Of Doors

My dogs and I have a pretty regular schedule – a walk in the morning, a walk at night, and a longer walk during the day on weekends, sometimes two. Multiple long walks are meant to wear the dogs out. Usually, they are ready to keep going, and I’m ready for a nap.

Two beagles and a Great Pyrenees standing by a foggy roadside during the day.

Dogs in fog. The little beagles drag me all over the neighborhood. I think my arms would be pulled out of my sockets if I attempted to lead the Great Pyr, too.

Due to  joint pain from increased usage of this body of mine, I started to wear my ankle and knee brace. I’m lazy, forgetful, and messy, though, so my braces are now lost (on a superficial level) in my closet. There must be a way to minimize impact to at least one of my often-used joints without having to take the extra step to put on yet another accessory each time I step outside to walk the dogs.

Being both lazy and resourceful, I harnessed the power of the internet to research shoes that would be awesomely supportive for my ankles. Of course, when I hit the big discount shoe retailer, none of the recommended models I’d made notes on were in stock. My boyfriend made a helpful suggestion, though, that seems to have worked out even better.

A pair of women's hiking boots on a bedside table lit by a lamp

My new, much-beloved, much-used hiking boots.

My new boots were not terribly expensive, are nothing super fancy, and have been augmented by gel inserts to make them more comfortable. I’ve had them for a little over a week and think the worst of the breaking-in period is over. My shins were a little bit sore last week. But I think since I’ve been climbing the hills in our neighborhood pretty regularly in a variety of shoes with orthopedic inserts in them, my legs were ready for another weird muscle group usage.

I’m really pleased with my new shoes. I’m not normally a big shoe shopper; I don’t want to spend too terribly much (I have no problems up to about $150 for really good shoes), I want something that lasts and is classic, I need something comfortable, and I tend to either stick to favorites or go in without doing research of any kind. That’s why I tried to do some homework before handing a store a large amount of money.

My dad says you get what you pay for when it comes to shoes, and investing in footwear is something you’ll never regret, since these are the only feet you’ll ever have. So far, so good with these boots. I conquer the streets, hills, gravel roads, and fields around the house with a smile on my face and no ankle pain.

I can’t yet decide if the recent twinges in my knee are more related to walking on it all the time without a knee brace or bruising the crap out of it while taking apart old furniture in the garage the other day. If my knee is still bothering me once the purpleness fades, I’ll have my answer.

Yeah, I totally spent two hours in the near-freezing cold (about 34-36F/1-2 C) helping my boyfriend pull old staples and nails out of furniture for a future woodworking project. I came out to ask a question and wound up picking up a screwdriver to remove drawer handles and hinges. I got cold, went inside and donned more layers, then came back out for more deconstructive fun. And while hammering out nails, I knocked a piece of wood off the table into my leg, giving myself a good whack in the process. There were antibiotic ointment and bandages applied.

Remind me to schedule a tetanus booster before I go out into the garage with a hammer again.

It took maybe half an hour to get acclimated to the cold – no heater in the garage, and the sun was only a little help – but once I was dressed for the occasion and hard at work, I was just fine.

A pile of wood planks reclaimed from old furniture

Pile of reclamation – wood planks from old furniture, waiting to be sanded, cut, and prepped for new purpose.

I think I’m getting the hang of being outdoorsy in southern Kentucky in the late autumn. I’m doing it just in time for winter to come along and remind me that I’ve got a little more acclimation to do before I’m best friends with the outdoors just yet.

The Right Way

An absurd moment of relief hit me this summer as I sat in a small office in the ER as a nurse was taking my vitals, getting my medical history, and asking me questions. I was in pain with the mysterious malady that ruined my July, zeroed out my appetite, and put all my fitness aspirations on hold. But what really got my attention was the number on the hospital scale: 162.

“At least I’m still under my goal weight,” I remember thinking.

That is messed up thinking, folks.

It is several months after the ER visit, and I want to think my body’s on the mend. As I said before, my team of doctors thinks what happened was I tore something in my abdomen related to my gallbladder surgery, and it took about a month for the initial healing. It may take longer to completely heal, it turns out. To me, that meant no more attempted running, take it easy on the stairs, and don’t walk too far, too fast.

With these behavior caveats in mind, I’ve taken care of myself as best as I can with decent eating habits, taking care of myself when I’m sick, and walking the doggies around the hilly neighborhood (girl, my calves are going to be uh-mazing).

I got a new digital scale over the weekend. Its decimal places settle my need to know what fraction of a pound I lose by taking off my socks before stepping onto the arbiter of progress. It reads the same weight no matter what way I turn it on the hardwood floors of my new home, so I have faith in its accuracy. And with that accuracy comes a clean, reliable knowledge of the fact of my weight. There it is! There’s no doubt stemming from the vagaries of an older scale that has an adjustable wheel for calibration and imperfectly spins numbered black lines past a red line. There’s no squinting, then putting on my glasses, to read the tiny marks all the way at my feet. Like the hospital scale, this new sucker’s electrical. It’s digital, it’s clear, and to me, it’s like my achievements are being narrated by Morgan Freeman.

An image of actor Morgan Freeman from Evan Almighty with a number superimposed over his chest

The Morgan Freeman-Narrated Weight Scale. People would buy it. They would feel reassured about their weight. If the makers included a voiceover with eating and exercise guidelines, they could probably solve the majority of obesity problems in the Western world.

This morning, my digital scale told me as clear as a bell that my weight was 165. This is great news for me! And I’ll tell you why:

  • At 162 pounds in July, I was nauseated and not eating, dehydrated, and miserable. At 165 pounds this November morning, I am taking long walks with the dogs nearly every day, I ate 4 pieces of chicken for dinner last night, and physically, I feel pretty dang good (albeit a little lightheaded from a lingering ear infection).
  • Despite life being extremely tumultuous this year, I’ve kept within 8-10 pounds of my goal weight of 163.
  • I kept to my goal weight the right way. I haven’t starved myself. Not everything I’ve eaten or drank this week has been on my diet, but most of it has. Not every morning has found me working up a sweat or working up enough body heat to keep my nose from falling off, but most have.

I am really proud of myself for not only my accomplishment and the way I achieved it, but also for holding onto it through hard work and good habits. It gives me hope that I’ve got my weight problem licked.

Speaking of spending time outdoors, I picked up some more winter wear this week, and I’ve resolved to start wearing my ankle brace again, at least until I buy new sneakers.

An aging pair of sneakers with one shoe insert on the floor next to them

Sad shoes. They served me well for quite a long time, but I had to put new inserts into them a month or two ago, and even those are now wearing out.

I wore my ankle brace and knee brace once last week. That was an immediate relief for the soreness I was experiencing, and I didn’t feel the need to wear my ankle brace again until after my morning dog walk today. As long as I wear it as needed and get some better foot gear, that shouldn’t be a problem.

My post earlier this week discussed appropriate outdoor gear for cooler weather and the adjustment I had to make when I moved from Texas to Kentucky. Something I’ve picked up since then is my new favorite accessory (move over, Batman beanie): a fleece neck gaiter. I didn’t know what it was called and spent quite some time with image search, shopping search, and browsing outdoor gear websites to find out that it was different than a balaclava.

Woman wearing a black fleece neck gaiter in four poses

The many looks of a neck gaiter. Bottom right is my toddler niece’s favorite. Probably everyone else’s favorite, too. Because everyone I know is a jerk.

I found this one at Wal-Mart with a headband (which I gave to my sister because I have an assortment of awesome headgear and would never wear it) for around $7.00. I’ve already put it to good use and am in love. As you can see, you can wear it many ways, and it helps complete any look.

Stability and Existentialism on the Treadmill

Welcome to a very word-vomity post that got a little philosophy-ish. Finally, I’m putting my college major to use!

Back in February 2012, my doctor gave me a goal of losing 26 pounds to get myself down from “obese” to “overweight” status. When I went back to see him in the early summer, he didn’t remember that he’d asked me to lose all the weight he recommended (which I did!) and given me a diet plan to follow.

I don’t expect him to perfectly remember everyone he sees, much less a woman he’s seen in his office perhaps 3 times over the course of a year. But it amazed me that he didn’t remember me at all after he’d so drastically changed my life. He also seemed amazed that someone had taken his habit-changing advice to heart. I don’t know that I saw his advice as a choice; I saw it as a prescription, and my mind was made up to do whatever he told me to do.

My goal has been to lose even more weight since that visit. With that idea in mind, I try very hard to stick to the diet he prescribed to me – lower carb, lower sugar, skip things like potatoes and corn. Temptations are all over the place, though. And there are times I score what feels like a major victory (“I will have the green beans and no bread, please”), only to cave in and deliberately eat things that he advised against, sometimes later in the same day. It’s times like these that I ask, “Is it really worth it to try to eat well if this is what I’m going to end up doing anyway?”

As the title of my blog insinuates, getting healthy and improving your fitness is an ongoing process, and it can feel like futility dressed up as an eternal curse. Like Sisyphus, we have no finish line, but unlike him, our work is circumscribed by our mortality and the fallibility of the human body. We wonder sometimes if we’ll ever be able to do “enough,” and if we can’t do enough, then why bother in the first place.

“Why am I even pursuing health and fitness? Why should I bother working on this body or this weight when I am unloved and lonely, beloved and popular,  have so many other things going on for me in my life, have nothing to live for, am perfectly fit, have injuries or disabilities, have no time to work out, can’t put on weight for anything, can’t lose weight for anything, am depressed, feel fantastic all the time, know that ultimately, trying to improve my health won’t stop every disease and won’t keep me alive forever?”

These are a lot of doubts to have echoing in your brain when you’re someplace that allows you meditation, like driving, taking a walk, easy exercise, or repetitive physical labor. I got a lot of thinking done the summer I spent loading inky bundles of advertisement inserts into a sorting machine in the printing press building of a newspaper.

There are many opportunities for self-doubt and despair of compulsion: when you’ve hit a plateau, when you’ve hit your goal, when you feel like you’re treading water instead of making progress, and when you’re not in a great mental place.

I hit my weight goal this summer, and I’ve stayed close to it for several months. My 2012 has been rife with upheaval. Despite the chaos, I’ve striven to stay at my goal and limbo under it, but I’ve self-sabotaged more times than I can count and chalked it up to various disasters and a lack of true stability. My main support structure, my boyfriend, is still there to be my voice of reason and my conscience, but he’s not my babysitter, nor should he be held to that responsibility. I’ve tried to rebuild other routines for myself since I’ve been here, particularly when it comes to food. I provide a regular influx of fruit and healthier options than candy and carbs for snacks, hunt down foods to be my new favorites at a new grocery, and pick out vegetable options at the local diner. I also walk the dogs often and for decently long distances to give us all an exercise boost.

While I believe I’m at a fitness barrier at this point in my life (still having a little abdominal trouble when I exert myself too much), I could be doing more to lose weight by really reining in my food intake. I tracked my food for several days last week before losing patience with the exact accounting required versus my imprecise measurements, and how the hell do you account for a breakfast burrito at Sonic when you scrape out the inside and throw away the tortilla? And why am I eating at Sonic when I know it’s not an ideal food provider? Why the hell do I even bother?

 

I could cite the benefits of being healthier and thinner. I love smaller clothes, I’ll admit. I like being ambulatory and having the hope of retaining my mobility as I age. It’s a joy not having breathing problems, working on my snoring so I don’t disturb my boyfriend’s sleep, not having high blood pressure, not having type II diabetes.

Sometimes, it’s just keeping on with what I’m doing that helps me cope when life is less than ideal, or when I’ve made myself so busy that I can’t concentrate on figuring out what really makes me happy. Exercise can be a great meditative tool and is one of my favorites. Going out with the dogs or going for a walk or stretching my arm because I don’t know what else to do with myself has helped my anxiety in the past. When things are going to hell, there’s something comforting in knowing that I’ve got a gorgeous apple and some carrots waiting for me in my lunch bag, and that if I keep eating the same healthy, nutritious, filling, calorically-appropriate portioned foods every day, I’ll get to my goals so much more quickly, and these methods have worked before and will work again.

You have to put your faith in the method and the routine. Maybe your existential despair is only related to your current mood. Don’t wallow. Be pragmatic about your routine. “Well, maybe things suck, or maybe there isn’t a burning desire for me to hit the gym tonight, or maybe it feels like everything I do is a gesture in futility… but I might as well do this healthy habit anyway to keep my routine stable.”

I’m a creature of habit. Most of us are creatures of habit. We have the ability to take wanted behaviors and build habits out of them, then reinforce them, without giving into the despair that causes us to throw up our hands and stare blankly at the bottom of a bag of powdered donuts or the blinking cursor in an empty browser address window.

Inertia and relapse into damaging behaviors are habits, too. Practice your wanted behaviors and make them habits.

You are the only true agent of change in your own life, and choices you make, actively or passively, shape your destiny. And that can be daunting and seem scary at times.  Now that I’m out from under my doctor’s care, I don’t have someone telling me exactly what to do or to offer guidance. But I do have the vast resources of the internet at my fingertips (as well as its disinformation and trolls, but also helpfulness and humor). I do have family and friends who are health and fitness-minded who are cheering me on, reinforcing my good decisions, marveling at my results, and reminding me to live a little if I see fit to do so. I have a sense of self-preservation nurtured by my choices to take better care of myself both physically and emotionally.

 

There is no one reason for changing your body and health. There is no magic fitness form that is attainable through a single push of hard work that allows you to then coast on autopilot and stay at the same peak. There is no body that will not eventually break down and die. Eventually, all this work we do on ourselves is futile – on a long enough timeline.

But with rare exception, there is no one who cannot actively choose to take steps to change their lives for the better through food choices, fitness routines, medical consultation and care as needed for mental and physical illnesses, and self care. You still have to live in your body.

The beautiful and frightening thing about freedom is that it is perpetual. Every day is a new opportunity to screw up everything. But every day is also a new opportunity to rise to the responsibility of choice.