Tag Archives: health

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.

Pin on the Map of Summer 2014

I’ve not updated my blog in a while, so I’m going to do a little check up to see what’s new with me!

1. I’m still eating mostly Paleo. I had some lapses over vacation that undid some of my progress – not a lot, but enough to piss me off to where I doubled down my efforts and have gotten back to near my plateau weight again.

1a. Foods that I’m trying to cut out of my life a little more: starchy sweet potatoes and bananas. I love sweet potatoes, but I’m going to be transitioning back to carrots and sweet peas for lunch, and though I was glad to discover my body could once again handle bananas several years out from my gallbladder surgery, I discovered that my weight started to creep up again when I had so much starch in my life.

2. Running is still off the table for a while as I wait for my body to heal. I did a walk/run two weeks ago, and while it wasn’t as painful as an attempt in March, I decided that I was really pushing my luck. I don’t want to really hurt myself just because I think I’m invincible.

3. I started playing with a hula hoop about a month ago. I am not consistent in using it, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

4. I also picked back up my copy of the book New Rules of Lifting for Women, which is a good progressive set of strength workouts. I have some of my old printed workout charts in the book still, and they tell me the last time I worked out with the program was April 2011. So it’s been a long time. I don’t have access to a gym anymore, but I do have dumbbells, and the first set of exercises does include dumbbell workouts for alternative exercises. I’ve been doing those. I forgot how much DOMS hurts. I forgot how much squats can suck if you haven’t done them for a long time. But it’s muscle ache, not body pain, so I’m glad to not have hurt myself trying to do too much, too soon. I’m in my 30s, and my body isn’t going to bounce back the way it used to do.

10 Years Aboard the Treadmill of Sisyphus Later…

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

I recently posted this image on my social media pages. It showcases my history over the last two years, as well as gives me a clear-eyed view of how my body has looked in the past and how far I have come since I completely changed my diet. Here is the text I put with it:

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve been winning the war these last two years, and it’s still a bit strange to see my wish outside of myself at long last. Most of my friends here in Kentucky only know me as the more svelte, healthy-eating person they see today instead of the person I was during my college years in Memphis and my decade of grown-up life in Dallas. I worked hard to get where I am today, and I’m grateful to have had the right circumstances to make my commitment easier, the ability to afford to eat the way I do, the push from my doctor in the right direction, and the unwavering support of my boyfriend to help me get here. There is a part of me that will always be that insecure, overweight person who was always worried about the numbers on the scale and how well jackets worked at disguising abdominal fat. I have a history that informs who I am today, just like everyone else does, and this is my tale, told in photos taken over the last decade.

I took pains to not try to fat-shame myself in the past or anyone who looks like me. I am glad that I shed weight, as I much better like my health, my appearance, and the way the world treats me since I got thinner, but I don’t want to disparage who I was in the past, paint my life as perfect now (your problems don’t magically get better as you weigh less), or put down anyone who is still going through their own body struggle. Not everyone is me, the same methods won’t work for everyone, not everybody is the same. And I didn’t lose weight *at* anybody. I lost it for me, for the sake of my health and to help my boyfriend’s insomnia.

It was work giving up foods that I love that weren’t always healthy, and it is work now trying to pass up sugary sweets and justify to myself eating food that’s not on my diet. I’m not perfect, and I’ve definitely hit my roadblocks along the way, be they motivational, related to family tragedy, or health-related.

But I’m still going strong. I’m still happy as a participant and moderator of a Reddit community based around fitness, health, and life goal achievement. I’m happy making nutritious soups from scratch that fit closely within my dietary parameters. I’m very happy putting on my shoes and running as often as my body and the weather allow me to run.

The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38º F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

Mothers and Daughters: Legacy of Body Image

I love xoJane and the thought-provoking articles that its writers tend to put out into the world. This post was inspired by a comment I wrote on this article. The comments are a trove of first-hand testimonials from other people on the same subject.

When I was a preschooler, the story goes, my mom told me I could only have one cookie because I was putting on weight. I was so sad that my slightly older brother took an extra cookie to give to me in secret. We weren’t that subtle, so of course my mom knew about it and cherished the memory as one of sweetness between siblings.

As I got older, my mom never said anything to me about my weight. I was a chubby kid, presenting as a purple-and-silver-sequined cylinder in my ballet recital pictures, and an overweight teenager, hiding my body as best as I could with oversized shirts and weird fashion. She said she loved me no matter what and never criticized my body, supporting me in my academics, my art, and my writing. But she talked negatively about her own body all the time and still does today.

I know that like a lot of privileged first world women, I have spent a lot of my adulthood thinking about my weight. These days, I look back on the experience of growing up and living my adult life overweight and mourn all the time and mental energy spent by people like us fretting about our weight. Do I wish I had lost weight sooner so I could get on with my life? Perhaps, but I know that I wouldn’t appreciate my body as much if I didn’t feel pride in losing body fat, improving my health by stopping snoring almost completely and taking weight off injured/stressed muscles and joints, and increased self-esteem by conforming more to social norms. But what if I had been able to focus my gifts on something other than myself and self-improvement over the last 10 years? Would I have done something more “meaningful” with my life?

I realize this perspective and this question are both from a place of privilege – I largely feel like my struggle with being overweight is over, and I’m on autopilot as far as my food intake goes. I can afford to buy nutritious food, and I’m getting into running (despite approaching the nitty gritty of winter and me with no indoor gym access). Other people are less able-bodied, less able to access the kinds of food I can buy and dietary information my doctor gave me, still working on themselves, not in the same mental frame of mind, and have legitimate concerns and health problems that I have no right to dismiss and do not presume to.

I mourn my own potential – what things could I be writing about instead of concentrating on gaining 7 pounds in a month? – and the potential that my mother had and still has. When I was in high school, she was pursuing her masters in education with a focus on special needs education while working delivering pizza and raising 3 kids. She also wrote works of fiction on lined notebook paper she kept in binders under her bed, with several unpublished drafts of novels to her credit. And she, like all of us, was constantly bogged down by the everyday worries of life, including her body. I constantly heard her saying how upset she was that she could no longer fit into the clothes she wore when she was younger; she is short and used to be quite thin during high school. She dropped the “fat” word to describe herself on an at-least weekly basis. “If only I wasn’t so fat.”

Being thinner is a privilege in this society, and she may have been more kindly treated by the world at large. But I wonder how fully her gifts might have come out if her self-esteem hadn’t been hampered by her self-criticism, which always seemed so unforgiving.

My having the same body type that she did probably had some influence on how I viewed myself. It was a while before I came to a truce with myself over my looks, worrying about everything from my acne-prone skin to my large nose to my weight. I was ashamed of my body after the start of puberty, uncomfortable with male attention that I received in 7th grade, and down on myself for my many failed attempts at losing weight, even as an adult. I dieted for months, then fell off the wagon. I exercised hard for several months, then took half a year off. I came to be more accepting of what I looked like, but my health began to suffer as I aged. I was smart; why wasn’t I smart enough to figure out how to change my body and stick to a weight loss plan?

Losing weight was not the answer to all my problems. I’m still thinking about my body – still moderating a self-improvement community, still occasionally blogging about my pursuit of fitness, food, and health – but the rest of my life’s problems persist. It’s easy for us to fixate on having a great body and see it as the answer. “If only I wasn’t so fat.” If I wasn’t so fat, then what? I would get everything I wanted out of life automatically? I wouldn’t have to pay my car insurance? I would finish cleaning out the shed? It never stops unless we reframe the way we think about what’s important, whether losing weight or shaping our body into a more pleasing shape is a self-serving, endless goal, or if it’s a stepping stone to happiness, a facet of our existence.

Sometimes, chasing the ideal body or an improved version of ourselves seems so futile in the long term. I think back on my amazing, beautiful, business-smart, no-nonsense, hilarious stepmom; she was in my life from preschool until last year, and when I was younger, I remember that she was always trying low fat diets, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet… right up until her diagnosis of colon cancer, a disease she fought for 9 years.

I helped sort out her enormous closet of clothing after she passed away; she had clothes (some with tags still on them) in US size ranges 6-18 from where her body size fluctuated so much during years of chemo, surgery, remission, and relapse. There’s a despair in that part of the legacy of mainstream, straight, adult ciswomanhood in the U.S. What good does it do to fret so much over what size we wear and how many carbs we eat and whether our butt looks arbitrarily too big and that we can’t fit into that exact pair of pants anymore?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and the present-day, easy to obsess over weight or unflattering photos, but now and then, life smacks you in the face again with the fact that it’s precious and short; your health, your ability to function as an independent person, and the degree to which you are able-bodied are things you can take for granted. The gift of perspective is precious, if hard to take. My stepmom spent most of her last decade working at the business she and my dad built together, baking cookies and sweets with her grandchildren, going on vacations with my dad, and enjoying herself as much as her health would allow her to do.

Sometimes when I’m out running, out in the middle of the country where nobody can see me, I imagine I’m passing my stepmom on the sidelines of a cancer charity race or some other event, and I give the air a high-five. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for taking up a new sport. I hope she’d say she’s never seen me so happy in my own skin

Tape Measure Results

For two years now, I’ve been a participant in Reddit’s 90daysgoal community, where we challenge ourselves in three-month increments to better our fitness, health, food, and anything else. We’re nearing the final check-in for the latest round. On Monday morning, I got out the tape measure and tracked my latest progress. I weigh myself most Mondays, and I measure my neck, waist, and hips about once a month or so. It’s rewarding because I am still making measurable progress in my measurements, despite the scale being kind of stuck for the last two months.

While I was doing physical therapy and just joining the 90daysgoal community, I took a lot of “before” photos and collected tape measure data points from all over my body. Yesterday, I measured again. The changes my body has undergone between November 2011 and October 2013 are amazing, and I’m proud to share the results now.

Measurements, two years on.

Measurements, two years on.

It has its down sides: I gave a bunch of clothes to my sister, who is in the process of losing baby weight, and she looks so much cuter in my shirts and sweaters than I ever did. This is the story of my life. And when I bake delicious desserts, I usually don’t have any, avoiding sugars and starches like my doctor asked me.

Soon, I’ll slip beneath the 150-pound mark, and I’ll be ever closer to my goal weight of 140. I’ve got more work ahead of me before I’ll get into maintenance mode. The marathon of staying healthy once I’ve reached my own arbitrary destination is going to be a somewhat difficult course to stay. Maybe I’ll never be completely satisfied with my results. But I do know that I loved my body when I was working on fixing it, I love it now that I’ve lost fat and am putting on muscle from running, and I’ll love it no matter what changes are wrought by age, time, circumstance, and deliberate action. I’ll never be satisfied, but I’ll never stop trying to be better, and I know I’ll never stop enjoying the fight.

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.