Monthly Archives: February 2011

Imperfect Athlete: Month One

(Warning: This post touches on weight loss and taking measurements.)

I joined my little town’s brand-new gym on January 28. They’re taking my $39 today, which makes it the end of month one.

I had a couple of struggles this month. The biggest was my inability to stay off the scale. There were a few times when the number I saw there freaked me out, which is what I want to avoid. Let’s just say that I’m not quite at the point where my brain doesn’t automatically put a moral judgment on my weight. I’m working on it, but it isn’t an overnight process to let go of 30 or so years of disordered thinking.

I went back and forth about sharing this next bit, because I’m really not interested in making this about weight. But I think it’s important, in my experiment, to realize that I am an athlete–right now, today–even if I never lose a pound.

This month, I lost two pounds.

I’ve been sitting with that since yesterday afternoon. And it turns out, I’m more okay with it than I would have believed a month ago.  I worked out 24 times this month. I averaged 40 minutes per session, which means I spent 960 minutes doing something athletic and active since January 28. Those minutes represent 960 individual statements that I am an athlete.

I refuse to let a number on a scale take that away from me.

I haven’t done any real, dedicated exercise since we moved to Ely in early 2006. Prior to that, I was working out on a regular basis at the YMCA in Las Vegas. I’d just read Slow Fat Triathlete for the first time and was working with an eye toward completing a triathlon. But then we moved, and there’s no gym here, and it’s really cold outside most of the time–I stopped.

And I got 4 years older. The difference between 34 and 39, for my body anyway, is pretty staggering. I had no real, physical limitations the last time I worked out. Nothing hurt. This month I’ve been frustrated by my body’s need for me to go slow. I want to go fast! I want to run! Only my legs and feet aren’t cooperating. They hurt. Shin splints make my ankles stiff and then my calves burn when I try to go faster.

I am confident that I’ll get stronger and that my legs and feet will heal and then forgive me for punishing them. But right now, my head is ahead of my body. In the next month I’m going to work on how I can fly without hurting myself.

I did two things that made me happy this month. I took a yoga class and I went roller skating. I loved both, which makes me long even more for the day in June when we move to a bigger city that has these things available on a regular basis.

This month I bought my first pair of decent running shoes since high school track. For whatever reason (it felt like providence) Amazon had one pair, in my size, for less than $40. They are light and comfortable and feel like they were made for my high-arched, under-pronating feet.

I also bought a bathing suit.

I feel like I’ve made big strides in the last few weeks toward eating intuitively. I have been gluten-free for the last six weeks and have found that its a lot less traumatic this time around. “I choose to feel good” is a whole lot healthier than “I can’t have a sandwich.”

For the first three weeks, I kept a record of what I ate on Spark People. It does sometimes help me when I’m trying to be gluten free to plan my meals in the morning. However, I’ve decided that keeping a record and seeing how many calories I’m eating feeds my disordered food and eating thoughts too much. I can trust that if I eat what I want, when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I’m going to eat the right number of calories for my body.

I would love to hire The Fat Nutritionist. If I had the extra money, I would in a heartbeat. Her website has a lot of really good information if you haven’t seen it.

I’ve noticed this month that I am able to eat intuitively most of the time, but I struggle with sugar. Specifically candy. I’m good with giving myself permission to eat it when I want it–but I have a hard time stopping when I don’t want anymore. I actually don’t want anymore–I can feel when that happens. But I sometimes have a hard time leaving any behind. I recognize this as a symptom of a combination of being a chronic dieter and a left-over almost post-traumatic stress reaction to having several years as a teenager when there just wasn’t enough to eat. (Another PST-like reaction to those years that I’ve had my whole adult is physical discomfort and high anxiety if I don’t have a certain amount of food in my house. I have ‘just in case’ food that we will probably never eat. I call it my Zombie Apocalypse stash and it mostly consists of canned vegetables and powdered soup mixes.)

If I start eating candy, I eat it all and so I end up trying to control that substance, which makes it even worse. I’m working on this.

I had a hard time deciding how exactly I want to document my progress in this experiment. Because I have never started an exercise program of any kind without using my weight as a measuring stick.

Do I tell you that I’ve lost 2-inches from my waist?

Is that any different than focusing on the number on the scale?

I think it’s more important to note that my first training session this month consisted of 20 minutes of me struggling to walk 2.5 mph, which rose my heart rate to 150. And that right now I can go for at least an hour at that speed with my heart rate topping out at about 120.

Also, I’ve been using the standing leg press. That’s the machine where you sit on a seat that’s on a roller with your feet on a plate in front of you. You push with your legs and raise your seat, and your body weight, up and down on the track. A month ago I struggled to lift my own body, with no added weight. The last time I went on that machine, I was able to do 3 sets with no extra weight easily. I’ll be adding some weight this month. (This exercise builds the muscles I’ll need in my thighs for roller derby.)

IN THE NEXT MONTH:

I’ve acquired a few books this month that I’m excited to read and review for you in the coming weeks:

Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life by Dara Torres. (Torres is a 5 time Olympic swimmer, the latest being in 2008 when she was 41.)

Triathlons for Women by Sally Edwards (I flipped to the ‘weight loss’ chapter of this book and was pleased to see that it’s main focus is on forgetting about weight loss and just having fun training.)

Slow Fat Triathlete: Live Your Athletic Dreams in the Body You Have Now and Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete: 50 Ways to Kick Butt on the Field, in the Pool, or at the Gym–No Matter What Your Size and Shape by Jayne Williams. (Williams is amazing.)

I am also expecting a DVD called Expanding into Fullness which is yoga for bigger bodies from Sally Pugh at Grateful Spirit Yoga.

Sally Edwards’ book has an interesting section about treating exercise as training, rather than working out (which implies an attempt at weight loss.) She uses a point system (five levels of exertion. One point for each minute at level one, two for each minute at level two, etc.) She then has suggestions for how many points you need for training for different lengths of triathlon. For a sprint triathlon, she recommends 800 to 1000 per week. I plan on adapting this and working on it this month. (More on that later. Maybe tomorrow.)

Candy is just a food, like any other food, is my mantra this month.

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Book Review: Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Dr. Linda Bacon

This week, when we were in Las Vegas, I finished reading Dr. Linda Bacon’s book Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.

Bacon didn’t coin the term Health at Every Size (HAES), as she points out in the book. It was a movement before her involvement. But she has written a book that spells it out in a very readable, understandable way.

Health at Every Size starts with a discussion about the social and cultural myths surrounding weight. She talks about how at different times in the last century, women’s magazines have had articles about how to GAIN weight, instead of how to lose it. Maybe the most important lesson in the book is how the weight loss industry, which includes government agencies, lies and manipulates statistics in order to make us believe that if we are fat, we are going to die.

1.) We’re all going to die. Skinny does not equal immortal. (In case you were wondering.)

2.) The Center for Disease Control helped to design the ‘obesity crisis’ with false statistics.

3.) The act of trying to obtain a ‘perfect’ weight causes far more health problems than the act of trying to be as healthy as possible at your current weight, whatever that may be.

The first part of this book, for me anyway, felt like a battle cry.

The next part of the book  talks about Health at Every Size and how to implement it into your life.

I’ll admit something here. I skipped ahead to section two. And I was confused. Because I was looking for menu plans and concrete steps to follow. I’ve read a lot of diet and ‘life style change’ books, starting with Susan Powter and ending right here. They all have steps to follow.

This book doesn’t break HAES down that way, and at first I was confused. Because–well, how am I supposed to do this if you don’t tell me how? Where are the charts? What about a training schedule or a list of HAES friendly snacks?

Then I went back and read from the beginning. (This was one of those times that my penchant for reading books backwards didn’t work out for me.)

Turns out that HAES isn’t a diet. I was a little slow integrating that information, because I actually knew that going in. It isn’t a fitness plan. It isn’t anything other than a validation, permission to treat yourself well right this minute. So Bacon’s section two talks more about easing yourself out of what may well be a decades long addiction to dieting. It gives you permission to exercise because it’s fun and feels good, or even as training, rather than as a punishment for the sin of being fat. To enjoy whatever food you want to eat–literally, whatever food–without putting a moral judgment on it.

HAES breaks down like this:

1. Love yourself. Yourself today, not yourself 10 or 50 or 150 pounds from now. Your body is just your body, it is neutral morally.

2. Eat good food, eat what you want and enough of it, and stop when you’re full.

3. Move because it feels good, it is good for your health (yes, even if you never lose a pound) and it’s fun.

Deceptively simple, right?

Bacon does talk some about set points and how you may be keeping your body above its comfortable weight by eating past when you’re full and avoiding exercise. I was impressed, however, that she didn’t turn this into a weight loss book.

Eating well and moving your body moderately will improve your fitness and your health–even if your body never gives up a single pound.

If you’re anything like me, you have so many years of ‘accepting’ that your health and your weight are intricately tied, that turning that off is really difficult. It’s one thing to say “I can be fat and still fit” and another to believe it deep down. Even in the face of evidence that it’s true. Even knowing that feeling like you have to thin before you earn being fit is a response to cultural conditioning.

You can buy this book on Amazon for about $10. You might be able to get it from your library. However you get it, prepare to have your ideas about your body, you culture and yourself be challenged.

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GF Comfort Food Baked Chicken and Rice

What is comfort food to you?

To me, it’s familiar. Like eating an old friend for dinner.

No, wait. That’s not right!

You get what I mean, though. Comfort food is food that makes me feel good when I eat it, makes me feel better if I need it and brings good memories to the table.

Baked chicken and rice is one of my favorite comfort foods. You’ve had it, haven’t you? White rice mixed with condensed cream of mushroom soup in a 9X13 pan, topped with chicken, baked in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. The rice gets soft, the chicken gets crispy and all is good.

The only problem is that canned condensed cream of mushroom soup a) is kind of iffy in the ingredient area and b) has wheat flour in it for the most part.

Here’s a recipe that I came up with that lets me still have my favorite comfort food, without a belly ache and need for a nap afterward.  It requires a little more work than the traditional recipe, but that’s par for the course with gluten free food.

You could call this slow-food comfort-food, I guess.

GF Comfort Food Baked Chicken and Rice

1/4 C olive oil

1/2 white onion, minced

1/4 cup mushrooms, minced

1 large stick of celery, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

black pepper

sea salt

2 Tablespoons rice flour

1 Cup milk

2 cans chicken broth

1 1/2 Cups rice

Sliced mushrooms

Chicken pieces

Lemon pepper

Make the soup base first. The key to this recipe coming out right (i.e., the rice is cooked and not crunchy) is to have the liquid boiling when you pour it over the rice.

Start by putting the olive oil into a sauce pan. You could use butter, too, but I like the taste of olive oil in this. A stick of butter is going to give you creamier and more butter-flavored rice. Bring which ever fat you choose to medium-high heat.

Add the minced onion, mushroom (not the sliced mushrooms, only the minced), celery and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are translucent and soft. Season with black pepper and sea salt to taste.

Sprinkle one tablespoon of rice flour over the vegetables and stir in. Repeat with the second tablespoon of rice flour. The goal is to have the flour blend in smoothly with the fat. Stir for a minute or so to cook the flour a little.

Add the cup of milk 1/4 cup at a time, whisking after each addition to keep the soup from having any lumps of rice flour.

Add the two cans of chicken broth, slowly, one at a time, stirring well as you do. Taste to see if you need more salt and pepper and adjust seasoning if necessary.

While the soup comes to a boil, grease a 9X13 pan. Pour 1 1/2 cups of rice into the pan and spread evenly. I usually use a good quality white rice, but brown rice works well, too. Or mix the two. Layer sliced mushrooms over the top of the dry rice.

When the soup is boiling, carefully pour over the rice in the pan. You don’t need to stir it.

Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice and soup in the pan. Place the pieces carefully, because you don’t want them submerged. Large pieces, like bone-in thighs or breasts work best. I’ve done this lots of times with chicken legs, too, and it works well. Sprinkle the tops of the chicken pieces liberally with lemon pepper.

Place uncovered on a middle rack in a 350 degree oven. Bake for one hour, or until the chicken pieces are cooked to 180 degrees on a meat thermometer.The rice should be soft and the mushrooms cooked.

I love when a gluten-free alternative is actually better tasting than the original. After tasting baked chicken and rice this way, I would never go back to the canned mushroom soup variety. This way, I get to know exactly what’s going into the food I’m feeding myself and my family. No mystery flavorings or colorants. Also, starting with hot soup instead of stirring rice into room temperature soup makes a big difference in the end product.

I almost always serve it with sauteed spinach with feta cheese, which is another of my favorite comfort foods.

Shared here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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Joining the Conversation

When I’m at Goddard for my residencies, I hear the term “joining the conversation” quite a lot.

I’ve joined Goddard conversations about preferred pronouns (more than once), the lack of marking of gluten-free foods, the death penalty, the difference between commercial and literary fiction and a whole host of equally fascinating (really) topics.

In the last month, I feel like I’ve joined maybe a wider conversation. The conversation about body acceptance, health, nutrition and athleticism.

So, what is this conversation?

It’s the one that sometimes starts with, “have you lost weight?”

Or, “I’m on this new diet.”

Or, “that many carbs will make her as big as a house.”

Or, “I’d be so mad if I did all this work and didn’t lose weight.”

Or, “my ass is so big.”

In the past, my part of this conversation was often silence. More than I’d like to remember, it involved mutual body hatred. Sometimes I would agree–how dare that fat person eat cheesecake. In public. Especially when I’m on a diet and eating a salad by dipping my fork in the dressing instead of tossing the stupid thing.

I think a huge part of getting to a place where my body is just my body and not something that I hate and must change at any cost is changing my part in the conversation.

No more mutual body hatred. No more sitting silently while others indulge in negative body talk. No more smiling and shrugging when someone asks me if I’ve lost weight.

This week I was asked more than once if I was trying to lose weight. I straightened my shoulders, looked the people asking in the eye, and said ‘no.’

I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m trying to get stronger and feel better.

I had a couple of responses. One person kind of blinked and nodded, and shut off the conversation herself. Another listened when I told her why I have to keep my legs in a V when I do yoga (to make room for my belly.) And a third conversation lasted longer, but ended with awkwardness.

So, the conversation about body acceptance isn’t necessarily only about our bodies. It’s about cultural norms and myths, and how deeply ingrained they can be. It’s about asking what we can do now, rather than what we want to do after the diet is over.

Here’s a dirty little secret: I love to watch Biggest Loser. It’s an addiction. Did anyone see the latest episode? I watched it on my DVR last night. Three of the parents in the group intentionally gained weight in their effort to keep their children on the ranch for another week.

This was largely seen as a positive, selfless act by the entire group (including Bob and Jillian.) The two mothers involved were the ringleaders and one father was reluctant but in the end pressured to go along. (He was told he was being selfish if he didn’t do it.)

But one father, who wasn’t part of the conspiracy, said something afterward that I thought would have made an important part of that conversation. Moses said something about how he thought the parents gaining on purpose showed a lack of faith in their children’s ability. They recorded him saying this when he was alone, and he didn’t say it to the group that they showed.

Now, we’re talking about losing weight here. And that’s not supposed to be what I’m talking about, right? But my point is that Moses had an idea that would have added to the conversation if he’d spoken up. Or if the other father had stuck to his guns.

The three parents who gained on purpose put the entire focus of all of the incredible hard work their children had been doing onto pounds lost. What if the bullied father had said, “my son is becoming an athlete. His hard work is valid, regardless of what the scale says.” What if Moses had pointed out that the son of that other father, who once weighed over 600 pounds and literally could barely move, had run at 6.5 miles per hour that week and who cares if that translates into weight loss? That that man’s father had discounted his accomplishment by making it only about weight.

I don’t know. Maybe he would have been shut down and told that this show isn’t about being an athlete, it’s about losing the most weight so you can win a lot of money.

But maybe one of the millions of people watching the show would have heard and agreed, and carried that conversation on to someone else.

Right now, I feel like my part in the conversation about HAES and body acceptance is to say that it’s hard to change a lifetime of negative thought patterns, but it’s possible. That athleticism doesn’t start at the end–it starts at the beginning. And that fat and fit and feeling good, are not mutually exclusive.

What’s your part in the conversation?

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Imperfect Athlete Experiment: Week 4

Four weeks down–the first official month of my experiment will be up on Sunday the 27th. (Look for a month one round up on Sunday.)

We were in Las Vegas part of this week and I got to do some exercise that wasn’t gym treadmill walking. That was amazing. A cold that has been threatening for the last couple of weeks was fully realized this morning and I feel like something heavy is sitting on my chest, making it really hard to breathe. Yuck.

Here’s this week’s ten list:

1. I love rollerskating. I’m already dreaming of when I can get out there and do it again, and how I can own my own skates for the experience.

2. I took  a yoga class this week, which was lovely and very welcoming. I’ll go back to it again when I’m in Vegas.

3. It is a travesty that I don’t have access to a hot tub in Ely.

4. I miss my gym. Crazy, right? But true.

5. I’m reading a book about Dara Torres that I’m looking forward to reviewing for you. If you don’t know about this superwoman who made a spectacular Olympic swimming comeback in 2008–at age 41–take my word for it. She’s incredible. (And she knows it, but that’s for the review.)

6. I haven’t walked/jogged for 4 days and I’m hoping that was enough to rest my leg muscles. I bought a Restorative Exercise Foot Pain kit at Target on clearance that has tools and exercises for strengthening and stretching foot and calf muscles. I’m hoping it’s just what I need.

7. I also bought a swimsuit. Next time I’m in Vegas, I’m swimming laps.

8. I made big strides into eating intuitively this week and . . .

9. For the first time that I can remember, I stayed gluten free in Las Vegas.

10. I have what I think will be an amazing plus-size yoga DVD coming to review for you. I bought a yoga mat, blocks and strap while I was in Las Vegas so I’m ready!

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When Exercise Was Fun

Remember when you were a kid and instead of having to talk yourself into 10 more minutes on the elliptical, you were begging for 10 more minutes to ride your bike or play freeze tag with your friends or please, mom, just one more time around the rink?

I had the best day today and it totally reminded me of how fun exercise should be.

I woke up early and headed to the YMCA for a gentle yoga class and a soak in the hot tub. I’ve never taken a yoga class before, so that was really fun. It was ‘gentle yoga,’ but it was enough to make me sweat and leave me feeling stretched and grateful for the hot tub.

Then, this afternoon Kevin, his mom and I took Ruby to the skating rink!

Here’s what I learned today:

1. Putting on rental skates for the first time in 15 years did not take de-age me by 15 years, and . . .

2. I can still skate, even if I’m more wobbly and easily winded than I once was.

2. My husband needs photography lessons.

3. I’m scared of falling. I don’t know why this surprises me. I’ve fallen on skates before, I guess, so I think in my head it was just something that might happen or might not, but wouldn’t be a big deal. But on skates, I’m about 6 feet tall and the ground is a long way down. I didn’t fall, but . . .

4. Ruby did. And she picked herself up every time, laughed and started skating again.

5. And my little daughter? She’s a total rock star. And she totally needed her own skates. We stopped at the Sports Authority on the way home and she picked skates that had Roller Derby printed on the strap.

She got all excited because she can wear them when we do our Roller Derby Workout and lock her wheels for the diamond.

6. She also showed off her bruises.

7. I have a long way to go before I’m strong enough to be a Roller Derby girl.

8. But I’m getting there.

9. I would skate everyday if I could, even though my legs burned and those rental skates suck really bad.

10. I feel like an athlete today.

Tomorrow I’m going to take a water fitness class (I think this is ramped up water aerobics, but I’m not totally sure.) I want to swim laps, but don’t have goggles or a cap. I might do it anyway.

And we’re going bowling!

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Who Says I’m not Beautiful?

Kevin, Ruby and I are headed to Las Vegas this afternoon for a couple of days.  We’re taking Ruby to the roller rink and going to a movie and eating at my favorite restaurant. And I get to go to the thrift store. And Target to buy a yoga kit. And new socks! And I’m getting my hair cut! Good times ahead.

* * *

If you lived during a time when the social concept of a beautiful, sexy woman was this:

Or maybe this:

Would you still think you needed to lose weight?

It’s hard to accept that our ideas about body image are almost entirely shaped by social constructs. They are managed by people and corporations who are monetarily committed to keeping American women from feeling thin enough. (What would happen to Weight Watchers, Curves, Jillian Michaels and the whole shelf of diet drink/pill/mix/bar makers at my grocery store, if we all suddenly decided that Lillian Russell (the top photo) had an acceptable shape. In her time, she was considered one of the most beautiful women alive.)

It’s hard to accept that our ideas about health might be manipulated by the very agencies that we trust to guide us toward longevity.

It’s easy to blame yourself for being fat. If you were strong enough, had enough will-power, remembered that food is not meant to be enjoyed, sweated more–then you’d be thin.

Is thin the right goal, though? Are thin and healthy interchangeable terms?

What if you decided to make a few changes, to increase your health.

So you started exercising. Not to lose weight, but because when you do, you have more energy. And it gets your body systems working together more peacefully. And when you do, you get stronger. And when you’re stronger, you have the energy to do fun things. (Remember being a kid, when being hot and sweaty and totally used up meant that you’d have the Most Fun Ever?)

And you eat more fiber, because it helps your belly feel better. And expand your taste palate to include more vegetables, because they’re full of vitamins and other things that make you feel good. You eat enough, but don’t feel compelled to eat past being full.

After a while, your doctor tells you that you’ve improved your blood pressure, your predisposition to diabetes is under control and your cholesterol is enviable. You’re strong enough to run races most people can’t. Maybe even something really impressive, like a marathon or a long triathlon.

But you still aren’t skinny.

Was it worth it? Are you crushed for not meeting society’s dictate that you owe it thinness?

It’s time for a revolution. Who’s in?

 

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