Why the Fitness Industry Should be Talking About Body Image

This month, February, marks 10 years that I’ve been working in the fitness industry. Woooheee. That’s a long time to be pushing push-ups! From the beginning of my tenure at BCSF we never marketed our program to be about 6-packs or getting beach-ready bodies. We promoted ourselves to focus on the fun of working out, about getting the most effective workout with smart instructors that knew the human body inside and out. So that is to say, there’s never been a time where I helped to market fitness in a way that was shaming.

But if you would have asked me my thoughts on why we did this 8 years ago, I would have told you that it’s because we weren’t a cheesy, shallow program. That we were a serious program and serious programs just didn’t need to do that. I liked it, of course, but I didn’t think about it *too* much.

Back when I started with BCSF, I was on the periphery, doing administrative work. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I started teaching classes. And I suppose that is when I really started to consider how prevalent shame was in the fitness world. I remember distinctly the first time I told someone in my class that we don’t do “negative self-talk” in this space. It was kind of a liberating feeling to give people this strong boundary that evoked positivity.

But, overall, body image was a tough, elephant in the room kind of topic for me. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that as a trainer I could be body positive to everyone. To every shape and size. That isn’t to say I didn’t FEEL that way — I did. I just didn’t know how to admit it. Because it felt like a cognitive distortion to say I am a trainer, someone that makes a living helping people change their bodies and on the other hand say that body size didn’t matter to me. Like, I felt it was somehow my professional obligation to believe that healthy = skinny. And since being healthy was always my ultimate goal, I felt torn. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two facets of my world.

pullup image get unstuck

In short:  I knew I had these feelings about body image positivity, but I could never quite put my finger on how to truly promote this. In the freaking fitness industry.  When I started reading Erin Brown’s work about 3 years ago is when I started to feel less alone in my thoughts on body image.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours considering just how and why we should be talking about body image in the fitness industry. Because I am certain I am not the only trainer that has struggled with this. And to be frank, I’d say society at large probably would suggest it’s a joke that the fitness industry, which they likely see as generally the type of people in #fitspo images, would even consider talking about positive body image. But I’m here to tell you that, I’ve come to the assertion that the fitness industry is actually the perfect and most obvious choice as a venue for talking about body image positivity.

And here’s why:

We’re Already Talking About Bodies. A LOT. It’s literally what we do. We talk about how they move, where they move, limitations on movement, how to improve movement. It’s seriously BODY, BODY, BODY over here. Why in the hell would we not consider talking about these things in the fitness industry?!

We’ve Kind of Fucked up. We are part of the problem and I kind of feel like when you break something, you should help fix it. Just check out the #fitspo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not good stuff people. It’s full of jacked ladies and men espousing the no excuses mentality onto the world. They have forgotten that inspiration should be positive and empowering. The fitness industry at large thinks that making people feel shitty about their bodies is the best way to sell their products. And I suppose that the dollars follow this, but the crazy thing is, is that research consistently shows that lifelong change in people comes from positive, intrinsic motivators. It’s possible that the fitness industry would be even more financially successful if they helped people find those positive motivators, eh?

It’s Our Bread and Butter. We are our clients inspiration. We are modeling an “ideal”. Most of us feel it’s our duty to walk the walk when it comes to being fit – right? We feel the need to keep up our fitness routines because being a trainer that doesn’t exercise would feel inauthentic. Right? But I challenge you to consider how authentic it is to be a trainer that isn’t body positive. Bodies are how we make a living. So, if your attitude shows signs of being negative towards the bodies of some individuals is this authentic?

We Have the Power. Within the world of fitness, we have the power to teach people skills that help them appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like. Almost every woman I know that lifts heavy, lifts for reasons beyond looking good. It becomes about lifting more weight, about getting better at technique and becoming fascinated by the process of lifting rather than the chiseling of our triceps and delts.

 

The ultimate irony is, in my opinion, that when you’re approaching fitness from this perspective some interesting things start to happen. One, we often get more fit. Why? Because we’re training because WE LIKE IT. When we like things we do them more often and more consistently. And because we are training more often, we often get those muscles and definition we were originally seeking. It’s kind of a funky, cool, little feedback loop.

flexingsillycat

So, truly, in my opinion there is ABSOLUTELY no downside to being a trainer that espouses a body positive attitude. You might fret that you are less legit as a trainer, but trust me, you’re not. It’s not wrong to think of your clients as awesome human beings that are capable of so much and that are valuable far beyond how jacked they are.

And frankly, ultimately all it takes is acting kind towards your clients. Pretty sure we can all do that right? Right. Good.

 

 

The Unsexy Truth About Dieting

Why do I say that moderation is the best way to eat, the best way to lose excess fat?

It might seem intuitively wrong to say that, right? Because we all know that restrictive diets will cause you to lose weight. I know someone right now that has lost 26 pounds on his own prescription of a vegan diet with zero to little protein.

Funny enough, though, I have never met a person that can restrictively eat and remove entire food groups from their diets for years on end. And the thing is? Most of us don’t want to be at a healthy weight for a little while. We want to be at a healthy weight for a lifetime.

green goddess

Moderation is honestly the only thing we as humans will actually do for a lifetime.

Because you will slip-up on that plan. You will eat more carbs than your low carb plan “allows” you to eat. My friend above will likely be noshing on steak and pizza before April Fools Day.

But besides dealing with the physical act of what binging can do to you, the problem becomes: how do you handle it when you go off of the “program”?

For most people what happens is that they enter a cycle of self-loathing. It begins with “I was so bad.” Then a shame cycle turns into the What-The-Hell Effect. Or, as I like to call it, the “I might as well finish the whole box…” effect.

jenny cooks lamb

Here’s how a well-adjusted eater handles that instead:

*Understands that restriction breeds cravings. We want what we can’t have.

*Practices self-compassion when they eat something less than healthy or overeats. They know this one food, this one meal, this one slip-up doesn’t mean anything about who they are as a person.

*Understands that a restrictive diet is merely an experiment and that there is no holy grail program of healthy eating (trust me, I would have found it, if there was!).

*Understands that what you eat doesn’t have any moral bearing on who you are a human being. You’re not bad for eating a bowl of ice cream. You aren’t awful because you perceive yourself to have less will-power

Now, if you feel like you’ve tried moderation and it didn’t work, there are reasons for that too. Moderation takes work to develop how that looks for you:  for example, you still can’t overeat, just because you’re not following a strict plan! Really, it all comes down to laying down a base of good habits. Habits are the key because they become a part of “I don’t have think about this, I just do it” spot in our brain. It takes less effort to make healthy choices, when it’s simply a part of what you do every day. The more we have to fret over a choice, the more likely we are to choose the one we are most familiar and comfortable with.

protein pancakes

For example, I don’t have to think about washing my hair so much — I can just do it because I’ve done it thousands of times before. This is how fit and healthy people are about all the aspects of their fitness and eating lives. Trust me. If you’ve ever wondered how some people have all the luck and being fit just comes so easy to them? Well, firstly, you are right:  it does come easier to them. But it’s not because they are better than you, but because they’ve made it a habit.

The good news is that literally anyone can re-frame things in their life to make healthier choices the go-to, the obvious, the more comfortable choice. It won’t happen overnight, but trust me, it will happen. And I say this as someone that thought plain yogurt was “weird” 10 years ago to not being able to leave Whole Foods without a pint of the stuff these days– I can safely say that your tastes, your preferences? They aren’t as set in stone as you might think. You’re malleable. It might take you hundreds of baby steps, with 50 steps back every month…but it will happen!

 

Is Doing More, Better? The Success Trap.

As you might know I recently started grad school for clinical psychology. I made the decision last Fall and started dialing down my business duties with BCSF slowly until by the time December rolled around, I was finished with my biz duties and just teaching classes, which was the goal.

Basically, I’d pared down my schedule and the semester didn’t start until January 25th. Which in the end, meant I had several work weeks where after training between 10 and 18 hours of clients, I was left with a wee bit of spare time on my hands.

This is not a state of being that I have much experience with as an adult. The last time I had this much freedom in my day was when I moved to San Francisco 12 years ago and was looking for jobs. At the time of my departure, I’d been running BCSF for nearly 10 years. To say this was a new reality is undoubtedly an understatement.

I’m not someone that gets bored easily. My house is filled with books and magazines. I have plenty of ways to watch movies. I like to workout and have a home gym in my garage! I have a dog that loves to hit the dog park. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen!

books

And I knew that I should value this time, this precious break between running an entire company and starting grad school. This punctuation in time that I’d probably look back on fondly and with jealousy once the midterms and papers were in full swing.

Yet, when I went to take a nap one day, I felt guilty. Like I should be doing something. I questioned whether I was being a productive member of society. I wondered whether a truly successful adult can justify taking a nap every day.

Wait, whaaaat? I immediately had a little chat with myself, because as someone that promotes self-care like no one’s business, I was a little frustrated that I was feeling this way. It made me confront the topic:  Is doing more better? Is busier better? Is having a fully stacked schedule, better?

I know in my heart of hearts that the answer is, no.

Why do we feel this way, though? Well, it’s my opinion (and research has shown this, too) that we equate success with being busy.

yosemiiiiiiittteee

But here’s why it’s bad for us to perpetuate this myth on a practical level:

Cortisol Levels

You’ve likely heard that cortisol is the “stress” hormone. Which it is. It’s attached to our fight or flight response and would be the first thing to rise up should a lion come bounding your way. It’s super useful for that kind of fight, but in our modern times we our stressors are different. It’s the to-do list, the crazy boss, ensuring our kids are getting the best. So many of us have elevated cortisol levels which is bad because it also eats away at some of our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Translation? If you’re highly stressed all the time, the chances that you are happy also, are not so good.

Focus:  Multitasking is bad for our brains. 

Doing too many things at once is something that many of us pride ourselves on. I know I’ve been there! Ohhh, I can do this and that and that other thing. But we’re not going to do them as well, typically, and it trains our brains to work in a way that is well, a bit mindless.

flowers

Here’s the thing:  life is meant for enjoying and not scraping by. We can’t escape our lives. We can’t eschew our responsibilities — I mean, is your boss going to really care about your cortisol levels when they ask you to cover for your colleague’s vacation? Probably not. But here are a few things you can do, even when you’re busier than you think you can handle:

  1. Practice Mindfulness. This is the one thing that researchers (even one of my new professors talked about this already in my neuro class!) The thing is, is that you can do this almost anytime, anywhere, because in reality it’s simply a way to slow down. To appreciate what is going on around you, to appreciate the sensations of what you’re doing in the moment — such as taking time to feel the bristles against your teeth when you are brushing, thinking about each swipe as you wash dishes, etc.
  2. Turn Down The Noise. When I’m feeling especially antsy and I am driving somewhere, I turn off the radio. Seriously. It helps! And when I’m reading, I try to turn off everything around me because I find I absorb things more — and as a grad student, I’m guessing I’ll be doing this more often.
  3. Laugh! If I’m feeling stressed and want to chill out, I put on Netflix and immediately head to Parks & Recreation. If I can’t do that, I head to Instagram and scroll through my favorite funny meme accounts. It’s simple, but helps.
  4. Mediate. It goes without saying, but just to say it anyway:  mediation is a kind of mindfulness.
  5. Exercise. ‘Nuff said? Okay, just in case you needed more evidence:  “…enriched environments and exercise have been shown to lead to increased density of synpatic connections, and especially to an increased number of neurons and actual volume of the hippocampus a region important for learning and memory.” Translation:  exercise leads to new pathways being built in your brain. This is good for you. And while intense exercise does lead to cortisol being released — because exercise is an inherent “stress” on the body, in the longterm exercise will help regulate cortisol in your body. There is something to be said in this regard, though, for not having all your exercise sessions be 100% balls to the walls, to take rest days and to consider adding some cardio and yoga to your routine if you are struggling with stress.

The moral of this story is that taking care of yourself is important. And sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no to doing more. It means taking some time every day to be you.

And as pampered, privileged and first-world as it sounds, the catch is, is that it actually helps you function better, keeps not only your body healthy, but your brain, too. And I’m gonna bet, you’ll actually do your jobs better when your feeling at the top of your game.

 

“I Exercise to Look Good Naked”: Good Reasons to Exercise

How many times have you heard this? I’ve heard it. A LOT. I’ve seen it plastered on the walls of gyms, I’ve seen it on more social media posts than is possible to count and I’ve heard it said to me. A lot.

And I totally hate it! It’s not wrong to want to look sexy — yes, I get it. But there are so many other reasons to exercise that will actually sustain you for a lifetime. Because I can guarantee you that looking sexy is the last reason you’ll get out of bed to workout on a cold and rainy day when you’re lying next to someone you love that, get this, probably loves you just as you are already.

So, what are good reasons/motivators to exercise?

  • Well, for me, it’s a time when I’m in a flow state. Meaning, it’s time where I’m not thinking much about the rest of the world. I’m not thinking about what I need to do, where I should be. I am in the zone. This has an insanely calming effect on me.  Which is to say, exercise is stress reliever for me. I let go, I breathe, I lift, I run, I ride.
  • Knowing that it allows me to play, be free and have adventures has a powerful effect on my motivation. I want to be able to do things and not have my body hold me back. Last weekend I went snowshoeing in Yosemite. We went around 6 miles. There is no way you can do that much activity if you aren’t exercising on a somewhat regular basis. These are the kinds of moments that bring magic into my everyday life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I mean, how can scenes like this not feel magical?!

Remember:   extrinsic motivators are far less likely to keep your routine going for the long-run. Finding intrinsic motivators, things that fuel your spirit, things that quite literally give you a spring in your step? These are the things that will make you leap out of that cozy bed in the morning.

Own Your Shit

Yesterday one of my class members thanked me for the great workout that burned over 400 calories (she wears a heart rate monitor).

“Well, you did all the work, I just told you what to do.”

“But telling us what to do is more than half the battle!”

Yes, I think I’m a good coach, that I plan an excellent workout and, of course, I am very grateful to be thanked for my efforts. That certainly feels good. But their workout is not about me. It’s their time. I think it’s important to be aware that I am a facilitator for my clients.

Because I will not always be there for them. Life situations, jobs, schedules — these things all change.

get unstuck cat image

What doesn’t change is knowing that you are in charge of you, your life, your body. You are in charge of choosing how and if you will exercise.

And if I won’t always have my clients in my stead, I want to give them the tools for keeping up their exercise routine for life. Those tools aren’t simply how to swing a kettlebell, but knowing that they can.

That is all to say — intrinsic motivation is what will serve us in the end. Doing something “for” someone else is a fleeting kind of motivation:  getting in shape for events, “looking good naked” so that someone will find us sexy? These things won’t get us unto the gym for years to come — for now, maybe, yes. But not forever.

And the thing about giving someone else credit for your workout? That fuels a pipeline of not giving YOURSELF CREDIT. You need to give yourself credit for what you are doing. You need to acknowledge that you showed up. You hauled your ass up and down the stairs, you picked up the kettlebells and your coach simply told you how to do it and gave you a pat on the back.

You’re doing it. Step up to the plate and own it.

2016 Give Me Your Magic

Being that it’s the New Year, I’ve done my fair share of reflecting on the past year and looking towards the future year. As I’ve been thinking about where I am, been and where I want to go, two words that keep coming up for me are adventure and magic.

I’ve realized they are each in their own way, core, guiding values for me. That is, it’s important for me to live life in a way that puts these values as a priority.

For me I practice adventure and magic in these ways:

TRAVEL: To see the world is an important way that I experience the world — to be humbled, to be charmed, to have my horizons broadened both literally and figuratively, to try new things, to meet new people — this is the ultimate adventure in my book, which so often leads to **magic**.

TALK TO STRANGERS: Talking to people when I’m out and about — you find out the most amazing things about people don’t you? I’m not perfect with this, but I try. And being that I’m a natural introvert, for me, trying is part of the way I have an adventure.

TRY NEW FOODS & THINGS: This is something I naturally do and want to do. I will try weird things on a menu, I will try combinations in my kitchen, even if they sound weird to others, if I’m intrigued, I go for it. One example:  brown rice noodles + lemon juice + 1 canof Italian tuna in olive oil drained + mayo + salt + parsley. Now, this isn’t the weirdest combo:  it has it’s roots in Italian cooking, for sure. But you have to admit it’s a little weird — but I made it one evening out of desperation and I love it. It was a magical little culinary adventure! And now it’s one of my favorite go-to dishes on a busy night when I want something relatively healthy and easy-peasy.

Auntie Mame

TRY NEW MOVEMENT: I try new exercises all the time. Just ask my clients that are like “UGH, what’s this new one she’s having us do today?!”. I like to move my kettlbells and weights in new ways, move my body in new ways. It’s exciting to see what it can do! And this upcoming weekend I am going to try snow-shoeing! Wee! To me, new movement, it’s always an adventure. Even if it means falling on my butt. Which I am sure I will do this weekend.

LAUGH: To me, this is a kind of everyday magic. The kind of magic that you can experience anywhere, anytime. No matter how small, how big, it’s special and worth noting in my opinion.

LOVE. Sometimes it’s easy to go along in life and just ho-hum along, but when you stop to realize how much love is in your life, how many people care for you and will help you out? That is a kind of magic that I never want to end.

Why is this relevant? Well, I think it’s hard to feel magic and to be adventurous when you’re not feeling healthy. It’s hard to run, it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to feel the kind of peace that allows you to feel magic or try new things, when things are weighing you down (both physically and metaphorically).

I have never been healthier in my life or happier than I have been in the last few years. And I can safely say that I’ve had way more adventures and felt an extraordinary amount of magic, too. It’s hard to not see them as intrinsically connected.

I believe that magic is mostly a state of mind, though. It means you are able to see the world through a positive lens. You’re able to see what’s special about people. You’re able to see the little things in life that make this journey that much more special.

So, are you with me? Let’s make 2016 a year of magic and adventure!

 

 

Three Tactics to Meet Your 2016 Goals

Ten years ago when I started answering the phone for my fitness company I remember being struck by how much people wanted to talk before registering for classes.

After several months of 20 to 30 minute long phone calls, it dawned at me what was going on with most of these folks:   they felt vulnerable about joining an intense fitness program. And when we feel this way it’s often helpful to talk it out.

Realizing that changed the way I viewed fitness as an industry, forever.

brene brown vulnerability quote

No longer was the way I viewed the business of fitness as a cheesy, soulless and vain quest to get people better abs, but, for me, it became a quest to take people by the hand, give them good information, quality workouts and respect their feelings.

See, here’s the thing. Fitness is in logical terms, simple. We all know that working out is good for us. We all know that potato chips aren’t so good for us.

But that doesn’t make our feelings about these things simple.

It doesn’t make getting out of bed to get a workout in before a long commute, simple.

So, while I know that this is the time of year when many of us feel the need to go on a strict diet and be really, really hard on ourselves in the pursuit of fitness and health, I urge you to re-consider how you’re approaching your fitness and health goals as we head into 2016 using these three principles to guide you:

  • Acknowledge Your Vulnerabilities. It’s okay if you’re intimidated by the gym. It’s okay if you’re not sure how to use a machine, do a push-up properly or the best way to get more veggies in your day. This is all just information. You can figure this out. You can hire a coach (ahem!). You can talk to a gym-going friend. But acknowledging your feelings will help you. Trying to pretend that you don’t have insecurities will likely only get in the way of success. Because when we are putting our ego at the forefront, we are less likely to ask for help. And it’s my opinion that you are less likely to make true change without some help — be it via information gathering, coaching or support from a family member for things like childcare.
  • Practice Self-Compassion. You are going to have set-backs. You’re going to sleep in and miss your workout one day, you’re going to have a slice of pizza for lunch when you intended to have a huge-ass salad. The question is, how do you handle these situations? What isn’t going to serve you? Beating yourself up for these slip-ups. What will serve you? Realizing that you are in a bigger-picture scenario — that is, what you do most of the time defines your physique, your fitness and health, not what happens on a day when you didn’t get enough sleep.
  • Be Realistic With Your Goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t decide that you are going to run a marathon in 4 months when you haven’t ran in 8 years. Sure, you might hear of people doing such things, but that is a rare case, not the norm. One of my goals is to be active and fit well into old-age. This guides me well because it means that I don’t do stupid things — I don’t train through injuries and I don’t try things that I know I’m not ready for.

You can definitely do this! Don’t let your vulnerabilities stop you. Don’t let your setbacks set you back 😉 And be honest about what is realistic for you, right now. You are worth this journey.

Here’s to healthy, happy and magical 2016!

P.S. If you need help with information gathering, don’t forget that I send out weekly workouts to my email list each Sunday. Sign up for my list here.

I Gave Myself a Break From Exercise: Here’s What Happened

Since June, if I had days where I didn’t *feel* like working out, I would generally skip it…about 90% of the time.

I’d take a nap. Or take a shower. Maybe watch TV. Or, read a magazine. Go to the dog park.

Why?

Because I like my workouts. I like to enjoy them. I don’t want my exercise space to be something I dread.

Because you don’t have to train hard all the time. I trained a lot the first half of this year and last while getting ready for my SFG cert. I’m not training for anything now — I’d be training hard just to do that. Which is fine, but it hasn’t been the headspace I’ve been in.

Because maintenance is a training mode, too. Meaning, sometimes exercise isn’t about beating records and lifting more, it’s about staying healthy. My workouts these past 6 months have been to maintain my skills, my strength and to stay healthy. I’m not breaking records, I’m not really trying anything new.

Because I’ve had nagging foot pain.

kettlebell swing coach cat

And, sure, I know this sounds crazy coming from a fitness instructor, but I 100% believe it’s okay to give yourself breaks. I see a lot of trainers talking about the importance of squeezing in training here and there and while yes, sometimes that is good. Sometimes that is necessary. But if you’re already relatively healthy and not trying to break records, what is the actual point of going balls to the walls?

For me, this is what taking a break looked like:

Most weeks I exercised about 3 or 4 times.  Remember, I still *like* exercise. It’s still one of my hobbies.

When I did exercise, I just did what I wanted to do. I played. I can’t tell you how much I love playing with exercise. Doing what my body feels like doing, instead of what I *should* be doing, or what I am *supposed* to be doing. It just feels good, man, to do what I want.

And what were my results of this?

I weigh the same. My muscle definition is basically the same.

A few of my lifts have weakened — meaning, I can’t lift as much as I was doing in May, particularly my overhead press.

My feet feel better. My quad and hamstring that were giving me grief this summer, feel better.

And most importantly, mentally I feel…better. I am starting to get the urge to train hard again and I like that feeling. To me, these breaks give me context. It makes training hard a special time for me. It’s often said that to feel goodness and happiness, you need to know pain and what bad times feel like to truly appreciate the good. While nothing “bad” happened while I took a break, it does give me context which I find useful for myself and in my practice of coaching others.

An important thing to note here is that this kind of break requires quite a bit of self-trust. Earlier in my fitness journey, I likely would have been scared to do this. I would have worried about how much fitness I’d lose, how much weight I’d gain, how much definition I’d lose and that I’d lose my inertia. This is operating from a fear mentality.

I don’t have these kind of thoughts anymore because I trust myself. Exercise is a part of my life, no matter what. I know I will workout a few times a week regardless of what is going on, because I like to do it and it’s a self-care act above all else.  I also trust the science of fitness. That is, I know I won’t lose a lot by turning down the volume on my exercise and that I can get back any strength setbacks in a relatively short period of time. I know that I won’t gain weight if I pay attention to what I eat and eat less when I’m training less.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we all have times when we take breaks like this. Mine was somewhat a choice, somewhat my body screaming at me to chill out. But many times, these breaks are forced upon us by situations in our life we can’t control — a loved one passes, a divorce happens, babies are born and need us or maybe you’re laid off. And one of the things that breaks my heart the most as a trainer is seeing just how hard people are on themselves when life throws them a curveball.

pigeon pose coach cat

It’s okay and necessary to ratchet down the volume on your training every now and then. Our bodies have limits and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t make us less than, it doesn’t make us lazy. It gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves to take on new challenges. And isn’t that truly why we train anyway? To prepare for those future challenges? Food for thought, kiddos, food for thought.

 

What Not Chewing For Six Weeks Taught Me

Last Thursday was a very happy day — my braces came off! If you’ve been following along, I had braces to assist in the process for a jaw surgery I needed. In honor of this momentous day, I wanted to share with you the lessons I learned during the acute recovery when I wasn’t allowed to chew for six weeks. Yup, no CHEWING for six weeks! It was quite a ride…

bracefree

{brace-free, post dental cleaning!}

On May 7, 2015 I checked into the hospital for what would be a five and a half hour surgery to correct some deformities in my jaw. You can read more about what led to that decision here and read here how I felt about 1.5 weeks into recovery. I was excited to get the surgery done, but I knew even going in that the recovery would be a challenge. The hardest part? Not being able to chew for six weeks. Six weeks! The first week I was on a purely liquid diet that I ate through a syringe. Yup, that is not a typo — a syringe.

After that I was allowed to eat any soft foods I could handle that didn’t need chewing. To say it it was a test of will and spirit would be an understatement. I definitely learned a lot of lessons along the way that I wanted to share with y’all.

Lesson 1:  Carbs and Ice Cream Don’t Make You Fat.

I love ice cream — because I’m human and have a pulse. However, it’s not something I buy often in everyday life. During my recovery, though? I probably ate more ice cream and gelato than I have in the entirety of my adult life. And for the record, the Salted Caramel Gelato currently at Trader Joe’s is the best I had.

I also ate tons carbohydrates, and not the complex ones I preach about either. I was eating *lots* of white flour pasta. Why? Because it was easy to swallow. Ravioli was something I ate almost every day from the end of week 2 until week 6.

Hell, I had cheesecake for lunch one day.

Of course, during most of this time I was losing weight, or maintaining a weight lower than I’ve been in months. That’s right, ice cream and white flour were my major food groups and I was thinner.

The lesson? Calories matter. Overeating matters. I do believe that it’s important to have quality calories and to pay attention to nutrients, but at the end of the day your weight is directly correlated to calories first.

Lesson 2:  Chewing is a Gift.

You know what they say, right, that you never know what you have until you don’t have it anymore? That rings true for chewing more than I can ever properly elucidate to you. Being able to eat texture, to experience crispness, to chew kale leaves — it’s not something we should take for granted. It sustains us and allows us to have diverse diets.

One the things that was quickly apparent to me was that a liquid diet is instantly limiting in terms of fiber, particularly non-soluble fiber, which is an important part of a well-balanced diet. It helps keep you full! It keeps you regular!

Lesson 3:  Life Without Enough Calories is not Fun and Can be Scary.

Feeling dizzy when you stand up? Not fun. Waking up in the middle of the night because your stomach is growling? Not fun.

There were days where as much as I tried, I couldn’t get enough calories in. This happened closer to the beginning of my recovery because adjusting to eating out of a syringe was really, really challenging at first. Figuring out ways to get enough calories in to keep my body happy was hard — enter the intense amount of ice cream I ate! But before I figured all that out, I had a few moments where I nearly passed out. Moments where I was winded from walking up the stairs in my house.

None of this is appealing to me. Calories fuel us. And restriction to this point is scary and possibly dangerous — falling is kind of the last thing you want to do when you’ve just had major surgery on your face.

Lesson 4:  Losing 13 pounds in 5 Days Does Not Give you Six-Pack Abs.

At one point in the first week of recovery I realized I was down 13 pounds from my starting weight. As a fit gal, I always assumed that if I lost enough body fat that my abs would be super ripped — because suddenly they’d be visible!

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I was honestly a little surprised that this wasn’t the case for me — it made me realize that I’d have to lose a heckuva lot more weight to have a washboard stomach and work even harder in my workouts that I already do to shred my rectus abdominus.

And kiddos, I am likely not going to do that. It’s clear that I don’t have the genetic proclivity for those kinds of abs without a ton of work.

Lesson 5:  Mindless Snacking Packs a Caloric Punch.

Once I got to the point where I could swallow more substantial foods like ravioli and I simply got used to drinking more smoothies, I was finally getting in enough calories. When I did rough calculations, I knew I was getting enough calories in to sustain me. But, eating was such a process I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to eat snacks or mindlessly snack throughout the day. This all made me realize just how many calories can be taken in from snacking and mindless eating throughout the day. I am no bastion of perfection and am just as likely to you to munch on almonds as I work and will sometimes forget what I’m doing. It made me consider that for so many of us, these are truly the excess calories.

Lesson 6:  It is Possible to Change Your Habits So Much That You Honestly Crave Healthy Foods.

This is something I’ve thought about before, but in an intense way this lesson was made ever more true to me. Over the past ten years, I’ve adapted so much to a healthier lifestyle that I genuinely missed my kale salads (just ask my orthodonist and surgeon that I joked about with this constantly!). I missed meals centered around proteins like chicken thighs or wild-caught salmon. I missed feeling energized from what I was eating.

I certainly did my best to power up my smoothies with as many superfoods as I could, but it was in no way the same as my everyday diet.

Lesson 7:  I am Now, More than Ever, Anti-Juice Cleanse.

I have never been on the juice cleanse bandwagon, but now more than ever I am against it. There is just simply absolutely zero reason to subject your bodies to this kind of stress unless it’s medically advised. It’s not worth it! If you want to cleanse, eat clean:  center your meals around protein and veggies and choose low-glycemic carbohydrates. Eliminate alcohol and reduce added sugars. Exercise more.

Trust me when I say your body will appreciate this kind of treatment more than starvation. And heck, if you’re anything like me, a juice cleanse won’t even get you six-pack abs…so really, why even bother? 😉

Now that I am on other side of this process I can tell you it was definitely worth it. While those six weeks definitely felt like the longest of my life, in hindsight it already feels like a distant memory!

The biggest lesson of all that I learned…or rather I re-learned? We can do hard things as long as we keep perspective in mind. 

Is Self-Care Just an Excuse to be Lazy?

Self-care is one of those terms that five years ago I had never heard of. But in my corner of the world, these days I hear it all the time. I use it all the time. I’m still not sure how prevalent it is in the mainstream, but it’s safe to say that it’s a booming concept in many nooks and crannies of the world.

Self-care as an act is doing things to take care of yourself. It can be anything from getting massages, doing yoga, meditating, exercising or even just reading.

It’s your time away from your responsibilities to relax and restore.

It’s a concept I love.

But I was reading some internet commentary recently that said that self-care was an excuse to just be lazy and that it was a sign of an over-privileged middle to upper middle-class needing yet another way to justify pampering themselves.

😦

It made me sad. But I truly get it. I am single lady that has no children, I work for myself and thus choose my own schedule. I work from home often. In reality I have so much damn privilege — right?

The thing is? Taking care of yourself shouldn’t be a privilege left to just a select few. It’s something that we all need.

  • It makes us better humans. Endstop.
  • It gives us a chance to re-connect with what we truly value in life. If we are constantly going from one thing to the next, there is no time to evaluate if we are actually living a life that matters to us and reflects our own values. Basically, it increases your own mindfulness about your own life.
  • Engaging in self-care acts reduce stress, which of course contributes to overall health and well-being.
  • It makes us better workers. As a society, via labor laws, we acknowledge the power of taking breaks from work, yet we put in high-esteem those that are constantly “busy” and never take breaks. Why do we do this? It doesn’t make us better at our jobs to work non-stop. I personally find that I run my gears when I do this and don’t actually accomplish as much as when I work in small, dedicated, bursts.
  • In my opinion, it sends a powerful message to yourself and those around you:  that is, that you matter enough to be taken care of.

You matter. That is what self-care is all about, in my opinion. It is not a selfish act. Prioritizing your health matters.

At the end of your life will you be happy that you accomplished everything on your to-do lists and were so busy you barely had time to catch your breath? Or will you be happy that you took time to smell the roses, watch the view or take a bath? I can’t answer that question for you, but I know how I’d answer that question.

I love my little corner of the universe 💕 #thatsky #bayarea #sunset #landscape

A post shared by Catherine Wohlwend (@coach_cat_) on