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.

 

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!

 

 

I Wish I Could Do That!

“I’m not the kind of person that works out.”

This is a thought I had in college and my early 20s.

“I wish I could do that!”

This was said to me when I was doing a workout last year on Thanksgiving morning.

It *really* struck me. The person that said this to me was in reality no different than myself. She had time, access to fitness equipment, and no children. A lot like myself.

For a moment I felt a slight sense of shame — was it bad that I was choosing to spend some time working out on the morning of a holiday instead of leaving early to spend more time with family? was it selfish? was it vain?

Given I’ve been working on my mindset practice for quite some time, I knew how to turn my shame triggering thoughts around. Because I exercise for so many reasons, I knew that I would not only physically feel better going into a huge Thanksgiving meal, but that I would calm any anxiety I had (family, traffic, cooking, etc.).

Here’s the thing: you get to decide what kind of person you are.

You get to decide to exercise. “I wish I could do that.” Is language that takes the power away from you. Linguistically, you are saying that you have no choice in the matter.

But the beauty of being an adult living in the free world? We choose our path.

There is not one kind of person that works out. There are people that run, people that lift, people that swing kettlebells, people that go to spin classes, people that go to yoga, people that do pilates, people that run 100 miles in the desert, there are people that ride bikes, people that hike mountains

Exercise is simply movement. The human body is, in fact, designed to move. For realsies. There is no one kind of person is allowed the privilege of being the “KIND OF PERSON THAT EXERCISES”.

You ARE that kind of person.

You ARE the kind of person that chooses to do something you love.

You ARE the kind of person that can decide to be joyful in your movement.

You CHOOSE to be that kind of person.

You choose to be this kind of person by the everyday small choices that you make. You choose to be this kind of person by developing habits. The difference between myself and the person who made the comments to me?

  • I wake up early and have a structured sleep schedule that I prioritize.
  • I don’t negotiate with myself about exercise, I simply do it.
  • I have found movement that invigorates my soul.

In life, we can be “victims” of circumstance or revel in the joy that is the wide open path of choice.

What do you choose for today? Remember, it’s the small choices that add up to something amazing.

The Scale is Not Your Enemy.

Trigger Warning:  If you have struggled with eating disorders this post may not be for you.

For all my teens and most of my 20s I thought bathroom scales were for other people.  I owned one in my early 20s when I first started exercising and used it to track my weight loss, loosely. And then I was depressed, lost my commitment to fitness and healthy eating and I started to gain weight again.

I didn’t use scales when I saw them and I looked away when I  was weighed at the doctor. I didn’t want to know how much I weighed. If I knew the truth, that meant something. It meant that I couldn’t hide, it meant that the truth was out there. It meant that I was a failure, it meant that I was “too big”. It was proof that I wasn’t normal, that I was different than my friends and that number on the scale was proof. I knew that I was different than most of my female friends already (when you’re nearly six feet tall, the jig is basically up), but the number on a scale was solid, factual evidence that I was different in a way that was bad.

I didn’t want to face all of those meanings. When you place that much negative importance on something, who would want to face it?

I remember talking to my best friend back in the thick of my war with the scale in my mid 20s and she mentioned that she weighed herself daily when she was trying to lose weight because it held her accountable. It motivated her to keep going. As she talked, I remember my stomach sinking a little bit at just the idea of it it:  it sounded terrifying. I was sure that if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during a day if it started with the anxiety of weighing myself. Looking back at my medical chart from the period we had this conversation I weighed in the mid 170s. Not much more than I weigh now.

A few years back I’d had a bit of weight gain. I could tell by how my clothes fit. I was working out pretty vigorously on my own and teaching BCSF, so I felt incredibly frustrated by this. I tapped into a dietician that I’ve known for years. I went into her office for some tests. And now she knew my weight. And we talked about it. It was out in the open. My palms were sweaty, and I felt ashamed. I should know better…right? I’m a trainer — I should be able to have a handle on this. Right?!

She calculated a few things for me and I learned some useful things, like how my resting metabolic rate was substantially higher than it would be based on norms, because of my high amount of lean muscle mass (a win!). She calculated my caloric needs. She offered to check in with me at a few points over the next few months to see how I was doing.

She knew my truth.

And suddenly I found myself weighing myself every other day. I still ate things I wanted. And the weight came off.

That was 3 years ago or so. And these days I still weigh myself a few times each week. And it doesn’t ruin my day.

A lot of my colleagues out there are teaching the world that the scale doesn’t mean anything, don’t equate yourself to a number. That it doesn’t have anything to do with your self-worth and that you don’t even need to weight yourself. They are all 100% correct. These are the women that I resonate with the most.

But, I’m here to offer another perspective. Burying your head in the sand, like I did, is also not a way to deal with this. Because isn’t that just another way to give the scale more power? To completely avoid something because you’re afraid of it? I just don’t think that’s the answer for many of us.

thescale

{my scale. see, it’s not scary! it’s pretty darn silly, if you think about it!}

I can weigh myself now, often, because I have done exactly as my colleagues have suggested — I’ve detached emotion from the scale. Now, when the number has gone up, I think about what I’ve done. Have I been eating more than usual? Have I been eating a ton of sodium? Did I have too much alcohol?

The scale is a tool. It’s one way to measure progress. It’s one method to keep on top of your health.  I think a few things contributed to my ability to change how I feel about the truth.

1. I Talked About It. Someone knew my truth. The number was out there and it was discussed. It was freeing, I realized.

2. Exposure. The more I started weighing myself, the less scary it became. It was one of my many things I did to take care of myself, like brushing my teeth.

3. Performance Gains. I was motivated by my increase in performance that I got from losing excess body fat.

4. Zero Deprivation. I was not depriving myself when I was losing weight. I didn’t see the scale as a symbol of unhappiness as I’d done in the past because it wasn’t a source of frustration.

5. It’s a Tool. Accepting the scale as a tool, as an indicator of how I’m doing on a purely scientific-type way is the ultimate freeing force in this for me. I’m not a terrible person if I eat Pho one night and then see a 2-pound weight “gain” the next day. I simply realize that Pho has an insane amount of sodium in it and that likely I am just seeing water weight. I’ve actually gotten to the point where this kind of thing amuses me.

6. Self-Worth & Confidence. My teens and 20s were a struggle, so it’s not a surprise to me that something so simple as knowing my weight had the power to deflate me. Feel confident in my life overall, in myself in knowing I have a path that I am happy to be on, removes the power of 5 pounds, 10 pounds. Happiness is more important than a number on a scale and now I realize that.

flexpower

Does the scale scare you? Tell me your struggles. The truth is powerful when it’s spoken out loud. We are only scared of things if we let ourselves be scared. We do not need to let inanimate objects tell us our self-worth. We don’t need them to conflate success with a number. They are what they are. They are numbers. Your weight is no different than your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your glucose level. They shouldn’t be equated with self-worth, but they do matter to your overall health.

If the scale scares you because you’re afraid it means something about who you are. Stop. Breathe. It’s about your health. Not about who you are a human being. Please don’t believe for a moment that the scale measures your humanness. The scale is a measure that isn’t meaningless, but it also isn’t meaningful about who you are.

 

Where is My Mind?

When I moved to California in August 2004 one of the first weekends I was here, I was lucky enough to see The Pixies at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. (Thank you Heidi!). And like most Pixies fans, I was pretty stoked to see “Where is my Mind?” live.

And this song is the first thing I thought of when I set out to right this post about mindset. I mean, with that title, it’s obvious, right? But also, it’s kind of 100% my point — where is my mind? Where is your mind at? What are you thinking about, what are you focusing on, what do you want, how do you talk to yourself?

I think, most importantly, that you are indeed the expert on your own life. Not me. I cannot tell you what is important to you, I cannot tell you the right choices to make.

But, let’s talk about what “mindset” even means. In general terms it is basically:  “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. Simple. It’s your attitude.

It’s how you think about the world around you. It’s how you interact with people. It’s how you perceive yourself. It defines the relationship you have with yourself.

And at the end of the day, these are the things that matter most. You can lose your job and be broke, but your attitude in these kinds of situations will absolutely make or break you. You can either see a way out, or you see the world crushing you as you are too crippled with fear to act. Yes?

Ultimately, mindset is everything. And part of my path to get here might be something you can find useful in your own life:

Fitness is indeed transformative. Knowing that you have the ability to push past that little voice of doubt in your mind and tackle a tough workout is important. And being able to meet a goal that you didn’t ever think was possible — like swinging a 55# kettlebell with ease, is powerful.

I believe that this is partially to do with modern life. We spend much of our day disconnected from our bodies, clicking, typing, and tweeting that I think once we realize we can do something like a full push-up for the first time ever that the power of that movement does indeed translate to feeling more powerful and confident in other areas of our life. Because ultimately our bodies are ours and ours alone and the power of knowing that with hard work YOU can make things happen is a huge boon to our mindset.

But, this doesn’t always just happen. To achieve fitness goals, we need to have some sort of consistency, right? We need to exercise on a regular basis to achieve these kinds of results that are powerful. And the same remains true of mindset shifts. It’s a practice that we have to nurture. It’s a practice that needs to be consistent.

A fitness practice without a mindset practice is ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

I know this, because this was me. I exercised in my 20s. I exercised quite a lot. But in general, I was direction-less. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career and mostly I was having fun living the dream in San Francisco. I have no regrets. But I exercised with only the purpose of checking it off my to-do list. To be thinner. To be prettier and more accepted.

livingdreaminsf

{The city I love and that distracted me for many years!}

And then I mostly stopped. I was working for BCSF and yet I had about a year where I gained 15 pounds, was depressed and the times I did exercise it felt like torture.

But when I re-committed to exercise, things had changed. I was devoted to working on the whole me.  And, knock on wood, I’m turning 34 next month and I haven’t fallen off the wagon again, yet. Save a little time off for injury rehab, that’s 6 years of successful consistent exercise and mindset practice. So it’s safe to say, I’ve learned a bit along the way.

Initially my mindset practice was simple and just involved changing some of my thought patterns and habits. The three mindset shifts that I did initially made were:

1. I wanted to be proud of my decisions. On days I struggled, I thought about how I would feel tomorrow and the next week, etc. I wanted to choose feeling proud, rather than shame.

2. I moved in ways that made me happy. I didn’t go back to the gym and ride the elliptical for 30 minutes. I did get a road bike and start cycling like a maniac which made me ridiculously happy. I did start running around San Francisco again with my pup — this never fails to put a smile on my face. I did start working on my strength training.

stellastoppingduringarun

{Stella always teaches me the important lessons, like stopping to roll in the grass mid-run.}

3. I didn’t want to give myself the easy way out. I had always been someone that was successful in the things I wanted to be successful at. Throughout college and my first job out, things had always fallen into place. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco and I had struggled a bit that I was shaken in this capacity. At the end of the day, I knew I was better than how I was acting. I knew that I was capable of so much more than I was doing at the time. In short:  I wanted to live up to my potential.

If you are struggling with motivation, I hope you’ll consider starting a mindset practice. And if you’re not sure where to start, consider starting where I did with changing your thought patterns. Sometimes all it takes is literally just shifting the words you choose to say to yourself.

Just like with exercise, mindset practice is very simple when you look at it up close. But as with exercise that doesn’t make it easy, especially when the going gets tough.

Trust me, though. You got this. Because if I can do it, there is no way you can’t do it either!

Happiness is Choosing Yourself Above All Else: Or, Why I’m Having Jaw Surgery

“It’s a cosmetic surgery.” She said, before going into another plank at my command. I was telling one of my classes about my upcoming jaw surgery. And I replied to the group that yes, while aesthetic results were a definite outcome, my surgery was a medical neccessity.

My client wasn’t wrong, though. This is an expensive surgery that most Americans will never be able to pay out of pocket for and therefore need to get medical clearance for insurance purposes — but looking better is a major reason a lot of people will fight tooth and nail to get this surgery. And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see what my results will look like.

But there’s more to it than that for me. For me this surgery is a testament to my independence. It’s a about making a choice for me. Only me and no one else.

And isn’t that the best kind of choice we can ever make?

I’ve known I needed this surgery since I was 15. I had crooked teeth and had wanted braces but my family wasn’t exactly rich and braces seemed like a luxury that I wasn’t pushing for. But one day out of the blue, my dad took me to see an orthodontist. The first thing the ortho said to us was that I would require surgery to completely fix my bite. Without hesitating my dad said no. And I rolled with it. I got the braces and had them for a mere 18 months. My teeth were straighter and I didn’t think too much about it for the rest of my teen years.

As I got a little older and ostensibly my imbalances became more pronounced (the growth plate in your jaw is one of the last to close, so it can grow well into your mid 20s), I started to think about it more. I started to avoid having my picture taken. I practiced which angle of photos looked better.

Every time I saw a dentist in my 20s (I switched at least 3 times) the first thing they mentioned to me was my “crooked” jaw. And it bothered me. I remember once telling a dentist “Well, when I can’t get a date, maybe then we can talk about this.” All they were suggesting was for me to get a consult with a surgeon. It was a defensive response.

On the surface I thought to myself “I’m confident! I don’t need a perfect jaw to feel good about myself. I’m not that shallow!” And that is all true and fair points: we are more than what we look like. But…because of my defensiveness, I never stopped to listen to the medical benefits to fixing my jaw. I assumed the only reason they were suggesting I look into was to look better. And damnit, I was better than that.

It wasn’t until I was 29 or 30 that I started to casually research this surgery. Fast forward to last year and at 33 I was fresh out of a long relationship and having a heart to heart with my best friend. She’d had a co-worker have a similar surgery that loved the results. And when Lindsey said to me “Why not get a consult? What’s the worst that could happen?”, I realized she was right.

And the rest is history. I had that consult. I had confirmation that my surgery was classified as a medical necessity and would actually be covered by my insurance plan. The day I got my braces I cried. I knew there was no going back. And here I am:  8 months later and 1 month out from my surgery.

radiancebraceface

I’ve had a lot of time to consider what I’m doing. And while I am intrigued to see how different I’ll look, more than anything I am proud of myself for taking the leap.

I’ve let other people make a lot of big decisions for me in my life. I certainly understand my parents choices, but I wish I would have had the courage to dig deeper for myself when I was younger. I wish I would have listened to the dentists in my 20s. But hindsight is 20/20, right?

All we can do is live in the here and now. And in the here and now, I’m so excited that I took the bull by it’s horns. That I spent the time to consider what is my best for MY future. Sometimes choosing what’s best for you won’t be apparent to others. They may see your choices from the surface only– they may think that you are choosing to change your fitness routine for vanity. They may think you are eating healthier to simply be skinnier. But no one knows what is in your heart. No one knows your true reasons, except YOU.

So how do we handle these bigger changes? Especially when it’s the kind of thing that people notice and that have opinions about? And namely, how do we handle comments by those close to us about these kinds of changes you are making in your life?

1. We Give People the Benefit of the Doubt. My client that made that comment wasn’t trying to hurt me.  This is a group I am close to, so she likely just felt comfortable saying it. She probably knows someone that has the surgery and maybe their reasons were aesthetic. WHO KNOWS? The point is, even though it was a little jarring for me to hear it, it wasn’t with malice.

2. We Foster Resiliency in Ourselves. Negative emotions and interactions happen. It’s a fact of life. If we’re resilient, though, we we are able to roll with the punches much easier. We are able to brush things off. But, according to research, there are a few things that are facets of resilient people:

The ability to make realistic plans and being capable of taking the steps necessary to follow through with them

A positive self-concept and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities

Communication and problem-solving skills

The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings

3. We Know Our Why. I’m having this surgery so that I’m not in pain any longer in my TMJ join. I’m having this surgery so that my teeth wear evenly for the rest of my life. I’m having this surgery because it’s the best choice for me. You have your reasons for why you want to change. Maybe your blood pressure is too high. Maybe you’re just fed up. There are millions of valid reasons for why you want to change. That is no one else’s business but yours.

And the end result of making these kinds of changes? Likely it will result in a happier you. Right? And isn’t happiness all the reason we ever need to make a big decision in our life? I’m going to give that one a resounding YES.

If you’re struggling with a choice like this, try to focus on one of the above things to work on. Maybe you need to focus on giving people the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe you need clarity on what your why is. That’s okay. But my advice would be to focus on one step at a time. Enjoy the journey, trust the process.

We Are What We Speak.

In the winter of 2001 I had a lot of firsts:  my first love, my first experience with snow in Seattle, and my first time being truly enveloped in an academic pursuit. I was a sophomore at UW, taking second-year German, an expository English writing course and a literature class. My life revolved around words:  love, Leben and English.

Expository writing needs a topic, a theme. That particular quarter, my instructor chose medical language — the way we talk about illness, the way we write about it, the general zeitgeist of our speech choices. Initially I was bummed — this topic was most definitely not in my wheelhouse of expertise at the time. As the quarter passed, we looked back at how tuberculosis was romanticized in westerns, then we started to look at contemporary pieces about the “fight” against cancer and the military-esque metaphors we all regularly use to describe disease. And I was sort of, well, hooked.

When put plainly in front of you, it was pretty shocking. Why do we do this? These are our bodies that we are discussing, yet when it comes to disease we suddenly use words that imply we are raging against them. Our bodies that we know and love are suddenly part of the enemy. It’s not this simple though: the answers of why we speak like this are impossible to lay out simply and plainly in front of you.

And this was my biggest first of all that winter:  it was my entry into truly understanding and feeling how and why the words we choose, matters. From the very first email I sent for BCSF, I have always had this in the back of my mind and have been applying it to the language we use around fitness. Because, words mean things.

And yet, so often the words that are chosen to represent fitness are aggressive and negative. About our own bodies. About our own minds. On the one hand we say we are working out for our health, to live longer lives, to run around with our kids and grandkids — all positive and noble reasons to exercise. Yet, a quick search on Pinterest for the top fitness pins give us “9 Moves to Shrink your Muffin Top”, a “Saddlebag Sizzler”, “5 Arm Workouts to Teach you How To Look Good in a Tank Top”. We buy books that tell us how to get “Killer Abs with a Killer Body”.  We want workouts that “torch” calories, we want to burn, burn, burn. Calories are an enemy in the fitness game. I would file most of these words as negative. When you look at them, most inspire judgment, shame, self-loathing and condescension.

But, aren’t our bodies are precious? Isn’t it awesome that we have the power to do so much with them? Isn’t it awesome that we have bodies that allow us to deadlift, run, do push-ups, do pull-ups? Isn’t it awesome that even when we can’t do something that we really, really want to do, we can almost always do something rather than nothing?

Aren’t calories the means that allow us to do all the above? Because last I checked, calories are what give us the energy to chase after our kids, to walk with your significant other on the beach, to chase your dog, to run up that hill.

Why did we decide that these things our enemies?

Why do we allow people to cut us down with shameful sounding workouts right out of the gate?

We can do better this.

We can fix this.

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And it all starts with how we speak about our workouts. It starts with owning your badassery out of the gate. It starts with being proud of what you did, not what you didn’t quite get right during your workout. Recognizing mistakes is not the same as tearing yourself down for making mistakes. It’s not about feeling guilty about having “excuses”. It’s about being realistic and remembering your “why”. Your “end game”.

My why:  life-long health and pursuing something I love with passion and all I’ve got.

My “end-game”:  to exercise until I’m 85 (or longer, hell, who knows what’ll happen) and to do so safely.

This starts with honoring the process. By having goals but not determining my self-worth by said goals. I.e. I have a goal of training for StrongFirst right now, but that doesn’t supercede my priority of training safely, to mitigate injury and to be able to do this all for years to come. The SFG cert is like a cherry on top of a cake that I have working on for years, building layer by layer.

So, try it. Try only using positive words to talk about your workouts and fitness goals. Try avoiding plans that use shame right out of the gate. And let’s just see what happens.

I’m Not Skinny: And That Is Okay

“You’re SO skinny these days!!”

“Of COURSE, YOU’RE not going to eat that…” followed by a sigh.

“What have you been doing?!” while looking me up and down.

“Of course you can wear those shorts, YOU don’t have any cellulite.”

“Oh, you can eat whatever you want because you workout all the time.”

These are things I’ve heard from people that I love. People that I respect. And, while I know they love me and intend to compliment me, well, they are odd things for me to hear. I’m 5’11. My weight usually hovers right around 165 pounds, lately it’s been closer to 169.

There is, honestly, no metric by which I would be considered a small person. Because, let’s be real:   I dwarf most women and many men. And I do have cellulite. And plenty of body fat, too. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m overweight, ugly or that I just don’t deserve to hear people say nice things to me.

Usually when people say these things, I’ve found that there are a few things going on:

  1. Often the person saying this is either providing a very direct comparison to themselves or an implied one. It’s pretty much always a negative one. And, to be honest it doesn’t make me feel good about myself when you cast yourself in a negative light. That does not prop me up. When you say these things, mostly I just want to tell you that you’re amazing just as you are.
  2. We are elevating the idea of skinny as being the ultimate goal. It’s not. It’s not my goal. And I don’t think it should be yours. While I might have training goals from time to time for events and certifications (I’m looking at you SFG), in general my goals are simple:  to be healthy, to be strong, to be fit enough to enjoy the process and do what I love. In that order. Fitness and training happen to be one of the things I love, so I am simply lucky in that regard. But I would honestly rather be 10 pounds overweight and healthy than starve myself to simply be skinny. I don’t think that trainers that have a mentality that elevates “skinny” as the end-goal are doing a service to their clients and they are most definitely doing a disservice to their own health and moreso, mindset.
  3. And let me be frank:  I’m not skinny. There, I said it. I have muscles. I have pretty big muscles, in fact. My frame is not slight in any way shape or form. Women my height that are models weigh 30 pounds LESS than I do. Think about that for a minute:  30 freaking pounds! I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be strong. Muscles make me strong. Let me say it again, I don’t want to be skinny.

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But, I get it. People mean this as a compliment and skinny has just become a cultural norm in the way we speak. It’s shorthand for “Hey, you look good!”, or “I notice you’ve been working out!”. It’s similar to how we use, “like”:  we just say it without thinking. It is basically, semantics.

Skinny Defined

 

But take a gander at how Merriam Websters defines “skinny” above ^. I don’t know about you, but none of those are qualities I want to be or exhibit.

Because I want to have sufficient flesh and I don’t want to have a lack of desirable bulk. I want to be significant.

And I want those things for you too.

Some of the “compliments” I’ve been hearing from people probably have to do with the sheer fact that, yes, my body has changed and they have noticed. That is fair:  when I graduated from college, about 10,  um, 12 years ago I weighed just shy of 200 pounds. I lost most of that weight after moving to San Francisco. I then hovered in the 170s and perhaps 180s at times for most of my 20s. I was working out for most of this time, yet I rarely counted a calorie and I was inconsistent with my workouts…for large swaths of time I only ran and barely did any strength training. I was generally okay with where I was, but I didn’t have defined muscles and had higher body fat than I do now.

But, in 2010 I started taking weight lifting a little more seriously. And at some point I  started to lift heavy and get really into kettlebell work. And I decided that I did want to lose some body fat. So I did. For a brief period of time, I counted calories and weighed my food on a scale for the first time in my life. Which, for the record, I’m not sure I will ever do again, but am grateful for the learning experience.

And I actually enjoy healthy foods like kale salads and chicken breasts that encourage leanness and muscle building.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my body a lot, but to me the aesthetic effects of my hard work are just that:  merely a very pleasant side effect. It is not my end-game. Because the lure of a six-pack truly does NOT motivate me to workout on days when I just don’t wanna. What gets me to do it is both the habit and reminding myself about my goals:  to stay healthy both mentally and physically, to have strength and to honor the commitment I’ve made to this path. The fact I know I’ll have fun once I start my workout, is the cherry on top.

And, yes, it’s nice to have your hard work acknowledged by the people you love. Of course it is. But I am sorry to break it to you, but I am not skinny. And that’s okay. Because, I’m healthy as a horse (knock on wood), I’m as strong as I’ve ever been and I’m enjoying the hell out of the process.