Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Art of Shutting Up

We live in a society of platforms.  Everyone has a platform on which they may stand to shout their absurd, ridiculous, hateful, strange, extremist -- and occasionally valid beliefs.  We are expected to have an opinion about everything.  There are countless forms of social media from which you may shout your opinions, Facebook, Twitter, the nearly-extinct Myspace, countless blogging sites, and the tried and true (yet nearly ancient) email.
This creates so many issues, it's hard to know where to begin.  I suppose first and foremost, this boundless amount of space to share opinions creates an open, nondiscriminatory opportunity for anyone and everyone to shout anything and everything from the virtual rooftops.  The problem with this is that many people tend to believe everything (and I do mean everything) they read, and are simply unwilling to seek the truth.  It's important to remember that nearly everyone has a computer -- which means everyone has the ability to draft and send an email (there hasn't been a fact-check app created yet, as far as I know).  For example, I recently received an email from an elderly family member regarding Obama and his many plots to bring down the country, starting with eliminating the American flag from the interior of the White House and adorning windows with draperies laden with Arabic symbols.  Really?  First of all, the man is a Protestant and an American (thanks Donald Trump).  Secondly, if he really did want to bring this country down, I tend to doubt he would start with Interior Design.  I'm not saying that I think he is the best president this country has ever had, but I think if people are going to make up lies, they should at least quit being lazy about it.
Obviously, I now delete (usually before reading) most every email I receive that is politically charged or has more than one capital 'X' in a row in the subject line.  If I want to read about politics and current events, I will go to MSN, and I don't want to look at pictures naked people (I don't even like looking at myself naked).
Facebook and Twitter are also huge when it comes to sharing opinions.  I don't do the whole Twitter thing, mostly because I don't have time outside of my busy Facebook schedule.  But I see a mass amount of startlingly brutal status updates every time I look at my news feed.  I volunteer my time with some young people in the area, as a result, many of my 'friends' are students, so you can only imagine the amount of histrionics I am privileged to read.  But, if you think about it, isn't this what Facebook encourages?  Say you are upset about something, you haven't quite mastered the art of shutting up yet, especially when you can hide behind a screen and a keyboard, you log in to your Facebook account, and the first thing you see is a white box containing the light grey words "What's on your mind?".  For some people, that means hitting the Caps Lock button and letting the drama fly.  What has made this phenomenon even greater is the invention of smart phones, giving people the ability to air dirty laundry without even having to waste time thinking about it first.

Blogs are quite similar, minus the 140 character restriction.  I imagine that blogs were originally created to give a platform to aspiring authors and talented writers (a-la-Carrie Bradshaw, maybe?).  But, like everything else, everyone is allowed to join.  I follow several blogs dedicated to crafting and tutorials for crafts that I want to make but probably never will; others share recipes that I drool over, but never make it onto my dining room table.  My favorites blogs are those authored by my friends who write about their lives and experiences as wives, moms and health-seekers.  Several I've come across are simply 'grown-up' mean girls trying to tell off the world.  Some people just never learn that air time is not deserved by every thought that crosses their angry (and seemingly jealous, attention-seeking) minds.
I suppose what I have learned from all of these interactions via social media, email, and blogging (besides that my son's nap time could be put to much better use), is that everyone has a very different opinion on virtually everything.  Background, social/marital status, self-esteem, and age (among many other circumstances) all seem to play a role in how hateful or kind a person is in presenting said opinion (depending, of course, on the subject at hand).  I have also learned that some people simply don't care (or, at the very least, pretend not to care) who they hurt with their words.  As a result of this, I have done some 'house cleaning' by reducing my 720 Facebook friends, down to 603 (this felt quite cleansing, by the way).  I have also ceased to follow some negativity-ridden blogs I used to read religiously.  I prefer to be surrounded by encouraging words of kindness, and to keep tabs on people who are my actual friends (you know, the ones who you would expect to see at your wedding or funeral).  I am not naive - or conceded - enough to believe that everyone will love and agree with every word I write (what a crazy world that would be to have millions just like me).  But the thing is, I have opinions, and I love to write (I especially enjoy encouraging and enlightening others), so this is the platform of my choosing.  I think it's okay to share your opinions, but I also think that, more often than you'd think, it's important to have mastered the art of shutting up.
Be kind and encouraging.  Love others.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weighty Ambitions

An ounce can make a world of difference.  When we have children, we memorize birth weight down to the ounce (my son came into this world at a whopping 5 lbs 2.8 oz -- when we brought him home from the hospital he was a mere 4 lbs 11 oz).  These numbers are ingrained into our memories forever.
When I was first diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in the fall of 2008, I had just experienced a period of weight gain, due to a birth control pill that was not suited to treat PCOS, followed by an even more rapid weight gain due to the cessation of oral contraceptives all together (we were trying to conceive).  PCOS, I soon learned, causes exorbitant amounts of excess poundage, mule-like weight retention, out of control hormones, infertility, and many other unpleasantness that seem all together unfair.  I was shocked to learn that day that I weighed exactly 200 lbs (I don't normally disclose my weight, but I want this journey to be an honest one.  Also, I have learned that my weight doesn't define who I am, so I shouldn't care whether or not you know my exact poundage).  I hadn't had a scale at my house for eons (believing it was unhealthy for me to have one).  200 lbs... I was sick to my stomach.  The doctor sent me on my merry way after telling me I had to lose 50 lbs before I could even think about getting pregnant, and gave me the instructions to try some whey protein shakes and take diabetes medicine.  Awesome.  Thanks doc.
I tried my hardest to lose the weight, finding it impossible, referred myself to a specialist (who determined that I did not need the diabetes meds) and was, thankfully, blessed with a pregnancy.  I will shamefully admit that my pregnancy was a lazy-fest, and a food free-for-all.  I ate ice cream daily (twisting my husband's arm to join me in these indulgences), slept too much, and was the absolute polar opposite of active.  I'm not proud of it.  The day I delivered my beautiful baby boy, I weighed 257 lbs.  Two hundred fifty-seven pounds.  I was too exhausted and happy and scared to care much about my body at that point.  But looking back, I never should have allowed that to happen.  Apparently when my OB said that I should gain only around 25 lbs during gestation, I heard "eat anything and everything you want".
I will admit that the first 40 lbs came off fairly easily.  Taking a birth control pill that helps treat PCOS (along with a hormone implant in my hip every 12 weeks) helped tremendously.  I have gone through several seasons in the last twenty months of being motivated to stay healthy, to living off of french fries and ice cream.  But if you've noticed, I have been incredibly motivated as of late.  After a very long period of hovering around 213 lbs and only briefly being able to get below 209 lbs, I had had enough.  I decided, once and for all, that I was no longer going to be fat and unhealthy and consistently tired.  I had to make the choice to quit traveling down the same pitiful road to nowhere that I had been on for far too long.  I made the choice to make some changes, to get healthy.  I decided to cut down on my portions, make healthy food choices, add in more healthy proteins, keep a food journal, and exercise at least 5 days a week.
The first few weeks, I was so hungry.  All the time.  But I was able to stick with my plan with a lot of help and encouragement from my friends and family.  When I wanted to give up, they kept me going.  Thank goodness one of my best friends is a fitness and health professional.  She helped set me straight on a few food myths I believed to be true.  I had always thought it was best to stop eating after 7:00pm, but she taught me the importance of eating protein before bed (so that your body continues to burn calories, stays anabolic, and will not feed on your muscles for energy) -- my usual choice is skim milk with protein powder or a small spoon full of natural peanut butter.  I am also following my doctor's advice to make sure I eat a good lean protein (a hard boiled egg, skim milk with protein powder, whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, or Special K cereal with protein powder) within an hour of waking.  I am not going to divulge all of my food choices for a few reasons.  I don't know what your specific needs are, and I am not a health professional, so I am not in a position to recommend a healthy-eating plan for you.  What I do know is that you don't need some stupid gimmicky diet (17 Day, Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, etc) to lose weight.  Yes they will work for a while, but they aren't maintainable, the results aren't lasting, and if the quicker you lose, the faster you gain.
When I started this health plan, I had a long-term goal in mind (I would eventually like to be 150-160 lbs).  But I didn't focus on that.  Instead, I chose to focus on shorter, more maintainable goals.  My first goal?  To weigh less than 200 lbs.  That is all I wanted... to step on the scale at the gym (I still don't have a scale at home) and have that number start with a 1.  I didn't even care if it was 199.9... just as long as it didn't begin with a 2.  I have been lifting, yoga-ing, eating healthy, and food journaling consistently for a little over a month.  Last week I weighed 200.0 lbs, one lousy (yet incredibly important) ounce away from my goal.
This morning, I walked into the gym knowing it was weigh-in day.  I was a little nervous (we had, after all, been out of town over the weekend and in situations where I had little to no control over my food choices).  I dropped off my son at the gym's daycare, found the scale, took a deep breath, and stepped on.  The numbers jumped around, back and forth (annoying, like they do on The Biggest Loser), low and high, until finally they stopped.  199.0!  I wasn't certain whether to cry or scream, so instead I took a picture with my phone.  I'm not sure if the picture was more for proof for myself, or to share my success with the people who have been instrumental in this journey (who sent me back amazing messages of praise and encouragement... I have fabulous people in my life).  I feel amazing and thankful and blessed to have finally been able to achieve something that has been seemingly impossible for so long.  I know that I still have a long way to go before I am healthy.  But I have hit a very big milestone.  This is the proof I needed to know for sure that this health journey really is possible.

Be healthy.  Love yourself.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Healthy is the New Skinny

I cheated.  I gave in to a powerful craving.  Just a little.  A smidgen, really.  But a cheat nonetheless.  I've never claimed to be perfect.  I suppose I could have kept this from you, but I want my journey to be an honest one.

Last night I shared a junior sized chocolate-vanilla-twist frozen yogurt (or as my cooler-than-me friends like to call it: Fro Yo) with my son.  It was delicious.  It was immediately followed by a terrific amount of food guilt, and a horrible stomach ache.

The stomach ache, I'm certain, came from a sugar overload that my system has gotten used to living without.  It's interesting how, once you don't have something for a while, your body will scream at you and say "Hello, this makes me feel like total crap!  Isn't that why we gave it up in the first place?  I thought we were trying to get healthy!"  Or something like that.  But in sexy French (which I don't understand a word of, but I like to think my body is really that of a beautiful French woman, and not of a chubby mid-western one).  Anyway, so I wrote my cheat (which probably isn't that horrible, as far as cheats go) down in my food journal and spent the rest of the evening feeling pretty yucky.

Despite what we'll call a minor setback, I am down 54 pounds from my starting point 19 months ago.  I've lost the last 6 of these pounds recently, slowly, and healthily.  I want my body to shed weight gradually, so that it can have the time to adjust to the new changes without freaking out and thinking that I am starving it (which often happens to people on The South Beat Diet and the like).  When your body goes into 'starvation mode', it decides that it will hang onto every calorie you feed it, and will not allow you to lose weight.  Your body is hardwired to protect you and keep you healthy.  But, back to my original point, I'm keeping the 'Slow and Steady Wins the Race' attitude (to which a very good friend reminded me recently that it's not actually a race... good point) and it's working well for me so far.  We all know that I tend to be highly self-critical, and this mentality is helping me to get past that.  Instead of staring in the mirror at what hasn't yet improved, I am focusing on how I feel, and allowing myself to notice the parts of me that might have started to maybe look a little better.

Honestly, I'm seeing bigger changes in my appearance, mood, and energy levels, than I am on the scale.  I am slowly seeing reduction in flabbiness, and have noticed (if I look very closely) a bit more muscle definition.  I am happier, I feel more positive, I can concentrate better, I sleep much better at night, and I have more energy.  I have gotten in the habit of being at the gym at least 5 days a week, and I feel very 'off' if I miss a workout.  The weekends are 'hit and miss' as far as making it to the gym goes, but I usually try to do something to break a sweat.  I'm not going to lie, there are days that I would rather keep my round rump in bed (today included) than pump iron, but I know that I will feel much better if I go than if I allow myself to be lazy.  I do not spend a ridiculous amount of time at the gym -- that is a good way to burn yourself out.  Unless I am teaching, I am only there for 60-75 minutes.  I do not make myself run on the dreadmill.  I do not make myself go to classes I hate.  I lift weights to build muscle -- muscle does not make you bulk up, it turns you into a fat-burning machine.  I do quite a bit of ab work, squats, lunges, push-ups and occasionally some jumping jacks (speaking of jumping jacks, I still have not been able to find a really good sports bra -- I almost gave myself a black eye the other day).  Every now and then, I will get on the elliptical machine for 10-15 minutes, but honestly, if you have a limited amount of time, you should chose lifting over cardio.  On days I teach my 60 minute Yoga class, I still do the weights, but cut down on the calisthenics.  Weights and Yoga are my main focus.

I have begun making my husband take pictures of me every Sunday in order to help me track my progress.  They are posted in my 'Healthy Living' album on Facebook (which also includes healthy food ideas), so that others can help keep me accountable.  Listen, I'm not searching for compliments, pats on the back, or an 'attagirl' (although positive encouragement is a fabulous motivator).  I just know that I respond very well to accountability, and posting the pictures is a great way to keep the motivation bar high.

 I have been asked a lot about my calorie-intake. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I don't count calories.  I won't count calories. Calorie counting does bad things to me, it makes me a bit crazy.  Seriously.  And, honestly, if you are exercising a lot, you shouldn't have to count calories. I am trying to be healthy, not crazy (been there, done that). I am not making ridiculous restrictions, I am not skipping meals, I am not taking diet pills. Like I said, I want to be healthy. I am not eating sweets, period (except for the devil in a cone last night). I am not drinking alcohol (which isn't something I did on a regular basis anyway). I am eating on smaller dinnerware to trick myself into thinking that I am getting a feast. Small portions always look lonely on big plates (and that just makes me feel sad and deprived). I am filling my plate with lean meats and proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  If I have a snack, it's a fruit or a vegetable.  I eat only until I am full.  I surround myself with people who encourage me and who respect my health-seeking journey.  Most importantly, I pray. If a craving is becoming too tempting, I remove myself from the situation, and I pray. I ask God for wisdom, strength, and obedience.  Maybe this is weird to you. But if I had only my own strength to lean on, I would have thrown caution to the wind on many occasion.

I'm not suggesting that my plan of attack is a one-size-fits-all plan.  Like I've said before, you have to define healthy in your own terms.  You have to figure out what your specific needs, goals, and desires are.  Yours are very different than mine.  But please, oh please, stop trying to be skinny.  Stop focusing only on what your scale says.  Focus instead on being healthy (your weight will eventually catch up, I promise).

Be healthy.  Love yourself.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.