Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Could Rob Banks

When my husband and I were still adjusting to our new life in a one income household (after we had made the choice that I would become a stay at home mommy... one week before I was to go back to work), we were having one of those awesome chats about our finances while folding laundry.

I hate talking about money.  Really really hate it.  He was deep into a speech about something or other that had to do with dollars and cents when I had an awesome idea that involved a pair of compression hose.  His back was to me, but when he turned around, this is what he saw.

This is a re-enactment of the original scene.

"We could rob banks," I said.

After he picked his chin up off of the floor, he quietly muttered something I couldn't understand, and left the room.

He probably deserves an award for living with me.

In other news -- I'm not very pleased with my face lift trial run... and my arm is getting tired.

Let loose.  Laugh a little.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dear Frustrated: Part 3

*In case you are just now joining us, follow these links to read Dear Frustrated: Part 1 and Dear Frustrated: Part 2 (you will find that I added a few more nuggets of information to Part 2, because, of course, I forgot a few things until I was lying awake in bed in the middle of the night).*

Dear Frustrated: Part 3,
I cannot stress enough to you the importance of exercise.  I get really frustrated when I hear my friends and family members talk about going on diets to lose pounds.  I do a mental eye roll when someone focuses solely on his/her Body Mass Index (BMI).  If I focused only on my BMI, I would be convinced that I was overweight.  In fact, even my Wii Fit tells me that I'm overweight and my "Mii" character gets chubby when I step on the board (this is the reason I don't use my Wii Fit anymore and instead get a real workout at the gym).  What is more important, is actually Body Composition (ie: what your body is made of).  Find out what your body fat percentage, and pay attention to how it changes as you exercise.  Mine, for example, has gone from 33% to somewhere around 21% in the last 5 months (depending on which caliper test is being administered).

Which would you rather have?
I want to bang my head against a brick wall when people only want to go on a diet, or only want to perform cardio and expect to get a great figure.  I understand that much of this mindset has been bread into our generation and the generation before us.  We are a product of the fad-diet, quick-fix, diet pill era.  You cannot out-diet a sedentary lifestyle.  You have to exercise your body (and not just slowly pedaling a stationary bike while reading a romance novel -- I mean really working hard) to make your body healthy.

I tend to get a little grouchy when people tell me that they don't have enough time to get to the gym.  My opinion is this, if you have time to sit on the computer and check Facebook, you have time to go to the gym.  If you have time to watch every episode of The Kardashians on TV, you have time to go to the gym.  If you really want to make a change in your life, you have to make sacrifices.  Cut out a few minutes of another activity that isn't doing you any good, and substitute it with the gym (you don't have to spend a ridiculous amount of time at the gym -- plan on 45-60 minutes, four or five (ideally five) days a week, and use your time wisely).  Believe me, you won't miss Khloe and Kim as much as you might think.

I mentioned before about a gym friend who decided to quit CrossFit due to weight gain.  It still saddens me that she wasn't able to understand, even after my lecture, the importance of gaining muscle in order to burn fat.  It saddens me that she was so upset by the number on the scale, that she stepped away from a program that could have changed her life.  But hasn't this idea of "fit" been bread into us?  This "Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days" bull s**t?  We, as women, have had starving models shoved down our throats and into our magazines for so long, that we have forgotten what fit and healthy actually is.  You have got to stop worrying about what the scale says, stop trying to be skinny, and start getting healthy.

Look at the difference from before to after!
And her weight didn't change at all!
Skinny is sick.  Skinny is scrawny.  Skinny is unhealthy.  Skinny makes you look like a 13 year old boy.  Strong gives you beautiful curves.  Strong is sexy.  Strong is beautiful.  Strong is healthy.  And exercise is vitally important to good health.  It isn't enough to be thin, because, as we all know, you can look thin on the outside and be very unhealthy on the inside.  This phenomenon is called "Skinny Fat" (I highly recommend clicking on that link, it has fantastic fitness information for women, as well as more information about being skinny fat).

I just don't get it.
I know that many of you are runners (and many of you, like me, are not), and you may not like what I am about to say... but, running isn't really going to do much for your physique.  I think that cardio is great for your heart, lungs, and endurance; but if you focus too heavily on cardio, you will begin burning muscle, when what you really want to burn is fat.  In the words of my dear friend, Sarah"Get off the couch, get off the scale, and throw some weight around. Lifting weights builds muscle and burns calories all day long. If you must run, do it after lifting, not before."

I am a huge proponent of weight lifting (heavy weights -- not three-pound hand weights).  Weight training is the key to making changes in your body.  I have achieved the best, quickest, and longest lasting results from weight lifting.  Don't be afraid to walk into the weight area.  The muscly men may seem intimidating at first, but I have found that they tend to be quite nice (although I am generally so involved in my workouts that I tend not to pay attention to anyone aside from my CrossFit group).  Prove to them that you can grunt just as loud as they can.  If it's not the men, but the weights that intimidate you.  Schedule an appointment with a trainer at your gym so you can learn proper lifting, form, and technique.  You will be glad you did.

Many women avoid weights because they are afraid of "bulking up" -- insert eye roll here.  Hear me now, lifting weights will not make you look bulky.  Most generally, if you see a woman who looks like The Incredible Hulk, she is taking steroids.  We, as women, are not wired to get bulky.  God did not design our bodies that way.  What actually happens when you lift weights is that you, obviously, gain muscle, but you burn fat at a much faster rate.  Building muscle turns your body into a calorie burning machine, even at rest.  And guess what?  When the fat begins to melt away, you will look toned, not bulky.  Look at the pictures below, I most definitely haven't bulked up.  I began quickly dropping inches as soon as I lowered my cardio and upped my weights.
July 2011 -- 215 lbs
October 2011 -- 184 lbs
One week before Beginning CrossFit

April 2012 -- 164 lbs
Five months after beginning CrossFit
I was asked recently, what I did to kick start my workout routine.  What I did was this:  I began.  I stopped sitting at home making myself sick with my sedentary lifestyle.  I walked through the doors of the gym and worked hard.  And then, the next day, I went back.  Then I started treating my workouts as if they were vitally important appointments that I could not miss.  And now, I feel in my heart that my workouts are vitally important appointments that I cannot miss.  It really is that simple.  Find a time that works for your schedule, and go.

" begin, begin."
I, obviously, love CrossFit, and would love for everyone I have ever met in my whole entire life to try it so they can love it too; but I understand that it's not for everybody.  If group training isn't your thing, set a schedule for yourself.  Maybe plan on working your upper body on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and your lower body on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Try following up your weight session with calisthenics appropriate to whichever part of your body you are working that day (focusing especially on form and technique).  Make sure, when you are lifting weights, that you are using enough weight that you are challenging yourself, but no so much that you aren't able to handle it.  I would start with 4 sets of 12 reps on each machine or lift.  Gradually up your weights as your body gets stronger.

I would also suggest you add in a Yoga class a few times a week.  This will help you tremendously in areas of strength, flexibility, and breathing.  You must understand, that unless your muscles are properly stretched, they will not reach their full strength potential.  Lack of stretching also leads to injury.

Click here to read the hilarious, and oh-so-true article entitled:
The 27 Rules of Conquering the Gym, by Jason Gay

I have had a few people confess to me that they aren't sure what to do because they hate exercising, and have no desire to start a workout plan.  My suggestion (just like with vegetables), is to suck it up.  Try a variety of different exercises and classes until you find something you like, then expand upon it.  Take friends with you; friends that will become accountability partners for you; friends that won't let you slack off and eat cookies instead of working out; friends that will encourage and support you.

I understand that cost is an issue for some of you.  Not everyone can afford a gym membership, or a CrossFit fee.  But, almost everyone has access to heavy objects that can be lifted.  Take a couple of empty milk cartons and fill them with sand.  Bench press your toddler (they will love it).  When I was a kid, my mom would use soup cans for weights, and in the summer, we would go to the pool every day so that she could "water-walk."  Be creative, use your imagination -- just do something.  Also remember that many organizations, such as the YMCA (an amazing not-for-profit organization that I am proud to be a part of), will scholarship your membership costs, based on your income.

I feel that it is important to set small goals, and reward yourself when you achieve them.  Had I started out with the daunting goal of losing 107 lbs, I would have quit long ago.  But, each time I achieved a small goal, I felt encouraged to keep going (currently I am down 94 lbs, with only 13 to go before I reach my end goal).  Remember that you won't hit your goals over night, but be proud of yourself each time you do something to help yourself achieve your goals.  After each workout, pat yourself on the back.  Say, "Self, you did a great job and I'm proud of you!" -- if you feel it necessary to actually pat yourself on the back and talk to yourself out lout, maybe wait until you get home -- just so no one calls your therapist.

Most importantly, keep a positive attitude.  Your attitude in this journey will either make you or break you.  For a long time, I had convinced myself that I would never be able to be healthy, that I would always be fat, that I was trapped as a prisoner to PCOS.  But I finally decided to quit feeling sorry for myself, and start fighting.  You are not going to get your dream body overnight.  You are not going to lose 50 pounds this month.  But, if you keep a smile on your face, and make yourself keep going, then you will see positive changes in your body, your mood, your attitude, your ability to sleep restfully, your energy levels, etc.  You are going to have people try to entice you with the promise of a quick fix with magic pills and wraps and fad diets (oh my!), but keep your eye on the prize, sister.  I know that you want to look great, but don't you also want to be able to say that you are healthy and that you feel great?

In the book 'Made to Crave' by Lisa Tyrkeurst, she says that getting healthy is like a flower garden. You can want it to be beautiful and you can try to will the weeds away all you want, but you are not going to get a beautiful flower garden unless you plant the seeds, pull the weeds, and do the work.

You cannot have something this beautiful
without putting in time and effort.

I have been skinny before.  And when I was skinny, I was terribly unhealthy.  I have taken diet pills, I have starved myself, I have abused my body.  And you know what?  Even though I was skinny, I felt like crap -- all the time.  But now, I have worked hard, and I am strong.  I honestly feel better than I have ever felt in my entire life.  And that, my friend, is worth all of this hard work.

So, my dear frustrated friend, know that you can get healthy.  You can have the body you want; you can feel fantastic; you can be a much better, more vibrant version of you.  You are already amazing, don't you want to feel that way?

Get off the couch.  Love yourself.  And thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dear Frustrated: Part 2

Dear Frustrated:
As promised in Part 1, today I want to address healthy eating.  I will admit to you that I have struggled immensely with healthy eating, and have only recently been able to truly understand it's importance (for a long time I believed that if you spent enough time in the gym, you wouldn't have to watch your intake -- boy was I wrong).  I have already mentioned how much I loathe diets and how strongly I recommend you not follow them.  So, then where does that leave you?  If you aren't following what some Hollywood Doctor has written in some flavor-of-the-month diet book, then how do you eat healthy?  If you aren't counting your calories, only eating fat-free products, or cutting your carbs, how do you make wise food choices?  Trust me friends, many people struggle with these questions.  I am constantly getting asked which plan I am on or which cook book I follow.  Once I was even asked what "The Healthy Living Plan" was.  I do not follow a plan.  I make wise and well-informed choices when it comes to food.

Believe me, I to have battled with understanding how to make healthy choices.  I went from one extreme of starving my body, hating food, and throwing up every bite that passed my lips; to the other extreme of eating everything in sight, pretending I didn't mind being a "full-figured" woman.  On the underweight side of unhealthy, I practically dared people to try to make me eat or to keep me from purging.  On the obese side, I, more verbally, let others know that I didn't struggle with anorexia and bulimia and then get 'healthy' just to have to watch every bite I ate.

So when I decided to redirect my life toward more healthful living, I found myself a bit lost.  I wasn't sure how to use eating to lower my weight, unless it was in a very extreme and unhealthy way.  I want to offer you some information and advice that I have found helpful and useful.  Please bear with me if I jump around -- I just want to be able to share as much information with you as possible.

- Read the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst .  Do it.  This book spoke to me in a huge way, and, most importantly, allowed me to look inward and upward when it came to food choices.

- Learn and understand your specific struggle.  Is it sugar?  Potato chips?  Soda?  Processed food?  Aspartame?  Portion control?  My specific struggles have been sugar, soda, and portion control.

Don't fall for gimmicks (ie: fat-free, low-calorie, light, or low-carb).  Read and understand labels.  Many times, if a product is advertised as "low in" or "free of" something, it has a high volume of sodium and/or sugar to make up for the missing calories/fat/carbs/etc.

- While you are reading labels, check out the ingredients list.  If it looks like a science experiment, DON'T put it in your body.  If you try to focus on eating more natural, less processed foods, you will be able to ensure much higher quality in the calories you consume.

- Eat fresh (and I am not talking about Subway).  If the foods you choose have a long shelf-life, chances are they will cling to the inside of your body for just as long.  Think of processed foods as "cellulite-makers".
Grilled shrimp, asparagus, red peppers and grape tomatoes.
Served with a whole grain roll.

- Don't worry about cutting out all carbohydrates.  Your body needs carbs to function.  I am not suggesting that you create all of your meals out of corn, potatoes, and white bread.  But I am suggesting that it is okay to pair a sandwich (on whole grain bread) with sliced green peppers and fresh fruit (instead of chips) for lunch.  If you would like a baked potato, fine (maybe give a baked sweet potato a try instead), but pass on the corn for that meal.  You want to make spaghetti for dinner?  Go ahead, just use whole grain noodles and skip the garlic bread.  It's all about moderation.
My favorite vegetable red sauce (with very lean ground beef),
whole grain noodles, and baked asparagus.

- Fruit is good for you, darn it.  I get so irritated when certain diet plans suggest you give up fruit.  Fruit contains many vital nutrients and vitamins that your body craves, as well as providing you with hydration.

- Vegetables are also great for you, duh.  Green leafy vegetables contain more of what your body is lacking than any other food.  If you hate vegetables and want to get healthy, you are just going to have to suck it up, my friend.  I might suggest (if you really truly can't stand them) finding one that you find at least bearable and cook it every different way possible.  My very favorite vegetable is asparagus, I eat it several times a week and I bake, grill, steam and saute it.

- Add protein into your diet.  I have found protein powder has become my new BFF.  I put it in coffee and smoothies.  I add it to my whole grain cereal in the morning; as my doctor explained to me that it is pertinent to your body's metabolic health to have protein within an hour of waking.  And I also drink it with milk at bedtime (sometimes, if I'm feeling motivated I will blend it with milk, frozen fruit, and natural peanut butter).  I used to be afraid of going to bed with a full stomach, until my friend, who is a fitness and health professional, explained to me that consuming protein before bed will actually keep your body from crashing (ie: going into starvation mode) while you sleep.  This will allow your metabolism to stay up, and will help your body to stay nourished.  As an added bonus, I have found that I sleep more restfully and wake more easily.

- Snack.  But first, understand what a snack actually is.  Cookies, ice cream, pretzels, and cheese dip are not snacks -- those are treats.  A snack, for me, is a serving of yogurt with a sprinkle of granola, a bowl of fresh fruit, fresh cut vegetables, natural cheese, a glass of milk with protein powder, or almonds.  If you keep your body fueled, you will be less likely to crave naughty indulgences.

- Watch your portions.  I have always been a member of the "clean your plate club," so portion control has been a real struggle for me.  What helped me the most (aside from reading labels and measuring out each serving) was eating off of a small salad plate instead of a large dinner plate.  Even though I make the conscious choice to grab a smaller plate for myself, I feel like it tricks my brain into understanding that less food is okay.  During the first few weeks of this, I didn't allow myself seconds, and I found that I was starving because my body was so used to over-indulging.  But now that I am used to smaller portions, I am fully satiated at each meal.  I had to re-learn the difference between full and too full.
The bowl on the right is how much cereal I used to consume each morning.
The bowl on the left is what I now consume -- it is one serving measured out.
In order to avoid having to measure each morning,  I have since changed to a small bowl
that will only hold one serving plus milk (and protein powder).

While remodeling our kitchen, I ran out to get dinner for my husband and I.
Both of these drinks, from two different restaurants, are MEDIUMS.
It is very important for you to be accountable for your own portion sizing.
- Add veggies first when filling your plate.  This helps you to remember to eat more greens (and oranges and reds, etc.) instead of only adding them to your plate as an afterthought.  Most generally, half of my plate is vegetables.

- Stay hydrated.  Your body needs fluids, just as much as it needs food, to properly function.  If you are properly hydrated, you will have more energy, will feel hungry less often, your skin will appear brighter, your muscles will work better, you will sleep better.  Try to drink at least 64 oz of water each day (and even more on the days you hit the gym).

- I don't recommend cutting anything completely out of your diet, due to the risk of caving to your cravings and then binging.  Unless you are an "all or nothing" type of person, such as me (this is also called an addictive personality - thanks therapy).  I, personally, have a hard time limiting the intake of something.  If I have one soda, I have to have three; if I have a bite of chocolate, I have to eat a pound; if I smoke one cigarette, I have to have an entire pack (thus, the reason I quit smoking 3 1/2 years ago and haven't touched a cigarette since).... you get the picture.  I know and understand that my food weaknesses lie in sweets and soda.  When I first embarked on my journey, I gave up sweets completely.  I felt like I was going through drug withdrawal (which made me really consider the toxic and addictive qualities of sugar).  I stayed away from sweets for over nine months, and have only just recently been able to take a single bite of something sweet and then walk away (trust me, the second, third, and fourth bites taste just the same as the first... there really is no reason to have more than a little).  I also stopped drinking alcohol for quite a long time.  Mostly because I prefer sugary sweet drinks, such as margaritas and daiquiris.  Alcoholic beverages contain a ton of empty calories, that I generally don't feel like I need to have.  Diet soda has been my really big vice for a long time.  I have tried to give it up over and over and have never succeeded for very long.  I did use it for my Lenten sacrifice (along with sweets), and am holding strong so far.  I may just have to pretend that Lent lasts all year long...

- Finally, and most importantly, keep a food journal.  Write down absolutely every single thing you eat and drink.  Don't count your calories, track your points, count your carbs, or calculate your fat grams (because, let's be honest, how long would you be able to keep up that tedious task anyway?).  Just write down everything you put in your mouth.  An example of what I would write for a meal would be: 1 glass of 1% milk, 1/2 grilled chicken breast, 1 whole grain roll with natural butter, baked asparagus with Mrs. Dash, small dinner salad with 2 TBSP Italian Dressing.  The purpose isn't to count or track, the purpose is to create accountability and honesty.  Think of your food journal as the annoying police office that is driving behind you on the interstate.  You want to speed, but you won't because he's watching you.  Same with you're food journal.  I may want to eat an entire package of Double-Stuffed Oreo's, but I'm not going to because I'll be damned if I have to write that in my food journal.  You have to be honest with yourself when you write your entries, too.  You will only cheat yourself if you lie.
A page from my food journal.
I hope that these tips have given you some insight into what has worked for me, as well as what doesn't work.  In the next installment of these letters to you, we will discuss my favorite thing of all, exercise.  Stay tuned!

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

*UPDATED* -- I forgot to mention a few more super important tips that have helped me.  First, when you sit down to eat, eat all of your vegetables before you move on to the rest of your meal.  Second, if you are having a naughty treat (such as chips), place your measured portion on your plate and then put the bag away.  Never set an open bag of sin in front of you when snacking.  Third, if you always succumb to your cravings, don't keep your pantries full of foods that will tempt you.  Even if your kids love fruit snacks, if that happens to be your temptress... don't have them laying around.  Trust me, your kids will survive.  And fourth, find an activity to help you fight your cravings.  What worked for me was prayer.  Honestly.  If I felt like I was going to cave in and binge, I would pray for God to give me the strength to make healthy choices.  Find what works for you.