Coming Clean

One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Experience Life Magazine

Moving Forward (and Getting Fitter)

Sometimes I feel like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. “Oh man, I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state.” For me, I’d take my old weight. A svelte 129 pounds.

But that was seven years ago. And even though I was slim, I wasn’t necessarily healthy. The road I took to get to 129 involved severe calorie restriction, extremely low carbohydrate consumption and wimpy, nutrient-weak vegetables (think iceberg lettuce for all my salads instead of the vita-packed spinach salads I eat now). I was working as an intern, so I didn’t have very much money — the food I was buying was cheap: organic, hormone free, free range, etc., weren’t in my vocabulary (or, I assumed, in my budget) at the time. And it was my senior year of college, so my social activities, unfortunately, usually centered around the local watering hole; if “ladies night” was on the banner outside, you’d most likely find me inside.
I hear it from many women (and men) frequently: If I could just get back to my fighting weight…. Some people see this as motivating, but it’s a barrier for me — and a peculiar way to measure my success. When I was 129 pounds, my lifestyle was different, my stress level was different and my metabolism was different. A lot has changed in seven years. I graduated college. I bought a house. I’ve changed jobs three times. I got married just shy of 25. We added another dog to our household, and all four of our sweet pets have developed their own physical conditions — two epileptic dogs, one diabetic cat and one morbidly obese cat (poor Sids! he’s just big-boned!). I was in another car accident (although this one not as severe as my first in high school, but I still ended up with a broken wrist), which resulted in totaling my first car (I was so proud of that purchase!). And as my stress levels increased, I became more and more sedentary. How can I possibly exercise when I’m working so hard?! I barely have time to see my friends and family!

Whew! That seems like just the tip of the iceberg, and even typing that last paragraph was stressful. But it does help me realize how paralyzing the past can be if you allow it to become an excuse. I need to acknowledge those years as times of great change and be proud of how far I’ve come. It’s easy to let dire circumstances and setbacks become your rationalization for not making progress. And to move forward with my workouts, I can remember what worked and what didn’t, but more importantly, I have to know that I’m a different woman now. Chasing a number on the scale feels a little like time traveling to me.

Instead, I’m focusing on how I look and feel — are my pants looser? do I have more energy? — not just on a number (I do weigh myself every few weeks to chart my progress, but I’m much more realistic about a healthy weight loss [1 to 2 pounds per week] versus a figure from my past).

The number I will give you: 45.

That’s how much I’m now lifting in my kettlebell swings.

Before I started working out with Shane, I was swinging a 10-pound kettlebell at home. We started with 25 pounds, and finally moved up to 45 pounds a few weeks ago. (To put it in perspective, our fitness editor, Jen Sinkler, uses 53 pounds in her kettlebell swings. Granted her range is larger — she goes overhead — and she does significantly more reps than me, but hey, I was pretty proud of myself when she told me that. I see a kettlebell swing-off in our future.)

And tonight, two 25-pound kettlebells, one for each hand — extremely challenging for each limb. If you are trying to lose weight and have not incorporated strength training, please do! Do it tonight! It’s made a huge difference in how I look and feel. I stand taller and feel stronger. If you’re short on time, complexes with a plate or kettlebells is a great cardio and strength workout. (Author Tim Ferriss discusses this tool in his recently released hot-seller The 4-Hour Body.)

At the beginning of tonight’s workout, Shane shared a compliment with me: Another trainer’s client had noticed a change in me, and wanted to pass along the sentiment. I was off to a good start, and at the end of my circuit, a lovely woman from TEAM Weight Loss approached me. She reminded me that she had spoken with me previously, inquiring about the Vibram FiveFingers I work out in (I believe we chatted in early December), and told me that I look great. She even threw in an enthusiastic “Way to go!” I’m usually open to compliments, but these two in particular had me bursting with joy. I practically skipped out of the gym!

Who needs to chase a number on the scale? Right now, the way I’m looking and feeling is encouragement enough to keep moving forward.

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Experience Life Magazine

Dance Fever

The week after New Year’s is my favorite time in the gym. People feel like turning over a new leaf, and health and fitness seem to fall at the top of everyone’s list.

Of course, there are those who overdo it, pushing themselves too far too fast, like the 20-something man that required assistance from the St. Paul Fire Department last night at my gym. I didn’t witness what happened, but as I was doing my kettlebell windmills, I saw the firemen speaking with the young lad as he sat on a tall box, getting his breath back. He looked a bit shaken and woozy, but when the firemen left without him on their stretcher, it appeared all was well. I hope it didn’t deter him from his workouts, but for those of us just getting started, remember to ease into your new program. I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I’m going to pass out doing kettlebell swings — thank heavens Shane is a certified EMT — but I take a deep breath, adjust my routine and remember to always have an afternoon snack an hour or so before my workout.

The New Year is invigorating for a lot of people, including myself. I used to loathe crowds at the gym, only seeing the bodybuilders and skinny co-eds, feeling like the odd duck out — the chubby chick struggling to keep pace on the elliptical machine, the weak woman in the pit barely able to lift 10-pound weights.

But something has changed: The gym feels friendlier to me. The staff has always been pleasant, but the crowd feels more welcoming, as if we’ve all agreed to finally support one another and get fit together. Now when people smile at me I smile back. When others ask me about my Vibram Five Fingers shoes, I answer their questions. Why, just last night, Shane and I had a brief interaction with a complete stranger who overheard our conversation about genetics being influenced by behaviors during pregnancy. We were discussing the study on high weight gain during pregnancy being linked to obesity-prone children, published in the Lancet last August; he noted that his extremely large, muscular friend, who was not present, discovered his dad was taking steriods during the time of his conception. I approved of his forwardness, and although his contribution didn’t help to justly illustrate the dangers of steriods, it did make for curious fodder and led to a spirited spin-off about testosterone.

This perception of friendliness may simply be imagined — it may have been there all along, but I was too self-conscious and too pessimistic to see it. Now I find myself energized by the people in the gym — the cardio machines full of bodies is inspiring, the folks trying the TRX or doing complexes or walking lunges pumps me up. As strong as I feel on the TRX or lifting kettlebells, though, nothing gets me going like a good dance class. Enter Zumba.

I’ve been wanting to take Zumba for months, when Life Time Fitness first started featuring it at some of the suburban gyms in Minnesota, so when it came to my location in St. Paul, it was time. For those of you unfamiliar with this fitness trend, which has really taken off in the past year, Zumba is mostly Latin-dance based, sometimes with hints of hip hop, depending on the instructor. Tonight’s Zumba class was lead by the very fit, funky and enthusiastic instructor Kristi G. The room was packed with women (and two guys — come on men!) of all shapes and abilities — some had all the steps down, others fumbled like myself. But we had fun. We danced and moved and clapped and cheered — I don’t think I’ve even enjoyed dancing at the clubs as much.

And what a workout! I recently purchased a Polar RS400 and have been learning new ways to use it, and tonight was excited to see how this class measured up. Unfortunately, I neglected to push start and only recorded 10 minutes (insert frowning face here). But those 10 minutes showed an average heart rate of 142 bpm (166 was my high), and 66 calories burned. For an hour class, it’s possible that amounted to 396 calories — not bad for my first time. As I pick up the steps and fumble less so I jump and move more, I see this as a great cardio workout to add to my routine. And one hell of a party.

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