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Mental makeover

I’m talking to the priest
The high priest
And everybody out there in the universe
If what I’m saying is wrong
Then tell me the right way to say it
Cause I wanna be made over  from “Tina’s Wish,” as performed by Tina Turner

Physical transformations don’t always lead to mental makeovers.  I recently discussed this fact with a friend. Both of us have taken part in fitness challenges. Both of us have experienced weight loss and made great gains in muscle tone. Both of us have lost some of those gains in recent months. Both of us have a different perception of our fitness level than others. For many of us who struggle to be fit and healthy, our mind continues to tell us that we are not.

 

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Samba queen selfie, late February 

The most difficult part of being fit is consistency. I am constantly struggling to strike a balance between family, work, chores, church, dance, and sleep. Fitness can get lost in the shuffle. How I eat is especially prone to changes. Sometimes, I skip meals or grab something unhealthy to go when I do not carve out time to cook or meal prep. I can be inconsistent about my choices. I know many fellow principals who don’t eat until 4 p.m.; often times they stop at a drive-thru and eat during afterschool meetings.  I know what I need to do to eat healthy. The challenge is having the discipline to make it happen.

 

When I was at my most fit last year before Carnaval,  I was happy with how strong I felt. I liked how clothes fit me. But my Carnaval experience ended on such a negative note that I lost sight of why I had worked so hard. I worked hard for myself and to be an example of health for my daughter, not for some costume. Fitness is a gift to myself, not as a challenge to accomplish. I can’t get back into shape for thirty days or six weeks or to look fabulous on Carnaval morning.

So how do I transform my mind? I used to do morning affirmations. Maybe it’s time to give the woman in the mirror more pep talks.  Today, I told myself, “I am strong and I will get stronger.”

Musical motivation

sacred music

A good soundtrack is everything. Star Wars, the James Bond films, Shaft, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five-O and The Wizard of Oz all have famous soundtracks featuring one or more songs that call to mind certain characters and places, and inspire strong reactions. Those songs stay with us, often for life. For of those who like to work out, a soundtrack can be motivational. I have been at many a half marathon where the announcers played the theme from Rocky or Chariots of Fire.  My gym plays a mix of old school hip hop, top 40 rap, and the always fun trap music. When I run, I stick with my disco playlist. When I lift weights at home, it is usually house music mixes or sometimes New Edition hits.  Occasionally, I try something different. When I was doing a 30-day plank challenge, I started using Rio-style samba or the Game of Thrones theme to motivate me. Today, given that Holy Week is well underway, I decided to work out to instrumental hymns.

When you hear “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Amazing Grace,” you may not be inspired to do multiple sets of squats and push-ups. However, I found the music relaxing which then led me to focus. Usually I’m folding laundry between sets or starting on work email or rearranging clutter on my home desk. Multitasking isn’t good for the brain.  It’s not good for your form or getting into a workout rhythm either. Today it felt good to focus on my breathing. I had a more mindful workout. Plus it was in keeping with my pledge to take in appropriate material this week. I plan to change my soundtrack more consistently. I need more time to truly appreciate my health and the opportunity to improve my fitness.

Last Lent one of the four challenges I took on was to be more prayerful. (4 Challenges in 40 Days) One way I worked towards that was to listen to sacred music or gospel music during my commute. I found it helpful given the stress in my line of work. Combining working out with spiritual music was a welcome new motivation for a Monday.

The 365 day a year challenge

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Tank says it all: Better sore than sorry

As I move forward with my 4 challenges in 40 days, there is a goal I didn’t set for the 40 days. An ongoing goal is my fitness challenge.

I have struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for my entire life. As experienced by many people, food has been an emotional outlet. This continues to be an area with which I struggle but over the years, I’ve gotten control of it. I eat healthy and cook regularly despite my busy schedule. It’s easy to cook two or three meals on the weekend. Often I haven’t had time to go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sometimes I forget to get that one ingredient that’s going to make a meal hearty or tasty. In the past few years, my weight has yo-yoed.  Since joining my new gym, I have maintained my weight loss and made gains in muscle tone and strength.  I didn’t always have those specific fitness goals. I always wanted to lose weight and be fit. This is the first time I care about being stronger and being toned, not simply because of Carnaval or other performances but because it’s good for my body.

I have struggled with health issues. Last year was the first year in three that I didn’t have major surgery. The summer before that, I was diagnosed with gallstones and had my gall bladder removed. Before that I had a rare inflammatory condition that affected my breast tissue and required  invasive surgery. I medicate for IGM daily. It was frightening. I continue to be very scared. I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer and heart disease. Health fears are constantly in the back of my mind. My daughter is the reason I wouldn’t want anything to compromise my health. Being a mom inspired me to become more healthy in my 40s than I was when I was younger.

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Walking lunges with Bulgarian bag.  Photo by M.

In December, I joined a new gym. My samba sisters, specifically those who’ve attended this gym, inspired me. I had often flirted with the idea of taking on a fitness challenge there but I was intimidated. I am not a weight lifter. During my first two years in college, you could find me at the gym lifting weights. When I first started teaching during my 20s, I did weight training with a personal trainer. So it had been decades. It’s not been something I’ve been drawn to do. I like to run. I like to dance. I like cardio. My new workouts have required me to change my way of thinking and to push myself hard. It’s not easy. I struggle. I am smaller and slower and weaker than a lot of people. I gauge myself against myself so that if I can do something I was never able to do before then that is meeting my goal. This week at samba, we did abs and pushups and other muscle work. In the past, I would cringe and groan, “I can’t do this.” It came much more easily. My teacher passed me and said, “Well you train all the time.” One of my samba sisters who inspired me in my fitness journey told me I looked great. She is committed to fitness so her compliment meant so much to me.  It felt good to receive reassurance and validation from those I respect and love.

Fitness is not a 40 day challenge. It is a fun mental and emotional outlet which will extend my life. While I like that my clothes fit more loosely, I love that I am modeling health and wellness for my daughter.  She comes to the gym with me at least once a week and watches me sweat it out. Getting a thumbs-up from her is great motivation. Fitness will continue to be an everyday challenge and a lifelong goal.

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Mindful eating, chapter 2

A year’s progress

One frazzled evening two weeks ago, I rushed home. I claimed it was to do dishes but it was actually to fall back into an old habit. The stress created by my hectic post-work schedule proved to be too much. I grabbed a bag of almost-stale tortilla chips and poured out some salsa into a dish. Estaba desesperada but that is no excuse.  Because after all I have been through in my quest to achieve wellness, I know crunching away on fatty food will only make things worse. So I stopped myself.  That night,we took the dog for a walk.

On the morning of October 3rd, the scale read 122.8. I haven’t been in healthy weight range since my early 20s. I didn’t believe it at first. I had accepted my typical weight of 131 as a fact that couldn’t be changed. I have justified the cycles of weight gains as a result of my age, hormones, busy schedule, culture, and genetics. But two different scale readings and the ever-increasing bagginess of my clothes told the truth. I did it!

The secret, as I have stated in previous posts, isn’t in getting your gallbladder removed or in starving yourself or in exercising non-stop. It is changing daily habits. During the work week, I pack a big salad for lunch.  It consists of Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch, garbanzo beans, and any vegetables I want to add. I dress my my salad with a Trader Joe’s vinaigrette or simply balsamic vinegar mixed with Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute or lemon juice.  I make an effort to have home-cooked meals for dinner daily even if it means cooking two to three meals on a Sunday.  The freezer is my friend!  The Crock-Pot is a good friend, too. Perhaps the most significant change in habit is hydration. I fill my water bottle at least once a day but ideally twice a day and drink water consistently every day. It has made a difference. I have less cravings when I am hydrated and I feel better overall.

Hydration bottle by Hydr-8

My journey to wellness isn’t over. I plan to work on my overall muscle tone, strength, and endurance so that I can become a better runner and dancer.  I plan to continue to clean up my eating habits so that I have fewer flareups of my inflammatory condition and overall improved immunity. I got this!

Mindful eating, the first chapter

When I decided I would have my gallbladder removed this summer, I asked about diet changes.  I know four friends/colleagues who had their gallbladder removed and know of countless others. Some folks are back to eating as they did before their surgery; others decided to forever modify their diet. I am part of the second group.  In the month that has passed since my surgery, I am much more mindful of what I eat.
I am an emotional eater. Food has been a painkiller over the years. Recent example: June is a crazy time for educators.  End of year and graduation keeps you busy and stressed. Mix in characters that probably shouldn’t work with other people(especially not children!) and you have a volatile environment. 
One afternoon, after a long day that ended with an unpleasant meeting, I walked into the house, grabbed the can of Pringles my daughter and her older sister had saved after their sleepover, and sat on the couch for a solid ten minutes. No praying, no meditating, no strategies learned in CBT or DBT. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

 As if every chomp could eliminate the foolishness of others. As if my tendency to internalize others’ nonsense could be swallowed like so much salt and grease. I won’t be seeking comfort from binging on chips anymore. 
 My lifestyle change isn’t about solely about giving up processed snacks or fried food or avoiding emotional eating; it’s about an overall change to my cooking and eating habits.  At home, I am making more stews and soups with less chicken. When going out to eat with friends and family, I now choose different meals. Vegetable-based soups like tomato basil paired with salads with honey mustard dressing or vinaigrette make for a satisfying meal. Most Asian restaurants offer plenty of vegetarian options. The Bay Area boasts great vegan restaurants including one of my faves, Souley Vegan, and a new discovery, Gracias Madre.  Even a trip to the ice cream shop with the kiddo hasn’t been torture: fruit sorbets are tasty.

At the moment, my body is letting me know what is best. I still feel queasy if I ate too much animal protein in a meal.  Trying a piece of birthday cake at a party is probably not wise. Dairy is off-limits for now.  For the most part, I am back to my normal routine. I have resumed daily exercise, light morning cardio for now, and have begun taking a Zumba class with my dance mom friends. I look forward to running and dancing with SambaFunk in the next few weeks.  Yes, I am at my lightest weight in twenty years, 125, (lighter than the weight discussed during my last weight loss journey:  http://mujerevolving.blogspot.com/2012/10/three-more-pounds.html )  I am committed to sustaining my health; that is the ultimate goal. 

Three more pounds

“The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is dearly bought.”  William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
A few months ago, I wrote about my successful weight loss.  I hit my heaviest weight outside of pregnancy and quickly worked back to the weight I have been for approximately ten years.  Then I hit a plateau.  Whether it was not being actively engaged in a half-marathon training schedule or abandoning my food diary, my weight seemed to have stabilized.  Imagine my surprise when I returned from my family vacation in Rome only a pound heavier.  Surely all that walking made up for the sumptuous meals and afternoon siestas I told myself.  Having gotten back to a familiar weight I decided I needed to take on my next challenge: to get back to healthy weight range for my height. 
I went back to work and found myself too busy to resume my food diary but I also began preparing for my tenth half-marathon.  Without too much effort, I have continued to lose weight.  I now weigh approximately 128 pounds for the first time since my 20s.  I can now wear shirts I had relegated to bottom of drawers. I am wearing belts to hold up some of my favorite care-worn jeans.  I’m not hiding in baggy clothes or behind layers.  I put more effort into what I wear. In fact, I worked with a stylist, the wonderful Vanessa from One Girl, One DayOne Girl, One Day, to revamp my wardrobe for Back to School season.  Perhaps this is why I feel younger than ever lately.
So what is next? When I lose 4.5 more pounds, I will be within healthy weight range for my petite height of 4’11”. I’ll be running my 11th half-marathon in January and am hoping to achieve my personal record, having never made speed a priority but now feeling confident I can meet the challenge. That has been one of the greatest gifts of renewed health, an overall boost to my confidence and motivation.   The other gift has been knowing that my daughter and I will be running alongside one another  in January and in the future and that I am modeling good habits for her.