Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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The Yoga Culture Of L.A.: A Yoga Story

Throughout my life, I had different impressions of yoga. I avoided it for much of my 20s, because it didn’t seem like it would be strenuous enough to really be considered “exercising”. I imagined a bunch of people in a room “Om” ing and breathing in full lotus position, whilst being guided through gentle stretching. I had never heard of hatha, or vinyasa, or yin flow, etc.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

My first yoga class was actually in London; at a Bikram studio within walking distance from my flat, where they offered a month of unlimited classes for a very reasonable charge. A friend begged me to do it with her, so I signed up. The scorching hot room had an oddly peaceful vibe to it. There were people from all walks of life in the room, but no one talked once in the room. They remained fixed on the sound of the instructor’s voice, and laser-focused on their own body movement, balance, and breathing. There was a focus on fitness and quieting the mind. I found myself improving quickly through the weeks, and setting little goals for myself every time. The practice was all about me, and the classes made it easy to do that.

Flash forward to my life in Los Angeles, where yoga pants-clad women are the daily standard sight at coffee shops, grocery stores, and sidewalks city-wide. To an outsider, it would seem that women in this city are always going to or coming from yoga, with their sloppy ballerina buns (annoying trend alert), and chia seed smoothies. Yoga here is almost as much of a fashion accessory as any clothing or hairstyle. Anyone who’s anyone does yoga–duh!

And, while I’m a total hypocrite for attending classes weekly myself, I note how different the vibe is here from the London yoga studio. Cliques of lithe, willowy yogaphiles chatter excitedly at the front of the room, and hug and squeal when they see each other. From the back of the room, as I observe the trim figures lined up on the mats in front of me, I pick out the familiar athletic wear designer label on each and every pair of leggings or tank top in the room: “Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon…” and so on.

While, yes, this yoga studio features Vinyasa style yoga, and not the scorching Bikram style yoga, the room still gets very hot when you’re in the thick of things. Yet, some of these women just don’t sweat. They finish out the class as smooth and dry as they began, without even a glow or a glimmer of moisture. Meanwhile, I look as though I’ve just weathered a Tsunami. Granted, I’m a “sweat-er,” but still. It’s as if these women will themselves not to sweat so that they will remain perfect-looking in their $100 leggings for that Whole Foods errand later.

Of course, yoga is a personal practice, and I try to let these thoughts melt away while wobbling in my Half Moon pose, or my feeble attempts at Crow Pose. Still, it’s tough not to feel the glaring heat of obviousness that you don’t belong to a certain culture. I’m not gluten free, and I prefer not to eat something for breakfast that I can grow a fun “pet” out of (“Ch-ch-ch-chia!”). I don’t plunk $100 down on exercise clothing just because it’s trendy. I wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m an individual. And I guess that coming to terms with that is a mental exercise all in itself.

 

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Ad-Libbing My Exercise: A Travel Story

Like me, many professionals have to add the sometimes fun, but mostly burdensome travel to their regular schedules. I pop up to headquarters at least once a month, far away from my usual yoga studio, my bootcamps, my swim class, and my regular running route. Plus, travel usually has me on a tight agenda, making fitting in workouts slightly more challenging than it is at home.  Not only are workouts an issue, but, with business lunches, dinners, all day catered meetings, and other meal obstacles, traveling is a recipe for ruining the progress you have made at home.

See what I'm up against? This is not fair.

See what I’m up against? This is not fair.

Now, I am no saint when it comes to travel-based diet and exercise slip-ups. I’ve definitely had my share of “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or, “I’m too exhausted from traveling to hit the treadmill” moments, but I’m trying to work through these things because, hey, this is real life, and we have to learn to navigate every day, real life obstacles without being psycho or obsessive about it.

For every trip, I come armed. Here’s what I do to make sure my trip doesn’t trip up my healthy routine:

  1. No ‘fitness center’, no love. I always book a hotel that has a fitness room, and I try to book one that has at least multiple machines, so there’s less chance of a ‘machine hog’ situation. Sometimes it’s easier to get motivated to workout in a strange place if all you have to do is walk down a hallway or take the elevator.
  2. Plan your workout days. I bring a print out of strength training exercises from my trainer that I’m supposed to do, and I do what I can (depending on whether there are weights available to me or not). I figure out which days I’m going to do what type of workout, and I do them. Also, if you exercise in the a.m., you can explore the city after work, worry-free.
  3. Bring back-up. One of the biggest problems I have is with catered meals or business dinners. I’ve learned to pack my suitcase with healthy,low-sugar bars, raw nuts, and other non-refrigerated items to carry in my purse to keep me satiated throughout the day. That way, I can grab a little bit of salad at these things, and avoid the ravenous monster that threatens my ability to stay on track.
  4. Sleep. I know it’s tough to sleep in a new place. Usually, the first night, I toss and turn, which makes getting up early to work out that day seem horrible. I always designate Day 1 of my trip as my weekly “rest” day, whenever possible, simply because I know that my sleep will be interrupted. If I wake up feeling okay, I might jump on an exercise machine for some lighter, less intense activity.
  5. Know the workout spots. If you frequent a place often, sometimes it works to find some local fitness classes, or a running trail, just to keep you going in the right direction.

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

    Pre-printed exercises are portable, and FUN (okay, maybe not fun, but portable)

Like I said, I am no angel, and I do slip up, but I try to use these tools to keep the slip-ups pretty minimal.

Have a favorite hotel workout routine? Please share!


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The Fine Line Between Diligence And Obsession: A Healthy Lifestyle Story

I am serious, clearly. Very serious.

I am serious, clearly. Very serious.

Imaginative people like me are ruled by obsessive thoughts. We ruminate and dream about possibilities and what-ifs, good and bad. We drive ourselves butts-out crazy with ideas, often staying awake at night creating scenarios. Women tend to be especially good at this, in my experience, as we often leap to conclusions or imagine our own stories about others that may or may not exist. Recently I had a friend of mine whom I’ve known for about 10 years now observe that, based on my Facebook posts and blog, I seemed like I was becoming increasingly “obsessed” with this health and fitness stuff in the four years since I moved to Los Angeles. While she is in another state and isn’t with me day-to-day, and her own assumption, I felt, was incorrect, it really made me check in with myself on two fronts:

1) When does diligence and enjoyment of a healthy lifestyle turn into obsession, and what defines it?

2) While expressing my enthusiasm for feeling healthy and doing things that make me feel healthy, am I alienating other people I care about who don’t share my enthusiasm?

Let’s start with the first check-in. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have used exercise and diet as a form of “punishment” for myself, for being fat, or for eating more of something than I should have. I think that many people look at these things as necessary evils to achieve a certain body type. We’re bombarded with messaging daily, especially in Los Angeles, that a person can never be too thin, or too “toned” (I hate that word). I see this stuff every day. Does it affect me? Sure, it does. Would I love to look like a fitness model? Yes, that would be nice. Do I obsess about looking like one? That answer is a definite no.

At the same time, I do have my own self-conscious little “obsessive” habits that I’ve picked up over the years of struggling with my weight. I still look around the room in an exercise class and observe whether I’m the fattest one there. Usually I am, mostly because I think a lot of people my size or larger give up, or because they observe a room of size 2 women and they think, “No way. I’m the fattest one here.” I try to take it as a compliment to myself, that, even though I’m built differently, I still put in the work. I’m there because I deserve to be, because the classes are for everyone, and there’s no sign on the door that says, “No one above a size 6 allowed.” I’m not trying to be them, or to look like them, I’m just trying to get better at whatever I’m doing.

There comes a point where, at any size, at any moment, you have to accept yourself. You just have to, because you cannot go through life hating yourself, even if you’re carrying more weight on your frame than you’d like, or even if you can’t master Crow Pose in yoga, or you can’t run around the block. You have to slap yourself out of the fantasy that one day you’ll blossom out of your cocoon and turn into Adriana Lima. You have to, because, if you don’t, you’ll never have the chance to be you, and that would be a damn shame.

Anyway, yes, I know fitness and health is part of the culture here in California, and I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but, really, why wouldn’t I? I live in a beautiful place, with GREAT weather. I can be outside playing all year long! I can swim in the ocean, bike along the coast, run in the hills, hike mountains! I can explore and move my body, and feel alive. I’ve never felt so great before. I love how challenging my body and mind makes me feel, and I’m enthusiastic about it. Even when my muscles are cooked, I’ve got a huge smile on my face. I’ve turned what used to be my biggest punishment into my greatest reward.

…Which brings me to check-in #2: Am I being too enthusiastic for those who might not share my passion? Even as someone who enjoys posting and reading about health and fitness, there are certain kinds of posts that even I find annoying, such as people’s daily check-ins at the gym, posting daily run/swim/bike distances and times, and detailed daily fitness routines. See the pattern? It’s the daily minutia that screams to everyone, “Look what I did and what you didn’t do!” or “Look how awesome I am!” Bleh. However, monumental break-throughs, epic workouts, and other noteworthy experiences are interesting to me because they are share-worthy, especially for those who know how tough it is to get to those epic moments. I try to only post about my fitness moments in context, whether it’s a great workout, a fun bike ride, or a really epic run or swim. Still, maybe my enthusiasm is as grating to some friends as the daily stuff is to me, especially if they don’t share my zeal for this lifestyle.

Just like baby pictures or ad nauseum political posts can be irritating to some, it is important that, as our lives change, that we are mindful of what we share online. Sometimes our passion can get a little too passionate, and, while it’s just as easy for some folks to un-follow us, it can be helpful to be understanding and to check-in with ourselves as well. I don’t think my passion for health and fitness looks like an obsession, but I certainly have been made aware of my own enthusiasm, as well as its affect on others.

I guess I’ll wrap up by throwing the question out there: Has anyone out there alienated friends because of their enthusiasm for health or fitness? What kinds of fitness or health-related posts do you find annoying?


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Shorter Is Sweeter?: A Training Story

When you lose a big amount of weight through training for endurance sports, you tend to think that the only way you can maintain that weight loss is through continuing to do endurance sports. However, like anything, the body can get “used to” doing longer, slower distances, and mine, with its miraculous endomorphic properties, quickly learned to store more fat, whether or not I was burning up 15,000 calories in a single weekend. I loaded on 20 lbs over the course of the year training for an Ironman, and, while some of that might have been actual muscle, most of it was not, and, when I slowed things down to a crawl afterward, I loaded on at least another five. 

I thought I could get back there with more running, but, as I kept upping the distance of my runs, my body stubbornly resisted dropping any weight, even when i was hyperthyroid (which makes everyone else in the world lose weight, except me). My muscles fatigued and I overtrained. I was getting really frustrated. 

The doctor told me to scale back on my running, to really keep my diet limited to 1500 calories/day, and to watch my carbs. I began making protein smoothies in the morning, eating 10-15 nuts as a snack, and sticking to salads, cooked veggies & protein (meat) as meals, trying to avoid bread and pasta, except for Sunday, my “carbs if I want to” day, where I could have some kind of pasta or bread dish for dinner. Still, I felt sore and unrecovered, so I went to my personal trainer friend, Beth Bishop, for advice.

Beth advised that I cut the whole endurance routine, and start strength training if I wanted to lean out and drop those stubborn lbs. She told me to lay off running altogether for a few weeks to let myself heal, and she recommended I get myself back in the pool. Tomorrow, I’m going in to have a fitness evaluation with her to see where I am and what I need to do, and I’ll probably join her bootcamp on Wednesday nights. 

It’s going to be a lot of change for me, but I think that my body needs a new challenge. So, for now I’m going to see where this adventure in strength training takes me: I’ll be a “Pumping Iron”Woman! 

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Fear my guns! (Not really, but…)


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“Enlightened” Foodists: A Diet Story

Here again, is my disclaimer that I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or an expert on food and nutrition in any way, but I have done my own reading, spoken to doctors and researchers, and have drawn my own conclusions. This blog post is merely me expressing my own opinions. Take them or leave them.Image

A friend on Facebook recently updated his status to ask friends what vitamins he should take to help his energy level. Before I even read the responses, I thought, Oh boy, this guy is in for a tidal wave of “advice.” And the advice came rolling in. It’s as if, suddenly, all of his friends had acquired M.D.s overnight! From explicit directives regarding health, fitness and nutrition regimens, to exclamations of, “Eat raw food!” or “The Paleo Diet is the way to go!” these well-meaning friends adamantly insisted that the guy change his whole lifestyle, and there were SO MANY different opinions.

Look, if a diet works for you, great. I get that people are excited when they discover something that works with their body chemistry and fits into their lifestyle. However, it does NOT mean that a chosen diet is the healthiest possible diet for anyone and everyone. Just because it’s “trendy” or helps with some aspect of a person’s life (weight loss, energy, chronic condition, etc.), does not make it an optimal diet for all. What is irritating about most long term dieters is that these people take on a “holier than thou” attitude, maintaining that THEY are the enlightened few who have discovered THE path to better health, and that everyone else (the proletarian, Big Mac-scarfing masses) just doesn’t “get” it yet.

Let’s look at “raw” diets, for example. There are lots of benefits to raw food; in particular, the fiber content, the “roughage”, the benefits of ingesting some live enzymes and nutrients that exist in some raw foods that don’t exist after they’re cooked. However, cooking food is a technology that can actually bring out the nutritional benefits of some foods AND prevent disease. Cooking asparagus helps fight cancer, cooking mushrooms makes them more potassium-rich, cooking spinach helps the body absorb more calcium, magnesium and iron. Raw foodists pride themselves on eating “natural” and “clean” foods, but, truth be told, humans actually cooked and ate meat before they discovered agriculture. Agriculture is a technology we invented. I know, right? Shocking.

So, then we have the Paleo Diet peeps, who, on principle, seem to make a bit more nutritional sense. It’s basically eating “clean” –no processed foods, no breads and pastas, no sugar, no dairy. Basically, it’s meat and veggies, and pretty restrictive. Generally speaking, this is probably a fine diet to have–if we hadn’t evolved, genetically–and if ancient humans never ate grains (which they did–I know, another shock).

Like I said, cool, if these work for you, great, but they are no panacea, and restrictive diets can sometimes adversely affect health and (hidden danger) cause eating disordered thinking. And, in today’s world, where temptation is everywhere, and willpower is limited, having the occasional chocolate bar or doughnut, or potato chip won’t cause ill affect on your health, just like one carrot won’t benefit you much if you’re eating Twinkies 24/7. In fact, a treat every now and again might help you stay “on track” in the long run. The point is, when it comes to food, there isn’t a hard and fast “right” or “wrong” diet for all. A healthy diet can certainly make you feel better, but, in the age where information is flying about faster than hummingbirds in a hurricane, it’s important to leave nutritional advice to licensed medical experts (like Dr. Andrew Weil), to get your own nutritional needs assessed, and figure out what works best and is sustainable for your own body.


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Catalina Curtailed: A Health Story

I really thought I had it, that my energy issues were behind me, and that I was ready to move on. After having my thyroid medication dosage reduced (my blood panel results said I was taking too much), I had started incorporating long runs into my workout schedule in preparation for the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon in March.

At first, I was feeling great, on top of the world. Then, after last week’s and this week’s runs, long and short, left me with the old “running at top speed in a hurricane-force headwind” feeling, I began to wonder if something was still up with me, health wise.

I saw Dr. Shammas today and when I detailed my training plan, she told me I should probably cool it with the long runs, that my body, just two months out from having a major surgery, was probably not ready for such an aggressive regimen. Instead, she recommended shorter distances, and that I exercise non-aggressively six days a week, instead of five.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but, after everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned to listen to my body, and I know, deep down, she’s right. I shouldn’t have tried to push so soon after surgery. I just miss the feeling of being able to run forever and ever, that freedom, there’s nothing like it. I guess I’ll have to get it in smaller doses now, until I work my way back up.

I suppose that it’s good timing, with me starting my new role within my company, and getting up to speed, traveling and such. It’s not really an ideal time to be training for distance running.

Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning to be very, very virtuous. :-/

Sidelined again...le sigh!

Sidelined again…le sigh!

 


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A Love/”Ate” Relationship: A Diet Story

When you’ve been an eating disordered thinker, it never leaves you, really. Moments of high stress, body chemistry changes, lifestyle changes, disasters, and other inevitable “life-y” things, can bring you right back to face those demons you thought you left behind you.

Winter 2010. I lay there, gorged, bloated, my stomach swelled like a tick, with a full salad, four hunks of garlic cheese bread, a Mediterranean calzone, and a huge double (or maybe even triple) slice of chocolate cake. I was hungover from a night of drinking with friends (5-6 vodka-sodas and maybe even a beer or two). I felt disgusting, loathsome, too full, but I was too afraid of barfing to become a bulimic.

“Tomorrow,” I vowed to myself. “Tomorrow I will change. I will stop eating like this. I will exercise. I will quit drinking so much.”

I ate because, deep down, I felt lonely. Here I was, a fat girl, in Los Angeles, a town full of pretty people. I went out with all of my skinny, pretty friends, and, while I whooped it up and tried to enjoy myself, I always felt as though I would never really fit in. I wasn’t pretty enough to be loved. I was just this fatty, along for the ride.

When I got Sheila, my Beagle, the ache of loneliness subsided for a bit, as the unconditional love of a pet, especially a rescue, is one of the most special loves in existence, but it didn’t get to the root of my problem, and soon reality sunk in once again. I ate to help soothe the pain, to fill the emptiness inside. Of course, by eating, I only further enhanced the part of me that I thought made me so unlovable, my weight.

Binging is like any other addiction, except, in some ways, worse. You can’t just stop eating, cold turkey. It’s like telling an alcoholic to learn to stop at one drink. Plus, food is everywhere, it’s accessible. People bring it to work to “share” with everyone. My old boss would go to Costco and buy boxes, bags and barrels of candy and processed snacks for the office. Temptation, all day long, every day, and the weak, physically addicted, and emotionally damaged are supposed to have the iron willpower to say “No”?

So, like any addict, I had to get “good and sick of it.” I had to wake up at my lowest hour and decide it was time to quit. I think my “bottom” came when I decided to kick off my weekend “binge-o-rama” with two cans of frosting and two unfrosted cakes. I consumed entire packages of mac and cheese, pizza, cookies, nuts. I ate enough for an entire party of people. There I was, a party of one, and no where to go but up.

It wasn’t long before I quietly decided to make small changes. My vows of “Tomorrow I will do everything healthfully” hadn’t worked thus far. So, I made small changes. I was flexible. And slowly, slowly, I changed.

For me, this relationship is not about perfection. I can’t promise myself that. To this day, in a moment of feeling misunderstood or lonely, I might reach into the cupboard for a little bit of edible comfort. I might go through quarter of a package of Trader Joe’s S’Mores Bites because, dammit, I need the serotonin boost, and it is too enjoyable to stop myself…but I stop. In the end, I stop. I stop because I know I’m not perfect, but I love myself.

I love myself enough to understand what happiness really is, and where to find it, and through all of the boxes and bags, the crumbs and wrappers, I know that it is not where I was looking for it before.

No, Really, I've got this.

Self love conquers all.