Thursday, July 14, 2011
"Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense."
I am now on speaking terms with my body, but it took me a long time to get to that point. Part of what has been helpful in getting to know my body better has been to learn how it works. Nothing taught me more about how weight loss works than my anatomy, physiology, and exercise physiology courses. In particular, exercise physiology showed me how the energy systems in the body work, and how the muscles and the cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems respond to changes (especially exercise). I also explored the physiology of weight loss and had many discussions with professors about the specifics of how the body loses weight. Most of all, this drilled in my head that there is a bigger picture when it comes to losing weight, and that is that the body composition is changing. Body composition simply refers to the percentages of lean mass (bone and muscle) and fat mass in the body. A major part of my mental transformation has been shifting my focus from the vague term of "losing weight" to thinking in terms of "body composition change.” When we “lose weight,” it might be water, fat, or muscle (hopefully not bone--yikes!). But thinking in terms of body composition change, I am aiming specifically to lose fat and gain muscle (but of course, one does not "replace" the other, per se). I believe that building lots of muscle mass primes the body to maintain a leaner body, too. Essentially, I don't want to be skinny, I want to be lean and muscular. I believe I will know it when I see it, hence why I am not particularly hell-bent on a particular goal weight.
I think it really helps to have a basic understanding of what is actually happening in the body during weight loss, as it helps explain why certain things such as exercise and eating the right foods are important. I don't have a background in nutrition, but I am educated in exercise physiology and psychology. I will be doing a some entries called Nerdrageous Blog! where I will address some of the technical and academic parts of weight loss and weight maintenance, with regards to exercise physiology and mental changes. I covered a variety of areas in school, and some of my favorites included exercise psychology, metabolic flexibility, adaptations from strength training (muscle, nerve, cardiovascular, and endocrine adaptations) and their contribution to weight loss and maintenance, and anti-obesity tendencies in health and exercise fields.
I have been trying to apply some of the principles I learned to myself and my own weight loss journey. I started using SparkPeople actively in August, 2010, and for a long time I kind of felt like I was getting nowhere. I didn't actually start SparkDieting until January, 2011, but I now realize that the small things I was working on prior to that prepared me to be ready to lose weight. I still tried to weigh regularly prior to January, and I really appreciate that SparkPeople simply logs the number without giving any “feedback” on that number. The WeightWatchers online tracker gives you a big smiley face if you lose, and a sad-looking face if you don't lose. Oooh, I hated that face. My normal losing pattern is that I lose for a couple of weeks, then no loss or a tiny gain for a week or two. It took me a long time to realize that this pattern is perfectly acceptable and it does not mean that I'm doing something wrong. If I am truly overeating, than I aim to fix it, but if I have small gain when I'm doing everything I should, I don't worry at all.
I've talked about my previous weight loss with WeightWatchers when I lost 95 pounds. Unfortunately, I have no other measurements from that journey; I didn't measure myself and I didn't take pictures. Part of what prevented me from reaching my goal was the frustration of getting stuck in a plateau for several months after losing 95 pounds. However, I was training for Olympic distance triathlons, and my body composition was probably still changing (I looked more ripped than I ever have). My brain was glued to the scale, though, and I felt I was not getting “results.” The stern look of the weigher at my WeightWatchers meetings also told me that I wasn't progressing as I should. I really wish I had taken pictures and other measurements--I think it would have made the difference between keeping going and giving up. I let the scale be the sole feedback on my progress; it ruled my life, and ultimately won. Being in school for kinesiology helped me learn to have a different relationship with my body and to think differently about what to expect from weight loss.
One of my professors talked a lot about ideal body compositions in athletes (high % of lean mass, low % of fat), and that got me thinking that perhaps I should be approaching my weight loss in the same manner. To me, weight loss means, "I don't care where it comes from, just get this weight off of me." To me, it matters greatly what weight is being lost. Just like eating whole foods will produce better results than eating junk, even when eating the same amount of calories, I focus on muscle mass versus fat mass when losing weight. This is the principle behind why I try not to lose more than 2 pounds per week on a consistent basis. Anything beyond 2 pounds is likely to be lost as muscle mass; losing muscle mass not only throws the body out of whack now, I think it makes it much more difficult to maintain weight later on. Although at my weight I could safely lose up to 1% of body weight per week, I am aiming to lose no more than 2 pounds per week (preferably closer to 1 pound). Yes, the "weight" is coming off slowly, but I believe this allows for building more lean muscle mass, which will (hopefully) make me more successful in the long run.
The term “body composition change” makes me think of a more continuous process, rather than the separate steps of “weight loss” and “weight maintenance.” I do have a goal weight set, but I am aiming more to have a nice and lean body composition, so that number is not particularly set in stone. I may find I want to go lower or be comfortable at a heavier weight, but I probably won't know that until I am closer to that weight. I have been taking measurements including weekly weight and monthly pictures and measuring inches; I should really be measuring my body fat with calipers as well, so I will be starting as of August 1st. Additionally, I consider my weekly weigh-ins to be mini-measurements, with my overall monthly loss being the true measurement. Thinking in terms of body composition change has helped take the emotion out of the scale, and it has been very freeing to not be afraid of the scale.
Another major aspect of considering body composition change is to think about the ways in which we can increase our metabolic flexibility, which will be the focus of my first Nerdrageous Blog! entry. It helps me to write these things out, because I get more ideas about how I can focus on my goals and come up with new ways to approach my goals.
I love seeing SparkPeeps' progress blogs, especially when they demonstrate that the scale doesn't always tell all. For an excellent example of body composition changes versus weight loss, check out APIRLRAIN888' blog:
She has sadly been MIA, but she has lots of great posts where she shows how the scale may not be moving, but visible changes can be occurring.
“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.”
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
I had my second saxophone lesson yesterday, and I was more self-conscious than I would have imagined playing in front of someone else for the first time in over 12 years. Last week, we mostly reviewed things and I didn't have to play much. My teacher wanted to evaluate my skill level yesterday, so he had me bring in some of my old books to have me play some music. He would then decide what I needed to work on.
He opened one of the books and pointed to a piece. "Go ahead," and waited for me to start. I played the piece, then he shook his head and grabbed the book. "You're too good for this book."
"Uh, no I'm not."
"Yes, you are. Hmmm...let's see..." We walked out into the store and he got a book that was filled with music that made my heart skip a beat and my eyes widen; my immediate thought was, "No way can I play that". The music looked harder than anything I remembered playing in the past, and there were pages upon pages of daunting scales. Smiling, he said, "Here, this is better. We'll work with this."
He reviewed some stuff and has assigned a Handel piece for me to work on. I couldn't imagine playing it. He told me to play the first few lines. I concentrated as hard as I could, and started playing. The notes sputtered out, just individual notes floating in the air with no connection. I thought maybe he would say, "You're right, let's try some simpler stuff," but he shrugged. "You'll get it, just keep working on that."
Today I put my sax together to practice, and stared at the music for a second. "Okay, here's goes nothing." With steel-faced determination, I started to play. I stumbled over the notes and barely got through the past few lines. The little "This is too hard" voice whispered in my head. I tried again a few times and was getting frustrated.
Then I stopped and took a deep breath. I told myself to just let go, not think so hard about it, and let the music come out. "It doesn't have to be perfect," I told myself. I started to play, and it actually sounded somewhat like a song. I played through it again and it sounded even better. It is the first time since I've started playing that my practice has sounded like actual music. The deep joy that I used to get after putting my soul into a song came back; I didn't want to put my saxophone down. The muscles and nerves in my hands and fingers remember how to play, and are ready for more.
So the next time I have doubts about my abilities, I'm going to let go. The song will reveal itself. It may have been trapped for a long time, but it has been released. I'm learning that the less I think and the more I simply do, the more I discover. My body already knows what to do; perhaps I need to let it guide my mind more often.
"You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'"
-George Bernard Shaw
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
"For God's sake give me someone who has brains enough to make a fool of himself."
- Robert Louis Stevenson
Is this the definition of failure?
(picture from despair.com)
One of my co-workers said jokingly one day, “There are no accidents, there are only inadvertent achievements.” Perhaps then “failures” are “spontaneous learning experiences.” I can't control the fact that I'm not perfect, but I can control how I react to the situation, and even decide to learn from it. I try to create success by redefining what failure means to me. One of the biggest areas where people utter the “F” word is when it comes to exercise. Exercise has become such an ingrained part of my life that I can't imagine that there was a time (i.e. most of my first 25 years) when I let the fear of failure hold me back from trying. I used to be paralyzed by a fear of failing. I had to fall flat on my face before I realized that the ground below would catch me, and that I could laugh at myself and then get back up.
I remember the first time I got an “F” in a college. Failure doesn't get more bona fide than seeing a big fat “F” on a transcript. Not only did I feel like a failure, it was written out, plain as day. Yes, I was disappointed in myself, but moreover, I felt relief. It turned out that the Earth actually continued to rotate and the sun rose the next day despite my failure. I finally asked myself, “What am I so afraid of?” I always imagined that I was the only person in the world who had ever messed up in any way, and that I would become a laughing stock if anyone found out about my failure.
Earning my first “F” was a pivotal moment for me, as it was the first time that I really embraced the idea of failure. I felt like I was wearing a scarlet “F”, yet no one seemed to notice. Then I started walking down the street, and would imagine random people and their flubs: " I bet that woman has gotten behind on her bills before." "That guy has applied for dozens of jobs and never gets called back." "That chick has probably gotten really drunk and told secrets she never meant to tell." "I bet that guy is a bad kisser." Maybe these people had not had these particular failures, but I realized they have probably had failed at something at some point. Anyone who claims to have never failed is failing at telling the truth. It took me a long time to get comfortable with failure, and accept that it's going to happen...sometimes I'll see it coming, sometimes I won't.
We picture crossing the finish line as evidence of having been successful, but isn't there something to be said for getting started? And why are we so afraid of flubbing and looking stupid? We are very quick to berate ourselves the slightest perceived failure, yet blow off compliments before they even register in our frontal cortex. When we were kids, we're often praised just for trying: “Yay, you did it, you tried!” As adults, we get, “Just go get done what needs to get done.” We may consider attempting something, quickly dooming ourselves with the thought of, “I'm sure I wouldn't be any good at it.” I certainly fell into this line of thinking; I never had to worry about failing at anything, because I could rest assured that I would suck anyways.
I'm very glad I didn't doom myself to failure when I decided to try triathlons. I did not even know what was involved in a triathlon or in training for one, but it sounded cool. Deep down, I had always wanted to do something cool, so I signed up for the sprint-distance Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in 2007. Then I found out what was involved, and faced training head on. I signed up for swimming lessons and started working out with a triathlon training team. I was oddly unstressed about training. But at that point, I was also fairly hard on myself for having bad training days. I would still continue my training, but I would berate my failed workouts.
We see it all over SparkPeople--the “failed” workout. The “failed” exercise program. The “failed” training plan. The biggest thing I can stress, having trained for races and with helping people train and with working out consistently for many years: sh***ty workouts are normal and to be expected. Exercise became a lot less stressful when I lowered my expectations of what I would get out of it and how I would feel after workouts. Everyone has crappy days, from beginners to elite athletes. I usually look forward to my workouts, but I'm okay with the fact that sometimes I may be less than enthusiastic about working out. For instance, my workout routine the other day looked a little like this:
1) Sigh deeply thinking about putting the workout DVD in the DVD player--Man, that's like SO MUCH WORK. Don't I have enough problems without making myself get all sweaty?
2) Grumble as I put on my workout clothes.
3) Piss and moan throughout the warm-up.
4) I'm hungry. I'm tired.
5) Man, these weights are HEAVY.
6) C'mon...isn't this thing over yet?
7) Finally...oh, that's right, I still have kettlebells.
(Pause between workouts to type some of this blog entry)
Was I elated after my workout, so happy that I did it? Nah. I did it. I did it because it's just what I do. Some days I just get 'er done and call it a day; some days I don't even make it that far. But what I don't have any more is the self-defeating idea that an off-day means I've screwed up my exercise routine. I think part of what helped me get over the post-bad workout freak-out was to simply identify myself as an athlete. Since I am an athlete, I really don't have to prove anything to anyone else.
Did I show up and do it? Am I training like an athlete? Good, then it's settled, I'm an athlete. Athletes don't give up after a bad day. Athletes learn from the bad days and take the experience as feedback on how to improve, not as a reason to quit.
Didn't make it all the way through a workout? That's fine. Not excited to work out today? Eh, it happens. Not being excited does not mean that the motivation is gone. There is something to be said for an exercise routine becoming an unexciting part of my life...this just means that it's habit, and that the excitement and enthusiasm are no longer needed to prod me through a workout. Some days do feel like epiphanies and I feel like I could go on forever, but I don't expect that on a day-to-day basis. I have learned a lot about accepting the off-day from being around two groups of people: my triathlon training team and my kickboxing groups.
One of the guys in my triathlon training group (I shouldn't even group myself with him--he's an accomplished Ironman triathlete) will stop his workout, throw his stuff in his car, and go kick back and have a beer if his workout isn't going well. No regrets. And this is someone who eats 4-mile swims for breakfast. How did he get to be so successful? He is determined, focused, and driven, but he also knows when to back off. He knows when he's having a good workout, but that if he backs off from a bad workout that he has not “given up.”
When I was in Muay Thai fight training, we weren't always in the mood to workout. Unlike other workouts, this meant that we literally got whooped. My coach was a very calm man who had grown up as an orphan in a Muay Thai boarding school in Thailand, and then spent years as a street fighter in Thailand. For someone who had such a rough life, he seemed to have a lot of balance within himself. He was the one who helped me to see the, “You win some, you lose some,” philosophy. If I was having an off training day and getting mad at myself, he would put pat my back and just say serenely, “Today is not your day.” I had been pushing myself for 2 years through triathlon and running training, and I had never accepted before that it might be okay to have a day that was “not my day.” He taught me balance between having a great workout and having an off-day.
I don't need to be perfect, I just needed to change my definition of what it means to be successful. I think back on the things that I have attempted and have “failed,” but if I did my honest best, then I succeeded. Trying is the foundation upon which success is built. Without trying, you have nothing. It may have been a comfy little existence to never try, but I had to give up those warm fuzzies and be willing to risk making an ass of myself every once in a while. Ultimately, I have learned my limits from my failures. If I reached the point of failure, then I know I have done every single thing I could in trying to reach that goal. It may not feel like that at first, but I can see that now that I am better at giving myself credit for my achievements--and my attempts.
Motivation feeds into motivation, and learning from my failures has helped me feel more successful. Nothing will ever be perfect. But I haven't let arthritis, injuries, or even gaining over 90 pounds stop me from exercising...so failure, listen up. You are not in my vocabulary. Maybe I will utter the word, but it rolls off of me like the drops off sweat from my hard work. You are in the dust, perhaps trying to catch up, but you never will. If I try my best, then I am at my best. No one, including me, can demand anything more.
"I can accept failure, but, I can't accept not trying."
- Michael Jordan
Sunday, July 10, 2011
I haven't done a triathlon in 3 seasons, but after going with my friends to the New Brighton Triathlon a few weeks ago, I've had the itch to train again (not Swimmer's Itch--hopefully I don't get that). Today, I went to a lake to meet with a couple of my training buddies for a swim. It was my first time in the water in at least a year. We had been talking about doing a tri as a relay team next summer, and we have decided to do the Saint Paul Triathlon in August 2012. We'll be doing the Olympic (standard) distance tri, so I will be swimming 1 mile, and I have a goal to do it in 22 minutes (my fastest mile in a tri has been 25 minutes). Swimming has been my strongest leg in tris, so I think I can pull it off.
Well, if I'm going to train again, I suppose I should start with the basics:
Step 1: Put on swimsuit.
Step 2: Get ass in water.
Today at Lake Nokomis, after swimming. I'm not gonna lie, this was a little painful.
During Lifetime Fitness Triathlon, 2007. I hated my body a lot back then--too bad, it is capable of doing so much.
We swam for about 40 minutes today, and although my stroke could definitely use some work, it wasn't too bad and I didn't feel worn down. I realized I've really missed swimming. Once again, I kicked myself a little bit for my mental block and allowing myself to think that my weight was a barrier--I could have trained for a race this summer. I really should be swimming, too, because being in the water allows for greater expansion of the thorax, which increases lung capacity. This is important for me since I have arthritis in my spine that tends to cause breathing restrictions. However, swimming is good cross-training for anyone for this reason, too.
I'm really glad I decided to get over how I look and just get back in the water. The reason I appreciate triathlons is because people of all shapes and sizes do them. I was reminded of this when I was at the triathlon with my friends a few weeks ago. As much as I was anticipating feeling very self-conscious today, I was surprised that I didn't care what anyone thought. I mean, no one turned around and said, “Hey, how did that blue whale get to Minneapolis?” I didn't bother looking around and comparing myself to anyone else, because no one was looking at me anyways. After all, is this a figure competition, or training for a race?
That's what I thought.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Not the most interesting blog post, but I am ants-in-my-pants excited today! I biked to and from the boxing gym (about 10 miles total), and my knee feels fine! After almost a year of not being able to bike, I'm back, baby!
I've never gotten a definitive diagnosis of what is wrong with my right knee, but it appears that an old running injury is to blame. I tripped and fell straight on my kneecaps while I was running about 3 years ago, and my right knee has been problematic ever since. The best guess is that I have a torn meniscus, but there has never been any imaging performed (like an MRI) to confirm this. Over the past 6 months, my knee got even worse, puffing up like a balloon and becoming almost completely locked. I also think I had developed a Baker's cyst (a cyst in the joint space in the back of the knee), making it even more difficult to bend it. I've done what I could--naproxen, icing, elevating, bracing...but it has been a long road. I have been getting regular ultrasound therapy on my knee over the past 6 weeks and that has made a world of difference in helping it heal. Yes, it is a little stiff and sore, but I have arthritis, so I'm used to that. I feel like I am at a point where it will be safe to start cycling again and isn't going to exacerbate the injury.
Cycling will also help build up some strength in my long-neglected quads, since I can't really do lower-body weight work right now (I think that's still a ways off). I am very happy to be able to bike again, as it is my 100% most favorite exercise EVER. Giving up running had been hard, too, but I realized the ache to go cycling revealed my favorite sport. I'm back in the saddle!
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