365 Days

One year! It’s been one year since I gave up sugar and starches. I can’t believe it – I’ve done a whole year of weight loss.

The results are… well, fine. I wish it had gone smoother. I definitely wish I had been able to stay away from sugar for the last three months. I wish I had lost much more. But nevertheless, I now weigh 13,6 kilos (30 pounds) less than one year ago, and I think it’s something to be proud of. Something to celebrate.

And celebrate I did. I went to the gym again. That’s another thing – I can’t believe I had not gone to the gym that I loved so much since August! Once again I had to muster all my courage to get into the car and go there. On my way I considered the reason for my fears. I certainly don’t dread exercise – I know all too well how happy movement makes me feel. I don’t fear the exercise equipment, I don’t even worry that I won’t know what to do with it (though I still have no idea what goes on in the weight-lifting room of the gym). It’s the moment when I enter that door that makes me feel so self-conscious and insecure. It’s the moment when the guy by the door looks at me and pulls back in shock, seeing such an out-of-shape person in the sanctity of the gym.

Nothing of the kind happened, of course. There was a tiny little girl at the desk who smiled and was very kind. I thoroughly enjoyed myself there. I swear, this time it won’t take five months to return there.

So – what have I learned this year? This has been the “food year” of my life. I’ve learned to love simple foods. I’ve retrained my taste buds to love vegetables and unsweetened foods. I have also learned what foods make me crave sugar and what foods keep me full for hours. I have learned to listen to my body. It never fails to inform me about the validity of my choices.

I used to reproach myself for “being bad” and having a cheat meal, a cheat day or even a cheat week. No more. For it’s the occasional bingeing that has taught me more than a year of clean eating.

Now I know the psychological effect that bingeing brings with it. I know how fat and ugly I feel if I’ve gone down the road of candy and cake. The weight might not even change after a meal of ice-cream, but the sluggishness sets in that starts a whole new cycle of insecurity and shame. I don’t want that. And I have discovered the psychological triggers to unhealthy eating patterns and I’ve learned how to deal with these triggers.

Basically over the course of this whole year I’ve “mastered” intuitive eating. I don’t have to stick to Atkins, Ducan or any specific diet demanding to eat particular foods that might not even grow in this climate. I can trust my own body to tell me what it needs. It won’t scream “sugar, sugar, sugar” all the time. And when it does, I’ve learned to peel an orange or cut up an apple.

It’s been a marvellous year. I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve made great foundations for the rest of my life. I’ve learned to eat right.

It’s the perfect time to set a new goal for the next year, and it is this. To study the physical aspect of weight-loss. To learn to move more effectively. To incorporate movement in my daily life so that it becomes a habit so ingrained that I can’t even imagine my life without it. Just like I’ve learned to eat right, it’s time to learn to move right! And I hope that in 365 days I will be able to say – I’ve lost all the extra weight and am at my healthiest ever.

Here’s to a year of movement!


Too Busy!

No time to write, I’m so swamped with all the bread-winning work, the school psychologist’s work, the studies, the kids, the garden (it’s apple picking time and making countless gallons of juice!) and everything else. I feel a bit exhausted and have a bad cold, but tomorrow I’m going to London! No running nose on a plane can kill my excitement! London has always been my dream city, and I’m going for four days with my Mum! No kids, no hubby, just the two of us and all that splendour and culture, and architecture, and everything else! Kew Botanical Gardens! Galleries! Buses! Subways! Hotels!


A Need for Change

I feel so worn-out and weak I feel I must change something – either the diet or the exercise regime, and I really don’t want to limit my exercise having just begun to enjoy it.

I’ve been on some modified Atkins, or rather NSNG (no sugar, no grains) since January 30, but the weight loss has almost ground to a halt – I’ve lost just five pounds since May, even though I’ve upped the exercise immensely. The reasons, surely, must be at least in part psychological. Perhaps I feel during the summer that life has become more boring, I meet fewer people, I do less of what I really like. I see I’ve also increased the fruit intake, and that’s what prevents the weight loss. I feel like I’m lethargic most of the time, I don’t have as much energy as I used to have in spring, I feel tired when I go to bed and tired when I get up.

I see a lot of space for improvement in my diet, and one thing I have decided to introduce back in to my diet (VERY tentatively and warily) is oatmeal. I’m mortified that I might just fall off the bandwagon altogether, since I’ve worked so hard to get over cravings and sugar highs and lows. But it seems that it might be the right choice – to reduce the fats and to add some starches (just the oats for a while). Let’s see how it goes.

I’ve felt like a bit of a failure for some time now (basically throughout the summer), since the weight loss has slowed down and the energy levels are so low, but in fact, just writing this post helps. I’m taking stock for the first time since June, and I see that I have still lost some weight, albeit 5 pounds seem so little. I have gained some muscle mass and I have definitely increased stamina. So it’s not all bad, I’m not a failure, and there’s no reason for me to panic just because I’m about to add some rolled oats to my diet. I won’t let it get out of control and I won’t be stuffing myself with doughnuts and chocolate cake. It’s just oats.  There’s nothing to be scared of. They won’t kill your efforts, and if they do, you can always go back, you poor control freak.

(picture credit: http://www.healthybalancefitness.com.au/2014/10/grains-are-not-the-enemy/)

I need to look at what I eat to find the real culprit for the slow weight loss. Or, better even, I need to journal the food for a week and see what’s what. I need to monitor the energy levels so that I can find just the right balance of exercise and healthy nutrition. Can I trust myself to do that? For that is really what it boils down to, my friends.

Background of rolled oats, a grain cereal in which the seeds have been milled and rolled for use as a cooking ingredient and breakfast cerealyou

A Hedonistic Feat

Oh yes, what a glorious day!

I overcame my apathy and procrastination and went to the local gym. I loved it so much I wish I could go every day! Sadly, I’ve sprained or hurt my ankle, so I’ll have to do some upper body workout for a couple of days at home.

But what an adventure!

I couldn’t make myself enter the gym for several minutes, but I’m so glad I did! There was a young, athletic guy behind the counter who asked very politely – with a smile (a smirk?) – if he could possibly help me with anything.

“Could I come here? To this gym?” I asked. A stupid question if there ever was one, but I managed to find words in my blurry mind to pose another one that exceeded the dumbness of the first question. “Like – right now? At this moment?” Come on, woman, this is a gym! This is what it’s for. For people to come, pay some money and work out.

“Sure,” the guy wasn’t fazed. I looked around. There was just one man working out in the weights section. I felt relieved and confused at the same time. What was I doing there, all alone, with no one to tell me what to do? What if I didn’t know any of the machines? What would I do? But there was no way back. The guy took the money, gave me a key and showed me the way to the locker room.

The locker room was very neat and clean. It’s been less than a year since the gym is open, but still, I was impressed with the pretty showers and hair-blowers. I wondered if it was the same in the male locker room. I changed into my workout clothes and went out, with a bit of dread in my heart.

As soon as I saw the treadmills, the anxiety level subsided. I knew what to do for at least the first ten minutes. Surely I’d come up with a plan during that time. And I did. I tried out all the equipment that was in that part of the gym that could not be seen from the reception. All the equipment that had some sort of instructions on it, I mean. It took me almost an hour, and I felt I was nearly ready to stretch and to leave. I felt very invigorated and looked for some machine that would let me wind down and prepare the body for leaving. Something like an elliptical would do. I saw a black monster with an ominous title “StairMaster”. I approached it cautiously, but apparently not cautiously enough, since the guy at the counter saw me and came to me.

“I’ll show you,” he said, not listening to my meek explanations that my previous gym did not have any Masters of Stairs. “Let’s turn it on. You have to set the program. What’s your weight?”

And just like that I confessed to a complete stranger (a man, no less!) for the first time in my life, that I weighed 200 pounds. That didn’t faze him either, even though it seemed he realized it might be a sensitive subject and not an entirely safe question to ask a woman. He went on to show me the different modes (“here’s the fat-burning mode”), and left me to my vices.

I’m sure you know what followed. That StairMaster thingy was harder than anything else I had tried. In less than a minute I saw large drops on the display, arm rests and everything else around the mil_340x270.475398130_3ks7onster. God, that’s my sweat, I thought to myself with strange satisfaction. I also felt my ankle that had ached from yesterday’s run. But of course, I couldn’t give up. I spent my last ten minutes on the StairMaster before stretching and hitting the showers, and I felt such high as I had never felt during my runs (and I get the endorphin kick very easily!). Then – another first – I swiped the sweat off the machine.

So I showered, changed (the bra was soaking wet, and I hadn’t thought of taking another one with me, even the socks were wet!) and left, thanking the guy at the counter. I felt invincible, and I still do.

I’m in love. I’m in love with movement, I’m in love with gyms, I’m in love with that particular gym. I want to know it like the back of my hand. I want to know every machine, every weight, every locker, every employee, every client. I can’t wait to go back there.


When Do You Start Seeing Yourself As An Exerciser?

I have a dear friend who struggles with her weight. Exercise is hard for her, but she doesn’t quit. She rides her bike longer and up steeper hills than I find comfortable. She swims a whole lot. She walks the extra mile. Still, she never really considers herself a cyclist, a swimmer, an exerciser. “That doesn’t count,” she says. “I’m way too slow and clumsy. If anything, I hide the fact I try to exercise at all. I dabble, at best.”

But, you see, I don’t think that’s true. Some weeks she puts a whole lot more effort in her exercise regime than I do. Some weeks I’m just lazy or too busy (or lazy) to move my behind. But I still consider myself a runner, even if I haven’t run for a month.

I think a book I read some ten or so years ago made my mind up for good. It was “The Complete Book of Running for Women” by Claire Kowalchik. There was an essay by Dawson Winch. She told how she struggled with calling herself a runner and decided once and for all that she would consider herself that. Even though others look more like runners. Even though others run faster. You run, so you’re a runner. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best or the slowest. You run, so you’re a runner.

This phrasing is more important than we might think. A study by  Alia Crum and Ellen Langer suggests that healthy life-style and exercise is as much about self-awareness and self-evaluation as about calories in/calories out.

84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.

So there you have it. Next time someone asks if you exercise at all (a doctor or perhaps a gym instructor), don’t confuse modesty with self-depreciation, and say it like it is.


Momentum, Lost

I’ve lost the momentum. In every part of my life.

I’m still staying away from sugar and starches, but the weight I’ve lost (25 pounds since January 30) has not changed for months, even though I still have at least 60 pounds to lose.

I couldn’t run for over three weeks in July due to the heat wave in Europe, and now that it’s over I should have gone back to running weeks ago.  But I haven’t.

I did not start going to the “local” gym because I figured I should start on August 1, to pay for a complete month. But August 1 came and went, and now it’s August 19, and I’m kind of low on money.

I should be preparing for the coming school year (school starts on September 1 here), and there’s quite a lot to do, but I just can’t get myself to do it. I do miss the students, though. I’m really looking forward to my first September as a school counselor.

I should be working (translating) so much more. I’ll be overwhelmed with studies, work at school and the changes that come for every mother whose kids have to go back to school. And there will be dental bills for my husband. So I should devote all my energy to earning money.

But for some reason I can’t.

It’s not being stuck in a rut. I long for a rut. For a routine. For a plan.

What to do? Oh, what can I do?

Heck, there’s just one thing to do. Take out the planner, revise the goals list, divide all the tasks in chunks, stop wasting time and get down to it. Right now. Without delving into the murky waters of procrastination advice that is so abundant in the world wide web. Without looking for just the right picture for this post – witty and not too trite.

Just. Get. Back. On. Track. Now.


If You Don’t Move, You’re Dead. But You’ll Die Either Way.

At times it’s easier. You get so inspired and ride the wave so high you can’t wait till the next run or workout. At times it’s OK, you just go and do it. And then there are times – especially if you’ve skipped a couple of times – when it’s just agony. You just don’t want to do it. “Make me!” you say to your body, but it’s a funny thing – if you don’t make your body move, it most probably won’t. See, it’s the mind that tells the body to get out of your bed or (in my case – more often) to get away from the computer.

This morning it was very hard. I had conscientiously run on Thursday after a grueling weight training on Tuesday, and then we went to the seaside on Friday and spent some three full ours in the waves. We were exhausted, so that counted as a workout. Saturday seemed too hot to run, and I was allowed to slack off – after such a great workout at the seaside! Sunday came and went. I did nothing. I played that old “Morrowind” all day till I got really, physically sick from the constant onscreen motion.

And today I just had no choice. It was quite cool in the morning, so that excuse went down the drain. I hadn’t really moved for two whole days. And I had to get back in the habit of running at the very least three days a week. Just to keep my weight steady – just not to gain.

As I ran, I saw a tiny little grass-snake flattened against the gravel. I was on the first leg of my run and didn’t want to slow down, so I decided to take a picture on my way back, since I got obsessed with the idea that – had the snake moved faster, it would still be alive. I thought of different “demotivators” that I could make with such a picture and had a good time, forgetting about the tiresome toil of running.

But on my way back I couldn’t take that picture. There was an old man, a hard-working country man walking towards me. I supposed he thought to himself “What a waste of energy – just to run with no real purpose and no real work being done.” I couldn’t make myself to stop and take pictures of dead snakes. Moreover, I’m the local school psychologist, and in my neck of the woods to a great number of people, especially the older generation that sounds just like “psycho”.

And so I ran home. No records were made, not even tiny personal bests that would earn me a virtual cup at Endomondo. But I decided to take the very fact that I had gone for a run a small personal victory, and one that would also make me change the way I present myself to others. It’s not always about being victorious and better than everyone else. Sometimes it’s good to know others are struggling, too.

So I made a little paper snake and took that photo on the driveway. Just to say:


What’s So Scary about Going to a (New) Gym?

A very dear friend of mine who has dreaded exercise and diets for all the 37 years of her life for some reason suddenly found it in her to go to a gym. She said she couldn’t do it alone and asked me to come along. I, on the other hand, have not been to a weight-training gym for some 15 years or so. It turns out, the things that we dreaded were quite different, so we divided the responsibilities nicely. The hard thing for me was to find a gym in a city I do not live in, make an appointment and work out the specifics on who and when to pay, what to take with me and where everything is – like the showers etc., as well as the “unwritten laws” or practices that may differ – like – where you take your shoes off and where you put your bottle of water. You get the idea. It turns out, these things did not seem daunting at all to my friend. Being a perfectionist and quite unfamiliar with most kinds of exercise she was worried about what would happen if the instructor told her to do things she would be simply unable to do. What if people laughed? What if everyone stared? We both knew there were bound to be fit people in a gym, and we don’t look like them.

So she called and made an appointment, and I did my best to encourage her not to run away.

We met up before the work-out and decided to walk to the club. It was some 20-30 minute walk, and we talked along the way. About anything BUT the workout. At one point K. asked: “Why are fat people so afraid that someone might see them as they are and call them fat?” When I asked her what she meant she said: “I know I’m fat. I know people see it. So why am I so very afraid that people in the gym will see it and say something to me about my weight or looks? Why do I shy away from jogging in the city lest someone might comment? Why do I feel quite comfortable entering a room full of executives and board members but dread going to a gym?”

I think it’s not about being overweight in a gym, and I told her that. For some reason I did not fear gym at all. What I feared was the other part where she felt quite comfortable – all the entering and paying and finding my way in the gym stuff. It’s about what we feel we know.

I’ve been running for many years now. At times I’m more in shape, at times – less so. But people have seen me running thousands of times, and not one, not ONE has ever said anything unpleasant to me. There have been some occasions when people have smiled at me from their car windows – a genuine, very friendly smile that made me sure they appreciated, they congratulated me. And if I think about it – whenever I see anyone run, I feel some sort of kinship and also pride, and a sort of “you go, girl/man!” that makes me feel like a friend to them. Never ever have I thought to myself: “Wow, you’re so out of shape, you should be lying on the couch.” So I don’t fear what people will say when they see me exercise. I know I’m very low on the scale of their priorities so most probably they won’t even notice me. Because, let’s face it, no one really cares.

So, back to the work-out. It turned out great, and at the same time it turned out quite different from what we expected.

The gym was absolutely tiny. I was quite shocked. As I haven’t been in a gym for years and also haven’t lived in the city for almost as many years, I had no idea space was so scarce and so expensive. Every nook and cranny was filled with heavy work-out machinery, treadmills and mats. If I had to change stations I would literally climb over people on the floor. The whole room was smaller than my bedroom (which makes me appreciate how much I could do in my bedroom if I set my mind on it!).

After the first 30 minutes my water bottle was dry. I wasn’t prepared for that. The instructor – a very matter-of-fact woman – seemed determined to squeeze everything out of us, to give us all our money’s worth. I was glad because I knew I would never return to that particular gym – it’s very far from where I live and not really my type – but I wanted to KNOW what to do in a gym once I would go to one nearer to my home. Because I fully intend to go to gym now.

My friend seemed spent. For some reason we both had nurtured an illusion that a workout would last some 45-50 minutes after which we would hit the showers and leave. It turns out, it was twice as long – an hour and a half. I did enjoy it very much and felt so invigorated afterwards that I wanted to run around, but my body was exhausted and moved weirdly and painfully. The strange alertness and heat did not subside, I felt like I was burning all through the night and did not get to sleep at all. The next day was hard from lack of sleep, and the body still seemed to be burning up even though the temperature was fine. I wrote to K., and she reported the very same symptoms. Of course, I googled and found countless sources on post-workout insomnia. It turns out, there’s a name for a condition I’ve experienced many times when I’ve gone for a run too late in the evening. So now I know!

I’m meeting K. tomorrow. I hope we will get to talk about this very intimate and bonding experience of going to a gym together. I hope she won’t say she’ll never set her foot in a gym again. For I certainly am. For all intents and purposes, I indent to try my local gym on August 1. And I’m going for a run as soon as I finish this post. I don’t think I’ve been so excited about anything as I am about moving my body over the course of this last year.

So why fear gym? Because, who knows – the gym might really make you want to  change. You might enjoy it that much. You might even see that the people going to gyms, running marathons and lifting weights are in fact very nice people, and that might make you reconsider your views or admit to being mistaken. And that, as we know, is always hard.


What’s Your Worth?

This simple question is the answer to countless weight loss issues. What’s YOUR value? How highly do you value yourself? How much do you appreciate your body? Is it worth taking care of? Are you worth taking care of?

I have a long history with extra weight – and it happens to be exactly as long as my history with the question about self-worth.

There’s a reason why all these words – self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, self-assurance etc. – begin with “self”. To get to the place of self-love you have to peel off the words and thoughts of other people. You have to go deeper than your mom’s concern: “Should you really eat that?” or your dad’s “When I was in the army, we used to make fun of fat people, so don’t you ever get fat”, or your ex’s comments on other women which – you know – are really aimed at you.

But what do YOU think about yourself? How much to you like this person whose skin you’re in? How much do you commiserate? How much is she worth?

I know all those excuses all too well, I’ve been overweight for almost all of my adult life, and it got much worse after the birth of my sons. When the kids are very little and your family is young, it tends to get rocky, and the only thing you can really give up is the time and money you might have otherwise spent on yourself. It’s not like that for everybody, but I do know a lot of women who just don’t feel like they deserve healthy nutrition and time for exercise, and pretty underwear, and clothes that flatter. They are there for their families, and they cook and eat what their families eat – since cooking just for themselves would take up more of that precious commodity that you have so little of – time. Besides, who cares about how you look? You have to be a good mother and a good wife, and oftentimes a good mother/wife constitutes a frumpy, overweight, exhausted woman that sacrifices everything and wants to pull all the weight alone so that her own self-worth would get just a liiitle bit higher. Some of us like the role of a martyr so much that we turn down any help. I know I have done that way too many times in the past.

The book “Knowing Your Value” by Mika Brzezinski is not a weight-loss book. It’s subtitle “Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth” describes the topic better. But it contains a lot of examples on how women undermine themselves and sacrifice their interests just to be on the good side of other people or just because they feel “lucky” (i.e. undeserving) to be where they are and to do what they do. One might speculate that women, being more accommodating and empathetic, build their idea of self-worth on what other people say, so it’s not really their own evaluation. This might be to some extent the reason why there are more overweight women than men. We devalue ourselves, we put others first. And there may come a moment when we enter a supermarket, the kids are at a camp or somewhere else, and the partner is on a business trip, and we have to pick some food just for ourselves.

This was an exercise I was not ready for. Last November I came home from a group therapy session where I had been called “the good wife” – and before that I had never known that you could say these two words with such slight and contempt. I did a lot of soul-searching that day and on my way home I stopped at a supermarket to buy some food for dinner. I spent almost an hour looking at every food item and asking myself “Do you really want this? Or is it just something you usually buy just because the kids or the hubby eats it?” So after walking along all the isles I bought just peeled baby carrots. Normally I don’t buy those, since it’s so much cheaper to just buy carrots and peel them yourself. But something clicked in my mind, and I thought, what the heck, surely I’m worth buying carrots for myself! They cost less than a cake or a slice of pizza! Who am I saving for? When will I deserve to buy what I want? What has to happen?

And it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of changes and soul searching to see I’m worth taking care of. I’m worth spending an hour a day exercising and not just obsessing over money and my family’s well-being.

It all takes time. But it’s worth just asking yourself: “What’s my worth? Why am I not deserving? How come all the others come first?”

And it might not be your particular issue, but it’s a good question. A valid question. So – are you good enough for yourself?

So – when presented with a choice, you might want to say to yourself:


Slowest of the Slow

I met this guy this morning during my five-mile run. It was so nice to see him – out for a run in his own world, and for a moment our lives crossed, I paused, took a picture and ran along. I suppose so did he, even though it was hard to tell, but he sure looked busy.

I’m a slow runner at this point and weight, but I know there are people who have an even harder time moving, but when they do, they are on their way to get more active, strong and healthy. There’s a different starting level for everyone. There is no need for everyone to be on the same page, as long as we’re willing to read the book of life at all!

I don’t think I’ve ever devoted that much thought to a snail, which is usually more of a garden pest than a source of inspiration for me, but this counts as a running adventure in my book.

snail marathon