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!



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.


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.