Pick your battles

I’ve tried a lot of fitness-y things over the past 3-4 years. One of my personal philosophies in life is that I’ll try anything twice, because one time is just not enough to conclusively decide that you hate something. It’s that second, third, and fourth attempt that pushes you further outside of your comfort zone, past the initial gut reaction to a place where you can actually assess if this is something you might grow to love. (For the record, I feel this way about pretty much everything in life – food, books, travel destinations. That first-time reaction only tells a very small part of the story, and you need to give everything at least a second shot before making a final decision.)

Sometimes this philosophy helps me out. For one example, consider my GHD panic, documented in my last post. I went from actual tears-in-my-eyes panic over the machine, to grudging respect, to now actually loving the equipment. I had a similar moment with handstands last night at Crossfit.

The Crossfit box I go to (Crossfit Iron Spider in Salem, MA – not remotely convenient to where I live or work, but I absolutely adore the coaches and the members, so I’m hooked and I tolerate the traffic. Seriously, it’s that good.) posts the WODs on their website the night before, and on Monday night, I saw that handstands were on the menu for Tuesday’s workout. Bear in mind this was my first day back at the gym after eight days off, so I was already a little skeptical about how the workout would go. Throw in handstands, and I started talking myself out of the workout before it had even started.

Turns out handstands aren’t terrible. Now, I didn’t actually manage a real handstand. I did the modified wall walk-up, which isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds, aside from the fact that I was walking up a whiteboard wall which doesn’t exactly have traction or grip. The problem, though, is that my upper body is my weakest area, and I’m not exactly a petite individual. Supporting my weight on my arms? It’s a tricky situation. I really struggled with getting my body up to near-vertical against the wall, because while I could walk my legs up without any trouble, when the time came to move my hands in closer, I just couldn’t do it. It’s partially a strength issue and partially a mental block – I’m convinced that the second I try to move one hand closer, thereby shifting all my weight to the other hand, I’m going to come crashing down face-first onto the floor. It needs work – a LOT of work. But I’m excited to keep working on it. I expected to hate everything about the handstands, but instead it has become another item to conquer as I keep working out at the box.

Every coin has a flip side, though, and that brings me to the item that I think I need to break up with once and for all: running.

Here’s the thing – when I say I hate running, it’s not because I’m slow, or because I’m not good at it. I genuinely hate everything about it. Nothing causes more knee pain than running. Last night’s WOD incorporated 100ft jogs in between activities, so I probably ran just around a quarter of a mile total over the course of the workout – and today I brought an ice pack to work to keep on my knees because they’re so angry with me. I also just can’t find the mental peace, the “runner’s high,” that so many people claim exists. Most of the time I find workouts almost therapeutic. I zone out, I find peace, I finally shut up all the voices in my head. Yoga class, spin class, alone at the squat rack – you name it, I will find it calming. Except for running. The entire time I’m running, the voices in my head scream at me. “We HATE this. This is TERRIBLE. This HURTS. WHY are you doing this?”

There’s this sense that everyone who wants to be fit should also be a runner. I caved to the pressure, too – witness the great half marathon debacle of 2015. I felt like distance running was something I HAD to do if I was going to legitimately call myself someone who’s interested in fitness.

Guess what? That’s just not true. I could put my running sneakers away and never touch them again and still be fit. I actually GAINED weight while I was training for my half marathon, because running left my body so sore and beat-up that I didn’t have the stamina to cross-train or do any of the things I really loved to do. Give me a Soul Cycle class where I’m actually enjoying pushing myself to improve. Throw me on an erg and let me row a 5K. I’ll happily do incline intervals on the treadmill as long as I don’t have to go over 3mph, and I’ll hike in the great outdoors all day long, as long as you give me a map and some bug spray. But running? Nah. I’m good.

So sorry, running, I’m just not that into you. I’ll have to check in with you from time to time when you end up in a WOD, but I’m not going to seek you out anytime soon. Life’s too short to waste time on something I hate, and there are too many other opportunities that I haven’t tried yet.

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Conquering my GHD panic

One of the tools I’ve been using to stay positive over the past few weeks has been celebrating every improvement I can mark in my workouts. Whenever I feel like quitting or giving up during an especially intense session, I force those weaker voices to shut up, and instead I repeat to myself, “You couldn’t do this a year ago. You are getting stronger every day. You are improving and changing and that is awesome. Keep moving forward.”

It’s working. I haven’t quit on a workout. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve tried things. It’s pretty awesome. And in light of that, I’m going to try to be better about documenting these successes in blog format.

That brings me to today’s post. Meet the GHD:

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This piece of equipment, the Glute & Ham Developer (hence, GHD) was my nemesis. We use it for two things at Crossfit: sit ups and back extensions. The GHD sit up is pretty straightforward. You face the ceiling, with your feet in the foot rests, and your hips on the larger pads, and you extend as far back as you can. People with better core strength and back flexibility than I possess are able to extend all the way back and touch the floor before hinging up into a sit up. Right now, I’m just past parallel, but hoping to get better. The sit ups aren’t bad – they’re actually kind of fun once you get used to them! – and they really do get at your abs. We did 5 sets of 15 in Thursday’s WOD, and between that and Friday morning’s Soul Cycle class, it still hurts to laugh today.

Back extensions, however, are a WHOLE other story.

To do a back extension, you flip over. Feet are still in the grips, hips are still on the pads, but you’re facing the floor. You actually want your hip joins to be just past the pads, so that you can freely hinge down until your body is perpendicular to the GHD, and then you use your back muscles to pull yourself back up to parallel.

It. Is. Terrifying.

The first time we had GHD back extensions in a WOD, about 2 months ago, I had a full blown panic attack. I got onto the equipment, I looked down at the floor, and I literally felt all of the air leave my chest. I refused to let go of the handles and got off the machine as quickly as I could, while trying to hold back the tears that were threatening. I didn’t trust the equipment to hold me; over and over in my head I saw a loop of my face hitting the floor in some spectacular collapse. Logically I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I couldn’t get past that irrational fear. I begged the coach for a modification and I avoided looking directly at the equipment for weeks afterwards.

Saturday, after practicing snatches for the majority of the beginners’ olympic lifting course – a mandatory element to the beginners’ Crossfit program at my box, and one that I really appreciate, as it teaches form and ensures we don’t hurt ourselves in the WODs – there was one line of instructions on the board:

“Back extension, 3×10”

“Maybe there’s some other way of doing back extensions,” I thought. “It doesn’t say GHD… it must mean something else.” I ignored it as long as possible, but come the last 10 minutes of class, I had to face my fears. It was time. I needed to get on that equipment and force myself through those sets.

Turns out it’s not all that bad – it’s actually kind of fun once you get going. I’m not going to lie, it’s still a little freaky when I first get on the stupid thing, but I’ve gotten better at telling the voices in my head to STFU while I get through my workout. I was so stinking proud of myself after banging out those three sets, with nary a tear or a panic attack in sight.

Progress takes a lot of forms. This week, my progress came in the form of conquering that stupid equipment torture device.

Now, if only I could make the jump rope my bitch…

August Goals

Happy Monday! I have to be honest… I really can’t believe it’s already August. This summer is flying by and I feel like I haven’t really taken advantage of all of my favorite parts of this season just yet! The good news is, I have some great vacations coming up this month.

Excited for excellent music jams with bae

Excited for excellent music jams with bae

On Thursday, I fly out to San Francisco for a few days. I’m going to Outside Lands and I’m super pumped to see some of the musicians appearing at the festival. I’ve seen a couple of the acts before, but for the most part I’ll be seeing these acts live for the first time, and I’m really excited about it. The other perk to this trip? The friend I’m visiting is totally supportive of my efforts to live a more balanced lifestyle, so we’re scheduling workouts throughout the vacation. This includes a Madonna-themed SoulCycle ride the night I arrive, complete with neon accessories. I’ve never met a theme I didn’t like, so I’m pumped for this!

I embrace any opportunity to wear fabulous hats.

I embrace any opportunity to wear fabulous hats.

Later in August, I’m heading to upstate New York with my parents to spend a long weekend at Saratoga Racetrack. This is one of the oldest race tracks in America and it’s one of my favorite vacation destinations! Saratoga Springs during racing season is a ton of fun. I grew up watching horse racing with my dad and I’ve only grown to appreciate it more as I got older. There’s so much history around the sport and I love getting caught up in the spectacle of it all – there’s really nothing like the energy of a live horse race. Best of all, it’s easy to keep gambling expenses low – I usually only bet a few dollars per race, but it’s enough to make me feel invested in the outcome. In addition to spending the days at the track, we have reservations at some amazing restaurants, so this will definitely be a vacation with lots of splurges. The good news: Saratoga is a very walkable city! We can walk from our hotel to most of our dinner destinations, and also from the hotel to the track. Additionally, the downtown area also has some lovely parks for running, so I should be able to fit in race training while I’m away.

Finally, I’m working on nailing down some plans for Labor Day weekend, hopefully involving a lake and a boat and some awesome friends. It’s nice to have something fun to cap off the summer, so I’m hoping things work out.

Given all of these plans, it’s important to set out my August goals in writing – so here we go!

august goals

  • Build my mileage back up. I definitely had a setback in my running due to my injury, so this month is all about getting those miles back under my belt!
  • Stick to a cross- and strength-training regimen. Regular pilates, yoga, and Studio Poise classes will help to keep me healthy and will make my running training go better, so I’m refocusing on this. Additionally, I need to get back into the habit of lunchtime gym visits at work to do some strength training to help prevent further injuries.
  • Eat clean as much as possible. I’m a realist and I know that I will want to splurge when I’m on vacation, so this month I need to focus on saving my “cheat days” for my trips. That means being smart about grocery shopping and meal planning. If I’m focused and disciplined throughout the month, I won’t have to worry as much when I’m on vacation – it’s all about balance.

What are your goals for August? Any fun plans to maximize the last few weeks of summer?

 

I’m baaaaack!

Didja miss me?

I don’t have any good excuse for the lack of posting over the past month. Family issues, holiday stress, and a much-needed vacation all kept me away from this blog, and I’d apologize, but the truth is, I needed some time away from everything. I drafted and discarded multiple attempts at a 2015 resolutions post to kick off the year, but it felt disingenuous to share a resolutions post when I truthfully hadn’t yet gotten myself into the right mindset.

The good news? I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the things that I’m doing right, and the things that I need to do better, to continue improving my overall health and wellness in the new year. I finally feel like I’m at a place where I can fully redevote myself to the mission of this blog and, by extension, get back into the flow of blogging.

So what do my 2015 resolutions look like? I only have one: Don’t make any resolutions! 

I’m 29 years old, turning 30 in a few months, and I have a life that is super jam packed and constantly evolving. What seems like it’s a good fit right now may not still work for me in a few months, so a year-long resolution feels like I’m setting myself up to fail. I have the best successes when I’ve got a regular forum to check in with someone else – whether that’s a nutritional counselor, a fitness group during a challenge, or just a friend who agrees to be my accountability partner. Those external check ins really help me to refocus on what I’m trying to achieve, so I’m going to approach 2015 similarly.

On a regular basis – at least monthly – I’ll sit down and reflect on how things feel. What’s been going really well? Where have I been slipping up? Am I bored with any aspects of my fitness routine? What can I do to freshen up my day to day activities to keep myself invested in my own journey? I’m also looking into a therapist who specializes in disordered eating and body image issues. The stress of the past few months made me realize that I’m still very much at war with my impulses toward emotional eating, and this isn’t something I can fix on my own. I’m looking forward to the coming months, and to inviting you all along with me as I continue to figure it all out.

What are some goals you’re currently working toward? Do you make resolutions?

Emotional Eating: Why Can’t I Quit You?

Emotional eating has always been my biggest nemesis in the battle to improve my diet. Food has seemingly always been tied to how I’m feeling. Birthday celebrations centered around decadent cakes covered in sugary icing from the local Italian bakery. Stressful periods meant that stopping for fast food could be excused away by my busy schedule. When someone in my family was sick, or after a death, friends and neighbors would come bearing gifts of food – bags of bagels and cream cheese, trays of lasagna, deli platters to feed an army.

Weight Watchers is capitalizing on this right now with their current ad campaign. I have tried their programs in the past and it didn’t work for me, but I know there are a lot of people who swear by the company. Sharing this video is in no way an endorsement of their methods; it is, however, a great piece of advertising and one that hits home with today’s topic.

I’ve mentioned this a few times recently, but my family’s been going through a rough patch lately. My father had surgery last week, and it’s been difficult to keep up with a sense of normalcy with everything that’s been going on. I tend to internalize things like this, which is not to say that there haven’t been incredible displays of support and friendship from the people I care about; I just tend not to talk much about things like this when they’re going on. So, instead, I go to war with the grocery store. Ice cream? Chips? Homemade chocolate chip cookies? All things that were on the patient’s wish list for recovery snacks, and I had zero mental energy to find the willpower to resist adding my own treats to the cart when shopping last week.

So here we are. It’s been a week since the surgery, and I feel gross. I haven’t been eating well, I’ve been drinking way too much wine, and my body is letting me know that it is displeased. My pants are feeling tight, I have no energy, and I can’t find the willpower to get back to my normal healthy eating and exercising routine.

This latest incidence of emotional eating has helped me to see that I need to focus more on the mental side of all of this. I know what I need to do to lose weight and get in better physical shape, and I am totally capable of doing all of those things. What I need to figure out know is how to maintain those habits and not let outside forces shake me to the core. Life happens and I need to learn that turning to comfort foods not only won’t comfort me, but it will make me feel worse in the long run.

I’m making this one of my priorities for the coming year and I’d love suggestions from others who have dealt with this in the past. Any books that particularly worked for you? Techniques to try? Should I just suck it up and try therapy? Advice is welcome, and much appreciated!

Fitnasty for Life
I’m teaming up with Carolyn over at Fitnasty for Life to get #Fit4Fifteen – check out the linkup!

Do you battle with emotional eating? What has worked for you?

Thanksgiving Strategy

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love Thanksgiving. I didn’t get to this place by skipping the stuffing and mashed potatoes, folks. I love food, and Thanksgiving is filled with some of my favorite things to eat. I want to make sure I enjoy the holiday, but I also don’t want to overdo it. I have my #6W2C midway check in on Saturday and I would hate for lingering turkey belly to show up for measurements! I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I wanted to share some of my ideas for staying on track this week.

surviving thanksgiving

 

Make smart swaps. Wherever possible, I’m looking at our planned menu and identifying ways that I can save calories without sacrificing flavor. Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing on Thursday:

  • We always make spinach dip to eat during the early football game. The traditional dip is loaded with calories – mayo AND sour cream! served in a bread bowl with more bread on the side! – but there are ways to lighten it up. I’ll double the amount of spinach so that more of the bulk comes from veggies than from dip, and I’ll be using greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. I’m also providing cut up veggies alongside the bread for a healthier option to dip.
  • My family’s stuffing recipe is built around Jimmy Dean sausage, because there’s no better way to stuff a turkey than with some dead pig (delicious, delicious dead pig). My father would disown me if I tried to mess with this recipe, so I had to look for other ways to lighten up our family gathering. I decided that rather than pan searing the brussel sprouts in bacon drippings, I would roast them with butternut squash and olive oil. No need to incorporate more unnecessary pork products (though delicious. so, so delicious) into an already caloric meal!
  • I’ll be cutting way back on drinking during the day. I love beer during football as much as any girl, and who doesn’t love a bloody mary when prepping the turkey to go in the oven? But at the end of the day, I don’t want to waste calories on alcohol. I picked out a delicious wine to savor with the meal, but otherwise I’ll be sipping soda water throughout the day.

Get out of the kitchen. It’s really tempting to spend the whole day hanging out in the kitchen. We have an open concept kitchen/family room, so it would be really easy to spend all day either sneaking bites of stuffing from the bird (salmonella? what’s that?) or hanging out on the couch watching football. Instead of giving in to this, I like to plan activities into the day. I will be meeting my cousins for coffee in Boston in the morning before we all head off for our holiday plans, and I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to park away from the coffee shop so I can enjoy a nice walk. I’ll also take the dog out for an extra-long walk midday. This will help both of us – he’ll need to let off his pent up energy, and I’ll walk off some of my football snacks before the big meal. (Let’s just hope Boston weather cooperates and doesn’t rain out these plans!)

Choose a smaller plate. This is my favorite trick, even though it drives my mom absolutely up a wall. Plates have gotten steadily larger over the years, and the average dinner plate is so big that it’s easy to overeat. I really do like to have a little bit of everything from the Thanksgiving table, so if I start with a smaller plate, I can fill it with my favorite foods while forcing myself to use smaller portions. It makes my mom crazy that my plate doesn’t match the rest of her table setting, but it’s a strategy that I use all the time in my regular life. Smaller plates = smaller portions!

Take time to enjoy the day. Yes, the meal is a highlight of the day – but it’s not the only thing to enjoy. Make sure you’re taking time to appreciate the people that you’re spending the day with. Share what you’re grateful for over dinner. Catch up with the family members you haven’t seen in a while, and reflect on the previous year. The more the conversation flows over dinner, the more time you’ll take to eat your meal. You spent all day cooking, so dinner shouldn’t be over in twenty minutes! By taking time to enjoy the company and the experience of the meal, you’ll naturally slow down the pace at which you’re eating, and that will give your body time to realize that you’re full. Wait to take seconds – chances are you don’t actually want the extra portions!

Stay active this week – No excuses!  I planned out my workouts for the week, and I will follow through on every commitment, no matter what. I’ve been battling a sinus infection and it’s really tempting to just drown myself in Sudafed and hide from the world, but this week it is especially important to follow through on my workout plans. I’ve got a good mix of cardio and strength training Monday through Wednesday. I’m kicking Thanksgiving day off with an early spin class, and I’m signed up for Turkey Bootcamp with a group of girlfriends for Friday morning. Staying active this week will help me to think about my long term goals and make the right choices elsewhere in life.

Most importantly, remember that this is only one day out of the year. Practice moderation and make good choices, and remember that this day should be about enjoying the time you get to spend with the people you love. Plan for success, but don’t get so caught up in making healthy choices that you forget to savor the day – and the meal.

How are you setting yourself up for success this holiday season?

Tackling tempation

I don’t know about the rest of you, but willpower and I don’t really get along all that well. More than anything, I really struggle with temptation. If there’s candy in my desk drawer, I’m going to eat it. If I open a bag of snacks, I’m not going to stop after the recommended serving size. At parties, I can’t just try a sampling of the appetizers; I park myself next to whatever is most delicious and munch away. With the holidays coming up, I know that temptation is going to be confronting me at every turn. I’ve committed to both #6W2C and #Fit4Fifteen to help myself stay on track through the end of the holiday season, but those challenges aren’t going to take me all the way on their own. I also need to employ some handy tricks to keep myself on track.

Tip #1: Pre-portion all snacks as soon as you get home from the grocery store. 

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I did my grocery shopping at the new Market Basket in my town last night, and I was super excited to find this Cedar’s Spinach Dip, made with Greek yogurt. Cedar’s is based in the Merrimack Valley, here in MA, and I’m a huge fan of their products. They’ve also been generous donors to the youth conference I volunteer with in the past, so I like to support them whenever I can. At only 50 calories per serving, this is a great thing to have on hand for an afternoon snack with pretzels or cut up vegetables. However, I know that if I were to just start dunking carrot sticks directly in that tub of dip, I’d exceed the recommended serving before I knew it. To ward off any temptation, I picked up small snack size dip containers and pre-portioned out the tub as soon as I got home. The tub contained twelve 50-calorie servings, so I portioned it into six small cups to have at work as an afternoon snack this week.

Tip #2: Stock your kitchen with healthy, nourishing snacks. 

You know the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do”? In my kitchen, it’s “Colleen see, Colleen eat.” If you keep your biggest temptations on hand, you’re more likely to eat them. Bypass those aisles at the grocery store and resist the urge to add tempting foods to your cart. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll only have those cookies once a week as a special treat, but we know that’s a lie. That ice cream will definitely not be for PMS emergencies only, and I don’t care how much you swear that you’re only buying those chocolate chips as an addition to protein pancakes, we both know those will end up getting eaten by the handful after a bad day at work. Try instead to make sure that you always have plenty of healthy foods on hand that still feel like you’re giving yourself a treat. Avocados are one of my favorite healthy treat foods – adding them to eggs or mashing them on toast feels so indulgent, but I’m getting the healthy fats that my body needs. I also always have apples, hard boiled eggs, and preportioned baggies of turkey or beef jerkey on hand. These are all snacks that are easy to grab and go if I’m in a rush, and they fill me up and satisfy me without destroying my healthy eating plan for the day.

Tip #3: The freezer is your friend. 

I could pretend that my kitchen is a place where you will find only healthy, nutritious food items. This would be a lie. Yes, I do try to avoid keeping tempting foods around, but I’m human, and sometimes a girl needs a Snickers. I keep a bag of fun sized Snickers bars in my freezer at all times. That way, if I decide I really do want a little chocolate treat, I can go for just one bar. The bar needs to thaw a bit before it’s edible (unless I want to break a tooth!) and that time helps me to limit myself to just the single serving, and to be mindful that I’m treating myself to this snack.

Tip #4: Don’t go to holiday parties on an empty stomach.

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I always have a snack before I go to a holiday party. It’s easier to resist all the tempting appetizers if you’ve already got something healthy in your stomach. I might make a half serving size of Shakeology, or I might grab a handful of almonds and an apple. It’s also a good idea to have a full glass of water before you leave for any holiday events, and to keep drinking water throughout the night. Hydrating will help you feel fuller, and it will also keep you from overindulging in the holiday punch! I know that my already weak willpower becomes completely nonexistent after a few glasses of festive sangria.

Tip #5: Plan ahead.

When I go out to eat, I like to read the menu online ahead of time and plan out what I’m going to eat. This gives me time to think about healthy substitutions so I won’t delay my dining companions when we’re all ready to order. It also lets me preview both appetizers and desserts so I can decide where I’d rather splurge. This type of planning can be harder if you’re attending a party hosted in someone’s home, but there are ways around this! Call the host and ask if there’s anything you can contribute to the event. Maybe you can bring a healthy appetizer option, or prepare a side dish that utilizes lots of delicious vegetables without drowning them in butter or cream.

Tip #6: Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! 

At the end of the day, the holidays should be about having a good time with the people you care most about. Don’t get so caught up in trying to make healthy decisions that you forget to have a good time. It’s okay if you slip up. No one is perfect! This is all about finding balance. Set yourself up to succeed by reducing temptation wherever possible, and you’ll find that your slip ups are few far between. And if you do overindulge on pumpkin pie come Thanksgiving, well, at least it’s only one day out of the year. Get up and go for a run the next day, and remember that every day is a new chance to start over and make healthier choices.

What are some of the ways you resist temptation?
Share your favorite tips in the comments!

Fitnasty for Life
This post is my contribution to this week’s #fit4fifteen link up, hosted by Carolyn over at Fitnasty for Life. Make sure to check out some of the other awesome bloggers in the link up – they’ve all got great stories to share!