Healthy Really Is Good Enough

A friend (hey, Tara!) recently shared this post on facebook, and I was reminded once again of how much I love Donloree Hoffman’s blog.  I’ve read her blog intermittently for a few years now, and this particular post, “Healthy is Better than Hot,” is easily in my top 3 favorites.  In it, she details her journey through multiple health challenges and varying states of fitness and leanness, and the freedom she has found in making fitness less of a focus in her life.  This really resonated because I wasted years of my life letting my obsession with body image dominate as my number one priority.  While those years certainly are not beyond redemption, my life would be much different today if I had taken the focus, time, and effort that I directed towards my body and put it into meaningful work.  My education, career, relationships, and hobbies would all be different.  Saying that “fitness” was a “hobby” of mine made it seem socially acceptable, even positive, and most folks wouldn’t have batted an eye.  In reality, my “hobby” was managing a collection of disorders – body dysmorphia, exercise bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression, to name a few.

Normally I wouldn’t share that kind of thing publicly, but I’ve been approached by more than a few folks over the past few months, all of whom have asked the same question: How can I stop obsessing about food/exercise/my body? They’re questions I asked myself more times than I can count, and as Donloree put it, “I thought having a rocking body would make [those issues] go away; how misinformed I was!”  One of the only things that helped those issues was replacing them with other priorities.  When I stopped forcing myself to pursue a hot body above all else, I discovered a whole new world.  [Cue everyone's favorite Aladdin song...] I have time for real hobbies now that I’m not devoting the majority of my waking hours to researching and planning the perfect workouts and nutrition.  I can go out for drinks with friends and enjoy foods that are absolutely not considered healthy – pumpkin pie, French bread, burritos, anything from Starbucks – without being wracked with guilt or feeling compelled to atone for my dietary “transgressions” with hours of extra workouts.  I can make plans without worrying about when I’ll be able to fit in my workout, and I can miss a workout without batting an eye if something more important comes up.  I can truly focus on my other priorities without constantly being drawn back to obsess over why my body isn’t perfect and how I might be able to make it so.

Eyes half closed and looking pretty endorphin-drunk...sounds about right.

Eyes half closed and looking pretty endorphin-drunk…sounds about right.

What I loved most about what Donloree wrote was her focus on controlling our thoughts.  Before they are actions and habits and downward spirals, disorders (and disordered behaviors) first come to life as thoughts.  As much as our current society may like to deny it, the reality is that we absolutely have control over what we do with our thoughts.  We can direct them, or we can sit back and let them dominate us.  She likened it to having control over a jail for unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts – when one crops up, “Throw it in, lock it up, and keep going!”  I would add that when you stumble upon healthy and helpful thoughts, you should elect those suckers to congress and let them stick around and help you make decisions moving forward.

So what can you do differently, and how do we answer the question: How can I stop obsessing over food/exercise/my body?

The short answer is this: Make real priorities your priority.

I’m not saying you should not make an effort to be healthy and instill healthy habits, nor that doing so is easy and requires little effort.  Health is important and it requires effort…but it does not require all your effort. So give health the effort it requires, and then forget about it.  Give that top priority spot to something that matters more – your career, your education, your hobbies (real hobbies…”cardio” doesn’t count as a hobby).

The funny thing is that when you make something other than your body/body image a priority, you might be surprised at how much better you feel about yourself.  You know how a potential romantic interest is that much more attractive when they are pursuing their passions in life?  The same concept applies to you.  The more you have a sense of purpose and live with that purpose, the more attractive you become and the more confident you will feel.  These days, a perfect body is not my priority, and the body I’ve got is pretty average – 135 pounds, 5’3″, and I usually wear a size 6.  I’m strong but not the strongest, and I’m fit but not the fittest.  I’m happy with that.  Could I be leaner/stronger/fitter? Sure. Is it my top priority? No. I’m healthy, I’m happy with what I see in the mirror, and I’m so much happier with my life now that it doesn’t revolve around trying to get a perfect body. I distinctly remember wandering through the junior’s section of a department store when I was about 14 and thinking how horrible it would be if ever there came a day where I had an “average” body and fit into average clothing sizes.  I could not see how I would be able to live with myself if I was not skinny.

And here I am today – average-sized, healthy, and pretty damn happy about it.

TRX L-sit...October 2014

Of course, I still have my moments where I find myself a little neurotic over the shape of my ass or the size of my love handles.  That’s when I remind myself “more pleasin’ for the squeezin'” But I’ve got enough real priorities now that I don’t have the time or desire to worry too much about those details.  Healthy is good enough.

Discuss:

What did you think of Donloree’s post?

Do focus your efforts on “hotness” or health?  Do you think health is a worthy goal on its own?

How does your thought life affect your body image?

foot health

Fixing Your Feet – Why Foot Strength is Important, and How to Improve Yours

I was born with feet that are pretty great for swimming.  Wide, relatively flat, pretty much hobbit-feet, but without the hair.  Unfortunately, these flippers have never bestowed upon me Phelps-esque prowess in the water…all they do is make it really hard to find shoes that fit well.  I had always assumed that having pretty severe pronation and weak arches was hereditary, and I would get to enjoy those traits (and the injuries they to which they make me so inclined) for life.  That’s why I was surprised and delighted to find this article about “How & Why to Make Your Feet Stronger.”  This was a guest post by Kate Galliet on Robb Wolf’s site, which is one that I don’t normally visit unless Gandalf Google leads me there (probably because it’s a website about paleo, and mama don’t do paleo).  Let’s just say I’m glad I found this, because it’s been a game changer.  First of all, I had never thought that there was a possibility of fixing my arches – silly, because I know that the arch is a comprised of muscles, but I’d always viewed feet as things that were just kind of there – fancy little nubs on your legs that made standing and moving much easier, but not really anything to be trained specifically.  After all, where’s the aesthetic value or sex appeal in a strong, “toned” foot? (Assuming you’re not a foot fetishist, of course.  And if you are, well, ew.)

I digress.

The strength and stability of your feet and ankles is actually hugely important because your stance is the foundation of the rest of your posture.  If something in the foundation is off, everything else – knees, hips, spine, shoulders – is going to be affected, and has a heightened risk for imbalance and eventual injury.  Since I’ve got plenty of “quirks” (to put it kindly) involving my creaky knees, uneven hips, and bum shoulder, it stands to reason that my wonky hobbit feet may be partly to blame.  Check out “The 6 Pillars of the Unbreakable Body” (also from Kate, and also on Robb’s site…go figure) for a more thorough explanation of how the integrity of your feet and ankles affects the whole rest of your body.

In the first article I mentioned, Kate shares a couple drills  you can do to increase the strength of your feet/arches as well as improve your foot position and posture.  I gave them a shot and was surprised at how strange it felt to actually stand with my feet properly positioned.  There is a significant difference in the leg/hip/glute muscles that are activated when standing properly vs. standing as I normally would.  Clearly I’ve got work to do…but I’m excited to see the difference as time goes on and my feet/arches get stronger.  Kate seemed to be saying it was possible to correct arches that are too low/flat, and while I’m not holding my breath for beautiful ballet-dancer arches, I’m hoping my little hobbit hooves will become a bit less hobbit-y and a lot less injury prone over the next several months!

Check out the article and give those quick drills a try, then let me know what you think!

Discuss:

Have you ever had foot problems or suffered a foot injury?

Do you ever think of specifically training the muscles in your feet/ankles?

If you gave those foot strength drills a shot, how did it go??

 

Back to School: Stress Management

Hold on a moment while I brush the cobwebs out of here…

I’ve not been posting much the past week or so because I’ve been (ironically, as you’ll see) taking my own advice.  Life is busier and more stressful than usual, and some things had to go on the back burner.  And now that most folks are back into the thick of it with school/work and preparing for the holidays, it’s easier than ever to get stressed out, frazzled, and drained.  Trust me, I’ve been around that block a few times.  (My wolfpack will tell you that I am nothing if not tightly-wound, high-strung, and neurotic.)  And I know, as I’m sure you do, that it’s not a good place to be.  So today, I’ll wrap up the Back to School series with some suggestions for better stress management during the chaos of school, work, the holidays, and life in general.  If you want to catch up on what we’ve covered so far, check out Back to School: Fitness and Back to School: Nutrition.

Don’t screw around with your sleep.

When life is stressful, it’s more imperative than ever to have your sleep habits up to par.  Read this post for more about how (and why) to get better sleep.  In short, inadequate sleep – in either quantity or quality – will negatively impact your ability to handle stress, along with every other facet of health.  When you’re exhausted, it’s so much harder to CTFD when things get crazy.  So be consistent, create good sleep habits, and remember that all-nighters are rarely ever necessary.  That’s a fact.  (Or at least it’s my professional opinion, as someone who made it through college without ever working on school work past 2300.)

Honor your priorities.

Not everything can be a priority all the time.  Not everything that is urgent is a priority.  Not everything that can be done is something that should be done.  Know your top priorities and honor them.  You’ll find it becomes easier to say “no” to the things that detract from those when you are focused on saying “yes” to your greatest priorities.   One of the greatest tools I’ve found for prioritization is Covey’s time management matrix.  The two-axis matrix provides a way to priorities tasks/activities by the measure of their importance and urgency.

covey's time management matrix

Out of all the things I learned in college, this is one of the few that I still consistently use.

Incorporate restorative fitness practices.

Psychological stress can manifest itself physically.  You know how some folks say they “carry their stress in their shoulders?”  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  When we are stressed, it can also be much more tempting to become lax about keeping proper form in training and keeping up on stretching, foam rolling, and other rehab/”prehab” exercises.  All of a sudden, knotted muscles and tight tendons seem to have cropped up overnight.  This is why it’s all the more important to incorporate restorative fitness practices into your routine during the more stressful seasons of life.  Days when you’re rushed and have to choose between your usual training or a more restorative workout, you’ll do better to choose the latter, at least some of the time.  In general, make a point of paying attention to your body and taking care of tight muscles/tendons as soon as they begin to show up.  The nice thing is that stretching, yoga, and self myofascial release (whether with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, jack knobber, or other tool) can all be fairly relaxing, so you can get a little extra bang for your buck by making this habit part of your pre-bed routine.

Schedule fun.

It’s easy to become completely immersed in deadlines, projects, and to-do lists.  Those are all important, but so is creating space for fun and keeping up on your relationships…and it’s taken me only about 24 years to learn that. Treat “fun” like any other item on your task list and block off a specific time for it. Invite friends along, or make it a solo adventure.

60 minute reset at coffee repulic

Whether it is getting a cup of coffee and enjoying a change of scenery, or a night out dancing, or a weekend spent hiking, if it’s something that fits your definition of “fun,” you’ll come back refreshed and more ready than ever to tackle your projects and deadlines and to-do lists.   Just get out there at least once a week and do something purely for the sake of having fun.

 Here’s to a season filled with less stress and more productivity, adventure, and joy!

Discuss:

What are your favorite ways to de-stress?

Do you have to schedule fun for yourself?

 

Minimalist-ish Circuit Workout

Some days you wake up ready to just crush your workout…And then other days you get in the squat rack or on your mat or to the trail and you think to yourself, “I got nothin’…”

I’ve had a lot of those “I got nothin’…” days lately.  Not necessary burn out, but more a sense of restlessness and trying to figure out what how I truly want to train.  My workouts have been shorter and less intense than normal, and I may have fallen asleep on my yoga mat mid-workout last week.  I’ve decided to turn this little dry-spell into an opportunity to try new things with my training and find my mojo again.  (A lot of handstands and inversions have been happening, and I’m convinced we could all stand to spend a little more time upside down.)

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Not having a long term program at the moment means I can amp-up the “play” factor and really focus on the joy I get from moving – in whatever training/playing modality that may be – and then eventually figure out how to work that into my long-term training structure.

But that’s more rambling than you wanted, so let’s get to the point.  Today I woke up and decided I was in the mood for an exercise smorgasbord…I threw together a little bodyweight circuit, and sandwiched it between a mile run (to warm up) and this weight-plate complex (which looked so fun that I had to try it).  It was a little sweaty and a lot fun.  It’s pretty minimalist – all you need is a bench/step/sturdy chair, a chin-up bar, and a place to do inverted rows (you can use a table, as seen at Nerd Fitness) – and it’s one of those circuits that gets your heart pumping but isn’t balls-to-the-wall intense.  You could do it on it’s own for a 25-30 minute workout, or tack it on to another short circuit or a short run if you want to stretch out the sweatiness.

Minimalist-ish Circuit Workout

leg lifts on bench x 25 (This gives you an added range of motion to increase difficulty, but doing them on the floor is fine, too!)
toe-taps on bench x 20 each foot
inverted rows x 15 (modify foot positioning as necessary to suit your level of strength)
curtsy lunges x 20 each leg
jumping jacks x 50
windmills x 10 each side
step ups on bench x 20 each side
“monkey” pull ups x 8 (hands are stacked in front of each other and you are facing parallel to the bar, rather than perpendicular…alternate between bringing your head up to the left and right of the bar)

Perform the exercises in order with minimal rest between each.  Take a minute or two to rest at the end, then repeat for 3 rounds total.

Have at it, have fun, and let me know how you like it!

PS…did you take the survey yet?  It’s only a few questions, and it would mean the world to me to have your feedback!  Survey is here.

Discuss:

What do you do when you’ve lost your mojo?

Which kinds of workouts feel most like “play” for you?

Do you follow a set training program or just go where your mojo leads you?

“Exhaustion Is Not a Status Symbol”

A popular article came out recently, which described the epidemic (no, not Ebola) that seems to plague much of the fitness industry these days…the “militarization of fitness.”

You can read the full article here.  While it’s not the most well-written piece and there’s a definite “touchy-feely” vibe to it that I couldn’t get behind, one line really stood out to me.

Exhaustion is not a status symbol.

This hit home hard.  The idea of chronic exhaustion and constant busyness is something in which many of us take pride.  I sure did, for longer than I can remember.  But it should not be.  Exhaustion is not bad, but it should not be your goal.  If your goal is to be truly healthy for the long run (not just to look sexy), then your fitness habits need to be something that you can continue for the long haul.

That means learning to be flexible in your training, and adapt as necessary.

That means doing workouts that challenge you, bring you joy, and make you feel alive.

And that means not letting your workouts define your life.

EDITED dragonfly - arm balance and yoga workout

Running yourself ragged day in and day out for the purpose of being “hardcore” is stupid.  The article I referenced called it the “militarization of fitness.”  I think there is so much to be gained from a military mindset – discipline, structure, respect, sacrifice, putting a greater good above yourself – but that is lost when people misguidedly take a “drill sergeant approach” to their workouts.  Your workouts should not feel like bootcamp, because you are not in bootcamp.  (If you are, how the hell are you reading this right now?)  Our military trains at the intensity that they do, particularly in Special Forces units, because it is their life. Their physical fitness determines their ability to carry out their job and keep themselves and their brothers in arms alive.

On the other hand, civilians are not typically in those kinds of situations (unless they are law enforcement, first responder, etc.).  Physical fitness, for a civilian, is not a life or death issue.  Therefore, fitness need not be approached with a life or death attitude. As civilians, we have the luxury of training on our own terms…And we have that luxury because we live in the greatest nation on earth, and have millions of high-caliber men and women fighting to protect that and all our other freedoms.

At the end of the day, we should be grateful that we can train however we want.  Everyone should strive to be fit and healthy, but everyone should strive for that in the way that works best for their individual health context, with their unique lifestyle and preferences.   Your diet and training should be rewarding, not punishing.  Training is something that most of us are blessed to be able to do, not something we have to grind through.

So challenge yourself.  Work hard.  (In life and in training.)  Play and move and stretch and stay active in whatever way cranks your tractor.  But know why you are doing it, and make sure that what you’re doing doesn’t suck the joy our of your life, but adds life to your days.

3-Minute Pumpkin (Protein) Pie

Well, I waited until we were a week into October to bust out the pumpkin.  That’s some impressive self-control, if you ask me.

I have, however, been secretly singing Christmas carols since a particularly overcast weekend in mid-September, so that might cancel out some of the aforementioned self-control.

But right now I’m going to channel my inner “bro” (or lady bro?) and share an easy way to make your protein game a little more festive for the autumn season.  It’s perfect for after a workout, or after work, or after napping (or before), or at midnight or at noon or anytime really.  Including after yoga, when you may or may not be standing half-naked and hungry in your kitchen, and you may or may not be struck with serendipitous pumpkin-laden protein inspiration. Not that I would know about that, or anything… It’s not the fanciest recipe out there, but I’m not exactly Curtis Stone, ladykiller and chef extraordinaire. (To be clear, by ladykiller I mean devastatingly gorgeous, not…you know…a Ray Rice type of joke.  I’m offensive, but not that offensive.)  It is, however, full of protein and fiber and vitamin A and anti-inflammatory spices and other good things…and, obviously, it’s damn tasty.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t eat it.  A broad’s got to have standards, you know?  All it takes is 3 minutes, a microwave, and a little bit of magic.

[Fine. I lied. Magic is optional, you muggles. But the microwave is pretty nonnegotiable.]

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3-Minute Pumpkin (Protein) Pie

[adapted from this microwave mug cake recipe]

Here’s what you’re going to need, bro:

  • 1/2 cup liquid egg whites
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree (not the pre-seasoned pumpkin pie mush)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  •  2 tbsp flour (I made oat flour on the fly – just stick some dry oatmeal in a blender and go to town.)
  • stevia or other sweetener to taste (I used about 8-10 drops of Trader Joe’s-brand liquid stevia)
  • 1/2 tsp (or more…) cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp each: nutmeg + allspice + ground ginger
  • a little baby-size sprinkle of ground cloves

And bro, it goes like this:

  • Mix everything together well.
  • Spray a bowl or mug with cooking spray or WD-40 whatever you like to use to grease things up. (I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case I have some non-fluent readers or something: Do not use WD-40 to grease your mug.)
  • Pour the mix into the greased bowl and nuke that baby on high for 3 minutes.  You may need to cook it for less/more time if you live up in the Ozarks or have a microwave from 1992 or are suffering from some other weird altitude/technology issue. The bowl will be hot as fraack when it’s done, so put on your big boy pants oven mitts and turn that sucker out onto a plate.  Presentation is important, so make your little protein pie look pretty.
  • Devour that sucker.
  • Make gains. [Optional, but recommended.]

If you’re really looking for a good time, then whip up some “icing” to slather on top.

  • spoonful of peanut butter
  • enough milk to thin it out
  • cinnamon to taste
  • a couple drops of stevia (or a small spoonful of maple syrup, if you’re into that stuff.  #Canadians)

Stir, drizzle, enjoy.  Do the happy-food-dance if you feel so inclined.  [Spoiler alert: You will feel so inclined.]

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Watch out, it’s about to get 50 Shades of Delicious up in here…

Discuss:

Are you aboard the pumpkin bandwagon?

Thoughts on microwaves, radiation, protein, and general bro-dom?  Please share.  (These are a few of my favorite things.)

Did you complete the survey yet? Pretty please? I promise it’s faster than a teen boy on prom night.

I Must “ASS” Yall a Question…

Alright, I’ve got some questions to “ass” yall.

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Seriously, though, I need help.

Not professional help – although there may be a few folks who would suggest that.  [Like the customers who saw me dancing around and singing with espresso splattered in my hair while I was working this weekend.  And the fellow I asked if he had Asperger's or schizophrenia in the same hour...on a first date.  And all the roommates who've heard me caterwauling in the shower. So maybe a little more than a few...]

I need your input as I move forward with some changes here on the blog.

Readers are the reason I spend all the time that I do writing and researching and writing some more and taking topless photos that make my relatives uncomfortable.  Therefore, I want to deliver exactly the kind of content that will be most helpful for you, and I need your help to do that.

That’s where this little blog survey comes in…you get to tell me what you want, and then I’ll work my magic.

[To be clear, by "magic" I mean, "I'll bring more high-quality content that is in line with your interests and priorities."  I'm Samwise Gamgee, not Harry Potter.]

It is a very short survey, and should take you only a few minutes, at most.  It would mean the world to me if yall would share your thoughts and give me some feedback!  I’m also looking for some people to be part of my test group for certain programs and publications that will be launching soon.  If you are interested in participating in the test group and receiving free access to those programs/publications before the launch, please complete the survey and be sure to include your name and email where indicated.

Again the survey can be found HERE, and it truly takes only a minute.  So take a minute, take the survey, and help me give you the best content possible!

And in case your wondering…

Yeah, the gratuitous ass “glute” photo has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

[Sorry Mum and Dad.]

It was just punny.  Or, “bunny.” As in “buns” of not-quite steel.

But, you know, no one ever really said, “Oh man, I really want to get my hands on that pair of steel orbs…”

So maybe a more squeezable badonkadonk is a good thing.

I mean, so I’ve been told….

[Sorry. Again.]

PS: Take the survey.