Learning the Licorice Ropes

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I can proudly say that I have established a workout habit that has taken a firm root in my calendar. I am very good about the exercise thing. On the other hand, there's the healthy diet thing. I have heard from a lot of people that they're good at either one or the other. It's rare, in my experience, to come across someone who does well with both, with the exception of health professionals. Many even say that one is better or more important than the other for them, which is untrue. Both are equally vital.

Well, I'm the type who does well with exercise and not as well with nutrition. I have improved though in the last year or so with my eating habits.

My best piece of advice would be to learn something about diet/nutrition every day. I like to keep my eye on studies and health news. My favorites are Medline Plus (daily published results from health studies) and Yahoo Health. I don't necessarily remember or apply everything that I read, I just like to pick up little tips here and there to try. And once you hear the same thing repeated several times, it tends to stick.

The second piece of advice would be to temporarily (or habitually if you can manage it) track your food intake. And I don't mean estimating. I mean getting out the measuring cups, food scale and restaurant guides to track every morsel. This may sound a little bit obsessive, but once you do it for a few days, you'll receive some eye-opening information, I guarantee it! I recommend Sparkpeople for a free, comprehensive food tracker. The best I've ever found. Just being aware is enough to give you a quick kick. Going back and doing this every once in awhile also helps you bust through plateaus and steer you towards more healthful choices. I, for one, go overboard almost every day on my fat intake and could use a few more vegetables in my diet. I wouldn't really know or admit that if I didn't see it on paper.

The final piece of advice would be to use a search engine to look up healthy snacks, and maybe even healthy meals. I keep a list of healthy snacks (such as sliced cucumber with salsa or apples with peanut butter) that I can reference when I head to the grocery store for weekly provisions or the fridge for a nibble. I also have a stack of healthy go-to recipes so I'm never at a loss for what to eat.

I always thought that dieting meant being constantly hungry, deciphering every scientific percentage on the food labels, creating some elaborate menu that would break my budget, or giving up my reason for living (chocolate). But these ideas are so far-fetched it isn't funny. By making a little headway every day towards something I was not that good at brought me to a place where I feel quite comfortable about what I'm eating.

Invasion of the Clutter

Friday, January 22, 2010

Without meaning to, we've accumulated so many things around our house it scares me to death. Literally. Paper piles and misplaced odds and ends knock the wind and the vitality of life right out of me.

The self-designated "no-drop zones" often turn into prime dumping grounds for papers, pictures, mail and extra hardware. We get a new armchair and the extra plastic pieces end up on the dining room table. They then sit there for weeks. Each time I take in the disorderly mess on the table, I lose a little bit of sleep.

I think I've just uncovered the reason for my insomnia. Others may dream about little morbid dolls that come to life or losing a molar. But I, oh poor little me, dream of being buried alive beneath mounds of paper clips, cracker packaging, dust and other easily accumulated nonsense. All those small "projects" around the house invade my consciousness until REM is no longer possible. I tell you these pesky piles of junk on the table are alive. They are sources of negative energy for sure. They steal my attention, jeopardize my relationships and wear me down, one paper-thin layer at a time.

To be sure, I am not obsessive compulsive. I allow wrinkles in bedsheets and marks on the walls and the occasional dropped pea to be left on the floor for one of the four-legged creatures to find--just please no shoes on the off-white upstairs carpet. And for God's sake, no clipping your nails in the living room.

The perfect antidote would be to light candles and let the imperfections fade into the background. Everything looks better in candlelight. And place a pretty basket by the front door, a designated "dumping zone" that you don't mind looking at. After all, to combat all the "no-drop zones," there has to be at least one "dumping zone."

I do let certain things go, but only to a point. And sometimes it feels like I'll never be able to breathe or venture into certain rooms for fear that a pesky pile will consume me. Once you let the scum build on the bathroom curtain, the salty winter shoe marks to linger on the linoleum, the cobwebs to climb the ceilings and the piles to overcome every open flat surface for too long...it is certain death.

Swallowing My Happy Pill

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I am making a concerted effort with myself to actually follow through on methods that are tried-and-true and either backed by outside research or personal experience. It's as though I have all the arsenal I need, I just need to shoot the damn gun! In this case, we're focusing on personal happiness.

Just like in my previous post, I know good reasons why I shouldn't skip gym sessions, but sometimes it takes a written refresher to revive the flame. The same goes with my happiness. I know what makes me happy, but when I'm having a true downer of a day, it seems like nothing will turn it around. So, I'll have to train myself to just take a mindless approach, choose a method, and just do it without thinking! It's kind of a wonder I don't spend all my time, outside of work, rolling in these daisies.

Things I know will make me happy:

1. Spending time outdoors, such as hiking, swinging at the park, or just sitting in the backyard.

2. Sun exposure. OK I firmly promote the use of sunscreen always, always, always. One of the biggest mood boosts comes from the sun, but you're not doing your body any favors by doing it without SPF.

3. Surrounding myself with music by the likes of Beth Orton, Rusted Root, Jewel, Miranda Lambert, Little BigTown, Norah Jones or any other artsy favorites.

4. Buying something decadent in a bottle, be it eye cream, red wine, or chutney. I'm not talking about retail therapy per se or emotional eating, just personal-care therapy. Vonnegut wrote that once a man stops taking care of himself, he dies.

5. Guided meditation. I know it sounds a little fruity--I am spiritual to a certain degree, but just listening to affirmations or nature noises for a few minutes has a way of settling the respiratory and nervous systems.

6. A good Yoga session

7. A good long run

8. Remembering past accomplishments, compliments or delights. This means, ahem, I need to start/keep a gratitude journal. Referring back to memorable moments has a way of sending out those happy little brain chemicals.

9. Attending church. We all have different ideas and beliefs when it comes to religion and spirituality, but personally I always feel a little bit lighter after a good service.

10. Re-runs of Sex and the City. (well...not right after church, but anyway...)

11. A good read. Usually some good chick lit. Now, I'm a pretty selective reader and I enjoy literature with depth or antiquity. But a little charming indulgence can go a long way for my disposition.

12. Related to 11 is a good blog. I've found some stimulating, motivating reads online that seem to leave me in a blissful state.

13. Snuggling

14. Almost anything that has to do with the baby if it doesn't involve a diaper or whining. My favorites are dancing with him, holding his hand, sharing food with him, watching him sleep and breathe, playing drums with him, rocking him to sleep and so much more.

15. Eating a salad or tomato mixture with fresh ingredients from my own garden.

16. Growing seedlings.

17. And probably my all-time favorite would be a great massage. I think I'm going to book one, just as a preventative measure:)

Open a Can of Whoop-on-my-own-a$$

Monday, January 18, 2010

A big thanks to Yoovie on sparkpeople.com (if you're a health-nut or want to lose some weight, if you haven't checked this site out, you are definitely missing something) for this wonderful idea.

Note to Self: Read this every time you feel like skipping the gym

Dear Self,

You already know the benefits of working out and how you feel afterwards and all of that. But I know you will forget about them when you are feeling a strong pull towards the couch instead of the treadmill. You may think you will remember all of these reasons, but they will inevitably not get through to you. Because if you really did remember, nothing--I mean absolutely nothing--could stop you from working out.

So, listen here lady, you are required to read this list whenever that resistant mood strikes.

1. Think of that instructor that called you a beginner and handed you 3-lb weights. Think of how much you want to show people like that that you are sooooo not a beginner.

2. Remember those pipes you can feel on your arms. You can feel them, but you can't quite see them in all their glory. Don't you actually want to see them? Each day is progression towards that beautiful sculpted look that no one can help but be envious of.

3. What would you rather your son see you doing: jumping around the living room or sitting on the couch, eyes glued to something mindless flashing across the TV or computer screen?

4. Think about how you feel after not working out. You feel like a sloth, withering away into a blob. Now, think about that refreshed feeling after working out. Like your lungs are brand new and your heart has received a tune-up. Your blood seems to pump with renewed energy and your muscles feel victorious.

5. Remember how your ankles used to hurt when you were less-than-healthy? Remember how you haven't felt that since you've started working out? You don't want crappy ankles again, do you?

6. Exercise brings about a better mood for the rest of the day and into the following day. It's a free way to feel good without help from prescribed chemicals. It's the best way you know how to make an average day feel fabulous.

7. Exercise allows you to sleep better at night. And when you don't work out, it's just the opposite. It's so much more worth it to work out than to wake up feeling exhausted the next day.

8. Since working out, you have significantly lowered your cholesterol, have rarely been sick, lowered your blood pressure, decreased body pain, and done so much more good for your body than you'll probably ever know. This feels amazing.

9. There is nothing more sublime than working out--or moving about in any manner--outdoors. The clean air, the vastness of space, the bird noises, the wind whispers, the cloud movements, the changing scenery, and the towering trees all seem to cleanse in a way that can never be replicated elsewhere.

10. It's so refreshing to be able to run up the stairs at work and not get winded at the top.

11. This is one of the few habits that have become solidly implanted in your repertoire. It's an established habit and a record you've made for yourself that you do not want to break. Your fitness habits are one of the things you're most proud of yourself for achieving. Don't give it up just because you feel a little blah.

12. Take that little girl that used to be chubby and misfitting by the hand and tell her that everything is going to be OK for her later in life. She will go on to do things she never thought possible. Even though the 1-mile testing in gym used to be the worst day of the year for her, she will later hold ribbons for running a Half Marathon and several 5Ks.

13. Look to that woman in her 50s, 60s, 70s and tell her you're paving the way for health and blissful contentment in the future. She will thank you for all the efforts you are making now.

14. Remember people who have asked you for advice about fitness-related issues. It's a strength of yours. Never succumb to a sedentary lifestyle. Never make fitness a weakness. Do you want to be the role model or the bad example?

15. Remember you sit in a chair in front of a computer all day at work. You require a workout session to combat that motionlessness!

16. Running takes stress and squeezes the life out of it until all that's left is angels singing.

17. It gives you that wonderful glow and feeling of warmth, especially in the winter, that keeps you going in the evening. Nothing makes you want to lie still more than a cold body.

18. It's fun to wear those cute moisture-wicking shirts and performance leggings. Decked out with a cute water bottle, crisp white sneakers, an iPod and a pink headband is almost as fun as playing dress-up.

19. You get to be one of the most productive people you know of. Don't let anyone pass you up.

20. When you push yourself to achieve things that didn't seem possible not long ago or that take you to a whole new level, you are proving to yourself that you have the ability to achieve what you set out to achieve. This awareness of your potential leads you to fulfill other dreams as well.

21. You are not content just being mediocre! You are not content being stagnant!

22. Get your money's worth out of your magazine subscriptions, stock of videos, treadmill and other equipment. Don't be one of those people that only hop on the treadmill to dust it.

23. How else are you going to keep up with your son when he develops lightning-inspired speeds and is drawn to particularly heavy traffic sites? How else are you going to teach him healthy habits?

24. Name 5 better ways to spend your evening!

25. If you don't work out, that feeling of guilt will linger for days until you work out again. This often culminates into one giant bad mood-fest that you really don't want to participate in.

26. At least just change into those workout clothes and go somewhere. Anywhere. Sometimes just getting ready is the biggest part of the battle. Don't even think about it--do it mindlessly so you just do it.

27. "Self-actualization feels like glowing in the dark" (this is my fave, straight from Yoovie herself).

28. Think about swimsuit season coming up and family vacations. Think about taking your son to the beach. Do you want to hide? Or do you want to wear a wrap off your hips and a tank with just a little skin showing?

29. Working out and catching the latest fitness news gives you something more/something interesting to talk about.

30. Hard work is the only way to guarantee real results. You are soooo worth the best end result.

31. You get to read your favorite magazines while you work out.

32. This is one of the only times you get valuable "me time" that's worth every drop of sweat.

33. It's more fun to do crunches with a baby sitting on your stomach than doing them alone or not doing them at all.

34. Since you've begun working out, your whole body image and confidence level has been boosted. That measly 1/2 hour-1 hour of working out doesn't even compare to the worth of the positive boost!

Birth Order

Friday, January 15, 2010

I've been told I was a favorite perhaps by teachers and family members. I've also been told quite the opposite. But let me tell you. When someone tells me I'm their favorite, as gracious as it sounds, there is always a bit of guilt attached. In the bigger picture, each person has something distinctive to contribute and why should my contributions be any better? You are suddenly bound to these high expectations that you never knew you were being judged against. And even if the person(s) you are being compared to are your worst enemy, you can't help but feel a little let down by the fact that the person choosing favorites, who is supposed to be a responsible adult, is making this judgement call.

Favoritism in families seems to be a common phenomenon (isn't that an oxymoron?) and many times based on birth order. I can see it blatantly in my husband's family. But there are always other factors that make me wonder about where it's originating from. Such as, which chicken/egg came first, the kid's bad attitude or the difference in treatment between siblings? I have no idea. I see this also within friends' families. One sibling, 10 years junior, gets coddled to pieces while the other had been left, earlier in time, to fend for herself. Although the junior sibling receives plenty of perks, I think the older sibling deserves heeps of credit for finding her way on her own.

Even though I would've loved for someone to have paid my way through college, I have a deeper respect for myself, and I hope others have for me as well, for having paved my own way. I believe I have refined qualities of self-reliance and resourcefulness because of it. I don't owe anyone but myself for that, of which I am eternally grateful.

Life Inside My Arteries

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This 20-something-year-old has something to say about cholesterol. Isn't cholesterol something that only "concerns" older people or people whose meals consist of fried chicken and Doritos's? No, my friends, it is not. Around 2-1/2 years ago, my cholesterol came in at a staggering, to me, 199. This slight border between good and not-so-good made me take a step back. There was no way I was going to be on cholesterol pills before the age of 80, let alone 30!

Now, the problem is, I eat like a rabbit to most of the people around me. There are lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and water. I work out religiously and vigorously. Other than genetics, I couldn't figure this one out.

So, I started eating even better, if that was possible. Oatmeal is now my breakfast of choice. And when I have eggs, I make sure to leave out a few of the yolks, a sneaky source of an entire day's worth of cholesterol. I haven't eaten a drive-through burger in who knows how long? Tracking food intake every now and then for a week or so really opens my eyes as well.

So, this past week, I was anxious to see the results from the blood draw this year. Turns out, I've lowered my cholesterol by 12 points. Twelve whole points! It's now down to 187.

Turns out you can do something about your health all by yourself.