Discipline Is a Four-Letter Word

Actually, discipline has ten letters. Yes, I stopped writing to count them…twice. I’ll give you a moment to double check my math.

Good? Ok, so our topic today is maintaining self-discipline when it comes to food and exercise. I’m sure we’re all super-psyched to talk about that. How do you do it? How do you keep it up long-term? How do you resist the cravings and temptations? How do you drag yourself off the couch every day to exercise. I think the answer to all of these questions can be summed in in two words: Motivation and Grace.

Motivation

When you have a really good reason for doing what you’re doing, you want to do it. When you have several really good reasons, your motivation gets stronger. When you have a really good plan in place to be successful, when you feel like it’s really possible, and especially when you start seeing that it’s working, it’s like a motivation booster. And when you have at least one person cheering you on, recognizing the hard work you’re doing, and giving you “the look” when you say things like, “Just one brownie,” followed by, “I don’t feel like working out today,” that really helps to keep you on track.

So if you’ve been struggling to lose weight with yo-yo results or no results at all, I would suggest that you answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you want to do this?
  2. How are you going to do it? Is your plan one that you can stick with long-term? Are you willing to change your lifestyle?
  3. What are your goals for the next month? How much weight will you lose? How often will you be exercising regularly? What specific things will you change about your diet (cut out sugar, stop eating fast food, give up soda, eat X number of vegetable servings per day, etc.)?
  4. What roadblocks, disappointments, or problems can you realistically anticipate? How will you get past them?
  5. What are you scared of as you think about getting started with this life change?
  6. Who will kick your butt if you start slacking off? (*Hint: Tell this person [these people] your reasons for wanting to make changes, your fears about doing it, and your plan, and check in with him/her/them daily. Yes, daily.)

Grace

You’re going to have off days. You’re going to enjoy Thanksgiving with your family. You’re going to be in a situation where you have no control over the food or whether or not you get to work out. You’re going to get sick and have to be in bed for days. You’re going to eat a cookie because someone made it for you and you don’t want to be rude by refusing it. You’re not going to have time to exercise one day. You’re going to forget to take your lunch to work and have to either go out to eat or starve. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to drop the ball.

Mistakes here and there won’t ruin everything. Give yourself some grace and move forward.

When I was in college, I went through a cross-cultural training program in preparation for an overseas summer mission trip. In this program, we learned a silly song that has been extremely helpful to me in countless situations since. One part of the song said, “It’s not what you do first; it’s what you do next.” How do you respond to set-backs? How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake? What do you do after you fall off the wagon?

Each decision is a step in one direction or another, but taking one step in one direction does not mean that you have to take another. If you drink a soda in a moment of weakness, choose to stick with water tomorrow. If you decide to skip your workout one day, get back on your schedule tomorrow. Even if you’ve been making bad decisions for years, you don’t have to be stuck in that rut. You can choose to take one step at a time in another direction.

It’s hard at first, I’ll be honest. Really, really hard. But the more often you make healthy decisions, the easier they become to make. You can’t give up at one failure, though. You have to give yourself some grace and try again.

The lady on one of our exercise videos always says, “If you give up, the only person you’re giving up on is yourself.” And as much as we hate her for torturing us each day, she’s right, and I’m worth not giving up on. So are you.

And Vice Versa

I’m sure there is science out there somewhere to back up the things I am about to say, but all of this is just from my own personal experience. And movies.

Making good decisions – decisions you can be proud of – for your body makes you feel good about yourself. Even before you lose any weight or look any thinner or more muscular, you feel better because you are proud of the decisions you’re making and hopeful for the future. I had probably lost about 8 pounds when I asked Will if he thought I looked any thinner. He said he wasn’t sure if I actually looked thinner yet, but that I was carrying myself more confidently, which made me look healthier. And even though I had only been exercising and eating better for a couple of weeks, I definitely felt healthier, which made me want to continue making healthy choices. Thus, the cycle continued. Good decisions => positive feelings and positive self-talk => feeling confident and looking healthy => feeling healthy => more good decisions.

In that cycle, I mentioned positive self-talk, which I think is really important. When you do good things for your body, you are training yourself to love it. I think people have the idea that loving their bodies comes with weight loss and looking thinner, but I don’t think that’s the right conclusion to draw from that correlation. I think they happen at the same time and get mistaken for cause and effect, but what’s really happening is that you are treating your body well, and the more you treat something well, the more you realize how much you appreciate it. It’s the same with any relationship. You don’t always feel the warm-and-fuzzies for people, but when you choose to show them love and kindness anyway, the good feelings come back around. Showing love and kindness actually makes you feel loving and kind. It works for your body too. If you do kind things for your body, it makes you feel the love you have for your body. And the more you do it, the more natural and authentic it becomes. Also, you come to appreciate your body for what it can do, which I really need right now. Healthy choices => authentic appreciation of the body => love of the body => desire to treat the body well => more healthy choices.

And then there are endorphins, which make you feel better when you hate your aerobics instructor for being such a sadist (or when you hate yourself for being such a masochist because you’re working out with a DVD at home and no one is there to make you feel guilty about just turning it off). Oh, and endorphins make you not a murderer, which I’m sure my husband appreciates as a nice side-effect of all my exercising.

legallyblonde

So exercise => endorphins => happiness => not shooting my husband => happy husband => husband supporting my healthy choices => more exercise??

I don’t know about that last full circle, but I do know that feeling better physically makes you feel better emotionally, which makes you want to feel even better physically. And so on, and so forth, and vice versa.

75 Creative Ways to Get Active

I think most of us can agree that exercising sucks. I would much rather watch a movie or read a book on a porch in the mountains. Also, I feel gross when I sweat. I know a lot of people love “getting their sweat on,” but I have curly hair, which isn’t really compatible with humidity, and sweating just creates my own little humidity cloud, which in turn frizzes my hair. So I’d rather not.

However, I can trick myself into exercising every now and then if it doesn’t feel so much like exercise and/or if I’m having too much fun to notice or care that I’m sweating. I absolutely do not do all of these things, but if you’re looking for fresh ideas, here you go:

75 Creative Ways to Get Active

  1. Work in your yard/garden.
  2. Clean your house (with music).
  3. Reorganize a room, and get rid of things you don’t need/want.
  4. Listen to music and dance while you’re getting ready in the morning.
  5. Family dance party!
  6. Use a bathroom on a different floor (at home or work). Drink a lot of water so you have to pee often. Take the stairs every time.
  7. Go to a playground and play. Seriously, do it.
  8. Join a silly sports league like dodgeball or kickball or hide and seek.
  9. Join a for real sports league like soccer or hockey.
  10. Climb a tree.
  11. Rearrange your furniture.
  12. Go swimming.
  13. Go kayaking (Lake Johnson will rent you a kayak for $5/hour).
  14. Go dancing! Try a kind of dance that’s new for you – shag, swing, salsa, square, contra. Hooboy contra dancing is a GREAT workout!
  15. Take advantage of your local hiking/walking trails. If you live in the Raleigh area, there are TONS to choose from.
  16. Stand up on public transportation. Try not to hold on (germs). Your muscles will have to work to keep you balanced and stable.
  17. Get off of public transportation a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
  18. Try martial arts!
  19. Try yoga!
  20. Try rock/wall climbing!
  21. Try Zumba!
  22. Try aerobic pole dancing! It’s seriously a thing, and it’s seriously a workout. It’s also seriously awkward, but if it sounds like fun to you, go for it!
  23. TRAMPOLINE!!
  24. Organize an elementary-school-style field day for your friends and neighbors. Include all the classics: 3-legged race, over/under, potato sack race, egg toss, etc.
  25. Play Duck Duck Goose
  26. Play Follow the Leader.
  27. Play Red Rover.
  28. Play any kind of tag.
  29. Play dodgeball.
  30. Play kickball.
  31. Arm wrestle.
  32. Leg wrestle.
  33. Stretch while you’re watching TV or talking on the phone.
  34. Do silly walks.
  35. Play tennis.
  36. Play in the sprinkler.
  37. Play Capture the Flag.
  38. Walk around the mall.
  39. Walk a dog.
  40. Toss a frisbee.
  41. Fly a kite.
  42. Go for a walk with a friend instead of going for coffee.
  43. Bring back the hacky sack!
  44. Play catch.
  45. Play Hopscotch.
  46. Play Foursquare.
  47. Play Simon Says.
  48. Sidewalk chalk someone’s driveway in the wee hours of the morning.
  49. Go for a romantic moonlit walk.
  50. Come back home and let one thing lead to another.
  51. Visit a museum. Look at everything. You’ll be walking around AND learning! Bonus!!
  52. Park in a central location when running errands that aren’t far apart, and walk to do each one.
  53. If you can see your destination from where you are, walk, don’t drive to it.
  54. Play charades.
  55. Jump rope.
  56. Photo scavenger hunt.
  57. Choreograph a dance to a song. Do it every time you hear that song.
  58. Hula hoop.
  59. Ping pong.
  60. Go roller skating.
  61. Play laser tag!
  62. Wash your car.
  63. “Walk to another city.” There are about 2,000 steps in a mile. Pick a “destination,” and figure out how many steps it would take you to walk there (literally). For example, it would take me about a million steps (2,000 steps x 500 miles) to get from my house to New York. Get a pedometer, and when you’ve walked enough steps to have reached your destination city, plan a real trip there!
  64. Pillow fight!
  65. Tickle fight!
  66. Play active video games like Wii Sports or Just Dance.
  67. Car dance.
  68. Clean out your garage, attic, or storage closet.
  69. Build a fort.
  70. Play putt-putt.
  71. Go to a zoo.
  72. Ride a horse.
  73. Get a pedometer for everyone in the house and see who can take the most steps each day.
  74. Act out your favorite scenes from books (including comic books) and movies. Make costumes and scenery and everything.
  75. Do a puppet show. Build the stage and make the puppets.

What else should we add to the list?

Fuel

One of the vocabulary words we’re practicing in class this week is “purchase.” Today, my students were doing an exercise where they had to choose all the correct answers (out of 4 possibilities) to a question. One of the questions was, “Which of the following could you purchase?” And one of the possible answers was “energy.” We decided that might work because you purchase gas and electric services for your home, and then we also talked about how food provides energy for our bodies. We don’t purchase energy directly, but we purchase the food we consume (another vocab word this week), which our bodies then use for energy. It’s an interesting little exercise, and it creates a lot of opportunities for conversation about words and their usage, which is nice.

Anyhoe, this whole thing made me start thinking about the food I eat and how my body uses it, especially now that I’m trying to be more active. When I want my body to do more, I need to give it what it needs so that it can perform. The body doesn’t need much just to sit around watching Netflix all day, but it needs a little more if I’m going to be standing up teaching, and it needs even more than that if I’m going to exercise. My problem until recently has been that I thought all calories were the same.

I guess if I had taken the time to really think about it, I would have realized that that’s dumb, but I didn’t. I thought of food as the reward you get at the END of the workout, not the fuel you need to do the workout in the first place. And with that mindset, I was eating foods after my workouts that were totally undoing all the hard work I’d just done. And then I was still hungry because the foods I ate filled up my calorie quota without filling my stomach or meeting my body’s nutritional needs. Gah! No wonder the whole thing sucked! (Y’all just witnessed that epiphany. That JUST happened. Just now. Jazz hands.)

One thing I’ve noticed, though, with the program I’ve been doing recently is that I’m not all that hungry because I’m eating at least 5 times a day. And the workouts aren’t so bad because I’m eating foods that are helping me get through them instead of trying to jog with a body full of chocolate cereal and Starbursts. (Incidentally, Starbursts are not good for your body in any way. I have a poop story to prove it, but I won’t subject you to it. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.)

So there you have it. I don’t understand or particularly care to know the science behind it, but from my own personal experience, I can tell you that what you eat absolutely has a direct impact on how your body is able to perform. Feed it well.

It Takes a Village (Fitness Edition)

I don’t like working out around other people. Even when I’m at home and my husband decides to take a day off from exercising, he’s not allowed to stay in the room with me while I do it. I REALLY don’t like going to the gym where strangers can see my fat jiggle when I run. I feel very self-conscious exercising in public, and I would prefer to do it in the privacy of my own home.

However, it is VERY important for me not to make major life changes alone. I need the support and help of family and friends, and yes, even strangers who are in the same boat as I am. Family and friends are great because they love you and support you, and you can text them how much weight you’ve lost and get something like this in return:

Yes, I call my sister "Buck Buck Number Two." Is that weird?
Yes, I call my sister “Buck Buck Number Two.” Is that weird?

Strangers, on the other hand, are wonderful because you can tell them your exact measurements and not give a flying flip what they think of it because you’ll probably never meet them, and even if you do, you’ve been through something together by then that makes you happy to finally meet them, still not caring that they’ve seen your measurements because they were right there with you.

I have both of these groups, and hooboy is it necessary for me. I have my sweet husband telling me I’m beautiful regardless of my weight but that he’s also SO proud of me for all the hard work I’m doing. I have my sister cheering me on with every weight loss update. I have my coworkers commenting on how they’re starting to see the changes. And I have a group of mostly strangers on Facebook who are all working on healthier goals together. We can post links to recipes, we can complain about how hard our workout was, we can encourage each other to keep it up anyway or get back on the wagon, and we can give each other big cyber-fives on a job well done.

I work out alone or only with my husband (who doesn’t count as “people”), and I prefer it to the gym or to a group class, but it really does take a village to help me stay on track and make good choices. So to all of you who have read and posted or texted me encouraging comments, THANK YOU. I need you. I can’t do this without you. I’m thankful that I don’t have to.

3 Ways to Improve Your Workouts

I’ve been working out consistently for just over a month now. That’s a month of my whole life, so I don’t have much experience to draw from unless I also pull from way back in my childhood when working out was not a thing I did, but playing was. As an adult, I have been a terrible role model thus far and definitely no one you should trust for fitness advice. However, I’ve learned a couple things recently that I would like to share with you, and I am also going to pull from way back in my childhood.

1. Eat a healthy diet.

nawlinsDo you want to know why working out sucks SO bad and you hate it all the time always and hate everything that exists in the world while you’re exercising? It’s because the food you’re putting in your body is not fueling your body properly so that it can work out. At least that was true for me. I barely had the energy to change into workout clothes, but I forced myself to work out because I knew I should. And I kept waiting for the day when I would look forward to it, when I’d feel sluggish if I missed a run, not if I went on one. That day never, ever came, and eventually I gave up. Even when I didn’t give up (remember that time Amaris and I did a half marathon?), I didn’t lose a single pound because I didn’t change my eating habits. They may, in fact, have gotten worse. I lacked the energy I needed to train, but I trained anyway. Then to get the energy back that I needed to finish out the day, I would eat a ginormous plate of pasta because dangit I had EARNED it.

Some of you are shaking (or smacking) your heads at me right now, and you are correct to do so. Looking back, I know it didn’t make sense, but I didn’t know any better. Now I do, and y’all, I am not kidding when I tell you that I didn’t get to work out yesterday, and I was disappointed. If you give your body what it needs, it will return the favor. Get rid of the sugar and fried foods and as much of the refined and processed foods as possible. Eat your veggies. Limit your grains (not to the extreme, but probably half as much as you would like). Report back to me on your workouts.

2. Make a plan to change things up.

I get bored pretty easily, so doing a different workout every day helps me to keep it up. But I also need structure. I hated going to the gym because I would walk in, look around, wonder what I should do, not have any good ideas, and end up doing the same thing. Planning what you’re going to do, though, allows you to feel in control and ready for your workout while also preventing you from getting bored with it. It’s the same with diet. If you plan to eat different things every week, you’ll get to eat new things but also not find yourself in the kitchen staring into the fridge wondering if you’re actually hungry.

3. Play!

I have workouts that I do with a DVD throughout the week, and they are not the most fun, but I do them because I must, because they’re different every day (which keeps me from zoning out), because they’re planned for me (structure), and because doing them is FAR healthier than watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. But on Sundays, I’m going to a Zumba class up the street, and that is FUN. I look forward to it. It makes me excited about exercise (most weeks) because it doesn’t feel like exercise. When I was a kid, I was in great shape because I was on a competitive jump rope team. Have you tried jumping rope lately? Good luck going for more than a minute. It is no joke. But when I was a kid, I didn’t think about it as exercise. I just loved doing it. What do you love doing that gets your heart rate up, makes you sweat, and works your muscles (keep it clean, kids)? Dance (Zumba, swing, contra (!!), Just Dance), play a sport, jump rope, run as fast as you can down a hill, ride a bike, play in the ocean, walk/hike with friends, go to a playground and climb on the jungle gym, get some buddies together and play tag (or any other childhood game that won’t make you feel like the fat kid in gym class). HAVE FUN!

Oh, and if you are giant nerd and you know it (you know it), I just found this. Enjoy!

Hard Choices

Here’s the thing. It’s really easy (and cheap) for most people to be fat and out of shape. It requires literally no effort whatsoever. Yes, there are people who have trouble keeping weight on, and I recognize that that is a legitimate problem, but for most of us, all it takes is a month of Netflix and regular deliveries from Papa John’s to pack on the pounds. When the PJ’s delivery guy commented that Will was wearing a different super hero t-shirt every time he came here, I really should have known we’d been ordering too much. First of all, we’d had the same delivery guy more than once, which is kind of a feat in itself. Second, he’d been here enough times to know he’d been here before AND to recognize that my husband has a lot of super hero t-shirts.

It’s just that pizza is delicious, and Netflix has so many great options! Terrible excuses? Maybe. But after almost of month of exercising and eating a healthy diet on a regular basis, I’m still tempted to make them. They’re simply easier than planning healthy meals, preparing for them, cooking them, and getting off my butt every day to exercise.

So my biggest fear going into these changes (and still today) was (is) that I won’t be able to do it. I’m afraid I’ll start slacking off little by little until I’ve completely abandoned the program, and that I will then undo all the good things I’ve done over the past month. I’m afraid my body will betray me again – that I’ll injure myself or something – and not allow me to make the healthy choices I want to make.

Basically I’m afraid I will fail, and I really need a win right now.

All I have in front of me, though, are choices – one at a time. I can’t worry about what may or may not happen if I do or don’t do something. All I can do is choose to plan my meals or not, choose to follow the plan at each meal or not, choose to exercise or not. The only definite consequences are that I will become less healthy, more out of shape, and more overweight if I continue to make the decisions I was making before. I can’t know what will happen if I try – I might succeed, and I might fail – but if I don’t try, the only possibility is failure.

If failure is the thing I fear, and if I really need at least the possibility of a win, then not trying is just not an option.

The choices are hard. I’m lazy some days and just want to order a pizza. I’m busy some days and just want to get take-out. I’m lazy some days and don’t feel like working out. I’m busy some days and don’t know when I’ll have the time. I’m trying to be gracious with myself as much as possible. I don’t want to feel enslaved by any of this, but I know that the process of changing habits is not fun or easy, so I’m pushing through the initial difficulty of it. I hope I’ll be rewarded later. I hope I wake up one day in the future and look forward to my workout. I hope one day that I’ll use exercise to feel better, not food. I hope one day exercise will make me feel better, not like I’m dying. I think that day is coming, but the choices required to get to it are tough. One day, one meal, one exercise at a time, though, I WILL do this.

Healthy Start

I could go back as far as high school to start this story, but I won’t. I’ll just go back to when I was pregnant with a tee-tiny bit of back story. Like a lot of women, I have always struggled with my weight. Looking back at high school pictures, I can see now that I was reasonably thin, but I did not believe that at the time. After high school, things just got worse, and although I’ve tried now and then to lose weight, I just seem to keep putting it on. I didn’t even lose a pound when I was training for the half marathon I did in New Orleans.

When I was pregnant, the nurses at my OB/GYN practice liked to remind me that I was overweight. As if I hadn’t noticed that I was shopping at the plus-size store. And as if I wasn’t already self-conscious enough with my belly growing and people asking if I was sure I didn’t have two babies in there. Thanks, gals, for the ego boost.

But I wasn’t allowed to try to lose weight at that point.

Then we lost our sweet Ella, and through the kindness and generosity of SO many people, we ate a LOT of not-the-healthiest food in a very short period of time, and I put on another 8 pounds in just 6 weeks, which put me at the most I had ever weighed in my life, including the time I spent pregnant. This was getting serious. I knew that I needed to do something, and I knew I needed help and accountability to do it.

Well toward the end of August, I noticed that a friend from college was going to be leading a health and fitness challenge group for beginners on Facebook. I didn’t really consider myself a true beginner, but I knew I was REALLY out of shape, so I figured I would fit in just fine. We’ve been at it for almost three weeks now, and not only do I fit in just fine, it is HARD.

The exercise is hard, the eating plan is hard, and all of the feelings associated with it are hard. There’s the determination to succeed, the fear of failing, the desire to eat things I shouldn’t eat, the guilt of eating things I shouldn’t have eaten, the thought that I should just give up, and then back around to the determination to succeed. I’ve just come to think about food and exercise in a certain way, and changing my thought patterns is really difficult. But it IS time for me to make these changes, so I’m going to do it.

On a purely mental/emotional level, I need to do this now:

  1. because I need to succeed at something after losing my baby.
  2. because I need to feel like I’m in control of my body after the complete traumatic helplessness of PPROM.
  3. because I need to treat my body well after being so angry at it.
  4. because I still feel so sad so often, but endorphins make you feel so great.
  5. because I need to be proud of myself for something.
  6. because I need to keep myself busy until we are ready/allowed to try to get pregnant again.

So off I go on a frightening, exciting journey. If you can relate to any of this (with or without the pregnancy stuff), you are cordially invited to join me. I hope you will, and if you want, you can tell me that you’re with me, and we’ll keep each other going.

NaBloPoMo Table of Contents – October 2014

Well I’ve enjoyed blogging daily so much over the past month that I’m going to do it again! I don’t know what BlogHer’s official theme is for October, but I’ve chosen the theme of health. I’ll write more about why tomorrow, but I thought it was a nice follow-up to September’s theme of healing. Again, I’ll update this post daily with links to new posts, so if you stumble across this page any time after October 2014, you can access all of this month’s posts from here.

Wednesday, October 1
Why this topic now?

Thursday, October 2
Describe a day of your normal meals.

Friday, October 3
Recipe Friday! – Tortilla Soup

Monday, October 6
What scares you about healthy living?

Tuesday, October 7
Give 3 tips for healthier eating.

Wednesday, October 8
How do you deal with discouragement?

Thursday, October 9
How do an herbivore and an omnivore cook together?

Friday, October 10
Recipe Friday! – Easy Dijon Vinaigrette

Monday, October 13
Give 3 tips for improving your workouts.

Tuesday, October 14
How important is community when it comes to fitness?

Wednesday, October 15
What are your favorite and least favorite kinds of exercise?  Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Thursday, October 16
How does good nutrition relate to exercise?

Friday, October 17
Recipe Friday! – Spicy Greek Yogurt Cauliflower Recipe

Monday, October 20
Describe some creative ways to get active.

Tuesday, October 21
After I exercise, I feel…

Wednesday, October 22
How do physical health and emotional health interact?

Thursday, October 23
Make an exercise mix!

Friday, October 24
Recipe Friday! – Sautéed Chickpeas

Monday, October 27
How do you maintain self-discipline?

Tuesday, October 28
How do you overcome failures and set-backs?

Wednesday, October 29
What are some unexpected benefits of a healthy lifestyle?

Thursday, October 30
What are your health goals for November?

Friday, October 31
Recipe Friday! – Baked Apples