Friday, June 28, 2013
After a couple days of ridiculously hot and humid and stormy weather I was able to get my two hour walk in today.
I still have one very positive thing in my life: Lake Michigan is my front yard. There are several walking and biking paths along the shore, so my two hour walks are beautifully set against the lakefront. I am not alone in taking my fitness to the lakefront. From dawn to nightfall the lakefront is lively with joggers, walkers, bikers, roller bladers, Tai Chi groups, volley ball teams, hula hoop groups, and of course swimmers and the occasional para-surfer. Many of these exercisers are exceptionally fit. Intimidatingly so.
But, there are others of us who aren't Shape magazine cover material (yet). Whenever I see another larger person on trail I send them a silent, "Looking good! Keep it up!" Sometimes I even say it out loud, but they're often wearing headphones. I figure it's just about putting the positive energy out there, anyway, so I just make sure to give all my not-quite-ready-for-my-close-up brethren and sisteren on the trails a lot of positive brainwaves. I think of them as kindred spirits traveling the same path (literally) as I am, out there making the effort to exercise. They probably don't realize how inspiring and motivating they are to me, or that I think of us as being "in this" together. And they probably don't realize how comforting their presence is to me out there in the land of perfectly toned bodies on the beach and trails. Without them I would feel very alone and insecure amongst the exceedingly fit exercisers on the trails.
It was a sunny day today, and kids are on summer vacation so that means the lakefront trail was packed with high school and college kids hanging out at the beach. Groups of young people were clustered in bunches on the beach and in the grassy areas.
I was on the return portion of my walk, 80 minutes into my 120 minutes. The humidity and sun and 80 minutes of nonstop walking took a toll on me and my sweat glands so I allowed myself a water break and foot break on a bench. Near the bench was a group of college-aged boys were laying on towels, sunning themselves and checking out the parade of fit, tan young women in bikinis or jogging bras and lycra shorts going past them. They were in earshot so I could hear the comments they made about the women who passed by them on the trail. Typical college boy comments, nothing horribly offensive or rude, but very body-centric.
As I sat there, a young woman I passed earlier on the trail passed by me. She was very heavy and she was breathing hard in the heat and humidity. I gave her more positive brain waves. "Don't get discouraged, you're doing great, think about the calories you're burning! Take breaks and drink water, it's hot out here! We're in this together, sister! We can do this!" Shortly after she passed by another young woman walked past me and the college boys. She was not a size nothing, but she wasn't drastically overweight, either. Curvy. She was walking and using dumbbells at the same time. I gave her a mental, "Great idea! You rock! You're going to be in a bikini by the end of the summer!"
Then several thin young women walked by on their way to the beach. They were not fit, they were just very thin. Their bikini tops had gaps and loose fabric hanging over the area where boobs would usually be. The college boys had plenty to say about these women. Plenty of salacious things to say about them. I found it interesting the boys were very interested in the thin, boobless women. Thin I understand, but boobless? When did college-aged boys start ogling flat chested girls?
And then two larger women, workout buddies, I presumed, huffed and puffed by me and the boys. I mentally high-fived the women for using the buddy system to stick to their walking regime.
My positive mental energy was interrupted by one of the boys saying, "The fatties are really out today." He said this with disdain and contempt, he may have even spit. As if we shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the lakefront trails. The other boys agreed and speculated about moving to another beach known to be populated by very pretty people. But I was still back on the "fatties are really out" comment.
Without exception, what were the "fatties" all doing? Exercising and drinking water.
What were these boys doing? Laying around drinking beer and working on their tans.
Their dismissive and hurtful mentality and remarks are nothing new, of course. And their lack of self-awareness isn't surprising. But why not acknowledge that the overweight women were all out there walking. Exercising - in extreme heat and humidity, no less. How about recognizing that and giving well deserved credit to the exercising women?
I realize that's asking a lot of college-aged boys. But I also know it's not just college-aged boys who carry disdain and contempt for overweight people.
I'm sure they saw me (and my hips and butt) on the bench. I'm sure they knew I could hear them. I was certainly not going to say anything to them. Why would I? There's nothing I can say to enlighten young men and compel them to be more understanding and sensitive. And I especially have no sway in getting them to consider women as people with purposes other than being eye candy for men.
I thought about my positive mental support for my heavier sisters taking positive fitness steps. I could mentally will them into middle-aged men with beer guts, and it was tempting, but it's also vindictive and stooping to their level. So I chose to end my water break and get back on the trail. I put some extra swagger in my movement off the bench. I hoped it was a swagger that said, "Yes, I'm a fatty, but I'm not laying around drinking beer. I'm walking two hours, outside on a hot and humid day. And unlike those very thin girls you ogled, I have boobs."
Monday, June 17, 2013
The past three years have been difficult for me, to say the least. Laid off and job hunting and trying to pay the mortgage on a home thatís worth 65% less than what I owe on it has been the biggest challenge of my life. Budget-conscious doesnít even begin to describe my lifestyle. Iím more fortunate than some others in my situation because I have 20 years experience in a profession that lends itself to freelancing and consulting.
So Iíve kept myself alive (barely) with income from whatever freelance projects I can get. But that means working a lot of weird and long hours. Companies hire freelancers for two reasons:
1) weíre less expensive than ad agencies or marketing groups; I bid low on projects because I want the work and I want to keep busy, but even at cutrate pricing I have been underbid by other freelancers. Suffice it to say we all bid far (far) below agency rates; and
2) weíre ďwillingĒ to work outside the M-F, 9 Ė 5 standard. Itís not unusual for me to get a call from a client at 3:00 in the afternoon with a project they need for 10:00 the next day. So I work a lot of late nights, weekends and early mornings.
Because I never know when Iím going to get a call for work, Iím always ďon.Ē If Iím not working on a freelance project, Iím job hunting for a full-time job (which is my main goal and focus life, my raison díetre). I made a vow that I would get out and walk an hour a day. I knew I needed breathing space from what are often grueling job applications and demanding clients. And I knew I needed exercise. But of course, as fate wills it, just as I rounded the 15 minute mark from home, a client or interviewer would call. I donít want to sound unprofessional with outside noises on a call, so I let the calls go to voice mail. But of course the calls nagged at me during the rest of the 45 minute walk. And on more than one occasion I lost the opportunity for a freelance project because in the 30 Ė 45 minutes it took me to get back home and return the call the client found another freelancer. (Yes, there is that much competition for freelance/consulting projects.)
So my walks became sporadic. I could never find a good time of day to put clients and job hunting on hold Ė clients email or call me as early as 7:00 AM and Iíve received frantic emails, pleas for help with presentations, at 11:00 PM. And weekends do not offer reprieve. Business in general is moving away from the M Ė F, 9 -5 model (thank you, email and SmartPhones), and this is especially true for anyone who is self-employed. The standard rules of business do not apply Ė or at least thatís the general consensus, and the reason why companies choose to use freelancers instead of agencies. Lesson #1 of freelancing: As a freelancer your business is always open. Always.
I canít afford a gym, and I canít afford healthy food. Iíve been eating the poverty diet of rice and beans, potatoes, peanut butter and when I can afford it, Grape Nuts. The poverty diet has done things to my body I didnít realize were possible. (Iím convinced my ear lobes are fatter, to name but one body oddity.) The depression, anxiety, sleepless nights and general stress in my life arenít helping my body, either. So that one hour walk was crucial for my health and sanity. But it was rare that I didnít have to postpone it because of an interview or a rush project.
Finally I threw down the gauntlet. Every day around noon I would take ďlunch.Ē No matter what. And my lunch would be one hour of walking. It isnít always easy and I do miss days Ė if I have an interview or a tight deadline on a project I have to skip a day. But Iíve found, oddly, that clients respect lunch more than they respect weekends and late nights. If I donít answer their call between noon and 1:00, they dismiss it as, ďOh, she must be at lunch.Ē However, if I donít answer their call after 6:00 PM they leave a snarky message along the lines of, ďmust be nice to only work when you want to.Ē
A few months ago I upped the ante and started walking, gasp, 2 hours at ďlunch.Ē It started one day after I spent three hours crafting a lengthy and difficult job application. Typically I walk 30 minutes and no matter where I am, I do a 180į and return home ensuring my one hour lunch. But on this particular day I embarked on my lunch hour walk and it felt so good to have completed the application and I didnít have a freelance project on deck, so when I hit my 30 minute mark I didnít turn around. I just kept walking until I hit the one hour mark. My one hour lunch became a 2 hour lunch. And thatís been the routine ever since. I canít do it every day. Interviews and projects and job applications remain the top priority; Iíve yet to get a walk in every day of the week. But itís a huge improvement over the chaotic catch-as-catch-can non-routine prior to the lunch time walks.
Of course this is a time-worn lesson: Exercise at the same time every day and it will become a regular routine, a daily habit like brushing teeth. The key factor is finding a time of day that works for you. A time of day that you wonít feel guilty (or afraid) of not taking calls and emails.
And another time-worn lesson: No matter how much stress you have in your life, no matter how much chaos and unpredictability, itís crucial to make time for yourself. The huge amount of stress I have in my life feels insurmountable most of the time. Itís constant, thereís no relief from it. However, I noticed when Iím able to do two hours of walking I am more able to let go of stress easier than when I only walk an hour. It takes a good 45 minutes for me to get outside my head and focus solely on walking, enjoying the scenery and thinking about something, anything, other than finding a job, clients, money and all the stress that goes with unemployment. If Iím walking two hours, that gives me one hour and 15 minutes of much needed unburdened thinking.
As for health benefits, when it comes to walking of course more is better. But I havenít noticed much difference in my appearance or weight since I added an additional hour of walking. Sometimes I try to walk farther distances in two hours, pushing myself to walk faster, but as yet I havenít noticed that makes a difference, either. I still have the bodily results of a starch-heavy diet, sleepless nights and an off-the-chart stress level. But I know the added hour is good for my heart. And just as importantly, I know itís good for my mental health.
Most of all, the lunchtime walks are a routine. In what has become an unpredictable, reactionary life, finding one source of certainty is like finding a life buoy just before going under the tide.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Being unemployed sucks. For the obvious reasons. And some not so obvious. Stress, anxiety, fear, frustration, confusion and despair are just the beginning of the negatives involved with unemployment. I long for the days when I was newly unemployed and "only" had to deal with stress, anxiety, fear, frustration, confusion and despair. Those were halcyon days compared to what I'm now experiencing.
Here's a scary thing I learned the hard way: It is possible to Eat less than 1,300 calories a day and GAIN weight. And not just a little weight, a LOT of weight. I knew it was possible, I mean, eat nothing but a 1,300 calorie piece of cake every day and you will gain weight (and lose muscle tone and do really bad things to the rest of your body). But I don't eat a piece of cake every day. Or any day.
I have tried very hard to eat healthy - okay not always as balanced as I'd like - but healthy. I a) stay under 1,500 calories (1,300 on most days) and b) try to get at least 40 grams of protein per day. (That's 20 grams under the healthy dose but protein is expensive, I have to make realistic compromises.) Those are my rules. Period.
Here's what sucks: Food, especially fresh produce, is expensive. Forget organic. Organic produce was eliminated the day I was laid-off. My challenge is finding room in the budget for fresh, or for that matter, ANY produce. There have been some very, very, very lean weeks. Weeks when I had to live on less than $12. Plan seven days of meals on $12. Now try to incorporate fresh produce into those meals keeping in mind the $12 for seven days of meals restriction. I triple dog dare you to figure out how to eat fresh for seven days on $12. In fact, I triple dog dare you to figure out how to eat remotely healthy on a $12/week budget. In fact, I super triple dog dare you eat for seven days on a budget of $12. Clip all the coupons you can, shop at the cheapest stores and buy in bulk - I do all of that, too. And still I say: Good luck.
Mac and cheese and baked potatoes and peanut butter it is. All carefully metered out to a) last seven days and b) stay under 1,300 calories per day.
I call it the Unemployment Diet. It's all the rage these days.
One of my former coworkers who was laid off with me has a child under the age of 18. So she was recently accepted into a food stamp type of program wherein she will receive $36/week to feed her child and herself. Since I don't have kids I'm not that "lucky." But divide $36 by two people (one of whom is a growing, ravenous 13-year-old) and that shakes out to $18/week per person. Not exactly a lot more than my $12/week food budget. My former coworker is skipping meals, sometimes not eating for a day, so that her child can eat. And yet she's put on weight, too. And not just a little. Enough so that her interview suit is too snug to wear. Stress. Depression. Carbs. Low or no protein.
People sometimes wonder why/how unemployed or low-wage employed people are often overweight. I've heard statements like, "Maybe if they didn't eat Twinkies and beer..." "Can't be THAT poor, they're overweight, they're obviously eating a lot..." "Maybe they should lay off the pizza and save the pizza money for something more useful..." "Get off the couch and get some exercise and eat healthy food!" "I see people using food stamps to buy nothing but processed, starchy foods, they shouldn't be allowed to use food stamps for unhealthy food."
Yes, the unemployment/low income diet is unhealthy. High starch = high carb = high fat. Low protein = low muscle retention. Low nutrient = fattening. But. $12 for seven days of meals. A box of mac and cheese can feed a few people a meal or one person for a few days. A $3.99 bag of potatoes can feed a family for a week, a single person for a couple weeks. A jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread (whole wheat, if you can afford that luxury) will feed two kids lunch for a week or a single person a couple meals a day for seven days.
I know this because these are the choices I often have to make. I made rookie mistakes along the way, blowing my entire food budget on a couple apples, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and fresh spinach. Three days later I had nothing to eat and no money to buy more food. I scraped up change from my dwindling laundry quarter jar and borrowed $5 from a friend to buy a box of cereal and rice milk so I could eat something for the remaining four days of the week. I couldn't do laundry, but I could eat cereal. Compromise and choices, often compromising choices. Survival of the fittest? More like survival of the one with the biggest cache of laundry quarters.
Sounds like a pretty restrictive diet, yes? Sounds like I should be rail thin by now, yes?
How, then, did I gain back all the weight I worked so hard to lose plus 12 more pounds?
Did I not move from the couch or get out of bed?
No - I've been doing a lot of walking (4 - 5 miles/day) and weight training/toning at home on a daily basis.
Huh? It doesn't compute - how can you gain weight on such a restricted diet, especially while getting daily exercise?
Carbs. Very low protein. Stress. Sleepless nights (LOTS of sleepless nights). Depression. Anxiety. And did I mention an unbalanced (albeit low calorie) diet consisting of mainly carbs?
So yeah, that sucks.
Summer was "good" in terms of healthy food, though. I volunteered at my neighborhood's once/week farmer's market which equated to some produce freebies. What I didn't eat I froze, so my freezer is now stocked with fresh frozen beans, peppers, onions, squash, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I bartered some other goodies - a logo design for a huge bag of almonds, enough to last several months. A label design earned me a dozen jars of homemade tomato sauce. I unloaded and loaded a bunch of melons in trade for a huge jar of pickles.
Thanks to the re-introduction of some fresh produce I dropped a few pounds. 12, to be exact. And now I'm back where I first started on Spark. My weigh-in and measurement today put me exactly where I was when I started Spark in January '09.
Which sucks. Because I've honestly been eating far less and exercising a LOT more than when I was burning through 2 - 3 pounds/week. By casual calculations I should be at my goal weight.
Ahhhh, stress. Anxiety. Depression. Carbs. Low protein. Low income. I've heard it can pack on pounds faster than an all you can eat pastry buffet. But I thought (hoped) as long as I stayed active and kept the calories around 1,300 I'd be okay.
The emotional component of physical health is real. Very real. I didn't realize how real until I witnessed what stress and depression were doing to my body. MY body. The body I was doing everything I could to keep healthy.
So that's a lot of stuff that sucks.
I'm not just venting, here. I'm hoping to enlighten some people, even one person, about the very real physical aspects of unemployment or low-wage employment. Most of us who are unemployed are not eating pizza and beer and sitting on the couch watching Maury. (I cannot afford pizza or any kind of booze, so it's out of the question, even if I wanted to eat that diet I couldn't afford it. And I rarely watch television.) Most of us are trying to manage the healthiest meals we can on very, very limited budgets.
For most of us it's more than cutting out the Starbucks and expensive specialty grocery stores. (I never went to Starbucks, rarely went to specialty food stores.) When I was employed my big splurge was on organic produce at my local mid-range, one-size-fits-all grocery store. I miss it. A lot. My body misses it. I buy frozen store-brand vegetables when they're on sale and when I have a little extra money, but they're my new luxury. That's my reality and the reality that most other unemployed people are living. So cut us a little slack if we're chubbing up a little around the middle or back-side. Don't hastily judge us and dismiss us as lazy pizza eating, beer chugging couch potatoes.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
So, my pool gym has a few treadmills and a couple machines. Nothing fancy. But they do have a hip abduction machine which I think is an odd choice if you're only going to have a few machines. I'm familiar with hip abduction machines. Even though it looks like a Medieval sexual torture device, and even though the name confounds me (Do I really want to abduct my hips? Is the machine abducting my hips? Is there a ransom involved?) I kinda like that machine. So occasionally I take a spin on it.
Today, the Spark Exercise of the Day is: Hip Abduction Machine.
There's the Spark demo and the written instructions. Okay, yes, machines can be intimidating, scary, weird...but hip abduction machines are very intuitive.
You sit down, straddle the pads between your thighs, set the weight and then, in the words of the Thigh Mistress herself, Suzanne Somers, you just squeeze, squeeze, squeeze your way to strong, toned thighs.
But what really cracked me up about Spark's instructions for hip abduction machines is the "Special Instructions." Since I use a hip abduction machine sometimes I thought, "ah ha! I better read this! I might glean some useful secret hip abduction knowledge! Like how to convince aliens to abduct my hips and take them to a distant planet never to return again."
Heh heh heh.
Yeah. Just as I suspected. Attempting to tone your thighs can be dangerous to your health. Might be best to "avoid it entirely."
This can be dangerous and result in muscular imbalance by overdeveloping the muscles in the outer thigh. SparkPeople recommends that you practice extreme caution when doing this move, using a light weight, or avoid it entirely."
I love that: Avoid it entirely.
Thanks for the warning. But somehow I don't think I'm in eminent danger of "overdeveloping" any muscles, especially in my outer thigh.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Itís been a bad week pain-wise. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning with my foot throbbing and swollen. My doctor suggested ceasing all but the most necessary mobility Ė getting back and forth to work, going to the bathroomÖthat sort of thing. Iím not on 100% immobility, but close.
Which is fine by me because my foot hurts and I donít want to be very mobile. I have no clue what caused this recent spike in pain.
But I am upset about even less exercise and gym time. I can watch my hips and butt grow. The jeans I easily slid into last week are snug, now. This is discouraging and depressing. I am decreasing my caloric intake even more Ė but Iím afraid to consistently drop below 1,000 calories. A few 800 calorie days here and there, given my near sedentary phase, are okay. But not consistently. Itís a delicate balance and Iíve yet to hit upon the right formula.
I ďonlyĒ gained a pound last week but it feels like 10 pounds. Iím watching my hard work and progress slip away with each weigh-in. It started to really get to me Ė the scale dread Ė and made me feel guilty, that Iíd let myself down.
I know, I know. I have legit reasons, doctorís orders, in fact, for reducing my exercise. But it makes me sad. Makes me feel a lot of negative things about myself and my future and my life in general.
I declared a weigh-tente. A cease fire between the warring factions of my foot and the rest of my body. No scale, no weigh-in this week. Itís going to be bad, Iím not going to like what it says, I know Iíve gained weight and thereís little I can do about it. I donít need ďproofĒ in the form of a number on the scale. I just have to ride out this phase of swelling and pain, be it a few days or a week, as best as I can and make sure everything I eat serves a nutritional purpose. I will gain weight. Thatís a given. But keeping the food is fuel mindset will hopefully get me through this. Food is fuel and I donít need much fuel right now.
On the plus side, once I declared the weigh-tente I was surprised how much better I felt. The relief the break from the scale is giving me is palpable. It cannot go on indefinitely, I know this. I have to step on the scale and face reality if I want to have any control over it. But it was controlling me and that is not good. Every time I saw the scale I felt tense, guilty, sad and scared. A loud voice yelled over the intercom in my head: ďStep away from the scale!!!Ē Obviously I need a weigh-cation. I kept the scale in plain view, itís there and I will get back on it next week. This is not permission to slack on weigh-ins. Itís a weigh-tente, a purposeful cease fire to give my mental health a break.
I worry that it will slip into a pattern, that a week of weigh-tente will turn into two weeks, then a month, then I wonít want to get on the scale ever againÖSo itís risky. It will take stamina and discipline to end the weigh-tente and go back to the mental health landmine on the scale. But. The negativity and anxiety it was causing were bad Ė very bad. This is definitely a low point. Iím frustrated, disappointed, hopeless and scared. Most of this is far, far beyond my control. I know that. Iím doing what I can, controlling what I can, but thatís not enough Ė without exercise, regular, heart pumping exercise, a body will gain weight. Period. The weigh-tente is also an effort to gain some control over the ďsituation.Ē The ďsituationĒ in question being my mental health.
My bodyís health is crucial and has been my central focus. But this week I need to turn my attention to my mental health. Giving myself permission to take a break is not easy. Even with my doctorís orders Iím scared to give myself permission to reduce my exercise to the point of near immobility. Iím afraid to cut myself slack. Give my hips and butt an inch and theyíll take that inch and turn it into three or four inches. See? This is the negativity Iím dealing with this week, the self loathing and contempt. Not good. Not in any way useful or helpful.
Iím in a weigh-tente this week. Maybe not following the plan, maybe not what the experts advise, and it will take that much more discipline to get on it next week. But thatís a chance I have to take for the sake of my sanity. The pressure and negativity Iíve been putting on myself is not healthy.
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