Thursday, December 1, 2016

GAINZ and losses

Left: Before - 209lbs, 44" bust, 43" waist
Right: After - 198lbs, 41" bust, 40" waist
At the end of October, I posted that I was going to make a concerted effort to lose weight for very specific reasons. It's been a full thirty days, so I thought I'd update you on that.

What I didn't say specifically last time was that I was going to do a Whole30 for the month of November. If you're a longtime follower of my blog, you probably know that I personally feel at my best when I'm following the Paleo diet, and despite what everyone else in real life or on the Internet says, it works for me and I like it, and that's that. (I don't care how you eat. Don't concern yourself with what I eat.)

I am bringing it up, however, because sometimes people just want to know what it is I'm doing. I'm not going to sit here and extoll its virtues or whatever - for one thing, I've done that on my blog before, as have many other bloggers. I'm not here to sell you on it. Like I said, it works for me, and I like it. It might not work for other people, and they might not like it, so you do you. I'm not here to debate Paleo's efficacy for anyone other myself.

I'm also bringing it up because making lasting changes in the name of health/fitness/happiness is a common struggle that many people face, regardless of whatever way of eating you follow, and so, I feel like you could probably relate to that even if you have a completely different eating philosophy from me. I had a good 30 days - I felt like a strict "reset" was in order, not to clear out toxins or whatever, but to retrain my brain and how I think about food. I feel like the most important thing I got out of this month was how to diligently meal plan (especially since I'm responsible for feeding my family as well) and how to handle the temptation to eat everything around me just because it's there, and other hurdles. (I traveled this month, and we also had Thanksgiving.)

I also spent a lot of time reflecting on just what I want out of my general everyday diet. I've learned that my body is happiest when I'm following the strict Whole30 guidelines, but my soul is happiest when I get to have a little pho, cheese, and dark chocolate. I've learned that as much as I LIKE Skittles, cheddar bay biscuits, and Coke, I can definitely live without them (and indeed, thrive).

I know a lot of people would balk at doing the Whole30 after looking at its guidelines, but having now done it three separate times, I have to say that those 30 days are actually the easiest part. Does it feel torturous at times? Sure. But it's easy because it's very cut-and-dried. NO these things, and YES these things. The decisions are already made for you, and you just have to follow through.

It's this part, the part that comes after, that is harder. How much do I loosen up my rules? How do I know I won't totally go off the rails and eat that entire 20-piece holiday caramel sampler I saw at Trader Joe's? HOW MUCH CHEESE IS TOO MUCH CHEESE????

On the plus side, having been through this before, I at least have some sense of what I can reintroduce to my diet without throwing myself completely off. (Cheese on my eggs? Cool. A tall glass of straight-up milk? Not so much - it makes me feel icky even when I have been consistently consuming other dairy products.) This sounds obvious, of course, but it all comes down to figuring out where "moderation" and "reasonable indulgence" lies for me. It's my birthday next week, and if I really want some cake, I should have some cake. And in return, I should enjoy the experience and NOT feel the slightest bit bad about it. But... I should also NOT eat half the entire cake in two days. I should NOT eat cake every day - not because eating cake every day is a morally bad decision, but because if I want my body to perform optimally, then I just can't do that. One of the hardest concepts for me (and probably anyone) to internalize is that there are no "good" foods and "bad" foods, from a moral standpoint. There are foods that work for you, and foods that don't agree with you so well, and it's up to you how you strike that balance, because every body is different. Having seen how my body functions without certain food groups compared to how it functions with them, I can say that I don't have any food allergies, but some food groups in larger amounts (or even in certain forms) do not agree with my body as well as other food groups. It doesn't mean I can't eat cake ever; it means that I should be more judicious about my consumption of it.

(So, to reiterate - I'm not judging anyone who eats cake every day. I'm saying that my body wouldn't be able to handle that, and since I have specific athletic goals I'm trying to meet, I should be mostly sticking to foods that work for me.)

So, as you can see from my photo above, I had some success this month. I'm down about 10-11 pounds (I wasn't very scientific about weighing myself in terms of clothes/shoes/time of day), and I've lost a few inches all over. I am happy about this, because again, I have specific reasons for wanting to lose weight, neither of which have to do with my appearance or self-worth. I don't care if I look "better" or not; in fact, I don't think I look all that different. (I do have a bit more muscle definition in my upper body and thighs, which is cool, but that wasn't the point of losing weight.)

I can feel a difference, though: I haven't really tried to run yet, but my knee is feeling better when I squat. If you'll recall, I was in a lot of pain leading up to my competition last March, and while I did manage to hit all my attempts, in the weeks afterward, I could barely front-squat 80lbs without pain. However, this past week, I managed to get up to 335lbs for my third set of backsquats with no pain, so that's a huge victory for me! The combination of more consistent work plus a little less weight on my frame, plus the improvement of the inflammation (or whatever) in my knee, really made a difference. This is the most important result of all for me, far more important than looking "hotter."

And of course, there were other things that improved, that weren't weight-related at all:
  • I have been far less sore after my workouts, despite the increasing intensity.
  • I've been tracking various illnesses/symptoms in my bullet journal, and November had far fewer headaches and stomachaches than previous months.
  • I sleep more soundly (and it's easier for me to fall asleep/wake up).
  • Despite the major drop in temperature all of a sudden this month, I have not gotten sick. (I've been hovering on the edge of feeling sick a little bit, but I haven't actually gotten sick. *knock on wood*)
So I'm feeling good about myself lately, and I am motivated to keep working on maintaining order in my food choices and habits (and of course, showing up to the gym as consistently as possible). I'm not going to do a check-in like this every month, but I did want to give some sort of follow-up to my previous post and let you know that all is well on that front. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016


This year, for the first time, we are celebrating Thanksgiving on our own, with just the three of us. I've grown up surrounded by my huuuuuuge family on either side (and, eventually, Jimmy's large extended family as well), so this is quite a change for us, but I'm grateful that we are here and that we have each other.

I don't have to cite examples to prove that times are difficult right now, for so many people, in so many different ways. It seems indulgent, maybe, to try to find the joy in our daily existence. But it's what I find myself being drawn back to, again and again. To quote author John Green, "The world may be broken, but hope is not crazy." If you're lucky enough to have joy in your life, especially daily, then it would be foolish not to hang onto that. Be grateful that you have it, you know?

I've been doing a little Daily Gratitude journal for the month of November, and it consists of a different question each day about something we're grateful for. And I love how it's very specific - "What scent are you grateful for?" "What ability are you grateful for?" "What season are you grateful for?" - because it forces me to thinking about little things that I truly am grateful for, things that I would've overlooked otherwise. (It asks about big things too.)

I think it's easy to get lost in the bleakness of the world and to forget to find the beauty. I'm not saying that we should ignore the ugly stuff. (On the contrary, I think there are a lot of battles to be fought, and they definitely need to be fought.) I just think that, if we lose sight of what it is we love so much about the world, big and small, it makes the fight that much more difficult.

So, this Thanksgiving, here's to the little things:

Here's to the random rainbows I see in the sky (because it rains a lot here).

To the smell of spices cooking in my kitchen.

To the sound of Jimmy's heartbeat when I lay my head against his chest.

To the smell of Jolie's skin when I kiss her awake in the morning.

To the punny riddles that my coach writes on the workout board every week.

Here's to the feel of alpaca yarn sliding through my fingers. Here's to family game night. Here's to having multiple fandoms and hobbies, and people to share them with. Here's to living within 20 minutes of at least three different bookstores. Here's to the sound of breathing in the middle of the night that reminds me I'm not alone in the dark. Here's to PUMPKIN EVERYTHING during the fall, and peppermint hot chocolate during the winter.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you're able to find more than a little joy in your day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In for a penny, in for 400+ pounds

I have just submitted my entry for Deadlifts for Doernbecher, an unsanctioned charity deadlift competition to benefit Doernbecher Children's Hospital hosted by my new gym, Savage Strength Conditioning.

While I have been struggling lately to establish a steady gym routine, I do think that, at least, I'm doing okay on deadlifts, even if I feel like my squat strength is slow to come back. (I don't know - I could be totally wrong about my squats and just expecting too much of myself. I get in my own head a lot. I am my own worst critic.) Deadlifts have always been my best/favorite lift, and just like I did a year ago, I feel like this is the best way to ease into competing. I feel a little out of my element (because I'm new not just to the area, but to competitive powerlifting in general, relatively) so I'm a big fan of taking baby steps here. I know I've competed in a deadlift-only division before, as well as a full meet too, but I am still nerrrrrrrrrvousssssssss even just thinking about competing.

I am excited, because this is why I signed up to train with Team Savage - so that I could compete and see how far I can go in this sport. After two years at Anchored, I know enough about the basics of lifting that I could figure out some workouts on my own at any ol' commercial gym, just enough to stay in shape. But that's not what I want - I would never be happy with "just enough." I want to pursue the horizons. I have to at least TRY to see what I'm fully capable of. I was never great at derby or distance running (though I love them both and have a great passion for both), but I could be great at powerlifting, and I owe it to myself to find out just how far I can go.

So yeah. I'm in. December 17th. LET'S GO.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The thing about teaching

I clicked on this HuffPost article that one of my former coworkers shared, and FB immediately showed me two more, shown above.

There are tons, TONS, of articles about teacher stress and things that need to change so that we (as well as our students) can thrive, but what the heck is being done about it??? Are there higher-ups listening? Or are we just shouting into the void?

I'm not even teaching right now, but I am frequently having stress dreams about going back to teaching next year. And I actually love teaching - I love sharing my love of literature, I love forming connections with my students, and this may surprise many, but I actually really enjoy working with teenagers. (Yeah, it can be difficult, but they are an amazing, dynamic age group, and many of the teens I've known outshine many adults with their insight and their compassion.)

But I feel a little paralyzed whenever I think about the life I'll be going back to. As much as I feel like, in my heart, I AM a teacher (despite the things I've done wrongly or badly in the past), thinking about the workload makes me panic. And actually, it's not really the workload itself I'm afraid of, but the guilt from knowing that no matter what I or any other teacher does day in and day out, it will never be enough. It's the everyday feeling of guilt and inadequacy that breaks me.

There were moments where I felt "on," where I felt like I did something well. But there were certainly never entire days where I felt that way, and there will never be a point where I feel like I've "got it." I mean, certainly for any career path, there's no way to have really mastered everything there is to know, but is there a job out there where you don't spend most of your days feeling like you're just barely keeping your head above water? Because that's what I would like. I wish I could teach, and on any given day, my status would be "managing," instead of "OMG I'M SO BEHIND ON EVERYTHING."

Granted, I have a lot of personal reasons why it was hard for me to stay afloat, some of which are beyond my control, and some of which are of my own doing. I will admit that; I will own that. There are lots of things I should've done better, and if/when I go back to teaching, those are on my list of things to improve. But the proliferation of articles about teacher stress and burnout tells me that no matter how many things are my fault, there is still a baseline commonality between all teachers that tells me that it's not totally me either. That we're all exhausted, that we ALL need a change, but that we love what we do enough to put ourselves through it anyway.

So my question is, ARE things going to change? Is anyone paying attention to these articles aside from those of us who share them on social media? Or do we beat on, boats against the current, treading water amongst the riptides of our paperwork and our emotions, hoping that the waves don't overtake us?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Words carry weight... but so do I.

I've decided that I'm going to try to lose weight.

And I kind of already hate myself for SAYING that - my history of weight loss (or lack thereof) and my relationship with my body and my self-esteem while I'm undergoing that process has always been fraught. But the whole point of this blog post is not just to announce my intentions for accountability, but to also lay out a sort of manifesto for this weight-loss journey that I'm about to embark on.

It is very, very difficult to make that decision in a vacuum in our current society. And what I mean is that I can tell myself that all my reasons for wanting to lose weight this time have nothing to do with aesthetics or being "beautiful" or arriving at a more socially-desirable bodyweight (which is true), but it's always going to be there, lurking in the back of my mind. And moreover, it's always going to be lurking out there - in society, which as a whole only seems to approve of fat people if they are trying really hard not to be fat anymore.

In truth, this attempt at losing weight isn't at all about being "hot." I am not getting a jump start on a "bikini body." I have two very specific reasons for wanting to lose weight, and believe it or not, they have zero to do with appearance:

1) I want to drop a weight class for powerlifting competitions, and I don't want to do it through tricks or dehydration. I want to lose that weight for the long-term, not just for one event at a time. (For those of you who don't know, being in a lower weight class but lifting heavier makes you more competitive.)

2) This is the more important reason - I really effing miss running. I really do. I know some of you think I'm crazy, but I'm seeing so many friends training for marathons right now, and it fills me with such sad longing. I don't know if I will ever specifically run marathons again, but hell, I want to try. I want to put myself in the best position I can do that, and therefore, I need to drop some of this extra weight I've put on to lessen the impact on my knee.

When I try to remember the last time I was really happy with my body, it was two years ago when I was training for the California International Marathon - not because of how I looked, but because I was firing on all cylinders, and I felt efficient and powerful. I was doing what I loved, and I felt unstoppable. I was running consistently, sleeping well, hydrating a lot, and eating what I felt was the optimal diet for me, and I felt awesome. And... I was lighter than I am now.

But then after the marathon, I eased up on my intensity in all those areas, and also got sick (just the usual bad winter illness), which led to a huge drop in activity and a lax approach to food. A few months and about twenty pounds later, when I started trying to run again, my knee felt like hell, and it hasn't been the same since. And the rest, as you know, is history.

So here I am now. For the most part, I've been resisting the option of losing weight, because it's such a Pandora's Box for me. Like I said, there's no way you can make that decision in a vacuum and say that it's entirely uninfluenced by society's constant, constant battering ram of beauty standards. (Even I appreciated the WORLD of clothing options that were open to me twenty pounds ago that seem to be closed now.) I mean, I'm actually embarrassed and a little ashamed to even want to lose weight, because I feel like I'm admitting defeat and giving in to the pressure, even though this really isn't about trying to improve my looks. I know I'm doing this for my own reasons, and the fact that I have my own reasons makes my choice at least slightly feminist, but the truth is my choice is upholding the status quo, and I feel bad about that.

Am I reinforcing weight-based oppression by admitting that I want to lose weight? I mean, this wouldn't be the first (or last) time I've made a decision for myself that upholds the status quo (hello, I keep a makeup blog), but the fact that my own personal experiences with past weight-loss endeavors have been full of self-loathing and an obsessive need to conform to societal beauty standards seriously makes me question whether I'm capable of actually doing this without reopening those wounds. In essence, can I make this decision to lose weight in a vacuum, if I will it hard enough? If I keep telling myself and everyone else that I'm losing weight for different reasons, are those words going to be enough to fight back against our fat-shaming culture? Or is that which we call a rose by any other name still going to make us gag by coming on too strong?

Maybe I'm overcomplicating things. I have a tendency to do that.

But on the other hand, I also notice the "Hey, you look great!" comments that pop up in profusion when someone posts a picture after some weight loss has occurred, whether it was intentional or not ("I'm sorry you had the stomach flu, but it was a good way to lose 8 pounds, amirite?"). And I notice the profound lack of such comments when the pounds come back, as if only thinness deserves praise or even attention. (Like, if you're telling me I look great when I'm thinner, does that imply that I don't also look great when I'm fatter?)

And this is the sort of thing that makes me even the slightest bit hesitant about any concerted effort at weight loss on my part, because even though I know in my heart that I'm doing it in the name of athletic prowess and efficiency, it's not going to change the fact that the positive feedback I might get will be related to appearance. I don't want to be told "Hey, you look great!" if the reason for that compliment is weight loss. Weight loss is one of the possible outcomes of adjusting your diet and physical activity. If I'm going to be complimented, let it not be for my looks. Or if it has to be for my looks, then at least choose something that I'm directly responsible for, like my eyeshadow application or my sartorial choices.

So I've been at war with myself about this, ever since the ortho I saw a year ago suggested weight loss as one possible option for alleviating my knee issues. But honestly, it's an avenue that I need to explore. And I'm going to do it the "right" way - cleaning up my diet, increasing my workouts (especially by throwing in some non-impact cardio like swimming), and continuing to lift heavy. No magic pills, no body wraps, no weight-loss shakes or teas - I'm looking for the total opposite of a quick fix. My ultimate endgame is athletic badassery and to return to a sport that I love, and I can only achieve that by being the best I can be, not necessarily the smallest. I'm not happy that my decision upholds the societal status quo, but... maybe there's a way I can keep fighting the good fight. Maybe if I don't call it weight loss. I don't know. I don't know if there's any way I can frame it such that the words and my body can carry less weight without somehow adding to the collective weight on society's (especially women's) shoulders. But I'm going to try. If I can't do it with words, then I will do it through action.