Where motivation, exercise and food meet

Last week both my PT and my partner were away. My PT offered me a replacement for the week, but to be honest he sets the standards pretty high and his replacement in the past just hasn’t been up to scratch, so I said no and promised him I’d train myself. Except that I didn’t. I did pack my gym bag and put it in the car three days in a row, but twice I got held up at work and on the third day… well on the third day I got lazy. With no PT appointments and no partner around to tell me to suck it up, I just didn’t get off my bum and get to the gym.

While I was busy not being at the gym, I was also busy being absolutely crap at being an adult about my food intake. I fell off the bandwagon, I ate what I shouldn’t have, I showed no restraint and I generally decided that I’d start again next week. Or something. I was also busy reading all the fitness blogs, and looking at all of the fitspo, and generally thinking about how I want to get stronger… and I was doing nothing about it. I chose foccacias for lunch, and chinese takeaway, and I ate chocolate in the car on the way home from work.

Yesterday morning my PT was back in the gym, and so was I. It was a good session, I worked hard, and I enjoyed it. The funny thing was, for the rest of the day, and for the first time in a fortnight, I found it easy to make good food choices. I bought a salad (which I enjoyed). I didn’t eat chocolate in the car on the way home. There was no afternoon snacks. So it made me realise something. If one good choice leads to another good choice, then it makes sense to find the good choice that is easiest to make, and always prioritise it, knowing that putting that first will help the rest of those good choices to flow freely.

In this case, clearly I need someone else to motivate me to work out. Whether it’s paying my PT or working out with my partner, exercising that way comes a lot easier to me than making that choice by myself. But making that choice seems to lead to me choosing to exercise more often, and to choosing better foods. So for now, my choice is to continue to prioritise my finances to pay for a PT, and to choose to start to schedule more workouts with my partner.

Starting with one good choice, which makes the harder choices easier to make.

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A semi-dislocated shoulder. A step backwards.

stepping backwards

How does it feel to not be able to hold your handbag in your left hand? What is it like to feel that your shoulder may drop out of its socket if you pick up your water bottle?

It feels scary. It feels foreign. It feels unstable, like your shoulder might drop out of your socket. It feel embarrassing, a little humiliating and, most of all, it just feels fucking frustrating.

For two and a half years I have paid $50 twice a week. I have invested in gym gear, for the first time in my life. I have sweated, sworn, ached, felt proud, risked a lot, and trusted my very movement to a personal trainer. I have invested all of this to strengthen my somewhat unstable shoulders to make sure that, unlike my mother from whom I inherited them, I would prevent them from dislocating rather than having to rehab after the fact.

But today, merely half an hour ago, my left shoulder slipped. It didn’t dislocate, to be fair, but it slipped enough to make a popping feeling, to feel my muscles twinge, to leave my left arm feeling vulnerable and helpless. I wasn’t doing anything that I’d classify as risky- I was pulling a rope, bringing a reasonably heavy sled towards me. But I got enthusiastic, sped up, and forgot to brace my shoulder. A reminder that no matter how long I train for, no matter how strong I get or how much I achieve in the gym, my shoulders will always be vulnerable. A reminder that no matter how many times I’ve done a movement, no matter how practiced I am, no movement can ever be routine. I must always be alert, concentrating, aware of every muscle in my back and shoulders- how they’re placed, how they feel, how they’re working.

And now I’m left sitting in my manual car, wondering how the hell I’m going to drive home when my arm feels too vulnerable to pick up even my handbag.

Clenching my bum

I’ve had a realisation in the gym. I’m sure my PT’s been trying to tell me this for ages, and I heard him, but I didnt’ get it. So here it is: when I engage my glutes, everything gets easier. It doesn’t matter what exercise I’m doing, or what area of the body I’m focusing on – when my bum’s clenched, everything’s better. I’m sure there’s exceptions to the rule, and I’m sure I’m not supposed to be doing it all the time, but for now it seems that engaged my glutes in helping to engage other back and core muscles that I struggle with otherwise. It’s bringing some kind of balance to my body that I’ve been missing otherwise.

Last night I was doing some mid-weight clean and presses, and some bicep curls and presses. Often when doing these movements I do well for the first 6-7 reps (out of 10) but struggle for the final couple. Engaging my glutes meant that suddenly my stability increased, and although the final reps were difficult they were as hard as they’d been before.

So I’m sure this is something that the whole world knows. I’m sure I’m behind on the times, and what I’m saying is going to be pretty ‘duh’ for anyone reading this. But it’s somewhat of a revelation for me, it’s making life easier, and I’m excited to see what I can achieve now that I’m adding some of this stuff into my workouts.

Finding motivation: counting down to Spartan

Spartan-Race-Spartan-Logo2

I’ve lost some motivation recently. Not only with my eating (which didn’t surprise me at all), but also in my training (which did). Losing training motivation snuck up on me and yes, it surprised me a bit, because for the majority of the last 18 months my motivation’s been strong. While I’ve not enjoyed specific exercises, or had down days in the gym, for the most part I’ve wanted to be there and I’ve wanted the results. But over the past couple of months I’ve found myself consistently thinking about skipping-out on PT sessions, and dragging my way through them when they do happen. My PT’s noticed it too. At the start of the year I set a couple of goals for myself- weight loss (not specific), to be able to deadlift my own body weight, and to do a pull-up.

Turns out I’m very motivated by an end-point, but when I set that end-point myself I don’t work so well. This isn’t new to me- I’m constantly dealing with this exact same thing in the workplace when it comes to deadlines- but it’s a new concept for me in the gym. Needless to say, with no ‘other-imposed’ due date on those goals, they weren’t pushing me very hard.

Late last year I completed The Stampede, a 10 km obstacle event. It’s not a race- it’s supposed to be fun, supportive and non-competitive. My partner couldn’t do that event, so we’ve been keeping tabs on the obstacle race calender for a similar event to do together ever since. There’s been plenty happening across the first half of the year, but none of them at a convenient time. Anyway, Spartan Race recently announced their next Melbourne dates and races – on September 12 their running a 7 km, 21 km, and completely insane 42 km. So we signed up for the 7 km.

It’s crazy, but the day after I paid my cash and signed up, my motivation in the gym shot through the roof. Suddenly I had a six month time frame in which to achieve some fresh goals, and my mind was really really happy with that. Spartan seems to have a lot of monkey-bar style challenges (although it’s hard to tell, because they don’t release a map of the course), so my first goal is to improve my grip and upper body strength enough to be able to complete at least one of those obstacles. And if I can do one, hopefully I can do more.

We’ve signed up for the 7 km, because let’s face it, 21 km is just a bit nuts. The furthest I’ve ever run non-stop is about 3.5 km, and I’m definitely not up to running that right now, so my second goal is to get my running back up to a fairly decent standard. I’d like to be able to run 5 km of the 7- which should be doable, seeing as there’ll be obstacles breaking up the running. So it’s back to the Couch to 5km running app for me- and with six months, I know that’s realistic. I think the time-frame is the best bit about all of this. Not only do I have my motivation back, but I also have goals that I can actually achieve in the time frame. Run 5 km, do one monkey bar obstacle, and of course generally kick the rest of the course’s bum.

I know Spartan is a tougher, more competitive course and environment than the very family-friendly Stampede, but I’m really looking forward to giving it a go- and giving my body a go at pushing hard.

The flu, cheat meals and realisations

So, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Nearly two weeks, in fact! There’s a pretty simple reason: I’ve been sick. Blegh. At first I thought it was hay fever, then I thought it was a bad cold, then I suspected it was a migraine… I finally settled on the realisation that I simply had the flu.

Keeping up with the challenge while I’ve been sick has been hard, although not as hard as I might have suspected. After my first day off work I let myself get a little bit to sorry for myself and ended up eating fish and chips for dinner. But funnily enough, sitting on the floor surrounded by greasy paper and cold chips, I didn’t feel better after eating them. Nor did I feel really satisfied after eating something I wasn’t supposed to. So while I’d allowed myself a cheat meal, and I was not feeling (and continue not to not feel) guilty about eating it, it was all a bit of an anticlimactic cheat meal consumption.

I had another moment when I went to my parent’s house for dinner later in the week. Mum had made me chicken soup (she’d even made her own chicken bone broth to use as a stock base!), and it was delicious. But (there’s always a but!) she’d also made a batch of macaroni cheese for a visiting cousin. Mum’s macaroni cheese was my absolute favourite meal when I was growing up. It’s the dish I’d request on my birthday, paired with a chocolate pudding for dessert. In fact, I still love mum’s macaroni cheese, although opportunities to eat it are rarer and rarer these days. So despite having sworn myself off wheat, gluten and cheese for the duration of the challenge, I did eat a small bowl of the magic stuff. It was gooooood.

So I ate fish and chips, I ate macaroni cheese, and I had no regrets. What I couldn’t control though, was when my body would be up to getting back to the gym. All in all I had to take 6 days away from exercise, which bugged me no-end, but I really didn’t want to push my body before it was ready to get back to it. Even once I did get back and have a session with my PT, it was still a struggle. I reckon I was probably operating on about 60%.

So the result of the week of the flu was a disappointing weight gain. I knew I wasn’t going to lose weight, but I figured that because my eating was still pretty much in check I’d perhaps just hover at the same figure I was at the week before. Not so. When I jumped on the scales yesterday, they revealed that I’ve put on nearly half a kilo. I think the most disappointing this about that is the realisation that no matter how healthily I eat, I’m going to have to exercise consistently for the rest of my life to avoid weight gain. The other realisation is that no matter how small, any cheat or treat is going to have an impact. There’s no hiding from it.

Don’t get me wrong- I knew these things already. But at this point my head is saying “I don’t ever want to eat most of that stuff again- it’s just really bad for my body” but my heart is saying “eat the cupcake. eat the cheese. eat the pasta”. This is definitely a case of listening to my head over my heart, but it’s another reminder that I’m only at the start of week 6 of this challenge, and really it’s not just six weeks into a challenge but six weeks into a changed lifestyle. I’m breaking habits and I’ I’m starting new ones, and as painful as some of these realisations are, there’s really no turning back from this point.

Something’s got to change…

Something’s got to change. I’m in my mid-20’s and in the last 12 months, several of my relatives have had significant health scares. These haven’t been wake-up calls for me in the sense that they’ve reminded me how short and precious life is blah blah blah- instead they’ve reminded me of exactly the genetic hand I’ve been dealt. They’ve reminded me that the female side of my family’s ‘big bum’ syndrome means more than just a big bum- it means that I have the genetic tendency to be a bit bigger than I should be, in areas that count. They’ve reminded me that everyone has an increased likelihood of experiencing these issues if they’re overweight- even just a little bit. They’ve reminded me that I have, more than the average person, an increased likelihood of experiencing these same health issues, because these are now part of my genetics.

I’m 26, and it’s safe to say that it has taken me every minute of my 26 years to come to terms with, accept and perhaps even like the body that I have. I’ve started to figure out what styles of clothing work best for me, and I’ve figured out that there’s some that I shouldn’t even try (and that’s ok!). It’s not because of my size- it’s because of my shape. And the thing is, I’m ok with all of it. It’s fine. It’s all good. The tough thing for me now is the recent discovery that, despite my body acceptance, I need to make some changes.

I have what is commonly called a ‘spare tire’ of fat around my middle. I wear somewhere between dress size 10-14 AU depending on the brand and style of the dress, so I don’t classify myself as particularly big, but as I’ve come to terms with my body shape I’ve realised there’s actually a bigger factor than how I look: how I feel. And I don’t feel healthy. When I sit down I can feel the bulge of my tummy, and the blergh of fat on my hips (yes, a blergh. I can’t describe it any other way). I don’t feel like I’m the best that I can be, and worse than that- I’m potentially making myself sick. It’s been proven that the bigger your waistline gets, the more increased your risk of developing a chronic disease- and my waistline has, over the course of the years, been growing. Right now it’s not too bad, but my body’s on an increasing trend. I need to stop that. The chronic diseases that are referred to in regards to an increasing waistline are some of the exact health scares my family members have experienced, so the increased genetic disposition + the increasing waistline means that it’s time for me to do something.

I’m not an inactive person. I go to the gym three times a week, with a personal trainer, and over the last year I’ve been kicking some really great goals there. My strength and stamina has improved, and I’m feeling great. Unfortunately the exercise really hasn’t had much influence on my body shape or weight, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to review what I’m putting in my mouth. And that’s the point of this blog. I’m not going on a diet- I’m going to be making some sustainable changes. I’m a creature of habit, so I’m going to need to do some drastic stuff in order to kick-start the process, but I’ll tell you some more about that next time I write.

For now, you just need to know that this blog exists to help me keep accountable. It’s a diary for myself that I’m making public for a couple of reasons. Firstly I hope that documenting the process will validate it. By putting my efforts down on paper (or on screen), those efforts exist- even if I can’t see the results. Secondly, making it public keeps me accountable. Maybe you’re reading this, maybe you’re not, but the thought that someone might follow the entire process seems to me like a good way to keep me motivated.

Perhaps this process will also connect me to other people who have been on similar journeys.