Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Leave it on the Mat: A Confession about Exercise, Health and Chocolate

Leave it on the Mat: A Confession about Exercise, Health and Chocolate 

I don’t like to exercise.  
I am worried about my health.  
I have a weakness for chocolate.

If only that would take care of the whole post entirely!  Listen, I’m not here to tell you what to do, you are smart, capable and know exactly what you need to do.  I can only tell you my own story…about exercise.  And it’s been definitely a hate-like-hate relationship over the years.

My husband has run the Boston Marathon twice.  Twice.  He’s a natural gifted athlete who played two (or was it three?) sports in college.  He never went to the library.  I mean, I don’t think ever.  I’m only saying this as a means of prefacing the fact that we are not a couple that works out together, or goes for runs together or anything like that.  I am just grateful that our DNA mixed well together because otherwise my children wouldn’t have a chance at all of ever playing anything at any time.  And that’s not a good thing Martha. 

I live in a place where it is summer year round.  I cannot hide under or behind or even near a sweater.  I cannot accumulate some insulation for the oncoming winter.  Shorts are a uniform staple, remember?  So if things aren’t quite where they need to be, I cannot wish it or diet it or even detox it away (how does one survive those by the way?).  I need to work out and modify my diet.  I know this, I know it, I do know.  And yet.  This is what I think about it. 

And then during the workout.

And then after. 

But remember, I told you about my mom?  She passed away from a rare cancer far too soon.  Sometimes I think if I can only make it to that magic age, I’ll be okay somehow.  Maybe I’ll live to see my kids grow and grow.  The likelihood of my getting my mother’s particular cancer is exceedingly small.  I do know though, that there are a whole host of other illnesses that are waiting around the corner for me —and for you—and chances are, they don’t care about the excuses from the day or the party that you had to have a piece of cake or the fact that you ran that day.  Like heart disease, or type II diabetes, or hypertension, or, yes cancer from all the environmental toxins that we seem to readily consume day after day.  I sometimes scare myself thinking about it.  The only real thing is that I want to be here.  I lost my mom as an adult and it is 
women and heart disease
devastating.  If it is in my power, I have to make sure I am here for my kids.  So that brings me to exercise. 

Lately, I’ve been feeling my middle swell.  And it’s not a good feeling, because I was born with a wicked fast metabolism.  I was scary skinny all my younger years and teased mercilessly because of it.  Just a string bean.  Then when I hit 30, it slowed down to a trickle.  I got my familial curse of holding all my
I don't want to be a fruit
weight in my middle.  They call it being “apple shaped”—charming, isn’t it?  And as I’ve gotten older, that helpful genetic detail has now extended to my thighs.  Wonderous. 

So I was thinking about this.  There was this time, a few years back that I’d had enough, I’d had my third baby and was larger than I’d ever been.  I lost count of how many times people asked me when my next baby was due.  It was, well, tragic.  One day I just decided I was just going to try to workout.  And I bought a couple of DVDs from those celebrity trainers: Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper.  I did them 6 days a week, building up to working out for 45 minutes to an hour each day.  I cut out sugar and flour.  I reduced my portion size.  It took awhile but the numbers on the scale started to fall backwards. I had kick started my metabolism all right.  And you know, people were nicer to me.  At stores, salespeople were eager to help me.  Seems like being skinny now was much better than when I was a young girl.  I was happy with the compliments too, but I fell into a trap—I didn’t stop.  I had reached my goal weight that my doctor felt was a good target and I just kept going.  Cutting out only one day, so I was working out 5 days instead of 6 and instead of the recommended 3 for maintenance.  And then a crisis hit, my father was in trouble and I needed to help him.  The anxiety and the stress were too great but I just kept going.  And you know what happened? 

they may be small but they LINGER, trust me
I had horrible stomach pain and problems digesting food.  My hair started to shed more than normal, and I had ulcers in my mouth, right along the frenulum, the line of tissue that connects your tongue to your mouth’s floor.  My body was screaming at me.  I was horribly out of balance.  So I did what I think a lot of people have done, I stopped.  And now I found myself here, having to start all over again.  Because the DVDs weren’t cutting it this time, and I knew, I knew, I knew it was going to be hard.  And it was going to take longer because I didn’t want to cut out everything that made everything else taste better.  But I was daunted.  And I was tired.  And mini-chocolate donuts are sooo good going down. 

So what do I do?  I’m here.  The kids are in school, I’m in class, holding my water bottle, and I have the new cropped leggings I got from Old Navy and an old tshirt that covers a discolored sports bra from Target.  I have sneakers.  They don’t have as much padding as I’d like, but they are dark grey.  I have a wonderful sweatband that would not make Richard Simmons jealous, but it’s up there, wait until I get a rainbow one.  And I have my mat.  And I see you.  I doubt you’ll remember me, but I remember you.  You’re in an exercise class, be it the cardio one I take or the yoga, and you look like you’d rather be a million miles away.  I get it.  I do.  And you’re probably shaking your head because when you looked me over you saw my chicken legs and said you wished you had my problem.  But the reasons we are in this class aren’t so different.  Maybe you want to lose weight, you told me once at the end that maybe you shouldn’t have even tried it.  Maybe you want to feel better, and you said all you felt like doing was just laying down.  Maybe your doctor told you that you had to start a fitness program, and you shared with me that you were worried about what would happen if you didn’t.

 The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar one.  There are so many methods, tricks, pills and contraptions that guarantee pounds lost.  There are self help books aplenty and if you remember, we have a very popular show in the States called, Biggest Loser where contestants are awarded for losing the most percentage weight. 

I am no fitness expert; I’m not a natural athlete.  I was the last picked for every single team.  I fall over my own feet on a continual basis.  I get no endorphin rush from running—I just want to stop.  I celebrated the day I didn’t have to take phys ed in high school anymore and then I stupidly went out for field hockey because my friends did and I thought I needed a letter.  I should’ve done debate.  Anyway, all I know is this, you need two things to get healthy: movement and control.  That’s it.  No magic secret.  You need to burn more calories than you are taking in.  All the responsible books and interviews all boil down to the same idea, burn more, consume less.  Here’s the thing, you can tone it down after you get where you need to be.  You can keep controlling your portion size, but if you really want those extra calories, plan an extra workout to balance it out.  But don’t deprive yourself, and don’t tell yourself you can’t have something, because if you do, I think you’re setting yourself up to fail.  Ever see exercise sayings on Pinterest?  If you are the negative 1 % who haven’t here are some popular (and, I think, ridiculous, images) :

I have never ever seen my cardio teacher Erica, post anything like this on her group FB page.  Ever.  She has never emphasized getting skinny as being the panacea for all that ails you.  Her own philosophy is to feel better and that, in turn will help you look better.  She wants you healthy.  I have never seen my yoga teacher Carolyn, discuss size or doing more.  She meets you where you are and encourages you to the point of stretch not pain.  Maybe these motivational pinterest ripped fitness models truly inspire you, and if that does it, then that’s great.  But when I am confronted with having a slice of cake after dinner when the scale and my shorts aren’t where I need them to be, I’m not going to remember this woman.  I will mutter very, very bad things about this woman, decide I will never be like her anyway and then eat.the.cake. 

In the moments before class, whether it’s a cardio class or my yoga class, I hesitate.  The hour I am about to do could be spent, I don’t know…writing?  And maybe my heart isn’t the reason, and maybe an unforeseen cancer isn’t either, maybe it is just not feeling the squelching noise of my thighs when I wear shorts is what it is, maybe it is that kind of vanity.  But I hesitate, I do.  Even when I can make it through a class.  Even though I know I will feel better after it, I hesitate.  I wonder if it’s worth it when I just don’t see anything happening.  But once I take that breath, pull the key out of the ignition and get my stuff together, and set it down, once I look around and see some looks that match my own of worry and apprehension, nervous smiles exchanged, I can look in the mirror and just leave it.  On the mat. 

Right there I put every piece of stress that I’ve got and the thoughts that burn in a loop in my brain:

  • This is never going to work anyway.  Leaving it.

  • My son will never, ever get anywhere with this, I am a failure as his mother and he will never move out and do anything with his life except play insipid video games.  Leave it.

  • I don’t know what happened but she is not talking to me anymore, what should I do?  Leave it.

  • That “friend” put me down in front of the whole Bible study yesterday.  Gone.

  • My husband’s frustrations with work are spilling over into my life even as I’m trying to distinguish it from his.  Stomping on it.

  • My kid didn’t get picked.  Leave it.

  • My father is getting worse and is mad at my very existence.  Breathe it out.

  • My word, I had no idea my behind was that large.  Enough.

  • How in the world am I going to be in three places at once today?  And why did I volunteer for snacks?  Leave it.

  • I don’t think I’ve got enough in the account to cover the field trip.  Just for this hour.  Just this one hour.  Leave it.  Work it out here.  Leave it here.

Whatever you’ve got, allow it to drive you to finish that workout.  Cast out every negative comment that has lingered deep in your belly about what you look like.  Concentrate only on your breath, your teacher’s instructions, for that moment, just stay present only on what you’ve got to do in front of you.  When you hear her call your name or say, “come on, you can do this” or “you are doing great” know that she really is speaking to you. 

We all have stress.  I don’t know what led you to class, and truly I don’t care.  You belong here.  And you are doing yourself a huge disservice if you think you do not.  Every teacher out there worth her sweat will tell you that, I don’t need to.  They are there to help you get where you want to be.  And you know the only thing you need to do to get there?    Keep going. Talk to them when you need encouragement.  Be held accountable. And most importantly--come back.  It will get easier, you will not always feel like your lungs are on fire or about to be thrown up, your arms will be able to fully extend once more, your feet will not ache.  Come back.  Come back and leave whatever you’ve got on the mat. 

And when you finish your workout or your practice, take a breath and a moment as you roll up your mat and know that you can walk out a little lighter.  You are strong.  You are amazingYou can do this.  Leave it all on the mat and walk tallYou are worth it.

So how about it?  Want to join me?  You can do it.  I know you can, just keep showing up.  And I will too.  Cheers.  (By the way, you can completely reward
yourself with one of the squares in this chocolate bar—it’s dark and good for your heart, at $1.79, it’s a bargain.) xoxo

* this post is dedicated to my great exercise teachers and friends, Erica and Carolyn, thanks for making me see the other side even when it’s cloudy out. 

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