Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to be Inspiring

I meant to write this article a while back, but then we all heard of the tragedy in Connecticut and I had a hard time dealing with the overwhelming emotions spawned that day.  You see, above all other things, I am a mother.  My children are 6, 8, and 10 and are wonderful, frustrating, creative, difficult, funny, and loving children, usually all at the same time.  Because I'm interested in their physical health, I spent every Monday this past Fall teaching a strength class at their elementary school for about 40 other wonderful, frustrating, difficult, funny, and loving third and fourth graders.  We had a great time (most of the time, I admit there were some challenges) and I certainly learned a lot not only about teaching children, but teaching in general.  We finished up the class with a "deadlift meet" on December 10th.  On December 14th, I attended the PE fitness awards for all three of my children and saw many of my students there.  They wanted to show me their bracelets, introduce me to their moms and dads, and ask if they could do the class again in the Spring.  My favorite was one of my third graders who just ran up waving his presidential fitness badge and gave my legs a huge bear hug.  All in all, a great morning.

But, then, I went out to my car, turned on the radio, and began to hear of a horrible tragedy unfolding.  I thought of my kids, and the kids I taught, and how completely senseless and awful it was.  I thought of parents returning home to presents under their Christmas trees that would never be unwrapped.  I thought of terrified children who could never be comforted.  I also thought repeatedly about how little there was I could do to make it all better.  Ultimately, that is my first instinct in situations like this, as it is for most parents:  Just make it better.  Only I couldn't.  Empathy is a powerful emotion and it stopped me completely in my tracks for a few days.

Mission accomplished.
However, Hope springs eternal and on Monday, my son Francis came home with a big stack of thank-you notes from my third grade class.  He was also grumbling a bit because most of the kids were boasting about how much they had lifted during the deadlift meet and saying that they were "the strongest kid in the world".  I tried to remind him that my goal was exactly that:  to show these kids how strong they could be.  He was not amused as he had felt that he had earned that title for himself with his 121 lb deadlift back in September, but 8 year olds aren't particularly easy to reason with when emotions are involved.  Regardless, the notes I got from these children showed me that they did feel strong and felt good about themselves and their abilities.  And they should, more than half of the third grade class lifted 76 lbs with great ease and perfect form.  Those who lifted less than that were my smaller students and all of those students lifted at least their own body weight.  I felt a sense of relief in some small way.  The notes had lifted my spirits a bit and brought my focus back around to the present.  I began to think again about what my goals were not only as a strength coach, but as a teacher.

Tuesday, I was in for another surprise.  Our track and field club was planning on hosting a Christmas party for the children at the Durham Rescue Mission, one of the local homeless shelters.  My entire family went and we helped the children make crafts that they could wrap up and give to their moms as gifts.  I sat at the wrapping table and had a crowd of children around me who were overwhelmed by the idea of having their presents wrapped in pretty paper and ribbons.  I was a bit overwhelmed by their excitement and it resurrected for me a glimpse of my own childhood excitement about Christmas and all the magic that comes with it.  As adults, some crafts, wrapping paper, cookies, and juice boxes may not seem like much.  But for children, they might as well be in Santa's workshop.  And for children in a homeless shelter, the experience was profound.  Driving home that night, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of me.  I knew I couldn't make anything better in Connecticut, but I could make things better in my own community.

And I had.  Every Monday for about twelve weeks, I taught two classes to the third and fourth graders.  We started with basic strength movements:  a squat, a press, a pushup, and an assisted pulllup.  We practiced broad jumps, did walking lunges, learned to support weight overhead, learned to deadlift a kettlebell, and pushed bumper plates across the carpeted floor.  We warmed up with agility drills, obstacle courses, and at the end of the strength session, had some fun playing games or doing relay races.  They thought it was play, but they were learning.  I saw posture and coordination improve, I saw consistency develop in their movements, and when I asked them what their feet, backs, shoulders should look like for each exercise, they could tell me right off the bat.  During the last four weeks, I decided that they were ready for me to bring in some barbells and learn how to deadlift.  We kept the weight light, emphasized good form, and did multiple reps and sets with adequate rest periods.  They were pretty excited about this as most 8 and 9 year olds don't get to lift barbells.

On our "meet" day, I had everyone warm up with lighter weight and then one by one, I had each of them go to the bar and lift it one time.  If they did it quickly, and with good form, they got to advance to the next round.  I started with 36 lbs on the bar and added five lbs each round.  I let some of the stronger kids skip a round or two as to not wear them out.  They not only had big smiles on their faces, but cheered each other on as well.  Even when most of the fourth graders had already been taken out of the running, they continued to cheer for the boy and girl who would go on to pull 91 lbs.  It was fun and exciting and I gave each of the kids a sticker with the amount of weight he or she lifted that day.  All of them were proud of their stickers.  I also gave each of them a bracelet that simply said "strong!".  Because I wanted them to know that I know they are strong.

I often see fitness trainers and coaches saying they want to inspire people.  They want to inspire us to get off the couch, get a six-pack, train for a race, put down that cookie and work on getting a pull-up.  And this is great, we all need inspiration.  In fact, I love working with folks who have a long way to go, but all the cheerleader stuff only goes so far.  If you want to inspire a change, you have to be willing to not only set a good example, but be willing to teach, adjust your methods as needed, and never forget that you are training a unique individual.  Most of all, you have to be patient.  Its not all that difficult, you simply have to care.  And the truth is, being inspirational can be rather easy when you take that approach.  However, when you work with kids, its not only easier, it can have a more profound effect on a person for the remainder of his or her life.

There is an obesity epidemic going on right now.  There is also a sports injury epidemic on the rise.  Our schools lack the resources to deal with a lot of these problems and many of the solutions are too expensive for the majority of our youth.  Many of our children who do not excel at sports are uninspired to be active in other ways and may lack the opportunity to do so.  I challenge those of you who want to be inspiring to get into our schools and youth organizations and offer your help as a volunteer.  Teach a strength class, teach an exercise class, teach a nutrition class.  Work with the unathletic, the uncoordinated, the unmotivated.  Start an after school club, set up a training challenge, volunteer with a local athletic club.  But, most of all TEACH.  We can all get better, we simply need to learn how.  Teach our children to be fit and healthy, teach them to love physical activity, and most of all, show them that they are capable of far more than they imagined.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Oatmeal and Sausage

Whether you have ten lbs to lose or 100 lbs to lose,
this process is the same:
Know what you are eating; change what doesn't work.
I'm in the middle of my first week of "trying-not-to-eat-like-a-human-garbage-disposal". And it is kind of hard.  Habits are hard to break and when you get into a behavior pattern, you will do things without even realizing it.  You will also have a hard time making decisions about the relative impact of your daily choices.  For example, having justified eating a big lunch from my local sushi bar a few times a week, it was hard to force myself to look up exactly how many calories I was eating because I had already classified this behavior as "good".  It doesn't mean I can't continue to do this, but once I took the responsibility of realizing that the two rolls I was eating for lunch were accounting for about 900 calories, I know that I need to dial it back a bit.

Monday was my first day and I started off pretty good with good healthy breakfast (oatmeal and turkey sausage with maple syrup, 215 calories), but then the inevitable happened.  I got hungry.  Since I was supposed to lift later that day, I used this hunger to justify a snack.  In this case, crackers, lots of them, mainly because I was out of bananas, but crackers have a lot of calories.  So, I ate a 200 calorie healthy breakfast and then ate about 300 calories worth of crackers.  Silly.

This could have been a good start to the day,
but I stopped paying attention to what I was stuffing in my face.
And to make matters worse, I did not get around to getting into the gym, I used the residual hunger and potential training as an excuse to eat a big, not-so-healthy lunch.  (This is where the 900 calories of sushi happened.) It is important to note that I had a pretty bad cold at the time and had lost my voice and so fatigue and lack of motivation were already looming on the horizon.  I also went on spent the afternoon teaching strength at my children's elementary school to about 40 third and fourth graders.  So, did I come home in any mood to lift?  No.  Did I lift?  No.  Was I hungry?  Yes.  Did I eat more crap? Yes.

And so, I've already eaten the bulk of my calories for the day and we still have to sit down and eat dinner.  This is was much better, baked chicken and a salad with kale, avocado, and tomatoes, but then I screwed it all up by eating two biscuits while I cleaned up the kitchen.  Why did I do this?  Because I didn't eat enough dinner.  Why didn't I eat enough dinner?  Because I felt guilty from indulging at lunch and snacking later.  And then I had two glasses of wine.

So, Monday's grand total:  I didn't train and I ate about 2500 calories, 700 more than my calorie calculator allowed me for weight maintenance.  Typically I will eat more than my daily calorie allotment on the days that I train and eat less on my recovery days.  This was kind of the opposite.  And this has been typical for about four months.

So, changes I am incorporating this week:

1.  Breakfast will always be the same.

Oatmeal:  It's good for you.
I've tried a lot of things for breakfast and I have found that I need a decent dose of protein in the morning to keep me going.  I also need some carbohydrates.  Over the past few years, I have always come back to having oatmeal (the rolled oats kind, not the instant) and turkey sausages or an egg.  So, in the interest of consistency, I'm keeping with this.  It is easy to prepare, easy to eat, and provides me with 12 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 24 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of fat.  If I get hungry later in the morning, I will have apples and/or bananas on hand and if this is consistent, I'll bump the oatmeal up to the full serving.  Being prepared is 90% of the battle.

2.  I will determine the calorie and macronutrient content of everything I eat.  Even when I'd rather turn a blind eye.  I have some book references and I have the internet.  If you can google, you can find it.  Don't worry if you've already eaten it, you still need to know what you're eating.  I just downloaded My Fitness Pal onto my phone so I really have no excuse to not keep track of things.

3.  There are no such thing as "cheat" meals.  I will enjoy my food, make changes in my daily eating pattern when there is a known indulgence on the horizon (holiday party, dinner out at a restaurant, Christmas dinner, etc.), and control my portions even in the midst of decadence.  In other words, PAY ATTENTION to what I'm eating.  When I fail to lose weight or just eat healthier, it is always due to a lack of attention.

I'd just like to finish by saying that I don't consider this a diet, I consider it a behavior re-set.  I let things get out of hand, I stopped paying attention, and I was just being lazy.  You may look at the photo above and think "You're not fat at all!" or you might think "You're a trainer!  Where is your six-pack!". So, before we get any further with this project, let me clarify two things:

1.  I don't think I'm "fat".  I have a healthy BMI and I am very fit.  However, I am "fluffier" than I'd like to be, a lot of my clothes no longer fit well, and there's no reason I can't maintain my weight and my waistline where I want it.  I have hypothyroidism and had half of my thyroid removed a few years back because I had a tumor growing on it.  I now have to take Synthroid every day to regulate my metabolism.  I must be vigilant about my diet because it is relatively easy for me to pack on the pounds rather quickly.  It takes a lot of work, it is hard, and a lot of times, its not fun, but changing my habits makes it a lot easier.

2.  I had a six-pack once, and it was awful.  I had a six-pack, but I also did not have any breasts.  I looked like a twelve year old boy with a Barbie head stuck on top.  Six-pack abs are something that very few people walk around with, especially if they are over the age of 25.  Achieving bodyfat that low is something that bodybuilders and figure competitors do to prepare for a contest, but rarely maintain it through the course of the year.  Women with bodyfat low enough to have a visible six-pack will often cease to menstruate.  It can also cause a shift in hormones that impact one's bone density and overall health.  So, no six-packs here.

It is Wednesday and I feel I'm getting back on track with self-discipline and routine.  As I usually tell my clients to do, I'm logging my diet and exercise using My Fitness Pal.  There are a number of similar free online apps you can use for this purpose, or simply keep a notebook.  No matter how you do it, paying attention will benefit you far more than not.  I'll post another update in a few days and see if I've managed to get any closer to my goal.

Monday, December 3, 2012

So, What to Eat?

In my last blog post, I presented my thoughts on diet and exercise and what to do if you want to lose weight.  And since I want to lose some inches from my waistline, I also presented a basic plan for myself with regard to the overall calorie and macronutrient intake I was going to start with for myself.  It is now a week later and by simply paying attention to what I was stuffing in my face, my pants are a tiny bit looser.

Chocolate, bourbon, pecan pie.  
I'll tell you a secret that's not really a secret.  My clients often allude to the fact that they think I eat like a monk with tireless dedication to perfectly balanced meals epitomizing optimal nutrition.  Well, its not true.  At all.  I'm actually an unapologetic foodie with a sweet tooth and a minor diet coke addiction.  When I'm hungry and there is pie in the house, I have pie for lunch.  Likewise, the kid's Halloween candy stash is not safe unless cleverly hidden from my casual observation and we just don't keep chips of any kind in the house because I will eat the entire bag.  I favor fatty meats, rich sauces, and vegetables roasted in loads of olive oil and salt.  I love to cook and I will spend hours preparing a meal just because I had a craving for something very specific like thai green curry or pecan pralines.    I once ate an entire pound of duck liver, all by myself, over the course of week.  And I'll probably do it again this year.  I love duck liver.  (Humanely raised and slaughtered of course, but that is a different topic entirely.)

Unfortunately, I don't even always make superior culinary choices when my diet goes horribly sideways.  When I first learned to lift heavy, I would return from those training sessions so hungry I would often just walk into the pantry and eat whatever was in front of me.  Saltines with honey poured on them, chocolate chips out of the bag, handfuls of cereal, one time, a piece of beef jerky dipped repeatedly in rasberry jam.  Lately, my biggest mistakes have been, and yes I'm serious, forgetting that I've already eaten lunch and going for a second round.  And its not like I'm eating salad.  I once accepted a lunch invitation from my husband for Mexican food after finishing a turkey sub with a quarter pound of meat on it.  And I ate a two burritos.  And then three hours later, I also ate dinner.  A big dinner.

Bacon wrapped stuffed and grilled jalapeno peppers
 from my garden. What are they stuffed with?  Bacon.
It has taken me years and a lot of self-control to overcome these tendencies, but I still screw up from time to time.  The really big stupid comes out when I put in a half-hearted effort to eat better.  I've learned that this just doesn't work, but I always end up here from time to time.  It starts something like this:  "I'm going to eat a big breakfast, a smaller lunch, no snacks, and then I'm going to have a light dinner."  Sounds like a great plan, doesn't it?  But, when I put it into action, my brain, which has no sympathy for my stomach, makes it something more like this:  

7:00 am  "I sure do want to lose weight fast.  I'll just reduce the amount of this breakfast and get a head start on the calorie reduction, its not THAT long til lunch.  I'll just eat half the oatmeal and make up the difference with blueberries.  That will be good for me."

10:00 am  "Holy crap I'm hungry.   Maybe I'll just eat lunch now and then I won't be as hungry later.  I'll just eat half a turkey sandwich and an apple, that'll be healthy."

1:00 pm "I'm hungry again, but I already ate lunch, I'll just have some cheese or maybe a yogurt.  Or maybe just a banana, with peanut butter on it."

4 pm  "I'm so HUNGRY!  I'll eat a little snack so I can get a handle on this and then I'll eat a good dinner.  Wow, those crackers are good, maybe I have some cheese . . . ."

6 pm  "I ate too many snacks, I'll just eat a little bit of vegetables and I'll be good to go til bedtime."


Sound familiar?

It should.  A lot of you do this.  Do what exactly?  Starve yourselves all day and end up snacking  between meals and at the end of the day.

Well, doing the exact opposite is actually what you should do.  And by that, I do not mean start your day with an ice cream binge.  You may notice from the above description that I didn't really eat that much actual food.  What I actually stuffed myself on was snacks.

Its not all bad, fresh figs off my fig tree are one
of my favorites.
So, instead of telling you how awesomely well-behaved I am on a regular basis, I'd rather tell you how it often goes horribly wrong.   Mainly because its funnier and makes for a better story.  However, I am going to try and be an actual good role model here and set a goal for myself over the next four weeks.  The main part of this goal is to not gain any additional weight.  The second part of this goal is to actually lose a few inches off my waist.  Although I weigh myself every morning, I'm not going to focus on the number on the scale because I am lifting and might actually get heavier.  However, I currently have a 31 inch waist and 42 inch hips.  I'd like to keep the hips and lose about 2-3 inches from the waist.  Most likely, I'll lose an inch or two on the hips in the process, but we'll see.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to practice what I preach, write down what I eat, and keep track of my training and see what happens.  This could prove enlightening (for you), embarrassing (for me), or most likely, a good bit of both.