40 Gray (sic) Hairs

I turned forty last month. FORTY. I have very mixed feelings about the idea but I won’t go on about them; I think I am mostly ok with this whole aging thing. Except for the odd moment when I look in the bathroom mirror and see more grey hair than I remember seeing the last time…and then full-out panic hits.

But oh well. I have mixed feelings about the grey hair, too: on one hand I kind of like it; it shows that I’ve been around the block a few times and I would like to think I have gained some wisdom from the experience. On the other hand, JESUS FUCK GREY HAIR! COLOUR THAT SHIT QUICK! Which is clearly just a byproduct of growing up in a youth-worshipping society. The smarter part of me is refusing to play that game…for now.

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Anyway. In honor of reaching forty, I have compiled a list of forty things that I am pretty sure I know, that I kinda wish I had maybe figured out sooner. What’s funny about this list is that I set about making it, thinking that it would be pretty easy – I mean, for sure life has taught me forty lessons that are worth passing on. Right?

Not so much. I got to, like, number eleven before I had to stop and mull things over for a few days. Turns out that mining the deepest recesses of my brain for forty pieces of wisdom that I am relatively sure about was really difficult – so you’re welcome! Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Meal planning and prepping for five days at a time is bullshit. By the third day those meals will smell weird and you won’t want to even look at them. Plan and prep for 2, maybe three days at a time.
  2. It’s okay if you’re scared. Everybody is. Some people hide it better than others and sources of fear differ, but everyone lives with it. No exceptions.
  3. Meaningful connections between people are worth nurturing. It takes a little extra time and effort but the payoff is gold.
  4. There is no such thing as unconditional love – love is ALWAYS conditional. That may seem cynical of me, but I don’t really mean for it to be. Love is amazing BECAUSE it’s conditional: without conditions it’s just attachment.
  5. Sleep is necessary. You can run from it all you want but it WILL catch up with you – might as well just embrace it. Better yet, make it a priority. If you don’t, it will make itself a priority at the most inopportune time.elephant
  6. Having stuff is overrated. It ends up owning you. Think about the last time you gave something away – the relief is tangible, right? Hang onto and take care of the things you need and get rid of everything else.
  7. Institutionalized education is mostly bullshit and academic credentials are borderline meaningless.
  8. Learning, on the other hand, is awesome. Never stop finding stuff to learn about – keep your mind open and stay curious.
  9. Eating more vegetables is always a good idea.
  10. People will always judge. ALWAYS. We can’t help judging and comparing and competing. Embrace it; it’s what makes us better.
  11. Take care of the people around you and be kind. Kindness is never wasted.
  12. We are all more dorky and ridiculous than we’d care to admit. Might as well laugh at it.urkel
  13. Caffeine will only get you so far.
  14. Taking care of yourself first is the best thing you can do for other people. You can try and be a martyr and put everyone else’s needs before your own, but like caffeine, its benefits are finite. You can’t be at your best unless you look after yourself.
  15. Chocolate, ice cream, and wine are just about the best things in the world…and they are ALWAYS available. They are more awesome when they’re special treats you can look forward to.
  16. Letting the hurt show a little bit is a great way to draw the people around you a little closer.
  17. There will always be people who are better than you. At everything.
  18. If you want to get better, find those people and hang out with them.
  19. Never believe what you read the first time. Question everything, play the devil’s advocate, and find more sources before forming an opinion on something.
  20. Never trust people who are 100% sure.
  21. We all need each other. Even the world’s most introverted trolls still need other people.
  22. Learning to take good care of your body is a skill that is worth practicing. It takes some mental muscle at first but it will pay off once you have some momentum.
  23. Everybody needs an outlet where they can take their mind off the day-to-day grind. It could be meditating or knitting or playing a sport. For me it’s lifting: you can’t be thinking about all the other stuff you need to do today, or making a shopping list, or wondering if you’re good enough, when there’s a loaded bar waiting to crush you if you lose focus on it.
  24. Nobody can do it for you.
  25. Making sure that the people around you feel loved and appreciated and understood  is worth a little bit of extra effort.
  26. Getting angry is almost never worth the energy.
  27. Make room for what’s important. If you can’t, for whatever reason, it’s not that important – and that is totally ok. Other people’s priorities don’t have to be yours.
  28. People are just people. The ones who stick out (virtuosi, celebrities, etc.) have quirks, fears, and bad body smells just like the rest of us. Nobody needs to be up on a pedestal.
  29. Showing enthusiasm is almost always a good thing.
  30. If your gut tells you you’ve taken a wrong turn, listen.
  31. Find something to do every day that you’re enthusiastic about. If it’s not your job, join a community of like-minded peeps that you can visit on a daily basis.
  32. Be willing to put yourself out there. It’s easy to find support when you take the first step on your own.
  33. Mornings are the very best time of day. Seriously.notamorningperson
  34. Being physically strong feels awesome and it is worth putting time and effort into.
  35. What you do to make yourself physically strong will give you mental strength too.
  36. The space inside your head is yours. Anything you want can happen in there. No one can take that away from you.
  37. Healing sometimes just takes time. Not effort, not treatment, not anything else. Time.
  38. Bad days happen. When they do, it can be hard to roll with the punches…but taking it personally makes things worse. Minimize the damage by accepting it and knowing that tomorrow will be better.
  39. There’s going to be physical pain – most of the time we have a choice between the pain of degeneration…or the pain of development. I’d rather push through some pain of development.
  40. Time will keep marching on whether you make what you want happen or not. Might as well get it done.
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Comparison and Competition

Hands up, who among you want to be better versions of yourselves? Everybody? Yeah, I thought so. Ok, let’s have another show of hands: how many of you have quit going after something worthwhile because someone else’s success made it seem impossible?

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The comparison game is not always a fun one to play, and I dare say that in the pursuit of better health and fitness it is the one single thing that scares more people away than anything else. It’s not the gym (or the people in it), it’s not the lifestyle, it’s not lack of time…it’s our inherent need to measure ourselves against the people around us. Most of the time we come up short. When this happens, people tend toward one of two categories: they either get motivated to compete with everyone else (and join a Crossfit box) or they retreat to an environment where their weaknesses aren’t on display. Fight or flight.

Except that with your health/fitness, flight isn’t really an option. Sure, you could bury your head in the sand for five or ten years and pretend that you don’t have time, don’t like the lifestyle, can’t afford it, etc. But EVERYONE needs to take care of their health sooner or later…and if you wait until you’re hurting to start looking after it, well, you may end up wishing you had started sooner. Anyway, people end up starting and stopping ad nauseum; trying this or that quick fix, spending crazy amounts of money to make it happen faster, and growing resentful of the process, the fitness industry in general, and the people who appear to have it together…because they’re the ones making everyone else look bad, right?

If learning ANY OTHER SKILL damages your calm and makes you feel bad about yourself, you have the option to just stop. Zero consequences. Not so with health and fitness.

Storytime: I hit a big milestone last week – I lost 50lbs. FINALLY. It was a long, S L O W process, and hitting that milestone coincided perfectly with the 2-year anniversary of my return to work at World Health after an 18-month hiatus. (There’s lots more to say about the weight loss thang but it’s going to wait for another day.) Suffice it to say that on that June 1st, 2015, I was happy to be back. They took a picture of me that day to put on the social media page, so taking and posting a pic two years later to document the changes that have happened seemed like the thing to do.

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The next day, one of my training clients mentioned the post to me. “I liked your before and after pictures,” she said. “They were inspiring. But they also made me feel bad about myself.”

I was floored. What? I had to pause for a moment to think about how to answer, because it simply had never occurred to me that a post like that would make someone else feel bad – I mean, even having lost 50lbs I am nothing special to look at; I’m not shredded or jacked or model material by any stretch and in fact being in front of a camera gives me the heebie-jeebies. More importantly though, she and I are very different people with different lives, different demands on our time, and different priorities. Comparing weight loss success is kind of irrelevant, of which the logical side of her was fully aware…but my success still got under her skin a little bit and made her question whether it was worth continuing.

And then? Then the same thing happened to me.

A couple of days later I was on my couch with a glass of wine. My kids were outside jumping on the trampoline and my dog was fast asleep with her head in my lap. The windows were open and there was a soft breeze blowing: one of those early summer evenings where all is right with the world. I started idly scrolling through social media. Now, under normal circumstances I love seeing what everybody in my little corner of the world is lifting, what they’re struggling with and what battles they have won, whether it’s in person in the gym or on social media later. It’s terrifically inspiring and gets me excited to go hit the iron hard, even on days that I might not really want to otherwise. On the flipside, I always hope that the stuff I send out into the interwebs does the same for someone else. But, every once in a while the opposite happens: I let my ego get bruised and it sends me into a tailspin.

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What I saw that wigged me out that night was one of my powerlifting/social media buddies, who happens to be roughly half my size and also roughly half my age bench pressing the kind of weight in the gym that I have only ever hit once in competition. I got angry at myself for not making faster progress, I ate a bunch of junk food (to distract from the bad feelings? To punish myself? Fucked if I know), ultimately decided that I was a terrible waste of space, and went to bed feeling ill.  Hello, my name is Hannah and my entire sense of self-worth is tied to the weight on my barbell.

Ridiculous, right? Everything is going right in my life, and I get hella bent out of shape because someone else (someone who I know and like and would under any other circumstances be totally cheering for) has a bigger bench press than me?  I mean, seriously – I can’t even tell that story with a straight face, because FIRST WORLD MEATHEAD PROBLEMS. On the other hand – I admit it – I get bugged about my bench press. It is the weakest of my big three lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press) and it is a constant source of niggling frustration. It’s easy to see why, when I was feeling exhausted and fragile and primed to come apart, my bench press poverty was the fault line.comp

Here’s the thing though: we all compare ourselves to each other mercilessly. It’s human. We aren’t likely to stop so we may as well find a way to accept that tendency and do something constructive with it, rather than let it eat away at our own successes. Which, it is worth noting, we are (consciously or unconsciously) choosing to turn a blind eye to in the heat of the moment, while we are busy comparing what may be someone else’s best qualities to our own weak points.

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There are a million and a half self-help articles out there on how to stop comparing ourselves to others. I would submit that it just ain’t gonna happen so we might as well turn that tendency into fuel for our own fire…because if we didn’t see other people out there succeeding at stuff, why would we strive to be great at anything? If we were all alone in the world there would be no reason to pursue…oh, I don’t know…a bigger bench press, for example.

But how do you do that? HOW do you make that tendency to compare into something constructive instead of destructive?

I don’t have a simple answer for that question. I do know that I used to let other people’s successes drag me down a lot more than I do now, and meltdowns like last week happen less and less. I think that happened in part because I learned to get outside myself enough to realize that other people’s successes don’t detract from my own, and in part because I got old and chilled out a little bit. And I started drinking more.

Just kidding, on that last part – sort of.

I have conversations with people about this stuff on a pretty regular basis, and the mentality that the gym is a discouraging/unhealthy/undesirable/unwelcoming environment is pervasive. I’m calling bullshit on that one; most (not all) fitness facilities make a huge effort to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Methods and degrees of success vary but suffice it to say that the gym isn’t comparing anyone to anyone else. It’s just a big ass room with some heavy stuff in it; it doesn’t have a brain. The baggage we bring in is all our own: our insecurities, our anger, our fear of the unknown, and our fear of looking stupid. So how do you let go of those fears? I actually do have a fairly simple answer for that one: practice. Keep showing up. Get better at the skill of fitness. Hey, I said it was simple – simple and easy are not the same.

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Competence leads to confidence. When we can see the way forward; when we can see HOW to get from point A to point B, we can let go of comparing ourselves to everyone else and just do what needs to be done. There’s no time for stewing or wondering what other people are thinking or justifying our existence in spite of our shortcomings. Feeling competent is the key to checking all that baggage at the door and taking care of business…and maybe even having some fun in the process.

When we see other people doing awesome shit, invariably it’s because they’ve put in a lot of hard work. Yeah, maybe they have great genetics, more talent, or anabolic steroids, but they also put in the time….which is why when I look at someone doing something awesome that I aspire to, more often than not I see the hours of work that went into getting to that point and it inspires me to work harder. Yes, I am forty years old and I’m not going to progress as fast as the younger women who are working as hard or harder than me. Does that annoy me? Hell yes it does. But I have a choice: I can a) let that girl’s beastly bench press get me down and use it as an excuse to eat lots of crap and sit on my ass and feel sorry for myself, or b) get excited for her because she’s reaping the benefits of hours of training by getting super strong, and vow to myself that my old ass is going to keep up with her every step of the way.

I choose b).

 

Read this. Period.

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If you’re a woman who works out, or a man who associates himself with women who work out, you need to read this. PERIOD.

See what I did there? Haha. Feeling uncomfortable? That’s okay, you’re allowed; talking about the curse has been kinda taboo for a long while but I’m here to tell you we NEED to talk about the ups and downs of the female hormone cycle, because most of us could stand to understand it better. Not talking about it and pretending it doesn’t make a difference isn’t working too well for us, because guess what? IT MATTERS.

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Sisters, let’s have a show of hands: how many of you have gone into the gym feeling great, like you’re really going to have an awesome workout – maybe even lay down a PR – and then everything just feels H E A V Y and you just don’t have the steam you usually do? OR, you’ve gone into the gym feeling fierce and happy, caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, thought something mean and shitty about yourself that you just can’t get out of your head, and instead of having a great workout you end up dripping angry tears all over your barbell? Your menstrual cycle isn’t wholly responsible for those day-to-day changes in your performance, but they are definitely a factor.

Now, everyone (male AND female) has low-energy days, but if you’re female chances are good that when that happens, you’re a) within a few days of starting your period, or b) right smack in the middle of ovulating. Our monthlies can mess with our physical and mental performance in a myriad of ways but there are strategies we can employ to minimize the flames and wreckage.

***Note: I recently had a conversation with a bunch of male trainers, most of whom professed to specialize in training women, where the subject matter turned to shark week and most of them started squirming like worms on hooks. I didn’t bother to change the subject though; I kinda think that if you make a living training women you need to be comfortable talking about that stuff. And if YOU are the one to bring up the subject, demonstrate that you know something about what happens to your female clients’ bodies every month, and be somewhat mature and sympathetic about it, your female clients will thank you. Trust me.

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Let’s make like tampons and dive right into it. (Too far? Maybe just a little – sorry.) Menstrual cycles are like snowflakes – no two are the same. They vary just a little bit (or a lot, sometimes) from month to month and from woman to woman. On average they last about 28 days, so we’ll speak to that average as we go through what happens during a hormone cycle. Ready?

Days 1-3 (Follicular phase): Hormone levels drop like they’re hot and the blood and tissues lining the uterus start to break down and shed. The muscles surrounding the uterus can cramp and cause significant pain and/or discomfort. Bleeding is usually the worst between days 1 and 3.

So, days 1-3 are not going to be awesome workout days. The hormones that keep us energetic and mentally balanced have peaced out. This is not to say that we shouldn’t work out during the heavy days – on the contrary actually; working out will ease any physical pain or discomfort that is happening – but they are not the time to go after PR’s. Work up to about 85-90% and be nice to yourself.

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Days 4-6: Bleeding lightens and most ladies start to feel markedly better. Estrogen levels rise, our hemoglobin levels start to return to normal, and we feel more energetic and optimistic. We can start pushing a little harder in the gym; this is a relief after the last few days of feeling like our undercarriage will turn inside out if we put out maximal effort!

**Usually there is a big change in vaginal PH levels around days 4-5 which means that yeast infections are something to watch out for, especially in women who are on the move all the time. Slipping into clean underthings after a hard workout is always good but extra important right about now.

Days 7-12: The follicular phase starts to wrap itself up – by now bleeding has stopped and estrogen levels are on the rise. Our bodies are preparing for pregnancy: the uterine lining starts to thicken again and the ovaries are preparing to release an egg for fertilization. Hormonally this is smooth sailing time: estrogen is still rising steadily and testosterone is staging a comeback. We’re feeling sane, strong, and optimistic. As long as you’re healthy and rested you should have pretty close to peak performance in the gym over this whole week.

Days 13-15 Ovulation! Whee! When ovulation happens there might be some twingy cramps or some spotting because life is just that rude sometimes. If you’re trying to get pregnant now is the time; also if you’re looking for a PR your body should be primed for it right around now.

Days 16-18 That egg is just hanging out waiting to be fertilized. Estrogen is still high and progesterone will start to rise as well. With the appearance of progesterone in our systems, brain fog and forgetfulness can get worse. Be mindful in the gym –  focus on control and maintaining the mind-muscle connection, keeping one rep in the tank at the end of every set. You will want to train to failure especially if your athletic performance was amazing just a few days ago, but resist! At this point in our cycle we are at our most injury-prone. PMS is right around the corner, and if you can’t train because you’re injured life will suck big equine schlongs.

Days 19-22 (Luteal phase) Danger, Will Robinson! PMS is starting. For the love of goats and all other bearded creatures do not get on the scale right now; it will ruin your day. Thanks to a sharp rise in progesterone our bodies will retain more water than SpongeBob Squarepants. I’d say don’t sweat it, but sweating is your friend – it will help you shed that extra water and give your mood a boost at the same time…and you’ll be better equipped to outrun the zombies when they come. Make sure you get a wide variety of mineral sources in your diet and drink lots of water.

Days 22-24 Estrogen levels will start to drift down and progesterone is at its peak. PMS-related bloating and moodiness are at their worst. Take extra care to look after recovery and nutrition if you’re training hard; your body needs it. Be kind to yourself and keep tissues handy in the gym just in case you start playing the comparison game in your head or the pressures of trying to be all things to all people get to be too much – stress may start leaking out your eyeballs.

Days 25-28 Period’s coming any day now – cramps and headaches and brain fog, yay! Our estrogen and testosterone levels are headed to the basement and progesterone is also on its way down. You may feel like your energy and drive are just. Not. there. And that’s okay – stick to the program and do your best; this is not the time to change goals or make any big decisions. Hang in there; in a few days you’ll feel better!

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Boob Noob

I was going to start this post with a warning to some sensitive or squeamish souls, that there might be TMI in this post…but then I thought nah, fuck that; most of you have learned to expect and appreciate that you’re gonna get overshares and f-bombs in this neck of the woods. So no more TMI warnings!

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Now that that’s out of the way and we are all on the same page, let me tell you about what happened today. First, context is important: women have these pots of fat on their chests that, for whatever reason, have established themselves as symbols of womanhood and sexiness (which is a mystery to me; they are for feeding babies and seem to be of no other use whatsoever.) But, we tend to define ourselves, our femaleness, and our worth as women, at least in part by the appearance of our breasts. So it comes as a bit of an insult when, if we lose a bunch of weight in pursuit of leanness and strength and better health, our breasts take a proportionally bigger hit than the rest of our bodies.

Now, if you’re like me and have gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the years (not even exaggerating a little bit there), have done pregnancies, childbirth, lactation/nursing, and are closer to your fortieth birthday than your twentieth….your girls have some mileage on them. A lot of mileage. They’re tired and need some serious support.

Lately I don’t pay much attention to my boobs, except when I’m working on Olympic weightlifting in the gym and I am trying not to slam the bar into them. (Most of the time I avoid it but I have on occasion laid a beating on them that leaves all three of us crying a little bit.) Years ago I discovered the one sports bra that seems to work for me, I have a few of them, and I wear them every damn day. I don’t own a single dressier, ‘normal’ bra…or rather, I didn’t – until today.

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What changed, you ask? Well, lately I’ve been noticing that my bras don’t fit me the way they used to, which is to be expected since I’ve lost, oh, pretty close to fifty pounds since I last went bra shopping. It was time. I gathered up my courage and headed to the mall.

Let me stress here that I hate shopping. I hate it. My usual action plan is to swoop into whatever store I am SURE has what I want, grab it without any thought to shopping around or getting the best deal or whatever, and get the fuck out of there as fast as I can. I followed the usual formula today: scoot into Victoria’s Secret, grab a couple of sports bras in the style I always buy but one size smaller, and go line up to check out…except that this little voice in my head whispered “psst: you should really try those on – what if they’re the wrong size?

That little voice had a point, so back to the fitting room I went, where a very tiny, very helpful girl named Debbie (honestly I can’t remember her name so that’s what I’m calling her) offered to measure me and make sure I was trying on the right size. This seemed like a solid idea, so I obliged…and was surprised to learn that I’ve actually dropped two sizes instead of one. She brought me a couple of ‘fitting bras’ just to make sure we had the sizing right (one fit and one kinda didn’t) and asked me some questions about the bras that I normally wear. I confessed that I’m a trainer, I live in sports bras and didn’t actually own any, you know, ‘normal’ bras.

Whoops.

This piece of information was unacceptable to Debbie. She whisked away and was back in a flash with an armful of lacey hardware which she deposited in my fitting room, saying things like “I’m SO excited for you to try this one…SO pretty…push-up padding…unlined lace…blah blah…and here’s a sports bra since you look like you’re shopping for those too.”

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Okay, I thought. Be a good sport. Clearly there’s a thing called a push up that doesn’t involve using your arms and pectoral muscles to push your body off the floor. Keep an open mind and maybe this will be fun. I picked up the first one and put it on. It was kind of a basic T-shirt bra – not bad at all. I can do this, I thought. Next I put on the sports bra – also okay but it was a two-layered thing with a front closure and then a zipper on the outer layer. Wait, a zipper? On a bra? Nope, I thought – not feeling that one. I moved on to a padded thing that squished my girls up under my chin. Huh – this would take some getting used to but…maybe? I moved around a little bit and promptly fell out in all directions. Next? A lace demi-cup bra that looked pretty on the hanger but felt scratchy and awful with human tatas in it. One by one I tried on all of them, and by the time I was done I was sweaty, exhausted, and hated the sight of my poor, sad, almost forty-year-old breasts. Also I felt guilty for what I was putting them through – they were red and scratched and didn’t belong in any of those strangely-shaped packages I was forcing them into. Enough already. I put on my two-sizes-too-big-sports bra and was about to get dressed, when Debbie knocked at the door.

“How’s it going? What do you think of them? Any winners so far?” she asked eagerly. I opened the door and she entered with another armload of bras. “Here’s one I think you’ll really like…blah blah..GORGEOUS…you’re going to love this one…blah blah.” I replied weakly that the t-shirt bra was okay but the rest weren’t really me. She hung up about twenty more bras on the wall and enthusiastically entreated me to show her how they looked once I had them on. “Okay, awesome! Thanks so much!” I heard myself say.

Now. Let me stress here that Debbie was damn good at her job. She also clearly enjoyed helping people find something pretty they could like themselves in. She had all the right motives and I appreciated that about her…which is why I couldn’t make myself say “actually, I’m done – no part of me wants to hang out in here, half naked, judging and comparing the appearance of my boobs in different underthings.”  I didn’t get the feeling that she’d understand that I stay sane by actively avoiding looking too closely in the mirror, and that thought, when it hit me, sounded just…sad. What had happened to me? When did I get so…fuddy duddy? What happened to my joie de vivre?

Dammit, I am going to do this and like it, I thought. I grabbed the first bra and put it on. It was an unlined lace balconet – again, pretty on the hanger but reminiscent of a large reptile in a tutu on me. Tears threatened. Nope, I thought. Done. How do I explain that I cannot do this anymore and get out of here without hurting her feelings or dissolving into a weepy mess myself?

Somehow I made it out of there – I scored a couple of sports bras that fit properly AND I made Debbie happy by selecting a couple of rather basic-looking but pretty everyday bras which I can even see myself wearing someday. Added bonus: bra shopping is done for at least another year. Fingers crossed.

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Brutal Honesty about Fat Loss

I’m gonna put my asshole hat on and rant a little bit at y’all today. So if you’re feeling sensitive and special and snowflake-y, you may want to just close this window and find something else to read…because guess what? You are not a special snowflake. Nobody is. Not as far as your body’s chemistry and composition is concerned, anyway.

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Want to change your body composition? And what I mean by that is, lose fat and gain muscle? Maybe not in that order, but that’s what I hear from most people in some combination – and hey, who doesn’t want to get ripped and shredded and sexy as fuck? If you’re overweight though, I have a news flash for you: you are not accomplishing your goals because of what you’re eating. No, you probably don’t need to go to your doctor and no, there’s probably nothing wrong with you. If you do decide to go see your doctor because you are convinced there is something wrong with you, they will probably tell you to get more exercise. That’s bullshit. The problem is what you’re putting in your face hole. Not that more exercise will hurt, but sorry docs – more exercise (especially if you’re already exercising regularly) isn’t going to help you lose weight.

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Want to know what else won’t help you lose fat? Diets that eliminate entire food groups, including (but not limited to) Paleo, vegetarianism/veganism, keto, etc. Also on the list of shit that won’t help you are, plans/companies/MLM’s that will charge you a million bucks to put you in a huge calorie deficit and jack you up on stimulants so that you love the whole freaking world while you lose alarming amounts of body weight (and watch out, because your body’s going to munch up your muscle tissue for fuel on those plans so it won’t be fat that you’re losing primarily). These are the real wolves in sheep’s clothing because yes, you WILL lose a lot of weight very quickly if you stick to the plan, but the minute you stop paying for the plan and go back to “normal”, you’ll put all the weight back on and then some. In short order. Know how I know? I’ve done those plans and diets myself – just about all of them. And after 7 years of nutrition coaching I have seen it happen firsthand enough that the results are firmly entrenched in my world view. Yes there are outliers, but not many.

What does stop people from being able to lose fat is physics: if you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. Hold up, coach, you might be thinking: there’s more to it than that, OR on the other hand you might be thinking, THANK YOU – calories in vs calories out is all there is to it. Well, guess what? Both of those knee-jerk reactions are kinda right but also kinda wrong. Here is the real skinny on fat loss, hormone imbalances (real and/or imagined) and special snowflake-ness.

When a new nutrition client comes to see me and tells me that they eat perfectly and that their lack of fat loss is due to some mysterious underlying health condition, the first thing I recommend is that they see their doctor to rule it out. (Sorry, doctors. Sorry, overworked health care system. But coaching people with actual health problems is outside of my scope of practice and it would be irresponsible of me to keep going with someone who does have an issue.)

You know how many people have actually come back with a diagnosis that makes weight loss impossible?

ZERO.

You know how many people come back pissed off because their doctors told them they just need more exercise?

Neither do I because I’ve lost count.

So the next step is to have people track what they’re eating, just for a few days, so we can take a really honest, hard look at their intake. The results are usually eye-opening – not for me but for the client, who is used to eating whatever’s going to make them feel better with little thought to the consequences. See, those tracked results are not an accurate picture of what they are actually eating on a regular basis; they are the results of actually PAYING ATTENTION to what they’re eating for a few days. Those few days usually yield a couple of pounds of weight loss as well. Tracking WORKS.

Let’s talk hormone imbalances for a minute. I’d say that hormone imbalances are the number one reason people think they can’t lose weight…but guess what? If that’s you, you’re wrong. Maybe you do have a hormone imbalance (and if you’re more than thirty pounds overweight let’s be real, you probably do just because of the extra weight you are carrying around). Those motherfuckers are not your friends as far as fat loss is concerned, but not for the reason you think. If you are not overweight, but have looked at an overweight person and made a snap judgement about their character or discipline based on their appearance, this applies to you too because you are in need of some education, so keep reading.  Anyway, hormones: carrying large amounts of excess fat around for extended periods of time can really mess them up in a variety of ways (including but again, not limited to, conditions like low testosterone for the guys, PCOS for the ladies, hypothyroidism, etc.) BUT these conditions on their own do not stop people from being able to lose fat.

Here is what nobody talks about: being overweight is depressing. Being overweight causes brain fog. Being overweight makes you fucking tired. You’d do just about anything to get rid of that extra weight fast, which spurs lots of people on to extreme diets, crackerjack supplements that cause more problems than they solve, injections, pills, pyramid schemes, meal replacements, and in extreme cases pathological restriction and binging and purging. And let me tell you, after a day (or days) of exercising control, depriving yourself of the fuel your body needs in order to thrive in favor of shitty shakes or pills, and being judged and marginalized because of your body shape, it is really hard to give a rat’s ass about sticking to a diet. So you eat a bunch of stuff that doesn’t do your body any good, and you start off the next day thinking that you have to make up for last night’s mistakes.

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Now, if you add an actual hormone imbalance to that mix, for example low T or PCOS (to cite the most common one in each gender) you have to add in MORE brain fog, MORE depression, MORE fatigue, and (potentially) fear of infertility into that mix of stress. In a nutshell, developing an obesity-related hormone imbalance just throws gas onto the fire of insecurity and self loathing that is already merrily burning. Having trouble believing that fat loss is possible? Congratulations, now you have another hurdle to get over. Still, a hormone problem won’t stop you from losing fat. It will slow you down; you’ll have to be veeeery consistent for a longer time before you get the results you want. But stick at it: you can’t be in a calorie deficit for too long before weight loss is inevitable – that’s science!

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Here are some unpopular truths about fat loss. If it’s going to last, it takes time. Lots of learning has to happen and you have to get your head on straight so that you are in a position to absorb the lessons that your body is teaching you. Your relationship with your food may have to do a complete 180. You’ll have to be super consistent for a long time – maybe six weeks (or more if your hormones are doing the funky chicken) before you see any changes on the scale at all. The hardest thing, especially if you have been telling yourself that your weight has nothing to do with the way you live, will be assuming responsibility for the way things are, because yes, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. I’m not saying it’s a character flaw or a fault…but look at it this way: if you aren’t responsible for the way things are, how will you own any success you have?

It’s not easy – but doing it slowly and changing your mind while you change your body is worth the investment, you know why? Because the changes you make to your beliefs, and then to your outlook, and eventually your lifestyle, ARE the new normal.

 

Mental Hygiene

Day 5:

The brainsparkers are failing me. I find myself shuffling through the cards multiple times a day looking for something to actually spark an idea and they just irritate me and make me want to write about other stuff. Which is awesome because it means that I have ideas again! Whoohoo,, it worked!!mh1

The other day I touched on a concept that I’ve been thinking about a lot: MENTAL HYGIENE. I was watching a lecture by renowned psychology prof Jordan Peterson on the topic of dealing with depression and suicide, where he spoke at length about mental hygiene. It has occupied a lot of my brain space lately, not because I’m depressed or suicidal (although I have dragged through some pretty dark periods of clinical depression in the past) but because as a personal trainer/coach I believe it’s part of my role to be able to coach my clients through some of life’s difficult passages if the need arises. People are dealing with more chronic stress and feelings of disconnectedness than ever before and exercise is (rightfully) one of the first places people tend to turn to as treatment for depression. Fitness professionals need to maintain a skill set that includes knowing how to coach, when to coach, and, most importantly, when NOT to coach and refer out instead.

Anyway. Maintaining good mental hygiene is the first defense against depression and it’s fairly straightforward: we have an idea of what *should* happen from day to day. If we do A, then B and C and D will happen. But, life is some messy shit sometimes and doesn’t turn out as planned…and when that happens someone with good mental hygiene deals with ONLY what is in front of them in a constructive way, where someone with bad mental hygiene might jump right over the isolated unexpected negative experience and go straight to general self-bashing.  My crap workout from the other day and ensuing hormone-induced mental spiralling is a perfect example of bad mental hygiene. To recap, I missed a couple of lifts that by all accounts I should have made (and probably would have made on another day) and instead of thinking “ok, no big deal – I missed those lifts because of solid reasons X, Y, and Z that are within my control” I went straight to “I’ll never get better at weightlifting and I’ll look like an ass in competition and I don’t deserve to be taking up space in the gym.”

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So how do you get better at keeping good mental hygiene? Well, the same way you get better at anything:

PRACTICE.

You practice letting in the minimum amount of negative feedback when something crappy or unexpected happens. For example, (and this is one I see all the freaking time) someone who’s trying to lose weight will eat well and do everything right for a whole week, but when they get on the scale on Monday morning, their weight will have stayed the same or maybe even have gone up. SO frustrating, because after working away at it for seven goddamn days you expect to see some progress on the scale. You deserve to be rewarded with some weight loss after all that work! How to deal with this? Well, if your mental hygiene is good, and you know you’ve done everything right but weight loss can be a nebulous thing which depends on a million tiny variables, you accept that you just need to keep doing what you’re doing. You might flip off the scale on your way out of the bathroom but you know that next week your effort will pay off. Negative feedback minimized: check.mh4

Now if your mental hygiene is somewhat lacking (and this happens more often with weight loss than just about anything else) you might look at the lack of results on the scale and go straight to “I suck. I’m going to be fat forever so there’s no point in trying. Fuck it all.” and then dive headfirst into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. If things are really awry you might go as far as “I don’t deserve love or understanding.” which is just up the street from self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Now you’ve opened the door for all the demons and snakes and nastiness to come swirling in like a snowstorm.

This is a pattern that just about everyone falls into from time to time…and it’s really easy to do if you’ve had something like a Tuesday morning where you sleep through your alarm, discover you’re out of coffee filters, get a flat tire on your way to work, almost get killed by some eighteen-year-old douchebag in a pickup truck while you’re jacking up your car, then get in to work late, dirty, and grumpy and then get a bad performance review – those circumstances would test even the most mentally hygienic of us. But by practicing minimizing the negative feedback on the little things – bad hair days, being the target of someone else’s road rage, etc. – we can clean up our mental hygiene for the days when bigger stuff happens. You know, like missed lifts.  mh3

Day 4: What Can You Leave Behind?

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I had a really shitty workout today. There are a lot of good reasons why it was shitty: it’s shark week and my hormones are wreaking their usual monthly havoc on everything, it was the third workout day in a row so I was tired and sore and not moving as well as I do normally; it’s Easter weekend so I don’t have the degree of control over my diet that I’m accustomed to. So really it should have been no surprise that it was kind of a crap workout…except that I let some other mental garbage in to mess with my head; other garbage that I haven’t had to worry about in a good while.

Here’s what happened: I had planned to do 4 heavy snatch singles today; WITH the video camera rolling. That piece is important, not only because it’s good material for social media or because it’s a good learning tool (especially when things don’t go as planned), but because the camera makes me freaking nervous, and I wanted some performance anxiety to fight with. I’m going to have to make these lifts under pressure in less than two weeks and I wanted to practice. So, I made the first one but it didn’t feel awesome. Watched the video…and to my surprise all I could see was what was wrong with my appearance: fat on my stomach, flying squirrel arms from gaining and losing hundreds of pounds over the years. I’m not gonna lie, it got to me a little bit. And my defenses were down because I haven’t worried about that stuff for a while. Anyway, I kept going: made the second one, watched the video (same inner critic chirping the same bullshit again.). Missed the third. Started to get frustrated and wondered if maybe I’ve made a bad mistake by committing to a competition before I’m ready. (And that thought was important; I’ll explain why in a minute). Tried it again and made it, but it was seriously shaky. Missed two attempts at the fourth, then gave up and moved on.

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​So. Practicing good mental hygiene is hugely important in the gym (and of course everywhere else in life), and what I mean by that is this: when something goes wrong and tears the fabric of what we had planned, we let the bare minimum of mental crap in through that hole. What I should have done is accepted that today I was worn out, that it was shark week, and that my nutrition hadn’t been on point the day before so my recovery was compromised. Instead I went to a whole new level and started telling myself that I was slow, fat, didn’t deserve to be there, blah blah blah. I let the snakes in.

That’s what I’m gonna leave behind today: the bad mental hygiene that threw me off my game. Training is way too much fun to let that shit get in the way,