Staying on track, out of town.

Kendra2Earlier this fall, I traveled out of town for a few days on a business trip. I was excited, but also worried about staying aligned with my diet and fitness goals on the road. In the past, I haven’t been great about navigating or recovering from interruptions to my usual routine. This time, I spent some time packing and planning in advance.

Here’s what I did:

I packed multiple changes of workout clothes, and an alarm clock, which allowed me to grab a fresh set of clothes whenever I could squeeze in a few minutes at the hotel gym.

I packed a ton of healthy snacks, and tracked my calorie intake using an iPhone app. (I use MyFitnessPal.) On a business trip, you eat out a lot, and it can be hard to “guesstimate” an accurate entry for meals. By having healthy snacks to munch on during the day, I was able to keep my take-out meals (and the guesswork) to a minimum.

I brought my new MyZone 3 belt to track my workouts. By using the smartphone app to view my heart rate zone during my workout, I was able to make the best use of my limited workout time, just like when I’m at the Club.

I carried a water bottle to refill between work sessions to stay hydrated. This helped keep food cravings to a minimum, and kept me feeling great while I spent most of my day sitting in a seminar.

Sounds perfect, right? I am the queen of planning! I am a superhero and none shall put my forward momentum asunder! Still, the best laid plans can go awry, and I did learn some very important lessons. Here’s what I also could have done to set myself up for success.

Brought a lightweight exercise or yoga mat for my hotel room. I was surprised to find that the hotel gym was even smaller than my super-tiny hotel room. There was one elliptical machine, one recumbent bike, one treadmill, one rack of free weights, and not much room to swing a sweat towel, or even do some simply bodyweight exercises. Having extra cushioning for the floor in my hotel room would have helped me use that space for stretching, yoga, or a little core work.

Packed a bigger variety of healthy snacks, and more than I thought I needed. I brought enough to sustain me during my time out of town, but by the end of the trip, what I missed was choices. On my last day, I just didn’t feel like peanut butter chocolate chip protein bars anymore. I’d rather carry home a few uneaten snacks, but have enjoyed my snacks along the way, than get sick and tired of some of my favorites.

Penciled in workouts on my calendar for the days AFTER I returned. Sometime after I returned home, I was shocked when I realized that three days had passed without exercising. Even though I had kept myself on track pretty well during my trip, somehow that attention just flew out the window when I got back! I should have written a workout into my calendar for the days following, to ensure that making time for exercise was an intentional part of resuming my normal schedule.

Any other tips, Club Fitters? What has worked for you?

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Committing to Big Change.

Kendra2croppedI’m making a big commitment to weight loss and setting a huge goal for myself. Over the next two years, I aim to lose 100 pounds.

With a 50 pound weight loss under my belt, I have the confidence and the tools to develop a sustainable plan to lose the rest of my excess body weight, and hopefully for good. This is a huge decision, and an enormous undertaking, but I know that I’m ready.

Setting a goal of losing 100 pounds is not about obsessing over the scale pound by pound, and achieving this specific goal “or else.” Instead, it’s about putting a big stake in the ground to keep my eyes on the horizon of long-term change. With the gratitude that comes from cancer survivorship, I’m ready to do whatever I need to do to minimize health risks in my future.

I’ve carried extra weight all my life. In fact, I have developed a strong sense of identity around being bigger and stronger than average, and in being comfortable and confident taking up space and having a powerful presence. That is a lot of really great work that I have absolutely no intention of undoing. I’m not setting out with the intention of changing the shape of my body to fit into a smaller clothing size. My goals are pinned on good health, longevity, and improving my athletic abilities to have more fun!

To eventually accomplish this Herculean task, here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. Having already gotten the thumbs-up at my annual physical, I’m now going to check in with my doctor periodically, to make sure I’m on the right track.
  2. Do my homework to build a nutrition and exercise plan that I know I can support with the time I have to put in.
  3. Move at a sustainable pace. I’m not going to do anything now that I intend to stop doing when I lose my excess weight. This means, I’m going to exercise several times a week and continue to enjoy the foods I love on occasion, even if it means I move at a less aggressive pace.

Here’s what I’m NOT going to do:

  1. Allow negative self-talk.
  2. Obsess over calories.
  3. Quit.

At this point, I know myself well enough to know that when my mind is right, my body will follow. So, by that logic, if I remain my own number one fan, I can’t lose.

Wish me luck! If any of you have had success with big changes, I’d love to hear about it.

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Recommitting to Fitness Goals

Kendra3When I walked back into the gym after several months without exercise, I encountered one really big surprise: even after having lost fifty pounds through diet and exercise, I suddenly felt like the new kid at the gym. I had trouble figuring out where I should start!  

It reminded me of how I felt almost three years ago, walking into the gym for the first time after years of battling illness, and being terrified of putting a toe in the water, for fear of hurting myself, doing too much, doing too little, or doing something ineffective. 

Fighting the urge to turn around and go home, I got on the treadmill for a few minutes and just started walking, slowly. Just so I could get my head together and clear my thoughts. I felt like everyone was staring at me. (They were not.) I felt like I didn’t have everything I needed to accomplish a good workout comfortably. (I did. Headphones, iPhone, armband, water bottle, sweat towel, check. No excuses.) I thought that I didn’t know how to build my own workout. (I did.)

While it was true that I hadn’t exercised in some time, I knew that deep down, I knew what to do. It was just a matter of digging up that knowledge and putting it to good use. In the time since that “first day” almost three years ago, I’ve worked with personal trainers, and enough to know what works to motivate my mind and my body. As I walked, I coached myself silently, in my head: “You love spinning. You still hate running. You like strength training. You hate the track. You like the Woodway Eco-Treadmill. You love stretching, so save time for that. Remember?”

Slowly, I put the pieces back together. Once I got my head on straight and my confidence back, I cranked up the incline on my treadmill, put in my ear buds with my favorite workout playlist, and had a great powerwalk. So great, that I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. (That may have drawn a few stares.) I felt like singing along to my playlist and punching the air in front of me. (I resisted. You know, you don’t want to be THAT person.) In the end, I was surprised by a new feeling: freedom and joy.

On my way home after my workout, I remembered some really helpful advice I had gotten from a trainer: slow and steady wins the race. When you’re recommitting to fitness after an absence, it’s hard to resist temptation to overcompensate for your “time away.” What a recipe for injury and setbacks! Writers don’t write novels in a day, and likewise, we don’t build our healthiest, strongest bodies overnight, or even in a few weeks of hard effort and the best of intentions. In the past, I have been guilty of having fierce fitness energy for about a month, and then crashing when I felt like I was spending “all my time” at the gym. Working with a sustainable pace, and on a healthy schedule, is truly the best way to minimize setbacks. I’m so grateful for everything that I have learned that has brought me to this healthy place of mind and body. It makes the difference between starting over and starting anew.

If you’re struggling with getting to the gym for the first time, or getting back there after some time away, remember this: don’t bring yesterday with you. If you’re struggling with frustration or guilt, you need to leave those things at home. They are not tall enough to ride this ride.

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Getting back on the Superhero track

KendraheadshotHi, Club Fit friends! I’ve missed you!

You may have noticed that I’ve been missing in action for a while. Around 10 months ago, I was celebrating a huge milestone accomplishment of losing fifty pounds since the beginning of my fitness journey. (Somehow, that feels like yesterday.) I was elated, re-energized, and couldn’t wait to lose fifty more. But then, as it sometimes does, life took another turn.

Thankfully, my own health continues to be stable, and I am still cancer-free. But shortly after my last post, I suffered the loss of two close family members. In the months that followed, I struggled to balance my time between work and family obligations, and taking care of myself and my health and fitness was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in “helper mode”, and anything and everything I could do to help others in my family, others at work, was my first instinct when it came to managing my time. I actually felt guilty about spending my own time and energy on myself.

Thankfully, my body woke me up. The lower back pain I experienced when I was out of shape returned, and I felt tired all the time, but didn’t sleep well at night. A handful of pounds had creeped back on, and I knew that I needed to make time for my fitness again. I’ve also learned some really valuable lessons about balancing my time and energy, and making sure to include myself in the mix.

Super-optimists will tell you “each day has the same number of hours”, but the truth is that some are much, much longer than others. Some days, there genuinely isn’t any time. What is true is that each day is a new day, and any small thing you have time to do for your health and your body is never wasted, and never “not worth doing.” There is no need to wait for a day that you can dedicate two hours at the gym to “make up for lost time.” Putting in a very small amount of effort can lead to putting in more another day, and, at the very least, it will remind you that you are deserving of your own time and energy.

I will still drop everything to be there for my family when they need me, but I have learned that it’s important to remember to do the same for myself. My first day back at the gym this morning felt amazing, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning as well. After all, I’m a superhero on a mission…

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Superhero Update: 50 pounds gone and STILL cancer-free!

Whoo-hoo!

Whoo-hoo!

I am thrilled to be able to celebrate a special milestone today. So far, on my journey of health and recovery, I have lost a total of FIFTY pounds, and after two and a half years, I am STILL cancer-free!!

When I started out on my fitness journey, weight loss was not my primary goal. I didn’t even buy a scale until a year ago (check out this post from last year about my scale-buying experience.) I just wanted to be healthy, and to be able to do some of the physical activities that I did before I fell ill. More than anything, I wanted to be in fighting shape, so if cancer came knocking again, I could knock it down with one punch. At the time, I certainly didn’t feel like a fighter – but now I do.

Being plagued by health problems for so long led me to have serious doubts that I could ever become a “healthy person” again. I thought I was stuck being a “sick person”, because I really didn’t believe that my body could recover from everything it had been through. It breaks my heart, even as I type these words, that I could ever think or feel that way about myself – but I did. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that Club Fit saved me.

In addition to the incredible support of my family and friends, I am so grateful to have had the support of Club Fit and its stellar staff. Every group fitness instructor who shouted a motivating phrase, every trainer I have worked with who helped me get a little bit better every day, and every staff member who flashes me a thumbs-up when I’m sunk down on a bench, totally exhausted, has helped me on my way to being a healthier, happier me! I still have a long way to go, but now I know that it’s possible.

Celebrating this milestone gives me the opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come. It reminds me that fitness and good health are within my grasp, and that I am empowered with the tools to obtain them! Taking the first step towards better health and fitness is the greatest gift I have ever given myself, and I’m so glad I did it.

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Superhero Transformation: Busting through a weight loss plateau!

Boxing helped me break through my weight loss plateau... I think?

Boxing helped me break through my weight loss plateau… I think?

I’d heard about it: the dreaded “weight-loss plateau.” The so-called dead zone where, despite your best efforts, your weight loss slowly rolls to a dead stop – like a car running out of gas. I have to admit, I didn’t really consider that it might happen to me, despite hearing lots of other well-intentioned gym-goers complain about hitting this wall. I figured, a plateau must be what happens when you get busy and have trouble making time for the gym, or when you’re not paying proper attention to your diet. I learned that isn’t necessarily the case! You can be doing everything right: exercising regularly, eating and sleeping well, hydrating properly, and still the scale won’t budge.

I got frustrated (no surprise there) and started researching weight-loss plateaus: why they happen, and what you can do to get yourself un-stuck. Celeb trainer Jillian Michaels calls it a myth, and thinks poor habits are to blame. Some other sources say it’s real, and recommend eating less, while others recommend eating more, while at the same time others recommend exercising more, while others still suggest taking a break from exercising all together to allow your system to “reset.” Argh! Clearly, there isn’t much information out there that is concrete and helpful (and these “tips” even come from medical-oriented websites.)

For a while, I followed bad internet advice. I took a self-imposed one-week “break” from the gym to try and reset my system, which only succeeded in throwing a wrench in my previously-established good habits. Before I knew it, three whole weeks had gone by, and I had to work harder to make time for the gym again. I tried eating more, I tried eating less; nothing seemed to do the trick. Instead of spinning, I strapped on some boxing gloves and went after the punching bag. If nothing else, it used different muscles, gave me a new kind of cardio stimulation, and was incredibly satisfying and fun!  Not too long afterward, the scale started to move again, and I can’t say what it was that did it. It wasn’t one trick or one food item, or one routine – maybe it was just time and persistence, but it happened.

I didn’t learn the secret to breaking through a plateau, but I did learn three really important things:

  1. Don’t take bad internet advice.
  2. Plateaus are a real thing, and there’s no guaranteed formula to see you through. Everyone’s body responds differently to routines and to changes. Try changing things up a bit (gently, please!) and see what works for you. At the very least, hitting a plateau reminds us to assess where we are and where we want to be, and if we’re doing the right things to get there.
  3. No amount of exercise will do you wrong. Don’t focus on the calories you burned, or whether or not the time and energy you spent was “worth it” for your goals – any kind of exercise is worth your time. It’s good for your heart, good for your mood, and makes your body happy. THAT is worth it, and is far more important than a number on your scale.

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How to choose your workout shoes.

A number of people have recently asked me about how to choose good workout shoes, and I must confess: I have absolutely no idea. Being on a tight budget, I have tried to find what appear to be the best quality shoes within my price range. I use a comfortable and supportive cross-training shoe for any exercise that absorbs impact, but for spinning and weight training, when my feet are constantly in contact with the pedal or floor, I use low-cost workout sneakers from Old Navy. I find them to be very lightweight, breathable, comfortable, and supportive enough for exercise without impact, but I wasn’t sure when I bought them that I was making the right decision for reasons other than cost. Thankfully, I was at least smart enough to ask my amazing personal trainer, Jenn Gannon, who has offered us all her expert professional advice!

I asked Jenn my top three burning questions about choosing workout sneakers, and here’s what she had to say.

Q: What should I look for in a good pair of all-around workout sneakers? Do they have to be expensive?  A: Think about what types of activities you are involved with at the gym, or even at home! If you are utilizing cardio equipment and weight training, even our group exercises classes, the best shoe is a cross trainer. They are going to provide you with stability, comfort and are the most durable to withstand all the various activities. With that being said, the price does not have to be astronomical but because a cross trainer will be of value for all of these activities you might want to splurge on a reliable shoe. Try outlet stores, Reebok is notorious for “2 for $99” deals. Even some online searching for shoes you’ve already owned, research is key!

Q: Is it okay to use “running shoes” for general exercise?  A: No, Running shoes are a specific kind of shoe that is tailored for runners. Running shoes provide extra cushioning to absorb the impact of foot striking. Not only that but running shoes come in different varieties that give extra support for a persons’ foot mechanics, such as their arches or the degree of pronation or supination. Most running shoes are designed with the intention of improving a runners performance. Any good sporting goods store will be able to judge all of these mechanics and find a proper shoe. Do your research if you are a runner if you are looking to improve!

Q: When should I replace my workout shoes?  A: Shoes should be replaced between every 300-500 miles. It ultimately depends on how you wear and tear the soles of the shoe. If you find a shoe you like and there is a deal, buy more! I like to rotate through shoes so that they last longer, especially if you are an avid exerciser. Shoes are the most important part of a work out, if you feel that they no longer are providing you the support or you can start to see your socks showing through a hole you are way over due for a new pair!

I hope you find these responses as helpful as I do. Happy exercising!

I finally picked up a MyZone belt, and here’s what happened.

Signing up at the service desk for my MyZone activity belt.

This past week, I celebrated my birthday, which I have a very different perspective on in my cancer-remission world. Before I started out seriously on a path to health and wellness, I would celebrate my birthday in less healthy ways, but now, I see my birthday as an opportunity to reward myself with a gift that will help me on my new path. Last year on my birthday, I celebrated with an early morning workout and a massage. This year, I gifted myself with Club Fit’s newest toy, the MyZone belt. (If you haven’t heard of MyZone, check out this video to learn more.)

The MyZone belt is an ingenious little device that tracks your heart rate during your workout, and emails you a summary of your results after you’re finished! (What a world we live in, huh?) If you’re working out in the gym, you’ll be able to see your current heart rate, calories burned, and more, right on the nearest screen. I can keep one eye on it to see if I’m working too hard, or if I need to put more effort in, to get the most out of the time I’m putting into my workout. You can also take it with you outside the gym – it will store 16 hours of workout data, and then sync up again next time you get to the gym.

When I first started using my belt, I was really surprised to find that I wasn’t working as hard as I thought, and I needed step up my game a little bit. It also helped me identify the fastest activities to get my heart rate up, so I can use cardio intervals more effectively. It’s super comfortable to wear, easy to put on, easy to clean, and it’s just a really cool piece of technology that is so gosh darn fun to use! I mean, who doesn’t feel like a superhero with a bright red band around their chest?! (Secret superhero handshake, anyone?)

I’m SO, SO glad I made this investment. It has helped me immensely, and I’d recommend it for anyone who is serious about results from their training (or just wants to feel like a superhero.)

 

 

On my toes! My Barre class experience.

Jenn and me posing for instructor Leslie after our awesome Barre class workout.

Ugh, winter; am I right? The excitement of the holiday season has faded, and now it’s just….cold. REALLY, REALLY, REALLY COLD. How can we stay active and committed to our fitness routine, when our hibernation instincts are screaming “Blankets! Hot cocoa! Netflix!”?

I decided to shake the winter blues by shaking things up at the gym.  Despite knowing that I shouldn’t do the same thing all the time, I found myself mentally checking out and, well…doing the same thing all the time. Working out had become a little bit of a chore. To combat the monotony, I decided to try a Barre class that I’d had one eye on for some time. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I was saving it for Cabin Fever Season, but I shouldn’t have waited so long.  It was an incredible workout!  The movements are small and very controlled, but they are intense, and they work more muscles than an average workout. I really did use muscles that I had forgotten I had. The best part is, I got Jenn to join me, and we had a blast! (I’ll admit, it’s a little boost to watch your personal trainer sweat just as hard as you.)

For those of you who have taken ballet (or even Pilates) at any point in your lives, Barre class will feel familiar, but not like a repeat. If you’ve never taken ballet before, Barre is a great way to have fun and strengthen a lot of supporting muscles, especially your core, and it’s great for your posture. But if you want to just pretend to be a ballerina, that’s okay too. It’s a great way to shake things up, any time of year.

Buddy Up for 2014!

Bryan and I working out with Jenn!

Over lunch last week, my husband Bryan asked me if I’d made any New Year’s resolutions.  I hadn’t thought about it yet, but it made me think of this post last year where I shifted my perspective on New Year’s resolutions, and I’m so glad that I did.  Now that I can look back on 2013, this year was so much healthier than any year I’ve ever had – and I hadn’t made a single resolution.

It’s good to check in with yourself once a year, to see where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to be – but making hard and fast rules to live by just seems such an unkind thing to do to yourself.  Where is the room for growth, or forgiveness?  Instead, I set goals.  Goals have nothing to do with the calendar year, so they aren’t as easily forgotten, and they aren’t erased for new ones on December 31st.  Also, achieving those goals gives you an excuse to celebrate, and doesn’t that feel good?  (New gym sneakers? Yes, please!)

Our discussion about resolutions led to lots of things we’d like to do this year.  Lose weight, volunteer more, stress less, more book time, less screen time, etc., but in the end all we resolved to do was support one another in our individual goals – and it has already made a huge difference in how I feel about my journey toward optimal health.  My wish for all of you in 2014 is to find a workout partner that supports you in your health journey, through good and bad.  If you don’t have that person in your life already, they are worth finding.

As for Bryan and me, we are taking the first step by continuing with my trainer Jenn… together!

Take it outside!

Striking a superhero pose at the summit of Turkey Mountain

I love working out at Club Fit.  Really, really love it!  (Clearly.)  With so much to do, really hard to get bored, and I never run out of options for changing up my routine.  That being said, I am facing the harsh reality that winter is coming, and I’ll be stuck inside for a long period of time.  Thankfully, nature seems to have gifted us with an extended fall that isn’t even over yet!

Last Sunday was particularly gorgeous, and my husband and I wanted to get in some good exercise, but it was just too nice to be inside.  We weren’t sure what to do, since we’re not usually outdoor exercisers (and we’re not exactly runners).  We’ve seen lots of Club Fit organized hikes for Turkey Mountain in Yorktown, but hadn’t participated yet, so we went to check it out for ourselves.

There are two trails that lead to the summit – a shorter, steeper climb, and a longer, more even-paced climb.  We felt adventurous and chose the steep climb – and boy, was it!!  Our hearts got pumping quickly, and we definitely got a serious cardio workout.  In addition, we got lots of fresh air and sunshine, and an adventure to tell our friends about – and by taking a workout or two outside while we still can, maybe this winter won’t feel so long.

Are you taking advantage of this milder-than-usual November?  Where are you headed?

A little bit better, every day.

Rocking an upright row in the Kinesis section.

I’ve heard people say that wanting results is what brings them to the gym, and seeing results is what keeps them coming back.  Obviously, we all want to see our hard work pay off.  We put in the time, the sweat, and the effort, and we want to be rewarded, big-time!  But this week, I saw some results that I didn’t expect to see.

When I say that, I mean that I took notice of some small improvements that I usually don’t celebrate.  I see now that when I’m putting in my time and effort with my eyes on the next horizon of a “celebration-worthy” goal, my perspective on my overall health and abilities is too small!  Acknowledging and celebrating the fact that your smaller milestones are pushing you even further down the road – that’s worth noticing AND celebrating.

Earlier this week, I got on the treadmill for a Tabata warm-up, and entered my usual speed, but when I got going, it didn’t feel like a challenge anymore.  I gently tapped my controls to get to a more comfortable and challenging speed, and when I finished, I realized that I had increased my speed by a whole 0.5 mph!  For someone who only just starting running recently, and who only runs for 4 minutes at a time, it felt huge!

Later in my workout, I got another pleasant surprise when I completed a set of curls with my usual 10 pound weights, and it felt too easy.  I repeated the set with 12 pound weights, and got the challenge that I was looking for.  (Faster, AND stronger?!  Best Monday ever! Self-five!)

So don’t get discouraged if you feel distanced from your goal.  Shift your perspective, and find inspiration in getting a little bit better every day.

How I Learned to Run (Again)

Here's me, running on a treadmill. Words I thought I'd never say!

So… remember that time I said I hated running?  I never, ever thought this photo (left) would happen.  It’s still true that I do not enjoy extended running as general cardio exercise, but my trainer introduced me to interval workouts called Tabata training.  They let me run for only four minutes, with frequent rests, and still gets my heart rate up to where it needs to be.

Jenn explained to me that the varying intervals of activity and rest make your heart work harder, and boost your heart rate faster.  I run for twenty seconds, then rest for ten seconds, and repeat these cycles until I’ve finished four minutes – and by then, I am wiped out!  This is perfect for me, because twenty seconds seems to be my exact tolerance for running on a treadmill.  I can even use these Tabata intervals during strength training workouts to keep my heart rate up, and accomplish cardio and strength work at the same time.  Intervals also create “afterburn”, which boosts your metabolic rate for a period of time after you finish working out.  Talk about efficiency!

The best part about these workouts is that I really can feel a measurable increase in my cardiovascular endurance.  I can tell that they’re working, because each week, it gets a little easier (or should I say, I get better?)  It’s a great reminder that my body is totally capable of performing whatever I train it to do – I just need to put the work in.

My Superhero Diet: Plant Power!

Homemade salad pizza. This is my life now - and it's delicious!

Like many of us, I have experimented with fad diets.  When you get swept up in large promises based on “new research”, it’s hard to remember that the one thing they all have in common is that they don’t work, or are only a temporary solution, and in some cases – dangerously unhealthy.  The disclaimer to “consult your physician” before beginning any diet or exercise program is serious business – but like many people, I never bothered.  Ten years ago, I fell for the fat-free fad, and ended up with some serious adverse health effects.  That was a wake-up call for me, and I knew that to start any weight-loss journey off on the right foot, I had to follow directions, and make an appointment with my doctor.

When I met with my physician, I laid it all out on the table.  I told her that my goal was to slowly and sustainably lose all of the extra weight I’m carrying, to prevent disease, and to be an active participant in my health, which meant I was looking for a manageable long-term eating plan.  She did a lot of research on my goals, my past conditions, and delivered a plan: no animal fats, no soy, no processed food, and no sugar.

Wow!  Four little “no”s that wiped out a lot of items.  Even the frozen veggie burger patties that I considered healthy alternatives were full of soy, and the ones that were soy-free are still heavily processed.  Most people are shocked when I tell them my diet, and ask me what on earth is possibly left to eat.  I tell them, lots!  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts – it doesn’t sound like much, but the possibilities are endless when you are informed and prepared.

Like any other major lifestyle changes, this diet requires a lot of planning to adhere to, and it really took me a number of months to find my groove.  Since I’m highly active, I have to count my protein intake carefully to make sure I’m getting what my body needs without packing in too many calories that might deter my weight loss efforts.  I have to have a well-stocked pantry, and shop frequently for fresh produce (which is a joy at this time of year), in order to be able to throw a meal together on the fly.  Sitting down once a week, browsing vegan recipes for inspiration, and making a specific shopping list help me keep from feeling lost for inspiration, and there are still some delicious and easy meals that are fast to make – like my homemade salad pizza pictured above.  It’s my favorite quick meal.

One thing is for certain – this diet is not for everyone.  I hope that you will learn from my past mistakes and speak with a doctor you trust (who knows your health history), if you are considering making any major changes to your diet.  That being said, it’s definitely healthy to indulge in a plant-based meal once in a while, and now that vegan diets are increasing in popularity, it’s easy to find inspiration.  Here is my favorite veggie burger recipe (homemade, not processed) from the Candle Cafe in NYC.  It’s fast, delicious, and family-friendly – I hope you enjoy it!

Do you have a favorite plant-based meal to share?

 

How I Became a Morning Exerciser

Werkin' it with my awesome trainer, Jenn.

I didn’t think it would happen. Ever.  I knew they existed: the gym-goers who arrive bright and early, work themselves into a sweaty mess, and then clean up and make their way to work.  It seemed like torture to me!  I just could not fathom that I would ever become a Morning Person, let alone a Morning Exerciser.  I had always exercised after work, so that afterward I could shower up and deservedly collapse on the couch for the evening when I got home.  That worked for a while, but eventually I got frustrated at having a smaller amount of time to myself in the evenings, and having to cook/clean/etc. when I was exhausted from a day of work AND a gym session.  So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a change, and try working out in the morning.

I started my morning workouts during a week when my evenings were totally occupied, because I knew I would be committed to fitting my workout in, and therefore less likely to hit the snooze button.  It was an intense week, but I didn’t burn out like I thought I would.  In fact, I had MORE energy to accomplish everything on my agenda beyond my regular workday.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. After a morning workout, the improved quality of the rest of my day was enough motivation to get myself out of bed early again the next day- and that cycle just kept repeating itself.
  2. I never hit an afternoon slump that tempted me to over-snack or over-caffeinate.  After a morning workout, the day passed by without even thinking about it.
  3. Changing your schedule, like any other big changes, requires planning.  Now, when I sit down over the weekend to plan meals and groceries, I also plan my workouts.  I write down which days I’ll do cardio, which days I’ll do strength training, and exactly what exercises to do.  I keep this note in my smartphone, so that I know exactly what to do when I get there.
  4. Being specific helps.  Telling myself “I’ll workout at 8am” worked much better at getting me there than simply thinking “I’ll stop at the gym on my way to work.”
  5. It’s best to set yourself up to grab-and-go.  At night, when I pack my lunch for work the next day, I pack my gym back with work clothes, a water bottle, and anything else I need.  I even put everything near the front door – so that no matter how tired I am in the morning, I can throw on my workout clothes, and drag everything out the door behind me while I’m still in a zombie-like state.
  6. When in doubt, just get dressed.  Every time I thought about skipping the morning workout, I put my workout clothes on anyway, and it gave me the motivation I needed.  Something about my bouncy workout sneakers perked me right up.  Another benefit of this trick is that if it doesn’t work, it’s a good indication that maybe it really is the right day to take a break.

Are you a Morning Exerciser?  How does it work for you?

Why I bought a scale.

Me, one year after starting my fitness journey.

For a long time, I refused to own a scale.  Not because I was in denial about being overweight, or refusing to change, but because I associated my weight with very complicated feelings of self-worth.  Just the sight of a scale brought immediate flare-ups of guilt, and sometimes shame.  For years, I have excused myself from the practice of weighing myself regularly by rationalizing that those feelings could not possibly be healthy.  As long as I was in good health, why did I need to lose weight?

I have been overweight for my entire life.  As a child, I was among the tallest and the strongest in my age group, and always a bit on the heavy side.  My extraordinarily tall friends laugh when I tell them that I understand how they feel being a head taller than the rest of the world, but the truth is, I have never known what it’s like to feel small, even after all my classmates grew taller than me.  I was an athlete – a strong and fast swimmer – and I ate like one, especially on meet days.  My dietary habits formed at a time in my life when I exercised for hours a day – and later on, when my pursuits changed from athletic to artistic, my weight ballooned, and I didn’t see it – all because I was no stranger to being “big.”  So when my weight was criticized, I took it very personally because I thought it was just the way that I was.

When I started my health and fitness journey, around this time last year, I had to do some serious soul searching before I could even set foot in the gym.  I had to remind myself that it wasn’t about getting thin, it was about being healthy.  I didn’t start with a goal of losing weight, I only focused on improving my health by getting more exercise.  Of course, weight loss came in short order, especially after I made healthier changes to my diet.  When I felt my body changing, I got on a scale out of curiosity, and I saw that I had lost ten pounds since the last time I had been weighed at the doctor’s office.  For the first time, I realized that it is totally within my power to shed every pound of extra weight that’s keeping me from being as healthy as possible – but I couldn’t do that without a scale to measure my progress.  I had to face my fear head-on.

So I bought one.  My husband came with me, not knowing that he was accompanying me to a simultaneously painful and triumphant event.  I made it not a big deal.  We stopped at the store on our way to do something else, picked out one we liked, tossed it in the trunk, and went on our way.  Even while I was driving away, I was aware of that scale sitting in the trunk of my car, and what it meant for me: that there is no turning back.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that just because it’s always been sunny, doesn’t mean it will never rain.  Obviously, being heavy did not cause my cancer, and I can’t control it by losing weight, but doing everything in my power to get as healthy as possible means that I’ll be stronger to fight it if it comes back.  While my cancer diagnosis has taken many things away from me, it has actually given me an incredibly powerful gift.  It has allowed me to move forward on my journey to good health, free from the guilt and shame that I associated with my body, my weight, and how I got to this point.  I have lost 30 pounds so far, and I’m still have at least 100 pounds to go.  It will not be fast, and it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

The Superhero Returns!

Back in action!

Hey, everybody!  I’M BACK!

I haven’t posted for a few months because I haven’t been well, but I’m happy to say that I am now fully recovered.  This spring, I developed some benign but painful complications from my hysterectomy last year, which required surgical intervention. While my incredible team of doctors took superb care of me (thank you, Sloan-Kettering), my recovery kept me in bed for a couple of weeks, and then even more time before I was cleared to exercise again.  Right when I was ready to get back in the game, I got sidelined again – this time by bad headaches and fatigue – and my doctor confirmed Lyme disease!  (I should really play the lottery – I’m due for some good luck by now, right?)

Anyway, after a month-long dose of tough antibiotics (and some extra rest) I was fully healed, and this Superhero was ready to throw on her cape again!  But I was surprised to find that my grand return was overshadowed by some shyness and trepidation.  I had been ill for so long, did I really remember what it felt like to be capable of vigorous exercise?  I had made Club Fit my second home for so many months, and coming back after a long absence felt strange – like visiting friends who live in an apartment that you used to rent.  It’s so familiar, but you don’t inhabit it like you used to. I was nervous about getting on a spin bike, lifting a weight, or taking a class.  My nerves were getting the better of me, big-time, and I felt like I was starting all over again and didn’t know where to begin.

My first trip back to Club Fit was for an appointment with my trainer (Jenn!), which I was really looking forward to. I knew that no amount of self-doubt would keep me from this appointment, and the safety net of having someone paying personal attention to me was very reassuring.  (Jenn would most certainly be able to identify if I was doing something wrong, or pushing myself too hard.)  We ended up having an amazing session where I did MORE than I thought I could, and the slight soreness I felt later on that week was a happy reminder that I had overcome my emotional setbacks and done something healthy for myself.

It feels so good to be back on the right track again. See you at the club!

Kickboxing: Don’t Be Afraid!

After crawling out from under a hectic schedule, I was looking for something to change up my cardio routine.  It’s been a while since I’ve tried a kickboxing class, and by that I mean somewhere in the ball park of a decade.  I vaguely remember it being a great workout, but also that it was really, really hard.  (I guess there was a reason I didn’t go back.)  It also brings up 90’s-era visuals of Billy Blanks in a shiny electric blue singlet, which may be either fun or scary, depending on your level of exposure to the “Tae-Bo” fad.

Anyway, I took notice of it on the group exercise schedule when I started here at Club Fit, but since it was labeled as an intermediate class, I stayed far away.  Even now, though I’ve been working out consistently for months, each new activity definitely makes me feel like a beginner again, and I wasn’t sure about jumping right into an intermediate class.  But this week, I considered kickboxing again, because I felt that my cardio endurance had improved (thanks to Spinning), and that my core stability had started to improve as well (thanks to Pilates), and that I had a pretty good chance of getting in a good workout without injury or a traumatically embarrassing fall.

There were definitely a lot of missed steps and a little bit of flailing around, but also a lot of sweating, a lot of using new muscles, and a lot of fun!  The music was definitely inspiring, the moves were fairly easy to follow, and there was a good amount of air-punching involved, so it’s definitely a great way to end a stressful day.  I probably shouldn’t have been so timid to try this earlier, but I won’t worry about it. Now that I’ve started to get the hang of it, I’ll definitely be back.

 

When the going gets tough…literally.

I'm a big fan of the rowing machine, thanks to my trainer, Susie.

This week has been unusually frustrating for me.  A multitude of personal commitments outside of work, both morning and night, have kept me from visiting the gym for the last 3 days.  I won’t say that’s any kind of devastating fitness drought, but it is a big deviation from my recent 5-6 visits per week.  When I exercise, I feel better and sleep better, and when I don’t, I feel stiff and lethargic.  So, feeling “blah” instead of great on top of a busy week was really starting to grate on my nerves.  Once this thought crossed my mind, a shocking realization came to me: I have become one of those people!  A person who craves exercise!

I can’t even tell you when it happened.  It’s been about 6 months since I started working out regularly, and it feels like only yesterday that I was so concerned about my ability to commit and stay motivated enough to get to the gym every day.  But when scheduling is your obstacle, and not motivation, it can be especially irritating.  The feeling of not having enough time for yourself is not a good one.

We’re now in mid-March where the weather warms up, social calendars start filling up again, and New Year’s resolutions sometimes fall by the wayside.  I can see that this is a turning point where a person could be tempted to say “this isn’t working with my lifestyle anymore, I’ll take a break and get back to it when I have more time.”  I’ve even done it myself in years past, which only led to me shamefully cancelling my gym membership a few months later.  Not this time!  The gifts that exercise has given me are too wonderful to let go of now.

This week has taught me an important lesson: no matter what you’re doing (exercise or not), it’s important to always make time for yourself, or you may find yourself tempted to give up on the thing that keeps you going.  Thankfully, one thing that IS on my busy calendar today is an appointment with Susie, and she won’t put up with any of this giving up nonsense.

Pilates; Take 2.

One of the greatest gifts from my college experience (aside from my education) was core stability, thanks to Pilates. My new goal is to rediscover that strength.

More than a decade ago, in college, I studied musical theater performance.  This may sound like a cupcake degree to some, but it was a rigorous and multifaceted program of study that involved every aspect of performance.  In addition to a host of performance classes I spent most of my day in a sweat, moving between movement, dance, and stage combat classes, with instructors who relentlessly pushed us to be our best, and always better than the day before.  Aside from the inherent life lessons there, I’m very grateful to those professors for introducing me to one essential and valuable practice: Pilates.

Almost like boot camp, one professor led us through a 45-minute Pilates mat workout each day of our freshman year at the crack of dawn.  At the time, Pilates was not as much a part of the public consciousness; there were no Pilates studios in town, and no local gyms had classes around the clock as we see now (and as we are so lucky to have here at Club Fit.)  My fellow students and I didn’t even really know what had hit us; we would crawl back to our dorm rooms, cradling our exhausted and sore abdominal muscles, and silently cursing Joseph Pilates for inventing such torture.

After a not-so-long period of time, we all started to notice amazing changes, not just in our physical appearances, but more importantly, in our capabilities.  In dance classes, our leaps and turns got bigger and better. In stage combat we had better balance, stronger “punches”, and we fell down less frequently.  We had greater energy, injuries became fewer and further between, and we improved rapidly in all of our other physical practices.  Even though I carried a significant amount of extra weight, I found myself able to double pirouette with the rest of my ballet class – I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful that felt.  It wasn’t long before we realized that the Pilates mat workouts had given us an incredible gift: core stability.  The workouts we dreaded became practices that we craved, because of the miraculous abilities it gave us.  As upperclassmen, we would continue to practice anywhere we could find time and space; even in our tiny apartments and dorm rooms.  We were converts!  Some days, we’d sneak into those early morning freshmen classes we used to fear, to squeeze in a guided mat class alongside them.  One of my classmates was so devoted to the life-changing benefits of Pilates that she went on to become an instructor after college.

All of these memories came back to me one day as I was looking through old photos from college, and I asked myself, how did I forget how valuable this practice was, and why am I not incorporating Pilates into my workout routine now?  Even though I’ve changed career trajectories off stage and into nonprofit arts administration, the benefits of this practice are no less valuable to me, or anyone, especially when it comes to preventing injury.  I got myself to a Pilates mat class at Club Fit as soon as possible, and I can’t say it was like riding a bike.  After ten years away, it really felt like starting all over again.  It’s hard work, the exercises seem unusual at first, and my abs hurt just the same, but I’m here to tell you that sticking to the practice equates to a really miraculous transformation.  I’m committing myself to rediscovering that core strength, and if you haven’t tried Pilates yet, I encourage you to give it a try – not just once, but a few times, to see what it can do for you.