Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less

SONY DSC

I’m consistently awed by the wisdom I have gained from my child. And this past week, I can add more of that to the list, where his instincts were on target to solve one of my problems, while my preconceived ideas fell short.

From the moment Brett pulled himself up for the first time at the age of one, he was on the move. He has many amazing qualities, but his inability to sit still?  That is not one of them.

Or so I thought.

SONY DSC

just like Brett on his ball…1-2-3, 4-2,3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0

We were first alerted to his fidgety tendencies in Pre-k. He was constantly swaying into people’s space. Not quite able to keep in that single file line. And always a bit out of step in the circle. He reminded me a bit of Tacky the Penguin, have you ever read that book? Unlike all his penguin friends, Tacky marched to his own drum.

Brett is in third grade now, and has definitely improved. My theory is he spends all the energy he can muster during the school day trying to do the right thing, but once home, he is all over the place.

At mealtime, it’s always a challenge.

We have an open living room, dining room setup. And so when it’s time for us to sit down to eat, he’ll show up for a bite, then he’s gone the next, launching himself off the couch or scooting across the room. A few years ago I bought him a product called a disc-o-sit (nicknamed the wiggle cushion) hoping this might keep him in his chair so he could at least move and sit at the same time, and it did help for a few years until it was replaced by something even more fabulous in his eyes.

When Brett was about 6, My brother Greg visited. At the time, he recommended I learn to use an exercise ball. Inspired, I went out and purchased my own big red stability ball. But once Greg left, I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it seemed too big for me.  It promptly went downstairs out of sight, out of mind.

A few months later, I purchased a new exercise program and received a blue stability ball as a bonus.

Oh great I thought, just what we need, two stability balls taking up space downstairs!

The blue one was smaller than the red one, and Brett took one look, one jump on this thing, and the two were inseparable. Until that is, a week later he happened to bounce on the ball while holding a bamboo skewer, pointed down. In a matter of seconds, the blue ball was no more…

Brett was horrified; he ran downstairs, found the underutilized big red ball, that was actually a little smaller now, deflated from inactivity. And this has been his savior ever since, and a permanent fixture in our living room. He rolls the red ball to the table, next to his chair, while eating. He bounces or lays on it, or sways back and forth. He’ll stretch forward or hang backward. He bounces while watching movies, just hanging out talking and while listening at family read time before he goes to bed.

When friends and family come to visit, they think this is odd.

a little balancing practice...

a little balancing practice…

Why is he not able to sit in his chair?

At meals, kids should sit. When you are reading together, kids should sit and listen.

When watching a movie, shouldn’t he be sitting on a couch?

Why do you let him do this?

You must be pushover parents…

Brett and his intense need to move around and fidget are on my mind this week, as I try to solve a similar problem of my own.

Newly-inspired by the goals I set a few weeks ago, I’m finding in reality, a few of my goals cancel each other out. Here’s the dilemma: I just don’t know how to live an active lifestyle if I’m on my rear-end writing. Or learning to paint. Or learning a new language.

When I sit for long periods of time, I think about Brett and his need to move.  This must be how he feels every day: restless, uncomfortable, trapped. I feel if I sit for as long as I need to write something, or research, or study, I’ll grow roots! My legs and rear-end begin to numb. I can feel my thighs expand, soften, as I sink further and further into that chair…

Thinking it through this week, I realize there are two separate issues to address:

1) I need to maximize time spent off the chair, ensuring I’m getting the extra movement I need to balance out those big blocks of inactivity.

2) And I need to see if there are workstation options that may help me not feel so awful when I do sit down for long periods of time.

I started my search for answers, realizing immediately there’s no shortage of media coverage on the topic of sitting. I learned through many sources that sitting too much makes you die sooner, and that it is also considered by some as “the new smoking.

Then I saw an article in the Daily Beast that actually got me thinking about combating issue #1. The article recommends people incorporate a variety of squats at random times throughout the day. For example, instead of sitting around on the couch watching commercials during a TV show, get up and squat. Or take a 10 minute break at work, to get in a few more. And perhaps while waiting for a train, you might try a few more. In no time, taking advantage of these breaks can add up to a substantial amount of activity.

There is one part of the article I don’t agree with, and that is the assumption these movements can replace formal exercise: for me, that wouldn’t work. But the wheels started spinning, and I began to experiment. Not just with squats, but with lunges, and stretches and balance moves…

Here were a few places I started to add activity:

  • Lunge or Squat while folding laundry
  • Plie squat and hold while blow drying my hair
  • Random kicks while standing around thinking. That one worked well except for the time when I clipped my dog in the jaw –oops! Note to self for next time? Watch for family members before trying…
  • One legged balance poses and wall squats.
  • Squat while emptying the dishwasher.
  • Squats in the kitchen while waiting for my pan to heat up.
  • And of course, lots of static and ballistic stretches while standing.

Awesome, this will work! Now onto issue #2, assessing my workstation…

As I researched different chair and desk options, I came across the term Active Sitting.

According to Wikipedia:

Active sitting occurs when seating allows or encourages the seated occupant to move. Also referred to as dynamic sitting, the concept is that flexibility and movement while sitting can be beneficial to the human body and make some seated tasks easier to perform.

I found a variety of chairs designed for active sitters, how does one even choose? But then I came across this article in the New York Times , and had to laugh that the possible answer could be staring me right in the face.

I looked up from the computer, scanned the room until I located it off in the corner. The big red ball.

I walked over, rolled it back to my computer and was about to take a seat to test it out by my computer.

Brett caught me in the act.

Are you going to sit on my ball?

Embarrassed, I said no. Pushed the ball back over to him, and took my regular seat in the dining room chair.

I thought about the old wiggle-cushion. And the red ball. And how we used to try so hard to make Brett sit in his chair until finally giving in because we just didn’t want to fight it anymore. How is it that my kid knew he need to move, or fidget, to restore his active/sitting balance throughout the day, and was drawn to Active Sitting all along.  He found his answer instinctively, where we adults have to research at length to find the answer from supposed experts.

Adults have been making fidgety, active kids feel bad for not being able to conform to the right way, the expected way of sitting properly, when repeated evidence shows the right,  proper and expected  way, over time, is really very wrong.

Get a load of this quote I found about fidgeters, also from Wikipedia:

Fidgeting is considered a nervous habit, though it does have some underlying benefits. People who fidget regularly tend to weigh less than people who do not fidget because they burn more calories than those who remain still. It has been reported that fidgeting burns around an extra 350 calories a day.

I don’t know anyone who would mind burning 350 additional calories just by some extra movement, do you?

Perhaps it’ll look funny for all of us to be moving, lunging, squatting, standing, kicking, fidgeting, and balancing all around the house, but I think it’s a good plan to set in motion, starting now.

My son has proved to me yet again, his instincts are spot-on.

And we will once again become a household with two big stability balls floating around the living room.

Only this time we’ll know what to do with them!

How do you combat inactivity throughout the day? Are you a fidgeter? Or too sedentary? What types of lessons have you learned from your children?

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and please share this post. Once you are done with that, get up, stretch, and 10 Squats please!

My Year-end Health Report Card

SONY DSC

It’s really great that I set doctors appointments a year in advance, because it means I won’t forget to call and make appointments.

But then, a year later, I am horrified when these appointments pop up unexpectedly on my Outlook calendar at the most aggravating times.

For some reason, all of them seem to come in a big wave at the end of the year.

And it causes me a lot of anxiety.

When I was younger, I took my good immune system for granted. I would go to an appointment and expect everything would be ok. And it was.

I remember when first out of college and well into my first career job with health benefits, laughing about the fact they really weren’t benefits at all, because I never used them.  I would go years sometimes between appointments with no repercussions. I guess I was one of those snarky kids Obama is trying to get to sign up for the new health plan to pay for the rest of us. Back then I thought I was invincible.

Never a cavity. No glasses. Normal height. Normal Weight. No broken bones. Not high-risk for anything too odd.  Normal, normal, normal…

But then a few years ago, something changed.

It’s like as soon as you turn 40, suddenly, even if healthy, you start getting the call-backs.

It started with my first call-back after a mammogram, that left me anxious for a good month, as I had to come back in for an ultrasound and then wait for results. Then for the first time in my life last year I had a call back after a Ob-Gyn visit, that resulted in a follow-up, something called a colposcopy that was pretty horrible. Even the hygienist at the Dentist’s office last year had me worried when she thought my gums looked a little blotchy.

What could that be? What am I doing wrong? Why am I falling apart? I began to wonder…

So now, in 2013, I don’t take normal for granted anymore and I’m please to say, so far so good!

I have two down already, Ob-Gyn last month, where I just received a letter in the mail saying I’m A-OK for now (happy dance!). And I just received a  thumbs up from the Dentist on Monday. Although I don’t think I did anything different this year, they told me I somehow stepped up my game.

The last reminder just popped up on the calendar when I logged in this week:  The Yearly Physical.

Typically the yearly physical is where I shine. I’m highly aware of everything I eat. I treat exercise like my career. My doctor, who likely spends all day warning people that they need to stop eating fast food and soda and start walking every day, or at least getting up from their computers once in a while, looks at me and says “don’t change a thing!”.

His only recommendation last year? Take a Vitamin D tablet, because in Vermont, we get no sun.

But the part that drives my anxiety sky high, is something you would never, ever guess.

It’s that I absolutely, positively, detest numbers.

And when I get that end of year report card from my physical, showing all my numbers–normal or not–they drive me into a highly-competitive state.

I suspect this is on account of my career as a marketer. If a number ever crosses my path, it gets swept up into a pivot table in Excel and sliced and diced 20 different ways, categorized and analyzed over time. And if there is any variation at all, I’m awake at night thinking about why, how and what if?

And the worst number of all for me is that silly one every doctor takes as soon as you walk through the door.

The one you get when you step on a scale.

Over the last two years, knowing my obsessive behavior in response to numbers, I have been working hard to rid my life of them. I had used calorie counting for a few years and stopped. At one point I micro-managed my nutrient intake (and yes, there was a way-too-detailed pivot-table involved) to ensure all my numbers were where they should be: protein, carbs, fat, sugar, sodium, etc…but eventually stopped.

And about 2 years ago, I unceremoniously relegated the bathroom scale to the downstairs closet. Because any fluctuation in my weight would make me think I need to bring back all the numbers to manage it. And I don’t want that anymore. Adopting the if-the-clothing-still-fits attitude seems to work well for me.

But when you go to the Doctors office, you can’t avoid it.

When I visited the Ob-Gyn a few months ago, although I felt slightly dumb, I asked the nurse if she would mind if I turned around so I couldn’t see the number on the scale, and asked her not to tell me. She was ok with it.  But with a yearly exam, I’m not sure that’ll work, because BMI, body mass index, your height and weight ratio, is all anyone really seems to care about. My husband actually told me yesterday they had a meeting about changes in the health insurance, and that BMI was now going to be tracked for our health plan from now on.

So the anxiety has started in anticipation of learning for a fact what I know in my mind already: that I have gained a few pounds.

Even though I know I’m ok. I’m healthy.

And that fluctuation is normal.

I’m going to have to turn on every coping skill I possess to keep this knowledge from driving me numbers-crazy once again.  But I’ll also be proud I didn’t let my appointments lapse, and that I do not take my health for granted like I used to do when I was a younger adult.

Every year now I get my health report card:  if anything does go wrong, we catch it early and then hopefully move on.

At least until next year, when I start to see those new appointments pop back up on the calendar, and the worrying cycle begins once more…

Do you find Doctors appointments make you anxious? Do you keep up with all your appointments now, or do you need to get better at that? Would love to hear your stories and discussion…

What do you see?

it's not about perfect hair and smile, it's about where I have been

I moved to Vermont when I was 26.

At that time, all decisions were motivated by work, and this was my 3rd career and location move in 5 years.

My mother remarked a few times she thought I was smart to experience what it’s like to make my own decisions, to be on my own and independent as an adult. She and my father were married towards the end of college, as was the trend at the time for women. She went straight from her parents house, to college, to living with my father and having children soon-after.  My parents had a successful marriage and she was happy, but she did acknowledge to me more than once, she wished she, as a woman, had that opportunity to live as a young adult on her own.

To experience her career on her own.

To date as an adult.

That actually cracked me up at the time, my mom date? But I now get what she was saying 100%.  What I experienced during those years, on all levels, was invaluable and had I not learned what I did then about life, love, coping, independence,  I think my subsequent choices would have been bad.

Really bad.

I eventually made my life in Vermont more permanent.  I moved again within the state about 4 years later, changed jobs, and lived with my then-boyfriend, now husband. One day around this time, during a quick stop to a clothing store I bumped into a former co-worker, a grandmotherly woman, with long gray hair piled loosely in a bun and big round glasses worn down towards the tip of her nose. I met this woman in my first few weeks at the office, and we had a nice rapport, but we hadn’t seen each other since. Peering down through her glasses, she looked at me for a little longer than what you would expect to be polite, and eventually remarked:

“You look the same. But something’s changed. Your face has a new maturity about you now.

It looks great on you.”

I just smiled; not really sure how to respond.

Do you all know that change?

The time when you cease being that carefree, happy-go-lucky young adult with no responsibilities, and then become the one with many?  I was certainly unaware I possessed this new-found maturity as it happened, but as I think back, she was right.  I recognize the same changes in a few of my younger friends who are going through it now.

And I’m wondering today, a decade or so later, if yet another new level of maturity is taking shape.

Because when I look in the mirror, I’m tempted to do a double-take, something seems different.

A few days ago I read a blog post by Nicola Joyce, a fitness writer, who shared with readers  a video she created for the What I see project.  This project, founded by Edwina Dunn, in the U.K., sets out to explore how women globally answer this question:

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Are they reading my mind?

It’s not often a message appears exactly when you need it; I’m glad this one did.

This is a simple question.  But one most of us are never asked.

And probably have no idea how to put our internal thoughts into words, although we take glances in that mirror a few times each day.

I have not shared my story with the project yet, but I am fascinated by the question and have become enchanted with the stories of others who have submitted responses to the project. Some women respond based on how they look. And some respond based on who they are as person, and all they have accomplished. Some seem truthful and searching; their stories poignant. Some sound like they are saying what they want others to hear, but whether they are being honest, or just showing bravado, we’ll never know.

And, what would I say?

Would I be superficial and talk about my flaws, and all the parts of me I wish were different?

Or would I be one of the women who looks deeper, beneath the surface of the once-sparkling blue eyes, the ones with dark circles etched with what seems like permanent black lines. Am I one who thinks about the character of me as a person, and what I really, truly have experienced over the years and have to offer?

When I’m standing in front of that mirror, I certainly want to see the character within me. The independent, career-minded one who moved to Vermont way back when, and surrounded herself with loving people, built a safe and beautiful home and family. I want to see the woman who is a caring, supportive, loving mom and wife. The one who has made good solid choices.  The one who is a good friend. A survivor of many challenges. And I want to see the woman who knows she has needs too, and makes sure those needs do not get swept aside.

But sadly, in reality, I do not usually see her.

Instead, I see the here and now, and give myself a hard time.

What’s happening with my hair today?

Do these jeans look tight?

Maybe I’m not exercising enough.

Maybe I need to get some cover-up to gloss over these dark circles…

I’m the one who ignores the fact that aging does happen after awhile. And even if it happens gracefully, I assume this reality doesn’t apply to me, so what I see reflecting back never lives up to this high expectation.

It’s funny.

The subject of character.

When I was a kid, my father’s most often used saying to my brothers and me was “it’s character building”. Whether it was the result of doing our chores, paying for our car insurance or doing our homework, whatever we had to endure, that we didn’t like, built character.

We grumbled and rolled our eyes whenever we heard it.

He would laugh.

And as usual, with time, we all knew he was right.

I know I have that character he helped me build; I just need to see it for myself. To recognize it. To put value on it.

I used to like the fact I wasn’t the spitting image of either of my parents. My eyes and skin color resemble my mothers side of the family; my disposition and height from my father. But my look was truly my own. The perfect mix.

Just the other day, I was getting a haircut. With hair wet and slicked back, sitting in front of the mirror at the salon, I looked at myself, realizing for the first time I’m seeing more and more of my fathers face looking back at me.

He’s no longer here, so that’s a little eerie. I wonder if the last time he saw me, he thought that too?

Sometimes it takes me awhile to develop a new habit and act on it, even if I know it’s the right thing to do. Like knowing who I am isn’t just about what I physically see in that mirror. It’s the sum of all I have learned and achieved. The ever-expanding accumulation of maturity that grows within me, and on my face, as I weave in and out of different chapters of my life.

Maybe this is the difference I’m starting to see now.

The new-found resemblance to my father; now a gentle reminder to me each day.

No quick glances.

Take a better look, and appreciate more deeply the person staring back in the mirror each day.

And as my former co-worker said way back when, the maturity probably does look great on me…

How would you respond to this question?  An interesting question for men too, who are even less often asked about their true feelings. 

I’d love to hear your stories. 

And please check out the What I see website and view some of the videos and perhaps submit your story…you may get lost in them like I did.

Tradeoffs

Many people think they have to give up foods they love, or feel guilt after the fact when they indulge, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s all a matter of balancing the good with the bad. I have heard a few percentages quoted in the media, if you eat well somewhere between 85-90% of the time, then the other 10-15% of the time, you can live it up.

Although I’m not sure where I fall with percentages, I subscribe wholeheartedly to this philosophy. I’m one of those people who love different tastes, appreciate a good chef and the creativity of fusing unexpected flavors together. And of course, love the bottle of red and desserts that go with it. A few months ago, I wrote For the Love of Foods , with the message you can still achieve your health goals, but also live it up with food when the time is right.

This ideal has worked well over the last few years, but I have to come clean about one new problem that keeps cropping up after I have one of these dessert-wine-heavy meal evenings.

One I keep silencing every time I think about it, because I don’t want it to be true.

On these nights, I have insomnia.

And it’s awful. I go to sleep easily, and then wake at 2 am, like clockwork, and am not able to go back to sleep. I have searched the web, and it’s well-documented that alcohol can cause insomnia. But after a few months of testing, just wine, wine + dessert, only dessert, etc,  I have noted the problem isn’t really the wine by itself, as much as it’s the sugar in the dessert–or the combination of both.

This appears to be my new reality, and I’m faced with this tradeoff every few weeks:

Live to eat whatever I want for one fun evening?

Or not sleep, and suffer the next day by being tired and irritable.

But I love wine…I love dessert…I deserve it, really….help!

But I can’t tell you how awful I feel at 2 am watching the clock for hours and hours waiting for morning.

What to do, what to do…

When I know I want to write about a topic at some point, I create a draft with a title and a few descriptive words, just so I don’t forget about the topic.

Then promptly forget about it.

This idea, Tradeoffs, has been sitting in my drafts folder for a  long, long time, but after reading this post by Caitlin Kelly, at Broadside: I’m not where I expected to be, and subsequent discussion, I thought it was a good time to pull it out once again.

The stakes aren’t monumental if I make the wrong choice once in a while when I go out to dinner, I’ll just be uncomfortable and tired and need to make up for it somehow.

But there are other tradeoffs, either conscious decisions, or ones we haven’t realized we even made, that shape our lives.  And we question ourselves repeatedly over the conscious ones, wondering  if we have made the right choice.

Career/Family

My big life tradeoff, the one I keep questioning over and over in my mind, is my decision to jump out of my successful corporate career and stay home with my son full-time.

When I was working full-time and traveling, and generally frazzled and without sleep all the time, I remember glaring at those lucky stay at home moms, who could actually hire a babysitter so they could go out to lunch with “the girls”. I remember seeing them when I was out to lunch with my co-workers. Must be nice I thought. They have all the time in the world to play during their day.  But what I realized very quickly is that the mom stuff is actually really, really hard. These women do need to do lunch with the girlfriends, as often as they can!

Work problems taxed my mental capacity, sometimes stress was so great I would wake in the middle of the night all-consumed by issues with clients or with co-workers, or just overwhelmed by the projects I had due the next day.

Mom-stuff zaps me of all physical energy and at the end of each day, I’d love to curl up under a rock and fall asleep and just not speak to anyone….

But each day those brain-muscles are a bit underutilized. I kind of wish I had some of those more interesting work-like-puzzles to unfold.

Other trade-offs with this decision? Money is a big one. The ability to fix up the house isn’t really an option anymore. And that’s ok generally, until the washing machine and the dishwasher break at the same time, or when the toilet springs a leak…eventually this stuff has to be fixed. And I remember the days when I had a big paycheck, I used to collect orchids! Really, who does that? I think every orchid was probably $20-$50, and my beautiful collection slowly died out after my son was born and I wasn’t able to keep up with them.

I think about all the money I spent on that now, and on $500 suits, and other little throw-away luxuries I indulged in when I was working, and think, wow, I do wish I saved some of that for now!

The travel tradeoff, I think about this often. When I worked full time, I traveled so much for work, I never wanted to travel for personal reasons. But I could afford it. Now? I’m dying to get out of town. Would love to visit my mom and my brothers and sister-in-laws, and my niece and nephews. And I have plenty of time now. But the budget isn’t there.

Nope….it’s never easy.

But my son knows I’m here for him every day. I have the time to work on his challenges. I know what he’s eating. I know he has a good mix of what’s important in his day; nature, exercise, healthy foods, time together to read a book, build legos, catch frogs. He gets a good nights sleep and as much as he likes activities, with me around, he has more flexibility to be home when he needs to recharge.

He often is bummed when his dad is out of town on a work trip, and doesn’t have as much time for him. But we explain the tradeoffs his Dad is making now, so he and I can spend our days together. We explain to him this isn’t always the norm with kids who may have to go to daycare or after-school activities and not see their parents but for an hour or so a day. We explain Dad enables us to do what we do, keep our family happy and clothed and warm and cozy each night in our cute little house. It may not be the most up-to-date, a la HGTV, but it’s our home, and we are comfortable and safe…

My husband and I do find this family set-up very funny. We never expected we would be a traditional, Dad works; Mom stays home and cooks and cleans and takes care of the kids kind of family. But hey, it seems right now. And I suppose we will re-evaluate these decisions and make adjustments as we go.

I think I made the right choice. For my son, and for my family. Time will tell for me personally.

Health

When I think about day-to-day tradeoffs I make, most of them are account of my biggest obsession: health.

In that first year home after I stopped working, I was disorganized and overly-focused on my son, I didn’t bother worrying about myself. I thought just being outside with him meant I was getting enough activity for the day.

I didn’t have a lot of energy.  I couldn’t get a handle on my weight. And my back started to bug me all the time.

My son had the down time he needed, but I did not prioritize myself. Nothing in my day took into account any of my needs.

The tradeoff:

Child has attentive Mom 100% of the time.

But, Mom is sick, unhealthy, unhappy and impatient

This to me?

Not quite acceptable. I did some research, figured out how much to eat. I learned how to like exercise (something I thought I hated initially, read about that here) and then made time for formal activity every day. No more leaving it to chance anymore. I also learned to take time for myself when I need it. If I’m impatient and burnt out? I give myself a time-out.

Making changes isn’t easy, but I’m a lot happier. And I now feel great. Have no back problems. And as long as I have a good cup of coffee in the morning am mostly patient.

And you are asking, what are the Tradeoffs?

Sometimes I don’t feel like exercising. Sometimes I’d rather do something else.

Sometimes if it’s a super-busy day, I have to wake up early to get that workout in and that’s tough. I miss out on some sleep (again!)

Sometimes when he was younger I had to stick my kid in front of a video to make it happen.

Sometimes I’d rather do take out and not cook our meals

Sometimes I’d like to eat a gigantic bowl of tortilla chips and salsa all day every day without a care in the world about how this is going to affect me long term…

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to think so hard about this stuff, because it is hard!

But it’s life…if you want to be healthy long-term, you can’t ignore it and hope what you read in the news about the need for eating well and staying fit do not apply to you.

At 20, you can get away with it.

At 35+? Not an option.

Just like my wine and sugar issues never bothered me before a few months ago, there are new realities that come into play all the time, and we have to figure out the best way to address it.

And there are even more tradeoffs:

My house is oftentimes messier than I’d like. My husband, a few months ago mentioned I should entitle one of my blog posts “A fitness buff’s dirty little secret”, to address the fact he found a zillion dust bunnies under the bed when he happened to look for something under there. Thanks hon.

Part of being healthy of course is foods. I cook a lot, and every night after dinner I am still stunned at my ability to use every dish in the house and am getting tired of dealing with the mess.

One little issue that has come to mind in the last few years is that my health focus has been so all-consuming I haven’t had much time to think about anything else, namely what I want to eventually do for a career.

From what I have been reading, every problem in life these days: lower stress levels, lower anxiety, better focus and attention, overall energy levels, fewer colds and sickness; better diet and improved fitness levels, along with some time outside are exactly what we all need.

And what most people do not get.

Nope, I don’t see too many downsides to this tradeoff.

But I do need to come clean on one other very little tradeoff:

This summer, if I want to write, my son plays Minecraft for way, way, way too long…

Mom, brain-exercised

Son, brain-frazzled…

But now it’s time to take it outside and we’ll both be ok for the rest of the day…

 

What are some of the tradeoffs you have made? Are you happy with them? Still trying to decide?

Big or Little day to day tradeoffs…

Would love to hear your stories and discuss. How are you handling them?

Two Wheels on the Road…

SONY DSCI have had “buy Brett a bike” on my to-do list for months, and it has been the one item on there I have been reluctant to cross off.

He had one of those balance-type bikes, purchased by my mother a few years ago, where he could just scoot along and lift his feet and put them down as needed, and that was sufficient for a few years.

But he didn’t have pedals.

Or have a need to learn any skills to help him stay upright for any length of time.

You see we have a long, steep gravel driveway, with a scary hairpin turn in it. And we don’t have neighbors or neighboring kids for him to feel the need to keep up with and make him want to learn. Instead we have a river and trees behind us. We do cool things in our yard most other kids don’t do, right?

We fish.

We catch bugs and frogs.

We walk and stomp around in the river.

We skip rocks…. who needs a bike?

So my husband and I, as parents, slacked off and let it slide.

When we were in Montana last month, Brett met a new friend at the ranch named Asa and even though there were only gravel roads, Asa had this new bike he was extremely proud of, with big tires that worked just great on the dirt and gravel road. And it would have been nice if Brett could have joined him instead of having to just walk alongside him.

Asa is 9, and had great skill on his bike. Brett, at 8 1/2?

Note to self: when we get home, buy this kid a bike!

He needs to learn. Every kid needs to at some point, don’t they?

brett bike-001

Testing out the new bike at Grandma’s house with a paved road.

I finally did cross that chore off the list last week, on a trip to Rochester to visit my mother in law, where we found ourselves walking in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with no excuse like: “I’m too tired” or “We don’t have time”.

I haven’t really thought much about riding on a personal level over the years.

I guess I liked riding my bike when I was a kid. I did grow up in suburbia, and had friends who rode around with us in the neighborhood. I have memories of riding with my brothers, chasing the ice cream truck.  I have one memory of falling and losing a tooth, and running home alongside my bike, blood gushing from my leg, but excited my fall would mean I would get a visit from the tooth fairy that night.

As an adult, not by design; maybe just by default, I have pursued outside activities involving my own feet, not wheels.

But when I do think about the sport, I think about my Dad.

When I was a kid, my father was always gone on Sunday. This was his day to take an epic bike ride with his friends.

I have always admired him for taking this time to do something he loved. Instead of being like one of the millions of Dads out there who had no hobbies, and just work work worked, and did what their wives told them to do, my Dad took that time for himself. He would stretch for a long time, maybe an hour,  and then head out. I’m sure he got a lot of flak from my mom because of this, since she had to stay home with 3 obnoxious kids by herself all day.

But he knew he needed this time for himself.

And he was able to stay in great shape this way and clear his head.

My parents moved to the bay area, south of San Francisco, in the mid-90s and on one of my first visits to see their new home and new town, my father drove me around to see some of his favorite bicycle routes. He would often go along these super windy roads, and along the bay. On many visits, we went up Kings Mountain Road, in Woodside CA, to go to the restaurant at the top. The first time he took me up there, as I complained I needed a Dramamine and felt sick from the curvy drive, my father told me this was one of the roads he would frequently ride on his bike.

What? You really ride your bike on this road?!

I remember saying “Dad, this road is going to be the end of you if you keep riding it…”

He just laughed. And continued riding along these roads he loved for years. And still, on Sundays.

But then 2 years ago, while at home in Vermont on Memorial Day weekend, I was just sitting down to a glass of wine after a long day in the garden when my mother called, hysterical.

My father was in the hospital.

He had an accident on his Sunday bike ride. She didn’t know much else.

It wasn’t on scary Kings Mountain road. It was another one.

We never learned what happened exactly, as there were no witnesses, but my brothers and I were told to get out to California immediately. The next day, I walked into Stanford Medical Center and found my father in a coma with traumatic brain injury. He died about a week later.

He was only 67.

I have been told, well, he died doing something he loved. And that’s true.

I try not to blame bicycling.

Just as I have tried not to blame Memorial Day weekend over these past 2 years. Because honestly, I have always loved Memorial Day weekend and do not want to demonize it for the rest of my life. I was told early on when I first met my husband that his mother lost someone she loved dearly on Thanksgiving, and has always hated Thanksgiving.

I adore my mother in law, but to hate a holiday for that long? I didn’t want to live the rest of my life that way.

Last summer, one year after losing my father, I was on vacation on Cape Cod and my family went off to do something else while I took the car to visit a few shops by myself. I had a few messages on my cell phone from my mother. Doesn’t she know I’m on vacation? I’ll call her later.

But then a text “Call me”.

So I pulled over to the side of the road to do just that.  I learned that it happened again. This time to my parents dear friend. Accident on his bike, he had been hit by a car and was was in the hospital.

And most certainly would not make it.

As you can imagine, it hasn’t been so easy for me to let bicycling off the hook, like I have been able to do with Memorial Day weekend.

When my son starts to ride a bike, will I get back on a bike too?

My motto these days has been to be open and willing to try new things.  Especially activities that take us outside and keep us moving.  When Brett learned to ice skate a few years ago, I put a pair of skates after 20-some-odd years. And I did fine.  And he has been learning to ski.  So last season I put skis on after a 10 year lapse. I had been so nervous I wouldn’t remember how, but once out there, I loved it.  I was proud of myself for taking that initial step to try again because now this will be an activity we both can enjoy.  Because that’s all it takes sometimes.  Just take that one step, and you aren’t nervous anymore.  You can move on from any emotional barriers.

But what about bicycling?

I can’t remember the last time I was on one, maybe in college? I should say yes, of course I will retry that, and Brett and I can ride together.

But still I hesitate.

At this time of year in Vermont, I see bicycles and cyclists everywhere.

Tour groups. Tourists. I see people of all ages riding along on our narrow windy back roads, with no room for cars and bikes to work together side-by-side.  This brings tears to my eyes more often than any other trigger. When I look at the faces of these cyclists, I see my Dad.  When my father visited us in Vermont, the first thing he did was go to the bicycle shop in Manchester and rent a bike for the week. He loved riding along and around Route 30 and visiting the little towns. Stopping at the country stores and chatting with whomever was inside. And snapping photo after photo of the farms, the flowers, the houses, the mountains…

And all I can think when I see these people is :

Why are they out there?

Do something else!

Don’t you know the roads are dangerous!

But as some friends reminded me yesterday, as they were headed out on a bicycle tour in the Finger Lakes:

“There is risk in anything and everything”

This morning I opened up the manual on Brett’s new bike, as I’m thinking we can start practicing this week. I see “Warning”. “Caution” every few lines.

Is this supposed to reassure me I’m doing the right thing?

SONY DSC

Warning! Caution! Yikes!

I suppose not.

But I have ideas on where we can practice with no chance of seeing other cars or hazards.

And we’ll see how he does.

I think this year I’ll ask for new skis for the holidays, so Brett and I will be able to go more often and experience this sport together.

But we’ll wait and see whether I’ll hop back up on a bike.

I won’t say never, but maybe next year my head will be in the right place to take that initial step over the emotional barrier I still have with bicycling today.

Do you have any tough memories associated with activities, or times or places that you have a hard time getting over? How were you able to get over them? Are you glad you did?

Are there activities you have retried because of your kids or other family members?

I would love to hear your stories and comments.

Words from Strangers

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders...

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders…but I’ll get back to them soon…

I have been wracking my brain, wondering what I need to do to snap out of this lazy post-vacation summer trance I have been in for the last few weeks, when I remembered this conversation with a stranger that made me smile, and finally commit to stop whining about feeling down, and start to refocus.

On the way to Montana a few weeks ago, on the plane from Charlotte to Denver, my family had two seats in the front, while I had an aisle seat about 10 rows back. I was looking forward to this separation, anticipating some rare uninterrupted time with 1Q84, the thousand-plus page Haruki Murakami novel I had started a few weeks prior, and with my family around, my kindle would  likely remain off.

Towards the end of boarding a super-thin young gal with long straight dark hair, worn cut-up jeans, a tight red knit blouse, and spiky- high heeled boots, plopped her bag into the middle seat next to me.  The grandmotherly woman in the window seat and I did that polite-smile-thing everyone does on an airplane, and we each went back to our reading, hoping we didn’t need to engage in any conversation just yet.

After an hour or so, and a little more snoozing than reading, I woke up and looked around. The young gal, noticing I was awake,  glanced over to me a few times, smiled and out-of-the-blue just asked, “So, what are you, like 27?”

I looked at her, a little stunned, first of all that she would think I was that young, and second of all, that she dared to ask my age. Didn’t she learn you just don’t do that?

“Ummm, no”, I replied.

“30?”. I looked up at her again.

“35?” I was silent. “higher?” nod.

I don’t think I ever gave her the true number, but she was visibly stunned and I was a bit embarrassed by the reaction.

“Wow, you look sooo young!” She shook her head in amazement.

You can imagine I was more receptive to abandoning Haruki and engaging in a little conversation after she mistook me for the older-sister type, as opposed to a mom type ( after some conversation, it sounded like her mother may have been my age or younger).  I learned that this gal is actually 20, and she was on her way from Louisville, Kentucky to Montana to surprise her boyfriend, and go live with him for the summer.  She was a bundle of nerves, wondering what his reaction to this very big surprise was going to be. I would be too…can you imagine taking this kind of risk?

Today, as I think of it, I actually wish I took her contact information just so I could find out what happened!

But instead, I’m back here in Vermont, having a tough time getting myself back in my health routine and feeling worn down.

I have been back to exercise every day, but I have taken it slow, it’s not very intense.

My diet has been a mess, I still haven’t been able to kick that dessert habit I developed from vacation.

Why I have been slow to make these changes I don’t really know. Some of my friends and family would say a few weeks of lazy mindless diet and inactivity is what I need, because they think I worry about it too much, and I have to admit the allure of doing so is appealing. You are thin! You shouldn’t have to work so hard! You could use a plate of cookies…no worries! I hear them say…

But sadly I know the truth.

Letting go is great in short spurts, but if I do this too long, laziness will become a habit. I have heard it takes about 21 days to build a habit–good or bad–and I’m nearing the limit on settling into some bad ones!

Thinking back to the young woman on the plane, and that conversation about looking young makes me realize I have lost sight of a few things over the last few weeks.  I forgot that feeling young, and looking young is a choice (even if I know in fact, I do not actually look 27…), and one I want to stick with. I remember too well how I felt before I made these change in the first place, and do not want to find myself back there again. Yes, the motivation this time is a little vain; I typically like to say my fitness quest is for health reasons, but how can I not like the idea that people think I’m younger, I mean, why not let that motivate me for as long as I can get away with it?

So starting today, here’s the get motivated to feel young so I don’t feel like a lazy blob plan that should get me back to feeling like myself again in a week or two:

  • Get more sleep! This is one issue I have been slow to address but it keeps resurrecting itself every few weeks. I don’t get enough sleep and have dark circles under my eyes pretty much every day. I will plan go to bed earlier on some nights, and address the source of my new, unwanted insomnia habit. I’m positive this is the main reason I have been in such a slump.
  • No dieting, but monitor foods and cut the sugar- now!   Back to monitoring my food diary again, something I have let lapse in the last few months, to make sure I realistically know I’m keeping to the right food quantities. On vacation, portions get bigger and the reality-check of quantifying will get me back in line with appropriate portion sizes again.
  • Keep moving. It has been so hot and humid. Keep going on the exercise schedule, but make sure to start in the morning instead of later in the day when it feels like it’s 90 degrees. I just started a new exercise program, called Focus T25,  that I hope will work–it’s only 25 minutes a day of formal exercise to make sure I have some structure to the schedule. And then the rest of the time I’ll spend making sure to keep active all day with Brett: creature catching, river walking, mushroom hunting, berry picking….just hoping that humidity goes down soon so it’s a little more bearable!
  • Keep away from the scale. I don’t weigh myself anymore. Ever. I know many people live and breathe by the scale and it would be tough for them to stay away from it. But this works for me…  no good is going to come from seeing + 5 lbs on the scale.
  • And finally, stay away from jeans.  Instead of depressing myself further by spilling out over the top of my jeans,  I’ll avoid them at all cost and stick to the yoga pants and skirts for now. And maybe if it stops raining and the river behind my house goes down, we can just go fishing every day, I can hone some of my skills learned on the Firehole River a few weeks ago, and I can wear my ever-forgiving baggy waders until I’m ready to be seen in jeans again…that would be fun, I think every gal needs a pair for weeks like this…

So there you have it in writing. I’ve got the plan now!

And here’s one more little call out to that sweet gal on the airplane, who I hope is happily still in Montana with her boyfriend.

Your inadvertent compliment to a stranger on an airplane a few weeks ago resonates still.  These words are just what I need for inspiration to refocus this week.

Thank you!

Have you ever had a conversation with a stranger that inspired you in some way?

Have you given a compliment lately, or recieved one that made a big impact?  

Please share your story and add to the discussion on how you manage to re-energize after a vacation or a lapse in focus.

If you are reading this by email, please click on the comment button and tell your story!

Vacation Reset

WP_20130616_001

Today I sit. And sit, and sit and sit.

Staring out into space.

Wondering if I’m glad to be home.

And wondering how to snap out of vacation-mode and get back to real life.

Yesterday, my son and I endured a time-warp kind of day in the hands of the airlines, starting in Idaho Falls, then Denver, then Charlotte, then eventually Albany, where tired and dazed, we collected our 100+ collective pounds of suitcases and bags, and stepped into the Albany Park and Fly van, where the driver eventually brought us to our car.

Oh great, another hour and a half of driving to go. We hadn’t eaten anything but a few snacks all day. I mentioned in some of my other posts my son has a peanut allergy. When leaving the house for a trip, we always pack a supply of safe foods in a bag to ensure he has something safe to eat along the way. But on our way home, we didn’t have the time to replenish, and just had a few snacks left, and after a week of dragging around the same granola, crackers and dried fruit, neither of us were interested in eating them. I doubt any of you have noticed this, because you don’t have to worry about food allergies, but every restaurant in every airport has a sign that says basically if you are allergic to anything, we have it in our facility so eat at your own risk! So we keep airport-restaurant eating to a minimum, picking up a Greek yogurt if we can find it, and that’s about it.

Once in the car, we headed north on 87, through Saratoga Springs, and then over to Washington County. Around a half hour from our house,  Brett finally looked up and complained he was dying of hunger.  He had been such a great kid all day. Barely eating anything and not really caring. I had been surprised; he’s not typically shy about whining when he needs something. But at the moment, there was nowhere to stop, so I rummaged through my snack bag and eventually pulled out a piece of provolone cheese.

It looked ok. I had packed it before I left and usually cheese is ok for awhile outside the refrigerator, right? I had been munching on some cheddar a few minutes before and it tasted good.

But then: Sudden scream from the backseat.

“The cheese went bad Mom!! My stomach is killllling meeee!”

Oh come on,  really?  I have just spent 14 hours traveling, carrying bag after bag, one on each side of me and around my neck, plus a booster seat, so if I was unbalanced in any way, I would have toppled over. And I spend all day every day of my life, and especially on vacation, trying to keep this kid safe from peanuts and nuts when we eat outside the home. And then he keels over from bad cheese?

He continued to moan, flailing around in his seat for the next few minutes. The realization: this might be serious.

Did I really just poison my son?

I had been blasting Steve Earle’s Burnin’ it Down before that, visualizing Steve burning down a Wal Mart in a town pretty similar to the one I was driving through, but had to turn him off. Brett’s eyes were closing. He leaned over into the middle console. Should I stop and make him get out? Well, if I can make sure to hear his breathing, that works.

He fell asleep.

I listened to him breathe as I drove.

And all these horrible scenarios played out in my head about what would happen if he wasn’t ok. And what I would do.

WP_20130623_012

An ominous welcome home to VT

About 10 minutes from my house, along Vermont Route 30. The sky darkened and rain started hammering the windshield. Is this a sign? Should I have stayed on vacation?

We finally reached the house at around 9pm; I woke Brett and wrestled him out of the car. He perked back up within a few minutes. Whew, sigh of relief! I pushed through the front door, leaving the car doors open and all the bags still out on the driveway, and headed immediately to the refrigerator. Having been away for the past week, the fridge had been empty and sad, but I saw some eggs, and made us a few omelets. Brett was so hungry, he ate two of them, and since we were still on mountain time, we stayed up late snuggling, talking about our trip, and making up for lost time with the pets in the house who all needed a little care.

WP_20130621_040

Our home last week!

Aside from the drama on the way home, this has been an amazing week. As soon as school ended on the 13th, we took a day to pack, and then flew out to Montana, staying at Firehole Ranch, on Hebgen Lake, and visited Yellowstone National Park. My husband was there too; he stayed for a few extra days, so had to miss the dramatic drive home. In Montana, I had one day of fly fishing with an amazing guide and now feel like I finally could do this myself. We had no access to internet. Maybe one bar of cell service; enough to send a text in certain rooms of the house, or check email, but that’s about it. I’m feeling completely out of touch with everything.

With the News. With Facebook. With Twitter. With WordPress. With my Fitness friends.

With my exercise agenda. With foods. Oh, the foods from this week! I can’t even begin to tell you what we ate, and I tried to keep up on activity with walks and some exercises out on the cabin deck, but as my heart rate monitor would display at the end of the week, it was an “incomplete training week” at best.

This morning the jeans are tight. I’m still craving desserts and wine.

But I’m looking out the window now and it’s beautiful here in Vermont too.  I needed that break from civilization and media and devices. And I wouldn’t admit it before, but the break from fitness and schedules and balanced eating was kind of nice too.

It was a tiring and stressful journey yesterday to get here, and we are both still in a zombie-like state of mind, but we are both safe.

Maybe it is indeed good to be home.

For the next few days Brett and I will stay on mountain time, and gradually re-emerge from vacation-mode to home-mode in a more focused way, but not today, tomorrow sounds about right…

For the Love of Foods

WP_20130605_034-001

Dessert? Yes please!

Oh yeah! A date night this week.

I’m very psyched about that.  Our friend Kiernan hangs out with our son for a few hours every 2-3 weeks so my husband and I can have an official date night. Unlike most people in the US, who eat outside the home an average of 4-5x /week, we really only go out for dinner on these planned nights, unless we are on vacation or out of town, or on an occasional lunch with a friend, but not often in between.

There are a few reasons for this. One being there aren’t too many places to go. We live in a small community, and most of the restaurants worth going to are either super-expensive, so you don’t go very often, or the food is mediocre or at least equal to what we can make ourselves, so we might as well opt for home. Also, when you don’t feel like cooking, the urge to call for delivery is non-existent because no restaurants offer that here. And of course, with my son’s nut allergy, it’s tough to go anywhere spontaneous, we have to preview menus and make calls to restaurants prior to going to ensure his safety. And take out? Again, too much work learning all the ingredients. This gets a little tiring.

So yes, date nights are special. And in preparation, I get super-excited, start thinking about where we are going to go, what I might have, and then think about my diet for the next few days so I can plan accordingly.

My friend Chris, who is also my most loyal blog reader and commenter (thank you Chris, you are the best!), posted a funny observation on her newsfeed the other day. She was at a conference dinner with a group of cardiologists, and she noted most ordered steak dinners with a beurre blanc sauce, with wine and dessert. She was a little surprised they didn’t go for more heart-healthy options considering their profession, and when she asked them about it, they mentioned it was a splurge meal.

Funny. But I can definitely relate.

One of the things I love about date night, or going out at all, because I don’t do this often and I plan carefully, is that I can and will eat whatever I want.

When the server comes over to us and asks if we would like the wine list, of course! Appetizer? Absolutely, how about the Duck ravioli with Potstickers, or at one particular place…Parmesan truffle frites (!!).  Bread. Oh yeah. Salad too? Yup. Entree? The fish special sounds pretty good over a decadent Wild Mushroom Risotto, with fresh vegetables of course. And for dessert.. that Molten Chocolate Cake sounds amazing. And no, we will not share…

I get a lot of stares. I think mostly because people wonder how the heck anyone my size can eat so much. Maybe they think I’m one of those annoying people who can stay slim and eat like a lumberjack, and giving them that impression is kind of fun. It drives me crazy watching someone hold back from ordering what they really want at a wonderful restaurant.  No butter for bread, or even worse, no bread at all. A salad or boring chicken dish for dinner. And, oh no…no dessert, that would be bad! My biggest pet peeve is skim milk in a cappuccino or latte ?? I mean really, that can’t be all that good? And then the person looks miserable during their meal, and stares longingly at everyone else’s, sad about their need to be “good” , but also feeling virtuous they were able to avoid temptation, while others were not.

How is denial good? I just want to say to them, be careful about what you eat the rest of the time, but when it’s worth it, enjoy!

A few weeks ago I did a search, wondering if I could pin down a statistic estimating the percentage of people who lose weight who eventually gain it back. There really wasn’t a specific number aside from “most”. But the one concrete number I saw more frequently than others was “over 80%”.

It’s no wonder so many people do gain that weight back. Because when on weight loss programs,we are told we need to deny ourselves of everything we love.  No alcohol! No sugar! No bread! And then when we lose the weight on this quick fix denial diet, we are so scared to eat anything ever again because we are afraid of gaining the weight back. The problem is though, we all love food! We love the smells, the tastes. We love to be with friends and family, and wonderful foods are always around. Denial is not sustainable for the long-haul. If you love and appreciate different foods and cooking, continuing to say “no, thank you” forever just sucks the life of you.

So “most” of us fail. Because we can’t live up to the ideal of eating perfectly clean 100% of the time. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

According to the Center for Disease Control and other sources, including my own experiences,  keeping eating patterns consistent as much as possible day-to-day, and planning for special occasions, is one of the best ways to keep your weight in-check over time.  Many people, I know, cringe at the idea of keeping a food journal, but it’s really helpful in learning how much you eat throughout the day, and weaning yourself off the foods that can put you over the edge. A journal can also tell you the reverse: when I have eaten well, often I can see there’s some room on the menu for a little decadence. I have been keeping a relatively loose journal for about four years.

My basic diet, during the day typically includes: Breakfast: coffee with cream, melted cheese (either swiss or cheddar) on mixed grain bread (homemade), 4-5 oz of homemade whole milk Greek yogurt. fruit, a little maple syrup. For lunch: local eggs, one or two depending on what style. Sometimes with veggies. Perhaps another piece of bread or more yogurt. Snacks: Sunflower or Pumpkin seeds. Fruit. Sometimes cheese and crackers. Often frozen blueberries with whipped cream. For dinner, we rotate meals with lots of fresh veggies, local beef or lamb or chicken or fish, a few times per week, quinoa or pasta. And wine, a little most nights.

And that’s it. Kind of boring but it works for me.

But then, on date night, or dinner at a friends house? Watch out!  Similar to Chris’s cardiologist friends (assuming they are being honest and not just embarrassed to be caught in the act of eating the opposite of heart-healthy…she did say they were all in good shape…), keeping to relatively similar meals most days, and keeping to the exercise schedule, I can splurge when it’s worth it.

I stagger the good with the not-so-good .

If unplanned decadent treats tempt me, I decide if it’s worth it and if it will balance in my plan, and make a decision.

If I’m indifferent, I don’t eat it.

Now obviously this strategy will be more complicated if on vacation, or on a business trip or during the holidays and for some reason huge amounts of tempting foods are placed in front of you at each meal. It’s much harder to plan that way and say no, so you need a slightly different strategy. But when at home and with a typical routine, this works really well.

If you are a good- food-loving person who struggles with finding this balance, try to find that menu consistency day-to-day.  Try eating in more often, or taking your lunch to work or when on-the-go. This strategy may help you to enjoy yourself a little more when it’s truly worth it. Because that one piece of Toblerone pecan pie, or a few glasses of Cabernet, or piping hot sourdough bread, or cream rather than skim, these will not make you gain weight by themselves, but being able to indulge in the sensory smells and tastes when the time is right is sometimes just what you need to find that strength to be disciplined and on track the next day.

Now, to decide where to go for date night tomorrow night…I think the Parmesan truffle frites may be calling my name!

Do you have a good strategy to balance your love for different foods with achieving a healthy lifestyle? Would love to hear your stories!

_____________________________________________________________________________________

CDC article on Maintaining Weight: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/keepingitoff.html

To check out my Exercise Strategy, because eating this way is dependent on staying active as well: https://afitandfocusedfuture.com/2013/03/19/strong-arming-the-future/

Myfitnesspal – a great website w/ mobile apps for keeping a food journal to help keep yourself in check: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

It’s a fine line…

Self-directed. Self-assured. Smart. Strong.

In great shape. Healthy. I have been described over the years as having all of these qualities.

By others.

I’m just wondering why I can’t believe it, or see it, myself? Perfect example, last week…

On a beautiful sunny day last Friday my friend Eve and I hopped into my Subaru mom-car ( I was wishing it was a cool classic convertible a la Thelma & Louise, but hey, it worked…) and we made our way along the curvy Vermont roads to destination: Saratoga Springs, NY.  The mission? To check out a few very targeted women’s clothing stores while our kids were at school. It’s finally warm out, almost-summer-like, and we were both in need of a few new things that weren’t either turtlenecks or made of SmartWool. We didn’t have a lot of time, but since all the clothing stores nearby have closed (we miss you Garnet Hill!), the hour-long each way trek to Saratoga was the closest option but needed to be quick and targeted.

With a much-needed stop for coffee and something really decadent at Mrs. London’s, we had time for three stores. We both tried on a ton of things. Eve gravitated towards dresses, and she tried them all. Me? I tried a mixed a bag of stuff. Living the river-mom lifestyle I do, with a gravel driveway and a Labrador Retriever always shoving wet muddy sticks into my legs, I worry about getting a little too over-dressed on most days so I usually end up with jeans or whatever I can wash easily. At the end of the day though, Eve did much better than I did. Everything she put on looked fantastic! And everything I tried on? Hmmm, well, this embroidered peasant shirt that looks so beautiful on the hanger makes me look dumpy. And this striped dress that Eve looks great in looks ridiculous on me; matronly. That’s the best word to describe it. And this? I look awful in patterns.

What the heck? Why do I look so odd in everything?

Or do I?

Honestly, I really thought I was over this self-confidence thing. You would think after awhile we get used to how we look. We get used to our own personal style. But I’m truly mystified by the fact my eyes do not see even remotely what other people see. I’m the perfect example of that Dove Beauty video that was floating around the web last month. Where the women describe themselves as completely different from how others describe them. At home I try on my clothes all the time, and find the same problem. What looked great in the store just doesn’t look as good at home. Or actually, it looks good sometimes, but then I get a glimpse of myself in another mirror or a reflection, or photo, and think, how the heck could I have thought this looked good in the first place.  It’s like I see myself through these fun-house mirrored glasses.

I don’t think I was always this way. Honestly, I always had a pretty good self-esteem. But it has been worse in the last few years, and I’m thinking this has to be one downside to being so focused and in-tune with my health and fitness level.

Since starting this blog, I have stayed away from any mention of weight itself. And I did this intentionally because I haven’t been worried about losing weight for awhile now, since I did finally shed all that extra baby-poundage about 3 1/2 years ago then refocus my efforts on fitness-related challenges. I actually put my scale away about a year and a half ago because for me, a very numbers-oriented person, trying to always hit the same number on the scale was a toxic experience. If there was any fluctuation at all, and as I’m sure you all know, there always is fluctuation from day-to-day,  I didn’t cope well with it. But today I’ll talk about it because I think there is a myth that needs to be dispelled about being the right size, or the right weight. And how this ties into our self-esteem.

How many times have you said to yourself:

If only I just lose that 5,10,15, 50  pounds…

Or, if only I’m a size 4, 6, 8, 10…whatever your size of choice is

Or, if I can just fit into those old jeans from high school…

I will be so happy! I will look fantastic in all my clothes! I’ll look great in photos! And once I hit that magic number and magic size, the tough part will be over. I’ll be done.

And I will love how I look.

It sounds just like the perfect fairy tale ending, doesn’t it? “And they lived happily ever after...”. Nobody knows what happened to Cinderella and the Prince after they ran off together, I mean really, do you think their life was always perfect? Does the story really stop there?

You don’t “live happily ever after” either once you hit the magic number. Actually it becomes even more of a challenge because now you have to figure out how to stay there! I have learned that yes, health problems do start to go away when you are the right size and focus on being fit. You have a great amount of energy and more endurance.  Your physician will tell you your BMI is normal and you are on the right track. That part is fantastic. Celebrate!

But the self-perception part for me has become confusing. My eyes and mind have taken a little longer to adjust; or maybe the way I see myself is all just relative. Just because I am the right weight doesn’t mean suddenly I’ll like the way I  look  in photos. I still have bad hair days. I still change clothes 5 times before going out because nothing seems to look right. I still have fat days. I still see where I need to improve. When I try clothing on in stores, like last week, I still don’t think I look that great in everything…actually, most things!  I have almost stopped asking my husband’s opinion on an outfit to find out if I look ok or good, or if something makes me look big, because I really want to know sometimes, but he so often just scoffs at me, kind of in disgust, like are you joking that you don’t know this, you always look great?!

Hmm, how the heck am I supposed to know this?

I’m sensing there is a fine line in my fitness quest between being on it, and being on it way, way too much. And maybe I’m leaning a little too far in the wrong direction… I do what it takes to keep up with being fit every day for health and strength reasons, yet somehow the line gets blurred. Maybe because I can’t visually see great health as a direct result of my efforts. I only get those quantitative numbers once a year when I get a physical. So maybe getting more focused, and sometimes overly critical on visual appearance becomes the default.

I heard a TedTalk last month while I was in the car listening to NPR, and have thought about it often since. It was with Cameron Russell, a model, talking about beauty. One part really resonated with me, when she mentions the low self-esteem of all models in particular. Always being forced to look a certain way. Always focused on being thin. And the stress of having to maintain this for their jobs.  No, I’m not even remotely model-like, but you can see why I get where they are coming from. If you are trying to hold this super-high standard for yourself, you will get more critical.

Take away the scale and the measurements, and where do you look to see progress?

It’s all in the details. The more you look. The more you see. The more you feel you can work to improve. I don’t think my inability to see myself with clear vision stems from trying to live up to overly-idealized photos of women in magazines or actresses on TV or in other media. I really don’t read beauty magazines, or watch shows with overly vamped up women. I don’t want to be them. It must come from this inner-perfectionist quality I have developed for myself in the last few years that has warped my ability to truly see who is looking back at me in the mirror. Because I know the person I see can’t really be so bad…

And I just wish I could tip that fine line back a little bit, because maybe right now I’m a little too on it.

How do you feel about yourself?

Are you too critical, too on it sometimes in your quest for health and fitness, sometimes for your own good?

How have you ultimately found the balance? Would love to hear your stories.

Below are two videos: The Cameron Russell TedTalk and the Dove Sketch video. Please watch…worth the time.