Feeling Stronger Every Day

C’mon, you know I couldn’t resist a Chicago reference!

I’m feeling better this week than last. Last Tuesday I had that doctor’s appointment where I found out that I have prehypertension (which means that my blood pressure is a bit high), Vitamin D deficiency, and my BMI classifies me as obese*. Awesome. Still got a couple of weeks before I get to go to the next doctor and do some serious digging into the rest of the symptoms that I’m pretty sure are related to a hormone imbalance, but I wanted to get a jump on fixing what I could with a renewed focus on diet and exercise. (*I do put stock in there being such a thing as a healthy weight, and I’m definitely not where I should be, weight-wise, but BMI isn’t the best way to determine it. Here’s a New York Times article on the discrepancies of the system.)

On Wednesday I put on my big girl pants and went back to eating 95% paleo, instead of my typical 60%. I’m also testing out how I do with intermittent fasting, eating my full day’s worth of calories between 10am and 6pm most days to give my body more time to rest between processes. For more info on intermittent fasting, here’s a great article from Nerd Fitness with all the basics.

Dropped coffee (I was already only drinking decaf, and it was still giving me jitters) from my diet, and I’m taking it easy with alcohol, as well. Taking all of my supplements (magnesium/calcium, multivitamin, B complex, D, probiotic, glucosamine, and fish oil) every day, but I was already doing that. Also went back to drinking an ounce of water per pound of body weight, which means that I have to pee pretty much constantly, but between the water and cutting out coffee, my skin is looking great!

One thing I’ve noticed is that since I started cutting off my ability to eat at night, I’ve weirdly stopped craving food. Went to the grocery store tonight and was able to walk right past those homemade double chocolate caramel brownies that I typically adore. (Though I’m not a saint – I did buy a dark chocolate orange peel bar to get me through the late night work session I’m about to embark upon after finishing up this blog post.) I’m also starting to pay attention to when I’m actually hungry vs. just bored – and guess what? Every time in the last week that I’ve felt like I should be eating something “after hours”, thus far it’s ALWAYS been related to boredom or being upset. Of course, I pretty much knew that, but reaffirming it by taking a mental note each time it happens is going to be very helpful in the long run. Hopefully, at least.

Last week I worked out four days at Iron Tribe, and this week I’m going to try for five or six. That doesn’t include steps – I’ve been aiming for (and hitting) 15k steps per day. That’s nothing new, though. I’ve been doing 15k steps per day for months now. In fact, I’m thinking of upping it to 20k steps, but for the moment I think it’s more important to get fully into the new eating schedule and take care of my right calf, which has been kind of tight lately. I don’t want to overwork it too much and damage myself, because my daily walks keep me sane. A day without a good long walk just feels wrong somehow.

All of the above is important, but the biggest changes are the ones that were already happening for me at the gym. The weight might not be falling off, but there are other ways to take a look at fitness, and it’s evident from the inches that I’ve lost and the new challenges that I’ve been undertaking during my workouts that working out is working, period. I’m finally able to see some definition in my arms, I’ve lost an inch off of my waist and thighs, two inches off of my boobs (sigh) and holy crap, can I lift some weight!

When I started at Iron Tribe last October, I had trouble just lifting the 35 lbs. bar without plates added. This Monday our workout included 2 reps of push presses for our heaviest weight, and I put 85 lbs. over my head – the most weight I’ve ever put over my head in any lift (strict, push press, push jerk, you name it)! I also have a feeling that if we weren’t doing 5 second holds as part of the press, I might have been able to do 90 to 95 lbs. In fact, I’m just realizing that I PR’d in my clean, too, since I put 95 lbs. into my front rack but couldn’t complete the press. Yay me! Adding it to my list of current PRs: 135 lbs. in front squat, back squat, and deadlift, 85 lbs. push press, and a 95 lbs. clean. Sweet.

Tuesday’s workout was better, but for a different reason: I had three personal firsts that were directly related to being stronger, all in the same workout. First off, we had to open and close the workout with 15 burpees. I typically try a couple of regulation burpees, then get worn out and do a scaled version where you step up instead of jump up. I got through NINE in the opening round, which is huge for me. Here’s a pic of me doing burpees at the end of the workout (22 minutes to do 15 burpees, 5 rounds of 6 pull ups and 6 deadlifts, 15 more burpees – I finished in 16:52), with my coach, Shelby, beside me helping me through those last few reps. Doesn’t she have the most amazing arms? I’m asking Santa for two of those this Christmas 😀

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The next good thing to happen was during pull ups. If you can’t do an unassisted pull up, you can use a resistance band to help support your weight and get you back to the top of the bar. If you squint a bit at the photo above, you can see green and red lines hanging near the top of the shot – those are the bands, dangling down from the pull up bar. You put one foot in your band(s), cross your ankles, and do the pull up as normal, and the bands help you pull your own weight back up to get your chin over the bar.

There are multiple weights of resistance bands, and people with less arm strength combine two bands of the heaviest weight, or maybe one of the heaviest weight and one of the next weight down. I usually use the two heaviest bands, but yesterday I felt stronger, and had a hunch that I’d be able to do a little better. So I used a strong band and a weaker band that even a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to do a single pull up with – and I rocked it! Was super tired by the end of the workout, and almost couldn’t get that very last pull up, but I got there after a few attempts. My arms were noodles today, but it was so worth it.

Today was also a victory, but in yet another sense – I got so bummed about not being able to make it to the gym because of work that I ended up putting work on hold so I could walk the 45 minutes there, do my workout, and walk back. Not a single regret 🙂

Alright, time to get some of that work done, so I’ll sign off. Have you been seeing any big changes in your life (physical, mental, spiritual)? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a line in the comments!

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

My paternal grandmother (I call her Nana) has poor circulation, just like me. Our hands and feet are always cold. When I was little, she used to take my tiny hand between her own much larger ones and try to bring some warmth back to my chilly digits. While doing it, she’d typically intone, “Cold hands, warm heart.” I still say it to myself quite often.

My apartment is cold. It’s only in the upper 60’s, but there’s a chill in the air, and my fingers and toes feel like fledgling ice cubes. I’m sitting on my couch, where I’ve been mulling over what to write for a couple of hours now. Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve started and stopped multiple times. In all, I’ve probably already written 700 words or so, then backspaced them all into the aether.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. It will be 2015 soon. I wonder how things have changed since last year, and how they’ve stayed the same. It’s harder to think it over this year, since my concentration isn’t what it used to be. My thoughts scatter like the wind as I reach for them. I’m exhausted with the process.

mistakes

The negatives of this year have been:

Working myself ragged to make ends meet.

Lying to everyone that I was fine when I clearly wasn’t, then worrying about all of the lies so much that I was even more depressed.

Promising more to everyone else than I had to give.

Not promising enough to myself.

Constantly berating myself for not “achieving” at writing, weight, health, money, womanhood, etc.

Shutting out my family because I don’t want them to see how much I’m struggling trying to be someone they’ll be proud of.

Not handling my money as intelligently as originally planned.

Listening too much to other people’s advice. It’s well-meaning, but we are not one-size-fits-all, and other people need to understand that “helpful” advice for how to build a great life can often come across as a condemnation of someone’s shortcomings. Don’t tell people what to do unless they ask you, and even then, be gentle with your phrasing.

 

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The positives of this year have been:

Making up my mind to leave my relationship – then actually doing it.

Falling madly in love when – and with whom – I least expected it.

Holding down two full time jobs, and using the money more wisely than I would have a couple of years ago (yeah, this is on both lists).

Making a home for myself in a desirable neighborhood.

Rolling with the punches in a new relationship with pre-existing issues on both sides that many would have run from, making the bond stronger and sweeter than anything I’ve ever known.

Finally feeling completely at home with being a geek. Nothing to hide, no one to laugh at my interests – just other people who want to play board games, read fantasy novels, and love to dress up in costume as much as I do.

Reaffirming friendships with some of my most beloved friends.

Creating new friendships with a generous helping of new faces.

Coming to terms with the fact that I’m depressed, and need help.

Having the courage to join a really great gym – AND go to classes, even when I was scared.

Beating the back and hip pain that’s been a constant in my life for the last five years (!!!)

happy ending

I think that overall I’ve done a good job. I’d love to look back over this year from a place of perfection, but I’m never going to have that. We’ll never be perfect, any of us, and it’s ridiculous to try. What I can have is love, and friendship, and a decent selection of people who not only get what I’m going through, but are humble enough to know that sometimes they can serve best by just being there.

I’ve been sad and confused and worn out for the last few years, and I had somehow gotten used to it. I was treating it with plenty of wine and potato chips, and lots of sleeping late and trying to avoid conversation as much as possible. But this year I’ve been slowly but surely coming to terms with how much of my behavior has been a coping mechanism for depression. Whether it’s something brought on by my as-yet untreated thyroid issue, the constant back and hip pain, or if I just need therapy (or all of the above), I get it now. Being in a great spot with my love life, and having lots of opportunity to talk about emotions and mental state in person and here on the blog helped me to start to wrap my head around the fact that something’s not normal in my chemistry at the moment.

So that’s what I’m going to work on in 2015. I want to be OK again. I want my warm heart back. I want to put it to work again, and shine for other people. But before I can do that, before I can be bigger for everyone else, I need to get better for myself.

Happy New Year, my beautiful, mysterious internet friends. May you have health and happiness in the coming turn around the sun.

 

Day 36: So You’ve Got Thyroid Problems, Eh?

Click through to see my new Pinterest board on thyroid health.

Yesterday morning, I went and got my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels checked. It wasn’t so much “getting checked” as it was just me getting my blood drawn. I thought that it would take a couple of weeks to get results back. However, this morning I woke up to find a new email in my inbox from MyMedLabs. My test results were in – so exciting!

Just a little background on TSH levels (click here for more detailed info). Depending on your practitioner, “average” readings are anywhere between 0.3 and 5.0, with anything under 0.3 (in many cases, under 0.5) implying that your thyroid is overactive – hyperthyroidism. Again depending on practitioner, anything over 5.0 (and in many cases, over 3.0) implies that your thyroid is underactive – hypothyroidism. My TSH levels were at 5.175 this morning, hypothyroid by all standards.

I was shocked and upset when I first saw the results. Sure, I expected to be sick, but it’s one thing to expect to see your fears confirmed, and another to have it actually happen. But all in all, I’m happy to have some solid proof that I’m not going crazy.

The next part is going to be the hardest. How to find a doctor when I have no money at all, no health insurance, and my taxes from last year show me making too much money to get Medicare? Welcome to the good ol’ US of A. I’ve reached out to friends, and they’re all being sweet and supportive. Hopefully someone will be able to help me find a doctor who’ll work with my financial situation rather than bleeding me dry. It seems like a lot to ask for, but maybe, right?

I’m exhausted. It’s time for bed. My throat is hurting, and I feel a lump in my throat whenever I swallow. Pretty sure that it’s psychosomatic, as it started today after opening the diagnosis email. Now I’m just bitching, so it’s definitely time to sign off…

The Soft Opening Of My New Life

It’s called a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s a change that I need to make for myself forever – not just for as long as I can play along. It’s actually very easy to believe that a permanent change could be possible. I’ve already lost 5 lbs since Monday, eating more than I ever did before, and exercising not as much as I should. Maybe I’ve got a shot this time.

It’s early, but I’m feeling positive about this, for the most part.

I’m working with a personal training studio called Hitch Fit, out of Kansas City, and have been told that it’s very possible for me to lose 13% of my body fat and as much as 30 lbs in the next three months if I just do what they say. It might sound odd, since in many ways I’ve prided myself for being a free spirit, but there are some aspects of my life I’ve acknowledged I just don’t have much control over. Diet and exercise are two of those aspects, so it fills me with a deep sense of relief and peace to just hand that portion of my life over to someone else, and do nothing more than just follow directions. The Before & After pictures are startling, motivating, insanely awesome. If I can achieve half of the success of some of their testimonials, I will be in the best shape this body has seen since high school.

And it’s not hard. Not at all.

I have to eat five meals a day, with a certain mix of carbs, protein and fat. It ends up being around 1300 calories, with LOTS of veggies and as much tea as I can drink. There’s no meat involved, no crazy supplements (other than the vegan, non-soy protein shake I was already drinking daily, and a green superfood powder with wheat grass and spirulina, which everyone should be taking, really), no diet pills or starving required – just eating at regular intervals, weight training three times a week, and doing cardio 5 or 6 days a week.

The nutrition plan reached my email inbox on Friday, and I was told to take a week to just read through everything, get familiar with the diet & exercises required, and think of any questions I’d like to ask before starting. So on Sunday I went grocery shopping and started loosely following the diet, figuring out how hard it would be to prepare my meals in advance (very little effort, as it turns out), and what it was going to be like to follow the plan. I figured it would be a little like the soft opening of a restaurant, just getting the lay of the land, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, making a few adjustments before the real work starts. Since then, every day I’ve worked a little harder to do exactly what I’m supposed to – 1 tbsp of peanut butter and not a bit more, adding the right amount of protein powder to my oatmeal, that kind of thing.

As of today, I’m down from 160 to 155.6 lbs., just following the meal plan and going to a couple of yoga classes. My dumbbell set came in yesterday, and I’ll start REALLY training on Monday, after a weekend of yoga. I’m excited. Scared of how hard it’s going to be to weight train and still find the willpower to do more cardio and go to yoga on a daily basis, but overall, feeling pretty awesome about this whole thing. It’s going to work, and I’m going to be in the physical shape I’ve always wanted. There have been, and will be, sacrifices made to this cause – most of the foods that I love, as well as alcohol (for the most part), and definitely lots of time – but I’ll figure out how to fit in the things that I need and say adios to the things that have just been weighing me down all of these years.

Wish me luck, folks. By March I’ll be ready to show off my bikini body 🙂

The Ultimate Example of Preventative Medicine

Hey guys,

This is not my typical blog post, but I just watched this great news clip and wanted to share it with you. It’s just a short video of Bill Weir from Nightline, talking about a routine interview that became a very personal experience. He went to interview Dr. David Agus (physician to the late Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong, and others), and during the interview process was subjected to a number of tests just to be able to talk about cutting edge medical technology. During the testing, Weir, who is outwardly the very vision of health and vitality, found out that he had a potentially serious issue he had known nothing about. I loved this little video, both because of its relaxed tone and very important message, and wanted you to see it if you hadn’t yet.

Click here to watch the video. Who knows, it might save your life.
XO,
A

Raising the Bar

Today I read an update posted by a dear friend on Facebook. She declared herself to be in a very low place, feeling unlike herself. Being no stranger to highs and lows, I immediately wrote back with a few suggestions for crawling out of the rut, but if she is anything like me, I know she took my suggestions more as meddling than helpful hints.

In my own life, periods of the blues have been frequent and often quite deep. As I aged, I mellowed. Part of this change was no doubt due to pesky hormones, part to a change in lifestyle, and a large part in a change in how I nourish myself spiritually, mentally & physically. We’ve probably all been through this in some way or another. One of the best things about being human is the capacity for growth and change, the journey ever upward (with occasional sidesteps and roadblocks).

I wish that I could help my friend see life in a different light, but we live so far apart, and all I can do is be there in spirit. It’s disappointing, and frustrating, especially when I know my words sound empty to someone in such a different place. All I can do is offer her hope that life gets better, and it doesn’t have to be boring, or sad, or lonely.

You just have to reach out, and someone, somewhere will be there to enrich your experience. It might take awhile. It might not be immediate. It might be the smallest return, like someone commenting on your FB status, or letting you ahead of them in line at the grocery store (talk about small miracles, right?) The Universe is looking after you, whether or not you believe it or choose to acknowledge it. If a beautiful flower can grow out of a crack in the sidewalk, it is possible to make a good life grow out of a series of not so great days. You’ve just got to be open to the opportunities, looking for the tiny happy moments and being conscious of how they all link together. Once you can do that, you’ve got a good thing going. Sometimes I forget this, the same as everyone else. This is as much an affirmation as it is admonishment to myself to be more grateful of the love that surrounds me.

My little advice to my friend: collect one pretty image a day that makes you smile or laugh (online or elsewhere) – that way you’ll always be able to go somewhere for a smile or laugh when life is getting you down. Come to visit, so I can make you laugh. I don’t care how old we are, I will always love to see your beautiful smile.

My own personal plan: look for moments that teach me something, whether or not I like what I’ve been taught. Try to be mindful of these lessons, and carry them with me. Take time to be active every day, and don’t do active things that seem boring or like a chore (I go to Zumba, go dancing, and run, run, run). Get pampered often, even if it’s something as little as taking time to give myself a scalp massage while I’m washing my hair. Tell my friends I love them every time I talk to them. Think about what it means to love. Envision good, wholesome energy flooding from me to my friends & relatives whenever I share my love with them. Share nice thoughts with people I meet – if I see a stranger wearing a beautiful dress, I work up the courage to tell her how nice she looks. All of these things come back to us. Try to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling, and will think and feel about whatever action I’m taking. If I can see a negative outcome, determine if that outcome is what I really want before taking the action. Sometimes I miscalculate, and I end up having to apologize. Either explain why I meant what I said, or just suck it up and apologize – it’s good for everyone involved. Embarrassment is inevitable at some points in life; try to be graceful about it, or at least wear smudge-free mascara. Breathe, breathe, breathe – deeply and often. Eat real food, not processed crap. Hydrate – it makes your brain happy! And I sing and write whenever the hell I feel like it, as a matter of principle.

What do you do to make your life a better place to be? I know that one person who reads my blog travels the world to bring medical care to those who need it. Another takes time out to care for special needs cats at her local shelter. Still another writes enough great content to fuel a small magazine; I wonder if she ever sleeps! Then there’s a very special cat who is training to be a model yet somehow finds time to keep a great blog. I’m so inspired by reading all of your blogs and seeing what inspires you – I’d love to hear your own personal recipes for happiness. Comment away!