Monday, September 24, 2012

Time for a Change

I feel a little apprehensive and more than a little lost. This week, I'm doing something I haven't done for a long time - too long, in fact!

I'm going to take the week off.

Not from work, but from the gym. From the treadmill. From classes, including my latest love affair: yoga.

Taking some time to rest and let your muscles and central nervous system (CNS) recover is very important for good health and muscle growth. However, all too often, we get caught up in the "do more, be intense, train hard!" mentality that we forget that rest and recovery time out of the gym is just as important as training time in the gym.

I can't remember the last time I took a week off from the gym. It certainly hasn't been in the past three years that I've been living in Maryland. I took a day or two off after my show earlier this summer, but other than that, I've been very consistent with my gym time and cardio.

But lately, I'm not so excited about going to the gym. I'm not actively trying to build any more muscle (which feels so weird), so my workouts are more plyo-based, less weights-based. I don't mind the training - I'm always up for something new and different - but I'm just not excited to go to the gym lately.

It's time for a change.

This week, I'm not going to the gym. At all. Not even to visit with my friends (sorry, Jenny; I'll miss you!).

I'm not sure what to do with all my spare time. Every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday (and sometimes Wednesday), I head straight to the gym after work. I usually get home anywhere from 8-9 pm. Now it feels like I have hours and hours of open time to do anything I want. I'm overwhelmed.

J suggested that I do zero cardio, but quite frankly, my morning cardio wakes me up. I feel more energized when I get to work and am more productive, so I decided to just cut way back on the intensity. This morning's cardio felt like a leisurely stroll through the park. Except by park, I mean treadmill in the guest room while Ed napped in the dog bed.

Cutest. Cat. Ever. He totally supports morning cardio.
Of course, with the decreased activity this week, I'm decreasing my calories a bit too. I don't need to eat quite as much to sustain my energy since my energy expenditure will be drastically less.

I'm going to try to save my money and not go shopping every night. I'll probably end up cleaning the house or organizing J's closet or something just as titillating.

Do you have any suggestions of activities for my (overwhelming amount of) spare time? Do you take time off from the gym? How many days/weeks do you take off?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Running Without Being Chased

Something really strange happened to me a few weeks ago. During a morning cardio walk, I began running. Yes, RUNNING. And no one was chasing me. It was so. weird.

When people ask me what kind of cardio I do, they usually assume, "oh, you just run on the treadmill?" Uh no. I WALK on the treadmill. My standard response is usually, "I don't run unless someone is chasing me. I'm NOT a runner."

And then oddly enough, one day I began running.

Actually, let me correct that; I began s-l-o-w-l-y jogging. It was more of a stop-and-start endeavor until I settled into a rhythm.

I was at a retreat center in the middle of the woods along the Chesapeake Bay, and instead of fighting with the ancient cardio machines they had in their "fitness center," I decided to go for a walk around the property. But this scene urged me to run.

Stillness and solitude
I felt like walking would take me too long to reach the next beautiful scene, so my feet began a jogging cadence. My knees protested loudly, but I ignored them and kept going. I slowed to a walk a few times, then slipped back into a jog.

I was baffled! The entire time, I was in a state of wonder at what my body was doing. I couldn't remember the last time I'd jogged; it had to have been at least a year ago! Yet there I was, completely enjoying myself while jogging.

I felt refreshed and exuberant when I got back to my room. I felt reconnected to my younger days when I ran every day. I felt like an athlete again.

Two hours later, I was bored and decided to go for ANOTHER run. What in the world?! It felt like an alternate universe, yet oddly exactly right.

The next day I could barely walk and I had horrible shin splints. (Is there punishment for every enjoyable thing in life?!)

Two days later, back at home, I went for a run in our neighborhood. We live in the world's cutest little town, so I love walking or running around the narrow side streets and admiring all the old, stately homes.

Since the beginning of September, I've run a handful of times, getting faster each time. I now have a goal of increasing my speed back to where it used to be several years ago. It's not fast by any comparison, but it's appropriate for me. I love feeling like an athlete again. I compare the feeling to that of the tin soldier after he gets all oiled and shined up again.

I doubt I'll ever be a true runner (and quite frankly, I don't actually WANT to be), but for now, I'm enjoying my periodic half hour runs and the opportunities to feel like the athlete I am at my core.

Are you a runner? How do you feel during and after a run?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Love Affair

This past weekend, I attended both yoga classes I was planning to take: Bikram on Saturday and community beginner yoga on Sunday. I was excited to use my new mat and for my friend to experience Bikram for the first time.

Bikram went great! I realized that if I really focused, the breathing exercises weren't that bad. Also, my friend really liked it, which was a relief to me. I didn't want to be responsible for her being trapped in a hot room for an hour and a half!

I was really sore again the next day, so I did some light cardio on the treadmill before heading to community yoga at Lululemon. I was kind of nervous about the class mostly because I didn't really know what to expect. I shouldn't have been nervous, because compared to Bikram, it was a walk in the park! I didn't feel any stronger or very challenged, but it was a good stretching session. So I guess in that way, it wasn't a complete waste of time. Also, I picked up a cute new tank top while I was there too.

Friends, I have to share this: I think I've discovered a new love affair with Bikram yoga.

I feel challenged throughout the entire class (and we all know I love to take on a challenge), and it seems to be very good for my tight muscles. I'm very flexible in some areas, but my muscles are really tight in other areas. The combination of the hot room and the challenging poses really help stretch my entire body. And I feel like it also challenges me mentally.

I may have to purchase a package deal for classes if I'm going to continue to take them. It's not a cheap activity, but may be well worth it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Last weekend, I took my 2nd ever Bikram (hot) yoga class. The first time I went was exactly a year ago (how funny is that?!), and it was an Intro class. This time it was the real deal. I was nervous!

I sort of knew what to expect and came prepared to rent both a towel and a mat (at least this time I knew that I needed a full size towel instead of a hand towel) and that the towel goes on TOP of the mat. What I didn't expect, however, was for the instructor to walk around class the whole time instead of actually doing the poses at the front of the room. I was thankful there were seasoned yoga veterans in the room who knew how to do the poses.

Mental Strength
I discovered that I wanted to leave about halfway through class because I was getting a bit light-headed. But I'd seen someone else attempt to leave and then be shamed into staying in the room, so I reminded myself to take deep breaths and to move slowly. When I moved at my own pace, I felt better.

I didn't realize that part of the challenge of Bikram yoga is mentally dealing with the hot temperature in the room. It takes mental strength and focus to overcome the body's natural instincts of escaping from uncomfortable situations. I knew my body could handle it as long as I stayed focused on relaxing instead of on panicking.

I felt completely wiped out after class, and proud of myself for not only surviving the class, but for actually being able to do nearly all of the poses (my quads and hamstrings get in the way of a cross-leg squatting-type pose).

Eagle Pose (Garurasana) - Pretty much impossible to do with big quads and hamstrings!
New Experiences
I'm still intrigued by Bikram yoga, and am going again with a friend on Saturday morning.

I'm also going to go to a free traditional yoga class at a Lululemon store on Sunday morning! I wanted to go last weekend, but the instructions said to "be sure to bring your own mat!" That presented a problem, since I didn't own a yoga mat until yesterday.

Yep! I bought a yoga mat! I have no idea what the differences are between the cheap and expensive mats; they all look and feel the same to me. I decided to start out with the cheap one and see if I actually even like yoga and plan to take more classes.

My new yoga mat! Target special!
I love all kinds of fitness activities, and I'm looking forward to my next yoga classes!

Do you do yoga? Which method do you prefer? Do you have your own mat? What's the difference between the cheap and expensive ones?

Monday, September 10, 2012

More Authenticity

The response and feedback from my last blog was so overwhelming! Thank you so much for all your kind words and support! I have to admit that as soon as I clicked the Publish button, I wanted to go hide under a rock. Facing fears can be so scary!

I want to clarify a few things and give you an update on how things are going since last week.

I received some questions about my goals concerning leanness and weight. There was some confusion about the pictures I posted, as some people thought I wanted to maintain the "before" look. Not at all! I posted the pictures merely to show that you can't out-train a bad diet. The "before" look was about 1-2 weeks before my show. I was very, very lean, and quite frankly, I felt like crap! My goal is to maintain somewhere in the middle of the "before" and "after." I feel that would be a healthy, maintainable weight. My clothes would fit, and I'd feel good about how I looked. I hope this clears up some confusion and concern about my weight objective.

In order to get to my goal weight/look, I'm following a contest-like diet for a few weeks. I realize that "moderation" doesn't work for my weight-loss goals at all, so I need to take an all-or-nothing approach. J wrote up a short-term plan for me to follow until I hit my goal weight. The plan is going very well so far; I'm 100% on track. Then again, there was never any question about whether or not I could diet. Obviously, I'm very good at following a plan (see I Won Some Swords!); it's when I don't follow a plan that I have issues.

A few weeks ago, I decided to say good-bye to the scale because I felt like it was ruling my mood. I could be having a wonderful day until I stepped on the scale. And then my entire day would feel ruined.

I decided that wasn't a healthy way to live.

The Day Wrecker
I needed a way to track my progress (besides just how my clothes fit), though, so I unpacked our brand new scale (first time in my life I've ever owned one because I knew I'd obsess if I had one) and stepped on it. I wasn't surprised by the number that appeared; it was about what I'd figured. It didn't ruin my day, but it did give me motivation to stick to my plan.

What Next?
So what next? After I reach my goal weight, then what? I still haven't solved the original problems of making healthy food choices and not continuing to eat even after I'm full. I've been doing some research about food addictions and the body's response to certain foods. It's fascinating information - and all very recent! I've discovered that some foods can trigger reactions similar to an addict's response to substances. For example, eating sugar can cause the release of dopamine - that "feel good" chemical that makes us want to continue experiencing that great feeling - similar to how an addict feels when they ingest their drug of choice.

I've also resumed reading The End of Overeating by David Kessler. Basically, the book explains why it's exceptionally difficult to resist certain foods and why it's so easy to overindulge. Great information!!

I love learning new information, and am looking forward to learning how to apply it to my situation. I realize there may be some setbacks, but I'm determined to give my best!

Do you know of any other resources that may be helpful to me? For those of you experiencing a similar situation, how are you handling it? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Being Authentic

Last week, my blogger friend, Dani, wrote a post about authentic blogging. Basically, it means being real on your blog. This is a topic I've been thinking about for the past year or so. I'm a perfectionist, so when I have issues or struggles with things, I intrinsically don't want to share them for fear of appearing flawed (even though we are all flawed in different ways). I dislike feeling vulnerable, and don't like to admit when I need help or am having difficulty handling something.

But really, life isn't perfect. We are all flawed, vulnerable, and struggling with different things. So why not share those struggles, those less than perfect thoughts? Why not be more authentic?

I've discovered over the course of this blog that the most difficult posts to write are the ones that people seem to like the most. I get feedback that people identify with the same issues I have, that it's nice to know they're not alone in their feelings and thoughts. I think this is an important issue, and therefore, I'm going to make more of an effort to be authentic and open.

The Mental Battle
One of the things I've been struggling with for the past six years is maintaining a leaner weight off-season. Competitors joke all the time about "on-season" and "off-season" wardrobes: clothes in a range of sizes. Ever since my first competition, I've had two separate wardrobes. As I get leaner during prep, I start wearing my smaller clothes, and as I gain weight after a show, I start wearing my larger clothes (while holding back tears in the process). But you know what? I truly HATE the fact that I need to have larger clothes! Why? Because it means I didn't show enough discipline in my diet after the show. It means I shoveled food into my face with no regard for the consequences. It means I disappointed myself because my actions weren't congruent with my goals.

Proof that you can't out-train a bad diet. June 16 and Aug 27.
More proof that diet is the key - not time in the gym. June 16 and Aug 27.
After each show, I tell myself that I'm going to make healthy choices after the show, that I'm going to maintain a leaner weight all year and be happy with my body the other 364 days of the year. And then several weeks later, I find myself crying while trying to squeeze my thighs into pants that have gradually become too small. I increase cardio in an attempt to "burn off" some of the copious amounts of calories I've eaten. I begin wearing loose t-shirts to the gym instead of my cute little tank tops because I'm embarrassed about how I look - so vastly different than how I looked on stage. I worry about what people are saying/thinking: "THAT'S the girl who won the Maryland?! She doesn't even look like she competes!" The negative thoughts and feelings begin to affect my relationship. It's difficult to act happy and loving when you're miserable and disappointed in yourself.

This has to stop.

I don't yet know the reasons behind my actions. It's obvious that I'm fully capable of following a diet. But after the show, I don't want to "diet" anymore. I don't want to have to follow a "plan" anymore. While I don't strive to be "normal" by any means, I need a break from the structure and regiment of prep. But instead of taking baby steps, I swing in the complete opposite direction and find myself choosing M&M's over almonds and digging into the stash of Girl Scout cookies when I get home from the gym. My meals could be completely healthy all day ... until I get home and then dig to find non-healthy foods. Clearly, there's an issue or two here.

I don't yet have a solution, but I do have some steps I'm going to follow and some research I need to do. Even though this post has been very difficult to write (and even more difficult to publish), I feel it's an important topic to share. I'll keep you updated on my progress and journey of discovery.

Do you have two wardrobes in different sizes? Do you struggle with food choices off-season too? What methods have you found for coping with or combating the mental struggle with actions vs. goals?