I have a 2-pack!!!

Well, when I flex really hard.  And when the lighting is just right.  And if I squint my eyes just a little bit and turn my head about 30 degrees to the right.

Hey!  Don’t rain on my parade, okay?  This is significant!  I can’t remember the last time I could even remotely see any resemblance of an anything-pack! 

And yes, I have been known to spend good, quality time in front of the mirror admiring my pre-rockhard, washboard abs.  My husband just rolls his eyes when he walks by and laughs, “Oh my gosh.”

Like I said, don’t rain on my parade!  I focus on the progress.  See, a lot of people will focus on the bellyfat and arm flab (or the stick arms and pigeon legs).  They’ll look at what they don’t like and out of anger or distaste, will work out to change what they don’t like about themselves.

I have a different strategy.  I choose to focus on what I do like and the progress that I have made.  And I make fitness and nutrition about accentuating that, and allowing everything else to catch up to it.  And that applies not just to whether I like how a certain body part looks.  It applies to whether I’m happy with my energy levels, my current state of flexibility, and my ability to dance like a disco queen to a cheesy ABBA song.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful things in the universe.  Be thankful for what you have.  Focus on what you like about yourself, about the progress you have made, and you’re bound to get more of it.  If you constantly focus on what you don’t like, you’ll always overlook the progress that you are making, and you’ll always be able to find one more thing you can pick on. 

I challenge you to pick one thing you like about yourself.  Do you have nice ankles?  Or a nice, angled chin?  No matter how miniscule, pick something.  Focus on that.  Spend time in the mirror looking at it.  Yes, make your family think you’re totally vain about it! 

Have you made the slightest bit of progress since you started working out?  Dropped 2 pounds?  Do your jeans feel just a looser?  Dwell on that!  Be thankful for it, and celebrate! 

So don’t laugh at me when I shout from the rooftops that I have a 2-pack.  That 2-pack is just the beginning of more packs!

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  — Michelangelo

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UPDATE: Women who lift heavy UNITE!

Surprisingly enough, I actually got a response to my inquiry about putting heavier weights in the women’s area at my gym.  (Read about it here.)  Only two days after I received the email from the nice, young personal trainer I spoke to saying they’d “definitely consider it,” I got an email from his manager indicating they were going to put in heavier weights that same day!  And they did! [Insert Hallelujah Chorus here.]

Granted, they only added a set of 25’s and a set of 30’s – way short of the 50-60 pounders I asked them to incorporate into their dumbbell ensemble – this is progress.  They’re supposedly looking into incoporating up to 50 pounds by way of Power Block dumbells.

So they still have yet to follow through completely on their word.  Hopefully they don’t disappoint me. 

I was in there today using the 25’s, and it’s not far off that I’ll need to upgrade to using the 30’s.  Pretty soon I’ll need those 35’s or 40’s.  (Not to mention that I already need those and heavier for single dumbbell squats (aka plie squats), but I’ve been avoiding doing those because of the lack of appropriate hardware.)

So yet again, I will keep you posted.  At least I got a response that indicates they acknowledge there’s a need for heavier weights in the women’s area.  I hope I’m not the only one using them!

How do you experience your life?

Today I’m going to write about something less related to nutrition and working out, and more about mindset – one of THE most important aspects of overall wellness. 

I got a new job this week.  Not by my own choice, but by way of reorganization.  It happens.  Business priorities and strategies change, so resources have to be realigned.  I can understand that. 

Okay, so what do you do when everything that you did for 8 hours a day suddenly changes?  When the person and teams you loved working with are suddenly taken from you?  When you feel POWERLESS because you had no say in what was happening?

The natural first reaction is to pipe up about the injustice, and pipe up loud.

My reaction was to want to pipe up loud, but instead I piped up tactfully in the form of constructive feedback.  After piping up tactfully, I understood that I can’t change my situation.  But I CAN change my REACTION to the situation and my perspective.  (“Let the emotions flow, then let them go.” – Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman)

Susan Jeffers, in a great book (HIGHLY recommend it) entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, explains that while you may not be responsible for all your “experiences in life…you are the cause of all your experiences of life, meaning that you are the cause of your reactions to everything that happens around you.” THAT is true power.

So whether I let this totally bum me out and piss me off for weeks on end, or whether I assess the situation, understand that I can’t change it, and after allowing the emotions to flow, I let them go and immediately look for the good in the situation. 

And it didn’t take me long to see that my new role might actually put me closer to my ultimate career goals.  That it just might open opportunities to me that I didn’t have before.  That while I enjoyed what I was doing, I was getting comfortable, and comfort is not necessarily a good thing – it means you’re probably not growing.

So, I’ve opened up to the idea that this might be a good thing – I can make it a good thing.  And while people around me might be pissed off, or people might try to drag me down with them into the sea of cynicism and “bitching and moaning”, I choose the higher route, the more productive and positive route.

(It’s so much better in the sea of productivity and positivity, I can tell you that much.)

I’ll leave you with a quote by Napolean Hill, an American author, and an awesome speech given by Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.  Overall, Steve Jobs’ speech is one of the most amazing and inspiring messages I’ve ever heard, but the section that relates to the topic at hand is about “Connecting the Dots.”

Cheers!

“Every adversity or failure carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” (Napolean Hill)…How do you choose to experience YOUR life?

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Women who lift heavy UNITE!

I work out at a pretty huge gym.  It’s actually more like a health club.  They have raquetball, tennis courts, a spa/salon, a restaurant, a pool, fancy locker rooms, etc.  They also have a small area that is restricted to women’s use only.

Don’t get me wrong.  I actually like working out.  But that wasn’t always the case.  I used to get nauseous at the thought of going to the gym.  Not only because it just seemed like too much effort to put some workout clothes on, drive to the gym, and expend way more energy on a treadmill or doing squats than sitting on the couch watching reruns of Friends, but also because it was actually a daunting experience.

I think now I can say I somewhat know what I’m doing when I’m at the gym.  But when I first started working out, I was really self-conscious about it.  Firstly, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was sure it was obvious to everyone around me.  Secondly, all those guys on the weight machines, grunting and flexing in the mirror, while scrawny, petite me had to completely remove the pin on the row machine because even the lightest weight was too heavy. 

And while I was in college, I was self-conscious around men in general, let alone while suggestively raising my hips off the ground to do lying butt bridges.  And honestly, I still am slightly self-conscious about these things.

Fitness institutions such as Curves were established for this very reason.  They understand that testosterone-laden gyms may not be the best environment for women who are not figure competitors to begin their journeys towards their fitness goals. 

And this is the reason behind the area at my gym that is women only.  Sometimes I workout in the big, crowded weight room, filled with Arnold-wannabe’s.  But sometimes I want to work out in an environment where I feel comfortable and where I don’t have to put myself on a waitlist for the 30-pounders.  Only problem is, the dumbells in the women’s area only go up to 20 pounds.

Back in my college days, that may have been good enough.  But now that I’ve gotten stronger, I need to lift heavier.  It’s like the big-wigs at the fancy gym think that women who are able to lift more than 20 pounds are advanced enough that they shouldn’t be self-conscious about working out among the men.

(This could potentially get into the whole “I’m afraid I’ll look like a man if I lift more than 8 pounds” conversation, but I’ll save that for another day.)

I don’t know about you, but I feel it’s discriminatory and somewhat hypocritical that this gym would force me out of the women’s area because I start getting stronger.  Isn’t that something the gym big-wigs should support?  I can see how this would deter some women from continuing to pursue their fitness goals: They start seeing results, get stronger, start needing to lift heavier weights, but then stop progressing because they continue to lift 20 pounds because they don’t want to leave the women’s area.

Anyway, so I approached the nice, young man behind the personal trainer’s desk and asked him if they’ve ever considered putting heavier weights in the women’s area.  The answer was “no.”  But he did talk to his supervisor and emailed me asking what weights I would like introduced.  It’s something they’ll “definitely consider.”

Good sign.  I’ll let you know what happens.

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Did I mention that I stopped working out?

I went to Vegas a few weeks ago.  If you’ve read my past blog about eating healthy, you know that while I’m on vacation, all health and fitness rules pretty much go out the window.  Mind you, I try to compensate by being extremely disciplined with my nutrition and workouts during the weeks leading up to it.  I also accept the consequences and detox when I get back.

So with my Vegas trip, that was the intent.  I didn’t follow through.  Here’s what really happened:

I followed through on my pre-vacation commitment.  I stuck to my prescribed 4-times a week heavy workout with cardio intervals.  I stuck to the nutrition plan.

I followed through on my vacation commitment.  I ate burgers and fries, eight kinds of meat at a Brazilian churrasco restaurant, indulged on chocolate lava cakes, and drank way too many vodka tonics and long island ice teas.  I didn’t even bother bringing any workout clothes because I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

I got home on a Monday afternoon with every intention to clean up my act the minute the plane landed.  But we got invited for sushi that evening.  And with my sushi, I naturally ate 3 different desserts.  Who can turn down tiramisu, chocolate cheesecake and eclairs?  (mini versions, of course)  What’s one more “cheat meal”, right?

Okay, so Tuesday.  Really, Tuesday my plan was to get back on the wagon.  Shake for breakfast, pack my mid-morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack, and bring my gym clothes and recovery drink for my workout after work.  But I woke up late that morning and rushed off to work without any of it.  Felt dehydrated all day which led to a headache, came home, and crashed on the couch.

Wednesday.  Wednesday would be much better…But I plain forgot my gym bag at home, ended up working late, got home around 8 and crashed on the couch again.

So Thursday…I think you get the picture.

What happened?  What happened to my good intentions?  As James Ray says, “Good intentions, poor follow-through.”

And so it went for 2 weeks.  Every day, at the end of the day I had two choices: either 1) beat myself up for being a flake and freak out about the weight I’d gain from my non-compliance or 2) put the day behind me and start the next day over again.

What would you do?  I chose #2.  I am a firm believer that everyone does the very best they can given the person they are at that moment.  I could have beat myself up about it and freaked out about gaining weight, but decided that doing so would just put me in a worse mood than I already was, which would lead to emotional eating, high stress, and it would in turn become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, I decided to note how I felt (usually lethargic and dehydrated), consciously decide that I didn’t want to feel that way the next day, and realized that tomorrow is a new day.

So it took me a couple weeks to get back on the wagon.  Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad it did.  Firstly, because sometimes if you’ve been on a rigorous fitness plan for a few weeks, it’s good to take a break.  Let your body recover.  And if you have been on a rigorous fitness plan for a while, you’ll find that you can afford to be bad for a while.  Your body can handle all those calories much better than it could before.

Secondly, I learned to be patient with myself.  I did notice the difference in my energy levels and did understand that if I kept going down this road, I would end up reverting back to my pre-working-out condition.  With that realization, I had every faith in myself that I would pick myself back up, and in turn I did.

You can’t always be perfect.  Don’t force yourself to be.  Learn from it, move on, and realize that tomorrow is a new day.

Call me a skinny minnie? Oh no you di’int!

I remember when I was in high school, when I would lie down I thought it was really cool that my stomach would sink down and my ribs and hip bones would protrude from my skin.

Now that I think about that, it actually sounds kind of disgusting.  Who wants to be a “skinny minnie,” as many have dubbed me?

I get that an awful lot – “why do you work out?  You’re already a ‘skinny minnie!'”

First of all, I don’t want to be a skinny minnie.  And second of all, even if people didn’t think I look like a skinny minnie, that isn’t why I’d be working out!

Yes, I’ll admit that one of my reasons for working out and eating consciously is to improve my body composition.  (i.e. So I can rock a bikini or skin tight dress)  What woman doesn’t want to look good in what she wears?

But improved body composition does NOT mean being skinny!  When you say skinny, images of Mary Kate & Ashley, Nicole Ritchie, and Twiggy run through my head.  Ew.  I don’t want to look like a drug addict.  That is NOT the goal.

Hm…Jessica Biel maybe, and even Britney (during her sultry “I’m a Slave for You” days) maybe.  I wouldn’t mind looking like them.  Solid, fit, and like they could probably kick your ass.

Actually, I take that back.  I don’t want to look like them.  I want to look like me.  But a solid, fit, I-could-kick-your-ass version of me.  It’s ridiculous to want to look like this actress or that super-model.  We all have different genetics, different body compositions.  It is probably genetically impossible for my butt to look as good as Jessica Biel’s.

But I can admire their level of physical fitness and aspire to achieve my own pinnacle of physical fitness and health.

Anyway, body composition and overall health – that is what it’s about.  In the words of James Ray, “Let health be the goal, and let fitness be the by-product.”  Just try to get and stay healthy and happy, and it’ll manifest itself in your physical appearance.

When you start eating healthier and become more physically active, your body can’t help but conform.  Eating right, working out, and other healthy habits – getting enough sleep, minimizing stress etc. – shouldn’t make you look like an Oleson twin.

Skinny minnie?  Not me, thank you very much.

People who are “into fitness”

Today I was in the gym and overheard a woman say, “People are more ‘into fitness’ here.” 

What exactly does that mean – “into fitness”?  As if it’s a hobby or a trend. 

Yes, I can see that health and fitness has become much more mainstream these days.  With all the focus on “low carb,” “low calorie,” “all natural,” etc., some might say that this is merely a trend, and it will pass.  Like jelly shoes and leg warmers, it just might pass, only to come back again.

Remember when it was the “in” thing to roll down your socks into doughnut rolls?  Or to frost the tips of your hair?  One day people will say, “Rmember when it was cool to eat anything that said “No Trans Fats!”?

Yes, this emphasize on health and fitness just might go away one day.  Maybe not completely, but it won’t be at the forefront like it is right now.

Does that mean that I have to follow the masses and forget about eating healthy, exercising, and making healthy choices? 

No way!  I’m grateful for this trend.  It took the “coolness” that society has assigned to the fitness lifestyle to make me change my ways.  I guess you could say I’m a conformist in that sense.  But in this case, I don’t think it was a bad thing.

But when the coolness factor goes away, I hope I’ve learned enough and engrained enough into my lifestyle and habits to keep it going, even when commercials on TV aren’t claiming that your Fred Meyer butcher sells only hormone-free beef.

So when it’s cool to scarf down a Big Mac, large fries, and a Coke again, I plan to still be “into fitness.”

FAQ #2: Do you eat healthy all the time?

Do I eat healthy all the time?  Let’s review my menu over the past few days, shall we?

  • Monday – Protein shake with soy milk, Vietnamese-stye chicken wrap from TJ’s, shrimp pasta spaghettini, chocolate lava cake
  • Tuesday – Protein shake with soy milk, won ton noodle soup, almonds and beef jerky, raw foods meal replacement bar, protein shake, recovery drink (during my workout), homemade turkey chilli
  • Wednesday – Protein shake with soy milk, veggies, buckwheat soba noodles, and beef brisket in miso broth, raw foods meal replacement bar, wild greens with turkey meatballs, cottage cheese and raspberries

So, let’s review:  Do I always eat healthy?  Hm…chocolate lava cake doesn’t strike me as very healthy. 

Okay, I admit – to the average American, the above menu actually looks pretty damn healthy.  In my previous life, the menu would probably have included a lot more fast food, creamy dishes, and various deep-fried edibles. 

It took a few years, but I eventually stopped eating fast food multiple times a week, and took a more conscious approach to what I was eating.

My husband of course helped me along the way.  He loves to research.  It’s not only what he does as part of his day job, but what he does during his free time.  He researches the latest in fitness trends, biomechanics, ways to grow his business, and nutrition and supplementation.

So, he’d come to me all excited about the latest findings he read about in some fancy study.  It seems that nutritional best practices are always changing and are confusing as hell.  One day eating starchy carbs post-workout is good, the next day it’s bad.  One study concludes that red meat is a superior form of protein, the other concludes that its acidity is bad for you.  One person says fruit smoothies are a good way to get your daily fruit servings, the other says there’s way too much sugar in them.

No wonder everyone is confused, including myself.  After years of trying to keep up, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I’ll try to abide by the latest findings, I’ll always adhere to the following basic principles:

  1. Eat small meals (aka “eating opportunities”) spread out throughout the day – about 3 hours apart – rather than 3 gigantic meals. (Helps maintain blood sugar levels and speeds up your metabolism.)
  2. Eat whole, organic foods.  The processed stuff contains way too many ingredients I can’t read.  And if I can’t read it, chances are my body won’t know what to do with it.
  3. Eat protein with every eating opportunity, preferably from a lean source such as chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.  Balances out the carbs, regulating the blood sugar levels and helps build your lean body mass (i.e. your muscles – which are a fat burning machine!)
  4. Drink tons and tons of water
  5. Eat tons and tons of vegetables
  6. Stay away from beverages that contain calories, especially those with high sugar content (JUST SAY NO TO SOFT DRINKS!). Drink fruit juices minimally, unless they’re straight from the fruit and contain some pulp in it for fiber.
  7. Stay away from ANYTHING deep-fried or smothered in cream.
  8. Reserve the right to violate any and all these rules 10% of the time. 

What does that last one mean?  It means that I’m human.  I can’t be expected to eat healthy ALL the time.  It would just be torcherous and inhumane to deprive me of my chocolate lava cake.

It means that I will adhere to these rules for about 38 of my 42 eating opportunities during the week, but I will let myself eat whatever the hell I want (in moderation of course) for the other four.  It means that I will and should reward myself for a job well-done.

And it’s a give and take.  If I’ve been doing really well with my workouts for the past few weeks, pushing myself hard and not skipping any workouts, I may cheat a little more.  If I’ve been lazy, I’ll try to compensate by being better with my nutrition.

Oh, and vacations?  Game over.  But I will plan accordingly and be extremely meticulous with my workouts and nutrition for the weeks leading up to it.  And I will also accept the consequences of my debauchery and detox when I get back.

So no, I don’t eat healthy all the time.  Neither does my husband.  (That chocolate lava cake came with two spoons.)  And neither should you.  You’ll be much more successful if you let yourself cheat once in a while.

Cheating can be a good thing – especially in the form of chocolate lava cake.  Oh, and cheesecake ain’t bad either.

An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.
An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.

Sometimes you’re more likely to do it if it’s less convenient.

I forgot my gym clothes at home today.  Dammit. 

Here’s my routine: I throw some workout clothes, my shaker bottle, and my recovery drink mix into my gym bag before I zip out the door on my way to work.  I leave my gym bag in my trunk, and after work I head to the gym on my way home.

It would be a whole heck of a lot easier and more convenient to work out at home though.  I have all the equipment to do so (some resistance bands, a stability ball, and of course my own bodyweight), and when I lived in my old apartment, I had a pretty decent workout facility.

So my old strategy was to leave my workout clothes at home and work out when I got home…Didn’t really work.

I’ve realized that when I go through the effort of getting my clothes together the night before or the morning of, I’m much more likely to make my way to the gym at the end of the day.

Sometimes when 4PM rolls around, I catch the little devil on my shoulder saying to me, “You don’t really need to go to the gym today.  You can work out at home.”  The angel on the other shoulder then replies, “You don’t really believe that, do you?  You know you’ll get home and find a million better things to do than work out.”

I then think about the clothes in my trunk, the shaker bottle in my bag, and the recovery drink I meticulously stored in a little ziplock baggie.  The time I spent getting it all together this morning – what a waste if I just go home.

So I get my ass to the gym.

Today I’m not so lucky.  I have to play that game with the devil on my shoulder.  When I get home today, I must go straight for those gym shoes, turn on the music, and get my workout on. 

Bring it.

FAQ #1: Have you always been fit?

If you’ve read my “About” page, you already know the answer to this one.  Before I met my husband in college, I had never set foot in a gym before.  Okay, that’s slightly a lie.  There were those times in middle school P.E. class when we had “weight training” week.  We all crammed into this tiny weight room.  And while I curled probably all of five pounds – yes with both arms – the boys in my class dangerously attempted to lift way more than they had any business lifting. 

My most vivid memory of that time was when one of those boys took all the weight off one end of his bench press bar, and subsequently the bar tipped due to the imbalance and conked him in the ear.  A bloody mess ensued.  (Don’t worry, he lived.  With not even a scar to be seen.)

Prior to meeting my husband, my favorite meal was Burger King’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich with a large fries and medium orange soda.  Mmm…I still crave it to this day.  But back in those days, I ate that every day.  If it wasn’t the chicken sandwich, it was a nice, big, juicy Whopper. 

Before college, I didn’t exactly eat very healthy either.  Anyone who’s Filipino would understand that hot dogs are breakfast food.  (It’s part of the sausage family, right?)  Therefore, corn dogs were a perfectly acceptable way to start the day.

But when I went to college, I discovered the dorm room cafeteria food.  I ate a burger at least 4 times a week.  The cafeteria ladies piled meatloaf and mashed potatoes a mile high on my plate.  And as my mother taught me, there are starving children in Africa, so I had to finish all my food.

Before I knew it, my Freshman Fifteen quickly turned into Freshman Thirty.  My size -3 turned into a distant memory.  My clear complexion turned into pepperoni pizza. 

At the time, I didn’t even realize what was happening.  Then I went home for the holidays, and my family so graciously pointed it out to me.  (Families are great for that, aren’t they?)  But I had no idea what to do about it. 

What? You mean what I eat impacts my weight and my skin?  What?  I should work out?  How do I do that?

Fast forward a couple years, and I met my husband.  When I met him, I had lost about twenty of the Freshman Thirty I gained, but I was definitely not fit.  (Losing weight from stress and partying doesn’t count.)  Skip over the awkward first time in a gym, the encounters with disgusting protein shakes, and the time my mom told me I was starting to “look like a man” (those are all better topics for future postings), and here I am today.  In probably the best shape I’ve ever been in.

It’s been a long road.  So, have I always been fit?  That’s an emphatic hell no.