Let’s Indulge this Thanksgiving!

Ah, Thanksgiving.  My favorite holiday of the year.  Every November I look forward to waking up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, the sound of my mom clanging around in the kitchen, and the sight of my dad thumbing through the newspaper while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade plays on the TV.

It brings a certain warm and fuzzy feeling.  You know the one – the one that makes you feel like you’re six years old again.  It’s a Thursday, and there’s no school.  The countdown to Christmas is finally starting.  And you’re about to eat the biggest meal of the entire year.

Succulent Thanksgivingturkey, creamy mashed potatoes, tangy cranberry sauce.  Savory stuffing, crisp green beans, decadent pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  And since I’m Filipino, fluffy white puto, peanut buttery kare kare, silky leche flan.  My mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

Food is an amazing thing.  Not only does it nourish your body, it brings family and friends together.  It satisfies your palate and your stomach.  And it has the ability to bring back nostalgia and memories.  It’s truly magical.

So what I’m about to say just may get me blacklisted in the fitness blog community, and my husband just might yell at me.

I propose that we all indulge this Thanksgiving.

[Screech!] Whoa, what?!?!  You want me to eat all that stuff?  What about my goals?  What about eating healthy?  What about steering away from the desserts, carbs, cocktails, and sticking to one plateful of food?

Okay, okay.  I don’t propose that you stuff yourself into a coma.  Until you couldn’t possibly move from the couch after you undo the top button of your pants, and you feel so sick to your stomach as you pass out for the rest of the night.  Because let’s face it – that actually ain’t all that fun.

I’m simply saying, enjoy yourself.  Thanksgiving comes but once a year.  Yes, it’s about giving thanks.  Yes, it’s about family.  But let’s be honest.  It’s about the food too.  Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the banquet.  If you, like me, are fortunate enough to have a table spilling over with food on this blessed day, you should enjoy it.  Enjoy that God gave you the gift of enjoying the savor, the sweet, the salty, the crunchy, and the creamy.  Enjoy the memories of festive parades and family football games that pumpkin pie and candied yams bring.

So while most fitness experts will tell you to skip the sugary desserts, drink fruit juice instead of cocktails, and load your plate up with salad so there is minimal room left for the mashed potatoes and stuffing, I’m telling you the opposite.  Enjoy the pumpkin pie, sip a martini, and make sure to get your fair share of the mashed potatoes and stuffing before your 15-year-old nephew hoards it all.

I will give you a few things to keep in mind however:

  1. Moderation is key.  Like I said, don’t stuff yourself for goodness sakes.  You’ll just end up feeling uncomfortable and sleepy.  Yes, eat a slice of pumpkin pie, but it shouldn’t be a full quarter of the entire thing!  Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your body to feel full.
  2. Remember there are consequences to your indulgence and accept them fully.  You just may feel like crap the next day.  If you do decide to eat all those goodies, understand that and accept it as a consequence.  Take responsibility the next few days to eat clean, drink plenty of water, and push yourself especially hard during your workouts.  (Skipping any workouts is NOT an option!)
  3. Promise yourself that it’s for Thanksgiving Day ONLY.  Most people make the horrible mistake of eating like crap for the entire holiday season.  It especially starts with Thanksgiving.  That’s when all the Christmas cookies start showing up at work, the cafeteria features gingerbread cake almost every day, and your weekend schedule is jammed with friends’ holiday cocktail hour. Don’t fall into that trap!  You’ll only hate yourself when the New Year rolls around.

So, this can be a tricky thing.  Allowing yourself to indulge for that one day can easily lead to moments of weakness throughout the holiday season.  You must have a strong mindset, discipline, and a strong commitment to yourself.  But if you truly feel confident enough to make it work, I say go for it.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!  I know I will.   Pumpkin pie, here I come!

Pumpkin Pie

*Obligatory disclaimer that my husband asked me to post: The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinion of Element 5 Fitness or the Element 5 Fitness staff. They are solely the responsibility of the author. (That’s me!) I am not a personal trainer nor a nutrition expert. I am merely sharing with you my thoughts, opinions, and what has worked for me. [End Disclaimer]

Breaking Free

In my last post, I revealed that before I started working out regularly, I went through seven years of trying and failing. A vicious cycle that got me zero results and got me pretty down on myself. I was finally able to break free from that cycle, or the “thermostat”, about ten months ago. So how did I break free?

Before I get into that, I have to throw in a little disclaimer: I am not a therapist. I am not a personal trainer. I’m merely a person who’s also struggled with having the discipline and motivation to work towards her fitness goals. I can only share with you what I know – what worked for me. Everyone is wired differently. Everyone has a different background, different lifestyle, different situation in life, etc. Take what you need from what I say, make it work for you, or just leave all of it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here goes.

The turning point came for me one night over dinner. My husband was telling me about his FitCamp program. It’s a 12-week program that includes group personal training classes, a nutrition program, before and after photos, progress tracking, etc. To qualify for the program, you have to go through an interview so they can get a feel for what your goals are and why you want to transform your life.

That got me thinking. What are my motivators? Why have I been trying to go to the gym for the past seven years? On a superficial level, it was always just to “look good.” I never really took the time to dig deep and figure out the real “whys.”

So after some soul-searching, I realized that it wasn’t about “looking good.” It was about more than that. Firstly, I didn’t just want to “look good.” I actually wanted to be the type of person who is healthy and fit. In other words, I wanted that feeling of achievement knowing that I reached the goal I’d been striving towards for seven years. I wanted to know that I grew as a person and was therefore able to get there and uphold a way of life I’ve always wanted to. Secondly, I’ve always wanted to help my husband grow his business. How could I represent his company in any way without “walking the walk”? And lastly, I wanted to be an example to my future children. How could I teach them to live healthy lifestyles if I’m not living one myself?

These were the true “whys”. Only after I identified them did I finally have a deep, emotional drive to achieve my health and fitness goals.

I met with my husband, and I told him that I wanted to join his FitCamp. Before that, I had never taken any kind of group fitness class. So this was stepping way out of my comfort zone. But I realized that I needed to hold myself accountable. For me, what better way to do that than to make it visible to other people when I’m not pushing myself hard enough or when I get lazy and skip class.

I interviewed with my husband told him all the reasons why this time I was serious about making a lifestyle change. I also set a timeline for myself – my cousin’s wedding in Vegas in four months.

Then the work began. It wasn’t easy, but I got there. I didn’t reach my goal by my cousin’s Vegas wedding, but that’s okay. I didn’t give up, and about a month later, I did get there. I knew I would.

The FitCamp was the jumpstart I needed. When the 12-week program ended, I continued to focus on the progress I had made, and I never wanted to risk losing it. I’ve found that once you get over the initial hump, it gets much easier. I stopped craving all the bad food (the bad food didn’t taste as good anymore either), and working out became less of a choice and more of a way of life.

Some days I’m still tempted to skip the workout, and yes sometimes I do. But I forgive myself, move on, and know that I’ll do better the next day.

So in summary, here’s how I broke free from my thermostat:

1) I took the time to do some soul searching and uncovered the real, deeply emotionally compelling reasons I wanted to reach my fitness goals.

2) I said these reasons out loud to someone else to hold myself accountable.

3) I set myself up in a situation to hold me accountable – the FitCamp. The key for me was that I made my quest visible to other people, surrounded myself with people who were also working towards similar goals, and made it fun.

4) I set a timeline.

5) I knew I would get there.

6) I was patient with myself.

So there you go. Like I said, take what you need from this and make it work for you. Hopefully I gave you some ideas about how you can break free from your thermostat. I think the most important things are to find the deep, emotionally compelling reasons behind your goals, be patient with yourself, and know you’ll get there. I mean really KNOW it. And you will.

Best wishes on your journey!

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It Just Kept Pulling Me Back

Believe it or not, there was a point in my life when I had never set foot in a gym.  At least, not by direction from my middle school P.E. teacher.  I had never played sports – again, not when it wasn’t a requirement to pass the 8th grade.  And I never ran or participated in any outdoor cardiovascular activity – unless I was chasing my dog across the park after he decided to ditch the collar around his neck.

So when I met my husband, and I reluctantly agreed that partaking in some kind of physical activity would be a good thing, I knew I was in for something that was way out of my comfort zone.

That was 2001.  Today, I can proudly say that I exercise regularly.  However, what might shock some of you is that I’ve only been exercising regularly for about ten months.  [GASP!]

In the words of Dr. Meredith Grey, “Seriously?”  Seriously.  Oh, there were streaks of a good two or three months when I was religiously going to the gym every week.  But for the most part, I was going in streaks of three weeks here and there, take two weeks off, go for another two weeks, one week off, and so on.  There were times when I wouldn’t go for months.

Needless to say, with the exception of the three-month streak, I never got any good results with such inconsistency.  I would get all gung-ho about it, lose interest, and then make up some excuse as to why I had to take a “three-week break.”

When I look back on that seven-year cycle of trying and failing, I think I can now see what was going on.  I’ve heard it best described as a thermostat.  I first heard this idea from James Ray, author, philosopher, and entrepeneur, and recently was reminded of it when I read a former colleague’s blog, “When your Mind is Stuck.”  (I highly encourage you to check it out.)

I described the termostat effect in my comment on his blog:

“Your mind is like a thermostat, where the temperature you set it to (usually a comforable 72 degrees) is your comfort zone. Every time you step away from that 72 degrees, it wants to pull you back. Back to what is safe and what it’s used to. When you carry out actions that are outside what you normally do, it will do everything it can to pull you back to what resonates with your current programming (limiting beliefs, values, etc. that serve that bad habit).

Breaking free of this pull is perhaps one of the toughest things to do. You must acknowledge the programming that is pulling you back, and re-adjust your programming to something that serves you (much easier said than done)…you can start small, but the most important thing is to just start. The more often you step away from that 72 degrees, the weaker the thermostat’s pull will become.

This is something I by no means have mastered, but every day I try to be ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable.'”

You see, over the course of those seven years, I was constantly being pulled back to what I was used to – a life of physical inactivity. Although I knew in my head that it was an unhealthy way to live, my past programming and unspoken limiting beliefs – that I’m not coordinated enough, that I’ll never have the figure I want, that people in my family just don’t work out, that I just don’t have time – were dictating my actions (or lack thereof).

It wasn’t just that I was lazy, it was that breaking free of any bad habit that supports that past programming is a freakin’ hard thing to do. It takes a vision of what you want to accomplish, compelling reasons driving that vision, a serious commitment to accomplish that vision, and it takes a shift in those unspoken beliefs that are holding you back. 

First step is to figure out what those beliefs are.  Then replace them with your vision and know that the vision will come to fruition.  (If you’ve read the book Eat, Pray, Love – another read I highly recommend – understand that your vision is your tree calling to you.)  Focus intensely on that vision, shut up the chatterbox in your head (more on the pesky “chatterbox” later), and just act.  The thermostat’s pull will eventually weaken.

Whew, I think I’m getting a little too deep, even for my standards right now.  Bottom line, recognizing why you keep going back to your comfort zone, i.e. recognizing the thermostat’s pull, is the first step in breaking the cycle. Like I said, this is not an easy thing to do, and is easier for some than for others. (Sciences have been dedicated to studying why this is and how to conquer it. Check out a blog on my husband’s website about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.)

In my next post, I’ll share with you how I broke free from my thermostat. Until then I ask you, “What’s pulling you back?”

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Survival of the Fittest

I took a self-defense class today.  A good investment for a rainy, Sunday afternoon if you ask me. 

My husband and I like to hit and wrestle each other (not hard, and playfully of course)…actually, more like he likes to show me whatever cool lock GSP had on whatever UFC fighter he contended with the other night.  [Sigh]…GSP…What a hottie…Oh, sorry.  Got lost in a dream world for a bit. 

Anyway, even though we just play around, he sometimes grabs me and then asks me, “What would you do if some guy grabbed you like this?  How would you get out of it?”  And all I can do is flail my arms around and squirm.  Not very effective.  And I know, this is not a good thing.  Hence, the self-defense class today.

We learned about being aware of our environment, aware of verbal and non-verbal cues from others, and aware of what tips us off.  We also learned some very useful ways to get out of certain grips and situations when being threatened by an attacker.

I’m a petite person.  If a 6’2″ monster is grabbing me by the shoulders, there is no way in hell I am going to be able to get all J-Lo in “Enough” on his ass.  Nor should I expect or try to.  The point is to “stun and run.”  Get out of the grip, hit or kick him where it counts, and get the hell out of there to safety. 

As was taught to us, it’s not about strength, but about being simple and smart.  But, if there are any factors that can work towards my favor should I ever find myself in the situation where I need to defend myself or my loved ones, I’m going to make damn sure I do what I need to do to get those factors working in my favor.  What I’m trying to say is, as J-Lo did, I’m going to become as strong as I can be.  I’m going to become as fast as I can be.  I’m going to become as alert and alive as I can be.

I’m going to prepare myself.  Not that I expect or want to attract being in that situation.  But I should have the tools, the knowledge, and the awareness should I ever need it. 

This weekend I recognized another reason I do what I do – another reason I try to eat well, exercise regularly, and take care of my body in general.  Not just to look good, not just so I can run a marathon if I choose to, and not just so I can have a sense of achievement.  So I can hit hard, so I can kick hard, and so I can run like hell to protect myself.

Whatever your reasons are, add that one to your list.

*If you live in the Seattle Metropolitan area and are interested in taking a self-defense course, contact Kamara’s Harmonizing Martial Arts at 206-265-2957 or hma@guardup.org.

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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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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.