Year in Review; 2015 Preview

2014 was a rollercoaster....

  • 2014 started on a sour note -- being called a "reject" but hopeful about getting back into dating.  I was also feeling ambitious and excited regarding building upon my 950 mile year in 2013. I had hoped to get back into boxing after over a year away.  
  • February was my low point:  I lost my cat, Spike, after a valiant fight against diabetes, renal failure, and cancer.  Doubt started to creep in about my identity in the weight loss/health gain world after having a bad fall in the shower the morning of going to see Alton Brown in Baltimore (2/22) -- injuring both my head and lower back.
  • A few weeks later, I finally went to my orthopedist to get my neck and back checked out.  Luckily, I didn't damage my implant or injure myself too bad, but I became scared about my back and worried that anything could injure it.  I retreated to a degree but tried to do what I could.
  • I thought February was my low point, but it turned out that things could get worse.  In April, I went radio silent for the most part.  Unfortunately, the rest of my world wasn't silent -- my refrigerator's compressor died and my landlord refused to fix it.  This began a 2+ month battle of asking him to fix it, him telling me he wouldn't, and all the stress of not being able to sleep (cause of the noise) or not being able to cook for myself (because I had to unplug the fridge). 
  • One morning mid-May I went to take a shower and found out that neither February nor April's lowest points were my actual low points.  Fighting with doctors to get care takes so much energy out of me, but as I have to live in this body (not them), I will continue to advocate for myself and fight for myself in more ways than one.
  • June 2014 was a flurry of activity, including moving apartments and my epic road-trip through the South with FitBloggin 2014 as my final destination.  I still fought with the feelings that began in the beginning of the year of being an imposer, of having nothing left to give to this community. FitBloggin 2014 was bittersweet.  I loved seeing many of my friends, and missed many people who couldn't make it.  
  • It took me a little while to wrap my head around my Fitbloggin 2014 experience.  One of the highlights was meeting Jeff Galloway, who had a special message for my father.  While the message was for my dad, I got something out of it too.  It reminded me that no matter our story, we have to fight to be the protagonist (we don't have to be perfect and we don't have to do anything all by ourselves).  July also came with a new little lamb in the family. 
  • For me, finding my way back to my fight, to my story, began with allowing myself to feel the stress, pain, fear, and uncertainty of my life (all 33 years).  Far from a pity party, I knew I had to acknowledge and give compassion towards my suffering in order to let it find a resting place. 
  • The dark cloud of the past few months (okay, almost all of 2014) parted just enough for me to take a deep breath and take stock of things.  How did I want to steer the ship?   I was also proud to announce that I had been featured and quoted in a book by Ted Spiker.  Pretty cool, right? (Review Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) 
  • Via his book, Ted Spiker introduced me to Doug Newburg. Doug Newburg, in turn, scrambled my brain a little bit by asking me some deceptively-simple-but-actually-hard-hitting questions:
  1. How do you want to feel everyday or about your life in general?
  2. When, where, and around whom do those feelings happen?
  3. What gets in the way of those feelings or takes them away?
  4. How do you get those feelings back?
  5. What are you willing to work for? 
2015 is "The Year of Gra-"

I really want 2015 to be the year where I feel present in my body, in my mind, and in my life.  The more I've been reading, living, and listening, the more I've come to realize that it boils down to these three things (that I've even posted about before in different incarnations):

Gracefulness:  I want to be present and stress less.  I don't expect perfection, but I hope to learn a little, to be open, to let go of as much as I can.  

Graciousness:  I want to be more receptive of the people around me who make an effort to have a meaningful and constructive presence in my life.  I also want to find a way to be civil with the people who choose not to be constructive forces in my life.

Gratitude:  I want to focus more on what is and less on what isn't; on what I have versus what I lack

#GoTheDist 2015
The first time that I did #GoTheDist (2011), I tried to give each month a theme or issue a challenge.  That was very challenging.   I have been hit & miss with respect to the yearly themes/challenges.  2012 didn't have one, 2013 was "Rebuild yourself," 2014 was about reflecting on how you inspire other people.  I think that means in 2015, I need to go back to being profound.  


Okay, nothing.  Everything I'm coming up with sounds like some ridiculous magazine headline or ridiculous truism:
  • "Come home to yourself" 
  • "What's True, Real, and Good?" 
  • "Don't be an asshole"
So I'm going to blatantly steal from Doug Newburg and ask you all to meditate on the simple/hard questions he asked, but especially the first and the last:  

How do you want your every day, your life to feel? 
What are you willing to do to always feel that way?

 How to Join #GoTheDist 2015

1. Click on the SUMMARY PAGE (bookmarking it would be a good idea as you will be using it often).

2. Fill out the next available line on the "Summary" spreadsheet.  You are responsible for filling out your biographical information (columns A–D), your tracking modality and goal (columns E and F), your quarterly goals (columns G, J, M, and P), and your half-year and full-year rewards (columns U and W).  

3. **CREATE YOUR INDIVIDUAL PAGE** (The information you have entered in step 2 should auto-complete to an individual page.  Check your line number and then look at the bottom of the page.  Match up your line number and double check that your information is correct).

4. Rename the tab "@[twitter name]" or if you don't have Twitter "[nickname]" 

5. Fill out the sheet as you wish.  See step #8.

6. Update your own individual page as needed (if tracking is too hard, consider printing out your page and filling it out by hand and updating it online once a week). The total mileage will automatically be updated on the Summary tab as you report on your individual page.

7. Follow #GoTheDist on Twitter for support if you need it or to support others when they do, to announce achievements, and find new/old friends!

8. PLEASE DO NOT DELETE LINES OR TABS! Do not SORT.  If you want to add columns, please add them to the RIGHT of the page.  Please do NOT move your page around! You CAN bookmark your individual page using your browser to find it easily.

Passive Voice

You know, I've always believed in the therapeutic power of writing.  Even if I didn't publish a blog I'd write for myself.  It helps me gain self awareness in the present and perspective for the past.

I also believe in the power of the story -- the narrative that we either reflect (fact) or the one that we create (fiction).  In my old age (okay, I'm 33), I've come to realize that the hardest stories to write about are the ones we don't feel are our own, where things happen to us and we had no control over them.

A few people know the truth about this story: my spinal surgeon, a few friends, and my dad (he knows the gist, not the details -- so um Dad, you might want to stop reading now).

No Place Like Home

Doug Newburg has been scrambling my brain with his five questions:
  1. How do you want to feel everyday or about your life in general?
  2. When, where, and around whom do those feelings happen?
  3. What gets in the way of those feelings or takes them away?
  4. How do you get those feelings back?
  5. What are you willing to work for? 
My mind has been bouncing around from between each question. They're so interrelated that you begin to find an answer to one and it starts spilling over to the other questions.

Answering "how do you want to feel" was much easier for me to answer in the negative -- I knew how I didn't want to feel: broken.

Flipping around the verbiage didn't quite work; the antonyms of broken didn't quite capture how I wanted to feel because I know there is no simple repair, no time machine to get back lost time, no erasing the feeling of being susceptible.

I thought about the times and places where I felt this "opposite of being broken" and came up with the time when I took a leap of faith (March 2011) and joined a boxing gym. I had only recently found my exercise groove, my diet groove, and needed to change it up a bit to deal with the plateau on which I had been residing. My boxing trainers made it very clear that my success required both my body and my mind. I couldn't let the narrative of being broken run the show. They taught me to fight for myself instead of fighting against myself.

Of those trainers, Randolph was the one that I bonded with for many reasons. I loved it when these young, jacked guys would come in to spar and he'd slip past each and every punch. More than anything else, he saw the fire in me and knew that if my body could do more that I'd let it (in other words, I wasn't one of those people who showed up just to burn calories, but I was there to learn and fight). He would only give me crap if I mentally checked out before I physically checked out (i.e., I had to at least try, even if I couldn't do as much as everyone else). Because of this (and his extensive training/certification), I trusted him enough to turn off my brain and let him take over.

I knew that the answer to both "How do you get those feelings back?" and "What are you willing to work for?" started in the same place and with the same person:

The good news is that my form is still pretty good. The bad news is that my conditioning is kinda crap (the respiratory plague could have a little to do with that). It's not as bad as he thought it could be, but I was winded 15 minutes in and my arms were noodles for 4 days after.

I am going back tonight.

How do I get that "opposite of broken" feeling back?
I get help from people that I trust and put in the sweat equity.

"What are you willing to work for?"

Yes, I know that the more I work on Doug's questions, the more specific and detailed my answer should be, but for right now, it's enough to say that I'm willing to work for and fight for myself. Instead of working for and investing in everyone else, I'm just gonna hit the pause button to recognize that I don't need to prove my worthiness to anyone. I don't need to beg for their affection, approval, or attention. And if people don't know how I fit into their life, it's not my fault to cure or my burden to remedy.

Fractured Tree

The other day, a Twitter friend shared a photo of a family vacation.  She was an adult and was still going on vacations with her parents and siblings.  This made me sad. I really don't know how this blog post will come out, but I'm going to try to speak from the heart, not edit myself, and hope for the best.

Somewhere between my mom being an agoraphobic with panic attacks and my dad's work, we didn't go on many family trips when I was growing up.  Our big vacation was driving to Hilton Head, South Carolina when I was 11 or 12.  Most of our other vacations were weekend trips upstate, going to the beach, genealogy excursions to cemeteries, or family-related.  After mom died, we went on one vacation -- a week of camping at the beach with my extended family that was fairly disastrous thanks to a thunderstorm.

I'm not writing this to complain about not going on fancy or expensive trips as a kid, or complain that I've never been to Disney.  As an adult, I've gone to some amazing places and plan on going to more (4 words:  Costa Rican Sloth Sanctuary).  This, along with the upcoming holiday season, just made me think about the many fractures in my family.

Both of my parents had one of their parents die when they were young (my dad's mother, my mother's father).  Because of this, I don't think either of them had normal childhoods.  I don't think either of them grew up going on family vacations (my mom's father was in the Army, I don't think that relocating counts as a vacation). My paternal grandfather remarried and had more kids (so there are 4 from my paternal grandmother, 3 from my paternal step-grandmother for a total of 7 kids).  There was always tension in their family partly because of this.  My maternal grandmother didn't remarry or have more kids (my mom was an only child, and Nana never let her live this down).  She died when I was 8, but my mother's cousins filled in the void.

There was a main nucleus on each side:  my mother's cousin (by marriage) Sandie (who had a blended family as well) and my step-grandmother, Janet.  Because we all lived in the same little town, my grandparents and my mom's cousins knew each other and got along.  My aunts and uncles even went to school with my mom's cousins.  After my mom died, I didn't see my mother's side of the family as often because my dad gravitated towards gatherings on his side of the family.  After Janet was diagnosed with Alzheimer's (and as my cousins grew older and had families of their own) and after my grandpa died, that side of my family seemed to have lost some of the gravity that held us together.

We used to have ginormous family events at my paternal grandparents' house -- you know, the kind where every table and chair in the house was used so that we could all eat together.  There would be nearly 30 people eating together and almost nearly that amount of desserts.  We'd play basketball together before dinner and Trivial Pursuit after. As it turned dark and if it was still warm enough, the kids would play manhunt in my grandparents' backyard and the neighborhood.    These are some of my most treasured memories of my family mainly because I was blissfully unaware of many of the tensions and pain that ran deep on that side of the family.

As I got older, went away to college, and moved 250 miles from my whole family, I noticed that I became somewhat of the black sheep of my dad's side of the family.  My father wasn't the best at keeping me in the loop in regards to family events (people would invite him to things and assume that I got the message -- and I did, but usually with too little notice to do anything or after the fact).  As the years went by, I just felt further and further from my dad's side of the family because of the distance and because nothing and no one reeled me in when I was adrift (and I didn't seek it out for myself).  (Though, this is not beyond the point of repair. And there are times when I think moving back to NYC would help with reconnecting.)

Just as that was happening, I started reconnecting with my mother's side of the family.  They told me stories about my mother and helped me keep her memory alive.  I felt a very strong bond with them because of this. Sandie and her husband Joe also have one of the strongest marriages that I've ever seen.  I'm always in awe of the love they have for each other and how it translated into the relationships that their kids have with each other and with their own little families.  I feel the gravity from them, holding me close.

Within my own little family (my dad, my brother and I), it was never easy.  My mother was one part nucleus, one part puppet master, and one part cruise director. While she was alive, it felt like there was a shift between the daily life of mom, John, and I and then the time we had when dad was around.  At night, we either didn't see him or we got the message that dad was too tired or stressed from work and that we shouldn't bother him.  On weekends, mom always had projects for him to do, and we shouldn't bother him. John would go off and play with his friends and I'd be stuck at home helping.

It was only after she died that we were able to untangle some of the strings she used.  It was a huge revelation when my father told me that he didn't want the role of enforcer/punisher, but that mom had pushed him into it.  I think it was a big revelation for my dad to realize how my mom exaggerated stories about bad behavior, neglecting to tell my dad some of ways she drove wedges between my brother and I, or how she would often belittle us.

But the damage was done, and we took no time to repair it (i.e, no family therapy).  I was 13. My brother was 14.  My dad had a full time job and 2-hour commute each way.  The goal was to survive.  We did survive, but it was far from perfect.  The wedges that my mom drove between all of us remained, and continued to push us away from each other.  I didn't trust my dad to be the confidant and protector that I needed. Dad and I used to get into the worst fights because I felt like I was doing all the housework and my brother was doing none of it. I think my brother resented me asking for the help, that I was trying to control him.

I think my father is thankful that my brother and I were good kids -- we did our homework (usually), got good grades (always), didn't get into trouble, didn't become hooligans, and managed to get into good colleges.  But the truth of it is that when my mom died, my brother and I stopped being carefree kids. And what makes me the most sad out of anything is that we stopped being siblings.

My brother and I not only shared our parents' DNA, we also shared the common experience of growing up together and experiencing many of the same traumas as each other (unlike my brother, I didn't take a line-drive to the nose).  And instead of that uniting us, it really drove us apart.  I feel a pang of jealousy and hurt when friends talk about their close relationships with their siblings.

In more recent times, my brother has had his wife (and her family) and his kids to focus on.  But even when they were just dating, I feel like my brother treated his future in-laws with more care and respect than my dad and I.  He preferred the shiny new thing to the thing that was broken and needed repair.  That sometimes left Dad and I alone to shoot the shit together.  Quite often dad and I end up talking about the past.  But it's hard for me to say what I always want to say because I know they hurt (not because they're arrows pointed at anyone, but because they are surface wounds).  Things weren't perfect back then and we were all hurting in our own ways.  But I regret that we didn't have family therapy.  I regret that we let this terrible thing push us apart instead of bringing us together.

So holidays are always sad times for me because I feel not only estranged from the family (extended and nuclear) that I was born into, but also because I've yet to create one for myself (see previous blog post).

In the last post, I alluded to the book that I'm reading, by Doug Newburg(that he so graciously shared with me): The Most Important Lesson No One Ever Taught Me.  He asks of the people he works with these 5 deceptively simple questions:

  1. How do you want to feel everyday or about your life in general?
  2. When, where, and around whom do those feelings happen?
  3. What gets in the way of those feelings or takes them away?
  4. How do you get those feelings back?
  5. What are you willing to work for? 
These questions have been doing a number on me in just about every facet of my life.  It just happens that today they had me thinking about my family.  I want to be connected to all of them in a meaningful way.  I don't want to be the person that people feel obligated to have around.  I want to know what makes my family happy, what makes them sad, and how I can help shoulder their burdens. 

But where I get hung up is the third question -- what gets in the way?  And I think that is where I need to end this blog post, because it requires me talking to my family and not to my readers.  

Burn, Ache, Break

Less than half an hour after learning that my mom died I asked my grandma if I could use the phone and if she had a phone book. Everyone was in the living room crying.  I felt like I was suffocating and the world was imploding at the same time.  My fingers flipped through the pages and down to his phone number.  He wasn't my boyfriend, wasn't even a close friend.  He was just the boy I had a crush on ever since I moved to the school district in first grade.

To be able to breathe at that that very moment I needed to be resuscitated by hope.

I didn't need his pity or his condolences. I just needed his voice.  I needed the way his voice made me feel. And because he was (and is) a good person, and because he was (and is) gentle and kind, he took the call and gave me something to cling onto.  I knew in that moment that my heart, though broken from the loss of my mother, was reparable.  And because he was good and kind, he even came to my Sweet 16, and danced with me at our senior prom.

While the teenage me fancied him to the point of scribbling our names together and whispering goodnight to him before I fell asleep, the person I am now is so very thankful to have had him in my life even though nothing ever came of it.  Why?  My crush didn't crush me: instead, he helped me through the worst part of my life just by being himself. (I was reminded of him by the calendar — today is his birthday.)

I think it's because of this (and also my personality) that I willingly, happily, and sometimes even recklessly fling myself at love, even if I know it's unrequited, puppy-dog, never gonna happen love. Of all the different iterations of Robby, the one that I most adore is the courageous lioness created and emboldened by love.

However, if you know me or have read my blog for any time you know that (1) I rarely talk about my personal life and (2) I tend to talk about the past and not the present.  I am going to stray from that to share a few revelations that happened this weekend (partly in response to this article):

1) Being single prevents me from being the joyful and loving person that I like to be. I'm my best person when I get to love someone.  I'm my best person when that love gives me the confidence to shine (she was there all along, but just needed a venue).  And for me, that joy is in the details of sharing a life together with someone in both meaningful and trivial ways:  to bring someone into my family, or to just read books on opposite sides of the couch, stealing glances every now and then.

2) All of my crushes have helped me understand what it feels like when someone's interested in you and what it looks and feels like when they're not.  Unfortunately, many guys view dating as a battle of who can care less. Not my thing. Woo the crap out of me cause I'm worth your time and energy.  And you know what? You get steak in return.  Woo --> Steak.

3) I love love love being proud of the person that I am with.  I love giving compliments and encouragement.  I love bragging.  I love basking in his glow.  I love it when he does the exact same thing for me.

4) Everyone says that I'm intimidating and come off as dominant (as if those things are bad in a woman).  I'm really a kitten.  I like it when a guy takes the lead, makes the first move.  It's not about machismo or anything like that.  My kinda guy is willing to take a risk.  I'm intimidating because I am self-aware and confident; I come off as dominant because I'm not willing to let any man make me small just so he can feel big.

5) Other people say that I come off as needy, emotional (and try to shame me about being that way).  Well, damn straight I am.  It's way worse to think that you don't need the people around you (also, other people need to feel needed and not just a fashion accessory).  It sucks when you feel like a convenience to someone versus them thinking you're a missing part of their life (even if that's a small, temporal part).  It's way worse to shut down your emotions because you're too afraid of feeling them or because you've been bloodied and beaten up by love before.

6) At 33, I fear that I've realized a lot of this too late. But also that particular fear is a bit irrational and a bit common among my generation. There are other things that feed into this fear, but they're all things that I have some control over and can change. That's a whole other blog post.   But just as I've been stuck in my weight loss/health gain/athletic life, I've been stuck in my personal life.  I've realized that to fix both that I need to find hope again.  I need to heal a little bit and also remember that on the other side of this fear (re-injury of back, being a spinster) is the life that I want.

What am I willing to do in order to be the person that I want to be?  (Yes Doug -- your book is getting to me in some unexpected ways).

FGvW Reviews: Down Size, Part 3

See Part 1 and Part 2 for both my disclaimer and review.  This is the third and final part of the my review.  Thanks for sticking with me through not just all the material but all of my tangents. 

12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success 

Part 3:  Your Best Size:
Getting the Body You Want—For Good

9. Dedication
10. Inspiration
11. Connection
12. Resolution

9. Dedication In the chapter on Perspiration Ted Spiker shares a really great quote from Martin Rooney that leads in to the chapter on dedication: 
The warrior is process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. They have to train like, when the fight gets here, they gotta know that, win or lose, they know they did what they could. So many people live this unfulfilled life. They're always so focused on the outcome and then when it doesn't happen the way they want, then they think everything was a waste along the way.  But, man, if you've done your best, regardless of the outcome, you're going to be okay with it.  I call it the warrior test. If you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, 'Hey, what am I going to do today?' and at the end of the day, you ask 'What did I do today?' If you fail that test enough days in a row, you're not going to be something. If you pass that test enough days in a row, I guarantee you can't imagine what you can accomplish in a hundred days, let alone years. 
Heavy, right? That was the crux of mine and so many other people's problems when it comes to weight loss/health gain. Somewhere along the time we forget that the process yields the outcome. Did we keep our promises to ourselves? The outcome just doesn't magically happen.  It requires consistency as well as a degree of flexibility. 

Dedication is one of those murky concepts that we all kind of grok, but have a hard time putting our finger on.  Spiker (with the help of Leslie Podlog) talks about determination in terms of energy -- what do we put in of ourselves toward meeting a goal? How do we muster the energy to continue changing our habits, changing our bodies, changing our lives? 

Spiker then goes to quote Podlog once again in a manner that completely stopped me dead in my tracks.  I put the book down, and thought back on the past few years about every time my journey got hard or any time I suffered a setback.  (Dear spine... ) "The nature of transition is uncertainty, and uncertainty is an aversive state.  When there's no certainty, there's a lack of control, and that creates anxiety."  Come what may, there's only so much we can control.  The more we put our energy into the things we can control, the more it offsets the energy sapped away from those things we can't control.  (In plain terms, because I didn't work on my diet when my back was injured, I was creating further anxiety versus relieving it.) 

Spiker then takes me, already beaten up by these revelations, and then ponders the difference between reasons and excuses, finally settling on "Instead of trying to identify what's a reason and what an excuse, it really is simply about making a choice."  You got me there, Spiker.  Had I simply been choosing to stay away from the gym? Did my dedication waiver too far? "We like to think of dedication as emotion--as being gutsy, being loud, being grunters who push and pull and fight to reach our destination.  Real dedication is quiet. Real dedication isn't about emotion; it's about cognition--about learning what to do and then thinking about the process to do it." (What some people would call "grit.") Dedication isn't a declaration, it's a resource.

10. Inspiration — [I have to admit that I was getting a little nervous about not seeing my quotes in the book.  It was page 206 by the time I got to this chapter.  Had I been edited out of the book?] Spiker begins this chapter by giving a few example of the people and athletes that inspire him.  He then presents an interesting question -- what's the difference between inspiration and motivation (See Chapter 6 -- Motivation)?  He finds an answer when discussing this topic with Art Markman -- "Motivation requires both a combination of a well-defined goal and the energy to pursue that goal.  Inspiration is only one piece of the motivational formula -- the energy part."  

Dedication and inspiration are two things that help fuel our actions when we face obstacles or when our attention to our goals begins to fade.  But unlike motivation, inspiration isn't made-to-order or manufactured; it must be sought out.  Spiker quotes cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, "... inspiration can be thought of as an interaction between your current knowledge and the information you receive from the world."  Inspiration challenges us to grow.

Spiker posits "the missing part of the inspiration equation for many people is that, most times, we're looking to be the receiver--we're looking for the data that can help us.  We want to be moved. We want that energy.  We want inspiration thrust upon us. What we don't realize, perhaps, is that when we start to receive it, we begin to give it--and that's the cycle that has the most energy." [Okay, I see where you're going with this, Ted.]

Ted Spiker is no stranger to the feedback loop that is social media (check out The Big Guy Blog in Runner's World) and the power of community (for better and for worse) when declaring our intentions regarding weight loss and health gain.  It's just another way we can create an interpersonal environment to promote our success.  But it's risky -- there's both support and criticism in this arena, as Spiker notes (and as I'm well aware).  It relates, once again, to Chapter 6 -- Motivation.  One of the most important intrinsic motivators is relatedness -- feeling connected to others.

And then I see my name -- in a hard-cover book.  **squees** You'll just have to get the book to see what I say and know that it's only because of my readers that I had the courage to talk to Ted and let him print any of it.  So thank you.  I'm truly honored to be in this book, and of all the chapters, to be included as an Inspiration just floors me.

11. ConnectionThe subtitle of this chapter is "Truth:  It Takes Others to Do It by Yourself."  Spiker shares more anecdotes of how having teammates support him through a challenge/goal.  This is different from competition (such as his wanting to beat Dr. Oz at basketball).  It is camaraderie -- the way we honor the promises we make not only to ourselves but to others.

Doug Newburg makes a poignant comment regarding Spiker's Tough Mudder team challenge, "The challenge wasn't getting over the wall. It was committing to being a part of a team.  You wanted to connect with people, and that's the underling thing in everything we do. That is the goal. This is what being human is about:  connecting to other people."  Those connections are some of the best predictors in terms of weight loss/health gain success.

I think about how much my obesity isolated me.  I may have been the fat and happy person, but it was all a facade--I used my weight as a barrier to connecting to other with other people and letting them connect with me. The biggest strides I made with weight loss all happened in the presence of and with the support of my little FGvW community, friends, and family. They let me be fearless.  And more importantly, they let me be afraid.  They they me ask for help when I needed it.

Spiker relays many different ways we can connect with the people around us, or to connect with people we are not quite connected to yet.  Find your people, find yourself.

12. Resolution— "Truth: There Is No Finish Line"  We can all have our interim goals, but I think most everyone's long-term goal is to have a long, healthy life. That requires all the -ologies we can muster -- not just mastering our physiology and biology.  We all have to find a way to wrap our heads around the process of weight loss/health gain, and how to live in our bodies. 

Spiker shared one of my favorite quotes by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj "Make love of yourself perfect."  The great thing about the quote is that it's not saying "love yourself perfectly," it's asking us to temper how we act towards ourselves and how we think about ourselves. Throughout the book, Spiker addresses body image issues and the different ways they can play on our psyche. 

Then Spiker really raised the bar for me -- saying that I had a profound point about how we're trained to scrutinize our bodies for what's wrong:  (in his worlds) "How do you tell yourself to accept your body when your body is not acceptable?" How do we "transition from beating ourselves up to bringing ourselves up?" 

Self-compassion/lovingkindness is hard to practice and even harder to perfect, but so very worth it.  Spiker quotes studies that point to a correlation between self-compassion and oxytocin (one of the most powerful chemicals that our body produces in regards to how safe and connected we feel towards others and towards ourselves).  Self-compassion doesn't mean that we make excuses for ourselves, it just means we don't beat-ourselves up for not being perfect. 

Spiker wants his readers to ask themselves what really matters in this whole weight loss/health gain journey.  His anecdotes hearken back to the intrinsic motivators more than any number on a scale or race time.  Why are we doing this to ourselves if it's not to live a joyful life?  What does that look like for you? 

Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of Down Size -- when it comes to weight loss/health gain, maybe losing weight is just a cool side effect of reducing the amount of noise in our lives that prevents us from living authentically, living enthusiastically, living connectedly.  When we get rid of what's extraneous and holding us back, what then are we capable of doing, who then are we capable of being? 

I don't know about you all, but I'm interested in meeting that version of me. 

Let's Get Physical(s). I Wanna Get Physical(s)!

In Part 2 of Down Size, Professor Ted Spiker says that we need to inspect ourselves both subjectively (perception) and objectively (data). 

I've been avoiding the objective review.  

For months, I've been carrying around the reminder card that I needed to get my annual exam at the gynecologist (it was dated early this March; my GP physical is due in December) (Also -- only 17% of women get their annual? whoa.).  It's no big deal -- except that my nurse practitioner (Flynn) was the first person in the medical field to really make a big deal of my weight loss. Like a really big deal, hugs and all.  She's an athlete, an instructor, and a really awesome and supportive person.  

I really didn't want to go into her office with a weight gain. 
That's exactly what I did yesterday.  

It felt like a mix of going to the principal's office and going to confessional.  But there was catharsis in being able to say that I knew the why and the how of the weight gain. Because I knew how I got to that place on the scale, theoretically I could retrace my steps and find my way back down.  Thankfully, I know that I have her support. It means the world to have supportive, pragmatic, and honest medical professionals on my team

I realize that isn't the case for everyone.  I think it would be understandable if I had a distrust of doctors based on my past experience with them and the failures in my mother's diagnosis and care.  But I never held my mom's death against the entire medical profession, just those few people that so supremely messed up. At the end of the day, medicine is a practice that requires both the practitioner and the patient to work together to establish and achieve goals. That may take trying out a few doctors.  (Tangent:  if you don't invest in the doctor and trust them by telling them the truth, how can you get anything worthwhile out of the process? I know far too many people that tell white lies to their doctors. In the end, they're only handicapping their doctor and reducing the level of the care they receive in return.)

Even if you don't have an issue with doctors, getting to the doctor for an annual physical may still seem like a chore versus an act of self care.  For instance, the other day my dad let me know that he was going to his annual physical (hi dad! not trying to embarrass you here).  And I said "Love you! And thank you for loving yourself." He asked me how going to get his physical was "any indication that [he] loved [himself]." I tried to re-frame the concept by pointing out that when people love their cars and want them to last long, they perform routine maintenance and tune-ups.  That's what annual physicals are.

My blood work should be back the end of the week.  I requested that they do a full panel (including hormone levels, Vitamin D, STDs, etc.).  The next appointment that I need to make is for a dermatologist.  I haven't seen one for a while.  I need to find one that understands that skin picking is an issue that I'm aware of, have tried all sorts of treatment, and that management is just as good as a cure for me. 

FGvW Reviews: Down Size, Part 2

This continues my review of Professor Ted Spiker's book Down Size.  See Part 1 for my disclaimer and review. 

12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success 

Part 2:  Down Size:
Getting Going
5. Inspection
6. Motivation
7. Nutrition
8. Perspiration

5. Inspection I love you Prof. Spiker, but I really would have put this chapter right after "Foundation" (everyone's a critic, right?) because right up there with knowing your emotional foundation, you need to know your physical/biological foundation.  I'm always going back and forth over which one more people get stuck on:  figuring out why (not how) they've gained weight in the first place or having to go face-to-face with the numbers. 

Knowing I was overweight (and the different ways it permeated my life) was much different than having a doctor in a white coat saying " know you're fat, right?" listing out co-morbidities, then following up with the blood tests that supported her observation. According to Spiker, looking in the mirror (subjective) and getting data points (objective) are both ways we can inspect ourselves. "Many of us tend to avoid those numbers for the same reason we avoid mirrors.  We know we're not going to like what we see, even though that hard data can serve as the impetus for change." 

The great part about inspection is that we can use both the objective and subjective assessments as starting points to set goals. "The point is," according to Spiker, "to establish some kind of baseline against which you can track data, and use incremental goals to keep you moving forward." Eat more veggies, increase your good cholesterol, improve your blood pressure.  

Track data?  Yes please.  I love having my BodyMedia armband (data!) as well as my spreadsheets (data!) that help remind me that even on the days when I feel like I'm not a brand new person, that I actually am in many ways.  Spiker makes a very good point: different tracking works for different people -- you just need to figure out what works for you at any given time (that is, what can you maintain?). 

Doug Newburg makes another appearance in this chapter regarding "feel." I'm still digesting what he says about it and would do neither Doug nor Ted justice by summing it up or even quoting it out of context -- except to say that "feel" is the most in-your-body sense you can have and it's why we're all doing the weight loss/health gain thing.  Just go and read it. Now. 

6. Motivation — Ask people what they think "motivation" means and you'll probably get a list of examples of things that can be motivating, but don't actually define what motivation is.  Spiker has one of the best explanations of what motivation is:  "you...telling your body what's important." I think everyone who has been successful in weight loss/health gain has realized this in one way or another (in my opinion, the biggest motivation is realizing that we (as a whole person) matter).   

Spiker then explains the difference between the different kinds of motivation:  extrinsic (surface level, such as wanting to lose a few pounds before summer) and intrinsic ("deeper goals driven by how you feel at an emotional...level").  Intrinsic motivators speak to three basic needs we have as humans:  autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Spiker says that we can start with an extrinsic goal, but we have to engage the intrinsic in order to have lasting success. There's much more about this in the book that I think is worthy of a second read with a highlighter.

In this chapter Spiker also talks about the importance of planning for the journey as a whole -- that is, planning to create success and planning on how to handle the bumps in the road. He also talks about the psychology behind how competition as well as incentives play into staying motivated.  

As my motivation has been lacking as of late, I think I'll be re-reading this chapter and meditating on it.

7. Nutrition — I love that Prof. Spiker gives us credit here -- that most of us are self aware to a degree and that we know what we should be eating.  He quotes Jonathan Bailor, "It's simple, but it's not easy."  Spiker addresses many of the ways that nutrition is hard such as our environment, differing scientific studies ("fluid science"), as well as having to still eat when we know it's part of what made us fat.  

Spiker talks about the science that we do know -- such as how our bodies metabolize sugars and how we store fat, and how environment influences the choices we make, In this chapter, he seems to have a parallel view with much of what Michael Pollen writes in his book "Food Rules" (I love it when well-researched authors agree).  Spiker reiterates the anthems of the converted:  (1) eat real food; and, (2) mind the portion sizes.  

Spiker diverges a bit from most other weight loss/heath gain books for a bit here by not prescribing a set diet of "you must eat this" and "you must eat that." That's on you.  You need to know what you can live with in terms of what you're eating and not eating. You can create your own eating plan, but that also requires knowing basic nutrition (he comments on this) and food logging (how else would you be able to recreate your successes?). "The main message is:  Create your own answer.  If something stops working, try something else." 

8. Perspiration — Midway through the chapter, Professor Spiker quotes Alex Hutchinson regarding all the differing perspectives on how to get the best results out of your workout, "All of that is noise on top of the signal.  Are you exercising or are you not exercising? That's the question that matters."  

Sadly, some people feel paralyzed about exercise because (as he mentions in the chapter "Frustration") they feel they need to be perfect (in their diet, in their exercise); rather than be imperfect, they shut down.  

I don't think it's any huge revelation that all people, whether they're trying to lose weight or not, need to exercise.  Just like we nourish our bodies with food, we have to nourish our bodies with movement.  Spiker reminds us that we need to be smart about our exercise -- we need goals (which means more data!), we need variety ("not only for the physiological benefits, but also the psychological ones"), and we need to play ("create an environment that makes exercise feel more like recess than a routine").  

Just like there's a nutrition plan for everyone, there are limitless possibilities in how you interpret goals, variety, and play.  Spiker believes "anything can work."  Be flexible and figure out what works for you, your life, your schedule, and your body. And if you see a tall guy with wide hips walking down the street with a sledgehammer, it's probably Professor Spiker.  If he doesn't have wide hips, you should probably try running. 

(I'd like to add here that "play" represents a fundamental difference between how I was wired before and how I was wired after my "epiphany:  before my epiphany, exercise was punishment; after the epiphany, I saw exercise as the reward.  Find a way to love exploring what your body is capable of and you'll never regret a workout in your life, no matter how hard you push yourself, no matter how limited you may be.)

Stay tuned for Part 3:  Your Best Size: Getting the Body You Want—For Good

9. Dedication
10. Inspiration
11. Connection
12. Resolution 

FGvW Reviews: Down Size, Part 1

Disclaimer:  Back in July 2013, Professor Ted Spiker sent me an email asking to interview me in connection with a book that he was working on.  He has come across FatGirlvsWorld and wanted to chat about some of my experiences.  Our email correspondence went on for a little bit.  In January 2014, he showed me the first draft of how he was going to weave my words into his book.  It wasn't until Dacia showed sent me a tweet that I realized that the book had been published (and that many of my friends had also been interviewed (**waves to Dacia and Tina**).  My review is not sponsored (i.e, I purchased my own copy of the book and was not compensated for my time/thoughts) and as always, unfiltered.

I have read many weight loss/health gain books over the years.  Most of them suck for a variety of reasons.  Some latch on to a fad diet or philosophy.  Some only scrape the surface of what it means to really change your life and your body.  Some offer no new insights, but rather just repackage truisms, slogans, and dogmatic beliefs about how to operate our bodies.  Some are so stuck in their own story that they don't realize they may be an exception, a bore, or even a bit loco in the coco. 

But this wasn't it.  I said to Prof. Spiker last night that, "I don't think I have ever dog-eared a weight loss book as much as I have Down Size. Gonna have to digest this one." And I totally meant it! Not only was it a page turner because it was funny and genuine, but it gave me lots to think about in regards to my own journey and where I am right now.

The book is divided into three parts, and so I'm going to do my review in three parts because there's a lot to go through. However, lots of the chapters are interrelated (such as 1. Foundation and 5. Inspection) Up first? 

Part 1:  Up Size:
Getting Stuck

1. Foundation
2. Temptation
3. Frustration
4. Humiliation

As a rule, I kinda hate snooty, didactic weight loss/health gain books -- the ones that start to the tune of "I am a doctor! Do what I tell you to do!" or "I did it! Do exactly what I did!" or even worse -- "I have no business writing this book. I have no experience or expertise. but weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry, so here's a book."

Down Size is none of these.  Ted Spiker has been in the trenches with us (underneath a pile of tacos, perhaps) and knows that if weight loss were an easy thing, we'd all be doing it.  But it's complex and confusing. It's not a straight line.  The book weave humor, anecdote, and science into a narrative that shows how to tune out the extraneous and how to tune in to the important stuff that happens along the way.

1. Foundation — Spiker discusses how physiology (biology) and psychology are expressed in our bodies both in the past and in the present.  This is our foundation. "[F]oundation isn't about blame." That's a heavy concept for a lot of people (myself included).  This is one of those "Do Not Pass Go; Do Not Collect $200" moments:  In order to make any lasting change in our life, we have to investigate how we arrived at the person we currently are, we have to go beyond the fact that we are overweight and figure out why that is. It's more than just having the knowledge.  As a health/fitness writer, Spiker had access to all kinds of knowledge and resources, but there was a gap between the knowledge and the application. Our bodies are magnificent machines that prefer a degree of homeostasis.  When we gain (excessive) weight, there's a disruption either in our physiology/biology or our psychology (or you're pregnant).  Being able to pinpoint that reason is like finding a key to unlocking the doors that have kept us from who we want to be.

2. Temptation — **puts down the potato chips to write this** Remember how I said above that weight loss/health gain isn't a straight line? In this chapter, Spiker talks about all the gravitational forces that pull us away from that line, and more importantly, how to develop strategies to right ourselves.  In this clip from the Dr. Oz Show, he talks about one of his strategies:  If/Then.  Spiker shows that it's not about willpower, but more about creating strategies for upholding the goals you have.

3. Frustration (where my head/heart/body is currently).  Spiker quotes his friend, Doug Newburg with a variation on the old adage about the definition of insanity, "If it's not working, then why do you keep doing the same thing?" When we're frustrated (i.e., stressed) we often revert to what we know. In the case of people who are overweight/obese, "what we know" is often what got us to where we are in the first place. But if we're frustrated by not getting results, we have to change the process and the beliefs that conveyed us to where we stand. Often this means we need to take a step back, re-assess, and re-calibrate. In my world, that usually means going back to what makes me happy -- or rather, what relieves the judgment and frustration.

4. Humiliation — Spiker points out that "[s]hame is internal; humiliation exposes you to the world."  writes "and that when we experience humiliation, we have two choices: "crumple or push on."  In other words, humiliation is outside force trying to divorce us from our sense of place in the world as well as our sense of self. Spiker asks us to examine how we respond in those moments all the while sharing some of his humiliating moments.

Up next?

Part 2:  Down Size:
Getting Going

5. Inspection
6. Motivation
7. Nutrition
8. Perspiration

Highs & Lows

Getting down to 188 lbs was awesome.  It was the culmination of a lot of work and dedication.  I was exercising on a regular basis, watching what I ate and logging about 85% of my weekly meals.  I was cooking for myself and enjoying trying new recipes.

And then I (1) got complacent and took a "break" (yeah, y'all know how that goes) (gained 5lbs) and (2) got injured (I hope y'all do not know how that goes) (see below).  I haven't had any consistent effort in the gym since hurting my back in February.  I went to the gym twice last week and spent the long weekend either in bed or walking around in pain.

FGvW would say "don't worry; focus on what you can do."  Robby, however, is all whiny and depressed. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd feel a loss of self, of identity without being able to work out and be strong.  I also feel like I have nothing new to say and/or that everything I do say is either "I'm injured" or "I'm depressed."

So yeah, you see two paragraphs up where I say I went to the gym? Well I made the mistake of jumping on a scale after a weekend of...shall we say.... indulging...

not happy at all

I can't use the same equation that I used over the past few years to lose the weight.  My back dictates what I can and can't do as well as what I should and shouldn't do. 

I know that I should watch what I eat, eliminate junk from my diet (including alcohol), and do what I can, when I can.  But right now I'm kinda stuck in a loop of feeling sorry for myself (for good reason!) and feeling unsure about my future prognosis. This makes ice cream look especially delicious.

Near & Far

One of my favorite Sesame Street skits was Grover/Frank Oz's "Near & Far" -- where he demonstrated the meanings of near and far.  You were either one or the other.  There was measurable difference between the two things.  By the end of the skit, Grover is exasperated from having to repeat himself so many times.  I don't know why, but I just thought it was so silly.

It wasn't until I got older that I realized that some things can be both near AND far -- just like the title, and not near OR far.  Sometimes perspective collaborates with our minds to play tricks on us.

This past Saturday marked 20 years since my mother passed away on September 27, 1994 (see "I'm a sensitive soul, though I seem thick skinned"). I spent the week leading up to it in NYC with dad. (I also got to see some friends while I was there too.)  So many times, I am struck by how vivid and tangible that period in my life feels (I carry it with me everywhere I go), and at other times, it seems so distant (and I'm able to set aside the burden of some of those memories).

That morning, my dad went to church, then we went to my mom's grave.  My dad placed red roses in the vase; I cleaned up her headstone and put a few roses and a stone on top.  I had asked dad if we could then go to Robert Moses Beach (a place where I felt especially connected to mom) so I could honor the day in my own way. 

It wasn't until I was texting with my brother driving to the beach from the cemetery that I started getting emotional.  I thought about how my niece and nephew would never get to know my mom, or that mom would never get to know her grandchildren.  (People often say to me "mom is looking down on them from heaven" -- but that's not what I believe at all.  I find zero comfort in that.)  I thought about what dating would have been like with mom around (I have a sneaking suspicion that mom would have flirted with my suitors).  I thought about not having mom there with me if I ever gave birth (She may have just given the doctor the heave-ho so she could be the first to hold her grandchild).  Then I realized how I'm sad about things thing may or may not come to pass.  Then I wondered if I've been subconsciously avoiding or sabotaging myself because I fear losing those things as well.

Dad didn't follow my advice in picking the easternmost beach.  He kept driving further west.  He then parked the car and we walked for a while along the beach.  We had hoped that since it was the end of September that it would have been empty, but it was an unseasonably warm day and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Eventually we found a place where people weren't swimming as much (right near the traditionally clothing-optional area), and I committed to the ocean the remainder of the dozen light pink, light purple, and white roses.

Later, dad and I agreed that maybe it wasn't the best thought out plan, as the ocean decided to take some and brought the others back to the shore.  Though it may seem inappropriate on such a solemn occasion, I couldn't help but laugh.  I think mom would have thought it was funny as well.

Two women down the shore picked up the roses and I let them know what I was trying to do.  They understood (and one of them had also recently commemorated 20 years since her own mother passed) and gave me hugs.  One of them said, "Maybe this is just a reminder to let life come back to you."



I hope you all know that I have a certain amount of contempt for The Biggest Loser. I don't think their methods are safe, nor are they transparent.  For instance, on the show they often talk about how many calories they are taking in but their expenditure is always talked about in vague terms: "reach[ed] their burn."  It is their dirty little secret. They don't want to show just how high the burn target is. They must be running huge deficits.

But I digress...

So anyways, new season and new trainers equal new blog fodder.  New trainer Jen said that people operate out of "Fear OR love." I disagree.

It isn't binary (one or the other). It is a spectrum that we are always on--fear AND love. The trouble we get ourselves into is when there is more fear, anxiety, or apprehension than love, confidence or courage. We just need 51% of the latter to conquer the former.

That, dear readers, is the mental and emotional aspect of weight loss--to manage and negotiate that spectrum, not to deny that it exists. It is especially evident for those who can't rely on exercise to muffle those voices or to remind us how strong we are.

The anticipatory steps that lead up to a life change are often very exciting. Something or someone has shown us a different path. But there is often fear lurking behind. If we change our behaviors and mental processes, do we change who we are? Do we have to give up the things we love and that make us uniquely our own self? Well... sometimes yes and that is okay. That is evolution: a response to our environment.

Fear tries to tell us that we are losing control.  Love always says "Take a risk; I've got your back."

For the past few months, I have been running on fear and with good reason to do so. I had a few good years and thought my back problems were behind me. Falling in the shower in February and landing in the hospital in May shook me up more than I had anticipated.

The fear didn't prevent me from moving. I have been walking A LOT in the past few months, but it did prevent me from even going to the gym. The mental block was wanting to do exactly what I did last year: five miles or more on the elliptical and an hour of weights. I couldn't get around it.
Until this morning.

I ran 2 miles on the elliptical.  They were slow, but my legs remembered what to do. Did 5 miles on the bike. Did some weights. Came home to my kitteh and ate a peach.

Was it the most grueling workout? No. But it was one of the most challenging. Today, fear was no match for the love I have for myself.