Posts Tagged ‘fear of exercise’

It’s like this.

This is the Tune Belt I use. Love it, but read the post for the warning!

Quick version: I’m an idiot.1

Longer version: I was in Tampa visiting my mother and went to her condo’s well appointed workout room, including industrial strength treadmills. No one there but me. View out the window of the pool and a very pretty tree2. I’ve got my Tune Belt on my arm, my earbuds in and my exercise mix playing with the volume turned up to the point just before it inflicts pain.

Now my treadmill in my home is nice, but it wouldn’t stand up to constant running and has a very laid back traction surface, one that doesn’t seem to be all that interested in doing its job. It also is a little narrower than the bad boy I was using that oh-so-fateful day. So if I do stupid stuff on my home treadmill, I usually brush some portion of the side of my body against the arms and can correct.

This kind of rasp. One for horse hooves.

This monster treadmill I was using was great — like getting to drive an old car with far more cylinders than you’re used to. “This is bad ass,” I thought, perhaps not consciously, but I was pretty pleased with myself. I’d been consistent with my exercise routine during this entire visit. And now I’m working out in what would be my fantasy home gym, all by myself.

What I didn’t take note of was that the embrace of this bad boy was several inches wider than the one I had at home, and the tread on the sucker looked like a rasp. If treadmills had bouncers, this treadmill would have its arms crossed outside the trendiest treadmill bar in town.

And then the fateful moment occurred: “ABC” came up on my mix.3

Maybe it’s because the Jackson Five’s tune hit the top of the charts in 1970. I was nine. When we got back to the states4, one of the last cartoons I gave up was the Jackson 5ive5, and it was the theme song.  For those of you who didn’t know Michael Jackson was born a poor black child, here is a video from back in the day, purportedly from the Ed Sullivan Show:

Whatever the deal is, I cannot seem to keep from dancing (badly) whenever that song comes on. It goes from audio processing in the brain straight to the movement center without consulting the part of my brain that says, “Whoa, fella, slow down.” So I started dancing within the wide arms of the treadmill and caught some part of my foot on the non-moving portion of the dance floor, sending me to my knees.

Mostly my left knee. The bad one. It’s probably a good thing I had on my yoga pants; even so, I ended up scraped by the bite the treadmill’s surface gave me, holding me down a few seconds while I processed what had happened and how the hell to get my knee detached from rotating blades6.

It didn’t bother me all that much at first; I iced it and by the next day had a big C-shaped bruise circling my knee. Bruise? No big. But when I went to see Stephanie, queen of the physical therapists, she said it was a lot looser than it had been and that I may have sprained my ACL. It’s not gotten much better since I saw her a couple of weeks ago and I’m guessing she’s going to tell me to get it evaluated by the doc when I see her next week.

I’ve been through a scaled down grief cycle and am back at acceptance. Every setback makes you want to throw up your hands and say “Why bother?” But not doing it means there’s no chance; you can’t win if you don’t play. So after enough of a pity party, and a couple of workouts I cried through, I’m back on the upswing, even though icing my knee is the order of the day and I’m going to have to rebuild it.

Too bad you can’t order bionic parts off Amazon.

1. If you’re familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, think a zero for bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
2. Think it was an oak, but my knowledge of Gulf Coast Florida’s flora is limited.
3. Just finding it on YouTube has me dancing at the keyboard.
4. I’m a military brat. Our family lived in Japan at that time.
5. It was cancelled about the same time I gave up Saturday Morning Cartoons. Yes, boys and girls, there was a day when cartoons were restricted to just after school and Saturday mornings.
6. Shocked by the exaggeration? I’m from Texas;  hyperbole is practically mandatory.


Crystal Mayhue, a 35-year-old massage therapist and SAHM (Stay-at-Home-Mom), balancing her part-time business with raising two young sons and  hanging out with her husband as well as CrossFitting, contacted me about her CrossFit experience. I loved what she had to say, and want to pass it along to you.  Crystal, you now have the floor (or screen…whatever):

From Crystal’s Pinterest board

I started CrossFit recently and I am so addicted. I refer to myself as “Chunky Girl Works Out.”

I started referring to myself as “chunky” after my first pregnancy. I’d developed a serious B12 deficiency which triggered a case of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) of epic proportions. The baby came and the RLS never went away. Baby number two was also a fan of B12. Lets just say RLS is here to stay.

As a result, I am constantly sleep-deprived which has resulted in weight gain. I would never have called myself an athelete, but I spent years weight training and doing cardio. As long as I kept an eye on what I ate and made sure I was physically active, my curvaceous body was kept in check. The minute the RLS hit and sleep was something I could not accomplish, the curves turned to “CHUNK”! I even have a Pinterest board ( named for it.

I waited two years to get into CrossFit for many reasons. I found out about CrossFit by way of Facebook, of course. I had reconnected to an old high school friend and she was always talking about going to “CrossFit.” I asked her about it.

I have what I lovingly refer to as “Exercise A.D.D”. I get bored so easily. I find running boring so I started doing mud runs like the Warrior Dash and the Merrell Down & Dirty. I got bored weight training on my own so I started taking BodyPump.

So, when my friend tried her best to explain the beast that is CrossFit, I was very intrigued. I turned to Google to find out more. Thirty minutes into my research I knew that sooner or later I was going to start CrossFit! The idea that it was mix of cardio and weight training and could happen indoor or outdoor and then you throw in kettle bells and a garage type atmosphere … I was in Exercise A.D.D heaven!!

One of the reasons for delaying my first CrossFit experience was “Super Fit Girls + Super Ripped Guys= WTF stares at Chunky Girl Works Out.” I had the itch to try it so bad I even had thoughts of setting up a backyard CrossFit.

I turned to my dear friend Google and his girlfriend Pinterest to see what it would take to create a “box” in my own backyard. I found I could do it on the cheap. But, honestly, I still didn’t totally grasp the whole of what CrossFit was and felt like I needed more instruction. And, quite frankly, I run a house and family and I am constantly in charge and making decisions. Sometimes I just want someone to tell me what to do and how to do it so I don’t have to think about it. I know, sounds lazy. But I’m a Mom, a wife, and I have a part-time Massage Therapy business. I don’t want to have to come up with my own workouts. I want someone to tell me what to do for once.

I have two boys. Very. Busy. Boys! My oldest will be seven in November and is in the first grade. My youngest is four and now attends all day PreK at the same elementary school as my oldest. I was overwhelmed at what the heck I was going to do all day. The idea that my baby was going to start school totally knocked me down. I knew that I was going to have to find something to do that would excite me or I was going down for the count.

We are a “traditional” family, I guess you could say. My husband works and I, for the most part, stay at home with my kiddos. The idea that I was no longer going to have my little buddy to take care of all day still brings me to tears. So, I set my sights on CrossFit. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to see if it was as awesome as I had made it out in my mind to be.

So, I found a CrossFit box and signed up.

Finding a CrossFit box in my area wasn’t easy. When I first looked into CrossFit, there was nothing close to me. One day, I happened to be talking to a nurse in my doctors office  and she mentioned she did CrossFit. She raved about her box. She said the coaches were awesome and the members were like family and that she was in the best shape of her life. So, I went to the official CrossFit website and looked it up. Two CF boxes had opened in a somewhat close proximity to my home.  I only visited one of them. My nurse was so passionate in talking about her CF box, CrossFit of Locust Grove (Georgia), that I never doubted that it was the one for me. When I met the owner, Todd Springer, I was impressed with how he continually talked about CFLG being a family.

I started on a Monday morning. There were about twelve people in the class. There were men and women ranging in age from early twenties to late forties in a spectrum of fitness levels.

The first day I almost puked because I knew these people were going to die when they saw Chunky Butt walk in. But, you know. I have never met people more eager to help and guide and cheer a person on. I have belonged to many gyms…Gold’s, local athletic clubs, YMCA…. never have I ever had people so willing to help me catch on and want me to succeed.

The first person to speak to me, other than Todd the owner/coach, was a very fit, thirty-something woman. During each part of the WOD she made sure I knew where the equipment was, showed me what to do, and gave me encouragement. I was shocked. I tell you, I spent hours at my local Y before anyone ever even spoke a word to me. But, during a WOD that consisted of way too many push ups and box jumps, I had people that I had only laid eyes on that day telling me not to stop, to push through and that I could indeed finish the last round.

Since that first day I have attended morning, afternoon and evening classes. Each person I come in contact has been as helpful as the first. We have a Facebook group for members. People are always posting about getting together to go to events, or telling another member how great they did during the day’s WOD or just posting life stuff. They are family. We are family.

I have been apart of CrossFit of Locust Grove for two months. And, when my Dad was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, the outpouring of understanding and compassion from my CrossFit family rivaled that of my church family. Sometimes when you are mad at the world and feel like you have no control over anything—you just need to drag a tire across pavement, do a hundred burpees and seventy-five squat jumps and then hear someone tell you just how beastly you are because you finished.

CrossFitters, for the most part, really seem to have a passion for athleticism and really want for others to feel the same euphoria they do when finished with a WOD.  But, believe me, I know the fear of walking into a crowd of super fits….YIKES!!…..but I strongly urge everyone that is curious about CrossFit to visit their local box. The outpouring of support and  camaraderie that you get being apart of a CrossFit family far out weighs the nervousness you feel when walking into your first CrossFit class.

You can contact Crystal Mayhue by email at massage_momma (at) att (dot) net.

Reflecting on the pressures I feel while navigating through the challenges of escaping my poor health/fitness condition, I wondered if it was anything like what a 600 lb. octopus felt when squeezing through a hole the size of a quarter.

The ability of the octopus to compress like that could reasonably be considered a survival mechanism, although I can’t seem to locate any authority that states the reason for the behavior. Makes sense, though: Why else would you scoot through an unreasonably small opening, if not to get away to live another day? Or, to twist the question into the shape I’d like it to take, why else would you put yourself through all this pressure and/or pain except to stay healthy?

The other question I can’t find an answer for is whether this is painful for the octopus. Granted, it’s hard to ask them to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10, but their physiology should suggest whether it would be possible for the compression to cause pain.

This all came to me when I was joking about meeting the four horsemen of the apocalyptic workout–the day that makes you want to end all exercise forever.

I’d had a workout that left me sobbing in pain and frustration: changing my dosage and timing on one of the medications to prevent migraines had made me light-headed and light-sensitive, so I was doing my workout in the shade in sunglasses…and with my eyes closed whenever possible. Every squeak of the equipment and sound of the timer going off put my teeth on edge. I had flash migraines, where it felt like someone had shot me in the left eye with an arrow, but only for a few seconds at a go. I was cranky, because the changes had disrupted my sleep schedule.

Unrelated to the medication change, I was cramping in my left quad and gastroc. My body seemed to be screaming at me to quit, assaulting me on all fronts. I felt rather like the one time I’d had sunstroke, just before I passed out. And then, the crowning blow was a simple hamstring stretch.  This is usually the “ahh” moment, as I’m almost done and everything left to do is on my back on a nice foam mat.

Pain exploded in my right quad, radiating to my hip. That’s when I started crying. As I said before, pain for a purpose, to achieve a goal, is one thing, but there’s no sense in suffering needlessly. And, as often occurs, I began doubting whether I would ever progress.

The same thing happened for the next three workouts. I felt like I was squeezing my fat ass through a teeny hope, pressured by pain and fear. My husband felt a big knot in my quad. I set up for an early appointment with Stephanie the phenomenal PT, but, in this case, early meant five days away rather than three weeks.

In the meantime, Gary was rolling the knot. Foam rolling is the best way to do this for yourself, but it’s really difficult for me to get the balance right for most of these, so we’ve taken to using a rolling pin over the area. As I’ve mentioned before, muscle knotting is common in people with fibromyalgia. Usually neither Gary nor I can find the knots, although massage and/or physical therapists seem to put their fingers on them immediately. This one was big enough for him to find.

So we looked up how to deal with knots in muscles. The instructions basically said (in all the sources we could find) to stretch the knot away from the contraction. Since we had no idea how to figure out which way it was contracted, Gary and I decided to go with rolling along the same direction as the muscle fibers. Turns out that was the right idea, and that, yes, until you’ve had a lot of hands-on training, figuring out which direction it should be stretched isn’t that easy for most people.

So he put some pressure on the rolling pin and ran it up and down the knot, the IT band and the hip. I concentrated on breathing like I was in a Lamaze class (although when applied to childbirth, I gave up and asked for the epidural) so the crying incident would not be repeated.

The rolling (and some anti-inflammatory OTC meds) helped, but I dreaded the hamstring stretch each and every day after the first time my quad screamed. On something like the fourth workout after this ghastly newcomer showed up, I had finished the hamstring stretch and was into the piriformis stretch (which you do by pulling your knee toward the opposite shoulder) and there was something like a pop where the knot had been, a burning sensation, and then an immediate reduction in the pain.

Ahh. Is that what the octopus feels once it’s out of the hole?

I alluded to my recent health issues (well, more than “alluded” in some) in recent posts: Pain and other challenges, Pain and other challenges: Part 2 and Pain and other challenges: Part the third.  The problems kept piling up, and the key feature to improvement, consistency, has eluded me. I think I’m now on the way to surmounting the problem.

One of the issues that is only tangentially about me is that my migraine specialist, Dr. Robert Nett, died in a car accident back in February. His death was a loss to the medical community, as he was both a researcher and a practitioner, an M.D. and a pharmacist, and very attentive to his patients. It was, of course, even more of a loss to his family and friends, but I’m sure all of his patients felt the loss as well.

I found out when in a different specialist’s office. I’d listed Dr. Nett as the doctor treating me for migraines, and the doctor’s assistant asked me a couple of times who was taking care of that. I repeated the answer a couple of times, a bit confused. Then she realized I hadn’t been told.  When she told me, my first thought was “What a waste!”  My second was “His poor family.”  And my third, I’m a bit embarrassed to say, was “What will I do now?” Selfish much?

But there’s been some validity to the concern. I’ve been heavily medicated to prevent the migraines, and I was developing some sporadic and odd side effects. He had planned to reduce them at some point after they’d done their job of resetting the sensitivity of my brain to stimuli. However, you basically had to audition to get an appointment with him because he was in such high demand. Now that he’s gone, pretty much everyone here in San Antonio that specializes in migraines is slammed and we’re looking at, ohh, August, maybe, before I actually see one of them.

So my internist (whom I’ve called “wonderful” several times, and realized I use “wonderful” way too often, so let’s say she’s amazing — because she is) has been temporarily dealing with my migraine meds as well as my grab bag of assorted illnesses. I had an appointment with her because of a hacking cough I couldn’t shake and managed to have one of the side-effect “spells” that  periodically plague me. I won’t bore you with the details, but she sent me straight to the ER, and on the follow-up appointment said that I was acting as if I’d “had three bottles of tequila, and [she] knew [I] hadn’t done.”

So what with the actual migraines, the recurrent hacking cough, and the spectrum of light-headed to stoned beyond belief, I’ve been extremely inconsistent with my exercise.

So at said follow-up, I talked to her about reducing all of the drugs to zero and asked her if she thought I was being overly simplistic in thinking that diet and consistent exercise would take care of the problem. She nixed reducing everything, even over a lengthy period of time, and pretty much told me I could expect to be on X, Y and Z for the rest of my life. On the other hand, she was in favor of reducing to eliminating some of them.

But we both knew that the ones that were first on the chopping block were those which were preventing the migraines, as they’re also the ones probably responsible for my problems. So I kept thinking, well, what about the exercise if I’m in the middle of a migraine?

She did agree that exercise and weight loss would/could eliminate (or at least ameliorate) most of my medical issues. But I was stuck on the “How can I be consistently exercising if I’m having all these problems?” and not expressing it well and we kind of went in a circle for a bit.

It took me a while to formulate the right question (because of all the foggy brain problems), but I finally came up with it: Is there any reason I should stop if I’m having a migraine, feeling wobbly or hacking like crazy — or do I just need to suck it up?

She smothered a chortle (or at least that’s what I think it was), and said, “Well, basically, yes. Suck it up.”

Fair enough. My fear has been that I’ll make things worse. Now, if necessary, I’ll go workout with my earplugs and sleeping mask, and if it makes any one migraine worse, I’ll deal. I plan on having the hubby coach on standby, of course, but as far as the pain, well, it’s just pain. I don’t mind suffering in the short term if, in the long term, I’ll actually get better.

So, sports fans, the race is back on.

I write about change and motivation a lot because I know I need to change my attitudes as much as I do my actions, as all actions originate in thought.

So I thought I’d talk about the progress I’ve made, since today I realized I’d made some in the upstairs department.

As you may know, the past month has been a struggle. I’ve had setbacks because of health issues: injuries, illness and minor surgery. I’ve felt my time has been more limited due to some additional responsibilities, and was discouraged that my record-keeping and blogging had suffered as a result.

I had a two-day migraine for my weekend activity, but today I finally felt better. And I realized that, although I was not happy I hadn’t been able to work out the past two days, I hadn’t doubted (for a change) that I would start back as soon as I could. And today, when I woke up enough to realize I really did feel better, I was not just ready to exercise, but juiced about it. My husband had to dial me back a notch.

I set up the items I needed in the garage and went back in to do my treadmill warm-up. Put on Pandora and got two songs I liked and can add to the repertoire (The Clash, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and Duran Duran “Hungry Like the Wolf).

It’s amazing how fast the garage can heat up in less than 20 minutes during August. Oy. Note to self (and anyone else with GERD): When working out in the heat, make sure you’ve taken your Nexium enough ahead of a workout or you’re gonna get reflux.  And start hydrating sooner.

And yet I was still pumped to work out. I think perhaps that it’s because, although I generally am in denial about it, I have a competitive streak, and even more to my chagrin, I only like to compete when I think I’ve got a chance of making some sort of showing. The fact that I’m only competing against myself makes it easier to win, at least as long as I stick with it.

I’m sure there will still be days when I’m dragging myself by the hair to go work out, but it’s rather a shock to me, who abhorred the thought of exercise, that I can, on occasion, actually work out with pleasure.

Is the will the strongest force in the universe? Perhaps, if it could be leashed.

But most of us have difficulty leashing our will enough to offer the last cookie to everyone before gulping it down. I’m apparently not the only one wondering about our collective will. Adam Bornstein, reflecting on the USA women’s soccer team’s performance against Brazil at the World Cup, mused about it in his blog post, “The 3 biggest fitness lies“:

I found myself wondering if an entire country could channel the same relentless will to succeed.

I’ve often thought that if I’d ever gone back to school and gone into psychology, I would want to explore will (aka volition, self-control, self-discipline, self-regulation) among outliers. You see, my late grandfather is an outlier. His parents were alcoholics, the family lived hand to mouth, moving place to place in Oklahoma within the Choctaw nation. Of his nine siblings, only he and the eldest of his sisters escaped the poverty and alcoholism of that crowd. My grandfather retired with a respectable income (from two retirements) and a nice little nest egg. He began smoking when he was nine. He gave it up cold turkey in his early 70s after watching his brother-in-law die of emphysema. That’s willpower.

I think of him and wonder what it was that made him and his sister different. What was it that made them two of the few to overcome their conditioning, their childhood disadvantages to escape the trajectory anyone would have predicted for them?

In today’s attempt to find answers about how to harness willpower, I turned to some academic journals. Most of the articles are written in the context of rehabilitation, whether from addiction, heart attacks or strokes, but they still have some applicability for those of us trying to change a lifetime of bad habits into a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise (whether CrossFit or something else) and weight loss.

Generally, we start with goal-setting: I want to lose 100 pounds, for example. That’s a big goal; I’m trying to slice it into easier chunks,  like diarying what I eat with MyPlate and trying to make eating healthy within limits as a daily practice rather than obsessing over the scale (which,  I confess, is a struggle). And I try to CrossFit as much as I can; as I said in my last post, this month has been challenging because some of my health issues are trying to resurface (but I did my WOD today, thank you very much; I feel shaky, nauseated and headachey, but at least I accomplished something).

But even goal-setting can be troublesome.  Dr. Richard J. Siegert,  Dr. Kathryn M. McPherson and Dr. William J. Taylor note in a paper published in Disability and Rehabilitation, a professional journal, that

The goal-setting process for many patients (and clinicians) is marked by frustration, difficulty and perceived failure.

Why? Because, they say, that the people setting the goals are largely the professionals, and the patients don’t really take an active role in deciding what their goals are.  If you do not set the goal yourself, you are not emotionally vested in it.

Shocked? No, not me. As long as it was other people telling me what I should do and how I should do it, or when I set goals that were really more about trying to please others, I never achieved them.  I had to set my own goals based on my own desires, and it wasn’t about “knowing” what I should do. Most of us “know” what to do to fix our weight and fitness problems: exercise more, eat less (and better).

It’s kind of like the neurologist who idiotically told me that I was “too intelligent to commit suicide” when he put me on a drug that made me think about it all the time. Or the numskull who sat in my car and said “Only stupid people must be drug addicts.” No, no, no! It’s not about intelligence; it’s about pain (at least in those two cases). Suicides and drug addicts are generally trying to escape their pain. And relatively recent studies have demonstrated that emotional pain is perceived by the brain in the same place as physical pain. In fact, emotional pain may even be worse.

Food often plays the same role in fatties’ lives; we eat our emotions away. In fact, that’s one of the reasons prospective lap band surgery patients are given psychiatric evaluations first; profound depression can kick in after the surgery because the patients no longer have food available as a way to comfort themselves.

So doctors Siegert, McPherson and Taylor suggest that not only should the goals be set by the patients, but that the emotional impact of goal-setting be included in deciding on goals. They look at it through the lenses of self-regulation, which seems to indicate that people have hierarchical goals that emanate from their sense of self. In other words, if you see yourself as a kind person, you will set specific goals that are consistent with kindness. And the bigger the gap between the goals and your sense of self, the more emotional interference you’ll have with reaching your goals.

So, if you see yourself as undisciplined (or, as I would say about myself, in a more positive light, spontaneous and easy-going), then goals that interfere with your sense of self can be tough. I do see myself as spontaneous (and wildly independent), so making myself settle into any routine has been tough. But I’m reframing the idea of routine as “inflexible” by allowing myself flexibility (to some extent) in timing and, more importantly, in seeing that healthy routines make it more possible for me to do things I’d like spontaneously. It’s been the unhealthy lifestyle that has chained me to limited activities, not a healthy routine.

So, for success, you have to fit your goals into your self-image. And then, you must make sure you don’t sabotage yourself with goals that are unattainable or delayed (back to the “slice it up” scenario). Quoth said docs:

[A] wide range of emotional reactions occurred after brain injury or stroke, with the four most common responses being frustration, sadness, fear and worry … For example, frustration arises when goals that were quickly and easily achieved previously, now require an immense effort and are achieved very slowly or not at all. Similarly, sadness arises when goals that were considered important for maintaining an ideal self-image now seem unattainable.

So, if you’re frustrated or sad in the pursuit of your goals, perhaps you need to evaluate whether they are realistic (for example, in the CrossFit world, have you scaled down the WODs sufficiently) or consistent with your view of yourself.

Another possibility is that you don’t believe in free will.  Kathleen D. Vohs and Roy F. Baumeister assert in an editorial called “Addiction and Free Will,” published in Addiction Research and Theory, that if you believe you have no control over your actions, you have difficulty changing them:

Belief in addiction is often tantamount to a disbelief in free will, at least within the circumscribed behavioral sphere involving the addiction. Our recent research has suggested that such a belief can cause problems.

The idea that people are not fully in control of their own behavior stretches back into antique notions of demonic possession, divine command, and other supernatural volition. In modern life, people often claim reduced responsibility for their own actions by citing social factors, societal oppression, emotional distress, external provocation, mental illness, drugs, and other factors.

In a curious parallel to ideas of demonic possession, modern science has promoted the view that people are not free to choose or control their actions …

Addiction is a particularly potent form of the belief that people cannot control and are not responsible for their actions.

[Researchers]  found that making people disbelieve in free will caused them to cheat more than others on a test, especially when they could make money by cheating. Further work has confirmed the antisocial effects of disbelieving in free will. These effects include increased aggression toward other innocent persons and reduced helpfulness toward needy strangers … Disbelief in free will seems to make people less likely to think for themselves, as reflected in greater conformity to other people’s judgments … and lesser willingness to articulate personal lessons from their own guilty misbehaviors.

Now, see, I used to think “free will” versus “predestination” was largely a theological discussion with little practical point; from our point of view, we make choices, so why does it matter if they’re predetermined or not? Apparently it does matter. If you don’t believe that you have control over what you’re doing, you won’t exercise your will to change when change is painful.

Of course, we aren’t in control of everything. I have a genetic defect that makes it harder for my body to make enough serotonin, setting me up for a cascade of problems that manifest physically and psychologically. Recognizing this reality, Vohs and Baumeister come up with a rather brilliant solution:

Our view is that the debate about free will in addiction, like the broader debate about free will in all human behavior, is unlikely to be won by either extreme view … Self-control is an important form of what people understand as free will, and the capacity for self-control is real but limited – thus neither complete nor completely lacking. The traditional notion of willpower may be useful here, especially if one understands willpower as a kind of psychological energy that fluctuates as people use it up and then re-charge it … Free will is a partial, sometime thing.

So, yes, Green Lantern, you’ve got a powerful force there. But it’s not as stable as your mythos would have it. You do have days when imposing your will is easier and other times when doing what you know is the right thing for your body is tough. But it is there. It is strong. And it can change your life.

I happen to love “Glee,” partially because I’m a sucker for musicals, and that’s basically what every episode is, but also because they do a nice job at exploring some pretty serious issues in an accessible way. One episode, “Born This Way,” explores the issues we all have with who we are, what we have to accept and what we can change about ourselves.

So those of us in the process of changing our bodies to be more healthy have something to work through mentally as well as physically: What is it we actually expect to change?

For example, people who go through surgical weight loss procedures are generally required to have a psych evaluation first. Why? Because losing weight, although it will fix many physical problems, isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your problems. For years, I would think to myself, “Oh, if I lost weight, X would happen” or “If I could lose weight, I’d be able to Y.” But what happens when problems you blamed on your weight, like relationship issues, are still there when you’re thin.

Or what about this, which is something I fear: What happens when I lose weight and I don’t look like I think I should? I know how my weight was distributed when I was young, but sometimes weight distributes differently when you age. What will I really look like? What’s a reasonable expectation?

Right now, the feeling of chronic illness is still recent enough that just feeling healthy seems like a fine return on the effort. But I have to face it: I want to look a certain way, and that may not be the way my body is destined to look. When I was young, I was definitely a pear. Will I be an apple? Or one of the other designated body designs folks have come up with in the meantime? It’s a big enough issue that there’s an entire professional journal devoted to these issues called “Body Image.” And the U.S. Government thinks it’s a big enough deal to devote an area of the National Women’s Health Information Center to body image:

With a positive or healthy body image, a woman has a real perception of her size and shape. She also feels comfortable with her body. With a negative body image, a woman has a distorted perception of her shape and size, compares her body to others, and feels shame and anxiety about her body. Being unhappy with your body can affect how you think and feel about yourself as a person. A poor body image can lead to emotional distress, low self-esteem, unhealthy dieting habits, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Developing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to a woman’s happiness and wellness.

So why do we get these distorted perceptions? Well, the National Eating Disorders Association has a list of facts that suggest the media has a lot to do with eating disorders generally, which are related to body image:

  • The average U.S. resident is exposed to approximately 5,000 advertising messages a day (Alfreiter, Elzinga & Gordon, 2003).
  • According to a recent survey of adolescent girls, their main source of information about women’s health issues comes from the media (Commonwealth Fund, 1997).
  • Researchers estimate that 60% of Caucasian middle school girls read at least one fashion magazine regularly (Levine, 1997).
  • Another study of mass media magazines discovered that women’s magazines had 10.5 times more advertisements and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines did (as cited in Guillen & Barr, 1994). A study of one teen adolescent magazine over the course of 20 years found that in articles about fitness or exercise plans, 74% cited “to become more attractive” as a reason to start exercising and 51% noted the need to lose weight or burn calories (Guillen & Barr, 1994).
  • The average young adolescent watches 3-4 hours of TV per day (Levine, 1997).
  • A study of 4,294 network television commercials revealed that 1 out of every 3.8 commercials send some sort of “attractiveness message,” telling viewers what is or is not attractive (as cited in Myers et al., 1992).
Given that the “ideal” body differs from culture to culture tends to reinforce this view that the media plays a part. The clincher seemed to be the case of Fiji:
Fiji, a nation that has traditionally cherished the fuller figure, has been struck by an outbreak of eating disorders since the arrival of television in 1995, a study has shown.

So, we know what the problem is. Or at least we have an idea of why we may not embrace our bodies, no matter how fit. So what’s the solution?

Sarah Metzger at LiveStrong proclaims

[M]aking the choice to take care of yourself daily leads to an inner-confidence that’s more powerful than any change you can make to your physical appearance.

Hmm. Well, yes, confidence does help. There are a lot of female celebrities who I really don’t think are that pretty, but there’s something about their ability to project confidence and presence that outweighs their superficial appearance. Madonna, for example, is not someone I think is all that pretty. But she’s certainly got something. Oddly, though, at least one study says that men don’t find proud, confident women all that attractive:

 [S]miling may be seen as “consistent with traditional gender norms of the ‘submissive and vulnerable’ woman, but inconsistent with ‘strong, silent’ man.” So basically, pride is seen as masculine, and smiling as feminine — and by this token, women who appear confident are apparently manly and unsexy.

How stuck in the past are we? Bite me; I don’t want (and wouldn’t be interesting to) a guy who can’t deal with the fact I’m an assertive woman. My husband thinks it’s cool; he wasn’t interested in the boring ol’ shrinking violets.  Interdependence is good; codependence, not so much. Have these guys ever watched Angelina Jolie kick someone’s ass? And do they really want to stick with “I don’t find her attractive”? I’d love to know the median and mean age of the men surveyed.

Cleveland Clinic has a laundry list of things you can do to help overcome body image problems:

The following are steps that you can take to begin fostering a positive image of yourself:
  • Take a self-image inventory
  • Define personal goals and objectives
  • Set realistic and measurable goals
  • Confront thinking distortions
  • Identify childhood labels
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Develop your strengths
  • Learn to love yourself
  • Give positive affirmations
  • Remember that you are unique
  • Learn to laugh and smile
  • Remember how far you have come

For my money, though, I rather like reading the sassy stuff posted at “Adios, Barbie,” a website devoted to body image articles and commentary. Like  “You’re so perfect … except for your boobs,” an article written by Melanie Klein about a friend’s silicon breast implants:

In numerous intimate conversations she confided in me about her implants and Tim, her body image issues, and her distrust of men. These conversations were plagued by a deep sadness and marked by intense insecurity and regret. With her striking eyes and “porn star body,” Jasmine commanded a lot of male attention, attention that she deflected and tried to avoid by dressing in ways that diminished her figure.

So even being a Barbie doll isn’t as great as we might think it is. In fact, it’s been my observation that extraordinarily gorgeous women tend to believe that’s all they have to offer. And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s true because they became so accustomed to getting what they wanted because of their looks, they didn’t develop any other assets. One woman I worked with who was like that was incompetent at her job, but kept on by the male partners because they liked to watch her. But one lunch break with her was enough for me; I realized she had a bad relationship with an ex, and didn’t seem to be able to hang on to a keeper of a guy.

Like my husband always says, you gotta talk to ‘em eventually. So, ladies, it’s not necessarily the men that are the problem; it’s what we’ve been conditioned to think. As Tina Fey says in her wonderful book, “Bossypants,” we’ve been conditioned to believe that in order to be beautiful, we must have:

  • Caucasian blue eyes
  • full Spanish lips
  • a classic button nose
  • hairless Asian skin with a California tan
  • a Jamaican dance hall ass
  • long Swedish legs
  • small Japanese feet
  • the abs of a lesbian gym owner
  • the hips of 9-year-old boy
  • the arms of Michelle Obama
  • and doll tits.

Can you say she’s wrong? But the list points out the ridiculousness of what we expect of ourselves. So what if you have big hips or short legs? Guess what, even Michelle Pfeiffer, who was one of the poster children of what pretty was supposed to be when I was a young woman, doesn’t like her lips. She thinks she has duck lips.

So, short of trying to beat Michael Jackson’s record for most plastic surgeries ever (and we all saw how badly that eventually turned out), we each have to learn to live with our imperfections. Most of the time, we’re the only ones to notice them (until we decide to point them out to others, who then can’t miss them. I now think of duck lips every time I see Michelle Pfeiffer).


Everywhere you look, doctors and other health care professionals are touting the benefits of “moderate exercise.”  I’ve seen it recommended for fibromyalgia, depression, migraines and even GI problems. But how often do they define what “moderate exercise” means? A few years back, “perceived exertion” was the way to go; if you couldn’t talk while working out, that was a harder workout than you should do. The Center for Disease Control puts it like this:

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you’ll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song.

On the other hand, CrossFit often talks about pushing the envelope to make yourself more fit. So what is the “right” thing to do?

You can find reasons to be afraid of pushing yourself or “intense exercise” in various articles, like this article from the Los Angeles Times, “Mixing Illness and Exercise“:

[T]here is also evidence that too much exercise, or extremely intense exercise, can reduce immunity. This is important for people who push themselves intensely when they work out and for those who train and compete in long events, such as marathons.

[The italics are mine.] So what is the right amount of exercise?  Like so many answers in life, it depends. Are you healthy for your age? Are you overweight? Are you recovering from a major illness or surgery?

WebMD takes a stab at defining “moderate exercise” by referring to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:

To see how many steps per minute were needed to achieve moderate-intensity exercise, investigators monitored oxygen uptake in 58 women and 39 men while they completed four different 6-minute sessions on the treadmill at speeds ranging from 2.4 to 4.1 miles per hour. All of the participants also wore pedometers during the exercise sessions.

The results showed that for men the number of steps per minute to reach moderate-intensity exercise was between 92 and 102. For women, the range was between 91 and 115 steps per minute.

Interesting. But this study contains within it the same problem all studies have: It may be valid for a group whose members meet the same demographics as the group studied, but it may or may not be applicable to any particular individual. I can bet you that my hoss hubby walks this fast in his everyday walk, and to follow this recommendation would actually put his fitness level back a few steps.

For me, when I started this fitness journey, I probably would have been winded by this prescription because I was so very deconditioned. I understand the goal of the medical community: They want some sort of quantifiable amount that they can give patients without worrying about putting them in the hospital. It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all, but I don’t think that’s possible.

So let’s go back to the Los Angeles Times article, which goes on to make a very important point (and illustrates why you shouldn’t stop reading after the first couple of paragraphs):

This doesn’t mean you’ll get sick more often if you train hard. It does suggest that, to reduce the risk of illness, intense or longer workout days be followed with rest or with less-intense training days to give your body a break.

Hello.  The article is focusing on the effect of exercise on the immune system, but you could substitute “injury” for “illness” in the above quote and still be correct. In order to avoid illness or injury after working out to what you perceive as hard, you need to take adequate rest days for your body to repair itself. Wait? Isn’t that something we’ve already said that CrossFit preaches: Three days on, one day off is the optimal mix of exercise and rest.

The body has amazing plasticity: It can become accustomed to what exercise you’re doing so that doing the same thing may keep you from going downhill, but it certainly won’t make you any fitter. Even the brain, which was at one point believed to be pretty fixed in its abilities after adulthood, is now believed to be able to make amazing adjustments. That’s part of why you find a medicine, say an antihistimine, works for a while and then stops. The body adjusts. So why is “moderate exercise” always recommended?

My guess: It’s a safer recommendation. Doctors take an oath that says “Do no harm.” Some of us manage to get injured even with moderate exercise. However, there is a greater risk of harm if you take on a challenging fitness program and you (or your coach) does not know how to evaluate what your start point is and what your limitations are.

This point was re-emphasized recently by the CrossFit Journal in an article by Dr. Will Wright called “Rhabdomyolysis Revisited“:

New or prospective affiliate members should be introduced to the CrossFit methodology gradually. We need to take extra time to determine the baseline and capacity of these individuals as we introduce them to the CrossFit prescription. This includes inquiring about fitness levels, medical conditions, physical limitations, recent illnesses and family history. An introductory workout should be tailored to the individual. “On-ramp classes” are often employed at many affiliates, and these too should be structured to slowly increase the work capacity of the client as the intensity and breadth of workouts is increased.

This article was a response to a particular serious condition, rhabdo for short, that can occur if people do not start at the correct level, do not hydrate properly and do not get enough recovery time between workouts.

On the other hand, there are studies suggesting that interval training, defined as “short bursts of intensive effort interspersed with more moderate stretches” of activity is actually more effective than moderate exercise at both burning fat and increasing fitness. Shorter, high intensity interval training also helps overcome the main objection to exercise in the frantic, fast-paced world we live in: It takes less time to accomplish the same goals as “moderate exercise” prescriptions.  Yet another study indicates that the kind of training in CrossFit is better heart prevention than the longstanding “go walk” advice.

And it’s way less boring.

So, if done with a coach who is sensitive to your particular needs, the kind of varied, intense bursts of training that CrossFit integrates may be even better than that hour-long walk. And, for my money, you see results more quickly, which helps you stay on the wagon. I was thrilled when my daughter told me a couple of days ago that she actually saw the beginnings of a muscle in my arm. Who knew it was possible? So hang in there, folks, it’s worth the time and effort.

As you’ve probably figured out already, I’m terrified of going back to where I was six weeks ago. Yesterday was the first day I haven’t posted something since I started this blog. Why? Because I had a small migraine plus what I think is probably a sinus infection. I stayed in bed most of the day and didn’t even look at the computer, which I’m fairly compulsive about.

So today, I still feel pretty rotten, but earlier in the day I thought I was better. I’m now back to running a low-grade temperature, but the idea of blowing off my workout two days in a row has me freaked. But I’m coughing every time I open my mouth to talk. So what to do?

Ahh, the Internet. What did we do before all the answers were at our fingertips? Here are some guidelines I found about exercising when you’re sick.

The Mayo Clinic’s Edward R. Laskowski, an M.D. specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, has this to say:

As a rule of thumb for exercise and illness:
  • Proceed with your workout if your signs and symptoms are “above the neck” — such as runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or sore throat. Be prepared to reduce the intensity of your workout if needed, however.
  • Postpone your workout if your signs and symptoms are “below the neck” — such as chest congestion, hacking cough or upset stomach. Likewise, don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.

Thank you, Dr. Laskowski. Hacking cough? Check. Fever? Well, low grade. Okay. No workout for me today.
Guess I’ll go see my internist tomorrow, get some antibiotics, and maybe, just maybe, by tomorrow evening I’ll be up to doing some CrossFit. And if not then, well, dammit, I’ll do it the day after. I’m in it for the long haul, so I can’t let myself think that this little setback is the end.

The Los Angeles Times has a great article on immunity, exercise and illness, and gives this advice for avoiding my predicament:

To reduce the risk of illness while following a regular exercise plan:

  • Get plenty of sleep: Adequate rest helps your body recover.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.
  • Eat well (of course): Opt for a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables.

I was doing all that; no one is completely immune to the various bugs that want to use us as hosts. At least it’s not a zombie virus.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go have some hot tea. Even if it is 99 degrees out there. That’s what air conditioning is for, despite the fact that’s not exactly what Willis Haviland Carrier had in mind when inventing it (he and other early engineers in the field were more interested in industrial rather than personal applications. I can’t imagine living in South Texas before 1902.)  But, Willis, honey, you still did us a favor. Bless you.

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

You cataracts and hurricanes, spout

Til you have drenched our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,

Strike flat the thick rotundity of the world!

                                                       Act III, Scene II, “The Tragedie of King Lear,” William Shakespeare

Not into Shakespeare? Before you completely give him up as a lost cause, watch “Slings and Arrows,” a Canadian series. One of the writers is a “Kids in the Hall” alum, and it’s smart and funny. Even the  “not-crazy-about-Shakes” folks in our little group found they could like him.

So why the Shakespeare quote? Because it popped into my head last night when I lay down in my bed and felt my right shoulder decide that it was not going to be happy in its current position, and after trying to rearrange myself without waking up my husband, I felt tears of sheer frustration filling my eyes and watering my eyelashes. I wanted to howl into the wind, and then Lear’s famous speech popped into my head.

The setup for the speech could take quite  a lot of space; after all, it is from the third act. The down and dirty is that King Lear, because of his own vanity, fatigue, arrogance or impending dementia, decides to retire by dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters. The youngest (and the only one who actually gives a damn), Cordelia, refuses to play along with her father’s method of deciding who gets what, which is to flatter the old man effusively, telling him how much you love him. So her two older, evil sisters get the kingdom between them and poor Cordelia is cast out. The other sisters then scheme to get Dad out of the pictures as much as possible.

At the point of the speech, Lear has run out into the night into the woods, provoked by his two elder daughters, who have taken away his pride (they’ve already got his money and power) and exposed themselves for the lousy human beings they are. And Lear screams into the storm that breaks upon him before finally allowing himself to be cajoled inside a hovel for shelter.

Lear was shaking his fist at the storm, yelling at it to do all it could to him and to the world around him. Why? Well, there are many scholars who’d be able to defend a dissertation on the subject, but I’m going to take a stab at it myself.

This is an old man who realizes the depth of his mistake and is stuck in a hell of his own making. He screams at the wind and thunder, challenging them to do their worst, not caring if the storm destroys everything about him. Why not? He’s lost his family, his possessions, his dignity, so who cares what the storm does?

But Lear is not a victim. He voluntarily ran out into the damn storm. Lear set into motion the chain of events that ended up with him out in the night with no shelter. And I think that as the storm hit, he realized that he was no longer in control of things  and that he was being destroyed as a result of his own decisions. So, when the storm blows in, he blows up, letting all his anger at himself and his circumstances clash with the elements.

Last night, I could relate to that. My last three days of workouts have been a bit choppy. Yesterday should have been my rest day, but I ended up taking two days off in a row because I had a migraine the day after my last rest day. I had a touch of it still when I worked out the first day, but by the end of it, I was feeling better. The next day, I quit halfway through my pushups to report to Coach Gary that I was getting a sharp pain in my right shoulder — it didn’t hurt except during certain motions. I dropped almost all the lifting for the last two rounds of exercises. It irritated me, but not too much.

And then yesterday. I was looking forward to the workout, which was kind of novel; it’s a battle most days to go change clothes and then another battle to force myself to put on  my shoes and yet another skirmish to get off my hiney-ho and start working out.

So I jump on the treadmill, do my 10 minutes on the thing and head out to the garage for  the day’s challenges. Gary starts off with “Okay, I want you go do these as fast as you can and really push yourself.” Being well-trained in the art of taking things the wrong way, I want to know if he didn’t think I’d been pushing myself all along. And what about form? I lose form when I speed up too  much and I don’t want to get injured.

He met all my objections: No, this is not a comment on any other workout, I just want to push yourself and go as fast as you can. I think he’s trying to be encouraging, but I wish I could tune him into my internal dialogue sometimes, which is filled with me reviewing all the instructions for every move and yelling at myself to “Keep going.”

I got through the first round, but near the end of the second, when I went to do the push press, I pulled up like a lame horse. My left ankle started screaming at me. It was sharp, and kept getting worse. I tried to put my weight on it and almost fell down, so Gary put his arm around me, took me inside the house, and kindly set up the ice wrap for the ankle.

I was pissed. I didn’t get to do the workout, and cascades of pain were now being set off by the ankle. My calves hurt (although they seemed better after rolling them), my butt already hurt from sitting in a computer  chair for too long, my feet were swollen and my neck hurt. But it wasn’t until I went to bed and could not find a comfortable position that my own storm broke.

Is it too late? Did I screw up so bad in the last 30 years that it’s beyond hope? Am I going to manage to injure myself to the point I can’t exercise? Am I going to ever lose the damned, thrice- and quadruple-damned weight?

Or is it past the time of hope? Am I doomed to live out the rest of my life as a semi-invalid because I was too stupid or pig-headed to adopt healthier habits and, most damningly, willfully blind of the consequences.

So why didn’t some ghost of fat girls past visit me? She could have shown up around some holiday set aside for stuffing yourself full of food, prove to me I’d messed up and give me a way out. But no. No nighttime haunts by repentant ghosties. Just my own screaming into the wind.

I cannot undo what I’ve done. I can’t turn back time, as I so desperately wish I could, and turn myself back into a 20- or 30-year-old woman with minimal weight gain and a chance to get my fitness under control. I weighed 130 pounds the day I graduated from law school in 1989. I’d had both my children. I should have started exercising then, but “I didn’t have time.” I want to go back and punch my younger self in the face for that. I blew the opportunity to get it together while I was young, before I had accumulated so many injuries and diseases that when I hurt one ankle, every other body part wants to compete for my attention.

Yesterday night, I got a cramping, sharpish pain in my right leg that I thought was going to kill me.  Last night, I had a whining shoulder and burning knees, as well as the sensitive Achilles tendons.  It’s a chorus of furies, and they want me to go back to stop trying to fix the past.

It would be so much easier to give up. To throw my hands up and say, “Well, I tried, but even my wrists were  in pain. It’s never going to happen because it’s taking too long and I keep verging on injury. I’m going to hurt myself sooner or later, so I might as well quit before it happens.”

What I’m screaming into the storm is “You idiot, Jodi, why the hell didn’t you do something about this sooner? Been a better  role model? Been preparing for getting old?”

Maybe that’s part of it; I never really planned for getting old (long story, that). When I was 14, I was convinced I wouldn’t live past 30. When I was 30, I didn’t think I’d see  my 50th. And here I have passed all those milestones, and I know that I’ve procrastinated myself into a ball of fat with a little muscle tissue and bone that are stressed out because I keep making so many demands on them … new demands, demands my body isn’t used to dealing with.

But I don’t have many options. I can keep trying to get out of this hole, or I can give up and be a prisoner of my past choices.

The problem is that I don’t know if the choice is mine anymore. Have I now come to the point where I’ve run out into the storm with no shelter and no way to stay dry and safe, left only with the possibility that I’m going to be struck by lightning or die of exposure or starvation?

Lear is a tragedy, which, if you’ve read any of Shakespeare’s tragedies you already know, generally means lots of carcasses by the end. But although all life inevitably ends in death, the death need not be premature, nor does aging have to be a misery. I think I’ll risk the lightning pains over the slow atrophy of muscles. I keep telling myself (and everyone else) that changing my life is as much a mind game as it is anything, and screaming futility at the elements, challenging them to condemn me, isn’t a good way to play the game.

Instead, I think I’ll try to get armed with a little more knowledge about my physiology, keep taking the progress up slowly, take time to heal and listen to my wonderful coach, who keeps telling me to be patient. Patience? Hmm. Guess that’s another life change I’m going to have to integrate into the program.

Curses, storm of my own making. I’ll endure your wind and rain and hail and whatnot. Storms pass even more quickly than lives, and although recent events have shown just how much debris they can leave in their path, restoration is always possible as long as you have breath within you. Not easy, not quick, but possible with a whole lot of effort and even more patience.