Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Year of Eating Mindfully

I've been obese.  A year after my son was born, I still weighed as much as 165 pounds.  I just checked an official chart,  and I had a BMI of 31.17, which is considered to be :  Obese Class 1. (Class one?  Who knew there were classes?) Here's a photo from one of the points where my fat loss stalled in 2004.

 I had  yo-yoed from diet to diet, and I had tried to burn as many calories as I could in step class and on the treadmill, but I was stuck.  If I cut my calories to less than 1500, I could manage to drop 5 or even ten pounds, but then diet fatigue would set in.  At that point I'd go back to eating and drinking whatever I desired, sometimes known as eating ad libitum, and then my weight would creep back up until I forced myself to diet again.  This is such an old common story, that I hope you won't find it dreary, but fortunately, a great shift happened for me in 2008, and I left obesity, and even overweight behind for good.

Today, I want to address the most important element in the equation for permanent figure transformation.


Over the past four years I've become convinced that yes, we must use more calories worth of energy than we consume in order to pull fat out of storage and burn it as fuel for living.  But how do we overcome the biological, environmental, social, and emotional cues that drive us to consume and store food fuel instead of burn and release it?

Gnothi Seauton

Know thyself.  Over the next seven weeks of the Mayday Makeover, I'm asking you to go in search of the eating style that puts you in a negative calorie balance, without making you crazy.  I'm asking you to think honestly, and without too much self judgement, about what kind of eating helps you rein in your consumption without triggering overwhelming appetites.  The goal is simply seven weeks of eating mindfully.

Low fat?  High volume?  High fat low carb?  Paleo?  Vegetarian?  Fruit and Veggie Rainbow?  Cheat Meals?  Cheat Days?  I don't know what you will choose, and I've heard that 45% of successful fat reducers actually make up their own plan.

The idea is to treat food with respect and to eat with awareness.  The technique that has worked so well for me involves planning my menu each morning before I have my first bite.  Then, the second technique is to eat every bite as a planned meal or snack sitting at the table.  The agent of change is behavior.

In a later post I will write about my belief that for those of us who have struggled with overweight all our lives, the content and not just the amount we eat affects our behavior in ways that seem beyond our control, but for today,  the tool for change is awareness of how we eat.   I'll address what we eat later.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mayday Makeover

The Mayday Makeover:  7 Weeks Till Summer

Thanks for dropping by readers, and a special welcome to the members of my Zumba classes who are testing this new fitness plan.

First of all, why am I creating the Mayday Makeover, and why should you want to try it?

Simple:  Summer is coming, and I want this to be the best Summer ever.

How can the Mayday Makeover help this happen?  I believe that physical well being is one of the foundation stones of a happy life, and this plan will focus your attention and effort on your health in a way that is fun, inspiring, and effective.  In the past I've written that the formula for permanent figure transformation is:

Eating plus movement over time

Starting May 1st. and for the following seven weeks, we're going to commit to finding a way of eating and moving that brings our physical bodies into alignment with what we believe will make us happy, vital, and productive.  I'm going to take a curious, lighthearted approach that leaves out stress, blame, and unreasonable expectations, and that encourages you to keep your menu satisfying, and your fitness enjoyable.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to do a fitness challenge that's all about feeling great while you follow it?  Let's do it, and may the results be beautiful.

Step one:  Get familiar with the training style.

A word or two on my attitude towards training.  I don't work out.  I refuse to work out.  Working out is a boring waste of time.  So what do we do instead?  Three Things:

Train, Practice, or Play.

Training is what we do in the gym, studio, or at home if you train there, when we are feeling well and going for progression.  In training we learn new exercises and techniques, or we increase the level of effort and difficulty for the exercises we already know.  In training we use self discipline and put forth effort for the pleasure of mastery.  Training is intense, and it can involve difficulty, but in my philosophy it never involves pain, and it never involves the deliberate pursuit of failure.

I am convinced that we can achieve amazing physical progress, and even prowess without going to failure- which I'll define as the point where you can no longer do a movement with excellent form.  I will grant the possibility that professional weight lifters and other fitness pros may need to go to failure to get to elite status, but we're after something different: Progress with Pleasure.

Is this really possible?  The point of the Mayday Makeover is to find out.

So here is the week one introductory training routine.  The idea is to become familiar with the movements and the demands of the exercises.  If these are too basic for your fitness level may I suggest any of the training regimens you can find over at Turbulence Training.  That wasn't a link, so Google Turbulence Training, and I'm sure you can find several 4 week programs to get you started.

Disclaimer time:  This blog is intended to give information and to entertain.  Check with your doctor before starting a fitness or nutrition program.  And see a certified personal trainer to learn safe, proper form when you exercise.

Week 1 Introductory Training  Routine

Warm Up:

8 Bodyweight Squats
8 Push Ups   (These can full body, kneeling, or using a sturdy counter or the wall, depending on your upper body strength.)
10 Stick Ups
8 Standing Cross Crawls Each Side.
Rest 30 seconds and repeat one time.

Superset #1
8 Push ups (Full, kneeling, or wall)
8 Prisoner Squats
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1 time

Superset #2
10 Stick ups
10 standing Cross Crawls (each side)
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1 time

Superset #3
30 Second Plank
30 second Hip Bridge
Rest 30 Seconds and repeat one time.

Easy intervals:
Walk at an easy pace for 5 minutes to warm up, then alternate 30 seconds of very brisk walking, with 30 seconds of easy pace walking for six rounds.  Cool down with two minutes of walking at an easy pace.

Suggested Stretches to Finish:

Side stretch:
Reach right arm  overhead and stretch to the left, hold for a slow count of 8, repeat on other side.

Standing Hamstring Stretch:
 Place flexed right heel on the floor in front of you, sit back with the hips and lean the upper torso forward until you feel the stretch in your right hamstring.  Hold for a slow count of 8, bring your feet together and roll up.  Repeat on the other side.

Calf Stretch:
Step back with the right foot, lunge gently forward on the left leg until you feel the stretch in the right calf.  Hold for a slow count of 8, and repeat on the other side.

Arm and shoulder stretch:
Lace your fingers behind your back, slowly straighten your arms and hold for 8 counts.  Relax the arms, then repeat.

A note on stretching:  I believe that flexibility is the "secret sauce" for a beautiful healthy physique.  The challenge is that it is much easier to demonstrate flexibility exercises than to describe them in writing!  I strongly recommend seeking personal instruction to create a flexibility practice.  Recent research indicates that stretching should be performed at the end of your fitness practice after the body is fully warmed up and your resistance training is done.

Please e-mail me at with any questions.

Tomorrow:  E is for Eating:  A post about finding your best nutritional philosophy.  I call it:
 "Serving the Food That Serves You."

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cake on the Counter

How did I finally get my fat out of storage?  With Turbulence Training.  Click Here to put it to work for you too.

My son's birthday was last week, and his deep dark chocolate fudge cake has been sitting on the counter under the heavy glass cake cover ever since.  Now here's what's really weird.  He hasn't had a piece.  Not one.  He asked for shrimp with bow tie pasta for his birthday dinner, and he ate that with gusto.  Then he blew out the candles, and  blew off his cake in order to open his presents.  

Now that I think about it, when I was a child, I did the same thing.  Oh I always got around to eating a few bites, but I found it too rich and sweet to eat much more.

What happened?  What in the world happened to make cake turn from a take it or leave it treat into an object of obsession?

I have a theory that, as women exit the childbearing years, our ability to deal with sweets may change. In the same way that I certainly can't drink the way I did in my 20's without severe consequences, sweets make me crazy for more and more, leaving me with an indulgence hangover the next morning.

Now don't worry, this is a positive story.  I didn't eat the cake, and it vanished yesterday afternoon after I asked my son if he was ever going to eat any.  I'm pretty sure my husband made it disappear when I told him it was calling to me.  

Yes, it's true, food gets into my head the way a teenage crush used to.  But really this is a good problem for a trainer to have, as I have to deal first hand with the greatest challenge that we have to face if we want to get fat out of storage and use it as fuel.

How do you deal with the cake on the counter?

If you're like me you have goals: physical goals that affect the quality of your life.  In order to reach my health goals I know with a deep certainty that random cake eating will blow them out of the water faster than TNT, so here's what I did.

1. I took a deep breath and said a prayer asking for help with my obsession.

2.  I said, "Not today.  I have a birthday coming up myself and maybe I'll have a nice fresh piece of cake then, but I won't have a piece of this cake today."

3.  Then I went and asked my son if he was going to eat any.  Then I told my husband that I was starting to think about the cake.  This is important: when it comes to following your best instincts on food there is real power in not handling cravings all alone.  You may not have people living with you who can help, but I'll bet if you try you can think of an ally you can reach out to.  Texting is a great tool for this.

4.  I made myself a delicious satisfying breakfast.  I told myself that there were plenty of good foods in the house that would satisfy me if I just took the time to prepare them.

The cake is gone, and this morning I have something even better: the satisfaction of being true to myself.  Believe me, that's even better than a number on a scale.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Two nights ago, I had my first "Fatmare".  I dreamed that I was working with a personal trainer.  He was young, blond, handsome, and fit, and I knew that he was going to find me...  unfit.

That's right, unfit physically and unfit to be a trainer myself.  I remember thinking in the dream,  "I mustn't let him know that I don't believe traditional cardio is effective, and I certainly mustn't let him know that I eat free range eggs, butter from grass fed cows, and extra virgin coconut oil, and I certainly can't let him know that I avoid sugar and wheat."

What did this handsome blond trainer do?  He looked me in the eye and seemed to say, "I know you're keeping secrets from me."  But what he really said was, "We need to get you on the scale."

Right.  On the scale.  "Alright ."  I thought.  I knew this was going to happen eventually- that I'd finally have to get on a scale again with a witness, and not a compassionate witness, but someone who was there to judge and who couldn't wait to tell me that my methods were wrong.

Brief digression, have you ever heard the theory that everyone in your dreams is you?  I guess that would explain the feeling of judgement I was getting from Blondie in my dream wouldn't it?  Try this theory out with your next dream and see what you discover.

At any rate, I climbed up on the old fashioned doctor's scale, and the little metal counterweight moved slowly and inexorably over to:

172 Pounds.

Now, I'm 5'1, and 172 is the weight where I initially stalled after I gave birth to my son Colin.  All of the work that I did over the course of seven long years to get to a normal healthy weight was wiped out in one moment in that dream.  What a horrible nightmare.

Then I woke up.  Wow, what a relief to discover the the 2 and the 7 had switched back, and that I was back at 127 not 172.  127 is significant number because although it's healthy and I can fit into all of my clothes, it's still not where I want to be.  In February of last year, I briefly weighed 118 and I felt fantastic, and my fantasy weight in all honesty is 109.  What I realized when I woke up from the dream of 172 is that I've been taking my actual weight for granted.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about escaping the Fat Trap.  That post was a response to Tara Parker Pope's article in the New york Times that discussed at length the severe difficulties people face in maintaining weight loss.  Here is a link to that article:

It is experiences like Tara's, (in spite of being the Times' health blogger and gaining fat loss knowledge all the time she is still 60 pounds overweight, and she is completely candid about this) that make me realize how grateful I should be for the fat loss I have maintained since 2008.

I believe that one of the reasons that women in particular have so much double maintaining fat loss is that our real successes are rarely enough to get us to our fantasy weights.  Because the fashion ideal today is based upon the body of a very slender adolescent female, the ideal is almost impossible to achieve without resorting to extreme dieting- or maybe building a time machine.  Men do not have to become skin and bones to get to the right size, so they can happily go on to a maintenance eating plan while we, or at least I, keep chasing a size zero ideal.

This post to Style List from Franca Sozzani about her Harvard speech is enlightening on the subject of the perils of our current fashion ideals.

So what do I do now that I'm awake?

It's time to be grateful for how far I've come, and to use that gratitude to make me a better trainer and coach.  I have to remember that we transform our bodies one day, one step, one positive action at a time.  It makes no sense to fret over a fantasy number on the scale, of a nightmare number for that matter, when I can't do anything about the last five fantasy pounds until I address the first five right in front of me.

Better still, and I tell this to my clients, is to address the next inch.  I read recently that on an average 5'4" woman the loss of 2 inches around the waist without a scale change means that she has exchanged 6 pounds of fat for muscle.  Now that's what I call a fair trade!

So now it's time to take my own advice and address the next inch by doing the Turbulence Training Big Five plan for the next four weeks, abstaining from my trigger foods, and giving my self a break every once in awhile.  We all deserve a break from self criticism- asleep or awake.