In the Middle of Things

My friend Jennifer recently asked when I was going to update this blog again, and the answer I had at the time was, "Unknown, because I'm not certain what I have to say?"

Everything in my head pertaining to fitness and health is kind of a big scribble right now.  And rather than hide and say nothing, I'm going to try to unpack it.  It's going to be messy.  But it's where I'm at, and the truth, they tell me, is powerful.

So here it goes: I'm struggling with post-partum body issues.  I thought that I'd made my peace with my post-partum shape, but as it turns out, that was more a surface-level peace, because clothes shopping was really triggering, along with the gym, and seeing pictures of myself, and on and on.  I was okay as long as I didn't think about it.  But that can't really work long-term.

The culturally expected thing to do about that is to try to lose weight and get in shape.  Before I dismissed that entirely, I wanted to do a deep dive into what that might look like.

I thought about going Paleo again, because I'd had success with it in the past.  For a moment, I even considered Keto, because the results reported by friends have been crazy.  But my partner's friend is having to do a very low-carb diet in order to reverse his diagnosis of Type II diabetes, and after watching him do it, my partner reported back that it takes a whole lot of planning, energy, and willpower -- to do the research on what foods you can eat, read labels, ask lots of questions about ingredients, and default to the safe things at restaurants.

I think that back in 2012-2013 I had that kind of time and energy.  I was also skating 3x per week and didn't have much else going on other than that.  I didn't have a kid.  I had a lot of time.  I don't have those things now.  It's worth noting that I do meal plan and prep on the weekends, and I've been pretty good at making plant-forward, healthy breakfasts and lunches this year.  I feel good about that.  But taking it to the next level, committing to another Whole30, or Keto, or even a pretty primal set-up takes a lot of resources -- resources I don't have at the moment.

The reason I don't have those resources is that I'm working on a pretty big project right now, and I've shelved nearly everything else in order to work on it.  I'm also a working parent with a very clever, sweet, feisty two year old.  So time and energy and effort are limited.  I'm lucky if I can get to CrossFit two times a week at this point.

That's the other part of it, by the way: I don't have a lot of time for exercise right now either.  I used to make it to CrossFit at least 3x per week.  I'm struggling to do that now with the daycare schedule.  The times don't line up quite right, and every time I have to leave CrossFit early, I feel really shitty about it.  It seems rude?  I don't know.  Everyone is super understanding at the gym, but I feel terrible about it. 

And then I have to rush through traffic to get to my kid on time, because the gym is further from her daycare than my work is.  So my compromise has been to work out at work's exercise room on Wednesdays when I have to pick her up.  I'm lucky enough to have a partner who retrieves kiddo on Mondays and Fridays, so I can hit CrossFit then, and that will have to be good enough for now. 

I feel like a huge traitor for even having these feelings at all.  I've worked so hard to be body positive, to make peace with my body as it exists, right now.  A lot of the time, I feel pretty okay about it.  But the weight I've gained around my middle from having a baby has literally changed my shape.  I used to be more of an hourglass, and now I'm more of an apple. 

I know that this is part of the wild changes of life, of pregnancy and childbirth, of being a mama.  I know that my body will never be the same, and I wouldn't want it to be, because I have her, and she is everything.

MamaKiddo.jpg

Still, it would really help if clothes fit better/differently, and if gaining the weight hadn't shifted me solidly into plus size clothes.  I think being on the edge of straight sizes can be challenging in this very particular way: because it feels like straight size clothes should be in reach.  But they're just out of reach.  And you think, oh hey, if I dieted, maybe all that would be accessible to me.

I'm not trying at all to equate that mental gymnastics with the very real oppression and discrimination fat people face every day.  I recognize the thin privilege I do have in being a big size 14/small size 16.  I still have access to a lot of things that larger people do not.  And maybe it's stupid to even care about this at all.

But there's still that horrible small whispering voice in the back of my head, saying "If only.  If only."

Eyes on Your Own Barbell

One of the biggest changes with pregnancy is that I can’t CrossFit the way I used to.  I know this is one of those obvious things, but it kind of sneaks up on you.  For the first trimester, I stopped doing the WOD for time, and didn’t do handstands, or rope climbs, or pull-ups—anything that made me feel dizzy or where I could fall.

When I first started lifting. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

When I first started lifting. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

Now that I’m in the second trimester, I’m noticing that my squat position is totally different.  It’s difficult to drop to the bottom, because there’s a belly in the way.  And also, that quick movement isn’t so good when one’s tendons are getting more pliable because of relaxin.  But it bugs me.  I love lifting with a barbell.  And as much as it chaps my ass when a trainer zings me on form, I also love correcting it and working to be incrementally better and better.  But now I have to stop.  And it’s okay, but it’s still a bummer.

The one thing that did make me feel better was working out with my friend Lacy, from Super Strength Health last week.  We did an upper body dumbbell routine that really worked my arms, chest, and back. 

Guess I'll be getting cozy with these guys now. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

Guess I'll be getting cozy with these guys now. - Super Balanced Life - Eyes on Your Own Barbell

I could also take it at my own pace, which helped.  The “Go harder! Push yourself! Don’t stop!” cheerleading at the gym (at any gym—this isn’t limited to CrossFit) isn’t a fit for me most of the time, and especially not during pregnancy.  I know my own limits, thanks.  I’m not resting because I’m lazy—I’ve designed my process to the WOD for my own maximum efficiency, which means taking a rest before my last clean, so that I can move right into front squats, thanks.  And nowadays, I’m sitting on this box for a few seconds so that my heart rate doesn’t go above 160, bro.  I know my body.  Trust me to know it.  Give me that respect.

I’ve noticed that trainers get it, especially Melissa, the female founder of my CrossFit box.  Trainers are used to having that mind body connection, and knowing their own limits.  As a result, they’re awesome about trusting me to know my own limits.  I wish everyone else could do the same, not only for pregnant ladies, but for ladies in general. 

There’s so much rhetoric and posturing in the world of exercise, a subtle misogyny.  It happens every time someone assumes I don’t know something, or gives me a correction I didn’t want or ask for (not from a trainer, whose job it is, but from others), or questions whether I should or shouldn’t be doing something.  And before you think I might be sensitive from hormones or whatever, before you do that gaslighting that is so popular these days, consider this: this experience has happened to me everywhere, at any time, over the course of my life—in sports, in the gym, any time I expressed an interest in physical exercise, the questioning, the corrections, and the assumptions were launched right at me, and other women in that space.

The lesson here, I think is to keep your eyes on your own barbell, in the gym and in life.  Don’t assume you know something about a person based on what they’re doing or what they look like.  Let the trainers do their job to correct bad form, unless you’re super close with the person in question and they have asked for your help.  This applies to exercise, nutrition, health, wellness, you name it.  Apply it to everything – work, parenting, social cues.  You just don’t know what a person is dealing with or their experience, and assuming ignorance or ineptitude makes you not just callous, but a superior know-it-all juicebox.  Don’t be that guy. 

Eyes on your own stuff.  Be kind.  And celebrate that everyone is out there, trying to grow and be awesome in their own way.

Daring Greatly - My First CrossFit Competition

A few weeks ago, I did something previously unthinkable: I participated in a CrossFit competition at my gym.  Before anyone freaks out, this was a "just for fun" deal - and there's no Rhabdomyolysis in my future or anything like that.  But it was a big deal for me, because I was pretty dang terrified of the whole concept.

I don't love being looked at and judged, especially when I'm getting down to the sweaty business of working hard.  I do CrossFit for me, as a challenge for myself alone.  I like beating my own PRs and times, but I'm not really about competing against others.  My perfectionism often gets in the way of enjoying such pursuits, because if I don't do as well as everyone else I beat myself up about it for days.

You have to understand, sometimes even the "fun" things are hard for me because of this fear -- fear of failing, of looking stupid, of being embarrassed.  Even within the context of our gym, with people I know, I was feeling the fear intensely.

But my training partner really wanted to do it, and my coaches talked me into it.  For one thing, we would be signing up for the "Scaled" version, not the "Rx" version, meaning the movements and weights were well within my reach.  And if my Plantaris kicked up, I could figure it out along the way. 

Mostly though, my partner reminded me, the victory was in showing up, in facing my fear to try something new, to compete, to see how we stacked up. 

In mentally preparing for this challenge, I was reminded of this quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
— Theodore Roosevelt

This quote really hit my gut.  It moved my hand on the board to sign up.  Ultimately, I figured, even if I look stupid, even if everyone thinks I'm weak or fat or ungainly, even if I can't do any of the movements and the competition is a wash, I'm still showing up.  I'm daring greatly.  And there's honor in that.  Showing up engenders respect. 

So how did it go, you might wonder?

Well, actually, we came in 2nd.

Team Finish, on the podium.  From "Daring Greatly - My First CrossFit Competition"

Team Finish, on the podium.  From "Daring Greatly - My First CrossFit Competition"

I totally didn't think that would happen.  But, we both busted ass on the Thrusters, the first movement, positioning ourselves in 1st place.  Then we came in 2nd place on the second movement, a MetCon with jumping pull-ups, box jumps, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, rowing, and wall balls.  It was the last movement, a relay with sandbag cleans as a buy-in, that we fell behind, but you know what?  I can live with that.  Running and jumping are the movements that take longest to come back after a calf injury -- the fact that I was running at all during a competition is magic.

I'm so glad I showed up.  It's changed the way I think about CrossFit.  I realized that I let fear guide me a lot of the time, and that it's a waste of energy.  I need to try new things, and try hard, and keep moving even when it's really difficult. 

I noticed this week too that I've stopped fronting in a lot of ways -- I don't complain, I don't go light on weights, I've stopped apologizing for myself.  I show up and do my work.  And that feels really damn good.

The Upper Echelon

The other day, before I ended Precision Nutrition, I got really triggered by an email they sent out about their finalists for the women's Lean Eating program.  You can see the content here: Women's Lean Eating Finalists

What I found so triggering about this email was the Before and After pictures.  I felt profoundly disappointed that I hadn't achieved such radical transformation during my own PN journey.  I felt like I'd failed.

Even though we all know Before and After pictures are bullshit, and even though I know my goals ended up changing during the challenge, I still felt like I "should" have lost a bunch of weight, gotten super toned and tan, and had amazing After shots.

The "shoulds" really plague me you guys.  Not just about this PN thing, but in a lot of other stuff.  Lately, it's been coming up around CrossFit and not being part of "the upper echelon". 

Photo courtesy of Kris Bates at Grassroots CrossFit

Photo courtesy of Kris Bates at Grassroots CrossFit

In my box, we have a wide range of ability, from those just starting CrossFit with no athletic background, to athletes looking for more crosstraining, to intermediate CrossFitters, and then those who are looking to compete in CrossFit competitions.  When I started CrossFit, the gaps weren't so wide.  We had folks across the spectrum in the everyday classes, and I got to know some of them pretty well and enjoyed working out with them.  Now, because of Team Training, there's more of a divide, and I realized the other day that I'd been feeling envious of what the upper level athletes could do, and left behind, sad that I couldn't keep up.

But here's the thing: I was never at that level to begin with.  And even those who started at my level and worked really hard to get better are different than I am, because we are are fundamentally different from one another.  What works for those bodies may not work for my body, and vice versa.

My friend Lacy often tells me, "You have to realize that healthy comes in many different types of bodies."  And she's right. 

I'm doing what's right for me.  I know myself well enough to know that I try really hard.  It may not be obvious to everyone around me, and if the "proof" of health is killer 6-pack abs, then my fitness is probably not obvious to anyone.  But so what?  I know how exhausted I am at the end of a CrossFit WOD.  I know that I've been crushing my upper body and core workout 2x/week, plus a bunch of recovery work as I heal from my injury

I could be one of the upper echelon at CrossFit if I worked out 5-6 days a week (maybe even multiple times a day), ate a totally clean diet, and pushed myself constantly to get to competition level. 

I could be one of the Precision Nutrition finalists if:

  1. I'd made it my only goal for the year
  2. I was willing to sacrifice my relationships and mental health in the pursuit of weight loss, and
  3. if I'd had worse health to start out with

Because here's the thing about amazing Before and After photos: you have to look pretty out of shape in the Before picture to have a dramatic After photo.  True fact.  And I was in pretty damn decent shape before Precision Nutrition, so my After photo wasn't going to be off-the-hook incredible anyway.

But the truth of the matter is that I am doing everything I am willing to do to have a fit body, and I am healthier for it.

Juli Bauer, one of my favorite bloggers, writes in PaleOMG about how she's changed her perspective on how to train because of a similar realization:

My body is different than every single other person in this world. Completely different. I could workout the exact same, eat the same, sleep the same and do everything the same as one of my jacked competitive CrossFit friends, and I would look nothing like her. That’s because my body is different. And my goals are now different than they were. Before, I wanted to compete. That’s it. I did that and then I changed my mind so I could live a happier lifestyle. I didn’t think I would ever stop training and stop competing, but I did. Have you ever thought you wanted something and changed your mind along the way? If you haven’t, you’re boring.

I eat a healthy, whole foods-based diet, I work out multiple times a week at CrossFit, I go to yoga when I can, and I exercise sometimes for the sheer joy of moving my body.  I meditate every day.  I make time for my friends and loved ones, and I try not to stress too much about moderate indulgences from time to time.

That's what health looks like to me.  And I've determined that as much as I envy the upper echelon sometimes, it's not really worth the sacrifices I'd have to make - the strained relationships with friends and partners when they want to go out and I don't because I'm afraid of lack of restrictive eating choices, the scheduling everything around my gym time, the mental gymnastics of when to eat and how much and how to structure training. 

I'm sure people that are really committed to competition love figuring out all that.  To them, it must seem like a really awesome puzzle to work out.  And as a Type A overachiever with an analytical, problem-solving side, I kinda get that.  But I tried doing it for a year and it didn't work for me. 

I'm someone who loves creativity and spontaneity, and ultimately, balance.  I'm not willing to make training and/or weight loss my life.  So I'm focusing on what's real and achievable for me.  And the nice thing about that?  I don't resent the upper echelon any more.  They're doing them, and I'm doing me.  And that feels pretty damn great.