Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction

So I got three new kittens recently, and as a consequence I’ve been thinking about them a bunch and not about blogging.  But then my awesome friend Jess messaged me, and that spawned a whole great dialogue about bodies, health habits, and changing things up.

There’s been a really interesting conversation evolving lately about whether or not you can be body-positive and still have goals around your body. More specifically—can you love your body and still want to change it?

It’s a tough one, because I feel like a lot of the time, it can be a very gray slippery mucky area where people say they want to be healthy or stronger or whatever, and really, they just want to lose weight and be more socially acceptable.  And that’s kinda dumb.  If you wanna lose weight, just say you wanna lose weight.  It’s your body.  You can do what you want.  And as a feminist, I believe in bodily autonomy over anything else.

I do think that it’s important to consider WHY you want to lose weight.  In this conversation with Jess, I asked her to examine why she wanted to lose weight.  I’m not the arbiter of what is and isn’t appropriate motivation.  Girl, I get it.  We fight a lot of battles in our time on this planet and this shit is hard.  If you want to lose weight so that bullies stop harassing you, so that your doctor takes you seriously, so that you can land that fly job without interviewer bias, it’s cool.  I personally believe that other reasons can be more fulfilling and that one should take a good, solid look at themselves and learn to live and love what they see first.  Then you can decide what you want to change.  

Jess does that here, and I think her desire to add more muscle and change her body comp based on how she feels is totally sound.  (I’d still have helped her even if the reasons she listed weren’t ones near and dear to my own heart, because I’m not a dick, but it did help me shape what I recommended.)

Above all, I think healthy should be additive, not reductive.  You shouldn't ever feel shame or deprivation.  It's way more fun to ADD stuff to your routine and see what sticks.  So here’s our conversation, complete with my ideas for how one might increase their overall health by adding rad stuff to their routine and making it habitual.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Jess:  For the very first time in my life, I actually want to lose some weight. This is a new experience for me and I have no interest in engaging in Diet Culture, which I can't see past the marketing of, if nothing else. I love myself and my body enough to want to do so healthfully and mindfully, and as much as I am a mortal human who enjoys overnight results, would be fine with a slow-and-steady progress.  What would your recommendation BE to someone like me?

Kelly: So as a feminist, I totally believe it's possible to love your body and yet also have goals concerning it.  To start off with, let's ask the obvious: why do you want to lose weight?  Once we determine your motivation, that's where we'll start.

Jess: I want to feel less heavy-- I know this is something a lot of people experience, I can actually feel myself carrying this extra weight. I'm not too proud to say that there's some vanity in there. I also want to gain muscle in my core so that I have an easier time hauling my ass (of any size) around. Also, having been very, very thin for bad, injury related reasons, I know what my too-thin feels like and have no interest in being there again. I do not want to lose any more than 12 pounds from where I am right now, and I want to do so in a way that will replace some of the fluff lost with the muscle I never gained back after my injuries, because fuck, being 10lb under your HappyWeight makes you COLD ALL THE TIME.

And energy! This is what I mean about feeling heavy. I'm tired a lot and want to not expend as much effort as I feel like I do in day to day stuff. When the 10 minute walk to the subway feels like a million miles and you can't kick up the speed, something goes off in your head.

Kelly: Ok!  So: a lot of what ails you can be adjusted with switching up what kinds of activity you do, and making some small tweaks to what you eat.  Can you describe what your normal habits look like on both of those accounts?  

Jess: Oh, I am fully aware that my habits are awful! Some of it is because I am so tired so frequently (and for a really long time I have been attributing it almost entirely to job stress and dissatisfaction-- and it did play a part!) I have never loved fruits and vegetables and essentially trick myself into eating them about 90% of the time I do. I can easily go a day without eating a single one, I am working towards fixing that. I am also what a friend of mine has heard referred to as "skinnyfat", where my eating habits can't be described as bad either. I don't eat a lot of sweets, snack food, or fast food. I have, in the last year, eaten a fair amount of convenience food, cans and boxes and the like, and am trying to change that a bit. Kyle and I in general need to be better about actually cooking and getting fresh food in the house, which is hard when you're really busy. But hopefully things are evening out for us a little bit. A lot of it is things I know I should do, but don't.

Activity, not nearly as much as I would like. Because I'm always running around to 10 different things, and tired when I stop, I don't set aside much regular time for focused exercising. I was trying for a while but not very successful. I get around an hour of walking/stairs just commuting every day.  Other stuff, but nothing regular.

My plan in the coming weeks is that when (boyfriend) starts band rehearsals again I'll go to a Pilates class I have taken and enjoyed that meets at the same time. I won't have any distractions, it’s after work, I got it cheap via Groupon, and if I schedule it in advance and am prepaid for it, I won't slack and not go. Raising stakes!  Making myself responsible for it.
For my back I currently do light stretching and foam roller stuff when it hurts. Also trying to do something for that every. single. day. because ow.

Kelly: Hey! No judgment!  We all approach life differently.  I love fruits and vegetables, and I'm totally overweight.  Whatever.  Genetics and proclivities are genetics and proclivities. That said: in order to actually change your body, you must actually change your habits.  I know it sounds reductive, but it's true.  

I feel you on being busy.  It can be hard to do a lot of things, but the truth to life is you have to prioritize what's really important to you.  Hate your job?  Looks like you're setting about fixing it.  Feeling a lot of discomfort, heaviness, ick?  Now's the best time to start making changes that will help you feel a ton better overall.  I promise.

Let's go from "easiest to implement" to "a little harder".  I promise I won't give you anything ridiculous.  You can integrate things as you go along.  All you have to do is promise yourself to keep going.

Movement/Exercise:  So stuff you're already doing: the Pilates class is good.  That should help with some of your pain/discomfort for sure.  Having a strong core helps with everything else.  It's also good to have day-to-day movement built in.  Keep that up.

The biggest change with the highest dividends you can make to your exercise routine will be to add some weight lifting.  I know that may sound a little intimidating, but there's really no other way to add muscle quickly and efficiently.  Also, it doesn't have to be bad or hard.  You may end up loving it.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

You don't have to join a gym, or buy anything for now.  I'd suggest starting with 10-15 minutes of body weight exercises 2-3x per week.  Do it while you're waiting for (boyfriend) to cook dinner, or when you've gotten home before you kick off your shoes and relax.  The thing about setting a healthy habit is that you have to get to it before inertia kicks in.  For me, that means doing it before I go home from work - that may or may not make sense for you.

Intro to Strength Training: Nerd Fitness (Focus on the bodyweight section.  Links to movements inside the article)
Why strength training is good for you: Nerd Fitness

I love Nerd Fitness.  They're legit, and low on the moralizing.

Nutrition:  For nutrition, I'd start small and get better over time.  Get a habit tracking app on your phone, and start tracking habits.  I'd keep it simple—examples:
- Eat 3 servings of vegetables today (sneak them into a smoothie, try them with dips, eat vegetarian for a week and challenge yourself to find recipes you like)
- Eat a fruit
- Have one meal you make yourself
- Drink 48 oz of water

Some core eating habits I try to live by: eat when you’re hungry, eat 3-4 meals per day (no grazing), eat until you’re full then stop, and try to eat mostly whole foods.  

Also, eMeals saved my relationship.  It's an app for tablet or smartphone with EASY recipes and not too many ingredients.  You can make some stuff on the weekend if you have time, and save it/freeze it for easy reheating later.  And they give you a shopping list that you can take to the store. So simple.

So that's a ton of info, but let me tell you what's in it for you: less pain, a better looking and feeling body, the energy to get through your day.  Weight lifting in particular made the biggest body comp change to my body that I've ever seen in my entire life.  Seriously, it was life-changing.  I had a really tight butt, great arms, a smaller waist -- all of it.  It WILL NOT make you bulky.  I promise.  It never has, unless the lady took steroids.  For real.  When I started making these changes, I stopped feeling sluggish, could carry my shit all day, and all my aches and pains got better.  That was reward enough for me.  
So: how does all that sound?

Jess:  It sounds great! What you said in this last paragraph is pretty much everything I want in a more-concise than I said it nutshell. Specific thoughts following!

Movement: I actually LOVE weightlifting, I just never do it successfully outside of a gym, and I just dumped my gym membership so I could afford these Pilates classes. My chiropractor actually specifically recommended them, and as habits go they will be easier for me to incorporate than a gym since they have a set date and time. There's a very, very light free-weight fly the chiropractor gave me too that I just need to make habit. I actually would NOT mind bulking up on top so you don't need to talk me down from that! Will definitely check out that link.

Nutrition: Your first set of bullet points are definitely a thing I am trying to work toward. I started having a smoothie every day for lunch, but the pineapple in it was hurting my mouth and I would come home hungry and cranky (even though I felt fullwhen I was finished with the smoothie). I'm glad the weather is cooling off because that'll make the very act of cooking, and perhaps meal prep, much, much easier. Also, it'll let me sneak my veg in soup (I just got some for lunch now!). As for core eating habits, I am already mostly successful at these things-- 3 meals, when I'm hungry and usually not before. Stopping when I'm full.  Been working very hard to not eat while bored.  I need a book or something. When we cook, it’s often whole, but not as often as it could be. Frankly I need to learn to cook better in general. I have a food-tracking app I have used before. It’s pretty focused on raw calories, which I don’t super mind, because knowing I will have to type my food in makes me pause before I eat it and go "do I want to do this".

We just successfully have been making cold brew coffee to save money, so I am optimistic that I could do a weekday breakfast prep thing. I really want to make those omelet muffin tin things I've been seeing around, because I love a good spinach omelet and spinach can come frozen and organic and be just as healthy for me as fresh without wilting.

Kelly: My favorite smoothie recipe:
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup mango chunks (fresh or frozen)
1 banana
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup baby spinach leaves

It's SUPER GOOD.  You don't taste the spinach at all.  Nothing in it should hurt you.  It's very tropical and keeps you full because of the coconut milk.

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

Habitual Health: Addition, Not Subtraction - superbalancedlife.com

I make these egg muffins a ton: Egg Muffin Recipe

Cooking spray prevents them from sticking, and then you just reheat.  My fave combo right now is baby spinach, feta, and roasted red pepper (from a jar, cut up).  So good.

So it seems like the answer now is to do the Pilates + the lightweight fly, and start with that.  Those are your exercise habits for the next month.  Then, whenever those classes are up or you feel done and can afford it, hit the gym for more robust weight lifting.  I am SO GLAD that you have none of those concerns.  I love weightlifting and I wish more women would do it, to preserve their skeletal muscle later on.

For food, I'm super glad to hear you have mostly healthy habits.  Not eating while bored is totally a thing.  One of my friends says it's helping her to have something to do with her hands.  Another friend says that drinking a glass of water when she's snacky helps her see if she's hungry or not.

I spend Sunday afternoon doing 3 hours of meal prep.  I make egg muffins, get smoothie ingredients together, and make my bagged lunch for the week.

Jess: Update! I had a very happy weekend, kicked off by our conversation, and while I didn’t watch my eating, I was very active, and have a habit tracker app and feel like I can do it. I'm going to try to drink an amount of water, eat one fruit and one veg serving per day, do my chiro-prescribed exercises every single day, and take vitamins including probiotic and fiber. Trying to set myself up for success! And I know from experience that taking a multivitamin with iron prevents PMS weight gain (which is insignificantin the long run but very, very annoying.)

Kelly: That all sounds great Jess!

Jess: Day 2 and I am on my way to meeting those goals again. Thank you for realizing that sometimes you have to just be a nerd who loves checking off to do lists before being a "health conscious person" whatever that means or, honestly, deciding what not to eat. I'm already feeling more positive because I have A Plan.

Kelly: Totally. That's the WHOLE THING.  Like, all of it.  If you can get that down, the results will come.

Jess: Word. I am ready. I ate both fruit and vegetables 2 days in a row before I was even done with work. One thing I run into that I think lots of people have trouble with is like wtf is a serving of these things. I ate a wrap that had cucumbers and carrot in it. No idea how much because I didn’t make it myself. Easier to check yes or no, at least at this stage, than to worry about a measure.

Kelly: Yes, totally.

Jess:  Keeping the habits up, finding fruit harder than veg. Really glad today was soup weather! Hale and Hearty cream of tomato with orzo and chicken is super delicious and filling and the only eh factor is salt.

Peeing constantly because lots of water. Takes some getting used to. But definitely feeling a bit more energetic and less beat at the end of the day. Hope its not placebo! haha.

Kelly: It’s totally not, and even if it is, who cares!  Enjoy that feeling, girl.

Anyone else want to weigh in on additive health habits they've implemented?  What's been successful for you?  And even more interesting, what hasn't?

Three Kinds of Competition

Originally posted over at the Four Elements Blog.

As someone who’s played a lot of sports, I have a lot of respect for competition. It’s a motivating factor in our training—we all want to get better as athletes, and have a healthy drive to surpass those we are competing against. In both team sports and individual competitions, the drive to succeed fuels us to achieve higher and loftier goals. This is an awesome thing.

The first kind of competition is the one we learn when we’re just starting out, and it’s the easiest to understand: competition between us and others. In order to beat the other team or win a tournament, you have to perform better than they do. This pushes us to really give it our all, and makes us stronger athletes. Often, there can be two layers to this kind of competition as well—competing against our own teammates to get a place on the all-star roster, and then the game against the other team or opponent as well. When approached in a healthy way, this kind of competition can be very motivating and even fun.

As you get further into training, the second kind of competition comes into play. This is competition against oneself. Can we improve our times, our skills, our mastery of the sport we love? How can we maximize our training to ensure that we’re continuing to achieve personal records, better times, and higher weights than our past selves? This kind of competition can be even more motivating, because you focus less on external factors outside your control, and more on your own growth and achievement as an athlete.

If you’re an athlete, this is all pretty familiar, right?

The third kind, if you can call it that, is where things start to get a little unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable. The third kind of competition is non-competition.

This sounds kinda nuts but bear with me here. It’s a paradox—how can a kind of competition be non-competitive?

Sometimes in our training, we need to take a step back and purposefully and intentionally opt-out of competition. Illness, injury, rehab, or exhaustion can all take us out of a place where competition is healthy and good for us. I’m working through a shoulder injury that’s putting me on the sidelines from all pushing movements—no overhead lifts, bench presses, or push-ups for me, for probably a considerable amount of time. As much as I want to compete with my fellow lifters, to put big numbers up on the whiteboard, and better times, it’s just not possible if I want to heal.

I also can’t compare myself with previous versions of me—past times, lifts, or performance. I’m not the same as I was 6, 12 or 24 months ago. And that’s frustrating, because I feel groundless. There’s no familiar guidepost, no benchmark, no direction to orient my progress, really.

But non-competitiveness serves a purpose: it allows you to really focus in on healing, without getting recurrent bouts of re-injury or sickness. Even if you’re not sick or injured, everyone needs downtime. All professional sports have an off season.
I think it’s a lot harder for those of us who are not professionals to take that time for ourselves. It’s harder to justify. “Well, I’m not working at the level that so-and-so is, so I don’t deserve to take a break.”

The problem with this kind of thinking is that the body never has time for adequate recovery. Sometimes you just need a few rest days, but sometimes you may need weeks or months off your sport. And that’s really hard. I know. I’m dealing with that right now. But it’s vital.

So what takes the place of competition? I’d venture to say that goals are an appropriate answer—just different kinds of goals. Instead of focusing on outcomes—a personal record, a better time, a higher ranking—choose to narrow in on behaviors instead. Make a recovery plan for yourself, and mark off how many times you do mobility exercises, or rehab, or conditioning, or even much needed rest. Feel good about that.

It’s hard to do, and I’m in the thick of it myself, but see how it goes for awhile. Test it out. The likelihood is that you’ll be able to return to your sport with increased awareness, motivation, and ability.


I've thought a lot about this post. Even so, it may come out like a grab bag of thoughts. And there's some pretty serious stuff in here, just be forewarned.  We gonna get real.  Real real.

For the past few weeks, I've been really angry at my body.  I know it hasn't seemed like it.  There have been victories in there too, and moments where I've been very happy with it.  But this body journey?  It's complicated, difficult, and life-long.  You don't ever get to a place where you're done.  You can't mark it off a list.

And I am very much struggling with that.  It's been especially hard lately, because of my injury, because I've been gaining weight, and because, without disclosing too much here, I'm on a fertility journey that isn't going so well.

I realized yesterday that I feel like my body has betrayed me, and I am so angry about that.  It got itself injured, it's failed to get pregnant, and it's been slowly gaining weight over the last 6 months.  And that all feels bad.

The injury is healing, and the pregnancy stuff takes time and is a whole separate thing, so let's focus on the weight gain for a moment.  Despite my best intentions to deal with it, and a little denial that it was happening, it's now a thing.  My ring and some of my clothes aren't fitting properly, and that's triggering to me nearly every day now.  And even though I feel like I shouldn't let that bother me, and that letting it get to me is a betrayal of the body positive community, it really does get under my skin. 

Feeling the tightness of your clothes is uncomfortable.  I feel too big to be contained by them.  I have some pretty damn cute clothes, which is making it all worse.  I don't want to buy new clothes - I want to fit into the clothes I could wear six months ago. 

Wanting to lose weight is a really loaded thing.  I feel like I should clarify what I want, because what I want (weight loss) is going to be either evaluated as a superficial concern, considered a backlash against all the body positive work I've done over the past few months, or dismissed as less valuable than a getting stronger goal.

But sometimes, when a lot of your clothes are tight, and you feel heavy and stuck, and you realize you've been (okay, confession time) binging a bit because you are just so angry about it all, an answer gets teased out of the mire.  And that answer is complicated, and goes against what you thought you wanted.

My big epiphany yesterday was that what I am most angry and sad about is the realization that I will have to be mindful about food for the rest of my life.

I can't just eat thoughtlessly anymore like I did when I was 21.  For one thing, it makes me feel shitty and over-full, and for two, that's how I gain weight - by looking the other way, because I am bored and tired of thinking about it.  For the rest of my life, I'm going to have to be aware of what I eat.

And that felt like a big loss, somehow; the loss of innocence, maybe.  And the withdrawal of some level of relaxation/pleasure/ease, etc. - basically, the loss of my binging coping mechanism to deal with discomfort.  It's easier to check out.  It's more fun, it feels good, and you get to be someone that everyone likes, someone who is very easy to please because they eat everything.  I miss being able to be that person.

But I also know that the cost of being that person, the mood swings, the weight gain, the frustration over the weight gain, the tight clothes, the feeling of being undone and having no control - that's not worth it.

So what now?

Well, that's the interesting part.  I'm working on some kind of plan to get me back into my pants.  I do know that it won't be ridiculously restrictive, because we all know how badly that goes for me.  I know that I need to grieve the loss of my coping mechanism of eating mindlessly (a.k.a. binging).  My therapist says I need to find something I can actually live with. 

My plan is to do that - to find a workable, long-term plan - and then espouse it forever, to identify with it readily, and use it to make choices easily.  Because I do think it works better to be able to say, "No, I'm choosing not to eat that" vs. "No, I can't have that."  In the former case, I am empowered to choose what to eat based on my principles, values, and desires.  In the latter, I am following a system someone else has designed.  I want to be empowered and embodied, not be a sheep, mindlessly following rules other people have set.  Damn the Man.

I'll keep you posted.

And P.S. my new plan will still include one of these from time to time, because consistent, infrequent indulgence is really important.

Pebbles Donuts. My favorite is the Salted Caramel.

Pebbles Donuts. My favorite is the Salted Caramel.

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.