Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Every now and again when I'm building spin playlists...

Wait, let me pause for a moment and address something: The other day my trainer warned me that when I teach my programs, I can't call them "spin" classes because apparently it's a trademarked name and I can be sued. So, I am attempting to transition into calling what I do "cycling" or some variation.

Anyway - as I was saying...

When I google playlists for *ahem* cycling, I am always nothing short of appalled at the song choices that people have.  I have cycled to some wild stuff, trust me, but for the most part I know people need a seriously awesome cadence to keep them in the game - especially toward the end of a 60-minute class when the carbs have burned out of their bodies and their quads and hamstrings are functioning through sheer will power alone.

I find most of the songs that others choose to be without emotion or emphasis behind the cadence - I believe in using songs that evoke a mental image for a lot of people - or at least have the potential to.  And maybe not everyone's workout has as big of a mental  component as mine, but hell, maybe they've never had someone conjure those emotions through the power of loud music and a piece of equipment with two wheels.  And that's what I aim to do when I build cycling programs...

Encourage you to leave it *all* on the floor - sweat, tears, pain, anger, frustration.  Nothing left but pure power.

Beach Boys - Help Me Rhonda (warm up and stretch)

Michael Jackson - They Don't Really Care About Us (hover hill climb)

Glee Cast - Burning Up  (seated to hover hill jumps)

Eminem - No Love (seated climb to push backs)

Black Eyed Peas - Pump It (jump sprints)

Bruno Mars - Grenade (hover hill climb)

Matt and Kim - Daylight De La Soul Remix (jogs/isolations)

Devedas - Dola Re Dola (4 count / 4 positions jumps with variations)

Ting Tings - That's Not My Name (fast hover hill climb)

Basement Jaxx - Raindrops (8 count / 4 position jumps)

The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up (push back jumps)

Phil Collins - I Don't Care Anymore (seated hill climb to cool down)

Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye (cool down and stretch)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hurt so good

Originally, I had a post on the docket about the (now infamous) "Twinkie diet" - but since then there have been *several* wonderful blog entries on the topic by Registered Dietitians and other professionals in the wellness world: much like this one.

What has also been on my mind in the past couple of weeks has been pain and pain management.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I have been an advocate of natural pain management my entire adult life.  A couple weeks ago - seemingly out of nowhere - I began to experience a significant pain in (what seemed to be) my right rhomboid major.  For me, any muscular pain is frustrating in the very least as it requires me to assess and reassess what part of my routine was the probable cause for the discomfort and take extra time to stretch the troubled muscle. After consulting with my trainer and receiving some target stretches, I began what I thought would be a short rehabilitation process.

A few days passed, and the pain did not budge.  In fact, not only had it intensified, but I began to suspect that it wasn't muscular at all. Burning, not throbbing or dull aching, was the afflicting sensation. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor as soon as possible and that following Monday I was diagnosed with shingles

Let's just skip over the whole "I have no idea how this happened because I haven't been sick (not even a cold) in over 10 years and my family can't remember me having chickenpox EVER" part.  Instead, let's focus on the point of the blog entry - the pain.

If you Google "Shingles," the most common phrase you'll find is "Extremely painful."  If you dig deep enough (as I did, obviously), you'll find several forums with people sharing their experiences dealing with Shingles - some even claiming to resort to narcotics to deal with the pain.  The horror stories I found were all quite disconcerting to me, as even though shingles was not the easiest thing to deal with, it surely wasn't as bad as some people (my age, mind you) were making it out to be.  Yes, yes, yes - I know that it's possible that some people's pain could have been more intense, but I assure you that this was an INTENSE pain.  It wasn't a walk in the park.  My point is - there are several ways to manage pain without resorting to either over-the-counter or prescribed medications. Unfortunately, we live in a society that (metaphorically and literally) shoves medication down our throats at the first twinge of discomfort!

Now, there is nothing exceptional about my biology or body composition that allows me to endure pain - nothing abnormal, no over-active adrenal glands or anything of the sort.  I am your average run-of-the-mill healthy 20-something who has suffered injuries and illness (albeit the latter not in many, many years) much like anyone else.  The difference, I think, between myself and others is that I have made myself *aware* of the capabilities of the human body to endure and function through pain.  I *believe* that my body *benefits* from feeling pain - because when I do feel discomfort in its uninhibited form, I am in the best position to correct it - and I never forget what needs attention and work.  This philosophy was first tested when I broke my knee at age 19, when I suffered a 3rd degree ankle sprain in 07, and solidified when I ruptured my L4/L5 in the fall of 09.  Various other small inflictions and injuries between the most significant ones were also healed without the aid of medication, only resorting to anti-inflammatory medication  when the pain was intense enough to affect my thought processes.

Do I think I'm Superwoman?  Hell no.  Do I think other people can do exactly what I've done?  Yes!  It takes nothing more than considering the possible long-term consequences *not* of the medications themselves (I'm not a doctor or a pharmacist, although I've heard that too many meds can negatively impact certain organs), but of the *mindset* that people have when it comes to the slightest discomfort.  If you're constantly seeking a "quick fix" and you're unwilling to allow your body to tell you what needs attention - when will you ever truly *feel* anything?  Yes, back pain is one of the most awful experiences one can ever have - I know this first-hand.  HOWEVER, allowing myself to *feel* my back tell me exactly what was wrong and where it needed attention, I was able to rehabilitate the injury over the course of several months.  Had I just popped pain-killers daily, I would have been masking something that needed work - ignoring it until it screamed so loud that I couldn't shut it up.

I believe the aforementioned hypothetical scenario is why so many people are in chronic pain these days.  Nobody is too busy to listen to their own body, and nobody is too weak to stand up to pain and let it run its course.  I urge people in my life every day to realize their potential when it comes to many things: nutrition, time-management, fitness, and pain management.  We are born at full capacity and it is only we who allow that capacity to be whittled away slowly but surely until we are convinced that nothing but a bottle of Tylenol can make the pain subside.

Be strong.  Live well.  You are worth it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dysplasia and Determination

One of my favorite hashtags to use on Twitter is #livingwithinjury.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons I decided to make strides toward becoming ACE certified is to be able to share my story with others who may be battling against some seemingly-impossible hurdles.  The battle of mine that has been known to most is the injury I sustained a little over a year ago - an acute rupture of my L4/L5 - a special case, as it ruptured into my spinal cord rather than to the side as most disc ruptures usually do.  It has been a long road in these short 14 months - many nights spent silently crying myself to sleep from a pain and discomfort from which no position could yield relief.  Yes, I admit that a large reason why the road has been so challenging is because I refuse to take pain medication - but trust me, I'd rather feel the *true* situation than numb it, disregard it, and forget about what it takes to correct it.  Couple this physical pain with the stress of beginning my graduate/professional career and a long, drawn-out breakup and you have the potential for disaster.  I look back and realize how many times I could've lost control - how many times I could've given up.

And while the life-long fragility of my spine is the most difficult challenge I face as someone with a passion for personal fitness, it is not the only one I've had to rise above.

I was born with a mild form of hip dysplasia.   While this has not been too big of a deal in my everyday life, it consistently poses challenges to my fitness.  Today, I found myself lying on the mat at the gym with the intention of stretching, instead pondering how the inescapable/unchangeable grand design of my body throws a wrench in my ability to execute (flawlessly) certain maneuvers.  Instead of accepting it, I have always battled against it.  I have refused to succumb to some form of biological determinism - to accept the notion that somehow I was never meant to achieve peak physical ability.  Also - for most people, these small details do not matter - after all, they didn't matter to me until recently.

I stand at 5'8" tall and my legs are 28 inches long.  To give you a better visual, my younger sister and I have the same leg length - she stands 5'1" tall.  Legs as short as mine supporting a torso as long as mine have made my legs both notoriously strong and vulnerable at the same time.  Dysplasia also causes the legs to bend slightly inward at the knee joint - in the most basic visual, the femur and the tibia/fibula are maligned at the patella. Ok, perhaps that wasn't too basic - but suffice to say, this causes one to battle their own personal geography.  For me, personally, there are several exercises that I struggle with, not due to being out of shape, but due to fighting to keep my legs/feet in a position that elicits the proper bodily response - the position that respects the integrity of the kinetic chain.

The moral of the story has always been and will always be - keep fighting.  There are times when my trainer will point to the "fire" that I have, the passion and stubborn determination that will keep me repeating an exercise over and over again for days on end until I get it right - until I train my body to respect the kinetic chain that I wasn't born with.

And whenever I feel sad about the pain or the difficulty, I think about how much worse things could be.  I think about how my hard work has paid off despite the fact that it will always take me longer than others to reach certain goals.  Therefore, through all of my experiences I hope to encourage others to realize that their potential goes farther than what the body attempts to convince them that they can't do.  Perhaps there are exceptions to the rule, but there are always varying degrees of defiance. :)

I didn't ask to be born with dysplasia, but if I choose to let it dictate my life - I certainly will have asked for the feeling of failure that comes along with it.

Never let anyone, or anything convince you that you're not worth it or that it's not possible.  Whatever "it" is - make "it" happen!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mystery, newness, and of course...


After being in a relationship for a while, I completely forgot what it felt like to exchange text messages and share an aim window with a new person - one who sparks your interest, even if ever so faintly in those few days since you made your internet acquaintance.

Why are some people still afraid of dating websites?  It's healthy to put yourself out there, to know what you want from a new friend or potential partner, to get all dressed up and meet someone for the first time... wondering if they're gonna think you have a goofy smile or if they'll make you laugh so hard that you snort...

Oh how embarrassing!  And that's the excitement!  What will this person think of me?  Will they ever call me again?  Will they walk to their car thinking "Wow, she's even more amazing in person."

I think it's unfortunate how our society sometimes views, what a good friend of mine once referred to as, being the master of one's own destiny.  Taking control, knowing what you deserve, and going for it.  It feels good.  It feels empowering.

So, I say - go for it!  At the very least, it gives you something more than the mundane to look forward to. :)  And above all, it's healthy

Friday, September 24, 2010

The elusive third component

Because I am devoted to wellness, and this is comprised of not only fitness and nutrition but the state of our emotions as well - I feel that it is necessary for me to do all in my power to maintain a healthy state of mind.  After all, how can I presume to coach people around working through their anxieties, stress, and emotional baggage without doing the same for myself?

That said, it has been a while since I have felt a negative emotion that hasn't been shaken by endorphins.  Furthermore, it is even more disconcerting to me that walking into my classroom this morning didn't distract my mind from what currently plagues it.  Perhaps it would have been better if I actually had a lesson to teach this morning instead of the silence of students peer editing their rough drafts, but nonetheless, here I sit as hurt and ireful as I was when I fell asleep last night.

So what does one in my situation do?  Without disclosing anything too personal, I know that the reason I am pulling such a heavy weight is because this specific situation does not have a remedy - it leans on the actions of another, that which I cannot control - and those actions have not and will not change.  This person does not want to change and their inability to comprehend the impact is jarring.  My battles to be accommodating are catching up to me.  I am buckling in a way I never thought possible.

Deep down I know that I can't give up - it's just that at this point I'm not sure what it is that I'm battling through.  I've lost sight of the goal, if there's even one left at all.  At the very least, at the bottom of the barrel, I'll have to create a new goal - something else to work toward - something clearly defined, tangible, foreseeable.  Nobody can form a path without an end in sight.  I know in spin class when the climbs are nearly impossible and my quads and hips scream for me to sit my ass down, I envision something at the top of that imaginary hill - and I keep moving.  On the verge of what some days feels like a miracle, my legs just keep powering through those cycles because I want to get to that image, that future, so badly.

I want to know where we're going, where I want to be.  I know you're not going to tell me where you want to be, because you never know and I'm tired of asking - literally, I'm emotionally exhausted - spent.  So for the first time in well over a year, it can no longer be about you anymore.  I have to take the advice that my graduate directer gave me (of which I had no idea what to do with until now) and that is - be more selfish.  Yes, I need to feel what I felt last night and what I still feel this morning.  I need to acknowledge the pain, the frustration, and the disappointment.  We're human.  We cry, our bodies react to our minds, at times we lose control - and it's ok.  The affectual attunement consumed me last night and I passed out floating on a wave of tears.  This morning I woke with the lingering taste of vomit and a faint abdominal pain from retching.

What is more important, though, is what did not happen this morning.  I did not crawl back into bed.  I brushed my teeth, I ate breakfast and I went to the gym just like I do every morning.  The only difference is that this time it was with a heavier heart than ever before.  But I still made it.  And I'll continue to.  I'll find the new path - I'm just not sure I'll see you there.  I hope to - but that's not up to me and I'm afraid you'll never be able to decide.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nutrition labeling

If you're anything like me, you have veggies on the brain!  I spend a considerable amount of my day thinking about how to cook certain vegetables and looking up new recipes for all the veggies in my fridge.  I often find myself spending WAY too much time standing in the aisles of the farmer's market examining new produce that I haven't worked with yet - frantically looking up their stats on my phone, planning meals in my notebook.  Needless to say, I'm a veggieholic.  Through my knowledge (and passionate pursuit of more) I could easily live off of veggies - in fact, I rarely eat meat as is.  

So the burning question remains: Why not just *be* a "vegetarian?"

The answer, for me, is three fold:  Nutritonal, Psychological, and Ideological.


Although there are healthy ways to maintain a balanced, nutritional diet as a vegetarian, the same can easily be said about we omnivores.   Not all meats are healthy and I would say that it's definitely more difficult to prepare meat in a healthy way than it is to make veggies.  I know people who are struggling to shed pounds who admit that a big reason is their lack of knowledge when it comes to preparing lean meats in a *lean* way.  People also suggest that it's easier to fry chicken instead of bake it (this I don't really understand - the best I can come up with is it's what they're used to so it's an auto-pilot activity).  Regardless of the individual qualms with the kitchen, certain meats can (and do) pack great nutritional power.  

There's a current push for grass-fed beef and there's always the tried and true free range meat - e-coli and anti-biotic free meat is the way to go for what I call "undercover" health.  With the exposure that the food industry is currently experiencing, good quality meat can only become more prevalent and accessible (we hope)!  By the way - the opposite of "undercover health" is "on top of the sheets" health which deals with the way we cook our food as opposed to all the stuff inside of it that we can't see ;)

Full disclosure: I do not eat red meat or pork.  I'm a chicken and fish type of gal.


This is really simple - if I call myself a vegetarian, that means there are foods that I "can't have."  Putting limitations on oneself, for some people, can make eating feel like a chore.  I never want to look at a menu and say "Oh, I can't eat that."  I'd rather look at a menu and say "Oh, I don't want to eat that."  For some people, meat is unappealing either because they just don't like the taste, it doesn't agree with their digestive system, or their ethics prevent them from eating animals.  For those individuals, abandoning meat is not a chore.  For those who have enjoyed meat and have faith in the food chain, walking away from meat will likely feel like a restriction - and viewing your nutrition as restrictive will almost always backfire.


I love animals.  I adore them.  Seeing videos and pictures of the way animals are treated in slaughterhouses makes me incredibly sad and angry.  The reality, for me, is that regardless of whether or not I eat meat, the industry will not change.  I can do my part to buy organic meat and promote local farms, but ceasing consumption is not going to save the lives of animals.  I also believe that if we let all of the animals live and breed freely, we'd be overrun - and the planet is already crowded.  Am I being rather reductive with all of these points?  Yes - all of it deserves a larger, more substantive conversation and I acknowledge that - but for the purposes of this blog, I choose to simply gloss the concepts and ideologies.

All in all, while I love nutrition labels on my food items, I don't desire to wear one myself.  :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Acceptance or denial?

 Yesterday, a Facebook acquaintance (that sounds hilarious) of mine blogged about a particularly shitty experience.  In short, she was purchasing a new pair of gym shoes when some miserable bitch decided to speak her mind and spit some variation of "you're too fat to be in a gym, why are you buying running shoes?"

Disgusting and problematic, right?  Right.

The thread that followed proved to be equally problematic, as women began to come out of the woodwork in support of her - *not* just in agreement that the worthless woman in Footlocker should be slapped, but in support of being fat.  To be completely honest right out of the gate: This frightened me.  It still frightens me.  Even when I was obese, the entire "body acceptance" movement eluded me.  I never thought that feeling slow, sluggish, and less than able was something desirable or acceptable.  I never thought that being at-risk for so many diseases was ok - and I definitely never felt like any of this was worthy of being considered "beautiful."

But it didn't end there.  Not only were these women (the author included) claiming that it is "ok" to "love your fat body," but the primary reason cited for "body acceptance" was "genetic obesity."  Half way between a laugh and a furrowed brow, I stared at the screen of my iPhone wondering how I would ever reply to this without sounding like a complete asshole.  I could see inside the minds of these women - I knew where they were coming from because I had been there.  I had been in the typical position that leads one to believe their body type is genetic: try to lose weight, fail, feel like shit, accept being fat in order to retain sanity.  It's a survival tactic, and it is entirely understandable.  This does not make it right.

What I attempted to convey - and only now do I remember that Facebook is not and has never been the venue for debate of any sort - is that this "genetic predisposition" is not to "storing fat," but to sedentary lifestyles.  Many people point to their family members' similar struggles with weight and claim they inherited the extra inches.  And of course, people choose to cite research tailored to further their own agenda (this goes for almost anyone) - but on the topic of genetic obesity, a large majority of the research (if you read the entire article/study) indicates that the "obesity gene" is not, in fact, a "gene" at all.  Instead, so-called "genetic obesity" is merely the inheritance of a lifestyle.  A lifestyle predominantly held by Americans.  Furthermore,   most of the recent research on "genetic obesity" and the "obesity gene" has a very alarming, very telling discovery: The key to "combating" the obesity gene is ... exercise.  Anti-climactic, right?  Very.  Yes, you read it right - movement.  Ladies and gentlemen, you can battle "genetic obesity" by burning fat.  Who would've thought?!

One of the biggest issues I have with the argument for genetics is that it seems to plague only Americans.  As we know, the United States is a melting pot of culture - incredibly diverse - a genetic goulash!  So, why is it that across all of these genetic makeups, it is within THIS CULTURE that the highest percentage of people suffer from hypertension, diabetes, joint and muscle pain, high cholesterol, etc?  And more importantly, why would anyone want to live like this?  Even if you're in a state of ignorant bliss, don't tell me that you can ignore how difficult it is to perform an act as simple as picking something up from the ground.

When it comes down to it, obesity is not a gene, it's a lifestyle - it's cultural.  We have an epidemic in the United States and we cannot be rid of it with medicine.  Believe it or not, this is great news.  The cure for obesity is relatively cost-free, but unfortunately most Americans are so indoctrinated into being "busy" and "on-the-go," they fail to stop for a moment, breathe, listen, and take care of themselves and their families.

Keep in mind that health is not about perfection.  It's not about being a size 2, and it's not about having perfect abs.  This is not about running down the beach giggling only in all the "right" places.  This is not about running marathons or being "vegan."  Ladies, let me assure you that I know plenty of beautiful, healthy, active women who are curved and rock a size 12 like you wouldn't believe.  But the difference is, the majority of their weight is from muscle, not fat.  They can lunge, and squat, and spin, and press weights.  They don't "diet," but instead they have a lifestyle that doesn't include consuming double their recommended calories or an excess of processed foods.  But the most important thing about these women (myself included) is that they are not concerned with what society thinks about what size jeans they wear.  You cannot begin a healthy journey until you are above the influence.  Attempting to rally against ridiculous body images will make you nothing but bitter - and that bitterness will find you in a state of rebellion, eating whatever you want in whatever quantity because you believe it's somehow a statement about "loving yourself."

You're hurting yourself.  You're killing yourself.  You're lowering yourself to the same behaviors that you claim to hate and there are people around you who know how to successfully abandon this attitude in favor of a healthier one.  A healthier mind is the natural beginning to a healthier body.

That said, are there some people who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound?  Yes.  Are they going to avoid high cholesterol and arteries full of sludge?  Probably not.  But I don't think anyone would argue that some people have to bring a bit more attention to their physical activity and intake in order to remain at a healthy weight - but what I fail to understand is how this makes it ok to be fat?  What I fail to understand even MORE is when/how people decided that it's IMPOSSIBLE to lose the weight and keep it off?

One of the women in the thread claimed that no degree of healthy eating, exercise, sleep and stress management could take weight off of her body.  Another woman claimed that there is no way to lose a large amount of weight in a slow, healthy way and keep it off.  A very short, open letter to the both of them: You're wrong, and I feel for you.  My 60 lb weight loss came across 3 years!  That averages out to .05 lbs a day!  For those good at math, you know that's .35 lbs a week - well under the recommended "healthy" weight loss (which is .5 - 1 lb a week).  My nutrition was never perfect from the start - but I dedicated myself to learning about intake, healthy alternatives, discipline, intuitive eating.  I challenged myself and I'm rewarded daily for that challenge.  There is nothing unhealthy or impossible about my story - so why should you condemn yourself to believing that you can't achieve the same?

I once thought I was "big boned," "a brick house," "genetically obese."  Many of my family members are overweight, diabetic, and unhealthy.  I once thought "this is just who I am."  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I feel sorry for people who cannot just admit that they want to be fat - that they want to carry excess weight around and allow it to surround and impact their vital organs - to raise everything from their blood pressure to their health insurance costs. 

I maintain that these women have not been part of a sustained, disciplined, and diverse physical routine.
I maintain that these women do not educate themselves about proper nutrition - that they likely believe that eating well means going on a "diet."
I maintain that these women think they're genetically obese because they have obese family members.

I ask that you stop blaming it on genetics and take responsibility for your actions.  I ask that you realize the beauty, power, and potential that you have.  Exercise (literally!) that potential and stop existing and start living.