Counting the Days

For about 20 years, I was a smoker – sometimes with a two pack a day habit. I quit when my son and I had the flu for a week followed by a week of pneumonia for me. Since I couldn’t breathe, clearly I couldn’t smoke. After I recovered, I thought I would see how long I could go without a cigarette – you know, since I’d already gone two weeks. For quite awhile, I counted the days since my last smoke. Then, at some point, I quit counting. Cigarettes just didn’t figure that large in my mind anymore. Now, I think I quite about 10 years ago, but I’m not really sure. I’ve come a long way from those early days of counting the hours.

This morning, I rode my stationary bike for the seventh consecutive day. I have a little calendar on my refrigerator with the days counted out to 21, which is the number of days some experts say that it takes to form a new habit. I hope so. I hope that on day 22, exercising is again something I just do, not something I think about and count. But, if it’s not, then I’ll make another calendar and continue marking off the days until I don’t think about it anymore.

In just seven days, I’ve noticed these changes:

  1. The skin on my face looks brighter. I don’t know if that is from the increased blood flow, the more frequent exfoliation, the increased water intake or something else, and, really, I don’t care. My skin looks noticeably better and I’m all for that.
  2. I sleep better. Making my muscles do some work and actually tire themselves out a bit is making my sleep much more restful.
  3. My lower back hurts less. For months now my lower back has been a tightly coiled spring. Getting out of bed has been a slow and slightly painful process. And I have to be up and moving around awhile before I can bend over to pick up the dogs’ bowls. The last three of four mornings have been much easier. While I still have to move awhile before I can bend over, but the pups are getting fed much sooner than before.
  4. I hate it less. Less be honest, I hate to exercise; I really do. But, this morning, I didn’t dread getting on the bike and the hatred didn’t set in until about four minutes into the 30-minute ride. The ride this morning also seemed to go much faster, but maybe it was the episode of Fixer Upper that I was watching.

I have a very long way to go and I know that; but, I’ve made a solid start and I’m proud of that. I like the change I’m seeing in my spirit and I know that soon, I will see changes in my body shape, as well.

I’m certainly counting the days until that happens!

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Tending to Bloom

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I saw myself as a fat, smart, teacher’s kid whose social skills were somewhat lacking. I don’t know how others saw me, but I always saw myself as Less Than. Most of the time, I could just muddle along without what I believed was my weirdness and unattractiveness being called out in neon letters. Except on Valentine’s Day. That was the day when the pretty and popular girls got flowers, balloons, gifts, etc., from friends and/or boyfriends. I didn’t get those. To be fair, lots of girls didn’t get those things, but it didn’t hurt me that they didn’t get gifts. It hurt that I didn’t get them. I saw it as just one more way that my being Less Than was publicly noted.

Except one year.

That year, the student council sold carnations just like every other year – red, pink, and white. Red was for love, pink was for secret admirer, and white was for friends, I think. And just like every other year, there were girls walking around with bouquets of blooms and other girls with book bags – mine was blue, heavy, and the only thing I expected to carry all day. But, then, when a student council representative was delivering blooms to one of my classes, he had one for me! A pink one! I was convinced it was a mistake, frankly, but he said it wasn’t. Someone had bought a secret admirer flower for me.

All day, I felt like the Ugly Duckling that was suddenly a swan. I wondered who could have sent it, hoping it might this guy, afraid it might be that one. I spent the whole day feeling special. Like the flower in my hands, I bloomed.

As it turned out, the flower was from my sister Chele, who was away at college. She and I share some of the same insecurities and she wanted me to feel special.

I’m not going to lie, at the time, I was 17 and little bummed that the flower was from my sister and not the guy I had a crush on. But, you know what? I can’t even remember who I had a crush on anymore, but my sister is still here.

For the most part, we are like chalk and cheese, my sister and I. We don’t look alike. We think differently. We have different priorities and tastes. We fought as children. We have fought as adults and we will likely fight again. But, she is my sister. When I needed to feel special, she did that for me.

For the last couple of years, my sister has been my roommate. The last time I lived with someone I hadn’t birthed was nearly 30 years ago. It takes some adjusting to live with another adult and, for the most part, I think that we have done a pretty good job. I believe that she is a gentler person than I am and that living with her makes me a nicer person. I have to be more aware of what I say and how I say it. I have to be more mindful of my thoughts and of the attitudes that I allow to take root in my mind.

Family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, marriages, all require work on the parts of every party involved. I have said it before and I truly believe it: relationship failures are never the fault of only one of the parties involved. We have to be honest with ourselves and own our own parts in the failures. For many years, I was careless with my relationship with my sister. I was careless in my words and in my attitudes, and I did a great deal of damage to our relationship. I am still working to repair that damage and to avoid doing further damage. We are our parents’ only surviving children and she is important to me. I try to show that in small things, but I could do better. All relationships need to be nurtured.

This Valentine’s Day, it is my goal to think less about how others see me or whether others love me. It is my goal, rather, to give love to them, to tend my relationships to help them bloom – in red, pink and in white.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It’s Just a Phase

I saw my orthopedist on Monday. Although he was encouraged by the range of motion in my ankle, he was also discouraged by my reports of continued pain even with moderate use. We discussed my treatment history and my future treatment options including joint fusion which is not something I want to do. I’ve go WAY too many cute pairs of heels to be going that route! I told him my plan to lose weight and remove some of the stress from my ankle. He agreed that this was likely my best option to recover the most use and range of motion from that joint, although he expressed some reservations about it ever regaining pre-injury abilities.

My plan has been vetted by my doctor. Woohoo! It’s a good thing since I’d already started on it!

Like any good plan, mine has several steps to get me to my goal, my Why which I shared with you back on the 4th.. I need a Why. Just Because wasn’t much of a motivator for me in Mrs. Rich’s kindergarten class and it still isn’t; so, identifying that Why was the first step of my plan. The second step is figuring out the How. I shared some thoughts with you on that on the 5th. Implementing the How requires a few phases:

  1. Motivate – I watched several food documentaries again: Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc., Fed Up, Food Matters, Hungry for Change, PlantPure Nation and The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue. (I even made my sister/roommate watch a couple of these with me!) Most of these documentaries advocate a whole-foods, plant based diet, essentially a vegan diet without the political connotations. While they are not trying to sell you a product, they are definitely promoting (or selling) a vegan diet ideology. This ideology appeals to me. It may not appeal to you and I don’t think it’s necessary to go this route to get healthier. Most nutritional films differ on how they think you can have better health; however, they all agree on one thing: avoid processed foods.
  2. Cook – To avoid those processed foods, I dusted off the cookbooks, put some beans on to soak and prepared nutritious meals based on a whole-foods, plant-based diet for immediate consumption with plenty to put in the freezer for later. (I had already gone this far by the time I saw my doctor since I knew I wasn’t going to hurt anything with these phases. Where I really needed his advice was on Phase 3.)
  3. Exercise
    1. Cardio – I needed to work up a sweat; but, I was unsure what cardio exercises were safe for me to do. He said that I could swim, use the elliptical machine or ride a bike. He advised against doing anything that would jar or put impact on my ankle. I saw him Monday morning and started back to the gym Monday night where I decided to go with the bike because: 1. my gym doesn’t have a pool (and I don’t think I can get my posterior in my swimsuit), and 2. I am so out of shape that I’d probably last about 30 seconds on an elliptical. So, the bike it was. I went with the cardio program for 30 minutes on Monday and Tuesday. Last night I upped the time to 45 minutes.
    2. Weight training – I will add this into my program next week. I didn’t want to put cardio and weights in at the same time because my beginning fitness level was so low. I knew that if I did both at once I’d be too sore to move and that I’d find reasons not to go back.

I still have not weighed although there is a scale in my bathroom and one at the gym that I could certainly use. I’m sorely tempted to step on them, sure; but, I’m afraid of undoing my Phase 1 motivation. I know myself. If I step on that scale and see what I believe I will see, I am going to have a really hard time not heading straight for Ben and Jerry. I have gained a lot of weight. I know that and, right now, that’s as specific as I have to be. I’m not sticking my head in the sand; but, there is nothing to be gained from my knowing that specific number right now. My job today is to keep looking forward and to keep moving towards better health and a stronger body. To do that, I will keep moving through my planned phases.

Then, someday this year, I’ll be able to look back on this period of being overweight and injured and know that it was just a phase.

 

 

What Do I Do?!

Now that I’ve identified my Why, great. But that doesn’t help me remember How! And How is what I need right now.

With each of my failures when trying to get back to eating healthfully, I’ve been both puzzled and frustrated as to why my current attempt was failing when I had succeeded before. Clearly, I could lose the weight at some point in history; so, why couldn’t I do it on that attempt – or the one before or the one after? What did I do differently the time I was successful?

question-markAfter much thought and examination, I have to admit that I’m still not sure. However, I know what I did in the failures that didn’t work; so, I’m consciously avoiding those behaviors this time.

These were the behaviors that I know fizzled:

  1. Eating on the fly. If there were no healthy meal options prepared when I was hungry enough to gnaw off my own fist, I stopped at a drive-thru for fries and a frosty – neither of which was small.
  2. Having a vague goal. I wanted to “lose weight” and “get back into my clothes.” Yeah. So how do you measure that?
  3. Figuring it out as I went along. I had neither a diet nor an exercise plan.
  4. Buying prepared foods. In an attempt to reduce fries and frostys, I bought “healthy” boxed foods from the interior aisles of the grocery store.

And I continued to gain weight.

Thinking about the things that I know didn’t work has jogged my memory. I remember these things did work:

  1. Prepping. When I got home from the grocery, I cut up peppers, onions, mushrooms and other veggies. Storing them in individual containers making them easy to add to salads, soups, sandwiches, eggs and whatever else. I also had salad greens waiting in a bowl to act as the foundation for the other veggies. I was my own sous chef!
  2. Setting a specific goal. I don’t remember where I got the number; but, I wanted to get down to 140 pounds. I stopped at 144 when I felt like I had lost enough; but, I had a hard number I could keep in mind and actually track my progress towards.
  3. Planning. I planned my exercise schedule and many of my meals beforehand. One gym bag was ready to go to kickboxing while another was ready to go to the pool. My workouts were planned, as well. Kickboxing was three days a week. Swimming was one day. Walking or running was two days. Resting was one day. Sometimes I would mix it up and go to the batting cages or driving range on a day, or sometimes I’d swim twice in a week and run once. Regardless, I had some kind of structure set up.
  4. Freshening up. While I would sometimes buy frozen produce or meat, most of it was fresh. The only boxed food I bought was steel cut oats. Otherwise, I bought nothing processed or boxed, regardless of how healthy the label said it was.
  5. Supplementing. While many studies show that supplements don’t actually have any health benefits, I still took them and I think that they helped me, at least mentally. Every Sunday night I filled my pill containers with the next week’s morning and night pills. I took fish and flax seed oil capsules, a multivitamin, probiotics, hyaluronic acid (for my skin and joints), Co Q-10, a D vitamin and extra B vitamins.
  6. Journaling. I used LoseIt! to keep track of every calorie I ate and every calorie I burned.
  7. Vegging. I made certain that my plate contained at least 75% vegetables and that those vegetables were not fried.
  8. Staging. I ate most of my meals using actual stoneware plates or bowls, and actual metal cutlery. I ate at the table rather than in front of the TV or over the sink.
  9. Appealing to other senses. I made a special effort to make my food visually attractive with a pleasant aroma and a variety of textures. I often listened to classical music that I liked while I ate. I made it a holistically pleasant experience.
  10. Avoiding whites. I avoided almost all white food including regular bread, white potatoes, white wheat and rice. If I ate pasta made from white flour or if I ate white rice, I was very careful with my serving sizes.

Would you look at that! It turns out we have at least a skeleton for the How. Well then. Let’s get started, shall we?

 

The New Why

Way back on March 9, 2016, I shared with you that I had missed a night of work because of what I suspected was plantar fasciitis in my left foot. At that time, I had already been struggling with foot (but mostly heel) pain for months. Now, ten months later, I find myself at home on a second medical leave for that same foot; but, it’s more than just plantar fasciitis.

As you know, I work in an industrial environment for a company that sells EVERYTHING from A to Z. (Think about it for a minute and you’ll get it.) Anyway, on a typical shift, I walk from 15K to 17K steps (there are an average of about 2K steps in a mile). I know this because a friend gave me a Fitbit that counts them for me. In July, we have a ginormous sale marking the anniversary of the program we offer for our premier (or you might say prime, even) customers. That sale increases production activity dramatically for about three days. During those three days, my average number of steps jumped from between 15K and 17K up to between 20K and 23K. The grumblings from the labor force of my left heel spread to rest of the foot and ankle. And they got worse. You know that of course I ignored the grumblings until they became a work stoppage. My ankle and foot went on strike! After all, they were 49, far too old for this nonsense of walking those kinds of distances. On concrete. Carrying this fat body. The pain was absolutely excruciating! I couldn’t make it through an entire shift at work in spite of my boss’s efforts to make me as stationary as possible. On August 8, I went to see an orthopedist who diagnosed an inflamed subtalar joint (or, as my boyfriend says, a swollen ankle) and who put me in a walking boot with instructions to wear it all the time.

Yeah, because I follow instructions so well.

feet-comparison

I tried it for a week with poor results. By poor results, I mean that the pain was as gawd-awful as ever – see the photos above. By the unhealed abrasion on my lower left shin, you can see that the photos were taken in a short time frame. I bought some hiking boots and wore those instead. That was the tiniest bit better. The pain continued unrelieved by the meloxicam the doctor had prescribed; but, I continued my normal routine as best as possible. I worked at work; but, I did nothing at home. The pain while walking around was bad enough, but it was nothing compared to the pain of standing up after having been seated for awhile. There were times that I seriously considered just sleeping in the car to avoid having the make the walk into the house. When I did finally get inside, I went straight to bed where I stayed unless my bladder dictated otherwise. Clearly, the labor situation was not improving. My foot and ankle were still on strike. I was just existing. I had no life.

So, I returned to the doctor. An MRI showed stress fractures in the navicular and medial cuneiform bones, as well as a fibrous coalition between the talus and navicular bones. Some of my pain was still coming from that inflamed subtalar joint; but, some of it was coming from the stress fractures. He put me in a hard cast on September 26. (Luckily, the cast was pink and super-cute.) But it meant that I had to go on a medical leave of absence from work. After several days of being in that non-weight bearing cast, I was pain-free for the first time in months and having WAY too much fun zipping around on my borrow little knee scooter.

After a month, I was out of the cast, but the physical limitations set by my doctor kept me in a walking boot and off work until December 7. So, from October 24 to December 7, I walked no more than a normal person. Then, I went back to work. Because I could not walk the distances required in my normal job, I worked in a department that let me stand still more. Even so, between December 7 and 28, I was able to complete only one full work week. Granted, it was a 60-hour week because of the holiday season; but, I was still able to complete only one. I took a few days off while my son was visiting which gave the continually protesting joint some relief. On the 28th of December, I worked the eight-hour shift my doctor had limited me to; but, for those eight hours I got to do MY job. I was thrilled and I had an absolute blast! Then I came home and could not put any weight on my ankle for nearly 36 hours. I was back on crutches….and back on medical leave.

I can’t walk and it’s my own fault. My Why crystallized.

I have walked in excess of six miles a night probably 70% of the time over the four years I’ve been at this job; so, why has the trouble started only now? I’ve walked more at this job and been fine. I’ve been fatter than this and not had these kinds of issues. I’m older than I’ve ever been, sure, but, I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s a combination of the three things. I have never walked this much, weighed this much and been this old at the same time.

My age is my age. I can’t do anything about that. My job requires a great deal of physical activity (which, frankly, I enjoy). I can’t do anything about that. My weight. THAT, I can do something about.

Five years ago, my Why was getting healthy in order to take care of my son and to meet my potential grandchildren. In the intervening years I’ve had small Whys of a gorgeous red dress (hush, you don’t even know!), a pair of cute blue shorts, and an intriguing man with a massive chest and odd green eyes; but, I haven’t had an urgently compelling Why. Until now.

Five years ago my weight made me a potential candidate for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Today, my weight makes me an actual partially disabled woman. I went from a Maybe to a Sure Thing.

It’s time to stop messing around and take my life back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra-Medium and Proud of It

Many years ago, I worked with a man named Ray who was one of those quiet people who is also quietly hilarious – you just had to pay attention. Anyway, Ray was just an average sized guy. When we ordered new uniform shirts or whatever, Ray’s response to the size he needed was always, “extra-medium.” All the other sizes got special treatment; so, why shouldn’t medium?

Oddly enough, I think about Ray often when I’m out ordering coffee. It seems that “medium” has become something of a personna non grata these days, or, I suppose a verbo non grata (verbo non grato? Ms Rogers would be appalled at how little Latin I remember.) Anyway, don’t nobody call nothing medium anymore.coffee-sizes

It’s like the concept of medium indicates some kind of indecision, some kind of commitment failure on the part of the person ordering. In fact, this morning, I was out for coffee and the barista asked me twice if I really wanted a medium. If I had ordered a small, she might have thought that I was watching my girlish (guffaw) figure. If I had ordered a large, she might have thought that I really loved coffee. But, I did neither. I ordered a medium. What’s she supposed to do with that?! How is she supposed to know what kind of person I am if I order stuff that middle of the road?!

But, you know what? I am often a middle-of-the-road kind of person. I really do believe in live and let live, for the most part – you know, as long as no one person is harming another. And that attitude gets me more sidelong glances than I think it should.

For instance, I was recently involved in a political discussion (something I generally try to avoid) in which, I pointed out the utter ridiculousness of a comment made by a supporter of a particular candidate – a supporter, mind you, not the candidate themselves. The comment was taking President Obama to task for being at a party during the 9/11 attacks and for staying at the party even after he heard about them. Ummmmm. Clearly, the comment was made in ignorance. There’s just no way to defend that.

However, someone did. He responded like I had attacked his candidate and like if he were to agree with me that the comment was ignorant, he would be being disloyal to his candidate. He seemed to think that he had to support every facet of his candidate and his candidate’s other supporters or he was against them.

And I believe that is dangerous – regardless of which candidate you support.

If we believe in anyone or anything to the point that we are afraid to question it, I believe that is dangerous – even when it comes to religious beliefs. If you can’t question a belief of any kind, then how can you truly defend it? And if you can’t defend it, then do you really understand your “belief” enough to say that you actively believe it or is your “belief’ more of a habit or an heirloom?

To truly know that we believe something, I think that we have to be able to acknowledge its weaknesses or, if it’s a religion and cannot have weaknesses, then its tenets that may be perceived to be weaknesses. For example, I grew up Presbyterian and was once debating the Calvinist theology with a Buddhist friend. She was shocked when my speech was peppered with, “I can see how you would disagree with me; but, I believe because….” I understood my belief system and chose to believe it, not by default, but by active choice.

Still, there were (and are) those who would see my stance as being very middle-of-the-road and uncommitted – very extra-medium, if you will.

Well, in that case, extra-medium fits me just fine.

Measuring Success By the Foot

I missed work one night last week for just the dumbest of reasons: I couldn’t walk. Okay, so maybe it’s not a dumb reason; but, I still felt like the biggest sissy in the world. I strongly suspect that I have plantar fasciitis in my left foot. (That link will take you to the Mayo Clinic’s site on the condition.) I’ve been dealing with it for months and I usually hobble/hop for the first few minutes after I get out of bed; but, Thursday night, those few minutes stretched into hours. I was so annoyed!

plantar-fascia_13Standing for long periods of time, not exercising enough and gaining weight rapidly can all lead to the condition. I’m on my feet on concrete for ten hours every work night and I don’t exercise like I used to. That’s not new, though; so, I don’t think that is the cause of this. I think that the 57-pound weight gain in a year is the culprit. Years ago, I had some trouble with my heels; but, since I wasn’t on my feet all the time, the trouble then was nothing like what it is now.

My first holiday season working at my job was the first time in my life I’d walked that much on a daily basis. I averaged 12 to 14 miles a night and I remember thinking at the time that as much as my feet hurt then, I was grateful that I’d lost so much weight. I couldn’t imagine how much more they would have hurt with 94 extra pounds on them. I still can’t imagine that; but, I know how much worse they hurt with just the added 57!

Lao Tzu reminded us that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I’ve taken the first step in fixing the problem – I’ve committed fixing it. And I’m seeing some progress, which is great! I have to focus on that progress when I’m feeling impatient at the pain in my foot – which is, like, all the time. Progress isn’t always measured in miles. Sometimes it’s measured in feet. But when it comes to my feet, it feels like it’s being measured in inches.

But, as I’ve said before: pennies make dollars, ounces make pounds and those inches add up to feet and to miles. And that’s what I have to remember.