Raising The Reinforcements

family fun run

My poor, innocent offspring. They don’t know they’re being studied.

My children are the pioneering subjects of an ever-so-slightly off-the-wall social experiment, courtesy of an adoring mother.

Like most kids, they’ve got A Mama On A Mission: I’m bound and determined to raise the happiest, healthiest, kindest, strongest, most brave, curious & well-adjusted kids this world has ever seen.

Sound familiar? If you’re a parent, you’re probably on the same quest.

In our house (thanks in no small part to the loving example set by my own parents), the major check-boxes take care of themselves: Tell them they’re special and important. Be there. Make sure they feel loved. Keep them as safe as any parent can. Etc, etc, etc.

But I also have a *minor* preoccupation with my children’s inner monologues.

In a perfect world, not only do people around them tell them they’re wonderful – they tell themselves they’re wonderful.

Enter: Operation Secret Cheerleaders.

Wanna play? Here are the rules:

Step 1: When in public, keep an eye out for people making strides towards personal wellness. Whether it’s the 80-something man slowly shuffling around the track, the heavyset girl grimacing and sweating bullets as she jogs, or the super-athlete busting out a marathon like it’s no big thing. Find them, and point them out.

Step 2: Cheer for them. Out loud.

“Go, girl! Go, dude! HEALTHY AND STRONG! WOOHOO! YAY, YOU!”

You might look, sound & feel like a psychopath.

Do it anyway.

A stranger running along the side of the road? A stranger biking to work? A whole team of strangers on a field practicing with a team?

Cheer out loud.

The idea is not for the strangers to actually hear it. (Though I hope they smile if they do!)

The idea is for the children to hear it. All the way down to the darkest corners of their young, developing minds.

The goal is the development of a world-view that conceptualizes strangers as potential cheerleaders, rather than potential Mean Girls.

I developed Operation Secret Cheerleaders as a Happy Exhaustion response to my own toxic, Pre-Happy Exhaustion inner monologue. That inner monologue had a few tracks in heavy rotation: Self Flagellation & I’m Not Good Enough.

I have a fully pathological habit of taking it for granted that you’re better at (insert just about anything here) than I am.

That habit reads judgment in the eyes of strangers, assuming they are silently, persistently tearing me down.

That assumption kept me on the couch. My insecurities about my physical condition held me back.

“I like the idea of running, but if I go running people will see me. People will judge me.

I had to actively create a mental space where I could allow myself to be a beginner.

I spent decades believing that I should never be a beginner in public. I never went out for sports, because I was sure that everyone else was a superstar and I would be the only unskilled player.

Now I know better. The true beginner is the truest rockstar!

I still have to bust my ass every day to maintain Happy Exhaustion, but the physical effort of today’s got NOTHING on the physical *and psychological* effort that was required to get going in the first place.

To turn it all around, I had to first conquer my fear of the judgment of others.

It was hard work. It was not fun times.

I do NOT want that for my little ones.

Operation Secret Cheerleaders is this mama’s attempt to throw up a few road blocks and detour signs. I will happily cheer for strangers like a maniac if there’s a chance I could steer my kids’ brains away from toxic assumptions.

Whether you have kids or not, I invite you to join Operation Secret Cheerleaders.

And the next time you’re prioritizing your health – out in the world, where strangers may gaze – I hope you will think of me and my super-sexy minivan, driving by with my kids, shrieking about how cool you are.

At the top of our lungs.

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March Challenge

Here it is! The March Challenge!

This month we’ll start every day with 5 minutes of cardio to get our hearts pumping, then progressions on arms, core, legs & glutes.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to join us on the Happy Exhaustion Facebook page, where I will be posting the daily workouts every day. Let us cheer you on!
March Challenge (6)

Tying Myself to the Tracks

My husband made these treats. In my kitchen. I think he hates me.

My husband baked these treats. In my kitchen. *sob*

Need some motivation to reach your fitness goals? Goals like… say… not bulking up over the holidays like a bear preparing to hibernate?

Share your goal with everyone you know. Tell them your deadline, too. Post it on Facebook. Tweet it. Pin it. Encourage people to inquire about your progress.

Accountability in the form of avoiding public failure can be worth it’s weight in gold.

So – Here’s mine:

On December 6th, 2013 I will be celebrating my First Health-iversary. That date will mark a full year of maintaining 100 lbs of weight loss, one year since I started Happy Exhaustion.

I intend to mark my anniversary by proving that I really, truly have kept off every pound.

I will post a picture of myself standing on a scale – numbers and all.

*insert the abject horror of a girl with no photoshop skills here*

With any luck, I will be standing on a scale that says 142 lbs. That’s what it said when I wrote my first blog post on that day in 2012!

All that stands between me and that seriously triumphant picture is a little math…

16 days + 4 parties + 1 husband practicing his holiday baked goods (today involved homemade pies with homemade fruit compote… God, give me strength) + 1 Thanksgiving = Wait… I might not have properly thought this through…

Hold me to it, interwebs!

I’ll do it with your help!

Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst.

EKGred

I’m not sure I could have been a stay-at-home mom in the days before social media.

My Facebook network provides a vital dose of adult interaction when adventures in potty training and spelling homework have me climbing the walls.

I love to share in my network’s joys, and I appreciate the ability to reach out and offer support in times of struggle.

I may not know all 400+ friends on Facebook well enough to get a call when someone in their life passes away, but I read about it on social media. People post the most beautifully touching things in times of loss.

The news of friends of friends lost too soon was an integral part of my tipping point when I decided to get healthy. It’s one thing to hear abstract statistics about the dangers of sedintary lives, it’s quite another to console a friend whose cousin died of a heart attack at 38 years old.

Fear of mortality fuels my journey.

This week, another social media brush with tragedy caused me to look at the fragility of life from another angle. I was reminded that health & strength are not only important for prevention, they can also make all the difference when the things that we are trying to avoid go ahead and happen anyway.

No matter how hard I work at being the strongest and healthiest me I can be, I do not pretend that my efforts mean the things I fear will never happen.

Whether it’s a thrown clot or a major car accident, horrifying health issues have a terribly consistent habit of arriving whether we’re expecting them or not.

Have you ever met anyone who has had a major coronary and says they woke up that morning thinking ‘today is the day’?

Me neither.

I’ve devoted mountains of energy and rivers of sweat to the pursuit of prevention. What just dawned on me is how much better equipped my strengthened body is to handle the worst when and if it happens anyway.

I can’t re-write my family history of stroke, but I can use every healthy day I’ve got to work on strengthening my mind-body connection. That way, if I ever have to re-learn how to walk, I’ll be standing on legs that are used to being pushed beyond their comfort zone.

I may not be able to prevent a heart attack from ever occurring, but I can be sure that if it happens, my heart will be in fighting form. Before I flipped the script and got myself fit, I never asked anything from my heart beyond basic function. I don’t even want to think about what a heart attack would have done to my heart then.

Today, I know that my heart is strong. My cardiologist tells me so.

Not inspired yet? Listen to this:

One of my husband’s long-standing clients was recently diagnosed with cancer. Today, he works out with him while a chemotherapy pump actively drips into his veins. Can you imagine how difficult that must be? To go through so much struggle and still choose to push and sweat towards improved physical strength? That man is a walking lesson in the vital importance of Healthy & Strong. He’s not just hoping the doctors will cure him, he’s actively fighting for survival.

You never know when you’ll find yourself thrown in the ring, so teach your body to fight. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Do. Not. Quit!

I need to write this quickly. In a few hours I’ll be too sore to type.

But I just had to tell you – I am currently fighting my way through the hardest fitness challenge I’ve taken on since my first round of Insanity.

Over the summer, fearing that I was growing complacent about my fitness, I developed an itch for a new adventure. The resident trainer recommended that I try a TRX class. Are you familiar with the mayhem that is TRX suspension training? If not, check this out: TRX

First, I took a class that taught the basics of suspension training. It was hard! I was sore after every class, but I was able to rock it out.

So, when I completed the intro class, I decided to kick it up to the next level.

Oh. My. Dear. God.

There are no words for how hard this class is. Things like planks with reverse crunches with feet in suspension straps make it hard for me not to curse out loud.

Today was my third class, and it’s easily the hardest thing I do all week. Hands down.

After the first class felt like hell on wheels, I didn’t want to go back ever again. The second week rolled around and I begged my husband to give me an excuse not to go. No dice.

So, despite knowing that I was about to get my ass handed to me – I went back. And this week I went back again.

When I got home today, I was so drenched in sweat, my man asked if I had spilled my water down my shirt. I found this question (from a personal trainer! Who makes people sweat for a living!) so amusing, I thought a selfie was in order:

Sexy!

Sexy!

As I drove home from my weekly torture session, despite having had every ounce of effort wrung out of me, I felt effing GLORIOUS. I was so glad I didn’t cop out! It was so hard. It was so, so, so hard. But I did it. I knew it was going to push me to my outer limits, and I went anyway.

Here’s why I think this is blog-worthy: Doing the damn thing with my body is the greatest gift I can give my mind. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take physical struggle over emotional struggle every. single. time.

For the last 2 Fridays, I’ve pulled back from following through. I’ve seriously considered letting myself off the hook. I’ve bathed in the seduction of spending that hour doing something – ANYTHING – else.

But, I put on my big girl panties instead. I did the damn thing. I made myself proud.

I spent a lot of years pinned under disappointment. I was so disappointed in myself for my persistent laziness, I became paralyzed by self-loathing.

I know if I don’t go to this drop-dead difficult class, I invite the darkness of disappointment back in. But, if I know it’s going to be hard and I grunt and sweat my way through it anyway? Then I feel proud.

The struggle of major physical exertion can buy confidence. So challenge yourself and DO NOT QUIT! You deserve the rush of success.

I hope you smile!

I hope you smile!

Lifestyle Change

Go ahead - make friends.

Go ahead – make friends.

Within the community of formerly-obese fitness junkies, there is a common mantra. We tend to go around mumbling about ‘Lifestyle Change’ to anyone who will listen.

I’ve touched on this theme several times in passing, but it deserves its own discussion.

“Lifestyle Change” is code for ‘if you think you can only diet and exercise until you reach your goal, you’re going to gain it all back. The change has to stick… forever.’

We don’t want to scare you off, though. We reference “Lifestyle Change” to soften the blow.

But, what we have learned is this: No one who keeps significant weight off is ever able to return to their comfy-cozy, curled-up-all-day-eating-their-favorite-foods lives.

Know those Biggest Loser contestants who go back home and gain it all back? They didn’t get the memo on Lifestyle Change. They thought a quick fix was possible. I can’t blame them – I yo-yoed for years because I avoided the Lifestyle Change. Lifestyle Change felt way beyond me.

When I got started, I couldn’t even think about tackling forever. When I got started EVERYTHING felt hard, painful, and deserving of my constant animosity. The thought of enduring such torture for the rest of my days was WAY more than I was prepared for.

I didn’t want to be heavy anymore, and I knew something had to change. Beyond that, I couldn’t even process.

I was ready to consider a few months – maybe even a year – of hard work, but I didn’t think I had anything more than that in me. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever actually embrace the hard work that is fitness.

I still wanted to believe the infomercials. CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN 60 DAYS!!

If you’re where I was when I was thinking about getting started, if yo-yo dieting feels normal to you – then you’re the person I am talking to when I hint about the importance of a ‘lifestyle change’.

I don’t want to feed you propaganda about how quick and easy shedding obesity and adopting fitness can be. But I don’t want you to fear that such a change could mean biting off more than you can chew.

The benefits of Healthy & Strong far outweigh the comforts of sloth (oh, I do adore sloth… it’s easily my favorite deadly sin), but you need to feel them for yourself.

None of my sporty friends were ever able to convince me that I’d be happier if I got fit. I hated dieting, and I hated exercise. How could working things that I hate into my daily life POSSIBLY make me happier? Nonsense.

But, of course, they were right.

These days, if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and the children have me wanting to tear my hair out before 8am, I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as I would never have believed it one short year ago, the light at the end of the tunnel lies on the other side of a good workout.

I know that if I work an hour of sweating into my day, I’ll be as right as rain on the other side.

I still find fitness to be hard work, but now I know that it’s worth every struggling minute. It’s worth the full-scale lifestyle change, because this lifestyle is happier, more confident, less stressed-the-eff-out.

Healthy & Strong had to become integral parts of my identity.

So, go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Change your whole identity.

It’s the stuff of superheroes.

Stranger In A Strange Land

Marilyn

I have a confession to make.

You know that part of the gym where they keep the weights? Where all those grunting men are pumping iron?

I think of it as The Boy Zone, and it intimidates the hell out of me.

You see, I have spent a lifetime gleefully cultivating my girly-girl femininity. I grew up emulating Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Brigitte Bardot. Today, I buy anything with Princess Kate on the cover. You get the idea.

I don’t know about your gym, but when you walk into mine, the gender division is pretty blatant. Almost all of the women are on cardio machines, while the weight training areas are Testosterone Central.

So, as a newcomer to the gym world, I kept myself in my girly lane. I only used the gym for cardio. I worked with weights when I got home and no one was watching.

It’s ridiculous, but I had myself convinced that being seen lifting weights would somehow diminish my femininity.

My silly little gender role snow globe was due for a good shake.

First, I actively considered venturing into Testosterone Central. When I did, I heard a small inner voice saying ‘that’s not for you – it’s not for girls.’

As soon as I heard that voice, my bigger, stronger, Mama Tiger voice kicked in and whooped that little voice’s ass.

Here’s why: TRY to tell my daughter that she can’t or shouldn’t do something because she’s a girl and the thing she wants to try is just for boys. Go ahead and try. I will rain down protective maternal fury that will scorch the earth, I swear.

My daughter can reach for any stars in the sky and nobody better come at her with any toxic cultural BS.

So why don’t I apply that same mentality to myself?? How can I model equality if I don’t walk the walk?

Come on, Mama Tiger – go lift weights!

Um… ok… yeah, that’s totally legit. I’ll get right on that. Just, um… not today. Today’s… busy… and stuff. I’ll be Power Woman tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and it brought the final push that I needed.

I was back at the gym, back on my cardio machine, when a woman I know walked in. Our kids go to nursery school together. She lives in my ‘intimidatingly pretty’ mental category. There is no deficit of femininity in this woman.

Did she take a sharp right and jump on a cardio machine like a good girl? Hell no. This chick marched her ass right over to the Boy Zone and grabbed some metal. She did pull-ups! She worked with a barbell! I was floored.

I know I’m a terrible feminist for even admitting these things, but seeing a woman whose image was already set in my mind as a ‘pretty girl’ in that part of the gym was something I needed.

When I told her I was inspired, she said she just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. She’s there to get strong, so that’s what she’s going to do.

Badass! I love it! I want to be like that!

So, last week I marched my ultra-femme behind right into the middle of it all. I did squat presses. I did deadlifts with hammer curls. I sweated and I pushed, and I got a damn good workout.

I exercised my body and I expanded my comfort zone. I killed another ‘can’t’, and it feels b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

Up next: Learning to deal with the gawking of pubescent boys. Can’t say I’m a fan of the attention that I attract as the woman doing squats in boy land.

Sidebar/Update: 3 weeks off of the scale! Not weighing myself seems to be kicking my workouts up to the next level. I am combining cardio and weight training every day. It’s driven by a fear of the unknown, but I’ll take it!

A Necessary Detox

Nemesis

Hi. My name is Katey and I’m an addict.

I’m addicted to my scale.

I know precisely how much I have weighed at every stage of my life, and how I judged my own value as a result.

How can I possibly know how to feel about myself if I don’t know how much I weigh?

This week, I did not do a good job of protecting my sense of self-worth. You see, I committed a grievous sin: I gained two pounds while on a brief family vacation.

Commence well-worn self-flagellation sequence.

Gaining 2 lbs ruined my whole Monday (Monday is always weigh-in day). “I know better! What do I expect when I let myself off the hook and eat BLTs and pizza while sipping cocktails?? Shame on me! Bad, bad Katey!”

I hope you think that such a reaction to 2 lbs is neurotic and that I’m being too hard on myself. It took me a couple of days, but that’s what I finally realized.

My clothes fit the same way. I’m as strong as I was before I stepped on the scale on Monday morning. You wouldn’t know that I gained any weight just by looking at me. In fact, this picture that I posted to my “About” page was taken on the vacation in question – about 36 hours before discovering the minor gain.

Live a life worth telling a story about :-)

So, why did those two little pounds (that I know I can take off again) have the power to bring me down?? Does the girl in my “About” picture look like someone who should be beaten up for weight-related failure? Does that body deserve my shame? No. I need to put my foot down. That body is just fine, thank you. (Yes, I am talking to my own inner voice. Don’t judge me.)

I tell everyone who asks for my advice on fitness not to get too hung up on the scale. The hardest weeks in my 100 pound journey were the weeks when the scale wouldn’t budge. I’d be doing my best, working out, not cheating, and still that stupid scale would stay stubbornly stuck on the same number.

Those were the weeks that I considered quitting. “I just can’t do it! It’s too hard!”

When trying to lose weight, I weigh myself once a week. I get excited for Monday mornings. I can’t wait to see those numbers fall. This makes the emotional crash all the more painful when there is no loss. And, since entering ‘maintenance phase’, I’ve been weighing myself more than ever – almost daily. I want to be sure I’m maintaining. I want to catch any gains and turn them around as quickly as they appear.

But now, I think it’s time that I take my own advice. I need to stop worrying about the stupid numbers on the scale.

I need a detox.

So – here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to detox from the scale for a full month in an attempt to put a little distance between the scale and my emotional state. I’ll stick to my calorie-monitored diet and continue to exercise 6 days a week. I’ll monitor my weight with my clothes. If they start to feel snug, I’ll tighten things up for a while on the caloric side until my jeans fit well again.

I may need to ask my husband to hide the scale so I can’t cheat.

Just writing this has raised my heart rate.

Instant panic-sensation? Yeah. A detox is in order.

I’ll let you know if I break out in hives.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Onwards and Upwards!

In pursuit of a workout regimen that works for me, I’ve had to apply my stubborn side. I’ve been playing Fitness Goldilocks.

For too long, I lumped all physical exertion into one category. I called that category ‘Yuck. No Thank You.’

I used to think that all exercise was equal, so I feared and avoided it all equally.

I never tried any of it.

Stepping up to the fitness buffet felt very intimidating. When looking to get your sweat on, the array of options can be dizzying, and many won’t feel right for you. Some will be too hot, some too cold, and some just right – or at least, just tolerable enough. The trick is finding the right fit.

I’ve been sampling many different flavors. Because, (at least in my world) they do NOT all fit. Not by a long shot.

Some of the things I tried made me want to pull back, or worse – give up. It’s dangerous when I can’t find a way to look forward to my workout. When I dread it, I start to make excuses for why I can’t do it, why I should abbreviate it, why it’s not worth my time.

I had to really persist to find the workouts that suit me. I couldn’t give up on Healthy & Strong just because the first (or second, or third) thing I tried felt like crap.

When I was training for my 5k, I discovered that a little tweak can do the trick.

Running on a school-style 1/4 mile track?

Pass. The boredom sets in fast.

Running on a treadmill?

Pass. For. Sure. Treadmills bring out the homicidal maniac in me.

Running on a mile track through a park on a beautiful spring day?

Holy crap! I found the sweet spot! I can actually enjoy a run! Who knew??

I don’t think I’ll ever really be a runner. The endurance side of it just isn’t my cup of tea. But, a nice run on a beautiful day is something I can actually look forward to. This realization felt so positive, I decided to sit down and consider what makes me enjoy (vs. dread) working out.

1 – I don’t like group classes that require rapid coordination. I would love to be the girl who can rock at Zumba, but I’m just not. I can’t get past my 2 left feet. I gave it a shot, and wound up spending half the class wishing the floor would open up and swallow me to hide me from my embarrassment. Motivational, huh? Yeah. Pass.

2 – I need to feel like I’m getting a good workout. If my heart isn’t pounding and I’m not sweating, I don’t feel like I’m using my time effectively. I tried a barre class, and I have no doubt that it’s a truly strengthening regimen. I definitely felt the burn, but there was no cardio involved. It felt like less than I like to push. So, pass again.

3 – Cardio machines sap me of my will to live. Especially if they have screens with lots of bells and whistles. I spend my time fixating on “WHY WON’T THOSE CALORIES BURN FASTER?!” It’s not great for my mental state. However, when I have to be at the gym for one of my kids’ sports or lessons, I’ll jump on a machine for a little while. Not a full pass, just not my workout of choice.

4 – I love me some interval training. Push me to my outer limits, but give me a second to catch my breath before I have to be pushed again. I think it’s why I loved Insanity so much. Yes, you have to do power jumps until you want to pass out, but the 30 seconds of breath that follow will revive you enough to do it again.

5 – Finally, I love deadlines. I really, really do. It was another part of Insanity that I appreciated. It gave me a schedule to follow, and an end date to work towards. It’s what got me through 5k training, too. Give me something to work towards, and I’ll push as hard as I can to tear it up at the finish line. Thus – my new adventure: The Tracy Anderson Method. I started today and will be pushing through it for the next 90 days. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it in the months to come.

To make things happen, you need to find the workout routine that will make you feel awesome about yourself.

So, if you’ve tried running and it hurts your joints, or you’ve tried group exercise but you felt uncomfortable, those porridges are just too hot or too cold for you. Keep sampling. There’s a method out there that will make you feel like a super hero. You just have to find it.