How a Body Positive Mindset Helps Me Move Forward from Injury

I’ve been writing about how I need to take a break from lifting due to an injury. And people are telling me they appreciate and admire how I am moving forward with a positive attitude.  I actually don’t feel all that positive, but I am moving forward anyway.

I don’t think I would be doing nearly as well had I not been working on a more body positive mindset.

Five years ago, if this happened, I think I would have been nearly paralyzed with fear about what would happen to my bodyweight. Today, yes; I am still somewhat scared about that. I know I’m not “supposed” to be, but I’m also not here to lie to you ;). However, today, that fear is not driving my decisions and actions.

Some people have told me they are impressed with how I am quickly looking to find alternative ways to move. And the reason I feel this drive to do so, is because I’m highly invested in keeping my body feeling like a nice place to live. I know that continuing to move will help with that. I also know that if I don’t take a break from heavy lifting now, I may be forced to take a break later, with a lot more pain and/or loss of function (and that will mean that my body will definitely NOT feel like a nice place to live).

I also know from experience that I tend to hate being outside in the heat, and I tend to move less in the summer. So, getting into the pool more will probably help with that.

So, while I do feel some fear about how my body may change, the primary motivation for finding new things to do is taking care of my body, giving myself what I need, and keeping my body a comfortable place to live (as much as that is within my control).

I do notice some old thoughts creeping in. For example, I had some mental resistance to trying lunges and other alternative strengthening exercises to barbells. Yoga too. These exercises remind me of the days when I was working out to change how my body looked. I’m acknowledging that resistance….and I know that if I want to keep myself feeling well, I may have to get over that association and try them again now.

Bottom line is – I am very grateful to have been working towards loving my body more. That doesn’t mean I always love the way it looks, although I am having more days like that than I used to. More importantly,  it means I love myself enough to give myself what I need to feel well TODAY, even when things aren’t going my way. I love myself enough to give my body the break it needs, rather than operating out of fear about what will happen if I take that break.

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Injury Update – Forced Routine Changes, and the Feelings They Bring

I want to share how the past week has been going for me. If you’ve been following, you know that I have been sidelined with an unexpected injury, and that I have been having a bit of trouble handling it emotionally sometimes.

I went to see the spine specialist this past Tuesday. I had been nervous about going, so I decided to bring a friend. When the friend who was originally planning to come with me couldn’t make it (since they got me in on very short notice at the doctors office due to a cancellation), my one of my coworkers came through and came along with me instead. I feel lucky to have a job where I work with such amazing people!

The appointment itself was fine. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and a follow up appointment in 6 weeks. He said that I probably could get back to lifting, but not right now while I am having symptoms. He did mention weight loss, but I didn’t feel he was shame-y about it, so that’s probably as good as one can expect from a spine surgeon.  He did a full exam asking about pain and testing strength. No pain or weakness, just the tingling in the legs. So for now he said “no knives, no needles.” I am really relieved about that.

I have my physical therapy evaluation in a few days. From there, they will tell me how many times per week I need to go.

I also cooled down after last week’s temper tantrum and decided to join the Y. My family applied for financial aid and received a partial scholarship. I went to join last night, and the person at the front desk told me that if I want to save money, they are waiving the joining fee on Wednesdays this month. So I will wait a few more days and go back on Wednesday, since the $100 joining fee is no small chunk of change.

The bathing suit I ordered for lap swimming arrived this week, and thankfully, it fits.

I learned a few things about how I can move this week, also.

For example, I tried doing lunges. In the past I always hated them. I felt wobbly and my ratio of bodyweight to single leg strength made them kind of unfavorable. Well, I tried them out of desperation (because I can’t do back squats right now with a spinal issue)….and now I can do them pretty easily, despite being at a higher bodyweight than the last time I tried them. So, I learned that even if I think I hate something, it pays to try it every few years 😀 .

I’m also pretty sure I can keep working on assisted pull ups.

I also figured out that if I push my kid’s stroller while I walk, I don’t get much of a back ache. Which shows me something about my alignment, because it is a bit different when I push a stroller. I’m paying more attention to my alignment and breathing when walking around and I think it is helping.

So, logistically, I’m dealing with everything. Emotionally, there are some things that are coming up.

This time of year I always have a long to-do list at work. And not having my regular routine to hang onto at home is making me feel very discombobulated. You know how child development experts stress how much small children crave structure and routine? Well, I can see this in myself too. Not having my usual structure and routine is making me feel more anxious and more sensitive to stress and things not going my way.  I notice that I have less patience and a very short fuse.

I know that within a few weeks, I’ll be settling into a newer routine, as I will have figured out my physical therapy schedule and have joined the Y and figured out when to go swimming. So it should calm down by then. For now, I’m just noticing the feelings, and telling myself that it won’t be forever.

The other day I realized another thing. One of the reasons it was so hard for me to take the news that I need to to take a break is that I made this hobby so much a part of my identity the past year and a half. It has been my passion outside of raising a kid and going to work. So it’s not just losing the hobby temporarily, but also about not knowing who I am or what to do with myself.

It is also a little scary because I’ve gotten used to receiving a lot of validation for doing heavy lifting and sticking with it. People think it’s cool and they tell me so, often. Sometimes I fear that without it, I will become invisible.

I am still not really ready to give it up even for a short period. I plan on asking the physical therapist for loopholes. “I know I can’t do back squats, but want about front squats? Just at 50%? Please?”

It’s also disheartening because I have spent a year and a half building a solid routine that fits well into my life…..so, being told I need to refocus and do something else is very frustrating and disorienting.

Again, I’m handling it, logistically….and I also find it healthy and helpful to acknowledge the feelings along the way.

Today my friend at Outside of the Comfort Zone reached out and let me know she is in a similar place. It was really good to talk with a friend who could related to all these things.

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I Got Sidelined, and I Did A Thing That “Good Fatties” Don’t Do

I have been sidelined.

I had been feeling some tingling in my right quadricep (feels like pins and needles – like when your foot falls asleep but more mild). I first noticed it last fall when I had kiddo on my back on a trail walk. I’ve noticed it now and then since, when carrying kiddo on my back.

A couple weeks ago I started noticing it when I was not carrying any extra weight on my back; just while standing and walking. So my primary care doctor requested an MRI of the lumbar spine, to see if it was a spinal issue. I had the MRI this past Monday. That same day I started noticing tingling in my left foot.

The results came back yesterday and I have two big disc herniations. My primary care doctor  explained to me that while one of the herniated discs was super common for weight lifters and she wasn’t worried about it, I also had a compression on a vertebra in the thoracic that was not commonly herniated (even among weightlifters), and appeared to be related to an older injury or possibly something I was born with (since I don’t recall ever having an injury to the spine, but the MRI report definitely said it was an older injury). She is referring me to a specialist to see if this herniated disc causing my symptoms. It appears that it is slightly compressing the spinal cord.  I don’t know yet what treatment the specialist will recommend (physical therapy? surgery? shots?). I have a lifting limit in the meantime – no more than 50 lbs. I can still walk, swim, or do yoga or stretch.

I am beyond bummed, because lifting is so much fun for me and it makes me feel healthy and strong and proud. But not causing more nerve damage is obviously more important. I’m trying to look on the bright side and feel grateful that a) we caught it before I experienced any pain, weakness, or loss of function, and b) that I can still lift my kid if necessary, because 3 year olds are not great at listening. I’m feeling nervous about finding a new routine / way of going about my week that makes me feel as good as lifting does and that I enjoy. I’m nervous about the possible time/money commitment that rehab will involve. Hopefully my insurance will cover this. I don’t have answers yet. I am feeling defeated –  I finally got to the point where my movement routine felt like a true habit….like brushing my teeth. And now I need to change my routine and schedule.

My doctor also warned me me that the spine specialist group I am being sent to has the most talented spine doctors in the area, but they are all assholes. One of them once told a patient to “ditch the refrigerator she is carrying.”

I was super nervous about going to the specialist after hearing this. I don’t enjoy confrontation and I am scared that I will be so intimidated that I wont ask the right questions. I asked in the Fit Fatties group for suggestions on handling doctors like this, and someone suggested  “bring an advocate. ”

At first I couldn’t think of anyone. Let’s just say my husband is not known for his assertiveness. Most of my local friends have kids. And I have some local fat friends who would be great for solidarity, but would probably be just as disrespected and possibly triggered as I am by the specialist.

And then I thought of the perfect person to bring along. She is a massage therapist and ART practitioner with several anatomy practicums under her belt. She is a Cross Fit coach and weightlifting coach. She drew a tree out of a human spine on her Christmas cards.  Read: she will likely understand what the doctor says a lot better than I will. And she will know what questions to ask regarding rehab and lifting.

Now, though I like her a lot, we are not close friends. I trained at her gym for a while and we are Facebook friends and maybe we would hang out more if I didn’t have a kid and I wasn’t a boring introvert who likes to stay home. So I was really nervous to ask for such a big favor from her. But I remembered how important relying on a community is, and I reached out and wrote her a message. I explained what my doctor said, and how I was afraid that the specialist would intimidate me or shame me and I might lose it or forget to ask the right questions. I asked if she would consider coming with me to the appointment. I offered to pay her for her time or buy her dinner or barter veggies. I was in tears as I typed the message, even though I knew she was likely to say yes. From nerves and an emotion that I wouldn’t identify until later.

My friend did say yes. She didn’t make me feel bad for asking at all. She agreed with my doctor that the thoracic herniation and compression was concerning because it isn’t one that typically herniates. She is happy to come with me. I am so relieved and so glad I reached out and that a knowledgeable friend is going to help me.

Later, I asked myself why I felt so emotional asking my friend to come help me. I realized that the emotion I felt was humiliation. In our culture’s mainstream media, we hear about “obesity epidemic” this and “strain on the health system” that quite often. And so I was trained to feel humiliation about the fact that here I was, asking for an accommodation or favor that I needed, that I may not have needed if my body was a different size.

Once I identified that, I realized that I was doing NOTHING wrong by advocating for myself and asking for what I need to get proper treatment so I could get better. I realized I didn’t need this favor because of my size, I need it because of the societal stigma and medical bias around my size. And while that is not my fault, and it does indeed suck that it has become my problem, I am practicing good self care by asking for it anyway. Even if I cried tears of humiliation as I typed the request to my friend.

Wow. That was heavy. On to something a bit lighter. How am I going to get my movement in, now that my favorite thing is off the table for now?

In the meantime, while I wait to see the specialist, I am cleared to walk, and swim and do yoga or stretch. Since I already have a good walking routine going, I hope to continue that, but I need to make some changes now.  Since I don’t have the option of carrying kiddo on my back when he gets tired, it limits the distance I can walk with him, and probably limits trail walks. Anyone with kids knows that 3 year olds’ legs work great..until they don’t. So, hiking with a kid won’t work anymore, for now, but I can still walk to the garden on my own. Now that I’m not lifting in the mornings, I can try to get those walks in before my husband leaves for work.

I have done yoga in the past, but honestly, I have some resistance or a mild aversion to trying it right now.  Maybe that will change later. I realized that while I enjoyed it in the past, now, I tend to associate it with the days when I felt really unhappy with my body and was trying so hard to change the way it looked.  I was a lot thinner then than I am now, but  I was also a lot more unhappy with myself. So maybe that’s why I am not super excited about yoga.

But I knew I could wrap my head around swimming, if I found the right pool. As a child, I loved swimming. I was not good at any other sports, but I really enjoyed swimming so my parents paid for lessons year round (because “hey, whatever gets the fat kid to move” is probably what they thought, but nonetheless, I loved it). I wasn’t planning to join a gym this summer, but I knew I wouldn’t feel great if I didn’t find some form of movement to replace lifting heavy stuff.  And I want to keep myself feeling good.

So today I went to check out a gym with a nice pool and childcare. I have a friend that teaches classes there and I think it will be a good fit. Not only do they have a nice lap pool, it is in a room with lots of natural light, so you don’t feel like you are swimming in a dark, smelly room. They also have a kid’s wading pool so I can bring my kid to play. And a rock climbing wall I can do with him (or rather that he can do with me; I’m scared of heights and probably not cleared for that).

And not for nothing, but I was also pleased with the way the salesperson handled the gym tour and sales pitch with me. I told him what I was there for: “I’m a weight lifter and I am injured and my doctor says I am cleared to swim. So I am interested in the pool and your childcare hours.” And he asked me what kind of weightlifting I did, and I told him I do some powerlifting and some Olympic weightlifting. He showed me exactly what I asked about. He did not try to sell me training packages. He did not push (or even mention) weight loss – which means that he didn’t make assumptions on why I was there based on my size; he actually listened to what I told him about why I was there. When he was showing me the weight room, he said things like “when you are cleared to lift, if you want to do Olympic weightlifting, you can do it here. Here’s where I do power cleans…” And last fall I had such a hard time finding a place to do that. So I am happy.

Check out this sweet lap pool!

Check out this sweet lap pool!

So, I will probably join later this week. It will give me both a place to swim and an activity to do with my kid in the summer. I’m excited about that.

Still very sad about being sidelined, and feeling a bit defeated, but trying to make the best of a shitty situation.

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My Body Is a Cozy Sanctuary

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat and IronFat. She was visiting a nearby city as a presenter for the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association conference, and gave a couple other presentations while she was in town. I attended a small lunch gathering where she gave a talk and we got to hang out and chat.

During her talk, a couple concepts really spoke to me.

One thing that really spoke to me is when she said how, though many people find it helpful to think of their mind, body and spirit all as one,  she personally finds it very helpful to think of her body as her friend. When she started on her path to loving her body, she realized that she would likely get in a fist fight if anyone said the things about her friends that she routinely said about her body.

I also have a bit of trouble relating to the whole “mind/body/spirit as one” thing, and don’t find it particularly helpful. Here is some imagery that I HAVE found helpful in my own body love journey.

I find it helpful to aim to care for my body the way I want to care for my child.

I don’t want to punish or shame my child or withhold something he needs. I want to meet his needs (and help him meet his own needs) as much as I can. This perspective has helped me care for my body as well.

Can I expect to be a perfect parent? Of course not. Can I expect to be a perfect caregiver for my body? Of course not.  Can I possibly practice all the conflicting information out there about the best way to care for my body? Of course not. Just like parents can’t either. I can only try my best to be as consistent as possible, using the knowledge and resources available to me.

Nobody is obligated to prioritize their health (whatever that means to them). One of the reasons I choose to do so, however, is that I like how it feels to live in my body when it feels healthy. Lately, I feel so alive and well. You know that peaceful feeling you feel when you walk into a room that is uncluttered, quiet, full of natural light and cozy places to sit, and maybe some plants?  When I feel healthy, I feel like my body is a really nice place to live and hang out. A cozy sanctuary, if you will.

And when I feel physically great in my body, I find it difficult to feel negativity towards my body because I would prefer certain parts of it looked different. Nitpicking the way I look feels so trivial when I feel so physically well.

Which brings me to the second concept that Ragen discussed that stood out to me: body neutrality. For people who currently hate their bodies, body positivity may feel like too large a jump.  Learning to feel neutral towards their bodies may be the next logical step. For Ragen, at the beginning of her body love journey, she began by replacing every negative thought about her body with a positive one, even if it was something like “great job keeping me alive today by breathing.” For me, I am starting to get to the point where the “damn I feel great today” voices are louder than the “I don’t like the extra fat on waist and neck” voices.  The latter voices are starting to sound silly; empty, even.

Last summer I wrote a post called “Motivation: I’m Not Sure Why I’m Doing This.” I wrote pretty much the same thing – that I didn’t love the way my body looks, but by practicing certain habits, I could love the way my body feels, and appreciate my body in that sense, if not with my eyes.  The same holds true today: my body feels great. Even better than it did last summer; I feel like I got 10 years back when I got my CPAP machine.  Yesterday, as my body was able to do more movement without getting tired than I had done in years, I kept thinking how well I felt, and how “my body feels like a really nice place to live right now. And I even like the way most of it looks.” The few things I would change seemed so insignificant. As it should be.

So, I find thinking of my body as a cozy sanctuary to be helpful to me. I do things that make me feel happy to live here.

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New Habit: Cardio Conditioning that Requires No Equipment and No Extra Time

Now that my energy levels have improved so much, I am thinking about a new fitness habit to add.

Since I had very slow recovery for so long due to sleep apnea that was yet to be diagnosed, intense cardio exercise had to go, for a while. My body felt better with just lifting and gentle walking and stretching.

Well, now that my sleep apnea is being treated and I have figured out a lifting routine that makes me stronger AND from which I can recover well, I have a lot more energy to go about my day, and I’m thinking of adding another fitness habit.

The outcome I’d like to see

I live in a hilly neighborhood, and I’d like to huff and puff less when climbing the hills. In fitness speak, I’d like to improve my cardiovascular conditioning, or get my body used to having an elevated heart rate again.

The challenges

I have a few challenges/considerations to keep in mind while choosing a goal-supportive habit I can stick to.

  • I don’t have room in my budget for extra equipment, and I have yet to find a sports bra manufactured in my size that is not on back order (so, running is probably not the best choice)
  • I don’t have much wiggle room in my schedule / child care situation to add more exercise without adding a lot of extra stress to my day or compromising my sleep (so, going to a gym or swimming is not a super accessible option for me right now, except perhaps on weekends)
  • I would prefer not to rely heavily on kettlebells, because I already do a lot of lifting that taxes the posterior chain and my lower back muscles are telling me not to add much more.

So, looking at those challenges, I decided that I was going to use what I already have. I live on a hill. Several times a week, I find myself walking up said hill to get back home. At least a couple of those times, my kid is not with me. So during those times when my kid is not with me, instead of walking leisurely up the hill, I am going to walk up the hill at a fast pace, to get my heart rate up.

Though it doesn’t sound like much, I am 95% sure I can do this consistently. If/when I reach a point where it becomes easy, I can then decide whether to keep this up or do something different.

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What My CPAP Has Done For My Bloodwork Numbers

….absolutely nothing.

But there is something cool and dramatic to share. Read on.

Backstory:

I have been getting regular blood work every three months for over a year now, mainly for monitoring purposes. Last year, I went to my doctor because I was having extremely infrequent and heavy periods. My doctor ordered bloodwork for a full hormonal panel, adrenal function, thyroid function, and more.

When the results came back, my cortisol was deemed to be too low, and I was deficient in Vitamin D. My blood sugar was also slightly outside of the normal range (by one point), so in subsequent follow ups, my A1C was tested as well.

My doctor has been really happy with the results over the past year. Everything has been slowly and steadily improving. My blood sugar has been in the normal range in every follow up reading. My cortisol levels and Vitamin D levels have been steadily improving. My thyroid hormone levels are all within normal ranges. My A1C is hovering just above the high range of normal, and it hasn’t budged much, but my doctor isn’t worried because everything else is looking great.

But I just got a CPAP machine in the past three months, and so many things have dramatically changed for me, along with my sleep. My energy levels. My ability to focus. My motivation levels. My recovery from heavy lifting.

So because everything has been going SO. MUCH. BETTER. for me, I was expecting Dramatically Different Results on this quarter’s blood work.

What Actually Happened

Well, I got my test results back this week, with a note that said “the doctor wanted me to let you know they look amazing.” And I saw them, and I saw that they were pretty much the same as last time, and I was actually disappointed, because I was hoping for some really dramatic difference.

So I Examined My Self-Talk

Why is it that we want drama and drastic changes to see if something is working? Is it not enough that I am doing things around the house I have never done, and actually able to sustain a healthy lifestyle now, and that I am a better parent and friend and can focus at work again, and that I don’t need to be sedentary for 23 hours per day to recover from a one hour workout? Why do I need dramatic blood work results too?

The Answer: Comparison

A friend of mine on Facebook, Patrik, has been posting about his own health journey, and it has included some dramatic changes in his blood work numbers. Within the past year, his A1C levels have dropped from 9.6 (diabetic) to 4.9 (normal).  His doctor has taken him off the medication he takes for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. He went from spending hundreds of dollars per month on medication, to spending just $5 per month, as only one medication remains. He no longer needs the CPAP machine he needed before.  He was previously sedentary, and now he has recently run his first 5K and is getting stronger in the gym all the time. In the process of changing all these numbers, his body weight also reduced by about 30%, give or take.

Now, Patrik improved his health using a very different approach than I have been using. Instead of making small changes over time, he made some very big changes. He went from a sedentary lifestyle to doing regular CrossFit workouts, and adopted a lower calorie ketogenic diet.  I started questioning, momentarily….should I go back to CrossFit? Should I do what he does?

And I realized that I need to keep my eyes on my own journey and not compare myself to someone else.

See, Patrik and I come with different health histories, different needs, and different responsibilities. While I am beyond excited for him that he got off almost all his medication doing a restrictive diet and regular CrossFit workouts, I have already tried that route, and it didn’t work with my life in a way that I could sustain and it didn’t make me healthier. Does that make it “wrong?” Not for Patrik, it doesn’t. For me, it does.

So, let’s talk about those “dramatic” blood work changes I was wanting, and how I was disappointed to see stability. Patrik was on several medications, and his levels were still high, before he made lifestyle changes. He had room for dramatic changes. Whereas I am on zero medications. Shouldn’t I be grateful that I don’t have far to go? Yes, I should. Instead of being disappointed that I didn’t see any dramatic change, I should be grateful that my body functions normally without medications. How’s that for perspective?

For Patrik, his medical reasons for adopting a restrictive diet are obviously compelling. For me, with a history of disordered eating, any potential benefits do not outweigh the risks. I know, because I have done it in the past, and after years, it led to bingeing and weight gain and disordered eating patterns. So, even though I know I could probably nudge A1C down into the normal range by restricting certain food groups, the benefit is not worth the cost to me at this time. I am healthier and happier being more free with my food. And I am grateful that I have the luxury of doing so. Instead of being disappointed that my A1C is stable, I should be thrilled that it is stable, that my blood sugar is in the normal range, and that my body can handle the food I need to eat to maintain my mental health. Again, instead of being disappointed that I didn’t see a dramatic change, I should be grateful that I don’t NEED to see a dramatic change.

Patrik was able to stop using his CPAP machine in the past couple months. His energy levels and sleep improved on his new lifestyle, with his healthier habits. Whereas I have tried maintaining healthier habits throughout my life, and something always was wrong, even when I was much thinner. I recovered incredibly slowly from workouts that gave most people my age no problems. My hunger levels seemed abnormally high. My motivation at home was always low, and my motivation and focus at work took a lot of effort to maintain.

And I tried to make drastic changes, like Patrik did, over the years. I’ve done restrictive diets and high intensity workout regimens in the past….and they always ran me into the ground, more than they should, and I couldn’t continue. (Isn’t exercise supposed to make you feel better, not worse, over time?)

….Until I got my CPAP machine. Now MY energy levels are off the charts. My motivation levels and focus are at an all time high. I’m finally able to recover well from the workouts I do. So, while Patrik was thrilled to get rid of his CPAP machine, they may have to pry mine from my cold, dead hands.

In addition to having different health histories, we also have different responsibilities in our current lives. His daughter is a teenager, and my son is a preschooler. Until last month, I was still a breastfeeding mother.  Our day to day (and nighttime) parenting demands are different (I know nothing about parenting teenagers, so I am not going to say it is easier. Just different). So, the food and exercise routines that fit into Patrik’s life are different than the ones that will fit into mine. Again, I should be grateful that I don’t have health challenges that require me to make more drastic changes to my life.

So, there is no good reason for me to be dissatisfied with my own progress because it doesn’t look like my friend Patrik’s. We are completely different, and my progress is great too.

Three years ago, I had hypothyroidism. Now, even with a 40% weight gain (some muscle, some fat), my thyroid function consistently tests as healthy and normal.

One year ago, I went to my doctor to talk about extreme fatigue. I needed frequent naps. Now, I almost never need naps. I feel as energetic as I did 10 years ago and 50% lighter.

Since my pregnancy, I had severe brain fog that didn’t go away for years after I had my son. Now, I am thrilled with how mentally sharp I feel.

Even alongside a weight gain, my blood work is healthier today than it is one year ago. My cortisol levels are back in the normal range.

Now, my hunger and thirst levels feel much more manageable. I no longer need to eat or drink frequently to keep my energy levels up.

So, clearly, I need to be more grateful. My health has indeed improved dramatically. I realized that instead of hoping for “dramatic blood work results,” I can choose to be grateful that I don’t need to see dramatic blood work results in the first place, and be grateful for the amazing changes I HAVE experienced.

And remember how I said that one year ago, my periods were extremely infrequent and heavy? Well, I just got an unexpected menstrual period…..one month after my last one. For the first time in at least 6 years. So, I got my dramatic result after all, just not the one I was expecting. I have never been more happy to menstruate.

Moral of the story? Eyes on my own journey. Patrik is doing an amazing job, and I am doing an amazing job. Both of us are improving our health and quality of life, even though that looks different for each of us. I can be just as happy for myself, too.

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Satisfying My Cravings for Big Numbers

I’m in a pretty good groove with my current lifting plan. Doing Wendler 531 (back squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press) is really great for me. Not just because it fits into my life so well, but also because it is satisfying my craving for gainz while I do the necessary patterning work at light weights for the Olympic lifts.

Last year I worked on Olympic weightlifting almost exclusively. And I really liked it, though I found it too tempting to increase the weights before I really developed my speed and technique well. I hear that is a common problem among people who are already pretty strong when they discover Olympic weightlifting.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Snatch Seminar at my local Crossfit box. I got a lot out of it and I feel a strong desire to work on my Olympic weightlifting technique again.

The difference is, now that I am seeing consistent strength improvements on Wendler 531, I am happy to be a lot more patient with the snatch, clean and jerk. I have been working technique with an empty bar once or twice per week. Sometimes I include some very light technique work in my warm ups. Meanwhile, my need to know I am making strength progress is met by my back squat and deadlift programming.

I also started hanging from bars at the playground when I visit the garden. I can’t hang for very long yet. That will come in time too.

My Habit Practice Has Become a Toddler

If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been on a healthy habits path for a little while. In fact, one of the main reasons I started blogging was because I was doing something very different with regards to health from what most of my friends were doing, and different from what I had done my entire life. And friends started telling me “this is really interesting. You need to blog about this.”

So after a few months of hesitation, I started doing just that. I wrote about why I adopted a habits practice in the first place, and what I was doing. People asked me “how did you decide what goals to set? How do you decide on numbers? How do you track them?” So I wrote a series of posts about all that.

And now, I’ve been at this habit thing for 481 days. That’s just shy of 16 months. My habit practice has become a toddler.

And toddlers need some different approaches than babies do.  I’m starting to feel like my habit practice does too.

I’ve been tracking all my habit goals on this beautiful spreadsheet that I feel oh-so-proud of, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. There are over 20 habits on my spreadsheet now. I can’t see all the columns in one screen. And I’m wondering if I might enjoy taking some of the columns off the spreadsheet…which would mean NOT tracking all my habits.

With toddlers, you don’t need to pay as much attention to minutia.

When I had a newborn with feeding problems, we had to track every feeding and every elimination for two weeks. Once my baby had regained his birth weight and the lactation consultant had reviewed his feeding and elimination records and all was determined to be functioning well enough, we were given the green light to stop tracking these things.

Ideally, the purpose of developing healthy habits would mean that they are an automatic part of one’s routine, like brushing one’s teeth. I don’t have to track “brushing my teeth” to remember to do it every day. It is an automatic part of my day that I do morning and evening, and has been for as long as I can remember.

So, I took a look at my list of habits on my spreadsheet, and marked off the ones I that feel consistent enough that I probably COULD take them off the list and not suffer any loss of consistency. I can say that 9-10 of the behaviors have become more or less automatic. That means 12 or 13 of them I would like to improve on my consistency.

I feel about 95 percent sure that I want to take some of the more consistent habits off the spreadsheet, and I can’t say why. It’s not like tracking takes me a long time. Unlike tracking, say, calories at mealtimes, tracking my habits takes me just 2 minutes in the evening. It’s simply a checklist – at the end of the day I mark off whether I did the habit or not. I just feel like maybe I am outgrowing the need to check off 20 plus columns. The main thing holding me back from taking them off the spreadsheet is that I like feeling like I am giving myself a sticker on a chart, patting myself on the back for a job well done. I like seeing at the end of the day “wow, today I did 14 things that are good for me! Good self care, Bethany!” Maybe I need more excitement in my life.

Toddlers can have regressions.

There are some habits which go well in spurts, but on weeks when I have a lot on my plate, my consistency falters. So, the same logic that applies to new habits also applies to improving consistency with old ones: I am choosing ONE habit to really focus on improving my consistency. If I try to improve consistency on 12 or 13 habits at once (or even 2 or 3), I likely won’t have success with any of them.

Right now, I’m feeling a strong desire to improve my consistency with going to sleep early. Now that I am on CPAP and my body is actually getting the oxygen I need to sleep through the night, I feel like I can basically fly….IF I get to sleep early enough. So, why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Toddlers thrive on routine.

I am learning the value of having set routines and “habit triggers.” Habit triggers are something I see discussed in several habit based groups. It means that you attach your habit to a set item in your routine. For example, instead of saying “I will go to the gym sometime today,” you would say “when I wake up, I put on my gym clothes and do my workout.” Instead of saying “I brush my teeth when I feel like it,” you say “I brush my teeth when I wake up in the morning, and before I go to sleep at night.”

When I started working on my habits journey, I had no concept of how anything would fit into my routine. I said “I am going to do 150 strength workouts this year.” And it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out the best frequency and workout duration and intensity for me.  Kinda like when you have an infant, sleep is all over the place and you get it in when you can, and everything is trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t with each particular baby. Now that I have found a groove with what works well for me, I also have found that doing my lifting in the morning usually works best with my routine (more incentive to go to bed early!).

Recently I have read that setting a habit goal without specifying a trigger could actually be creating a habit of planning when to do the thing, instead of a habit of ACTUALLY doing the thing (I am paraphrasing, and I believe the person who wrote this was Sean Flanagan). I can see how planning when to do the thing is better than not creating any habits at all…and I can also see how creating the actual habit itself eliminates the need for planning, which is even better. Excessive planning takes up space in your brain, and takes it away from other things in life.

So, as I revisit some of the behaviors for which I would like to improve consistency, I will be looking at concrete places where I can build them into my routine, and giving them more concrete habit triggers.

Looking around, I see that I already have people in my life who are very good at habits, and they use habit triggers without realizing it. My mother always unloads the dishwasher while she makes her coffee in the morning. My father in law always goes grocery shopping on Tuesday and Friday mornings. He goes to the gym 5 days per week, and when he does, it is always at the same point in his morning routine.

Routines are only recently becoming a part of my life, now that I have a child. For years as an adult, I didn’t have set routines. There were so many changes in my life – moves, job changes, marriage. I always thought routine would feel stifling (I thought my father in law’s routine must be extremely boring!), until I realized my baby needed one, and my toddler needed one even more so. Now, I’m seeing that my habits will all be easier with more routine, and I am actually excited about building more routine into my life. I think everything will feel easier.

So, that’s where I am now, in terms of my habits practice: toddlerhood, minus the screaming and poop.

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Three New Habit Ideas for Spring

We are finally getting some spring weather, and I am finding that is making me feel very motivated! I have some ideas for new habits I would like to add to my list:

  • hang from bars at the playground to build pulling strength (if you are interested in building up to doing a pull up, check out the Facebook group Training With Michele Burmaster and once you are approved, search the hashtag #pullupcrew2016.)
  • run a lap around the block or around the reservoir near my home, because I’d like to build some cardiovascular conditioning
  • Try to get to bed by 9:30pm

I find myself tempted to try these all at once. I have to remind myself about all the statistics that say one habit at a time is most likely to succeed. I just started a new habit to work on this weekend so I should probably wait on these.

When I do feel ready to try one, I’m guessing it will probably be the first one (hanging from bars at the playground). The playground that is next to the garden is full of great bars for hanging.

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Lots of pull-up potential

And I wouldn’t need to buy any special equipment for it, unlike running, for which I’d need to pick up some appropriate shoes and bras. I already own some assistance bands to use if I want them. Also, I wouldn’t have think about things like scheduling it around “leg day.” Hanging from some bars wouldn’t conflict much with what I am already doing.

For now, I may start playing with these items, but not setting official goals or really working on them too hard. I got myself to the garden today, so this habit is off to a good start!

Wondering how I figured out which habits to work on? I wrote a series of posts about my process. You can start here.

Wondering how I track my goals? That’s covered in the third post of the series, and also in this post.

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“If I’m So Health Conscious, Why Do I Feel So Unhealthy?”

I’ve been doing a habit-based approach to health for the past 15 months now. 455 days, to be exact. In that time, I’ve introduced 22 new habits, and most of them are easy and fit well into my lifestyle.

Well, shit. That’s a wake-up call. Because I thought I was health-conscious before.

And yet, after 15 months, I finally have some basic habits in place. I mean, I did some of these things before….but not often enough to call them “habits.”

Turns out that being “health-conscious”  is not the same thing as having  healthy habits. (And of course, they are not mutually exclusive….but they are not the same thing.)

[Insert disclaimer: having healthy habits, whatever that means to you, is a personal choice and is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or anyone else’s business. I’m only talking about myself in this post. Also, health is not entirely within our control nor guaranteed.]

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