Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

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Better Late Than Never

Some self care I practiced this week, above and beyond regular daily habits:

I reached out to some understanding friends to vent about some big feelings I was having, and realized that I wanted to follow up on finding therapist who specializes in eating disorders. It feels like a bit of a strange time to do this, given that my relationship with food is currently better than I ever imagined it could be. Even so, while my behaviors around food currently feel healthy, balanced and comfortable, my body still plays a more prominent role in my thoughts than I would like. I recently realized that I had eating disorders as a child and young adult that went untreated. While I was able to overcome the disordered behaviors and fears around food with the help of some wonderful communities online, the continued preoccupation with my body over other things in life is starting to annoy me. I get very preoccupied with my body in order to avoid certain things that scare me in my life. And I also find that I am still dealing with some of the effects of being brought up in an environment where I was told that something was wrong with me by parents, doctors, and other children.  It caused depression, self esteem issues, vulnerability and productivity issues that I am still sorting out, well into adulthood. Keeping this blog and participating in online groups has been a great tool that has brought me very far….and I’m feeling like I am at the point where I would like some help. So I’m going to try out therapy. Better late than never, right? My first appointment will be next week.

In other “better late than never” news, I remembered that my physical therapist had noticed in the initial evaluation (back in June!) that my feet over-pronate when I walk, and mentioned that it could be a factor in my back aches. Remembered that I have had issues from my flat-ish feet off and on since childhood and in the past had used either prescription orthotic inserts or running shoes good for over-pronators with good results. Looked at my very worn out sneakers. Ordered some running shoes for overpronators (a similar model to a shoe I had used in the past). I’m crossing my fingers it will help with my back aches. The nerve tingling in my legs is completely gone, but my the back aches are still persisting with standing/walking.

I also figured out how to get around the resentment I was feeling around doing my physical therapy home exercises. I “shrunk the habit” by deciding that the goal was to just do one exercise. Usually once I start, I end up doing most of them. But I can mark the habit as successful even if I just do one exercise. I also sometimes switch up the order of exercises if I want to so I feel like I have some autonomy/choice in the matter.

Finally – I decided to try something a little bit outside of my comfort zone! I signed up for a Drills and Distance class at the Y! It’s a class that meets twice per week for 85 minutes to improve stroke technique and endurance. Since it meets on the days I already go to swim, it shouldn’t be too big a change. However, I’m nervous about being in over my head, and a little nervous about getting kiddo out the door in time. I’m doing it anyway though and I’m excited!

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

So, three things to look forward to next week…..a new swim class, new shoes, and meeting a new therapist.

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Body Acceptance….So What’s Next?

Lately, my self-talk has shifted from my body to other areas of my life. This makes me wonder whether my body was ever the issue to begin with.

I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life.

Recently my high school graduating class has been having a “virtual reunion.” Seeing some people’s success makes me think “I was a good student. Why didn’t I choose a more lucrative professional career like some of my classmates?”

All the time I spent in life believing my body was a problem that had to be solved….how did it help anyone? As far as I can see, it hurt me and didn’t help anyone else.  And it may have hurt others, too, by limiting my contribution to the world.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf

So now that I know better, I can move on and contribute more. Right?

Not so fast.

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Scale Anxiety: Distinguishing Between Vanity and Health

Last week a question was asked in an online group by Carolyn W. With her permission, I am posting her question here:

“For those of you that threw out (or had someone hide) your scale, what happened? What was your experience? Did you permanently get rid of it or did you bring it back at some point? How did you manage any anxiety that came up from not knowing your weight? I’m seriously considering having my husband hide our scale. I’ve been doing some great work with movement and changes to my nutrition, and while I feel SO much better and have noticed changes in my clothing, and inches lost when I measure, the scale has barely moved and I’m in tears every time I step on it. It’s clearly not helping me, so I think it needs to go, but I’m unexpectedly anxious/afraid. I’d love to hear what others’ experience has been with this. Thank you!”

I responded with my own experience and opinion:

I lost mine four years ago…I think it got left behind when we moved. I decided not to replace it.

I told myself that I could still weigh myself at the doctors office or at the gym if I wished….or even at a friend’s house. But [I acknowledged that] weighing regularly wasn’t contributing anything positive to my life.

Think about it….unless you have a medical condition, you probably don’t feel anxiety not knowing your blood pressure or blood sugar every day. So why [do we feel anxiety about] the weight? Because of fatphobia. This fear is a vanity issue and not a health issue. (Telling myself that helped). The solution is not to try to manipulate weight, but to declare a truce with my body and fight fatphobia.

Carolyn thanked me for sharing this perspective and said that reframing frequent weigh ins from a health issue to a vanity issue was very helpful to her. Indeed, articulating it was helpful to me as well, and so I want to share more about this point.

Realizing that feeling more anxiety over weight changes than other health markers was due to vanity concerns, not health concerns, was extremely freeing to me.

Currently, I am back to weighing myself somewhat regularly when I see the scale in the locker room. I have mixed feelings about this. I tell myself it’s okay to do this. In reality I don’t think its awesome, and it’s definitely not necessary. But I acknowledge that I have behavior changes I am working on that are currently having more of an effect on my health than whether or not I know my weight. So I find it helpful to view this behavior as neutral and not sweat it right now. It takes an extra 20 seconds of my time  when I do it. I make sure to tell myself that it is not going to affect how I take care of myself today. I expect to see fluctuations. I tell myself that it’s okay to weigh myself and then get on with my day.

In order to keep it in perspective, I remind myself that I don’t know my daily sugar numbers or cholesterol or blood pressure, though I have a rough idea of what they are because they are measured occasionally. Honestly, if there was a non-invasive way to find out, I probably would be tracking that (for curiosity purposes, not health purposes). And since I don’t have a medical need to track it more frequently, I’m sure that knowledge would not be helpful to me on a daily basis, so I am glad there currently isn’t a noninvasive way to track it. I think many people have love/hate relationships with their scales and activity trackers and heart rate monitors. They can give us data without drawing blood, which can be cool and sometimes useful, but can also detract from health when we get fixated on the data, which many of us do.

Anyway, several others gave Carolyn great input as well. I checked in with her a week later, and she was really enjoying life without daily weigh ins. She said she didn’t anticipate how much easier intuitive eating would be when she didn’t have the daily fear of the next day’s weigh in.

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Arms, Oars, and What’s Below the Surface

Have you ever felt like you were putting a lot of energy out, but weren’t moving very far?

I just realized that I have been swimming the freestyle stroke “wrong” my entire life.

I took years of swimming lessons as a kid because I loved swimming. In the seventh grade, I tried out for the swim team at my local YMCA. I didn’t make the team, and they suggested I enroll in a class where they taught more advanced swim skills in preparation for tryouts another year. 

But I never got much faster and speed always seemed to leave me so out of breath. 

I got discouraged and abandoned swimming in favor of music. Now, two decades later, an injury was the catalyst for me taking up swimming again.

And I still struggled with speed in the freestyle, as when I did when I was a kid. When I tried to speed up, I would move my arms more quickly. More strokes per lap. I focused on how my arms exited and re-entered the water.

This week, it dawned on me that by focusing on what happened above the surface, I was ignoring where all the power was: beneath the surface.

Swimming “works” by using your body to displace the water. You pull the water in the direction opposite where you want your body to go. All that pulling happens when your arms are IN THE WATER. What happens above the water is pretty irrelevant.

It was a lightbulb moment. How did I never realize this before? When you row a boat, the oars don’t move the boat while they are above the surface; that’s just recovery so they can get back INTO the water. All the pulling and all the power happen while the oars are IN the water.

So I started focusing differently on my stroke technique for the freestyle. Instead of focusing on “how can I get less tired while moving my arms quickly,” I started focusing all my attention to the pull that happens when my arms are IN in the water. How can I create the most resistance, and pull through it? THIS is the key part of the stroke.

And…HOLY POWER! Now my strokes are actually doing something.  I got faster overnight. My heart rate and breathing are challenged, AND I am actually moving. Not by putting out more strokes per minute…..but by putting more muscle and focus into my strokes.

Fewer, more powerful strokes get you farther than more strokes that are less powerful.

There has got to be a lesson applicable to habits in that. I will be mulling this one over. How about you?

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The Locker Room Scale (and Some Injury Updates)

Content heads-up: This post contains scale talk (no specific numbers). Skip it if that isn’t your thing.

Swimming is going well. I’ve got my routine down pat. I am proficient in 3 strokes. After watching some of the other lap swimmers do flip turns, I was inspired to try them for the first time in years.

Yesterday I went to the beach with my family and swam in the ocean a bit. I’m not used to swimming in the ocean so it was mostly water walking. Still, plenty of movement. And even after a day at the beach (including walking and carrying gear), I didn’t have any back aches.

In fact, I haven’t had any back aches in a week or two. The three times per week swimming plus hot tub routine, plus physical therapy, seems to be working wonders.  I had my follow up with the spine doctor this week, and he said that if in three months I am still pain free, he will likely clear me to do whatever I want. Since what I am doing is working, I am going to keep doing it.

A couple things I wasn’t anticipating:

  1. I’m not sure whether it is the relaxing effect of the swimming, or the fact that it is super hot outside, or a side effect of the antidepressant I started taking…..but I have been feeling really unmotivated and sometimes sleepy.
  2. I keep feeling drawn to the scale in the locker room.

I felt a bit conflicted about the presence of the scale at first. For the past year and a half, my approach to the scale was easy. I didn’t own one at home. I got on the scale if I was at the doctors office, to satisfy my curiosity. This happened maybe once every couple months.

Now, I see a scale in the locker room three or four times per week, and I wish I didn’t feel drawn to it, but I do.

For a little while I fought it. I just didn’t get on.

Then one day I decided I was going to get on, just to get it out of my head. So I did.

Then the next time I went to swim, I wanted to get on again. Rather than argue with myself (“This is really unhealthy. You don’t need to weigh yourself that much”), I just told myself “you want to get on the scale? That’s fine. You know what you weigh anyway, and it’s not like it is going to change anything you are doing today.” So I did.

And maybe it is unhealthy to want to get on the scale every time I see it. Maybe it’s a vestige of diet culture and unhealthy behaviors. But for now, I just tell myself that it is just a number, and it is fine to get on the scale if I want to, as long as I know it is not going to change the way I am taking care of myself today. I hope I can keep up that perspective.

I’m not saying I think it is or is not a good idea for people to do this, and it may not be the “correct” fat positive thing to do…..just sharing where I am right now, and how I’m handling seeing the scale on the way to the pool a few times per week.

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