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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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.

Still Getting Better!

I had a great week. Everything keeps getting better. Last week I wrote some posts about how CPAP therapy is going for me. You can read them here, and here.

My kid had an ear infection this week, so he woke us up a lot at night for a few days, and I felt tired. But the amazing thing is, my mood was still good.  Even after 4 nights of interrupted sleep. In the months before I got my CPAP, if my kid had a bad night, my mood was terrible the next day. I found dealing with people to be too overwhelming. I felt irritable. I don’t drink coffee regularly, but I would go get coffee on those days. It didn’t help much. So, it was a big deal that this week we had four nights of interrupted sleep, and my mood was good even though I was tired.

In fact, I even did some housework after that fourth day! My kid was taking a nap, and a friend called. While I was chatting with her, I noticed that I had energy and didn’t want to sit still. So I got down on the floor and began stretching. Then I was done, and looking for something else to do. So I started cleaning off my bathroom countertop. Then the floor around the toilet. Then the baseboard. Then the sink. Then a couple spots on the walls, and the mirror. Then  dusted the bookshelf in my room, and in kiddo’s room. Then I took the trash cans out to the curb. Then I changed the cat litter. And all this was on a day I had already lifted in the morning, and after 4 days of sick-kiddo-interrupted sleep.

This was more housework than I would get done in a month or two, before. Before, I never had any motivation to do housework. The thought of it always seemed overwhelming.  I felt self conscious, thinking that everyone thought I was lazy, but I still couldn’t get myself to do it.  And I never would have done it on the same day I lifted weights. I always needed a lot of rest and recovery time afterwards. Essentially, I had to choose between lifting and housework. I always chose lifting, because it was more fun and it gave me lots of benefits, such as normalizing my blood sugar and just feeling better. It is amazing to me that now I can do BOTH sometimes.

My complexion is also improving. The photo on the left was taken a couple weeks before I started CPAP. The photo on the right was taken 12 days after I started CPAP. Look how my skin and eyes have brightened up!
image

I still haven’t been able to take a nap with the machine on. I tried for the second time this week and couldn’t fall asleep. However, laying in a dark room breathing deeply for 30 minutes was refreshing enough in and of itself.

On the training front, I finished my second Wendler 5 3 1 cycle of the year. The new minimalist lifting schedule is working out great. I still feel strong, and I still have enough energy to handle my other shit. So I will be keeping that up.  Unfortunately I caught my kid’s bug, so I will be waiting a few days to start the third cycle.

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A Great Day!

I had a fantastic day today!

I started off in a really grumpy mood. I hadn’t been to barbell club in a while and I wanted to go alone. But my husband had physical therapy and I was grumpy about bringing my kiddo.

It turned out great though. Kiddo ran off his energy by running laps around the training rig and playing with various balls and jump ropes he found, as well as the dogs that were visiting today, and his lunch, and his toy barbell.

Once I started lifting I felt better. My lifts felt great today and it turned my mood around! I did snatches, clean and jerks, and bench presses. Even though I am only doing olympic lifts once per week now, I felt good about how they went. And my bench press form is improving. Like a real powerlifter with my back arched and my ass off the bench! I also got some tips on setting up a sumo deadlift, which I will try tomorrow when I do my deadlifts.

Afterwards I got to go out by myself. I got a new phone for my birthday and I went to get it activated. I can’t tell whether I am more excited about the new phone or the CPAP machine I am getting on Tuesday.

And then got myself some treats. Something from a local candy shop called a fudge caramallow I think? And some Vietnamese food. I ate them for dinner. Om nom nom. Oh, and a jasmine limeade while I waited for takeout and played with my new phone. (Oh, THAT would be why I still have so much energy this late at night. The green tea in the limeade…)

I am excited to go watch a weightlifting competition tomorrow! It will be my first competition I am watching in person (as opposed to online).

Weekend update – New Wendler Cycle, New Habits, and other Miscellany

Nothing exciting today. Just a weekend update. Boring ass real life on the habit train….

Last week I finished my first cycle of Wendler 5/3/1 and this weekend I started my second cycle. So far it’s going well. I like the flexibility. I can spend less than 20 minutes per day if I want….or if I prefer I can combine days. I like how I feel so far.  Some days I’ve lifted first thing in the morning. Other days, after my kid goes to bed.

For this cycle, I am going to try including Olympic lifts 1 day per week, and see how that feels for me. I did them last night while watching Grease Live with my husband. The clean and jerk still felt pretty easy. The snatch felt a little awkward after a four week break.

I’ve been having some issues with my medical insurance not wanting to cover the recommended follow up testing for my diagnosis. Looks like I will probably be getting a machine soon, however. Fingers crossed! Now that I know I’m not breathing well at night, I want to fix it as soon as possible.

I went in for some routine bloodwork and weighed myself on the scale at the lab. The scale confirmed what I already knew by the way my clothes fit – I had lost a few pounds since I last weighed myself 3 months ago.  I didn’t do anything to intentionally lose the pounds; I just continued with all my habits, with the addition of using my new intuitive eating skills.  I’m trying not to get excited or put too much pressure on myself. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I added a new habit. I am adding two more habits to my list today:

  • eat a vegetable with at least two meals (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).
  • do something myself instead of asking my husband to do it (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).

I’ve already been doing these items more than usual, so I’m pretty sure I can succeed with these goals.

Minimalist Lifting, Week 2 Training Log

I am about halfway through my second week on a more minimal lifting program.  Here are some thoughts and observations.

If you read about the Wendler 5/3/1 program online, you will see that each day has you do 3 sets of the main lift. There are different templates you can follow for assistance work. The templates have names like “Big But Boring,” and “The Triumvirate.” The template where you do just the main lift, with no assistance work, is called “I’m Not Doing Jack Shit.”

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Simplifying My Fitness Plan So I Have Energy for Real Life

I’m noticing some uneasiness about my new fitness plan. I’m simplifying it a lot, because I have more responsibilities while my husband can’t do housework or drive. Jennifer Campbell of Healthy Habits Happy Moms suggested that I may need to re-examine my expectations for myself and my habits while my husband is laid up. I didn’t want her to be right, but I quickly learned that she was. Plus, it is winter and my kid is driving me a bit crazy anyway. So, my new fitness plan is as follows, for as long as it serves me:

  • One lift each day, using the Wendler 5/3/1 template. Wendler’s program uses the back squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. I’m gonna add a day of Pendlay rows because I can’t leave well enough alone. So that’s 5 days of lifting, for maybe 20 minutes each. 30 minutes if you count warm ups and stretching/rolling. Hopefully fast enough to be done before my kid drives me batshit crazy.
  • Olympic lifts technique practice if/when I feel like it, to keep technique in my muscle memory. Nothing too heavy. Or not.
  • Walking when the weather and my schedule allows.
  • Doing “on my feet” tasks around the house as I feel like it.

It feels too….easy? Short? Mild? I’m not used to having so much gas left in the tank to handle household tasks (but that is the point of simplifying so I guess it is working). I’m not used to having a clean living room that I cleaned myself. I’m used to my muscles being tired so that lying on the couch feels good. I’m used to my legs being tired and needing to rest a lot. I’m used to being more sedentary when I am not actually lifting. I’m used to not wanting to walk up the stairs to get something. I’m used to my living room being more cluttered. I’m used to my husband doing some housework, and me doing less housework. Now that my husband is injured, I’m doing almost all the housework….and I’m keeping up with it for the past few days myself, and not feeling tired and resentful about it.

Noticing that life feels easier to handle is GOOD. My mental uneasiness, however, means I clearly have some beliefs to work through – such as “exercise needs to be intense in order to do anything.” Or, “being tired means my training is working.” Or “being tired means I’ve done something” or “not being tired means I haven’t worked hard enough.” I thought I was over these beliefs, but clearly I’m still hanging on a bit.

I also have some nagging thoughts like “what if I lose all my progress on the Olympic lifts?” To that thought I respond that nobody is paying me to get good at those, and that my number one priority is my health and my family. If that means taking a little break for a while to do something else, that is okay. Once a hobby adds stress to my life during a time period when I have plenty of stress from other areas, I can stop telling myself that it is helping my  health.

Over the past month I’ve also challenged some of my food beliefs and been happy with the results. We are eating a lot of sandwiches, salads, and cereal in our house these days, in order to minimize cooking. I am buying packaged sauces and dressings rather than making them from scratch. It’s helping us get more flavor variety into our meals without too much work. I’ve been eating a lot more salad. My favorite salad dressings right now are Annie’s Papaya Poppyseed, and Brianna’s Blue Cheese. I have a bunch more I want to try. We’ve been eating off disposable dishes, and I’m just now starting to phase my regular dishes back in, now that I have some extra energy.

So, just as I am adjusting  my family’s food plan to minimize stress, so too I am adjusting my movement activities to do the same. Yesterday I went to barbell club and did bench presses, some light snatches, and some experimentation with hanging from a pull up bar using bands. Today I did deadlifts at home. My hamstrings and glutes are like “oh hey! We forgot about deadlifts.” But my legs still had enough energy in them to keep up on the dishes today. We used some disposable and some regular dishes. Because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can phase the regular dishes back in gradually, and see how it’s working for our sanity.

My kiddo was sick today, so I had plenty of quiet time. It was a much needed recharge day for me.

Here’s to a week of feeling oddly energetic! I can get used to this :).

Realization: My Workouts Should Not Drive Me to Drink!

To be fair, it isn’t really my workouts that are driving me to drink. It is my three year old.

I’ll back up a little.

While the weather was warm, having a porch gym has served me well. I could lift on the porch while my kiddo played outside. If it took me an hour or two to get my warm up, lifting, and mobility and recovery work in, that was usually fine. My kid would play, eat snacks, and generally entertain himself.

Now though, it’s winter in New England. The gym has moved into my living room. My husband is injured and can’t play with my kid as much, and it’s too cold to get out much at all. Basically, my three year old is bored, and in mama-obsessed mood. He wants a lot of attention from me. And yes, he gets out of the house. He goes to his babysitter a couple days per week where he plays with other kids and goes on outings, and I take him to gymnastics class and swim class and the library and the grocery store and…..it’s still not enough. Especially since my husband and I were sick for a couple weeks on top of everything. My three year old is bored.

I’ve been trying to get back into my routine of lifting 3 times per week, for 1-2 hours start to finish.

Yesterday, I really had trouble getting going. I didn’t really want to lift. I wanted to go for a walk. It was sunny outside, and 27 degrees, which was the warmest it had been all day. I didn’t listen to myself though. I didn’t want to throw off my lifting schedule. In truth, it made me a little nervous to do it. So, I decided to lift instead.

Within the first sets, I noticed I felt irritable. I tried to get my kiddo to go upstairs and play with my  husband. No dice. He spent the whole workout running laps around the living room and trying to climb all over me between sets.

At one point, I decided to try a bench press. One of my coaches at barbell club had shown me how to do it the way the powerlifters do it. I got my rack out, figured out the height adjustments for benching, figured out where to place the bench in my set up. I got myself in position and ready to do a bench press.  I was about to lift the barbell off the rack.

And then something soft hit me. My kid had taken a sock and launched it at me, slingshot style.

I sternly told him that it was not safe to throw things at me while I am lifting, and carried him upstairs to my husband.

He still made his way back downstairs before the end of the workout, and climbed on me while I was stretching. And climbed on me for a while afterwards. He hadn’t napped. I made plans to go buy wine and cook some macaroni and cheese as soon as I put him to bed. Comfort and decompressing was needed.  As I was cooking dinner, I realized “I should have just gone for the walk I wanted to. I’d probably be in a much better mood right now!” I had a great time watching the Bachelor and felt better when I went to sleep.

And then it hit me….this isn’t working for me right now. I shouldn’t finish my workouts so stressed out that I need to decompress from them. And right now my kiddo is making that a reality.

The positive side is, having equipment at home gives me loads of flexibility to make changes! What if I tried something different? I’ve been wanting to try more powerlifting again (after taking a break for a while to focus on Olympic weightlifting). What if I just committed to one exercise every morning? I could do a Wendler style 5/3/1 program or a Stronglifts 5×5 model. I could make a schedule, for example: Monday deadlifts, Tuesday bench press, Wednesday squats, Thursday overhead press, Friday Pendlay rows. Each morning I could spend less than half an hour on a lift. While my kid ate breakfast. I’d be able to crank it out and be done before he started driving me batshit crazy. I could do it even on the three days of week that I go to work. On days I stay home I wouldn’t be too tired afterwards to do all the extra stuff that is on me to do while my husband is injured. I could maintain and even increase my strength. I could maybe do an Olympic lift on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday if I feel up to it if my kid is entertained, but I could take a break from focusing on them.

And I would be able to take a walk in the afternoon if the weather is nice enough that I actually want to.

So, this morning I came downstairs and did some sets Pendlay rows as my kid ate breakfast. And wrote this post. It feels strange to just do one exercise and still have this much energy after a workout.  And it feels nice to be done with a workout and not be ready to drink. Let’s see how this goes!