The Week After- Personal Accountability, Setting an Example

I’ve always been somewhat of an obsessive person.  When I get passionate about something, it usually consumes my entire life and I do everything I can to live, breathe and learn all I can about that thing until it’s fully absorbed into my being.  This is why I know a fair amount about so many different things.  The problem I’ve always had however, is the day after I’ve mentally moved on to a new subject, I literally move on and leave it behind, my interest fades and I no longer have the same level of passion. They used to say this was because I was diagnosed with ADHD, although, personally… I think that was a misdiagnosis given back in the early 80’s when every child who wouldn’t sit still and was more creative than their teachers was told they were mentally disabled with some sort of attention problem.

Whatever the reason, I am constantly struggling to continue focus on projects once the passion is gone and it becomes a day-to-day process.  I end up with SO MANY things to think about at once I get overwhelmed and eventually just shut down, turn off and it’s REALLY hard to turn anything back on again.

My natural tendency is to do things the easiest/fasted way possible to avoid wasted time and get through projects and tasks quickly, efficiently and move on.  I learned this from years in a corporate office where, as a member of leadership, every single moment of every day was spoken for and even which path I took to the restroom would have an impact on the overall day I was going to have. Every extra smiley face in an email was an extra .5 seconds that could have been spent doing something more important.  I was a Franklin Covey nerd and lived my life according to a schedule.

Now, as the manager of my household, I have found many of my attitudes and time-management skills learned in the office to be equatable to my life at home.  I often do what will get the job done fastest and since the primary issue is always focused on the children, they are my “priority A”.  I let my own needs fall away to the background.  Where they are priority A projects, any project that has to do with me, personally.. is more like a priority C or D and is often shifted to the following day’s to-do list.  I most never just “move on” to the project for me, because there are always more priority A and B tasks that should be done before I bother with those.

Well, until recently… but even then, it wasn’t entirely for my personal benefit and I think that is what has made me so successful.

The most recent passion to take over my life is fitness and creating a healthier kitchen for my family.  I entered into a “6 Week Challenge” to lose 20 pounds in 42 days on June 2nd and it turned my life, all our lives, upside down.  It changed the way I eat, the way I approach food impulses, the way I recognize hunger and how I approach physical activity.  My only regret is that I didn’t discover this program until now.

That being said, the challenge was over on Monday.  I weighed in 17.8 pounds lighter than I did on June 2nd, and I replaced much of my extra fat with muscle.  My new strength is clearly visible and I feel 100% more capable of just about everything I do.  It’s an incredible feeling.  An addictive feeling… and it’s caused me to push some of those “priority C and D projects” up a little bit higher on the to do list.  Now, usually I feel a little guilty when the “me” projects get closer to the top, but this time… I don’t think that’s going to happen.

With the “end” of the 42 day challenge, comes the challenge of staying motivated to keep better health in mind by continuing to limit calories, stay away from fat, sugar and salt and to limit my portions when I’m at home with no one to hold me accountable except me.  I’ll admit something terrible here- With my typical mindset of done = I no longer care, my first impulse was to go through the Starbucks drive-thru on my way home from the final weigh in.  Now, don’t worry- I didn’t do that, I resisted and it is now Thursday and I have still resisted.  I am working to continue my better health through a consistent mindfulness and not allowing myself to believe that the challenge is over, because really… it isn’t.  It’s just begun. But I’ll get into more of that later.

I’m continuing to visit the “gym” I attended for the challenge and will continue as long as I can.  I say “gym” because it’s not what you would picture when I say the word, GYM.  It’s not a building full of shiny and confusing equipment that contorts your body into  strange shapes in order to target specific muscles.  It doesn’t have a room full of cardio bunnies hopping up and down on elliptical machines, it doesn’t have a room full of weight training dudes grunting while staring at themselves in the mirror and it doesn’t have the Sunset 79 club casually taking over every treadmill in sight for their leisurely strolls and gossip sessions.  It’s a pretty bare room, a thick, red mat in the middle, surrounded by various tools of the trade like, two foot tall wooden boxes, giant tractor tires, yoga balls, weighted medicine balls, kettle bells, free weights and a ton of other strange looking contraptions that seem they would rather be suited for Hellraiser than a workout room.  The people who work there are focused, attentive and strict.  The people who attend are motivated, focused on their own success and there to push their limits as far as they can go.  There is no pretension.  NO one shows up to “look cute” and no one bothers to wear make up.  This is not a gym to find a hook up for a coffee date later.  This is a hard core, fitness center where people don’t want to be bothered with what is outside those doors.  When you walk in, you’re in.  The rest of the world disappears and all there is, is you, the work you’re given to do and the trainer’s voice propelling you further into action than you ever thought possible.

This is true fitness training.  This is Boot Camp.  From the minute you walk in, you feel a desire to WANT to do well.  Not in order to look cute for anyone, or to look better than someone else in the class, because its not about that.  They have you burning from the minute you walk in the door to the point where you can’t even SEE anyone else, let alone care if they’re doing better than you.  Because this place is a family environment, if anyone, even another person working out, sees you struggle, you will suddenly hear a “Go for it! You can do it!  Keep pushing, don’t give up!” from someplace behind you.  You turn to look, and it’s someone who looks equally as beat down, drenched in sweat and fighting for their own work out who is smiling at you, giving you the thumbs up and an encouraging high five.

The first few weeks, I felt like I was going to die half way through class.  I watched people leave the floor in mid-workout to go throw up in the bathroom, then come back out and get back to it.  I saw people trying not to black out as we ran around the giant mat for 6 minutes between jogging, lunging, high knees and butt-kicks, side steps and skipping.  Sometimes I couldn’t do it all.  Sometimes I still can’t do it all.  Some days, I’m more tired than others and even though I’m pushing, I just can’t get as far as I did the day before but I never stop wanting to try.  I leave that place in the morning and I want to be able to do more.  Every time I walk out of class, I wish I could stay for another and hope to get to the point where I am strong enough to handle a two hour block instead of just one. Some days I want to give up, some days it feels like I’m not good enough to make it through and I get discouraged.  Then I remember I can only fail if I believe that crap and give up before I try.  So I keep going.

Every day it’s a different work out.  Every day, a different trainer and a new format and new exercises I have never seen and never thought I could even begin to tackle. The focus changes from upper body one day, to lower the next, a full body day and then rotating again.  It keeps you guessing.  It keeps you motivated and it keeps the challenge you’re about to undergo a secret so you can’t anticipate for it ahead of time and think, “oh man, I’m not up for this exercise today, maybe I should just stay home…” because you might not do that one again and you won’t know unless you get there and find out!  Everything about the fitness program they offer is designed to increase personal accountability and a killer work out while offering a feeling of spontaneity and creativity so people don’t get bored.

But that’s only half of it.  Fitness is actually the easy part of the challenge.  Like I said earlier- it’s the diet that is the killer.

For some, a “diet” is no big deal.  They’re not invested in food enough to care about what they eat, when they eat it and to have to stick to a strict plan doesn’t phase them in the slightest.  I am not that person.  I thought I was… until I did this challenge.  I learned more about myself and my relationship to food than I ever even wanted to know and it was a very hard, eye-opening look into the dependence I have created between myself and my diet.  I now understand fully where those extra 20 pounds came from and why they refused to stop clinging to my hips.  It’s because I WANTED them there.  Well, not necessarily the “pounds” of extra flab hanging out over my bra, above my waistline and flapping under my arms… but I was so deeply attached to my diet that I was not even aware that it was the reason I had extra weight to lose.

See, I eat pretty healthy for the most part.  I eat raw, whole grain/whole wheat breads, I eat fat free greek yogurt, brown rice and lots of spinach, kale and chard.  I cook with tofu, raw garlic, onion and oats, I make dishes that are 80% broccoli and 20% some kind of lightly seared protein with a little garlic salt and maybe some cheese on top.  I occasionally indulge in 50% less fat ice cream, whole wheat crackers, avocados on my salad and I eat a lot of eggs.  We eat whole wheat pasta with homemade tomato sauce and no added sugar and when I DO use sugar for anything, it’s usually raw honey or the occasional cup or two of baking sugar in a batch of cookies.  That’s what I do RIGHT.  Here’s what I learned when on the 6 week challenge:

I eat after my kids at almost every meal.  If they don’t finish, I usually do for them.  While I’m making them something with cheese, I will cut myself another slice.  While making them a peanut butter sandwich, I will lick the spoon or knife after I’ve spread the jam or the almond butter.  I will pour myself a glass of OJ as I am filling their cups.  I will have a cup of coffee for pretty much every activity I complete during my day, like a smoker has to light up, I had to pour a cup.  When I was out around town, if I was near a Starbucks and had an extra $5, it was an automatic assumption that I would be going there.  Many of my outings in fact, circled around hidden motives to eat unhealthfully with a path that drove us right by Del Taco or Carl’s Jr, a walk to the bakery, even if it was a little out of the way.   I also realized that my obsession with food was furthered by my ability to enjoy myself without those food items I was used to having.  Could I enjoy my day at the park without my Starbucks mocha?  Could I be happy to just walk to the bakery and get my son a cookie and be totally find with just a water and no coffee, no muffin?  Could I miss out on eating my OWN birthday cake and not feel like I was suffering some sort of devastating loss?  I resisted every single temptation.  I never ONCE cheated, no matter how badly I wanted to.  And I wanted to… oh, so, so badly it literally, physically hurt.  At one point I think I even cried about how I didn’t get to go to Starbucks on my birthday.

I CRIED OVER FREAKING STARBUCKS?!?!??!  Are you KIDDING ME?!?!?!  THAT was the reality I was shown in the 6 Week Challenge.  I was hungry all the time.  Every minute of every single day, whether I had just eaten or not, I was hungry.  I was starving for carbs.  Starving for sugar.  Starving for fat and salt and bread and the comfort of eating those things whenever I wanted.

Sometimes I feel like Michelle…

For 6 weeks, I ate exactly what was on my plan every day with zero deviation, I drank herbal tea, two gallons of water a day and snacked on cucumbers and sugar free jello while I imagined how awesome it would be to just devour my son’s sunbutter and raspberry jam sandwich or my daughter’s bowl of yogurt with bananas and organic O’s in it.  I made them pizza while I drank chocolate protein shakes and would breathe them in deeply as I passed them along to the children and kept sucking down my yummy shake instead, trying to convince myself that it really WAS better…

I obsessed over food to the point where I didn’t understand who I was anymore.  I had never in my life been so attached to food that I would even think about it, let alone obsess over it to the point where I became emotional about not getting to eat it.  I hated the diet.  Every single part of it, I hated it.  But I was unwilling to quit.  I’d come too far and too many people were looking at me succeeding and thinking THEY could do it too and who was I, to take that away from them, by giving up?  I HAD to keep going, so I did.  I followed it to the letter while trying to suppress my obsessive need for a thousand different food items I knew would immediately undo all the work I’d done.

So here I am now, 3 days after my final weigh in.  I’ve gained a little water weight back and my milk supply has increased since I have increased my carb intake, but I’m still riding in every day under 4 pounds gained back, so that’s less than they said to expect.  I’ve made a batch of pumpkin, almond, raw honey and ground walnut breakfast cookies that are to DIE for that have two eggs, no flour and very little fat, then followed up by making vegan breakfast cookies that have oat, pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and that’s it.  Also to die for.  I ate my first bowl of bran cereal in two months yesterday with unsweetened almond milk and a handful of walnuts.  I ate an asparagus, tilaipa and quinoa pasta dish with spinach and a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese for lunch yesterday and it was amazing.  I made a meatless rice bowl with Gardin meat replacement and brown rice with spinach and garlic for dinner and sugar free jello with strawberry slices for dessert.

I had a decadent snack of a chocolate protein shake with almond milk instead of water with a few strawberries blended in and I had a few cups of decaf coffee with nonfat, unsweetened half and half.  My insane cravings for things like Chocodiles, Doritos, giant pizzas, salted caramel volcano brownies and a Venti half-caf mocha with a double pump of hazelnut syrup and a chocolate chip cookie on the side… those are fading.  As I seek to find new ways of addressing the “fun” in eating poorly with creative ways to eat healthfully, I am losing the insane cravings for sugar and fat in food items I never really even liked in the first place.  I am grateful for this experience and grateful for what I’ve learned about myself and by proxy, our culture.

Now, how can a diet teach us about culture?  Well, first of all, if you’re calling it a “diet” in the context of reducing calories and denying yourself something you want in order to lose weight, you’re already doing it wrong.  A DIET is the list of food items you consume to keep your body healthy.  Many prefer to refer to this as a nutrition plan because of the negative association with the word “diet” has in our society today.  So once you get the definition correct, you can move on to really start seeing how our culture and our history has created our obsessions with food.  It doesn’t take too long to see that we have a major problem going on with food attachment.  What we consider “home”, “family” and “comfort” is often in the form of a meal that is less than healthy.

It’s a pretty sick world when you realize that every event surrounding the milestones in our lives are paved with crap food in the name of celebration and reward.  It’s disappointing and frustrating when we try to break those habits and yet, they are so deeply ingrained in us as a society that we have to feel like we are denying ourselves the magic of an experience JUST because we want to be true to our bodies and continue to treat them like temples.  It’s really very sad when we finally come to grips with the reality that our friends and family will support us along their journey, but that does not mean they are willing to put down the fork and join us and it does not mean that they won’t be offended, hurt or disappointed when you reject their food because it’s not on your approved food item list.

In order to honor our bodies, we must reject tradition.  We must tell our family members that we can’t eat that amazing dish they lovingly created from grandma’s recipe using all the “best” ingredients that include things like lard and bacon and whole fat butter and fried things or baked pies soaked in granulated sugar and coated with whipped cream.  We must reject the love that our families put into their food in order to love ourselves because for generations, this country has been showing love through decadence, over-indulgence and just plain gluttony.  That is the reality of our culture and when we realize this, have to risk offending and hurting others when rejecting their meals in order to protect our own health.

We are taught so early to suck it up and eat what we are given- to be thankful for our food and not to deny what has been handed to us that as adults, we have a difficult time breaking from this long enough to realize that just because it’s in front of us, does not mean we have to eat it!  Just because it’s always been our “go to” meal item, does not mean we can never stop eating it and that stopping does not mean the moment is missing anything!  Tthe moment is still the moment regardless of what meal you pair it with.

We’ve also had it deeply ingrained into our subconscious that food that is bad for you is synonymous with reward, as adults we can barely break away from it.  From “pee pee in the potty” rewards of candy, chocolate and food treats, to “let’s celebrate with ice cream” after a performance to, “it’s your birthday, whatever you would love to eat most is what we will make you!” and, “you hurt yourself, would you like a popcicle”, “I’m sorry that boy hurt your feelings, let’s get an ice cream sunday” and when you get married you spend HUNDREDS of dollars on the perfect wedding cake because… “it’s not a wedding without a great cake”.

There’s comfort food when we’re sick that is full of fat, sugar and salt and comfort food when we’re sad that’s full of fat, sugar and salt. We reward ourselves for our positive moments with negative food and we console ourselves for our negative experiences with negative food.  This negative food is treated like the holy grail of food items- special and excellent and wonderful… a prize to be won by hard work or a struggle of some sort and we feel, when we get to indulge, that we DESERVE IT.  But in reality, all we are doing is filling ourselves up with junk under some false pretense that it’s okay because it’s a “special occasion”.  This mindset is only there because it’s been beaten into our heads since LITERALLY day one of our lives.

I am ending this challenge with a clear sight.  I am ending with an understanding of what I’ve allowed to be my excuses, my ruling forces and my indulgences and I am committed to breaking those habits so I can create better, healthier ones for my family.  It also reinforced something I already knew and practiced with my kids- Sugar, fat and salt will NEVER equal a reward.  We will have cake at birthdays, but the birthday is about celebrating THEM not about having cake.  I will never allow them to feel that their special day is dependent upon a table of sugar and fat and that without it, their celebration would be incomplete.  The celebration is complete because of THEM- not because of any food item.

I will never allow candy to be a reward, no matter how many parenting books and advisers tell me it’s a great idea.  How many times have you been told, “have you tried M&M rewards for good behavior”? If you’re like me, the answer is- literally HUNDREDS of times.  Why? because I refuse to do it.  People misunderstand why I say “no” to that, tho- because honestly, we eat sweets from time to time, sure- and they’re awesome and fantastic, but it’s just because.  Not because it’s a reward.  I don’t want my kids to grow up believing it’s okay to fill themselves up with crap in exchange for hard work.  Peeing in the potty has absolutely NOTHING to do with candy and I don’t think it aught to.  Giving the reward of candy in exchange for positive or healthy behavior is so beyond contrary it’s hard to believe it’s even a common practice.  That’s like handing someone a pipe in honor of the fact they quit smoking.  It’s just plain stupid.

This challenge, as you can see, has taken hold of my life in every way possible and I am confident that this won’t be like other interests… it won’t just fall into the back oblivion of my consciousness and I won’t lose my passion for it because it will never EVER really be over.  Between my continued work at The Camp, my commitment to uphold my new understanding of nutrition, society and what lessons I want to teach my children about food, I will always be striving to maintain my health, fitness and to promote a healthy example by LIVING that example for my family.  Does that mean I will never eat sugar again?  Of course not.  Does that mean I will reject every piece of pie that crosses the table? Probably not, because let’s face it… I love me some pie!  What it means, is that my life and the lives of my family are not going to be ruled by whatever archaic attachments our society has created with food.  It means we will eat it because we want to and we choose to, not because if we do not, we won’t feel happy/valued/important/loved, etc.  That is my commitment and my new passion for the health of my family.

I am closing out my final fitness blog with a realization that I am in it for life and for LIFE I am in it for everyone.   Thank you all, for joining me on this incredible journey.


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