Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fitness euphemisms

Flickr: nicolas
Two of my passions are fitness and reading. I came to fitness relatively late in life (I started running in my late teens, regularly in my 20s, but only really took other aspects of fitness seriously once I entered my 30s) so the 'language' of fitness is still something I am still learning.

Flickr: Andrea in Amsterdam
Fitness euphemisms

Boot camp workout

This class will be taught be an instructor with zero interpersonal skills and will involve lots of push-ups.


Riding an exercise bike with a heart monitor indoors--designed for people who are too neurotic about burning as many calories as possible to ride a bike outside.

Carbo-loading before a marathon

I run mainly to support my beer and pizza addiction.

Tapering before a marathon

I am an addicted runner averaging 70+ miles per week but my last race time sucked so I have to cut back for my race this weekend.  I'm jumping out of my skin right now and have cleaned my house five times this week already.

I do ultras

I am totally batshit crazy and have forgotten how to relate to the rest of humanity because I run so much.

 Running on a treadmill

Fitness workout involving getting off your sofa, turning off your TV, riding 2.5 miles on a beautiful day in your car to the gym, running for 30 minutes while watching TV in a temperature-controlled environment, riding 2.5 miles back home, and then watching more TV on the couch.

Any class with a name like 'yoga booty' or 'yoga-pilates fusion'

For the MILF lululemon crowd who don't like all that spiritual shit in other yoga classes.


For 20-30 something women who are terrified they will 'bulk up' if they lift a weight.


For 40-50 something women who are terrified they will 'bulk up' if they lift a weight.

Restorative yoga


I'm juicing

I have an eating disorder.

I'm on a cleanse

I have a raging eating disorder.

I'm macrobiotic/Ayurvedic 

I have a raging eating disorder and enough money to spend on nutrition advice from 'wellness experts.'

She has a strong yoga practice

I'll be adjusting this student in advanced arm balances and inversions while the rest of you hang out in downward-facing dog.

Yoga workshop

Yoga that costs $15 more than a regular class but you can't use your class card.


Classes involving lots of twisting, ab work, and always given before and after the major eating holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years).

I'm doing this for my kids/grandkids

My doctor told me if I don't change my eating habits I'll be dead in a year.

I'm doing this for me

I just got a divorce.

I'm vegan

I eat a lot of cupcakes made with weird hydrogenated oils and potato starch and fake, processed soy burgers and am really self-righteous about it.

I'm a vegetarian

I'd like to be a vegan but can't give up cheese.

I'm a pescatarian

I pretty much eat whatever I want but use this as an excuse for not eating Aunt Millie's nine million calorie casseroles at family dinners.

I do Crossfit

I can kick your ass.

I take kickboxing classes

I can't kick your ass but could probably kick you in the face and run away pretty fast.

I do Body Pump

No way in hell could I kick your ass.

It's calories in, calories out

I've been on Weight Watchers since 1983 and still haven't lost weight. OR I live on fat free frozen yogurt, cigarettes, and Tic-Tacs and no muscle tone at all.

I'm a competitive cyclist

I can crush walnuts with my thighs but my nine-year-old daughter has more upper body strength.

Supplements, protein shakes, protein bars

Sustenance for people who do their grocery store shopping at GNC but haven't eaten a vegetable in five years.

I'm raw

I have a $500 juicer, a $300 dehydrator, and spend two hours making my 'all natural' meals every day.

Although the physical benefits of working out are great, I've discovered that the mental and spiritual benefits are actually much greater.

This is actually true and not a euphemism at all.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On the difference between being thin, fit, and athletic

Flickr: PunkJr
Recently, I overheard some women, about fifteen or so years older than myself, talking about their diets:
"I can't even LOOK at something like Swedish Fish without gaining weight."
"I have to walk RIGHT PAST the popcorn at the movies.  It is SO HARD." 
When they saw the wrinkled expression on my face, I explained that even if those foods had no calories, I wouldn't want to eat them because I found them too sweet and too er, chemical and carcinogenic, respectively.
They looked at me as if I had suddenly begun speaking gibberish.
It took me a long time (like thirty years) but gradually I began over time to realize that even though being thin (or at least at your optimal weight) greatly enhances your life, it is not synonymous with fitness.

When you are just dieting, you will always be like those women--focusing on how many calories 'burned' you can rack up before you can eat crap. I was like that in high school.  I would come home and have Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches for dinner because I was 'dieting' and when my mother would yell at me for not having a salad, I'd just shrug my shoulders.  I thought of eating almost like  how I thought of spending money as a kid.  I had xxxx amount to spend every day, and if I wanted to spend it all on fat free corn muffins and Healthy Choice pizza and ice cream, what was wrong with that? Kind of like how I thought that it was 'better' to spend money on cheap shoes because I could get more of them, versus a single, expensive pair that could last.

Flickr: phil_websurfer

Now that I'm taking the athletic pursuits that I love seriously--running and horseback riding--I realize that simply being thin or 'not being fat' is hardly synonymous with fitness, much less athleticism.

I have to be honest--being a reasonable weight helps.  I know it is fashionable to say 'you can be fat and fit at the same time.'  But regardless of what medical data you spew about cholesterol numbers, the people I know who are too heavy for their frames (I'm not talking waifish as an ideal, just able to move around comfortably) have quite a bit of trouble being active enough to enjoy their lives (i.e., walk comfortably around on a nice day), let alone work out.

It's definitely possible for some people to be thin and eat crap.  For years, I maintained a low-to-normal weight eating a minimum of nutritious substances (mostly low-calorie soy burgers, fruit, and the occasional yogurt or cottage cheese tin) and leaving the bulk of my allotted calories to dessert.  However, I had zero muscle tone and my blood sugar was a roller coaster. I worked out a lot, but my results, given the amount that I worked out, weren't that great.

I want to be able to go for a run, mow my lawn, lift weights, ride a horse, enjoy an intense yoga class without feeling crappy, and the only way to do that--for me--is to be fit, which means caring about nutrition.  

That's why I roll my eyes when I see headlines like NUTRITION PROFESSOR LOSES 27 POUNDS EATING ONLY TWINKIES. From CNN of all news sources.  Yes, if you reduce how much you eat you are by definition taking in fewer calories (and carbohydrates, by virtue of the reduced food volume) than under normal circumstances. Yes, you will lose weight. Yes, you will probably even improve all of the health indicators directly tied to maintaining a healthy body weight.  But will you have the energy to run around the block more than twice? 

Flickr: photognome

Another article I remember reading on this subject a long time ago was on the writer Paul Rudnick's candy diet.  OMG!  He is thin and eats nothing but crappy candy!  Film at 11!

Personally, I think many people struggle with this mathematical approach to dieting because eating stuff like Hostess cupcakes and M&Ms usually makes you want more food, rather than satiates you.  I have so many friends who swear by Weight Watchers, which tends to stress portion control rather than altering the types and quality of foods you eat.  And although they lose weight, they always go back to their old habits.  Even if you eat one piece of cake in the context of your diet one week and lose weight, all of the same habits and the same physiological responses will be crying out for more cake the next week.

I have just found it more painless, lately, in the long run, to have a good piece of cheese.

Of course, 'everyone is different.'  I have known some healthy, athletic girls who were thin, bubbly, energetic, and had tons of energy to do badass sports like lacrosse and crew, get straight As and 'power snacked' on bowls of Frosted Flakes.

But athleticism is a very different thing from fitness or thinness. Although both help when playing sports, there are many freakishly kinesthetic people who are neither and can totally kick my ass at any competitive physical activity.

I guess my new philosophy is: why just be thin when you can be fit as well? Of course, my age and my (total lack) of athletic talent limits my fitness.  But maybe in a way that is good, because fitness is something you can always work to improve, versus once you hit your target weight, then where do you go from there? And focusing on being fit is much more interesting than giving a shit about how certain (questionable) numbers correspond to food.

Still, to be totally honest, my revulsion for gummi candy and popcorn comes from my dieting in the 1990s, when I would periodically 'Romy and Michelle' it by satisfying food cravings with fat free food like jelly beans and microwave diet popcorn, versus the fatty, cheesy foods I actually craved.  And if you haven't seen Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, you totally should, although just be aware, some of the diet advice is somewhat questionable.

I've learned to replace my love for sugar with protein, but thank goodness protein includes Provolone cheese and chicken skin.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Does your (downward) dog like ice cream?

Usually, before a yoga class, the teacher will give a brief speech known as a 'dharma talk,' a kind of personal, philosophical meditation about why we are practicing yoga. One of the first dharma talks I ever heard one of my favorite yoga teachers give contained the quote: "how can people pet a dog and eat an ice cream cone at the same time?"  Immediately, I wanted to respond: "my dog loves ice cream, although she prefers chicken." The actual class after the talk, however, was great.

Flickr: Christi@ Love from the oven

More recently, my teacher gave a talk about how her house cleaner has really bad eczema, and when she lectured him about how "all eczema is proven to be caused by dairy," he shrugged and said he wasn't willing to give up ice cream. She used this as a kind of example of how people are unwilling to change, and I actually piped up: "well if he is a house cleaner and dealing with dirt and cleansers all day, it isn't surprising that he has eczema."  She said he used all-natural cleansers and that was impossible.

BTW--tip if you are in the yoga world.  Saying 'I eat dairy' is considered MUCH worse than smoking.  

Flickr: beavela

I always feel really guilty during my teacher's talks as an ex-vegetarian/ex-vegan who is now eating a quasi-Paleo diet (with, um, cheese and yogurt, too, though).  I have no desire to go back to my vegetarian lifestyle, but I can only imagine my sensations during her anti-meat dharma talks are similar to that of an ex-Catholic who goes to Mass on Christmas Eve.

Again, she is one of the best yoga teachers I've ever had in terms of her knowledge of the body and alignment. About 60 percent of her discussions revolve around such subjects as a stripper who once saved a chicken from being slaughtered by jumping into a cab, naked or a little old lady whom she met who was going vegan, "proof you are never too old to make positive changes."

She obviously has a sense of humor and loves her dogs, which helps, and the other 40 percent of what she says that isn't diet-related, I agree with.

I don't know if her dogs are vegan, although I have seen her feed them strawberries as treats.

During the last class, I nearly dissolved into giggles when she announced "I was so happy to get a text from C-- and B-- that they have FINALLY gone totally vegan."  From her tone, I thought she was announcing they were getting married or having a baby.

What makes it even more difficult is that I know she has complained about her many health problems over the years.  Like most yoga teachers, she is quite fit, but she says she has been plagued with a particularly serious run of injuries.  She has developed multiple seasonal and other kinds of allergies.  She feels terrible every time she eats wheat and sugar. She eats very little but can't lose weight to get to the body shape at which she feels comfortable. She feels achy in her joints all of the time.

In other words, she has many of the symptoms I experienced when I tried to be vegan for any stretch of time, symptoms which vanished after I ditched wheat and soy and switched to sushi to 'reward' myself over sugar.

Now, personally, I don't really think her issues are diet-related (and I also think she looks great and doesn't need to lose any weight).  I know she has been under a great deal of personal stress recently, and I think that is probably the real cause. But my point is, it would be so easy for me to say: "you are vegan, and therefore your problems are caused by your veganism."  Which is what she says about pretty much any health problem anyone experiences who isn't vegan.

In this teacher's construction of 'the evil bad meat-eater,' the evil bad meat-eater knows nothing about how food gets to the table, is fat, gout-ridden, has high cholesterol, and is engaged in wanton destruction of the environment.  Someone like George, the son of my father's friend, who has been vegan since his teens and is on a statin for his high cholesterol (despite being my age) wouldn't register in this logic.

If I said that after fourteen or so years, vegetarianism wasn't working for me, I know what she would say to me: I wasn't doing veganism in the 'right way' and that was why my health was poor, although that doesn't explain why I began to feel better once I changed my diet.  Or she might say that even if I feel crappy as a vegan, it is still better for the environment.

That is the crux of the problem I have with yoga's attitude towards food.  Yoga is all about non-consuming.  Whether you are a vegan or a meat-eater, your very presence on this earth acts as a drain upon it every day.  If you feel bad about consuming at all or prioritizing your health in terms of your consumption habits, you're going to have pretty shitty self-esteem. Yet some of the craziest and most hurtful people I know about food are those obsessed with not consuming it--chronic dieters.   Isn't the principle of yoga that a realistic view of yourself is part of the universal good, including your right and need to consume? Wouldn't the most 'yogic' way of eating be to eat just what you need, no more no less, 'in the moment.'

To be honest, I buy the grass-fed beef and chicken, the raw buttermilk blue cheese from the small farm, and the cage-free chicken-laid eggs because I think they are better for me and taste better as well as are better for the planet.  Are all of these items ethically pure?  Probably not, but then neither is a vegan buttery spread made from palm oil or industrially-farmed soy hockey pucks.

I guess in the long run, even if veganism is better for the planet, my order of priorities is first my own personal health, the health of people I love (including my dog), and then the planet.  I'm not wantonly throwing plastic in garbage bins but I'm not limiting my life either based upon an obsession with tomorrow at the expense of today.  I'm not going to sell my car and walk everywhere, either, or refuse to travel for any reason except work because of fossil fuel costs, because of the harm that would do to my brain.

Most people don't seem to care about the vegan yogi thing. They smile, they go on juice cleanses to atone for their margaritas and smothered nachos, and then they have a steak when they go on vacation.   I guess because of my past, I am particularly 'sensitive' to the issue.  But there are many yogic practitioners out there who eat meat, like Sadie Nardini and Ana Forrest.

I am bracing myself for more vegan propaganda in the next few months, given that my studio just screened Forks Over Knives, a movie which found (gasp) that people who eat a plant-based diet are healthier than people who eat the Standard American Diet (which is loaded with sugar and refined and processed foods).  Amazingly, if you compare people with really shitty diets who eat meat, vegans don't look so bad.  Of course, the film was made by an interest group of radical vegan doctors, which makes it objective reporting along the lines of a candy company making a documentary called: Sugar: It Gives You Energy. And it's just as possible to find documentaries that argue the opposite standpoint.

But one thing yoga has taught me--along with how to listen to it and the fact that I can change it, if I give it truly what it needs (balanced movement, a healthy diet that includes some meat)--is that it is okay to disagree with people yet not get into arguments with them.  I think that debate, as fun as it is, is kind of overrated as a mechanism for changing the world.  People really do have to look within themselves and make decisions about what is right for them at this moment in time.

I am sure that in ten years, I will have changed my diet again, and hopefully it will be in a manner that is positive and helps me lead a more productive life. Although I do also hope that this future diet of mine will contain blue cheese.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The commencement speech I'll never give...

Flickr: Cupcakes Cubed
They say never say never, but I'm never going to give a commencement speech. I wasn't valedictorian of my high school, my college had the class president give the speech, and I didn't bother to attend my graduate school's graduation ceremony.  I'll never be famous enough to give one of those speeches that gets 'shared' on Facebook like Steve Jobs', although I find it really bizarre to ask someone who dropped out of college to inspire recent grads.  Wouldn't it have been more honest of him to say: "hey, the best way to be successful is to be a total genius and that way you don't need a degree?"

Many years ago, there was a list of advice tidbits to graduates which began with the words 'wear sunscreen.' It became very popular amongst people who like to quote 'inspiring advice.'  This was in the 90s, before social media, but with all of the 'graduation stuff' I was thinking, what advice would I give to graduating kids (both high school and college)?  I mean, I'm not rich and successful, but shouldn't that make me even MORE qualified to tell you what you shouldn't do?

1. I do agree you should still wear sunscreen and floss--that hasn't changed since 1997.  Make sure to wear a cream with a high enough SPF and reapply. Go to the dentist. Teeth are one of those things that don't heal on their own and the more you put it off the worse it gets. If you have any remediable health problems, get them taken care of now while you are still on your parents' health insurance, which is likely to be better than the insurance you will get at your first out-of-college job.

2. Don't get fat.  I know this sounds really mean, but kind of like letting your teeth go, it is much harder to repair the damage after it happens. I know it's tempting to prop up your mood or your eye lids with an extra doughnut when you are working crazy hours but if you really hate your body any extra money you make doesn't seem that meaningful. If your job is making you fat, stressed and sick because you have no time to exercise or cook a meal, try to find something different to do.

3. If you can swing it, major in the sciences or another in-demand field that pays well.  You can always double major or minor in something that is your passion, but until you 'get out there' you don't fully appreciate how many crappy administrative jobs there are out there for kids who majored in the liberal arts.  Have a skill, learn something unique that is highly desirable so you can walk away from a job if you need to do so.  That's a good measure of whether a major is worth it: like a romantic relationship, they should want and need you more than you need them. There is no shame in being poor, but there is no reason to seek out poverty either.  Of course you should take risks, but having something you can fall back on actually makes it easier to do so--it's more likely you'll have a long career as an acrobat if you use a net. Even if you are a genius, it doesn't hurt. T.S. Eliot worked in a bank before he became a famous writer, and you are probably not a better writer than he is.  Of course, if you are a science major you might not know who T.S. Eliot is, since Cats is no longer on Broadway.

4. Learn how to 'do something,' whether it is how to design websites, cut hair, repair motorcycles--something tangible that can keep you afloat if you are struggling. No one cares if you major in English, Communications, Women's Studies, whatever. It kills me to say this, because it shouldn't be that way.  I hate to think of what my life would be without studying Shakespeare and the Brontes on a graduate level and I think the words of all the writers I studied do subtly infuse my writing and my life. But honestly, being able to write well is becoming less and less important.  We're becoming a more technologically-driven society and the ways most humanities and social science majors are taught are designed to prepare you to teach and write academic research papers, which has very little to do with what 99.9 percent of the population is reading today. Yes, you can 'always teach.'  But two of my friends who are tenured teachers just left the profession because they can't stand all of the crap they have to deal with that has very little to do with teaching.

5. That said, use good grammar and spell correctly.  It matters because it discourages sloppy thinking and is good for your brain and your ability to express yourself.  Even though you will get rejection letters back from employers with misspellings that really piss you off.

6. If you believe in something, don't be a obsessive asshole about it.  I don't care if you are Christian, atheist, vegan, paleo, Democrat, Libertarian, Republican, or whatever, if you're really militant and everyone around you can predict 100 percent of the time how you will respond to a news article or to a comment, you're not converting anyone or doing your cause any favors. The best way to be an advocate for something you believe in is to be nice, helpful, and to have a sense of humor.

7. Don't listen ONLY to the same music you listened to when you were young, or wear the same types of clothes, or read the same types of books, but don't forget about them, either.

8. Money, even if you're not a super-materialistic person, is MUCH more important than you think it is right now. Money isn't just new clothes and name brands. It's travel, education (and you will still want to educate yourself even after you graduate), and the ability to have new and exciting experiences.  Money is the difference between watching a documentary on PBS about London or an African safari--versus actually BEING in London or on an African safari.

9. You can work at a sucky job for great pay or a great job for somewhat sucky pay.  Don't work for a sucky job at sucky pay. And if you find a great job that pays well, appreciate how lucky you are.

10. Your parents are human beings: treat them that way.  They aren't gods and they aren't monsters (although you really should see the film Gods and Monsters).  They are probably very much like you. They don't owe you a living but you don't owe them a diploma from law school/grandchildren/ or the need to sacrifice your happiness to meet their standards. Unless your relationship with them is profoundly dysfunctional, few people will love you as much as they do right now.

11. Learn how to cook a chicken, make banana bread, and make one vegetable dish really well. Even if you don't eat chicken, you will have to make chicken for someone at some point in your life.  Banana bread can't come out wrong, and makes a lovely, cheap, tasty gift. If your are in your 20s and your main source of Vitamin C is Skittles, know that nothing says 'I am not a grownup' quite like giving yourself scurvy in an affluent, industrialized nation. 

12. Unless you're really rich and stressed out, don't buy your lunch and your coffee everyday.  It's a waste of money and McDonald's really isn't that good. And even if two slices of pizza or a club sandwich is worth it to you taste-wise and financially, you shouldn't be eating that stuff every day unless you are Michael Phelps. In which case, none of this advice applies to you.

13. Despite what I said earlier, it is still important to read, expose yourself to new cultures, and learn things that have nothing to do with making money and--if I can say this without making you throw up--enrich your soul.  In fact, these are the really important things in life but don't get expect to get paid for doing them.  It's nice if you can, but opportunities to do so are very rare.  And if you get one, seize it. 

14. Don't be superstitious.  Don't believe in astrology or pseudo-science.  Although I just included this to avoid having a list with 13 on it, so maybe you shouldn't trust me.  After all, 13 is a baker's dozen.
Flickr: bunchofpants

15. But having 13 doughnuts in the house if you are alone is usually not a good thing. Trust me on this one. And although numbers 3-13 don't really apply to you if you are Steve Jobs and a genius with a highly lucrative idea, the rules about wearing sunscreen, flossing, not getting fat, and not eating too many doughnuts still apply to you geniuses, too.   Which is some comfort to us mere mortals. I guess.