Wandering Weeks Winding Down

For the past month, I have been un-tethered. My spring class did not fill, but my children were still in their school programs. For an introvert and “creative type,” this time has been nirvana. If you call sorting drawers, creating raised garden beds, mulling Foucault’s last seminar, listening to podcasts while housecleaning, thrift shopping, working on unfinished novels, trying out Youtube exercise programs, and reading six books simultaneously nirvana. Every night I have been exhausted and exhilarated by the minor adventures of the day. I wonder why we don’t provide ourselves with more opportunities to do all the tasks we have put off because they are frivolous and not on our long to-do lists.

For example, I have long wanted to take more photographs. However, instead of running with an idea or pausing to capture a moment, I let the impulse fade. This past month I have followed my whimsy, hanging out with the apple blossoms in the moonlight and waiting for foals to raise from their bed of tall grass.

Now, though, as I enter my final week, I cannot help but feel the angst of all I could not do. My novels could be more complete, my research paper written, my house cleaner, my muscles more defined, etc. I am trying not to get caught up in endpoints and remain within the happy space of the journey. I have realized my path, whether it be double majors or child-rearing and graduate school, will always contain multiple goals and identities. Therefore, accomplishments come more slowly. Every day I will continue to do what I love and what inspires me without trying to quantify it.

Mindful Eating with MyFitnessPal

For my last post, I discussed how I developed mindful spending skills through my upbringing. This mindfulness did not translate, and actually at times interfered, with a mindfulness about food. Sometimes we ate just to extract value. To this day, my parents favorite type of restaurants are buffets. I also ate, and still do to an extent, for many other reasons other than hunger. Some I find to be perfectly acceptable, such as eating to celebrate. Others I find to be less justifiable, such as munching to break up the monotony of the day.

I am a grazer. While this means I have been able to avoid the pitfall of buffets and usually always leave a restaurant with a box, I am also constantly nibbling, usually when I pass by a kitchen or office snack table en route to a different task. I truly have no idea how many calories I usually consume a day, and I have always been resistant to the idea of tracking what I eat.

The term “self-monitoring” makes me feel like I am oppressing myself, enacting a more efficient type of discipline than the those exerted on us through institutional spaces.  Yes, I have read a lot of theory on social power, particularly the work of Michel Foucault. It makes me want to avoid any sort of “tracking,” especially when it is tied to a networked program, such as MyFitnessPal.

However, I am putting my paranoia aside for 30 days and giving this food journaling/calorie counting approach a try. Two of my co-workers have already lost 10 pounds through this process. I am a bit more skeptical, which means I may already be dooming myself to fail.

Today was my first day. I am hungry, but I am unsure if I want to max out and eat my remaining 214 calorie allotment. Overall, I did consume more sodium and fat than my app thinks I should. I could have eaten more protein and carbohydrates. Maybe I can squeeze in one more snack…

The Many Virtues of Frugality

While other children grew up collecting baseball cards and stickers, I grew up collecting coupons. At the library we would sort through a virtual box of money, extracting coveted name brands and the promise of free food if we timed our purchases right. Long before I studied rhetoric as a graduate student, I was a practitioner of the ancient rhetorical concept Kairos. To employ kairos in a speech, you must be aware of the mood of your audience, the context of the situation, and any atmospheric influences. Timing is more than simply showing up and reading from an index card at an appropriate place. The same goes for shopping. In this way, frugality is a difficult concept to apply for those who like to make a grocery list and enter and exit the store as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours scouring their aisles of Meijer and contemplating my choices. It was a moment when the discount stars were aligned in my Meijer world, total purchase mPerks and credit card discounts that could be combined, plus Mother’s Day specials. On a different day, I would not have splurged on the higher end hanging baskets. However, when all the discounts and sales combined, I felt justified in my purchase.

This lengthy foray into the world of bargain shopping would not have been possible before my winter semester of teaching ended. In work intensive times, the variable of convenience reins, which is part of the problem with American life. When we are wrapped up in the hectic life of work, children, and activities, we become less mindful at the stores. We grab our grocery carts and rush around the stores, our minds engaged on what else we have on our agenda. A few weeks later we are presented with a credit card bill for $2,000 and wonder how it is possible that we spent so much money over the course of a month.

Being raised pinching pennies, I am mindful of every dollar I spent. I can recall every item that I spent too much money on by rushing my purchase, as I have constantly rehashed it (which isn’t really healthy either, but that is a reflection for another time). Because of this, I have never had issues with my credit card, paid off my student loans six months after graduation for both of my degrees, and have a healthy savings.

This success has bled into other areas of my life as well, a phenomenon that is well explained by the Marshmallow Test. In the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel led a study where children were given a marshmallow. They were told if they did not eat the marshmallow before the researchers returned that they would get an additional marshmallow. One third did not eat the initial marshmallow, practicing the willpower skill of delaying gratification. This ability to delay gratification was a predictor of future success. Frugality is essentially going through the marshmallow test every time you go to the grocery store. You have a choice, you can either get an item that is not on sale and end up with less groceries for your budget, or you can wait until an item is on sale, so that you can buy more food for the same amount of money.

I write this to remember these lessons and how they shaped me, as since I have had children, I have begun to prioritize convenience over saving money. This is not always wrong, as some weeks, you need what you need when you need it. It is being mindful of when you are making a necessary purchase and when you are making one just because you are in a hurry and your willpower is depleted. It is also about creating financial literacy for my children and teaching them the value of waiting.

Moving on, but still moving

Over the weekend I took a stumble down the stairs. What would have potentially laid me up or sent me to the emergency room a month ago only left me with a small scrape on my elbow. Why? Because due to some new core muscles and a daily focus on balance, agility, and strength, I can now take a fall like a stunt woman. Hollywood here I come.

Joking aside, I would classify my 30-day P90x challenge as a success. While I may not be ready to send in my before and after shots, I am seeing new muscles and shapes when I look in the mirror. I almost understand the celebrity trend to take a post-gym selfie. Almost. Maybe after a few more months of training, I will be ready to break the Internet.

The biggest benefit for me, though, is not aesthetic appeal. It is the promise of a more active future. My father has already had two back surgeries, and my mother is scheduled to have her second knee replacement later this year. I fully understand the high cost of not taking care of one’s body. Since I have begun working out sensibly, I have not wrenched my back or had issues with my hip. My left hip has a tendency to roll up due to past injuries and smooth ball joints. On a bad day, one leg will be an inch shorter than the other. This does not happen if I have strong muscles keeping all my parts properly aligned. I no longer fear walking on uneven terrain or hopping on the trampoline with my children.

Though my free 30-day Beachbody on Demand trial has ended, I will not stop working out. I will just be exploring cheaper options (i.e. free) through Youtube. Today, I completed level one of Jillian Michael’s 30-day shred program. I thought it was a well put together 30-minute workout, which contained a better variety of cardio and strength training than I found in most of the P90X3 workouts. It was like a less insane version of Insanity. I highly recommend it.

You can’t have your cake and burn it too

Today’s morning P90X workout was the full body equivalent of an ugly cry. Yesterday was a day of excess, more specifically daughter’s fifth birthday. One of my jobs as a parent is to orchestrate celebrations and participate in them. I do not want to be the person to turn down cake and ice cream. When one person refuses to ingest forkfuls of frosting, it diminishes the joy of others’ gluttony by reminding them that frosting is an unhealthy addictive substance made with animal fat and cups of powdered sugar. Quit ruining the party with your health nut rhetoric and practices!

Now, I am no stranger to the joys of junk food. However, I have been making more healthy choices since I began my own version of the Beachbody challenge. My chocolate chips have been replaced with cocoa nibs. I have replaced one of my cups of coffee with green tea. What is of endless fascination to me is how quickly the body adjusts to a new dietary reality. Yesterday’s cake tasted like heaven on the tongue, as the dissolving sugar sent a glowing beacon of bliss to my brain. Later though, as the cake and restaurant fare churned in my stomach, it was all I could do not to vomit. Apparently, I can now get food hangovers.

Today the party continues at my mother’s house. There were be more cake, ice cream, and plenty of Easter treats. Do I say no and experience the negative backlash? Why is there so much social pressure to ingest items that are bad for us?

The Ripple Effects of a New Habit

The hardest part of any 30-day challenge is when the shiny newness fades, but it has yet to become an ingrained habit. This morning, I stood stiff and achy before Tony Horton, who led me through a gruesome regimen called “The Warrior.” Through the elevator push ups, leaping squats, and v-shaped Pilates formations, I was reminded how weak I am. As I panted through my 30-second break, pulling deep drinks from my water bottle, the journey ahead of me seemed overwhelming.

Even after the gratifying moment of completion, as I enjoyed the warm glow of endorphin release, I wondered if I could really commit to these gruesome morning workouts long term. Then I looked into the other room and saw my children doing their own workout video they found on the iPad. And I remembered everything I read in my research about the contagious nature of moods, diets, and habits. Rarely have I felt like I accomplished so much before 8 a.m.

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My workouts have had additional ripple effects. Most notably, I am more aware of the type of food I put into my body. I crave clean, healthy foods. It seems almost criminal to ingest fast food after a sweat-inducing workout. Honestly, I need every advantage to make it through a full 30-minute P90x video.

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