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.


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.


Hell’s Kettlebells

The seed for my latest experiment began when I read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Body. In this tome, Kettlebell swings are touted as the penultimate bang-for-your-buck workout. Ferris claims that these one movement will sculpt your body in small amount of time (10-20 minutes a week). This past semester, one of my 30-day challengers gave this workout rave reviews, saying how (much like Ferris) minute for minute it was the most efficient and effective workout she had tried. Enter New Year’s.

As I have learned in my research on willpower, motivation, and habits, how you frame an activity is key. In order to make this fun, I have been comparing different Youtube videos to try out Kettlebells this past week. Always practical, I began first with a ten-minute workout by a hot young, thing named Amy (you know the trainer types, all ponytail, teeth, and abs). It was not easy, but I made it through. My main complaint was the lack of a warm up and cool down. I Youtubed stretching exercises in an effort to stave off muscle tightness. Instead, I injured neck, as I am the type of person who can do a “halo swing” around their head with a large weight and then pull a muscle turning my head to the side.

Despite my cool down efforts, my leg muscles intensely felt the aftereffects. I have never before experienced pain going down steps, up yes, but never down. It impressed me. Running or using the elliptical machine did not leave such lingering effects.

Three days later, I tackled the 25-minute version by the same instructor. This included a minute warm up and cool down plus some cardio and floor exercises. The only turn off – burpees. Remember how I said how important it is frame activities positively? This is not possible for me when it comes to burpees. Sorry, no. I’ll drink some water and march in place until they are over.

What really appears to deliver the pain from Amy is the many lunge moves she incorporates. When I was in physical therapy to stave off sciatic pain, one of the main exercises I received was lunges. So in addition to the kettlebell swing, which is always a key part of these workouts, I am getting the additionally muscle work necessary to maintain healthy hip alignment.

Three days appears to be my recovery time so far. Today I tackled my third workout by Fitness Blender. In terms of entertainment value, Fitness Blender lacks the upbeat trainer. Instead, you have a voice over while a robotic-like woman goes through the moves. I had to turn on some music in order to keep myself motivated throughout the sequence. Their kettlebell workout is eight moves that you repeat over the course of three rounds. While it shared some of the same moves as the previous workout, I felt it emphasized arm strength and squatting a bit more. I also did more swinging with this video, completing a total of 60 full two-handed swings.


So far, the only noticeable physical difference (aside from muscle aches) is a spike in my appetite. Me make muscle, me hungry. Yes, somewhere deep inside me lives Cookie Monster. I fear I will lose nothing but gain much density.

Day 10 – Finding My Meditation Style

Finding a meditation that suits your personality is certainly key. The other night I tested out one of Deepak Chopra’s guided meditations on Youtube. My reasoning was, if he is good enough for Oprah, he is good enough for me. I tried one geared for stressful moments. He opened with asking the listener to smile everywhere, even in “your genitalia.” This made the adolescent inside me really smile, which was stress-relieving. However, after that moment, I spent the rest of the meditation smirking and not being one with the universe.

The same part of me that is inclined to smirk is the same part that found it difficult to participate in the chanting portion of the guided meditation. Deepak began by asking listeners to repeat the words “abundance, existence, and joy.” The English professor in me rebelled against the abstractness. What does those words even mean?! Then, perhaps to show me I am not nearly as smart as I think am, he asked me to say the words in Sanskrit. Even though I was alone in the room, I was embarrassed by my mangled enunciations.

Tonight I tried a guided meditation for stress posted on,,20912167,00.html. Instead of being asked to smile everywhere and chant “existence and joy” in Sanskrit, the meditation asked me to clench different muscle groups as I inhaled and relax them as I exhaled. After going from feet to face, I felt better. Yes, there still was chanting involved. But instead of chanting abstract nouns or muttering mangled Sanskrit, I was asked to mentally say “one” when I exhaled. The purpose of this was to bring the attention to the breath. Once that was established, the “one” was dropped.

This second meditation worked so much better for me. In a way, it is depressing that I find muscle clenching and relaxing more satisfying than Sanskrit chants. Maybe one day I will be mature and cultured enough for Deepak, but I am not holding my breath (exhale). Sorry Oprah!

30-Day Challenge Season Begins

Meditation, for me, has been what Gretchen Rubin classifies as a red herring habit, one of those things you always say you are going to do, but have no intention of doing. The art of sitting still has always alluded me. I remember the torture of every Sunday having to sit quietly on a hard pine pew through lengthy Catholic masses. My mind and body were not designed for passive pursuits. It’s even difficult for me to sit through an entire movie at the theater.

However, it is 30-day challenge time in my classes, an assignment designed to tie research to practical application in my college composition classes. It has been, for the last three semesters, a highlight for me. I feel like I am making an impact beyond a student’s ability to punctuate and organize paragraphs. After researching his topic, one student wrote in a reflection, “In writing this paper, I’ve come full circle. The emotions I felt at the beginning to where they are now as I wrap up, are complete opposites. I started this paper in a major slump, going to bed every night being sad and waking up every morning not looking forward to the day. As I finish, I’ve taken all the information I’ve researched and placed it in my life so now I look at each day as a blessing- and each day is open to an endless amount of possibilities if you have the right mind set to see it that way.” I printed this out and put it on my wall to remind myself of the big picture when I am buried in the perfunctory rituals of grading.

Inspired by my students, I began meditating today. I chose a short guided meditation by Sam Harris as my starting point. Through the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, I was introduced to his philosophical work and felt an intellectual connection with many of his ideas. I trusted him to start me off right on this journey.

As I sat in lotus leaf position on the floor of my office, I felt I was somehow cheating by listening to a voice. It gave me something else to focus on besides my breathing, which made the experience more endurable. The most helpful advice in the guided meditation was, when a stray thought enters your mind, to visualize the thought and remove it from your mind. It did this increasingly as the meditation went on. The most distracting thought was, when will this end? Nine minutes never felt so long. I actually popped up ten seconds before it ended because I could not stand it any longer.

Despite my agitation at the end, I feel more relaxed. I think much of the relaxation comes from the changes to my breathing. Most of my time in meditation was spent focusing on the inhaling and exhaling of my breath. This made me breath in and out more slowly and deeply. I am curious to see what other benefits I will gain over the course of the next 30 days.

The New Challenge: 30 Minutes for 30 Days

If I were to ask myself, what is the biggest task I regretted not doing during a day, the answer would almost always be writing. For me, that is because I classify it as optional. Some may say this means I am not a true writer, for a true writer MUST write; it’s not optional. To those people, I say your hyperboles only serve to discourage those of us who, some days, only have the energy to dream.

For me, I cannot be present as a parent or as a teacher if my mind is on what I think I should be doing instead of coloring dinosaurs or grading essays. Time interacting with my children and mentoring developmental writers is valuable. Sitting on the couch watching television with my husband is sometimes a necessary bonding experience.

As of now, without money or a large audience, my writing is only for me. However, this does not mean I should abandon it. I just need to be practical about what I can do. Initially, I thought I would challenge myself to write 1,000 words a day. Based on my research, though, I have learned that small, achievable steps are the best place to begin a lifestyle change. I know I can complete 30 minutes of writing a day, and this firm belief is going to make me more likely to succeed.

Also, 30 minutes over a 1,000 words seems better because output is not a routine. The idea of a habit is that it breeds expectation. Most of us begin our days the same way — for me it is coffee and social media. Once a habit is established, it is much harder not to do something, than it is to do it. My plan is to add writing to my nighttime ritual, which always ends with reading. Even if I do not get to bed until 3 a.m., I have a hard time sleeping if I do not read first

When I was an adolescent, journaling was a habit for me. Reams and reams of hurt feelings, crushes, and pep talks took up the entire space beneath my bed. I had to write my feelings down; it felt like a must, essential. Hmmm… I seem to be rewriting my initial claim. Maybe the idea that “writing is a must” is not hyperbole for some because it is a habit.

Let’s see if I can turn a want into a must, an optional activity into a habit…

30-day Gluten-Free Challenge Wrap Up

One of the big lessons I took away from my 30-day gluten-free challenge is not to enter in diet modifications lightly. The times I felt the most significant changes to my overall well-being were when I removed gluten from my diet and when I reintegrated it. Neither times were positive, bringing headaches, mood swings, and a digestive retooling. Do not enter this type of challenge lightly.

The second lesson I took away from this is how quickly something becomes a habit. After a few weeks, I honestly did not miss gluten. Not eating baked goods no longer became a will power issue. It was mostly an inconvenience, as in, I am hungry and see nothing easily accessible that I can eat. I now find it difficult to eat gluten after 30 days without it, not physically difficult, but mentally. I have become so use to rejecting it that I no longer desire it. Not that this stopped me from eating birthday cake on my birthday or pizza on vacation.

The big question for me remains, is gluten really the culprit? Or is it a heavy starch-based diet of processed foods? Obviously, for those with celiac disease gluten is the problem. But what about the others who claim miraculous transformations from cutting out gluten?

Moving forward, I will do my best to follow a clean, whole food diet, not as a 30-day challenge, but as part of my everyday life. This means less processed foods and more time at the farmer’s market.

Day 21 – Gluten-Free Challenge Check In

I have now completed three weeks completely gluten-free. So far, I do not feel any miraculous change. My stomach is still sensitive. I am not thinking more sharply nor am I less moody. Perhaps the only change is that I am a bit more energetic. However, I can easily attribute this to the change of season. It’s hard to keep all the other variables in my life the same. For instance, since my children’s school let out for summer, I have not made it to the gym. I have, though, been generally more physically active: bouncing on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, and taking care of household messes both indoors and out.

Still, while I do not think I will remain gluten-free after my thirty days are up, I think I will remain more gluten conscious. One of the greatest benefits from doing this challenge has been a sense of mindfulness about what I eat. Usually, I just finish my children’s food or grab a handful of whatever is in the cupboards without any thought. Without the ability to eat pasta or crackers, this practice became much more difficult.

Despite my mindfulness, I did not lose any weight. My body has remained at a state of homeostasis for so long, through new exercise regimens, holiday binges, and seasonal changes, that I would fear a terminal disease if I began to lose weight. I also found a way to replace the calories from the foods I cut. The first five days of my challenge I ate an entire pound of almonds! This wouldn’t have been so bad if most of those almonds weren’t followed by a dark chocolate chaser.

It’s important to note that a gluten-free diet is not necessarily low-carb diet. My bunless burgers sometimes came with French fries on the side. After I finish this challenge, I plan to engage in a different healthy eating plan, which will include less carbohydrates and processed foods in general.

Day Two: Wheat Opiate Withdrawal

In my current English class, one of my students is doing a 30-day challenge to quit smoking. The toll it is taking on him is clearly visible — the fidgeting, the irritability, the need for candy to dull the pulsating physical need for nicotine. When I see struggles like these, I always feel a profound sense of gratefulness that I never had to fight a powerful addiction. My new 30-day challenge is a humbling exercise in empathy.

Steadily over the years, I have made increasingly healthy choices when it comes to breads, abandoning white bread for whole grain breads, and recently only eating the 35-calorie breads. I eat the low-carb versions of flour tortillas and healthier versions of pasta as well. So, honestly, I thought doing a gluten-free challenge would be a nuisance more than anything, a restaurant inconvenience.

This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. paralyzed with anxiety about the policy changes at my children’s daycare. Yes, childcare is a good reason to stress, but usually I can control my worries and focus on the task at hand, in this case sleep. I’m notoriously easygoing, at least I am when I am pumped fuel of gluten.

As I shopped in the morning for my healthy substitutes and emergency microwavable meals, I was reminded of those late night runs to Meijer’s in college, when the bars closed and suddenly someone wanted a bag of combos. A somnambulant haze descended on me, and I had to constantly remind myself to focus. At the time, I blamed on the hunger. For breakfast, I scooped slices of bananas out of a peanut butter jar, which had the appetite-suppressing shelf life of two hours.

However, later, after I gorged myself on Indian cuisine, leftover tofu, and lime flavored corn chips, the mental fog remained. The issue was larger than my appetite, which is saying quite a lot.

In addition, I found it more difficult than usual to deal with the sibling squabbles and general shenanigans of my children. I estimate I used the word “hush” approximately 108 times tonight. Everything bothered me. My son was tipping a water bottle back and forth, making a slight swooshing sound. The repetitious low noise nearly drove me from the house. Luckily I am a rational person who could recognize the abnormal signs of crazy.

When I searched for answers on Google, I was not surprised to find an array of articles discussing gluten withdrawal. However, I was surprised to read that there are gliadin-derived optiates in wheat. I had no idea the depth of physiological changes that could happen just from removing this one ingredient from my diet. I mean, come on, it is not like I am cutting out sugar. The associated withdrawal symptoms are numerous: fatigue, moodiness, constipation, joint pain, headaches, etc. Often, the symptoms a gluten-free diet is suppose to cure get worse before they get better. While I am comforted to know that my crazy is temporary, I am less comforted to know the temporary state varies from several days to several weeks. Let’s hope it is several days.