Body Tweaking

My latest self-care practice, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is that I signed up for a fitness program. Yes, the kind that you pay for. I was determined that my nemesis, those stubborn ten pounds, were not going to get the best of me. They have slowly creeped up over the past few years and I have dismissed them, excused them, helped hide them and accepted them as a new normal. Ten pounds may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you’re 5’ 2” it’s quite a bit.

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not fat shaming myself or being obsessed with a certain look. I could feel it dragging me down. I was losing my juice. I could see how easily we gradually succumb to sluggishness. As we age we need to take care of these little things before they become big and turn us into lethargic sloths.

I was about ready to find the tree limb on which to crawl and spend the rest of my days when this program popped out at me. I checked it out and it seemed healthy, in line with the way I live so I decided to give it a try. Clearly I was not succeeding on my own.

I signed up for the 8Fit app because it both includes meal plans, fitness workouts and the shining crown – a Personal Trainer. Yes! A real human with whom I can email and ask questions! There are short video workouts to do as many times a week as I can.  You grade each one as easy, perfect or difficult and they keep tweaking what they give you by your feedback. It’s pretty cool. The rest of the time I walk until I reach at least 8,000 steps, as the app has a built in pedometer.

I like the idea of a trainer I can actually work with. Reaching goals is so much easier when I have someone to be accountable to. It seemed worth a try for $79/year. They offer a money back guarantee during the first week, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Except hopefully a bit of blubber. I can squeeze that roll on my stomach with my fingers and I say nasty things to it, as I try to drive it away. Hopefully this will be more effective than that.

So, the plunge is taken and I am diving in and giving it my all. Everyone who knows me will think I already eat healthy, but one thing I’ve already learned is that I eat too much fruit and the excess glucose turns to fat. Who knew? Those sweet, heavenly mangoes, and my precious homegrown raspberries, turning to ugly fat? I shivered in horror. No, please don’t take my favorite foods away!

I learned that sugars, even natural sweets found in fruit, need to be balanced by protein in order to be used by the body. Otherwise they will turn to fat. That was quite a revelation! At night I frequently grab a handful of figs or an apple, thinking I’m staving off hunger responsibly. Now I balance fruit with nuts or cheese.

I thought I was doing a good job tracking my calories with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, but I cheated. I did not track all my fruit. Or that occasional piece of dark chocolate, or the slice of cheese and cracker that I ate in a ravenous stupor when I came home from work famished. I was definitely having an affair with undocumented foods.

By The Numbers

My delightful 8Fit coach, Alice tells me not to focus on the numbers but to pay attention to how I feel. Is she serious? I know she means well, but I have so many feelings going on at any given time, all I can say, is that they are extremely unreliable. Bloated, blubbery, excited, hopeful, disappointed, frustrated, exhausted, despairing, fierce, resilient, hopeful (again), grateful, alarmed, worried, relieved, elated, sleek, fat, acceptable, unacceptable, fit, hippo. Basically every body image and emotion possible, depending on my mood. Each of these feelings takes only a second to come and go, meaning that in any given minute I can cycle through 60 of them. They are highly unreliable.

When I turn a certain way I can look at myself in the mirror and my waist looks positively thin. And at 26 inches it’s not bad. But right above that is a roll of blubber, which I never had before, an unwanted guest in my body that has definitely overstayed its welcome.

Whereas the numbers are scientific. The number on the scale gives me a data point. It can be 128 pounds of fat or 128 pounds of muscle, but it tells me what I weigh and over time I can watch those numbers go up or down.

Same with food. I track my calories and I have used the 8Fit meals as a guideline, but being fiercely independent I ultimately design my own. The program has given me some new ideas, like blending Greek yogurt with uncooked rolled oats at breakfast, something I never thought of before. I like that I get oatmeal combined with protein. I add some fresh fruit to that for sweetness, chia seeds, flax seeds, and some chopped almonds. Nine almonds. 63 calories of almonds.

If I walk at least 8,000 steps the app tells me I burn 250 calories,. This is in addition to the calories it takes for me to run my basic bodily aliveness. Since there are 3500 calories to a pound, if that’s all I manage I will at least lose ½ pound per week, or eight pounds by New Year’s. The app’s brief workouts also burn a couple hundred calories so that will help, too. What I love about the workouts is the strength training. I’m using muscles that I normally do not challenge and I realize how weak I’ve allowed myself to become. I don’t really like standard exercises. I would rather walk or dance. But it feels incredibly good to be getting stronger and fit.

The really rewarding thing about this? It’s something I have control over. There are so many things I have put effort into that did not yield the results I was hoping for. Most of my creative endeavors are like that, especially the ones where I tried selling something I made. But this is something where it’s scientifically laid out. If I take in a certain number of calories and burn a specific number of them I ought to get results.

Without a clear plan we fool ourselves.

We tell ourselves lies. We sweet-talk ourselves into falling in love with our fantasies, into those things we want to be true. Especially when we feel lost and don’t have the energy to make changes. We know exactly how to turn our heads and not look at the parts we don’t want to see.

But now I have Alice. I even sent her a photo (I took “before” photos as another motivator to keep on track) so she knows just what that belly roll of fat that I want to get rid of looks like. She is incredibly supportive and helpful and we are slowly getting to know each other.

So we shall see.

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Radical Self-Care Step Nine – Nourishment

A Hedonist’s Guide to Healthy Eating

Are you Hungry? What sounds good?

Feeding ourselves well is an essential part of self-care. How could it not be? Eating is primal! Among our most basic needs.

I am a massage therapist, which translates to a pleasure-seeking hedonist! Therefore, my relationship to food is all about pleasure. Well, pleasure and health. Part of what makes me enjoy my food is knowing that the things I eat are enhancing my physical well-being. I love foods that are rich with vibrant colors, delectable textures and fresh flavors.

Everything you eat, if possible, should consist of foods you love. This way you are feeding more than your stomach. You are providing a feast to all of your senses. Choose foods that have bright colors, artistically presented, with fresh, rich intense flavors.

Tomato, cheese, crackers

Tomato, cheese, crackers

Here are some tips for making your meals as restorative as possible.

Your favorite foods will likely be different from mine, so as I describe the way I play with these concepts, know that you will create your own way of eating mindfully and joyfully, but the main thing I want you to take away from this is about quality, not quantity.

My very favorite foods are fruits. Mangos, raspberries, crisp apples, strawberries, grace my meals every day. I love foods that look beautiful, taste divine and feel like they are benefiting my health with every chew and swallow.

I try to eat about half my food intake in the form of fruits and vegetables. They are healthy and they are beautiful. They come in a rich variety of colors and have intense flavors. You can arrange fruits and vegetables so that a plate looks like a work of art, making it all the more appetizing. When I was in Italy, a country well known for its epicurean delights, I was struck by how simple and delicious much of the food preparation was. Vegetables were grilled or pan-fried and embellished with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, some chopped garlic and that’s it. Simple and delicious. Play with garnishes. That’s what students learn in culinary academies. The art of garnishing. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s tasty and you can make healthy food very appetizing that way. Take some broccoli, steam it, drizzle with olive oil that has had some garlic sautéed in it and then decorate it with a tablespoon of chopped, toasted walnuts. Yum.

Experiment.

Root vegetables

Root vegetables

cooked root vegetables

cooked root vegetables

Try different fresh herbs as a garnish. Some chopped fresh basil, perhaps, or parsley. Or try grating some fresh lemon or orange zest. I became quite an aficionado of zesting and began collecting a variety of zesters. It really adds great flavor, texture and color to all sorts of dishes. And it is chocked full of powerful antioxidants, the substance that fights cancer in your body.

Making good food can be very easy. One of my favorite summer dinners is steamed vegetables topped with a poached egg and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese. This is particularly good on asparagus, summer squash, broccoli or green beans. As the egg yolk breaks and soaks into the vegetable it is rather luxurious! I try to get the freshest eggs I can find, buying them at the farmer’s market whenever possible. The green vegetables, topped by the egg, with its bright orange yolk, create a beautiful presentation! Get in the habit of treating yourself like an honored guest, creating food presentations like you would for company or that you might receive in a fine restaurant.

Hummus platter

Hummus platter

Preparing gorgeous, appetizing food is a form of self-love. It’s nourishing way beyond nutrition. I know a lot of people who think if they don’t have someone else to cook for it’s not worth bothering. These people eat very poorly when they are by themselves. I’m talking about watching TV mindlessly gobbling potato chips, frozen pizza, or some quickly micro-waved frozen dinner. Please treat yourself better than this.

I promise you, that if you start caring for yourself the way you would treat good company your life will change. For one thing, you will become a happier person if little pleasures become part of your daily life, no matter where you are, whom you are with or what you are doing. As you become happier you will radiate positive energy and people will become attracted to that energy and will want to be around you and will automatically be good to you and treat you to things.

When I go out of town on a solo getaway, which is what I like to do in order to recharge and write, I want to keep my costs down so I bring food with me to minimize the expense of eating out. I’ll bring a ripe avocado, mash it with lemon juice, garlic powder and sea salt, making a delicious guacamole. I’ll take a carrot and slice it into slivers for dipping. I may also cut up a red bell pepper and chop up some tomatoes. With a little cheese and crackers it makes a beautiful, healthy meal that I can put together in a hotel room.

I pack fruit, graham crackers, peanut butter and goat cheese for breakfast, cups of instant hot soup that only required boiling water from an electric hot pot I bring with me. I add chopped peanuts to garnish the Thai noodle soup that comes in one of those “just add water” cups and voila! A tasty and beautiful meal. I carry a couple of plates and a nice bowl for my food so I can transfer everything to my pretty dishes. It’s easy, delicious and beautifully presented. And healthy, as well. Most importantly, eating this way, with care to presentation and quality, simple ingredients makes me feel incredibly good.

Ratatouille tart

Ratatouille tart

What would your meals be like if every serving were in some sense a work of art? We see pictures of food in magazines, on websites, in TV commercials, in restaurant ads, foods that have been carefully arranged by a food stylist to make them appear appetizing. What if you did that for yourself? Every time you eat?

You don’t need a lot of money to live well. You just need to make the most of the little things. Food is a pleasure you can use to treat yourself multiple times throughout the day, every day.

This is a way to care yourself physically, emotionally and can become a habit of yummy creativity.

Feed your eyes.

Phyllo mushroom pizza

Phyllo mushroom pizza

Feed your taste buds.

Feed your stomach.

Feed your heart.

Feed your creativity.

Feed your soul.