Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Weight Loss is Boring, Health is Not

Over the years my personal pinnacle of unattainable perfection was my size.  

When I was young I wanted to dance, and my curves put me on the outs of a passion and made me feel foreign in a family that possessed women who were sinewy thin in their youth.  My curves were sexy, something I didn't feel belonged to me--a nerd who was passionate about straight A's and reading.  I dressed for my body, all v-necks and form fitting cotton, but I was playing a part.  It didn't feel like me.  

When I began to fail in college for the first time at my carefully constructed identity I didn't cope well.  I drank and put on weight like a bear preparing for hibernation, and after gaining 25 pounds in a 3 month period-I suddenly found purpose and accomplishment in fitness.  I thrilled in weight loss.  A concrete, measurable, attainable goal.  My element.  Moderation not being my strong suit I became obsessed.  Obsessed.  After I lost my last 5 vanity pounds, I went after the next 5 and so it went in pursuit of that sinewy thinness that to me suggested belonging, until I found myself glaring at a Dietician who dared to suggest to me that I might have a problem.  

Over the course of the past 6 years, from that couch in an office in East Lansing to the one where I sit typing this in a tank and skivvies I've come a long way.  From seeing health and fitness as a means to an end of some unattainable perfection to seeing it as a lifestyle that makes me feel energized and connected to the world around me.  Slowly learning about myself along the way, and with that learning came first an appreciation, then a love.  But I didn't realize how far I'd come until I found myself out one night with a friend.  A friend who had recently been on a weight loss bender-and she was thin to begin with.  It was all quinoa/spinach all the time.
I was proud she wanted to get healthier, but when she went on a 20 minute diatribe in front of some friends about the final 3 pounds she couldn't get off I realized something-vanity weight loss is boring-and for years this is what I had sounded like.

Weight loss for the sake of your health is exciting, it implies that you are moving to a healthier and more positive future.  Fitness to achieve a goal is admirable and fun.  Weight loss for vanities sake, for conversation's sake to draw attention to yourself, pounds no one notices but you-those actually demonstrate that you want to shrink away from the world.  And if you want to shrink away from yourself, won't others as well?

I could feel my eyes glazing over as the conversation went on and on, a veritable odyssey of the 7 pound journey.  

Was this what I have sounded like over the years?  How in God's name did I delude myself into thinking my goal was about health and not about attention?  Was going cold turkey on all forms of fat while consuming vodka drink after vodka drink really someone who wanted to get healthy?   

I think that conversation, and seeing the extreme in someone else, an extreme I was personally familiar with reminded me of how important moderation is, and why its something I am consciously bringing into my life.  

Because moving from an extreme obsession with size to an appreciation of my body and a desire to be healthy is really when my life and my perception of it began to change.  

So what do you think about weight loss? Moderation?  Fitness is there such a thing as fitness for attention instead of fitness for health?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Progress: Accepting my best

I love to run.

At one point I hated it, the whole being unable to breathe thing wasn't high on my list of favorable feelings, and my competitive self loathed being passed by everyone including a Mom pushing a stroller and a morbidly obese man who was quite literally smoking as he passed me by.  But as I was home for the summer with my parents at the time (almost 8 years ago) it got me out of the house, I didn't have anything better to do and I was becoming a little concerned about the fact that none of my pants fit after a 5 month drinking bender overseas (Ahhh, to be 20 again).  

Over the next few years, running became my solace.  My time with me, time away everyday I didn't feel guilty about taking.  Running kept me company when I lost my job, when I lived in Boston and knew no one, when I felt lost in bad relationships, when I moved to Austin and didn't have a space, when I celebrated my everyday victories.  Running is my place.  It's a place where I can process things, where my mind can mull things over or go blissfully blank to everything but the sound of my breath.  

I lost that after my marathon and my surgery.  Moving hurt.  So I leaned into my injury and the excuses.

15 pounds later, I found myself in a remarkably similar position as I had been in 8 years before.  Except, thank God, I wasn't living at home.  I had to reacquaint myself with my pace.  With the discomfort of being passed.  With that wretched out of breath feeling.

I hated running.  I hated feeling foreign in what was supposed to be my goddamn element.  

Then one strangely cool day in Austin, I laced up and began a 3 mile stretch of trail, and I remembered.  I remembered my pace.  I remembered my space.  I ran 9 miles, and I didn't do it for the accolades, or to push myself, I ran because it felt like coming home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rewarding the boldness of others. Or ending up murdered, whichever.

My sister routinely accuses me not nurturing my "Bitch Face".  She gets a little uncomfortable when people in elevators offer me fruit, come in from the street to try to hold my hand, and when gypsy women barrage into coffee shops to tell me that my aura (purple and green) can be seen from the street.  According to Amanda, if I had a bitch face people would keep their weird to themselves.  

I don't know about that, but I'm starting to wonder if she is right.

I was running on the trail to the Austin Trail of Lights.  My hair was slicked back under a baseball cap, my tank was emblazoned with my running bib, and I was wearing my headphones so as to avoid any interaction with the outside world.  I was in a happy zone, and by all accounts about as undone as it is possible for me to look.

When in front of me a lanky looking blonde guy began jumping up and down and waving at me.

I paused mid-jog, pulled off my headphones, and looked at him ready to tell him what time it was or provide directions and looked at him expectantly.

"Do you want to get coffee with me sometime?"

I stared at him blankly, not quite getting that he flagged me down from 10 feet away to ask me out.

"I would like to go out with you-for coffee, tomorrow?"

My confusion continued, "I'm sorry.  I'm confused.  I'm Jenna, you are?"

"Adam, and I want to take you out for coffee."

"Ok.  Umm, do you do this all the time?"

"What pick up girls on the trail?"


"No, you're the first."

I kept looking at him like I expected a candid camera to jump out of nowhere.  When none did, I agreed to get coffee.

What the hell, right?  and since I pledged to be bold this year, shouldn't I reward others endeavors at boldness as well?

I don't know.  I just hope I don't get turned into a lamp shade and murdered.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shut Up Self: Hoo doo Voodoo and Hypnosis

My first foray into hypnosis was at a Senior All Night party in high school where my Dad was chaperoning.  A hypnotist was called upon for the evening's entertainment and I was selected as one of several to "Go to the beyond".  Alledgedly I climbed into a male classmate's lap and pretended quite convincingly that I was Jane of Jungle.  My Dad to this day chuckles at a memory I have no recollection off.  As such I've spent the past 10 years being suspicious of hypnotists and magicians.  

Over drinks one day, a friend mentioned that his Mom was seeing a hypnotist about quitting smoking.  

I was fascinated by the idea of addressing a detrimental habit consciously and with the subconscious-a dual attack that could drive results.

I decided that in addition to the reading and meditation I was doing to become acquainted with my inner critic/meanie I was curious if hypnosis could motivate some changes.

You guys, hypnosis is real.  

Without getting too much into my personal business, I met with the hypnotist/meditation expert for 2 hours.  The first hour was spent discussing my history and what I hoped to accomplish (shutting up my near constant inner critique) and when/where/how this criticism gets worse.  We spent some time discussing the conscious versus unconscious brain and meditation.  Then she talked me through hypnosis.

That shiz be cray.  A veritable bliss seizure.  I cannot remember the last time I was that relaxed, seriously, my sister saw me two days later and asked if I'd gotten laid before lunch (Nope.)

And it wasn't just immediately after either, for the next month I could very easily calm myself down, didn't really give a flying F*ck about stupid stuff at work, and fell asleep right away nightly, and my critic-well she chilled the hell out too.  It balanced me out.

Of course the problem is that now I want to go back for another hit of relaxation and self affirmations.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Butcher on 5th Street Incident: Moderate Medical Procedure be Damned

Its rare that the terror I can build up in my head exceeds my imaginations expectations.  Rare, but not impossible as I discovered last Thursday.

As a child of a family friend had his wisdom teeth removed, and choked on his blood while on the pain medication and died.  You read that correctly, died.  My mother mentioned it on many a dental visit and the memory was ingrained on my brain = wisdom teeth removal means certain and inevitable death.  For the past decade I have successfully thwarted every dental professional attempts to get them out. Then one of them popped out of my gums a month ago and with it came pressure induced headaches and restless sleep.  

After one hideous headache I called my Mom to complain, and I confessed that I was afraid to get them out because of her friend's son.  At which point I was updated that the son had in fact committed suicide with the pain killers-not choked to death.  It was decided at the time that suicide was too dark a tale for a 6 year old.  Darker than choking to death on your own blood?!!

Cranky, sleep deprived, and with the source of my fear proven unfounded I admitted defeat and scheduled the appointment for Thursday morning after being assured by my dentist I would be out of there in an hour and at the bar for happy hour by that night.


My Dentist in Austin is one of the flush fancy chain Dental offices with a cutsey name and televisions at every torture station to watch daytime soaps while getting your cleaning.  While I was prepped for my procedure I glanced at the television.  Do you know what was on?  I shit you not one of those horrible ASPCA informercials featuring an an emaciated Momma mutt that had been abused and thrown in front of a car but still managed to drag her babies to safety.  WTF.  

When my handsome dentist sauntered in I informed him that the station selection completed my Torture Chamber impression.  He tried to change it, but it was too late, the tone had been set.

For the next ten minutes, I was poked, prodded, and filled with a numbing agent that had a side affect of making my heart race.  In case I wasn't nervous enough my entire body was literally shaking, whether from fear or from the side affect is unclear.  And then Dr Beefcake tells me my back tooth, affectionately called "little 17" was going to be a challenge.

Challenge?  What do you mean a challenge?

The next hour was Hell.  Minute by minute ticked by with cracks and and alarming amount of muscle use by Dr. Beefcake.  To his credit he tried to calm me down as though I was a frightened Labrador Retriever, there was a lot of "Now, thats a good girl!  It'll be okay!"   He spent something like 25 minutes on "little 17" before announcing, "We'll come back to that one!"  I hated his chipperness and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being addressed the same way as the near death mutt on the informercial an hour before.  

After another half hour or so of extraction, Beefcake announced that he couldn't get "little 17" out.

I stared at him confused.  I mean for the love of God what had he been doing in there?  

"Well, you don't expect me to just leave with half a tooth, what happens when I can feel again?"

"No, it has to come out.  We are just going to walk you around the corner to an oral surgeon."

Wait, I was leaving?  Where were they taking me!!??  The farm?  

I sat in my little cell while Beefcake and his staff conferred. At which point I was informed, like a 5 year old, that the nice receptionist David was going to drive me across town and that they had contacted my "in case of emergency".

I couldn't help but imagine my sister's eye roll when she got that message.  Typical Jenna.

David ushered me into his la petite hoopty mobile and he reminded me that we had met socially one night at happy hour.

I was torn between my desire to be charming and likable and that fact that I couldn't feel my face and I was borderline hysterical.  Once we got to the building David dropped me off at the curb with, "Just go in and go to the 5th floor.  I'm sure its easy to find."


I stumbled up to the 5th floor like a war refuge.  Blood was literally dripping onto my shirt.

The receptionists found my entrance a little shocking and suggested I got to the bathroom to wipe myself off.

I looked like a Zombie fresh from a blood sucking buffet.  How could my buddy David let me go out in public like this?  Dr Beefcake?  Was there no end to this Hell?!

At this point I was doubting the Dream Team's skill and sense of decency, feared ever being pretty again, and skipped down the road to full blown hysteria.  

The oral surgeon was a kindly older man who inspected my mouth, promised he could get the rest of the tooth out, and offered me a local anethestic.  

At which point I begged to be put under.  Begged.

The OS patted me on the head and sent me back into the waiting area.  Where I sat until my sister kicked in the door, intent on rescuing me.  

She and I chatted a bit, and then the numbing agents wore off.  

The pain was unreal.  I curled into the fetal position and sobbed, terrifying the other patients.

Amanda let this go on for a few minutes before she went and raised Hell with the receptionist's, who, by all accounts, were immune to my heaving dramatic sobs and only were only incited to any sort of action when she threw my credit card at them.

When the mask finally went over my head I made peace with the end.  At least it would finally be over.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Consuming Feelings

I decided fairly early on in life that I needed a career that would support the affluent lifestyle I had in mind.  For whatever reason I decidedly arbitrarily at 22 that by the time I was 30 I, on my own, would be contributing 100K to my household.  

I did not grow up in an affluent household, but I am privileged in that I had a stay at home Mom, an insanely fiscally responsible father, a car throughout my schooling, and my education provided for me.  I win the parent lottery.  My Dad was always adamant though that I have a job, which I did from the time I was 14, and that half of my income go into my savings account.  I am proud to say that since graduating in 2008 I haven't borrowed a dime from my Parents because in my first year at IBM I managed to squirrel away more than a third of the income I made while living in Boston.  

My upbringing has made me a bit of a personal finance nerd.  My friends call me to celebrate a good FICO score (Woohoo 830 Jo-Jo!!), ask me my opinion about 401K's, and tease me about a not very subtle obsession with Suze Orman.  So, it shocked me when I sat one Sunday morning, happily going through 4 years of bank statements when I realized I had almost tripled my income in a 3 year period and my savings was exactly where it was when I got laid off from IBM.  WTF was happening with my money?

I realized after chronicling some of my bigger purchases (laid off/unemployed time, professional Certification from Boston University, 2 trips to Europe, dozens of domestic trips, a car, a cross country move, and a sizable chunk of money into a Roth IRA) that the more money I made the more mindless I was, not about the big things, but about the little things:  movies, eating out, my God the clothes, eating out, drinking, did I mention eating out?

Yes, I had some big expenses, and yes I did do some responsible things with it (pay off a car, contribute 20% of income to 401K) but something did not feel right.   For as hard as I work at my profession it feels as though I soften the blow of what that job takes from me (time/relaxation) with stuff.  Consuming to fill the void.  

This year I spent 5000 dollars on clothes.  5000.  On clothes.  This is outrageous.  Outrageous.  I don't care how stressed I am at work, jeans should not be the thing that lowers my blood pressure, and how many skirts does one girl need?  5000 is the opposite of moderation, its just excess.  

I wish I knew how to break this shopping habit, but sadly I think the only way to end up enjoying moderate surprises from time to time is going to be to go cold turkey on shopping for a few months and see if I can instill some new habits.  

Let's see shall we?  What do you spend on that disgusts you? How did you level it out?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Solid State: In which moderation is abandoned and I get to be obsessive

Back when I ran my marathon (almost 2 years ago so I'm rapidly approaching the point where I can't brag about it) you would have thought I was in peak physical condition.  

Instead I badly damaged my hip, my left knee, and aggravated the arthritis in my left ankle.  A girl can deal with all that, then I got my blood tested at work and was informed that for all extensive purposes I was a solid.  My cholesterol was through the roof.  At 25, 138 pounds, fresh off a marathon I had the cholesterol of an obese 45 year old.  Thanks, genetics, I'm looking at you Grandpa Geno.  

Granted my HDL (the cholesterol that cleans up after the LDL that is lying around in your arteries) was high and my LDL relatively low (the crud that collects in your arteries waiting on the HDL to take care of it), but thats like saying I wasn't gonna graduate because I was passing Math and failing PE-good to have the one but on the whole I wasn't graduating so the entire thing is null.

I have a lot of healthy habits.  I periodically exercise religiously.  I'm in a healthy weight range.  I like my fruits and veggies-and indulge in them and don't over indulge in sweets.  But still, I wasn't in the type of health inside that one would assume from the outside.  

What to do, what to do?

What I always do, seek help from someone who knows better than me.  I saw a Dietician and learned about the impact that eating out was having on me (1200 calorie pizza anyone?), that I needed more FIBER, that I drank far more than is socially acceptable in Church circles, and that more likely than not my anxiety was driving up my cholesterol levels.  

I became a model eater for about 2 days, the duration of my enthusiasm, and promptly fell off the bandwagon into a vat of queso.  

Healthy choices take a long time to become habit, and I had been blessed with a fast metabolism that let me skate by for most of my life on some poor ones.  My main conspirators were alcohol, diet soda, and meals that defy the laws of portion sizes (I will eat the entire jar of SALSA and GUACAMOLE!!!!! NOM NOM NOM).

When I was tested again, there were small improvements but on the whole I hadn't made the type of progress that this Test junkie lives for.  

What to do?  My dietician suggested that my moderation definition might be too lax and that I needed to hold myself to a higher level of expectation on a few key things.

So I did.  I stopped buying crap altogether, my snacks became fruit or greek yogurt, and I began to eat at least 3 super foods a day without fail-and that in turn helps me not crave diet soda all the time (which I still jones for).  I haven't endeavored to cut back on my drinking and my portions are still pretty big, but I feel progress is being made.  And progress forward is better than stagnant perfection any day.  Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.  But what do you guys think, is moderation always the way?  Or is being militant the way to go?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Remembering what I loved as a Kid: Painting

A friend was in my apartment and complimented me on this charcoal sketch I have in my room.  Rather nonchalantley I answered, "Oh that, I did it back in high school."

I could have told him that I had had a third nipple that I had gotten removed to see the look on his face.  "No way, since when are you at all artistic?" was the response I got.

I guess being all businessy all the time gives off a vibe that outside of math I have no passions.  

His surprise grated on me.  I went out and bought pencils and sketched away alone one Saturday, and threw all my efforts away at the end of the day.  They were nowhere near the level of skill that was on my bedroom wall.  My moderate scorning self practically spat on my efforts.

I was annoyed that I had let 5 years of hard practice dwindle into five years away from even a doodle.  

I needed instruction so after thinking about it for yet another 3 months, I convinced some friends to take a painting class with me one Sunday evening.  

The instructor stood up in front of us, and gave us a few rudimentary places to start.  And then I picked up my brush, and forgot where I was-and remembered where I belong. 

It was the same feeling I have on a really good run, the place where my brain goes on auto-pilot, just knowing what to do. Silent.  

When I was done, it was not a work of art, but it was a good start after a five year hiatus,  

I signed up for a semester of paint classes at the college.  And I don't even care about the grade.  Well, maybe a little.

What did you love as a kid that you've forgotten?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Being Bold: The Handsome Man

Wednesday nights are residence to the sheer awesomeness that is the 80's Rock band the Spazmatics in Austin TX.  My friend Jo and I had planned to go and spend one of her final nights in town getting our dance on.  

Then Girls' Night was hijacked by a guy I had introduced her to a few days before, and I suddenly found myself a third wheel on what would have been a pretty great date if I hadn't been there.  Not one to be fazed I serenaded the pair of them with my rendition of Young MC's Bust a Move and slipped off more times than necessity dictated to the ladies room.  I was totally A-Okay with my role as chaperone and third wheel until I saw this guy I had gone out on approximately 3 dates with at the bar.  A guy who I made a total jackass of myself in front of, a guy who I liked until it became clear he was a bit of a player.  I mean the guy at one point announced that he like to hit it and quit it.  Who the hell says that outside of rap video?  Anyway, the sight of him ruined my calm collected self and for all extensive purposes I had a mini-self confidence melt down in my head.  

Then I remembered that not five minutes before I had been complimented on my legs, and I chose vodka over discomfort.

It was on my second drink, which could have gone one of two ways-embracing moderation or get shit-ripped.  I decided to embrace moderation and not to feel bad about myself because some notorious flirt and I didn't work out.  I marched over to my friend Jo and her date and made polite conversation until this guy standing in front of us caught my eye.  

This guy was Handsome with a capital H.  No, Dude was beyond handsome.  Dude was hot, and dude turned and looked at me…and I winked.  

I winked, like some 40's maven in a Russian Spy Thriller.  In that moment I loved myself, a self that could wink and be confident and pretty and not care about some guy who didn't value me-and I walked right up to the Handsome Man and introduced myself.

Handsome Man was incredibly nice, in town on business, a marathoner, a PhD, and funny.  We talked until the band stopped playing, at which point Jo came over and siphoned me away-but before she could grab me away I looked at him and thanked him for his conversation--and told him he was crazy handsome.  

He laughed, leaned in and told me that he couldn't believe he had had such a good conversation with a pretty girl in a bar-that he was floored by how smart and funny I was-but more importantly what a kind person I seemed to be.  He showed up later in the evening at the bar I wound up at, and walked me home where we spent another hour on my stoop talking about medical trials he was working on (Yep, I'm cool-I know how to go in for the kill) before he asked me on a date for the next day before his flight.

Nothing will ever come of it, but that night something as simple as making a real connection and having a real conversation my faith was restored.  Whether it was in myself or in random men at the bar, I can't say.  But either way-I felt bold, excited about leaving my comfort zone, and thrilled that I let myself shine through without going over the top-the real goal of moderation.