Grace found in Small Steps

img_4775
An uphill journey might seem hard, but the view at the top is worth every step.

The other day I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and his interview of Zach Bush, MD. You can listen to it here: RichRoll Podcast – Zach Bush, MD

There was much to be alarmed about in this podcast, especially in the way our farming and use of pesticides is responsible for much illness and other problems. But the message from Zach was also one of hope and promise for the future.

The most impactful statement…the one that made me stop what I was doing, find some paper and pencil, and make a note was Zach’s scientific definition of grace.

Previously I’d never thought of a scientific definition of grace. Here is what he said:

Grace scientifically is that you heal faster than you injure.

I love this definition and can find so much truth in its simplicity…not just scientifically but in life. There is so much hope in these words.

You heal faster than you injure.

Simple decisions that lead to simple changes can lead to healing. This idea is not that making a small change will lead to overnight improvement. But rather our simple changes (which if truly simple are also small), lead over time to big transformation.

img_4173.jpg
Oatmeal and berries…much better than what I used to eat for breakfast.

Some examples that come to mind:

  • Choosing healthy food will lead to a healthier body over time. The effects of past poor choices don’t disappear immediately but they do over time. My own experience of this is that by (mostly) eliminating processed food from my diet and replacing it with real, wholesome food, I’ve lost 80 pounds. It took a few years.
  • Choosing to move a bit every day can lead to better fitness. If it’s hard, then start with walking and move from there (or even stay there if that works for you). When I decided to be more active and start running, I could only run 30 seconds before needing to walk. Over time, my body grew stronger and in 2018 I completed my 10th marathon…and marathon number 8 was Boston.
  • Choosing to limit online media can lead to a healthier attitude. I confess that this one is a struggle for me. But I do notice that my decision to refrain from pointless online arguments and to no longer follow certain people has made me a much happier person. I need to take daily steps to further limit the time I spend here (especially on Twitter 🤔)
  • Choosing to mediate or pray regularly helps to clear the mind of distractions. Haha…this one is a work in progress too.

All of these transformations – or potential transformations have been gradual. They are perfect examples of healing (or better health) coming about through small changes. Of course we must acknowledge that better health can also be relative. The starting point often dictates how far we can go, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make some improvement.

Sometimes we fail to take those initial, small steps because the change we seek seems to be so far out of reach that we give up before we start. Or it is painful to start moving. But the experience of grace is that when we take one small step after another we are eventually able to look back and see that we’ve travelled so incredibly far on the road to better health.

How have you been able to experience this grace in your life?

Icebergs – Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality #3

57652xzequerafcnxryqga
From page 31 of “Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection…”

There is much more going on below the surface! This iceberg analogy resonates with me. Maybe it will with you as well. Briefly, we experience feelings, emotions, and physical sensations all the time. Often we react to these emotions without having a clear understanding of where they came from or what precipitated them.

For much of my life, this reactionary activity resulted in my pushing these feelings aside with food.

Was I happy? Then eat!
Was I sad? Nothing like eating for this!
Was I bored? Hmm, what could I eat?
Was I angry? Nothing like something crunchy and salty.

The problem with this approach was that I was unhealthy…physically, mentally, and spiritually. Learning, instead to explore the “why” behind an emotion, has been a freeing (and difficult) process. I say process because I am still learning here and can safely say that it will be a lifetime of learning, of exploration.

The first step in exploring what was under the water line (the iceberg) was through faith. In knowing that God loves me unconditionally, I could safely and critically interact with old hurts, old failings, old disappointments. This was freeing, but it was mostly the spiritual and mental.

The next step for me came through endurance sport. It was here that I truly learned to love my body and the gift that it is. It was here that I learned that I could endure great hardship…and later say it was “fun” (see Fun? Endurance…Is it fun?). It was here that I’ve learned so much about the holistic nature of faith. It has changed my outlook and given me the desire to help others experience life through endurance and through grace.

Today…food can still be a struggle (The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight). Unfortunately that will always be the case because of biology. But mindfulness and movement can counteract the struggle. If you’d like some help here let me know!

 

 

The Never Ending Struggle with Weight is Downright Scary

“In further studies, they found that weight loss, both in people who are lean and obese, triggers a powerful suite of biological and psychological responses that work together to restore the lost fat… In effect, substantial weight loss triggers a starvation response, whether a person is lean, overweight, or obese—and this response continues until the fat comes back.”
From “The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat” by Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D., page 129

The above quote from “The Hungry Brain” isn’t very encouraging at first look. But on further reflection it’s helpful for anyone who has struggled with the up, down, then up again (sometimes higher) of weight loss and weight gain because it helps us to understand the real struggle.

Most of the people I know who’ve battle obesity don’t struggle because they don’t know what to do. I’d venture to guess that most overweight people are very well versed in the world of diet and weight loss.

img_0486-e1533579908583.jpg
Me in Napa in July, 2009. I was not at my heaviest but probably pretty close to it.
Z1ba1HsdTZy3F6BhpUWj6g
At the same winery this year. This is a more fit and healthier me…and I plan to stay this way!

I’ve personally tried most commercial as well as fad diets out there. I’ve read countless books. I’ve joined various programs. When I look back at the past 40 years (I’m 55 and remember dieting as a teenager), I’ve probably lost and re-gained hundreds of pounds. It’s probably not a stretch to say that maintaining a weight, any weight, is not something my body has much experience with. My actual experience has been down, then up a bit more than where I started…down again, followed by a bigger increase and so on. This led to my highest weight of at least 250 pounds in 2012. It was probably more than this, but I quit stepping on the scale.

I’ve been at my current weight for two years. Well, I’ve gone up and down within a 10 pound range in that time. It’s been a struggle! A year ago I hit my lowest weight of 163 – an 87 pound weight loss! Maybe it is no coincidence that I also had the best half marathon ever in terms of how I felt. It wasn’t my fastest because it was up lots of hills but it was awesome! (I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon)

But I was unable to maintain that weight, even though my desire had been to get to at least 155 so that I would no longer be identified a “overweight” according to the medical world. Over the past year the pounds have slowly come back so that today, after a wonderful vacation that was fill with activity I weighed in at 174.4. An 11 pound gain in one year! At least I can still say I’ve lost 77 pounds.

I share this because I want to let people know that the struggle is real and I want to help myself and others to find peace with themselves, regardless of weight. Sometimes this peace is elusive, because there is a great deal of shame associated with weight gain. We tend to look at the person who struggles with their weight as someone lacking will-power, restraint, or even self worth. But it is far more complicated than that. Our bodies are far more complicated than that.

In “The Hungry Brain” Stephan Guyenet, shares years of obesity research that is both demoralizing and hopeful at the same time. Demoralizing because he clearly shows just how difficult it is to fight our own brains… in the often futile effort to maintain weight loss. But then it is hopeful for the same reason. If it’s not solely about will power then we can remove the sense of shame, while also making changes that can be helpful.

For Guyenet, the one answer lies in “Restricting Reward.”

High-reward foods tend to increase food intake and adiposity, whole lower-reward foods tend to have the opposite effect. This suggests a weight management ‘secret’ you’ll rarely find in a diet book: eat simple food. The reason you’ll rarely find it in a diet good is that, by definition, lower-reward food is not very motivating. It doesn’t get us excited about a diet, and it doesn’t make books fly off the shelves. We want to hear that we can lose weight while eating the most delicious food of our lives, and the weight-loss industry is happy to indulge us. The truth is that there are many ways to lose weight, but all else being equal, a diet that’s lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity more effectively than one that’s high in reward value.

I like the use of the word “reward” in this context. We can think of food as a reward and when we do it is usually very tasty calorie dense food. Or sometimes it is that salty-crunchy-sweet snack that we turn to in times of stress – tortilla chips are my particular weakness here.

But we can also think of other rewards. Rewards like feeling good and being able to move can impact us far more than can the immediate gratification of something we eat.

And still it is hard! Personally I will clean up my diet, eliminating those unhealthy foods that have crept back in… and I will continue to run and strength train and maybe even start bicycling once in awhile…I can easily do these things because of the rewards of fitness!

If you would like to share your own struggles, please feel free. There is strength in community and that is another reward that far surpasses any food!

To read past posts on this topic:
That Weight Struggle – Weekends
That Weight Struggle – Environment
The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight
What Happened to Healthy Eating? Boston Marathon Training – Week 1
Body Image – Gratitude 8/10Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4
Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3
Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2
OOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1
Racing Weight – Getting There

The Running Skirt

0539_06348
My first half marathon. I wore this running skirt until it was “falling off too big.”

A few years, and many pounds, ago I couldn’t wear shorts when running. My legs were too fat and the material would bunch up between my legs. That was definitely not comfortable. I also wasn’t fond of leggings because, well, they just showed those hefty thighs rubbing against each other.

 

One day, while browsing through the running clothes section of my local REI, I discovered a running skirt. Basically a skirt over short tights. That was the solution. I wore running skirts throughout most of my weight loss journey. I also grew to dislike those running skirts, because for me they represented the reality that I was trying to cover up that which cannot really be hidden.

img_0366
These were my first running shorts.

When I lost enough weight that I could wear running shorts I was ecstatic. I vowed to myself that I would never wear a running skirt again!

 

Of course one should never say never. Right?

A couple weeks ago a friend gave me a coupon to use at our local Lululemon outlet store. I’d never worn these running clothes, so with my 25% off I checked it out. I bought some awesomely comfortable shorts. Also, much to my surprise, I saw a skirt…yes, a skirt…that I thought was cute. I tried it on, liked it, and bought it.

So much for never wearing a running skirt again!

 

ijflal55qipwegyxvt9qw-e1528990184765.jpg
Cute and comfy…my new running skirt! I kinda like how my legs look here too.

That Weight Struggle – Weekends

Pixabay - directory-466935Can you relate to this?

You wake up on Monday morning, ready to start a new week. You are determined to eat well, exercise well, and do whatever else is necessary to care for your body. Before doing all that you step on the scale.

Holy #@&%!!!

How did that happen? You think back to the previous week. You ate healthy. You slept relatively well. You exercised (and if you’re like me you exercised A LOT – 9 hours, 36 minutes, and 37 seconds to be exact for me last week). How in the world, then, can the scale say that you’ve only lost 1 pound…or stayed the same…or, horrors – gained weight?

So, my friend. How was your weekend? Did you let loose? Maybe eat an extra slice of pizza (or the whole thing?)? Did you have some beer or wine or a margarita or a combination of the above? Did you have snacks out on the counter that you noshed on all day, thus mindlessly consuming calories to replace all those you burned?

This all seems so frustrating…so depressing even. Especially if it becomes a regular Monday morning experience (or any other time you step on the scale). One option is to just step back from the scale. After all it is just giving you a number and that number shouldn’t define you. The challenge with this approach is that it might allow those of us who struggle with weight gain, or maintaining weight loss or just staying healthy, is that we ignore the warning and continue in our present unhelpful behavior.

Pixabay - hands-423794
Maybe we should do this!

So what should we do? As one who struggles with this and is sometimes very afraid of gaining back my 80+ pounds lost, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Love yourself! Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think that you are a failure. Just understand that you are human and that you make mistakes. Also understand that you are worthy of love – in fact God loves you unconditionally – no matter what you weigh and no matter how much you struggle. It’s very hard to take care of ourselves when we don’t feel worthy of such care.
  2. Remember each day is a gift. Don’t stress about yesterday, but rather look at today (whatever day it is) as a new day that you can live to the best of your ability. Yesterday’s mistakes don’t have to define what we do this day.
  3. Think about a different approach. Weekends are fun. Gathering with friends and family is fun. Having the occasional drink and treat is fun. We should be able to partake in life and in those goodies that surround us. But that doesn’t mean we need to mindlessly eat and drink. So, make a plan to pay attention. Eat that yummy food…but only if you actually slow down enough to taste and enjoy it.
  4. Don’t forget that exercise! Yes. Exercise. Do it daily. Be like me and run marathons! Or, if that sounds like too much then opt for something more manageable, like 30 minutes of something a day. We can all find 30 minutes!
  5. Sleep. Are you getting enough sleep? When we’re tired we tend to overeat. When we’re exercising and not sleeping, we’re not recovering well either. Get your sleep. Your body and mind will thank you.
  6. Hydrate. I find that I’m tempted to eat when I’m thirsty. Sometimes a strategy is to drink water, wait, and then decide whether to eat that treat that is before you.
  7. Find a mantra. I started this list with the instruction to love yourself. I end it with the encouragement to find something encouraging to say to yourself when you are facing temptation. I often forget this. I often fail to speak nicely to myself. This week my mantra is, “I’m worth the effort!”

These tips have helped me in the past and continue to help me now. I’ve shared that I’ve lost a great deal of weight and that I don’t want to re-gain it. I know the statistics that a majority of people do exactly that. In fact, I’ve done that at other times. What’s different now is that I’m an athlete…but still the struggle is real. Hopefully these tips can help you too.

RCE - Raleigh Farmers Market 6
This is a beautiful photo of some very healthy food!

The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight

A year ago I did a little series on my post Mountains to Beach Marathon attempt to “lose that last 15-20 pounds. I actually lost about 5 pounds, yet didn’t keep it off. I started that little attempt weighing in at 168. This morning, almost a year later I weighed 171. (Racing Weight – Getting ThereOOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4)

IMG_0440
This is from one year ago as I ran my Boston qualifier 

The good news in this, is that weighing 3 pounds more after one year could be looked at as weight maintenance success. The challenge internally is that I continually bump up against 170 but never go lower. Maybe, this is a good weight for me, who knows!

What scares me though, is that it has been pretty hard to stay at this weight…it feels harder than losing the 80+ pounds in the first place. Some of this might be memory, as we sometimes forget how hard past struggles actually were. But the struggle is very real.

Last year I read the book, “The Hungry Brain” by Stephan J. Guyenet. This was both a hopeful and not so hopeful book.

The not so hopeful part is that our brains are designed to prevent weight loss. This quote and analogy gets to the heart of it:

“In effect, substantial weight loss triggers a starvation response, whether a person is lean, overweight, or obese – and this response continues until the fat comes back.

If you’ve never had the experience of fighting your own body’s starvation response, Jeff Friedman provides a helpful analogy:

Those who doubt the power of basic drives, however, might note that although one can hold one’s breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breather. The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breather, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight.” (129-130)

These are not very hopeful words at first reading. I think that anyone who struggles with weight can understand the analogy. I can think of times when the desire to eat, and eat anything is so intense that its overwhelming.

But then, on further thought, hope can be found in this knowledge.

First, with the realization that the struggle is real. It is not about will power or some moral failure. It is about a fight against our bodies. We can’t effectively engage if we aren’t aware of the struggle.

img_0368.jpg
While I was still active when heavier, I don’t want to go back to this…

Second, we have nothing to be ashamed of. But when we make is about will power, we introduce the concept of shame. In our culture, it is shameful to struggle with weight gain…especially the re-gaining of weight. This insidious shame makes it worse, because one of our best weapons is to be open and honest about our struggles. It is only in a position of openness that we are able to receive support from others. This is why I am now open about my weight.

Third, and most importantly, your weight has nothing to do with your value as a person. Yes, a healthy weight…is optimum for quality of life. But the number on the scale or size of your clothing are not indicative of your worth. You are a precious child of God, created in God’s image, and the number on the scale will not make God love you any more or any less…because God already loves you unconditionally! Maybe as we learn this, we can learn to love  and show compassion to ourselves and others.

So what do we do? We don’t give up! Really, what do we do? I’ll share some thoughts in another post. Meanwhile give yourself a hug because you deserve it!

KWCb+igfSmW05VPoJ4EYJg
Me last week, with my son, showing off my “run now, wine later socks”

What Happened to Healthy Eating? Boston Marathon Training – Week 1

Real fruit at the bottom yogurt…just fruit and plain yogurt. A good snack when going back to the basics.

The 2018 Boston Marathon will commence 17 weeks from today.

I’ve been eating horribly! Cookies, candy, and various other forms of holiday junk have wrecked havoc on my diet. I haven’t eaten this horribly in years and my body is feeling it! Bloated…skin breaking out…grouchiness. Underneath all this is the fear that if I stay on my present course it probably won’t take long to gain back all the weight I’ve lost and kept off. What’s up with this year?

Last night I remembered that for the past two years I was in the middle of marathon training during the holiday season, and so didn’t indulge as much in the holiday goodies. In early 2016 I ran my 3rd marathon, Surf City (Race Recap – Surf City Marathon). This was the first since I started working with a coach. Then, in early 2017 I ran my first attempt to qualify for Boston at the Carlsbad Marathon. Logging lots of miles helped to burn calories…but more beneficially it lead to better choices in eating because you don’t want to feel horrible on a run.

This year I’ve been mostly walking as I recovered from my first 50k (December 2nd – Race Day – Ray Miller 50K Recap). The first week of recovery was walking with a 2 mile run at the end of the week. Last week I ran 2.25 miles on Monday & Wednesday. Had fun at a Jingle Jog, for 2.75 miles. And ended the week running a nice 5 miles on Saturday. Because I’m leading a Mile a Day Challenge, I’ve also walked at least a mile on non-run days. So I’ve been moving while recovering…but not enough to counteract a horrible diet.

There is also the truth that for many of us, or all of us who struggle with weight, that eating lots of fat and sugar just leads to eating more and more fat and sugar. It is an addiction in that eating at the moment feels wonderful…but is followed by feeling awful as well as guilty (to yourself!).

So, today I’m officially starting my Boston Marathon training… a week early…even if my coach hasn’t given me anything but additional recovery for the week! I can’t think of a more inspirational way to hit the reset button!

This means…food diary until I get my eating back under control and easing back into my 5 days of running per week with a long run on Saturday. Yeah! I love training!