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Posts Tagged ‘Fitness’

The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance

In 2005, I was a robust 25-year-old living in Chicago and working as a project assistant for an artchitectural and engineering firm. In the fall of 2005, I started to lose weight.

This was a good thing, I figured. I worked out a lot. I ate right. It’s just that losing weight got… easier. It was nice. After so many years of working out relentlessly just to stay at a reasonable size, I didn’t have to think about my weight anymore. As the months passed, I started to experience other problems, though. I started to get recurring yeast infections, infections that could only be cured with prescription medications, not the usual over-the-counter stuff. My gums bled when I brushed my teeth. Not just a little blood, but bloody spitfuls of the stuff. I was thirsty all the time, to the point where I could barely survive a 45-minute plane right to Indianapolis without having at least one tea or juice on hand. I honest to god thought I was going to die if I couldn’t have a large drink every hour. And when I got ingrown hairs, they would form huge pustules on my body that had to be lanced and drained. As the months passed, the symptoms got worse. My sinus infections dragged on and on. When I went to various urgent care doctors and explained that I was exhausted all the time and getting weird infections, they said I must just be stressed out. I was so tired, in fact, that I couldn’t get out of bed on time for work. I started to get confused, and had trouble concentrating. My boss had to call me in twice for making data entry errors that I hadn’t had problems with before. I dragged my ass into work an hour late sometimes. An hour late! But I was so exhausted and frazzled I didn’t care; nothing seemed to really matter except sleeping and drinking juice. I also become increasingly hungry in addition to thirsty. I had to eat an extra meal between breakfast and lunch. I was chowing down on burgers and ice cream for lunch… and continuing to lose weight.

I remember lying in the bathtub and rolling up into a sitting position and feeling the bones of my spine against the tub. It hurt. I didn’t have the usual padding there to protect me from the hard tub. It was like being inside someone else’s body. I had a “catastrophic” health insurance plan through my employer, so when I went to the doctor with these complaints, it was always to somewhere cheap like the 24 hour urgent care or Planned Parenthood. I had a $2500 deductible, so everything was out of pocket. I was 25 years old, making $40,000 a year living in Chicago; after rent and paying my student loans, it didn’t occur to me to spend a bunch of money on tests. I was 25! Surely there wasn’t anything wrong with me but stress. I never went to the same doctor, so there was nobody to connect the dots related to my various symptoms. b9b2_horror_movie_shower_curtain_bath_mat_curtain

My body finally gave out one Friday after coming home from Indianapolis for another work-related trip. I stepped off the train and got myself a hot dog because I was so hungry. But it gave me such bad heartburn I had to stop eating it. I trundled home via the bus. I could barely walk up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. I was so goddamn tired. I came home and drank and drank and drank – water and juice and Gatorade. And I peed and peed and peed. It was all I could do to stumble from my bed to the bathroom. I had to grab hold of the couch for balance.

At some point, my roommate and girlfriend at the time found me standing in the bathroom. Just… standing there staring at the door. She brought me to the couch where I apparently went into convulsions and started vomiting. I blacked out and wasn’t fully conscious for 36-48 hours, when I woke up in the ICU and had a doctor patiently explain to me that I had type 1 diabetes, an immune disorder that usually shows up in children, which is why nobody thought to test me for it at 25. Sometime the year before, an immune response from my body backfired, and my immune system started killing the islet cells in my pancreas that produce insulin. I would no longer be able to survive without taking 4-5 shots of synthetic insulin a day and carefully measuring and monitoring everything I ate and all of my physical activity.

What they did not tell me was that having this immune disorder also meant that outside of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, I was now forever uninsurable. And the medication it took to keep me alive was going to cost me $500-800 a month without insurance. The ICU trip alone was over $20,000, with thousands more in bills coming in for weeks and weeks after I got out of the hospital. Even after my $2500 deductible, I still owed an 20% of that cost. That was *with* insurance. I just laughed at these bills. Laughed and laughed.

Four months later, still recovering from my experience in the ICU and adapting to a life totally reliant on taking medication, I was laid off from my job. To retain the same health insurance plan I paid $60 for through my company was $800, paid for on my own. I had to cash out my 401(k) in order to pay for it, because unemployment was just $340 a week (rent alone was $550 a month).  If I went just 60 days without some kind of insurance, my condition would be considered “pre-existing” and I would become uninsurable for 12-24 months *even through an employer sponsored plan.* So I had to find some way to pay for health insurance – health insurance which still didn’t even pay 100% for my drugs. So it was $800 a month for my premium PLUS another $300 a month for the only partially-covered drugs. This was just to stay alive. To keep my head above water.

I picked up temp jobs, and after getting through my 30 days with them, was able to sign up for some shitty insurance that technically covered me (so I wouldn’t fall between plans and get hit with the pre-existing thing), but didn’t pay for my medication, so I was still paying out of pocket for that while trying to pay rent. Credit cards became my friend. I had four of them. Eventually, this situation became unsustainable, and in March of 2007 I packed up all my shit and moved to Dayton, Ohio where I lived in a friend’s spare bedroom, rent-free, while trying to live on expired insulin and checking my blood sugar the minimum amount possible to save on the cost of the testing strips, which were $1 a piece and which I was supposed to be using 7-8 times a day.

Without the temp agency I’d been at before in Chicago, I found myself uninsured once again while trying to rack up the requisite number of temp hours I needed from my new temp agency to qualify for *their* shitty insurance which, once again, wouldn’t cover my medication anyway. So it didn’t make a difference to how much I was spending on drugs (most of my medication costs were going on a credit card at this point). But it did start the “pre-existing condition” clock running again. I only had 60 days to get insured again, but I wasn’t getting enough hours yet to qualify for the new temp agency plan.

I was sick, my medication was working sporadically, since it was expired, and my credit cards were rapidly getting maxed out. I was mostly unemployed and only not technically homeless because I had a friend with a spare bedroom. I just stopped looking at my credit card statements. Being in debt, I figured, was better than being dead. But I knew that if I didn’t get lucky at some point soon, I was going to end up dead.

I signed up with another temp company, but was still 60 days out from being able to use their insurance. I ended up twisting my ankle and had to go to the ER. The bill was $800. When I got it, I just looked at it and laughed. I never paid that bill. I had to go back to the ER again with an issue related to my IUD. That bill was $600. I laughed at that one too, and didn’t pay it.

I could pay those ER bills, or pay for the medication that kept me alive.

Easy choice.

My temp company had me working a temp assignment for three months at a local company. I finally went to the temp company and said, “Listen. I can’t pay for the medication that keeps me alive. Either these people need to hire me or I need to get a full-time position somewhere else.” I went to my employer and said the same.

The temp company and my employer got together and – bless their hearts – my employer bought out my contract from the temp agency. My salary was just $32,000, and I didn’t negotiate at all, because I got first-day health benefits. And the premiums were free. Yes, free – the company paid 100% of the premiums and there was no deductible. I immediately ordered new drugs – the drugs that kept me alive – and paid nothing for them.

That company saved my fucking life. My spouse sometimes wonders why I still do freelance work for them, and why I don’t charge them the rates I do everyone else.

It’s because they saved my fucking life.

But because they saved my fucking life, they also got me for a really good deal. At that point, things were so bad I would have worked for nothing. I would have just worked for the health insurance. Their insurance plan was so good, in fact, it was a common joke over there: “Hey, if you lay me off, I’ll work for free. Just let me keep my health insurance!”

But today, that shit is over.

Today, you don’t have to joke about working for a company for free, just to get the health insurance.

Today, you don’t have to juggle eight credit cards to get the medication you need to live.

Today, for the first time in the U.S., you can sign up for health insurance no matter how much money you make, no matter what your health condition. Even if you have cancer, or you had cancer, or you’ve got some shitty immune disorder like mine. You don’t have to go to bed on some shitty mattress in some friend’s basement hoping and praying that you’ll get some lucky break before your expired medication stops working. You don’t have to beg a company to hire you just for the health benefits.

Today you don’t have to pay $800 a month for bare minimum coverage, and cash out your 401(k) and live on expired medication. You don’t have to run up multiple credit cards with medical bills. You don’t have to cry when the bills from the ER come in.

You can go to healthcare.gov and find a health plan that works for you, with coverage starting in 2014. Can’t afford it? That’s OK. The government will subsidize plans for people who can’t pay for them. You don’t have to worry about being unemployed and homeless and dying of some treatable thing in an alley somewhere.

You don’t have to hope you’ll get lucky – hope that some friends will take you in, and an employer will show you mercy.

All you have to do is be a human being. And you’ll be treated like a human being.

I don’t wish my experience on anyone. It’s my fervent hope that nobody in the U.S., ever, has to live with the fear and terror I did during that year from 2006-2007 when my whole world imploded. I want people to forget what it’s like to live that way. I want them to think that this is the kind of story you’d only hear about in some shitty SF dystopia novel.

I don’t want it to be a story that anybody in the country ever has to live again.

So go get yourself some health insurance.

How I Built My Treadmill Desk for $200

So, after my mega-crazy writing spree on RAPTURE, where I found myself sitting for 14, 16, and even one memorable 20-hour-stretch just… sitting, I decided it was time to finally give in and put together a treadmill desk. Depression and anxiety runs in my family, but I’ve found that if I can be consistently active, I can pretty much lead a normal life. The trouble is, I’ve chosen a sedentary profession. As I’m now working 1-2 days a week from home as part of my day job… well.

The treadmill desk idea was starting to look a lot less like a silly liberal hippie thing and a lot more like a practical way to solve a modern problem.

Since money was the first issue for me, I’ll show you how I did it for about $200.

First, I did my research. One of the most helpful things was this blog post about three different people and their treadmill desk setups. To sum up, all three hit Craigslist. The most successful managed to get hers for $200 *and* have it delivered to her office. That sounded like an astoundingly good deal to me. The second was this really quick video that showed just how incredibly cheap and simple your desk could be:

Armed with this information, I hit Craigslist for a few days looking for treadmills. There were quite a few treadmills under $300, but very few that I could get delivered. Finally, I found one for $60 that was missing a piece of molding. I offered the guy $175 if he’d deliver it. He actually said he’d feel bad charging me that much (awwww) and delivered it right to my door for $150.

After plugging it in to confirm it worked, I hit the hardware store and got the stuff indicated in the video at my local Lowe’s:

I splurged and got some really nice shelf pieces.

First, I got the treadmill into position. In order to retain a sitting desk space for when I’m tired or exhausted, I simply re-oriented my existing desk stuff to the other side of the desk, and put the treadmill between the wall and the desk on the other side.

 

They had the brackets already cut into 12in pieces, but I needed 10in pieces, so I bought a hacksaw. Turns out I could have saved myself the $$ because J has a Dremmel, which cut through the metal pretty easily.

 

Unlike the treadmill in the video, my treadmill didn’t have flat arms, so I got two nice pieces of molding and just screwed them into the bottom shelf with the 1/2 inch screws. Now I could rest my mouse and keyboard on it without them sliding off.

 

Because I already had a pretty buff, tall shelf, I decided to make the most of it and just affix the shelf for the monitor directly onto my existing tall shelf. I got longer screws for this job because I really wanted it to be sturdy:

 

 

The finished top shelf looked like this:

Next, it was time to put in the bottom shelf for the keyboard. After installing the moulding, I did exactly like in the video, and it worked great.

And here’s what it looked like after I installed the keyboard shelf:

Finally, I was ready to install the keyboard, mouse, and monitor. J. had an extra monitor, and I still had my old keyboard from when I upgraded my keyboard a couple weeks ago to a gaming keyboard. The mouse is wireless, so I can just take it with me based on where I’m working. I mirrored my monitors, so it’s an easy switch for when I want to change positions as well.

Pretty neat, huh?

I’ve got it going at about 1.1 mph right now. It took a few minutes to get used to, but so far, the extra brain power it takes to walk and type at the same time actually keeps me more focused. I’ve also been on here nearly 50 minutes now and I barely noticed the time slip away… you know, like it does when you’re playing WoW for four hours or sitting for two and a half hours writing guest posts or something.

So far, I’m really digging it. Looking forward to changing up the way I work!

What is this Fat Woman Doing on TV?

When I rant about biases and stereotypes and authors’ blindspots, I get the impression that some people think I’m some perfect person without any biases. I’ve talked a lot about my awareness of my own misogyny and racism, but there’s other stuff that creeps up on you too, sometimes when you least expect it.

Bias does not happen in a vacuum. It’s a learned behavior. You eat it every morning with your cornflakes and simply haul it all back up the moment it’s triggered.

This truth hit me especially hard a few weeks ago when I was shopping at a local big box store and cruising past a row of televisions where a nondescript, sweater-vest wearing fat woman was talking on the screen in front of a harsh white background. My hind brain immediately sneered (despite the fact that I, as a matter of fact, am also a fat woman), “What the heck is that fat lady doing on TV? Is she talking about some new dieting show or how hard it is to be a mom?”

I kid you not. That was the insidious bullshit that popped immediately into my head. Afterall, how often did I see fat women on TV? All the fat women I see on TV are from The Biggest Loser, talking about how crappy their lives are because they can’t tie their shoes. And then they barf and scream their way to skinny and they’re allowed to smile on TV and actually talk about how great their lives are. But not until they’re skinny.

So here I was, mocking the fat woman in a sweater vest.

It wasn’t until the show continued to roll, cutting to images of said fat woman hurling a shot put in a massive stadium, that I realized she was, in fact, an Olympic shot putter.

She was an Olympic athlete. 

Biases and stereotypes do us all a disservice. In this case, I’d totally put the woman into a box without knowing anything about her but the fact that she was fat, but it also did me a disservice, because by putting her in a box, I’d put myself into one too. Fat women only get to speak when it’s about how much it sucks to be fat. That’s what TV told me. That’s what I’d lapped up with my cornflakes.

And now, random photos of buff, meaty women I wish we were all seeing a lot more of:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Unreasonable Weight of Being

Some folks might know that I’m a Jillian Michaels fan. I mean, how can you not love somebody who kicks people’s asses all day, screams at them to suck it up, and then provides a thoughtful psych evaluation on them after she’s beaten them raw?

I was working out six or seven weeks ago and listening to one of her free podcasts, and she said something, only half-joking, like “If everybody would just do everything I tell them to do, they’d have no problems.”

And I thought… well, fuck it. I’m just going to do whatever the fuck Jillian tells me to do, because nothing else is working.

Physically, I’ve had a rough couple of years, mostly due to my extended-honeymoon-eating-fest, new day job that no longer requires me to bike to work, and some surgeries that left me down for the count.

Low-carb alone wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was too addicted to high calorie items like nuts, cheese, and whipping cream, and when you’re eating a dessert every night that’s 1200 calories (what? It’s whipped cream mouse! Low carb! DELICIOUS! Yeah, didn’t figure out that calorie amount until I actually started… counting calories), no amount of working out (unless you’re clocking in three hours or more) is going to be able to help you.

The working out, I already had down. So I just made a commitment to getting in 60-90 minutes a day and logging it to make me accountable for it. So instead of 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, I was committed to daily strength and cardio work.

The biggest challenge – and one I have fought against doing my entire life – was calorie counting. One of the reasons I’m a fan of Jillian is that she’s less of a bullshit fad dieter than most gurus. It’s all pretty simple. Burn more than you consume. Work out this much, but not more than this much. Eat this much, but not less than this much. Balance. I like balance.

I’d always known the calories in/calories out thing before, but I just didn’t buy it. See, just like calculating how much insulin I take based on the number of carbs I eat and my current blood sugar number, weight loss is supposed to have… well, not an exact formula, but a general formula that’s calories in, calories out. Balancing my blood sugar, though, taught me that trying to use that math to precisely predict what my body was doing was hopeless. However, if I came to it with the expectation that I was going to be getting an approximation of what was really happening instead of an exact number-by-number results, I’d feel better.

3500 calories might equal a pound, but just because you burn 3500 calories doesn’t mean you will burn a pound. It makes it more likely, sure, but saying “FUCK YOU I BURNED FOUR POUNDS AND ONLY LOST TWO THIS IS BULLSHIT” becomes more likely when you think of it that literally. That was the problem I always had with doing it. I watched people starve themselves on 800 calories a day and plateau, then go on huge binges, then gain back more than they lost. The body doesn’t like trickery. It will fuck you right back – the t1 diabetes has taught me that. Most mornings, my little formula of 1 unit insulin for every 15 carbs ingested might work. Others… I might be shaky and sucking down juice at 8am. No discernable reason (oh, I’m sure there’s a reason, but we don’t understand the individual vagaries of bodies enough to calculate all of the relevant variables. We can only go by the most obvious ones).

Instead of expecting precise miracles, then, I expected approximations. I calculated my BMR – basic metabolic rate. It said that on an average day, a person of my height and weight burns about 1900 calories. So, ok, that’s a starting point. My goal, then, was to cumulatively eat and/or burn enough calories that I was getting less than that each day.

But there were two important tricks here that I never did before on my other eating regimes. Only one of them is totally Jillian-approved.

First, I’m not allowed to go below 1400 calories. My goal is 1500. Crazy people may go as low as 1200 (::shudder:: ) but anything less than that and you’re well into starvation mode. That’s the point where not only are you hungry all the time, but your body kicks all the shit into gear that halts weight loss. We’re not meant to starve. We’re meant to hang onto fat. And I have a body that is very efficient at doing just that. I suspect it does it with even greater efficiency than most people. That’s one of the big reasons I avoided low-calories diets. I was also prone to bingeing. If I went hungry, bad things happened.

So there was one more thing I did here to fool my efficient body into easing back to my maintenance weight. I added in a meal one day a week where I was allowed to eat 1,000-2,500 calories more than my 1500 goal. So one day a week I’m eating anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 calories that day. Jillian would not approve of this level of consumption (she’d recommend a day where you’re eating maybe 300-500 calories more), but it works very well for me.

Some of the changes were easy, like switching to non-fat lattes and reduced fat cheese and making a greek yogurt mousse instead of one made entirely of whipping cream. Others, like switching from Crystal Light and Coke Zero to water, and throwing out all my “snack” cheeses, were a lot harder. Worst of all, though, was getting used to cooking with cooking spray or 1tbs of olive oil instead of huge amounts of butter and olive oil… and bacon. We ate that stuff like liquid candy (WHAT?? IT’S LOW CARB!!). Also off-limits were the three-kinds-of-cheese-plus-bacon-plus-roast-beef wraps I liked to get from the cafeteria at the day job for lunch. Now it’s Chipotle, generally, with my usual carnitas fajita bowl (no rice, no beans, no cheese, plus guac) for 505 calories a pop.

At the end of the day, doing the one thing I didn’t want to do finally worked, and I dropped 20 lbs and can now fit comfortably back into 80% of my wardrobe.

But short-term drops aren’t really what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a way to not let this happen again. I’ve spent my whole life vacillating between 185-250lbs, and you know… I’m tired. I’m tired of having four sizes of clothes in my closet. I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired of dealing with it. I just want to find a weight and stick with it. Before I met J., I’d managed to maintain a very nice weight for myself for nearly two years. It was workable and relatively easy. I still got to eat pizza occasionally and I worked out regularly. But when Life Things happen, I inevitably get out of my routine, and things go sour.

So I’m turning to Jillian’s advice for that part of it, too, because, let’s face it – I just have no idea how to maintain a single weight for more than two years. As soon as the wacky Life Thing happens, it throws me out of whack, and there I am, with a closet full of clothes that are either too big or too small for me again. The other problem with calorie counting is that, you know, it’s not some fad diet thing. It’s something you have to do forever. If I want to stop fighting my body, I need to track my calories in vs. calories out every day, and ensure that, on average, I’m not eating more than I burn in a single day, without going below my 1500 base (or, when I get to maintenance again, my 1700). That’s the only way to manage it.

Ideally, of course, I’d just get to the point where I don’ t need to track this stuff anymore. I’d get so good at calorie counting and automatically knowing about how much of X type of exercise burned so many calories that I could just keep it all in my head. But I don’t trust myself to do that. It’s basically how we all do it now, and for me, as for most folks in the U.S., my guesstimate is so laughably wrong it’s… yes, laughable. Also, wrong.

So, I went against all my principles and started calorie counting and exercise logging, which is a lot less painful these day because of apps like MyFitnessPal, which keep me accountable. And this is where I’m at after nine weeks or so. Back down to a reasonable weight where I look slightly less like a mushroom, and another ten weeks or so from maintenance weight. I also feel like I’m in a better place for additional physical activity, because honestly, one of the other reasons I made the switch is because it was getting harder to move around all that extra weight when I was exercising. I felt physically weaker because my body was being asked to lug around more.

There is no particular point to any of this, of course. On my deathbed I won’t be all like, “Thank god I started counting calories!” or “If only I had lived my life at a size 6!” In fact, I rather like myself as I am. But there are some cold, hard realities I have to face when living in a world that tells me that a 2,500 calorie burger-and-fry combo is a normal meal, and sitting at a desk all day is a normal way for a human being to spend 9 hours. None of these things is a reasonable expectation, and to counteract them, sometimes you have to do things that may, on the face of it, seem unreasonable.

 

How I went from working out 20 minutes a day to 90-100 minutes a day (and liked it)

It’s no secret that the last year has been a rough one for me as far as getting back on the fitness train. I have a real hard time staying at my much-needed 90 minutes a day minimum workout time.

It felt so daunting this year that just getting in 20 minutes on the bike a couple times a week counted as a win. Getting in 10 minutes of weights in the morning was just… agony. Churning out 90 minutes a day in fitness, for me, was like trying to churn out three thousand words a day in writing was for me not long ago – total agony.

But over the last few weeks, all that stutter-stop finally changed. I’ve been consistently getting in 60-100 minutes of fitness time each day, at least 5 days a week, and I’ve even started putting in 20-45 minutes on the weekends.

Here are some of the tricks that helped me turn the corner:

1) I like fitness videos. I have a whole library of them. The trouble is, you do them enough and they get achingly monotonous. It’s not that I couldn’t do that 15 minute video in the morning, it was just that the thought of doing it felt like too much to ingest at 5:30 in the morning. And 30 minutes? 40 minutes? Yeah, at 5:30 a.m., that’s just laughable.

I realized a while back that because I’d done these so many times, I didn’t need to listen to the sound, so I listened to music instead. But that only worked for so many minutes, because invariably, I’d listen to the same kind of music, too. It was monotony multiplied.

Instead, I decided to try listening to podcasts while I worked out. Audio books can work for this, too. The idea was to give my mind something else to occupy itself with besides the grinding monotony or how tough certain exercises were, or how tired I was. I needed a brain exercise that could trick my mind into staying busy so it didn’t obsess over what my body was doing.

And, sure enough, I went from throwing tantrums about having to workout 15 minutes in the morning to working out 30-40 minutes in the morning with ease. Time just clipped along, and before I knew it, I was fitter and more informed. Now I’m rolling out of bed in the morning actually looking forward to the a.m. workout instead of looking at it like something to dread.

2) If you have Netflix, you can stream it on your phone. Most folks who have Netflix know this, but sneer at the idea of watching something on such a small screen. Well, guess what? When you’re working out at a gym that doesn’t have little TV’s in the readout, this is an absolute lifesaver.

I was working out at my day job gym a couple times a week for 20-30 minutes, really struggling every time. Then I remembered Netflix had come out with its Android app.

Literally overnight, I went from doing 20-30 minutes to 50-60 minutes on the elliptical each workday. There are plenty of long-running shows to choose from. Start at season one, episode one, and dig in. I’ve already started associating midday and evening workout routines with the pleasure of catching up on my favorite shows.

3) I like video games. I also need to workout. But, as yet, I don’t have a Kinect, just a Wii Fit with the same half dozen games that I’ve gotten sick of. But if you have something like a stationary bike at home (much more compact and easy to manage in a house my size than our old elliptical was), park it in front of your TV and play video games to help take your mind off the burn.

I’m slowly working my way through God of War III when I’m not ingesting massive amounts of serial TV (we don’t actually have proper TV programming in my house, just Netflix. That means I don’t watch any season of anything until it shows up there, so I tend to get it in bulk).

4) Whenever I thought “fuck, I need to workout for 90 minutes. Where the hell can I find 90 minutes? How can I keep going for 90 minutes?” I just got discouraged. Instead, I break it up. I do 30 minutes in the morning, 30-60 minutes at the day job gym, and another 30-45 on the exercise bike when I get home. By breaking it up into chunks, there’s no one workout that feels like 90 minutes of death.

This being Friday, and wanting to having the full sum of my Friday night for leisure, I already got in my 90 (30 this morning, 60 at the day job gym), so when I get home, I don’t even have to concern myself with the extra evening workout unless I feel like it.

Now, all of the above is primarily cardio work, with some strength training in the morning mixed in. When I finally get to the heavy lifting stuff, I intend for that to be on top of what I’m already doing, but I’m sure that if I can figure out how to be active 2-3 hours a day instead of just 90 minutes as a sedentary writer-type -you’ll be the first to know.

 

When You’re Going Through Hell… Keep Going

I was never a fit kid. I started this blog in part to talk about my path toward some semblance of fitness after a sedentary period in South Africa spent sparring with cockroaches, drinking too much red wine, smoking too many cigarettes, and binge eating (a default I have fought long and hard to overcome).

Moving to Chicago inspired me to get back to the low-carb living and 90-120 minute workout days of life in Fairbanks (where there was very little to do outside the rec center in the winter). I took some boxing and mixed martial arts classes in Chicago, and started jogging (slowly and painfully, but jogging nonetheless). That little taste of physical power took a nosedive after I got sick, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could and couldn’t do anymore, or – more accurately – figured out how I had to manage my shots and snacks to make the best of a bad situation.

I kept up a more-or-less reasonable fitness routine from then on, and figured out a comfortable weight for myself that was both manageable and still intimidating. In December of last year, that all changed again.

I was biking 20 minutes to work every morning in North Dayton. As December deepened, so did the snow and ice, and eventually, it became too risky to navigate the roads with my current gear. Erase 40 minutes of exercise from my daily routine.

Then I started getting tired and exhausted as winter descended, and started sleeping in, effectively skipping my am 25 minute workouts on top of that. It meant going from working out over an hour a day to… nothing – in about four weeks. To add insult to injury, I ended up having to have some minor surgery in January and again in March. Both times, I wasn’t supposed to lift more than 20 lbs over my head for two weeks. By this time, I still wasn’t biking to work and I was having a lot of trouble getting into my clothes. Add to that some stress over a job transition and the full marketing onslaught and newbie terror of my first book launching February 1st (with exhausting marketing efforts on my part from December to March), and by all accounts, I was a physical wreck.

Now, here’s this thing about me. I’m one of those people who charges on through stuff. It wasn’t like any of this was horrible stuff – in fact, the book and job stuff were actually stresses that would lead to great things. But they were still things that needed to be managed. They were things that needed spoons.

And I was in short supply.

There were a lot of stop-starts in trying to get back on the fitness wagon. I’d get up early again a few days a week and work out… then stop. I’d work out a day or two after I got home… then stop. My A1c went from 6.2 to 6.5 to 7.0.

It was the 7.0 that made my blood run a little cold (it’s recommended that all diabetics – t1 and t2 – keep their A1c under 7.0 in order to prevent stuff like going blind and having your feet chopped off). I finally stepped on the scale, and realized that I was now back to my South Africa binge-eating, cockroach-swatting weight, and knew something had to change.

So it was back to severe low carb eating, this time with a cheat day once a week in an attempt to avoid the “starvation” mode that severe low carb eating can trigger. I lost weight pretty quickly initially, and my blood sugar levels evened right out. Being a little lighter, it seemed like a great time to get back into the morning workout, and for the last three weeks, I’ve consistently logged in first 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, every morning of cardio and strength training. I’ve put on weight since doing that, which is frustrating, and it’s taken every ounce of will I have to remind myself that I’m in this for the fitness and the sugar numbers, not the end number on a scale.

This morning, week four, I finally graduated back up to my 20 lb weights instead of the 10lb-ers. I’m also back at the gym at work for 20 minutes on the bike. It’s not replacing those missing 40 minutes yet (my new job is a 90 minute bike ride from my house instead of a 20 minute one. Maybe next summer!), but it’s a start.

One of the things that always frustrates me about fitness is that it’s not something you learn and then don’t have to learn again, like 5+5=10. You learn that and you know it. Forgetting that will be tough. But once you’re fit, you don’t stay that way just because you achieved it once. It’s something you have to achieve again and again and again. Off the wagon. Back on the wagon. It’s intensely frustrating, and often demoralizing.

Life has hit me in the head with a shovel a couple of times now, as far as control of my physical body goes, and the first thing that stumbles when I go down is my fitness. I have to work so hard to keep it, harder than anything else in my life – harder than the fiction writing, the day job, my relationships –  because it just doesn’t come naturally. It was never part of my experience growing up (I didn’t start getting interested in actual fitness aside from “God, I have to go on a diet or no one will love me” until I was 19, and I didn’t acquire the mindset of “Wow, the end goal of fitness isn’t weight loss, it’s making me strong and powerful!” until I was living in Chicago in my mid-twenties).

The hardest part of getting back into it? Not hating myself. Because that’s always my greatest hurdle, my biggest enemy. The hatred I have for myself for falling off, no matter what the circumstances. I could get hit by a literal truck, and I’d still blame myself for not being able to fit into my favorite shirt anymore.

The best way I’ve found to cope is the same way I’ve coped with those getting-hit-on-the-head things: the layoffs, the illness, the eviction from back in the day, all of it – you’ll get through it. It will get better. This is a transitory place. Every day you’re breathing is another day you have to completely change your circumstances. Fuck knows it’s hard sometimes. It often seems impossible. But it’s what I have.

And the alternative is to give up.

But when you give up, you may as well be dead. I tried that once. It wasn’t any fun. I don’t recommend it.

So I keep getting knocked down.

And getting up.

And getting up.

And getting up.

That’s the secret to succeeding at anything, you guys. Getting up.

Lots of other people don’t.

Level Up

Switched from 5 lb weights during my morning circuit to 10 lb weights. Yes, yes, I can heft my 20 lb and 30 lb for limited exercises, but 3 minutes of strength followed by cardio followed by strength again is a liiiittle tougher. Two weeks with the 5 lbs was just enough for me to start getting bored. Now it’s 10 lbs and I felt like I was gonna die again.

Good times.

Hoping to max out at 20lbs with these (was doing 12-15 at the gym back when I was doing circuit, but at home, I only have 10’s and 20’s. So they’ll be another hefty level up here sometime in a couple weeks).

Fitnessery

The long winter was rough on my fitness level and my jeans size, as I’ve noted before. When I realized two months ago that I’d gone up a size over the winter, I realized it was time to get my crap together. The problem is, it’s difficult to figure out the best way to get your crap together when you’re already working out several times a week.

For me, it’s about finding the right balance of intensity and endurance. For nearly a year, I’ve been up at 5:30 in the morning doing 30 minutes of pilates and free weights, but it was just so low intensity that about all it was good for was flexibility and casual activity maintenance. I was getting about 20 minutes on the elliptical a couple nights a week, too, but this was dramatically different to my workout back in November, when I had two solid 30-40 minute workouts through my day job fitness program every week (suspended in December), plus five days a week of pilates, plus biking to work five days a week, plus another 3-4 days on the elliptical. Good weather is good for fitness.

But if my fitness level drops, my mood and energy start going wonky, and it very quickly gets tougher to fit into my existing clothes – and we all know how much I hate shopping for clothes.

When I got on the scale a couple months ago, I discovered I’d gained a whopping 18 lbs over the winter. Seriously? I thought, in just four months? Besides the money-spend on clothes shopping (I’ve long given up hating myself over weight. It’s not so much asthetic as practical anymore), the frustration, for me, was the I just didn’t feel very good. I was having more trouble controlling my blood sugar, I was more down than usual, and I just didn’t have any energy. Going to bed at 8:00 pm sounded like a fine idea some nights. Not because I did anything exhausting, but because I felt depressed.

So, even with a modicum of fitness in the mix (30 minutes in the morning and 2-3 days in the evening), I was not at my best.

By concentrating on cleaning up my diet (oh, I do love that low-carb coffee cake, but eating one a week was a little much), I easily dropped 6 lbs in a couple weeks, but without the fitness part, I was still tired all the time, with wonky sugar, and still stuck buying new jeans.

It was time to mix up my fitness routine. The new day job was great for switching up my fitness routine, so when I started there at the end of March, I started biking six miles roundtrip. With all the lights and switcheroos, it takes about 20-25 minutes to get there in the morning and again to get home at night.

But this still wasn’t cutting it.

Pilates, relaxing as it was in the morning, wasn’t the best use of my time either. The great thing about my morning routine was that – unlike my afternoon elliptical slacking – I did it every morning without fail. So I needed something in that timeslot that was going to make the best use of my time.

See, I always put off changing my workout routines as long as possible because, of course, there are a couple days of insulin adjustment involved, and highs and lows and math and needles are always annoying at 5:30 in the morning (for those interested, the magic formula was calculating 10 carbs for breakfast instead of 12 and then rounding down the number of insulin units my meter calculated for me, unless my blood sugar is below 90 during my morning test, at which point rounding up is actually better).

So I went ahead and pulled out my copy of Jillian’s 30-Day Shred and said, “OK, it’s time.”(and if you think Jillian is like some Jane Fonda “squeeze your butt while wearing a leotard” thing, think again. Her videos are the closest thing to the tough-love circuit training I was getting at the POW gym back in Chicago, with the same immediate results).

This 25 minute cardio and strength routine regularly kicked my ass when I first got it, but I’d set it aside for awhile and moved on. So Monday morning I got up at 5:20 a.m. just to make sure I had enough time in case of sugar wackiness, changed my clothes, and got started. At the end of it, I realized that all that bike riding had indeed actually been paying off, because my endurance was much better than the last time I’d done the workout.

What I love about this routine is that the fitness, energy and endurance improvements are evident pretty much immediately. On day one I was bouncing around at 6:00 a.m. ready to start the day. By day two, I noticed a marked improvement in my bike riding and on day three the workout was already a lot easier. Last night, I noticed better definition in my arms, and this morning I stepped on the scale for the weekly weigh in and found that I’d dropped 2 lbs. Not bad for 25 minutes in the morning (and another 40-50 minutes a day of bike riding, of course, but the morning workout was the only thing I changed).

I also went ahead and took another look at my diet to make sure I’m making the best use of my calories. I made the switch from almond flour to soy flour, which has half the calories and only 4 more carbs per serving (and still less than half the carbs of regular flour). It’s also cheaper, so: win!

The last big push will be to break my new daily popcorn habit at the day job. We have a popcorn machine here at work, and I regularly eat 2 cups of popcorn as a complement to my lunch. That’s an extra 200 calories a day, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that’s 4,000 calories a month.

It’s the little things, you know? They add up.

At any rate, this week has been bursting with far more energy and alertness, much improved sugar numbers, and a noticeable toning of my legs and arms, which has gone a long way toward improving my strength on the bike, too.

I’m still looking at trying to fit in at least two more workouts per week, preferably at the boxing gym downtown. Downsizing freed up some cash for J. and I and it looks like we’ll be able to start boxing classes next month. I figure that’s another 2 hours of fitness a week, which should be about right to get me to the level I’m most comfortable at.

It’s funny, you know, because there certainly is a genetic component to how *easily* one can lose weight. For those of us with the best of the survival genes, it’s not that we *can’t* be 150 lbs (or 185 lbs, in my case. I don’t ever want to see the tail end of 170 ever again), it’s that doing so requires a lot *more* effort than most people. In fact, I don’t expect to see that wishy-washy 185 by making these changes. What I want out of this is to get me at the fitness level I’d prefer and get me back into November’s jeans.

That’s it.

And to do that will require about 1.5-2.5 hours of exercise 5-6 days a week. That’s just how fun it is to be me. And probably another reason why I get so pissed off all the time when people assume that anybody clocking in at over 200 lbs must just be lazy and sit around eating donuts all the time. This is what it takes for me, personally, to clock in at around 200 lbs. More than that requires extreme self-deprevation of the 1400 calories per day and 2-3 hours exercise 6 days a week, and you know what? That’s not the life I want to live. I love my body. I love being big and strong and scary. If I’m too hungry to throw a good right hook, what’s the point?

I’m all about practicality, people.