Category Archives: Confessions of a Trainer

Summer’s Here: Get Over the Dread and Into that Suit!

It’s finally summer!  The long-anticipated warm weather, longer days, and relaxed schedule are upon us.  High fives all around! We made it!

An old familiar wave of dread hits me in the midst of my elation…I’m going to have to take my kids to the pool.  They are probably going to ask at LEAST once this summer.  Ugh, I need a new suit.

I’m no longer in an age and stage where I can buy something off the rack.  Swimsuit “try-on expeditions” now require extra preparation in the form of pep-talks, fasting, tantrum breaks (for me, not my kids), and built-in time to stop at MULTIPLE stores.  I usually leave empty-handed or with 3 suits that I ultimately return, begrudgingly returning to my stretched out, faded suit-of-old.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I battled a body image/eating disorder.  Summertime used to be a major trigger for me and I’ve had to do a lot of work in this area.  Here are some tips to help you to get over the dread and in to that suit:

Unpack your mindset.  Are you focusing on your faults and imperfections? Worried about peoples’ opinions? Comparing yourself to others? Whether at a “healthy” weight or way past it, wearing a swimsuit is something most of us don’t enjoy.

As our own worst critics, we tend to assume that others share our internalized attitudes and beliefs.  Here’s the deal: people don’t view us through the same lens, so let’s chill out.  Even if someone had a negative opinion, do THEY define you and give you worth? My friend, we have been given a priceless status by our Creator. No one, and no amount of cellulite, can change that.

The comparison game is dangerous, stealing our joy and distracting us from embracing life.  I wrote about this in another post, Your Body Isn’t the Enemy.

Speaking of distractions, what are you missing out on because of your mindset?  I realized that my unwillingness to put on a swimsuit and take my sons to the pool was compromising my relationship with them.  (If I had daughters, the impact could be more profound.) They aren’t going to understand that “mommy has some body image issues, and that’s why she won’t take you swimming.”  They’re kids!  They want me…not me with a six-pack.  I want to be that confident, active mom who cares more about connecting with my boys than what I look like in a swimsuit.

Focus on relationship-building instead.  Sometimes I nail this mindset and other times I need reminders. And that’s ok! (I’ll just re-read this post.)

Boost your confidence.  Set some goals that help your body feel healthy, and the mind will follow.  If you’re currently less active, start walking and moving intentionally.  Strive to eat cleaner in the summertime when fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant.  If you exercise regularly, mix it up and try a new program.  Personally, I’ve found that strength training is a huge confidence booster.  If you haven’t tried it, gradually add it to your routine.  If you’ve been dabbling in it for a while, increase your weights and challenge yourself with every workout. Perhaps running, yoga, dancing, or being able to do push-ups are your goals.  If it’s a healthy goal, go for it!

Fake it till you make it?  Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, suggests that this adage should be rephrased, “fake it till you become it.” Even though we are mentally in one place, it doesn’t have to be our destiny.  Our nonverbal behavior has a significant positive impact on our self-confidence.  Try this: put on your suit, forget the mirror, and start behaving confidently…try it at home regularly.  Pair this with positive internal dialogue to drive the point home.  If you are also implementing healthy habits (previous strategy), your self-talk could sound like this: I respect my body and am taking excellent care of it because I am worth it. I’m feeling stronger and healthier. The outside will soon reflect the inside.   

If you’re still stuck, buy an amazing suit.  Most of us feel self-conscious about our “trouble zones” because they don’t seem to change quickly enough for our liking.  The solution?  Buy a suit that addresses some of your concerns (suck-me-in-spandex is a blessing) and then get out there!  I’ve seen gorgeous swim dresses, skirts, wraps and cover-ups on the market.  There are SO many options.  Remember: you get what you pay for.  I’m not being compensated for recommending these sites, but I’ve been impressed with Swimsuits for All.  Here are 2017 coupon codes from RetailMeNot.  Honorable mentions: Modcloth and Venus.

Not seeing what you like?  Get creative!  I couldn’t find any swimsuit bottoms like my favorite exercise shorts, so I bought a second pair and used them as a suit.  I have a muscular upper body; many of the tops on the market make me look like an adolescent boy, so I Googled sports bras and found something cute that could double as a swim top.  I’m also “thigh-strong,” so I often opt for skirts or shorts.

If you’re tempted to sit on the sidelines this summer, I truly hope that you’ll give these strategies a try.  Don’t miss out on life, my friend.  It’s time to behave your way to a healthier you…mentally, relationally, and physically.  Get into that suit!

Restoration

This past weekend was the Illinois Marathon, an event that I used to run every year.  It was a tradition to do the 5k, 10k, or half-marathon with one of my best friends.  We would train and encourage each other from a distance (we live 150 miles apart), eagerly anticipating the uninterrupted “girl time” that we would get to share while running together on race day.  It was always a fun race weekend and a family affair, but I haven’t run it in 3 years…

I chose to quit due to an eating/body image disorder and a wrecked thyroid.  Running had taken a front seat to everything else in my life, and it became a trigger for binge eating and body shaming.  I was stuck in a bizarre dance with several elements:  the euphoria of accomplishment; “rewarding” myself with sugar binges after long training runs; appeasing the massive running-induced appetite increase with indulgent foods; intense regret from binging on said foods; starvation, obsession, and over-exercising to regain “control” of my body; relief when the number on the scale came back down…and then the crazy cycle would start over again.

I needed to face the reality that was driving my behaviors.  My body image and insane exercise regime had become an idol in my life, which was a difficult thing to admit.  I didn’t want it to be true!  How could this have happened?  I tried to get off of the crazy train many times, but the anxiety of giving up “control” had me quickly jumping back on board.  I was stuck, and it was time to honestly answer some questions.  Did I really want to be free?  I mean, really?  Was I truly ready for radical “heart” surgery, and willing to do whatever it took to be free?

In order to reset my life, it would mean giving up the things that I was clinging to – for as long as it took, maybe even forever.  It was time to stop trying to white-knuckle my way through the mental battle.  I didn’t have the strength for it anymore.  I decided to let God in on my secret…I needed rescuing.

It didn’t happen overnight, but freedom came after I surrendered control.  There was something different this time. I traded my weakness for God’s strength, and before the fight began, I boldly claimed victory because it had already been won for me.  I laid down the many things that were tripping me up, like running, and trusted that there would be something far better waiting for me when the radical work in me was finished.

Seeing all of my friends’ Facebook race posts this past weekend caused me to pause and consider how I’m feeling 3 years later.  What have I learned, and will I ever run again?

The enemy had distorted a perfectly good thing, like running, in order to trap me.  The experience rendered me totally ineffective for living out God’s purpose for my life.  Fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice…well, you know the rest.

But did you know that God is in the business of restoring?  All throughout the Bible, there are promises and stories of restoration.

1 Peter 5:10 – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

God has restored my health and given me balance.  If I run again someday, I must do it in light of all that I have learned.  Otherwise, it will make a mockery of what God did for me in that season of radical heart surgery.  I have scars, but they are no longer wounds. They serve as reminders, but they don’t hinder me.

I truly miss running with my friend.  I miss the thrill of the accomplishment.  I miss the girl time!

Running will look very different for me in the future.  My focus will be on the freedom I have in Christ, and honoring my body as His temple.  This allows me to embrace what was restored; my peace, joy, and freedom…as well as my passion for fitness.

Do you have something that needs to be restored in your life?

My words of encouragement are this: be brave enough to let God do radical heart surgery on you.  If there is something in your life that needs to go, don’t be afraid to let it go.  Something better will be returned to you!

 

Your Body Isn’t the Enemy

Have you ever been frustrated with your body for not cooperating with your most disciplined attempts to get into shape? Do you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle with your body?

Back in my “obsessed” days, I desperately wanted a runner’s physique.  I assumed that if I ran A LOT, I would naturally acquire it.  It was all I could think about, and I punished my body for years in an attempt to get there.

On one particular trip to my running store to buy new shoes, the salesperson made a remark about my “strong muscular legs” and how I was a “body-builder type.”  All I heard in that moment was that I did not have the coveted runner’s physique that I had been beating myself up to achieve.  Instant deflation.  I was a runner, darnit!  What did he say about my legs?  Why can’t my legs be small runner’s twigs?  That’s it!  I’m not buying anything from this guy…wait, those shoes are SUPER CUTE and comfy…must have them!

I was stuck in a rut of focusing on the negative –what I wasn’t– instead of embracing the positive: what I could do, my strengths and gifts, and my uniqueness.  I interpreted the salesperson’s casual compliment as a value statement, and it didn’t align with what I valued at that time in my life (a certain look).

Months later, as I worked through my body image issues, I often reflected on this event. It had been flagged in my psyche as a game-changer because it forced me to examine my priorities and self-image. It was time to unpack this.

Here is what I had to understand in order to move forward:

Whether we like it or not, genetics dictates how our bodies respond to exercise. We can help it along with a clean diet and the best blend of cardio and strength training for our unique metabolism, but the rest is up to Mother Nature. My genetics make it easy to build muscle, but no matter how hard I try, I will never be a thin runner-gazelle-type.

I was trying to override my unique design in order to attain “perfection,” and I saw my body as the obstacle, rather than an instrument, to my “success.” I treated it as the enemy, and at times actually hated my body for not delivering the results that I desperately wanted.

Ready to make a change, I intentionally chose to work with my body rather than against it. I began to respect it as a gift and left no room for feelings of self-hatred. I tapped into my genetics by lifting weights more often, focusing on building overall strength, and challenging myself with balance exercises – an entirely different level of strength training. This refreshing new mindset made exercise more fun and celebratory, rather than a punishment. I was experiencing success in a brand-new way!

I wasn’t finished yet. I had to address my habit of comparing myself to others, which resulted in my unrealistic body image expectations. Many of us are guilty of comparison, and we tend to go a step further by measuring our worst, most hidden faults against the polished and edited triumphs that others put forward. This is never helpful, but I regularly fell into this trap.

This story of comparison in the Bible gave me much-needed perspective. In John 21: 20-22, there is a conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter: Jesus said, (I’m paraphrasing) “Peter, you are going to be crucified one day, but follow me.” Peter responded, “Well, what will happen to John?”  Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!”

Peter was comparing himself to John, and the dose of truth was that Peter’s purpose was independent of John’s.  Unique.  God-given.  Jesus told Peter not to lose sight of his own unique story and to stay the course.  Essentially, he needed to stop comparing his life path to John’s and get busy working on his own journey.

Are we any different? I wasn’t. I was looking at others around me, comparing their talents, abilities, success, “perfection” in appearance, and it kept me from embracing my God-given gifts and His plan for my life. Comparison had hindered me more than I realized. This is what I learned: The more time we spend comparing ourselves to others or focusing on what we aren’t, the less energy we have to embrace our unique strengths and purpose in life.

In the end, I realized that my body was never the enemy…it was actually comparison!  Time-wasting, life-distracting, joy-stealing comparison.

Is this you? What can you do today to shift your focus off of others and onto your own unique strengths and purpose?

Beauty, Schmooty

There are many issues at the root of a body image disorder.  Like peeling back the layers of an onion, I had to deal with them one at a time.  One particular recurring theme was my desire for (and complete misunderstanding of) beauty.  I had to unpack this concept for myself in order to recover.  Even if body image isn’t a daily struggle for you, most people find themselves critical of their reflection in the mirror at some point in their lives.  Often, this kind of discontentment has to do with a distorted definition of beauty.  Allow me to show you my re-framing process:

My knee-jerk definition of beauty comes from the world around me, as it does for most of us.  I don’t think I have to spend too much time describing how our culture places appearance expectations on women.  Beauty is often praised over brains:  shiny hair, straight white teeth, glowing skin, tiny waist, slender legs, firm bottom, large chest, to name a few.  These qualities beget acceptance from others.  Many times women are the worst at criticizing and nit-picking these qualities…not only in themselves, but in other women.  We are incredibly competitive when it comes to appearance.  What a pain!  It’s exhausting, quite frankly.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t get there under these standards.  Believe me, I’ve achieved a flat stomach at various times in my life and I can tell you that it is fleeting –affected by SO many factors, and definitely stressful to maintain if that is my only standard for beauty and worth.  So that’s it, isn’t it?  I’ve been equating beauty with worth because that is what I’ve learned from this world.

Clearly this definition hasn’t worked well for me, so I wonder what the Bible says about beauty.  My first stop is the Old Testament.  At first glance, I’m drawn to stories about Queen Esther, Rebekah, and Rachel.  Esther’s appearance was described as “a beautiful figure and lovely to look at” (Esther 2:7), Rebekah was “very attractive in appearance” (Gen 24:16), and Rachel was “beautiful in form and appearance” (Gen 30:17).  Great, this isn’t helping my cause –yet.  With further reading, I learn that Esther’s appearance positioned her to use her intellect to ultimately save her people, while God used Rebekah and Rachel to grow a chosen nation.

At this point, I’m not fully content with what I found.  I need to dig deeper.

Enter the Proverbs 31 rockstar-of-a-woman.  Most scholars understand that this is a compilation of ideal qualities in a woman, rather than one specific person.  She is wise, trustworthy, virtuous, supportive, highly skilled, diligent, business savvy, charitable, caring, strong, kind in words and deeds, and blessed.  Some pretty amazing qualities, right?  Would you believe that, of the 22 verses dedicated to her description, not one of them refers to her appearance?  The only mention of beauty is in verse 30:  charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Now we’re getting somewhere!

Beauty has more to do with brains and inner virtues than this world would have us believe.  To further make my point, 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, Do not let your adorning be external –the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear –but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  Now, it isn’t saying, “just let your appearance go to pot and stop taking care of yourself.”  We certainly should take care of ourselves, but our external appearance isn’t what gives us worth.  In fact, our external becomes radiant when the internal is in order…no matter what we look like or weigh!

Let’s be careful not to let perfectionism and pride sneak in.  The mystery is that we can’t achieve inner radiance or the qualities of the Proverbs 31 rockstar gal on our own.  We need God’s help.  Remember, I tried to achieve what the world said I needed to be, and repeatedly came up empty and exhausted.  Trying to strive for these biblical virtues on our own (apart from God) will eventually frustrate us as well.  We can’t achieve perfection!

Putting all of this together, let me paint a picture of what I learned about God-inspired beauty:  a person who exudes love for others -no matter who they are and what they believe; one who is peaceful and not stirring up trouble with their words or actions; a person who is generous with their time and resources with no strings attached; one who you enjoy being around because they are joyous, uplifting, and inspiring; someone who would never divulge your innermost secrets, a loyal friend, who puts others before themselves.  These qualities are what Peter describes as “imperishable.”  They endure, grow, and ultimately change the world around us.  THAT’s the beauty that I desire!  I hope you do too.

P.S. You can find the above qualities listed as fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

Put the Scale in its Place!

dsc08399The only time I have a good relationship with the scale is when I don’t get on it…or when it’s broken…or “lost.”  (I’ve gone so far as to have my husband hide it from me.)  Inevitably, I find that stupid scale again and the dance begins, especially when I know that I’ll be going to the doctor in the near future.  Why can’t doctor’s offices measure us another way, perhaps assessing our desire instead?

The assessment could go something like this.  You say:  I really want to have a certain number on the scale.

The scale readout says:  That’s the correct answer.  It’s yours!  You are now the proud owner of ‘X’ pounds!

I digress a bit.  Seriously, how do we deal with this?  We can’t stop going to the doctor.

I suppose we could choose not to look at the number on the scale.  I found myself in an Urgent Care Clinic on my 40th birthday and I told the nurse, “Hey, it’s my 40th birthday, so I really don’t want to know what the number is.  I’m not about to let it ruin my Fabulous-at-40-Vibe.”  While that tactic was just fine in the moment, making a regular habit of not looking at the number still gave the scale some degree of power over me.

It’s time to put the scale in its place, which requires a deliberate mental shift.

Here’s the thing:  the number on the scale is merely a data point, amidst many other data points that comprise a picture of our health.  We tend to put way too much emphasis on this ONE point, and we lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes at the expense of other more important numbers.  Other data that make up our health pictures include:  waist circumference, body composition, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar A1C, inflammatory markers, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and just plain HOW WE FEEL.  Truly, these data points give us far more information than the number on a scale.  In my own life, there have been times when I was “overweight” or at my “ideal weight” and was quite unhealthy in both scenarios.  Obsessing about a number is flat-out dangerous.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) studies people who have lost 30+ pounds and have kept it off for more than a year.  They have found that participants who weigh themselves daily are the most successful at keeping the weight off.  I’ve been a participant in NWCR’s database for many years; I lost 55 pounds more than a decade ago.  Did weighing daily help me keep the weight off?  Sure.  But it came with a hefty price:  a very unhealthy relationship with the scale, food, and exercise.  Very unhealthy.  Yes I weighed every day, not at the suggestion of NWCR (they make no recommendations to their participants), but due to my own desperate need for control and an obsession to reach some arbitrary “ideal” weight.  That number on the scale dictated my mood for the day, my sense of security and control, and my self-worth.  It even affected my personal relationships, AND my health took a nose dive.  That is a stiff price to pay just to be a certain weight or size!  I came out of the experience just plain angry that a small piece of equipment had such power over me.

Let me illustrate something that I hope will forever change your relationship with the scale.  Below are two pictures of me at different times in my life, but the number on the scale was nearly the same.  In the first one, I’m holding one of my nephews who is now 17 years old.  I weighed 145 pounds and was a size 12.  The second picture is me today, at 142 pounds, and a size 4-6.

140s-3

This difference is explained by body composition.  Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space.  (I’m a big fan of lifting heavy things, but I’ll save that for another post.)  Muscle mass also makes the traditional BMI (Body Mass Index) irrelevant, because BMI does not account for lean mass.  It only accounts for total weight.  Therefore, I can’t put much stock in the recommended weight range for my height.  The number on the scale tells us very little about what’s going on in our bodies!

So, the next time you step on that blasted scale (because let’s face it, you probably still will, but hopefully with a deliberate mental shift), remember this:  it’s just a number that tells you almost nothing, one tiny piece among many bigger pieces of the puzzle.  At the end of your life, there is no medal for achieving or maintaining a certain weight.  Consider spending more time and effort on the other data points mentioned earlier.  You will be in a much healthier place, and able to live life to its fullest.

Why should such an insignificant number have so much power over us?

Let’s put the scale where it belongs.

The Pants

jeans-hipster-urban-will-milneI used to loathe shopping for clothes, especially pants.  When I was overweight, a trip to the department store’s dressing room was an event that moved me to tears and ended with a vow to never shop for clothes again.  Surely sweat pants will come back in fashion soon!  Nothing fit properly, or if something fit, it didn’t look flattering.  How could all 7 of these pairs of jeans NOT fit?  What is WRONG with fashion these days?!  The experience would culminate in my own personal walk of shame as I exited the dressing room area, handing the attendant ALL of the clothes that I had taken back with me, having to say, “None of these work for me.”  Even more humiliating: being asked by the attendant, “Did any of these work for you?”  With head hung low and avoiding eye contact, I could barely contain my disgust while uttering the word ‘no.’

In stark contrast was my experience after losing nearly 60 pounds.  Shopping was a blast! Everything fit and looked great, with the exception of the occasional article that wasn’t true to size or was cut differently.  I was faced with a slightly different issue: whittle down this pile of clothing into what I need and what I can afford.  I must admit that I really liked this new experience; it was euphoric.  See that cute pair of pants?  Let’s try it on!  They look fantastic!  Put them in the “keep” pile!  Next pair, please!

Then, I got greedy, but not in the way one would think.  It wasn’t about buying more clothes.  Rather, it was about pushing the size envelope.  How low could I go?  It was intoxicating for this once size 16-18 gal to find herself in size 4s and the occasional extra small.  Even more satisfying was the feeling of loose size 4 pants or jeans.  At some point there was a transfer of this being “just a size” to this being my identity, security, and measure of worth.  If I could just stay in this “loose 4 state,” life would be grand.  I could feel attractive, peaceful, worthy, useful, and smart.

Unfortunately, this mind game with clothes would be impossible to continue without some major sacrifice to my health.  I had conveniently ignored the fact that I had achieved this “smallest-size-ever euphoria” through starvation and over-exercising.  The only way that I could stay in that size (and subsequently keep my security, my value and my peace) was to eat less than 1000 calories/day, run at least 25 miles/week, and have several long weight-lifting sessions per week, leaving no room for being sick.  I further abused my body by intense exercise during illness.  Taking a day off was never an option; maintaining my smallest size and my sanity depended on it.

There was a point when those smallest-size-ever pants began to haunt me.  I had grown to really love this one particular pair of khakis.  While wearing them, I felt slim and attractive and in control of my body.  But, there were days when they didn’t fit right, or started to get too tight in the thighs.  What is going on?  Have I eaten any bad foods lately?  Is it “that” time of the month?  Where is my calendar?!  As much as I was attached to these pants, I also felt betrayed by them.  They had become my new nemesis, and had replaced the scale.   I recognized those old familiar feelings, just like when I would step on the scale and the number wasn’t what it “should” have been (OR, complete security in discovering that the number was just what I wanted).  The feelings had merely transferred to a new source.  I had the same battle going on within me to fit into these pants as I did to see a certain number on the scale.  Those moments alone in my walk-in closet, standing in front of the mirror, sucking in my stomach, and doing deep squats in those pants were a ritual for me.  It had so much power over my day, my emotions, and my self-worth.  (As an aside, I have to believe that I’m not the only one who does deep squats in my pants after they’ve been washed in hopes to loosen them up a bit!)

Now, fast-forward through my realization that I had a disorder and my “comin’ to Jesus” experience that set me on the path to recovery.  I had successfully removed the scale from my life, and found balance in eating and exercise.  By applying God’s truths about my body and its physiology, I was finally healing my body from the inside out.  I had found a respect for my body and was committed to being a good steward of the only body I would ever have this side of heaven.  I was the healthiest that I had been in a very long time, yet the size demon was still lurking.

I had to come to terms with the fact that some of my pants, including my precious size 4s, really did not fit.  All of my constructs about my identity in this worldly “size” now must be challenged. Where should my identity lie?  How does any of my worth and security and peace change if I am a size bigger?  Why am I so afraid to let go of this size?  Doesn’t it make sense that the only way that I could maintain this size was by being unhealthy; and now that I am healthy the size might no longer fit?  I was so afraid to let go of those pants, but they needed to go.  I had to honestly answer these questions before I could let go.

The bottom line is that I was believing lies about my worth and these pants were tied to my identity in a very wrong way.  Sadly, I had been placing my personal value in these khaki pants instead of the hands of my creator.  It may sound odd, but I believe that these pants had become an idol in my life.  Psalm 115 talks about how men can put their faith in idols that can’t speak, see, hear, smell, or feel, instead of God.  That is precisely what I had done.  There are many things in this world that compete with God for our attention and our allegiance.  The awesome truth is that He has done, and continues to do, infinitely more for us than the things of this world that quietly become our “idols.”  I knew that these pants were doing me no favors.  It was time to put my trust in the One who gives me my true worth, and it was time to start seeing myself as God sees me.  I am:  loved, gifted, forgiven, called, chosen, accepted, secure, significant, created with a purpose, and empowered.  A silly pair of pants can’t promise me any of these things.

So did I get rid of the pants?  You bet I did!  I had to replace this fickle, fragile, and false idol with the stable, strong, and sure promises of God.