Monday, January 2, 2017

Working On Me Again

Pretty light for a deadlift, but you have to start somewhere

Fitness and nutrition have played a significant role in my life since my days in Arizona as an undergraduate, a skinnyfat 19 year old who had only ever played music (not sports) as a kid, trying to impress a very tall athletic ex-volleyball player. (I'm now married to that guy!) In over 20 years, I've been a climber (still am!), a step aerobics queen, a runner, a triathlete, a yogi, a snowboarder, a P90X-er, a lifter... done vegetarianism, veganism, eaten paleo and IIFYM bodybuilding style. I didn't do these as fads to lose weight; they mark specific times in my life that involved a certain way of eating and/or a style of movement. To say that thinking about these things is a big part of my life would be an understatement.

But something was different right after I gave birth. Thoughts of self-improvement were pushed out by infant caring and feeding. Also, pregnancy and childbirth and a good couple years of IVF limbo really took a toll on my motivation to try hard, to project, to work on my own physical goals. It took a while to resurface, but the part of me that wanted to try hard showed up again in Greece, when we were taking turns watching baby and climbing. I had some great sends out on the rock, and I also got shut down on some difficult routes that made me want to get stronger. I'm finally feeling ready to work on myself again in this realm - to experiment on my body with fitness and nutrition.

As much as some researchers have tried to construct them, good clinical trials for fitness and nutrition regimens don't really exist. There's only so far a rat study can be extrapolated to humans, and it's difficult to design control arms of research for diet and exercise interventions. But we are all our own N=1 experiment. If you have the curiosity and motivation to try new things, and the patience to stick with them for at least a little while (I'd say at least 3-4 weeks), you can perform your own health studies on yourself. How something works for you is the only thing that matters anyway.

So here's what I'm currently trying:

Eating low carb every day except for one. I'm loosely following a diet protocol referred to as CarbNite or Carb Backloading. It might have a gimmick-y ring to it, but the idea is to eat carbohydrates in a reverse diurnal rhythm to daily cortisol pulsations. In general, it is low-carb eating with punctuated periods of higher carbs (for me, about one evening a week). My husband has been eating this way for years, having higher carb dinners following any workout day. I've been wanting to try it with the once/week carb night, and so far I am seeing good results. Since the end of October, I haven't seen the scale move (which is fine with me), but my clothes have gotten looser and measurements have slightly changed. I have good energy for workouts, I don't feel the faintiness I often get of from blood sugar fluctuations, and my cravings for sugar have definitely decreased.

Weight lifting 2-3 days per week. Especially now with the mix of motherhood and work, I try to follow this exercise triage:
Remember my self-care triage
Well, I made one for exercise types as well but never really expounded on it for the blog.

Weight training is empowering, effective, not generally as burnout-inducing as chronic cardio or tons of high-volume metabolic work (a la Crossfit), and I have come to love it over the years. It's so good to be doing it again! I'm following a whole body push/pull split, which means that one day I dedicate my workout to pushing exercises such as pushups, squats, hip thrusts, and presses. For the pulling day, I'm falling in love with the deadlift again, and I also do assisted pullups (Nope, still can't do one!), pullovers, and kettlebell swings.

There are SO MANY weight lifting programs out there to follow - from Wendler 5-3-1 to Westside Barbell to Stronglifts 5x5 to supersets and other bodybuilding-style rep schemes. Trying to choose one can lead to analysis paralysis, so at some point you just have to just go with something and see what happens. For the past couple of months, I've been doing own hybrid program for the push/pull schedule. I first work on a compound strength movement in a 5x5 style set and rep scheme. Then I do supersets of upper and lower body exercises for the rest of the time, at a weight where I can complete 8-10 reps usually. I finish off with a couple of core exercises and some mobility work.

If you're just starting out with weight training, I highly recommend either working with someone or closely following a book format like this with good photos for demonstration. Even if you have some experience making the movements, it can be helpful to hire a trainer. I am planning to do once a week personal training sessions in this new year to help further inspire me to get stronger. Results of that to come...

Still walking as much as possible. While I haven't been quantifying my steps, I am still trying to take walks as often as I can. My long walks usually correspond to days off, but with our recent move they sometimes got thrown by the wayside. Now that I've established the twice weekly weight training habit, I'll gradually try increasing my walks and yoga/massage/mobility work.

I have some other New Year's resolutions, but these things are a major focus for me in the new year. How about you? What are you working on in 2017? Share it here!

Monday, December 26, 2016

PB Top Posts of 2016

Our Christmas postcard this year

After the major events of 2015, this year has been about adjusting to the addition of another whole person to our family. I'm not going to lie, it has been challenging to morph the activities of our daily lives as she grows up, from 24/7 needs to crawling to walking and getting into everything. It's been a beautiful progression to witness, but just when you think you've figured something out, she changes again!

With all the child rearing activities, I didn't post as many times as I would have liked to this year, something I will definitely be working on for next year! This list provides a short trip down the 2016 memory lane with the most popular (by pageview) posts of the year:

5) It's a virtual tie between two Lessons From My Daughter posts: one about body love and the other about looking beyond material things

4) A post about long walks and how good they are for relaxation and productivity

3) Results of my sugar detox experiment last summer

2) My experience returning to work after maternity leave and mini rant about the virtues of taking extended periods of time off

1) My first post of the year expressing my initial frustration and need to change my ways when taking care of a newborn baby.

Thanks for reading my ramblings for the last five years. I wish you love and happiness in 2017!





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Is Upgrading Always Worth It?

Moving is fun... or is it?

Upward mobility. We're geared to seek it as goal-driven professionals, as Americans, as humans. Our innate sense is to improve our circumstances, otherwise we run the risk of becoming weak and irrelevant. In modern circles, though, this evolutionary holdover has morphed into a ridiculous constant upgrading of our stuff.

There's a misconception that upgrading will make us happier. In fact, there was a 2010 Princeton study with a large polling group that found people's happiness did not increase further as they advanced to incomes beyond $75,000 per year. This has been re-analyzed multiple times and put through different cost-of-living lenses, but the general result is the same: more is not better. The book Happy Money also points out that after the initial excitement of a new car/bigger house/shiny material purchase, people's happiness level when encountered with that thing tends to fade over time. The original situation prior to the upgrade provided just as much happiness.

We just recently moved, to a different house in the same neighborhood where we already live. We have owned this house for over 10 years, but we had been renting it. People often ask, "Why are you moving? Oh, is it to get a bigger house?" Quite the opposite; we're actually downsizing our home and simplifying our assets. So far it has been a fairly extreme exercise in decluttering. We gave away and sold lots of things, and when we actually moved we identified even more extra stuff that we couldn't find a place for in the new house. Not once have I felt sad when parting with the superfluous items; in fact, I would definitely say the happiness brought by decluttering has offset the stress of the move.

Baby's getting older, sleeping better, on the verge of walking and becoming a little more independent every day. But I'm not increasing my hours in the OR as a response. Instead, my group at work has finally become flush enough with staff for me to slightly downgrade my clinical commitment. Not enough to feel like I'll end up rusty, but enough to have a little more "me" time in my weeks. I've finally felt excited to push myself athletically again (more on that later), so this extra time has helped facilitate opportunities for that. And after our big international vacation, I can still afford some short time periods off this winter to get out of the cold weather, another time-tested happiness booster for me and my family.

What about you? Can you think of a time you've downsized or downgraded and it brought you more happiness? As always, share your experience here!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Lessons From My Daughter: One Year Old

Lots of growth for both of us this year

Unbelievably, one year has passed since our daughter joined our little family. When thinking about what to say on this milestone day, I feel the way I feel when I unexpectedly win an award or recognition: speechless. I've read some beautiful pieces dedicated to writers' children on their birthdays, stuff worthy of literature... Well, I've got none of that today. Obviously I love to write, and although I'm an introvert at heart, I normally don't have trouble expressing myself when I need to. But I write today simply to say that having and raising this girl has changed me in more ways than I can describe.

She makes me want to be a better person, and yet every day I'm still failing in some way. I need to be more positive, more mindful of what I do and say and of the expressions I let cross my face. She seems to know if I'm upset because she'll correspondingly cry. The other day she crawled into our fireplace (which is not connected to a fire source but is dirty and elevated a foot or so off the ground)... I think the shocked look on my face as I ran over to swoop her out of there whipped her into a frenzy. I want to do the right things in my life - take care of myself, eat to nourish my body, constantly strive for balance - so as to set a good example for her. It all has to be OK though, because I'm her only mother and I'm doing the best I can in any given moment.

Whoops, maybe I shouldn't have done that

One year is such a short time in the grand scheme of things, and yet it seems as if she's been here all along. I have memories of my life before her, but it's hard to remember myself without her. Happy birthday baby, on this day after Thanksgiving! I give quiet thanks for you every day.