Late Stage Adulting: Exercise, Nutrition, and Health

I have a number of health issues–ribs and back problems, a MULTITUDE of problems with my lady parts that range from “irritating” to “so painful I’d rather be unconscious.” I have been battling various degrees of anxiety and panic attacks following a brain injury a few years ago which, finally, seem to be mostly under control (thanks, Science). I have had cancer chopped out of my skin and will undoubtedly have to deal with that again. Up until a few months ago I adhered to mostly healthy eating habits (but, you know, with cheese and brownies on the regular) but was still 45 pounds overweight. However, for the most part, I consider myself quite healthy. I don’t know if that’s wishful thinking or denial, but it’s the truth.

Now, with the exception of my weight, an annual physical would confirm that my blood pressure is good, my cholesterol lower than average, and my heart and lungs are clear and doing just fine. Hey, I even grew an inch this year!

However. As my weight continued to creep higher and higher, as my life became more and more sedentary, and my psyche more stressed…I knew I was deliberately ignoring my health. In a larger sense of health I was doing fine–no smoking or drugs, diligent sunscreen application, regular dental check-ups, and take care of my mental health, as well as working with my doctor for years to try and figure out and treat my lady-part issues. But in my day-to-day activities, I was not a recognizable “healthy” person. A few months ago I stepped on the scale and audibly gasped. 198 pounds! On my 5’7″ 5’8″ frame that puts me in a size 14. I’d been buying 12-14 pants/leggings and XL skirts for months, but seeing that 198 pounds on the scale, that was the catalyst. I finally decided to make a permanent change, and promised myself I’d stick with it.

I started going to the gym several times a week. I hated it.

I started buying and then eating more vegetables than any other food, and I stopped buying or baking sweets. I sometimes still devoured just-purchased pastries in my car, in secret, feeling guilty and sick to my stomach.

I made a goal to drink more water and less Diet Dr. Pepper (this is my most difficult health goal, to date).

I kept going to the gym, running a little faster, moving a little bit longer.

I kept buying vegetables, I planned entire meals around zucchini or cauliflower. I instigated scheduled treats, for legit celebrations. I stopped feeling guilty or ashamed about a slice of cake for a birthday.

I added speed intervals to my time on the treadmill, running a little faster and a little longer every week. I figured out it takes 75 minutes of an elevated heart rate for my “runner’s high” to kick in.

I started tracking calories and made sure to burn several hundred more a day than I consumed. I loved knowing the numbers for my inputs and outputs, it turned into a little game.

Slowly, my fluffy parts got a little less fluffy. I stopped craving chocolate and Kraft mac and cheese.

In the last couple of months I have lost 25 pounds, and kept it off. I can run a 5k in less than 35 minutes without wanting to die. I can do this by running a consistent 11-minute mile, and I can ALSO do it by running speed intervals as well. I eat veggies and lean protein almost every meal, limit fruit to a few times a week, and for the most part skip bread and sugar completely.

I am 33 years old and working towards a regular day-to-day health that I have never once possessed. And most surprising to me? I actually like it. I am stubborn bossy particular about how I frame this new version of my health.

I refuse to give up cheese or dairy.

I don’t like dancing in front of anyone, so Zumba is out-out-out and nothing you can say will change that.

I don’t eat chia seeds, or oatmeal, or green smoothies because I cannot stand the taste or texture and would rather just eat a salad instead of ruining pineapple or a banana with liquid spinach juice.

Without 90 minutes at the gym, my work-from-home routine will net me about 700 steps throughout the day. So, I go to the gym for 90 minutes to hit my 10,000 steps (thanks, Fitbit, you creeper). It is sometimes inconvenient and makes me disgustingly sweaty, but I do it anyway.

And here is the continuously most surprising thing: I have started to like this new routine. I like the veggie-heavy menu; I like spending 90 minutes at the gym (with an audiobook, I am not a robot). I do not miss cupcakes or sandwiches or nightly Netflix marathons. In fact, if I skip the treadmill for a few days I get antsy and irritable. Who am I?

I’m just me, but….healthier?

I am not sleeping better. My skin is not clearer or my hair shinier. To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure that I feel better on a daily basis. But, I know that my  heart and lungs are healthier, my brain hamsters are running themselves to exhaustion on a treadmill instead of round and around my head. And my guts certainly appreciate my mostly-whole foods menu.

I still have 20 pounds to go, and I imagine they will be harder to lose than this first 25, but I am hoping to be back to my “fighting weight” sometime this fall. What will I do at that point? Honestly, I don’t really know. I’ve thought of running a half marathon as a way to help me stay focused those last few pounds. But even if I don’t do that, I want to maintain this input (food) and output (burning calories) routine. And not because of my new pants size, and the section of “once upon a time” clothes in my closet I will be able to wear again. But mostly, because this daily change has brought about some more recognizable long-term health benefits that I have started to actually value.

I’ve been adulting for YEARS and am finally figuring out how to take care of myself. Hey, who knows what I’ll do next!

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Blank Slate

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to wipe everything clean; to toss out the (proverbial!) baby with the bath water. Sometimes I purge my closet. Other times I viciously thin my shelf, or the condiments in the fridge. Sometimes I skip through my social media and block/unfollow/hide anyone who routinely makes me eye twitch. Sometimes I tear apart my calendar and only add back the components that are necessary and/or bring me happiness.

I think we all have these feelings at some point, right? Something gets too sticky, too tangled, or too murky and in a fit of rage, or clarity, or exasperation we take ourselves to task until it is sorted, smoothed, tidied, and put into order.

I don’t know if it’s the cabin fever brought on by Arizona summers, or if it’s some mounting dissatisfaction with [redact redact redact], or even lingering loose ends on my move from Salt Lake last December. I feel trapped and stuck and like so many things are tangled and murky.

And, after weeks or months of this back-burner murk continuing to grow and tangle my front-burner life…I want to burn everything to the ground and start from scratch.

Ok, that is super dramatic.

But I do have a SERIOUS hankering to tear everything apart and just start over. I want a blank slate. Of course, not everything is in need of purging. In fact, most components of my life are on the up and up, most things are better than they have been in years, or ever. Most of the biggest, most important pieces are messy around the edges, but with a solid and carefully balanced core.

Here’s the problem with throwing everything out and starting over: it is not very economical. Throwing away the good and the great with the needs-a-lot-of-improvement is to dismiss weeks or years of work in a fit of less than responsible behavior. It’s harder to pick apart the seams and start over, but it certainly is the more responsible option. I’m not only talking about money, I’m talking about time, effort, energy, and emotions that are already invested in a person, project, or dream.

Setting everything on fire will not conjure a beautiful, perfectly formed and mature Phoenix to rise from the ashes. It just leaves you with a pile of smoldering ashes. You still have to shovel them up, sweep them away, and then start building again.

And so, maintaining some annoying-but-essential-for-now Interweb vaguery, it is time for me to dismantle some pieces of my life, cut away the excess and the rotten, and then retrench in a cleaner, simpler, more sustainable plan. I need a clean slate.*

*For the record, it’s a lot easier to do this on your own, proactive terms, instead of trying to respond to outside influences. Mr. Blue Eyes and I have run all the options, made the spreadsheets, weighed pros and cons, and are ready to embark on Harriet 2.0 7.0 together. I’m so glad to have him on my team.

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Sequoia National Park, California

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I grew up at the base of enormous mountains, but my mountains make up the most western outcrop of the Rockies, and the eastern wall of the Great Basin Desert that stretches across Utah and Nevada to the Sierra’s in California. My mountains get a lot of snow, but not a lot of rain. We don’t have lush forests, we have plenty of pine trees, and groves of aspen trees, and a few stands of cedars, and a lot of scrub oak (which has zero resemblance to an actual oak tree). But thickets of giant trees and miles of lush greenery? Not so much. My mountains still constitute the high desert which is not known for it’s lushness.

Visiting Sequoia National Park in eastern California was almost overwhelming in how much Tree-ness was surrounding me. Not just little saplings, either, but the soaring monoliths as impressive in their height as their girth. Yes, I most definitely am in-love with the sequoia trees. In. Love.

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This was not the biggest tree in the park, but look at those tiny people at the left of the trunk! (Also, this pic not-at-all-professionally-stitched together because my camera lens is not wide enough to actually capture the enormity of these trees!) I just…even looking at these pics again, I can hardly fathom how gigantic these living, growing organisms are. They are the blue whale or brontosaurus of the forest: giant and overpowering and awesome in every way. Not inherently dangerous, but you know, would smash you to pieces without even noticing your existence under the right (wrong?) circumstances.

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That pine tree at the bottom? A good sized Christmas tree.

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I wandered through the only-sort-of-marked trails in the park for hours, wishing my camera lens could somehow capture what my eyes could see, and also glad that part of the majesty and awe would only leave traces in my memory.

 

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General Sherman, largest living organism in the world. Calling it an “organism” somehow makes me think it’s more like algae or plankton instead of this towering giant. Sherman is the largest by volume (52,000 cubic feet), while it is no longer growing taller, maxing out at 275 feet tall, it does continue to gain girth. At the moment it’s already 100 feet around at the base, and still growing.

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Arizona Summer vs My First Vegetable Garden

This is my first experience with an Arizona summer, and while I am halfway though it, I am sooo over the heat. I have managed to make a solid dent on my Summer Bucket List, which has been good. I could complain about the heat forever, but I am trying really hard to complain about focus on other things.

So far my biggest complaint obstacle thru the insufferable Arizona summer is the cabin fever. My long history of skin issues (cancer, cancer, cancer) means I can’t just slap on the sunscreen and hop in the pool all afternoon to beat the heat. I do go to the gym several times a week just to get my body moving a little without having ankle-to-wrist-plus-hat coverage, and that has helped quite a bit to combat the feeling of being trapped in an (air conditioned! yay!) cage.

Mr. Blue Eyes built me some fantastic garden boxes in our backyard revamp, and I filled them up with seeds and tiny vegetable plants and hoped they’d make it. It’s been a bit of a learning curve: my yellow squash and zucchini have died; a crazy-even-for-here heat wave withered my peppers and herbs (123* F?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!); the birds have had a heyday with the tomatoes, pecking them to pieces. BUT! we rigged up some shade to protect most of our little plants and I found some bird-repellant holographic tape to scare the birds away.

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In the last few weeks the butternut squash and watermelon bed has gone crazy with trailing vines all over the place and about a dozen squash and four watermelons all growing nicely under those broad leaves. In the last two days I’ve picked FIVE tomatoes and the one remaining bell pepper, and there are some darling baby eggplants that will probably be ready to pick next week.

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I am ridiculously happy about my little plants, it’s been fun to watch them grow (and frustrating to watch them wither and die) and has given me something to look forward to, as stupid or silly as that sounds. I have been doing some research, and apparently you can replant several different things in mid-August and get a second harvest in October or November, and lettuce and spinach and peas do really well over the “winter” months, so I’ll be trying that, for sure. We always had a very big vegetable garden while I was growing up, and I know how to keep veggies alive…but the climate here is VERY different from my Rocky Mountain hometown. Hopefully I’ll have a little more success moving forward!

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Confessions of a Bookaholic: Feminism, volume 1

The more I read and hear about the war on women, the more I actively seek out additional information. The more I seek, the more I find, and the more I realize that once seen I cannot unsee the vast tentacles of patriarchy that are underlying so much of the society in which we live.

Now, there are a LOT of things I could talk about when I talk about feminism, but I want to specifically discuss the idea that “boys will be boys” and “men can’t help themselves”…particularly when it comes to degrading, assaulting, harassing, or otherwise abusing women. Men can help it. Their “animal” nature can be “trained” and curbed. You can train a dog to drop a juicy steak and leave it, untouched. You can train a dog to sit still and stay put while an in-heat dog is nearby. The dog may not like that command or that training, but they will do it. AND, if those dogs do not response properly to that training, they are castrated and kept in a cage, away from other dogs. So, don’t tell me that men cannot keep their thoughts and hands to themselves. Don’t tell me that it’s impossible for them to overcome their base instincts. Don’t tell me that they “can’t help it.” If a German Shepherd can “leave it alone”, any dude can. And frankly, men who are unable to keep their ego and penis in check should be castrated and kept far from society, to reduce their opportunities for harm. Oh, that doesn’t seem fair? THEN STOP COMPARING YOURSELVES TO ANIMALS! I know, I am preaching to a mostly female choir of fellow feminists here, the two or three men who read my blog are–from what I can tell–already feminists in their own right. Or at least they are well on their way.

I think there is a lot of fear and misinformation about what it means to be a feminist. I do not hate men. I do not think women are better than men. I do not think one must put men down in order to champion women. If you think feminism means any of those things, you don’t understand the point of feminism. Feminism as a social movement benefits women as much as it benefits men. The super-macho manliness that is advocated for across the media, advertising, and throughout society would be eliminated if feminism was more prominent. That “macho-man” bullshit is actually misogyny, relabeled, most of the time, and it is dangerous for men and women.

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie (4 stars). “Gender matters everywhere in the world…we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how we start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.” This is a very quick read, or you can listen to the Ted Talk, and I think every American should hear what Adichie has to say.

The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir (4 stars). This book took me forever to read, it is super dense and the sentences and paragraphs are all packed with information and psychology and history and science. I’d read a little, think a lot, read some more, think some more. I kept a pen and highlighter with me and will probably go back and review some of my notes on the regular. de Beauvoir has so much insight and history and thought on key issues to being human, man or woman, and to being a feminist, fighting for equal rights for all humans.

My Life On The Road, by Gloria Steinem (3 stars). More than a feminist treatise, this book reads as an autobiographical travelogue. Granted, Steinem’s travels were mostly centered around politics and rallies for equality for women and equal rights, so it does have a lot of typical Steinem in it, but I didn’t really feel hit over the head with her particular brand of feminism. I do appreciate that she covered feminist issues for more than a middle-class or upper-middle-class white American woman; she focuses a lot of women of color, tribal women, poor women, lesbian and transgender women and the particular issues they face are all covered. Steinem highlights other groups with little vignettes and chapters that almost read like independent essays or short stories. You can read the New York Times review here.

Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay (3 stars). An essay collection, a few of these absolutely hit home for me, and a large chunk (mostly in the first half) were a lot harder for me to get in to. When Gay is writing what feels like a blog-post response to a piece of media she read or watched I lost interest pretty quickly, I want to read the original thing she read first, I felt like she didn’t explain enough about it for her critique or review of it to be successful for me as a reader. When she writes as a response to a major event covered by the news it was a lot easier for me to get through the piece because I had enough background to understand her jumps and lines of thought. The last half of this book is FAR better than the first (for me, except for the introduction, the first half was maybe 2.5 stars, the second half was easily 4, hence a 3-star rating).

Other feminist titles I would recommend, in no particular order:

A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn

This year I decided to write my book reviews a little differently instead of focusing on what I read chronologically, I want to group similar books together by topic and write about them that way. I have a hefty shelf on Goodreads devoted to feminist writings, you should check it out.

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