Thoughts on body image, exercise and social media

While I don’t have a huge social media presence, (Facebook is about it) I read a lot of blogs and have friends who are very active on social media sites, so I follow them pretty regularly and often find myself creeping around these sites looking at what people post.  Although its nothing new, I am increasingly alarmed by the number of strategically posed photos to make your boobs, butt, legs- insert your desired body part here- look awesome, photos of plates of “huge dinners” consisting of three stalks of celery and a hard boiled egg, and blog write ups of activities or habits that are just plain unhealthy.  I am certainly not alone in my concern about the role of social media in the proliferation of pro-ana information (see: here and here  ) but I think even more dangerous than the outright pro-ana websites are those run by people who are still clearly in the throws of serious eating disorders, exercise addiction (and combination platters) who claim to be “recovered” and “experts” at whatever new fancy thing they are obsessed with this week.  Hashtags on instagram like #eatclean #fitnotskinny and the like bring up a plethora of photos of scantily clad, conventionally beautiful, very thin women posing in front of their mirrors showing off their muscles or posing next to a plate of food they are about to eat.

 

I love fitness, food and eating healthy (or as healthy as I can manage and still stay sane) and I fully admit to lurking on websites like NiaShanks.com, fuckyeaheavylifting.blogspot.com, and GoKaleo.com looking for inspiration in the form of a new recipe or a cool new exercise or sometimes just a cheesy saying; there is something very different about the pictures that show up on these instagram searches that makes me very uncomfortable. The sites I mentioned above are run by women who are very open about their history of disordered eating (Nia Shanks) or obesity (Go Kaleo) and have spent a great deal of time learning to overcome these obstacles, actually recover and obtain extensive training and certification in their areas, so when they tell me they deadlifted 300lbs and ate a dinner of steak, broccoli, and brown rice, I believe them.  When an 18 year old girl on instagram takes pictures of her emaciated body framed in the mirror and captions it with how she just did a “huge weight workout” and can “feel the muscles growing” and then claims she is going to “refuel with a nice protein smoothie” ingredients to include “water, 1/2 a banana, protein powder” I want to scream.  Heavy weight lifting and body building requires not just time, attention and skill to avoid serious injury, but also actual attention to nutrition.  Your body is literally breaking down muscle fibers each time you do a rep- you need to eat more than 1/2 a fucking banana to recover from that.

 

While it may sound like I’m just ranting about attention-seekers, there is more to my point.  Social media is without filter (ha ha puns) and without peer review.  There is no safety net catching the bullshit or the plain fraudulent information being sent out there.  Yes, you can say that it is each person’s responsibility to filter information they see and come to their own conclusions about the veracity of claims, but is this really reasonable to ask of a young woman (or man, or old woman or man, or just plain anyone) who is already struggling with body image?  I know that I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with, serious body image problems, exercise addiction and bulimia.  I am actively addressing these problems and fully recognize symptoms when they pop up now and then, but I still stumble when looking at some of these websites.  I find myself falling down that rabbit hole of thinking if this girl can weigh 108lbs and deadlift 300lbs, then why can’t I do that too?  Why do I need to eat so much to feel satisfied when she just finished a CrossFit workout followed by a run and is going to work fueled by only an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter?

 

We desperately need men and women to stand up and say something when they see this crap.  Don’t let your friends, sisters, brothers, fellow human beings fall victim to false advertising on social media.  As if magazine covers and photoshopping weren’t bad enough, now we have to fight against self-proclaimed experts who serve no purpose but to perpetuate the idea that you can never be good enough, under-eating and over-training are things we should strive for, and attention from people on the internet is a great way to build your self esteem.  I argue against all of these things.  It is never ok to hurt yourself for physical perfection, you should eat food because it tastes good and it gives you energy, you should praise people for their accomplishments, their compassion and love for others, their service to the community, anything but their looks.  Being attractive is not a skill or an accomplishment and social media makes it very easy for us to forget this.

 

In line with my above rant, I’m not going to publish any information about my workout or food from today.  I worked out, I ate food.  End of story.  I don’t need praise or affirmation for that.  Things I am proud of from today that I do feel deserve praise: I finished editing my paper, I ran four reactions in lab, I provided a safe, healthy and loving home for my adorable cat.  These are things I worked at and feel are accomplishments….the food I ate, the calories I burned, these are things which are for me and me alone, not for praise, and judgment of the wider community.  Follow suit.  What did you do today that makes you awesome?

Its my project, and I’ll cry if I want to

Yesterday I got scooped.  If you aren’t a scientist or a journalist, you may not be familiar with that term, but in short it means someone did the same work as you but got there faster.  I was at a conference yesterday afternoon where a grad student from a German group who shall not be named (GGWSNBN) gave a presentation on their current work.  In the last few slides he gave a short prospectus on their future work, which included a soon to be published paper on…drumroll please…..the exact work I’ve been doing for the last year.  

Once I removed my heart from my shoes and kept myself from throwing up, I went into damage control.  My advisor and I have a meeting this morning to see if we can throw something together to publish really quickly or if we just want to wait and see what GGWSNBN ends up publishing.  If they really did scoop us entirely, I’ve just lost a year of work and almost 3 chapters of my thesis.  I may get really lucky and find out they are only publishing a small amount of the work, in which case I scramble together a paper and get it out as soon as they publish to establish myself in the field.  That is the best case scenario.  Like, waking up in the morning to find you’ve suddenly turned into Giselle Bundchen kind of best case scenario.

Until then, I’m tying to go easy on myself.  I was exhausted when I woke up this morning so I moved my off day from tomorrow to today so I could get to work early and get some stuff done.  Sometimes when I’m really stressed, working out helps immensely and other times it just makes my stress higher.  I know my body and this is a situation where exercise wouldn’t energize me; it would deplete any leftover store of energy I have and totally kill me. My goals for today are the following: get as much work done as possible, only drink 1 pot of coffee (this goal may be futile), eat healthy and don’t let stress send me into emotional eating patterns.  So far I’m doing ok on the healthy eating and working; the coffee part may be a pipe dream- I’m 30% caffeine, 70% water as it is.

To keep things healthy, I had savory oats for breakfast this morning. Its a great way to get some veggies into your breakfast and it keeps oatmeal from being boring.  Give it a shot….totally yummy and great on a cold morning.

Savory Oats (for one)

1/2 cup dry rolled oats

1 cup water

1/2 cup sliced zucchini

2 cups raw spinach

1 oz cheddar cheese

salt, pepper, olive oil

Saute zucchini in oil, salt and pepper until tender.  Add oats and mix to coat in remaining oil.  Toast for 1 minute over low heat.  Add water and bring to boil, lower heat and cook until oats are to your liking.  Turn off heat, add spinach and cheese and mix until spinach is wilted and everything is cheesy.  Sprinkle with more black pepper if you like and serve piping hot.

LIft it up, Eat it up

It’s a cold, wintery Thursday here in the Northeast and all I want to do is curl up in bed, snuggle my cat and boy and drink mug after mug of hot coffee.  Unfortunately, that is not in the cards and I am sitting in a cramped lab office trying to write a presentation.

Today was a lifting day and my arms and back are feeling gratifyingly sore.  Here’s my lifts and eats from today

Lift it Up:

Warm Up: 5 min jump rope

Superset 1:

  1. Dumbbell Bench Press (4 x 12, 30 lb dumbbell each arm)
  2. Jump Rope (4 x 1 min, as many continuous reps as possible)

Superset 2:

  1. Incline benchpress with bar (2 x 8, 70lbs; 2x 10, 65 lbs)
  2. Box Jumps (4 x 10)

Superset 3:

  1. Bicep Dumbbell Curls (3 x 12, 15 lbs each arm))
  2. Burpees (3 x 5)  <—–Those are so hard, I’m working up to 3 sets of 10

Superset 4

  1. Tricep Rope Pulldowns (3 x 15, 35 lbs)
  2. Lat Pulldown (3 x 10, 50lb)

Abs: Crunches on ball (3 x 15), Pike rollouts on ball (3 x 10), Bicycle crunches (2 x 15)

Eat it Up

Preworkout: 1/2 banana and a graham cracker (gross overly ripe banana)

Breakfast: 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt, 1 scoop Raw Meal Protein powder all mixed up into overnight oats

Lunch: Spinach salad with 1/2 roasted acorn squash, tomato, broccoli, 1 oz. cheddar cheese, 1 slab (huge and delicious) Lentil Loaf crumbled ontop

Snacks: Apple, string cheese, sunflower seeds, lots of coffee at an afternoon conference

Dinner: Spinach salad with tomato, broccoli, Turkey burger with lots of mustard and fresh tomato slices

Dessert: Greek yogurt with maple syrup

Breaking the Camel’s Back

I’ve been training very hard the last week (I’m following the Muscle Sculpting Program from Nia Shanks) and I’m loving it.  I already feel stronger and I’m slowly becoming comfortable with Nia’s requirement that I not count calories while training.  

I’ve been an obsessive calorie counter for as long as I can remember and it is very difficult, triggering, anxiety-producing, etc to suddenly stop this process and follow this concept of “intuitive eating”.  The basic principles are that you eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.  This sounds so simple.  So simple, in fact, that it is nearly impossible for something with a history of disordered eating to effortlessly pick up.  Years of destroying my hunger signals through binge-purge cycles and starving myself means that I have a hard time telling when I’m hungry, full or just bored.  Food has been my enemy for so long; it should be fuel and occasionally a thing of pleasure.

For the first few days I felt very strong, eating when I was hungry and stopping when I felt full.  Then I started to get stressed (work doesn’t cooperate for that long) and I saw myself slipping into old patterns.  I grabbed a cookie from the break room because I was stressed, ate it, felt guilty, and punished myself by skipping dinner.  Or, my lunch would be larger than I was used to (because I was hungry) and suddenly my dinner portion would shrink drastically to compensate for the extra calories.  I did two doubles at the gym (lifting in the morning, swimming in the afternoon) and soon I was burned out.  

I spent Friday afternoon and then again Sunday morning battling sudden and severe blood sugar drops and extreme dizziness and fatigue.  I should know better.  I do know better.  I have the tools to stop this type of behavior, I just haven’t mastered the skills yet.

This morning I woke up after a bad night of sleep (hello signs of overtraining, I chose to ignore you) and pushed on to the gym despite M’s protests that I should sleep.  Taking a day off when its not my designated day off makes me very antsy.  Anyway, I went to the gym and jumped on the treadmill hoping to run about 5 miles.  After 2 miles I was exhausted, feeling dizzy and light-headed and frustrated with my body’s failure to respond the way I wanted.  I gave up.  No, I made a smart decision to stop.  I got off the treadmill, stretched and showered, got a yogurt from the snack bar and waited for M to finish his workout.

Then the straw came.  As I was standing at the snack bar paying for my yogurt, an older man who works out in the morning came up to me.  He has a tendency to make “jokes” that are neither funny nor welcome, but generally not offensive.  This morning, he turned to the woman behind the counter and said to her “Did you tell this young lady about the differences between the two sizes of towels you give out?  The small ones are for tiny, petite women. The large ones are for the big girls, like her.”  

My mouth dropped, along with my heart, right into my stomach.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt like something had punched me in the gut and then stood on my windpipe.  He smiled, laughed and walked off.  I caught my breath just in time to say “I just love being called a “big girl.  Thanks so much.”  Both my retort and its accompanying sarcasm were lost on him, as he is a bit hard of hearing.  I sat down and ate my yogurt, trying not to burst into tears in public.

M finished his workout and in the car I told him what happened and promptly broke down.  It took me back to those days in middle school and high school when I would compare myself to the little skinny girls and wish and wish that I could look like them.  These feelings were where my disordered eating came from in the first place.  I am not an overweight girl.  I am strong.  I am in shape.  I can run 7 miles, I can lift weights and bench-press and squat with the best of the them, but one stupid remark about my size and I break down.  

M reminded me that this man was most likely not even referring to weight, but height (I’m 5’11″).  He is likely correct.  It doesn’t absolve this man from the responsibility of the effect his statement had, but it did help me calm down and bit and put the statement in perspective.  After a few hugs and wiping away my tears, M headed off to work and I stayed home.  I took a personal day to recover from my physical and emotional exhaustion and try to get myself back in order before I go back to work.  

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will get up, assess my body and see how it feels.  If I’m tired, I’m taking the day off.  If I feel ok, I will go to the gym and do my best.  I will not beat myself up if I need to take a break.  My body needs rest, it needs to recover, and my mind needs this as well. This is my simple goal for tomorrow: listen to my body and to what it asks.  One step at a time.

New Beginnings

I’m back.  Its been a year, but I’m back.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for weeks now, but it has taken me a long time to gather the courage to do so.  I’m not a fan of big, overly emotional confessions, but I do have to admit that I have not been entirely honest with myself on this blog.

I presented myself as a far healthier and more put together than I actually am.  Not to say that I didn’t allude to my past problems with exercise addition and disordered eating, but I certainly didn’t admit my current struggles.  The honest truth is, I am in no way recovered.  In fact, I may be worse than ever.  This is what brings me back.  

My life has changed significantly in the last 18 months.  I left a dangerous and abusive relationship, spent about 6 months dating around and being a bit “crazy” and eventually settled down into a healthy, supportive and amazing relationship with M.  We adopted our crazy cat Ellie and moved in together.  M and I share a love of exercise, specifically weight lifting, and both work in the same industry.  

All this sounds great, and it is, but underneath the surface I’ve been storming.  The same old demons of disordered eating, binge-purge cycles, and excessive exercise are desperately trying to poke through the surface and I work each and every day to fight back.  Some days are better than others, and some days I fail, but I have a plan and I’m working towards a goal.

I hope that by re-opening this blog, I can express my fear, anxiety, failures and hopefully successes as I try to recover and become the healthiest, happiest person I can be. I hope that anyone reading this will remember a few things: First, I am imperfect.  I make mistakes, I fall off the wagon and back into dangerous cycles, but I always try my best to get back up.  Second, I am not advocating my lifestyle, my recovery or my training.  This is what is working (currently) for me and if it fails to remain a successful plan, I will change it.  Finally, I’m not going to censure myself.  I’m fully aware that many things I say may be triggering, and I apologize in advance, but I need to be honest about my feelings.  Its the only way this blogging will be beneficial to me.  

Here it goes….I’m back and I’m starting over.  Day 1.

Weekend in Review: Kicking my butt

Back to work today :(  It is lovely outside and all I want to do is sit outside on the lawn and lay in the sun.  Alas, grad school has be stuck inside watching the beauty through the windows.

I had a rocking weekend, workout wise.  After my strange dizzy spell on Thursday, things have been looking up and I’m feeling great!

Friday I hopped in the pool with my tri-buddy and after giving her some tips, headed out for my favorite kick-your-ass workout.

500 free

500 pull

500 kick

3 x 300 pull/swim/pull

2x 200 IM

200 cool down

3000m/50 minutes

 

Saturday I did a full body lift and followed it up with 30 min/7 miles on the bike.

Sunday was a 30 min step machine/ 5k run combo

Monday (today) : 5.75miles/1 hour on the treadmill

 

I’m feeling great, very little hip pain, and I can’t wait for my triathlon! Its only a month away, but I think I’m going to be fine.  My goal is to attempt the brick workout again on Wednesday, but I’ll start out the run slower and hopefully avoid any side cramps this time.  I think in addition to hunger, last time I started out too fast and lost it early.  I should know better than this!

The first official day of spring is tomorrow and I can’t wait until I get back outside!  No more treadmill running for me.

Triathlon Training Part 2: Knowing when to stop

Happy Thursday!

So today is the ides of March and yesterday was pi (not pie) day.  I love pointless holidays, especially when they are back to back. Anywho….  today is part 2 of my ever-interesting triathlon training adventure!  This morning I set out to recreate my brick workout from last week by biking 10 miles and running a 5k.  

Workout started great with a hard, hilly 10 mile bike.  I finished in about 40 minutes, which means I was moving about 15mph.  Not fast, by any means, but it’s a good solid pace to shoot for considering this is my first attempt at all this.  I felt great off the bike and hopped right on the treadmill.  I started out at a 10 min pace and maintained this the first mile.  The second mile I upped the pace to 9:40.  At about 1.75 the wheels fell off.  I had been having a stubborn side stitch since early in the first mile, but I was convinced I could run through it.  I tried all the tricks in the book: sipping water, breathing out while pressing on my side, massaging my side, etc etc and nothing worked.  It just kept getting worse until it reached the point where it hurt to breathe.  Thats when I realized I was in trouble.  I started feeling dizzy (hell, I couldn’t breathe!) and decided it was time to stop.  I slowed to a walk, my cramp subsided, I stopped feeling dizzy and I finished out the workout by walking at an incline to about 2.75 miles.

I feel like I need to give this statement its own paragraph:  There is no workout/race/training run/whatever worth hurting yourself over. 

If I could reach through the computer and shake you as I say that, I would.  Did I leave the gym disappointed?  You’re damn right I did! My body was really good, my pace was right where I wanted it and I really wanted that workout.  But, there is no workout worth passing out on a treadmill for.  Nothing is more important that my health.  After all, isn’t that why I’m doing this triathlon in the first place?  Yes, its about a challenge and it sounds like fun, but overall I’m doing it to stay in shape.  If I push myself to the point of injury or sickness, I’m doing myself a huge disservice.  Will I give this workout another try next week?  Hell ya!

Total workout for the day: 10mile bike/2.75 walk/run.  Booyah!

Tomorrow its into the pool for me and my triathlon buddy.  I’m hoping to bang out about 3500m and my buddy is going to come with me for a quick lesson on flip turns.  Going to be fun!

Too Much?

Welcome to day 2 of thesis writing.  It has been boring, to say the least.  I’m very proud of myself for banging out nearly 7 pages of well written content today, but I’m not sure how many more days like today I can handle.  I’m a very energetic person, and sitting at a desk all day long staring a computer screen makes me want to rip my hair out.  I got to work at my usual 8 this morning, and by 10:30 I had already taken two “coffee” breaks (I don’t drink coffee, so really I just walked to the kitchen and back) and walked around the department twice.  My legs were getting stiff, my back hurts from my horribly uncomfortable chair, and I swear my shoulders are uneven from leaning on my desk to read papers.

I started out this morning with a speed workout on the treadmill.  I did 4 miles in about 45 minutes.  It consisted of a slow 1 mile warmup followed by 4 X 800 @ 6.1 with sloooow 400 jogs between.  After that I hopped on the bike and road for 20 minutes to total another 5 miles.  So, just a quick addition lesson: before 8 am I had run/biked 9 miles.  Doesn’t seem outrageous until I tell you that at 3pm I went back to the gym and biked another 9 miles/40 minutes.  I simply couldn’t sit at my desk anymore and I really think I started to feel my legs fuse with the chair.  I took my papers and read while on the bike, so it wasn’t a particularly difficult bike, but at least I got myself moving again.  That brings me to a total of 18 miles for the day.  Yikes.

At the moment I’m not feeling sore or overly tired which I think its just a consequence of having sat for 9 hours today.  I don’t think twice a day workouts are something I can sustain for very long both for purposes of the time it requires and the recovery time my body likes to have.  Either way, it was a nice way to break up a very very boring day.

Ego Killer

Let’s start out with this morning’s workout: 5.75 miles/1 hr on the treadmill.  I started with a very slow warmup mile and then did 3 tempo miles (10min/mile, 9:50 min/mile, 9:35min/mile) and then a mile and half of 400 meter sprints with 400 meter jogs.  Super sweaty and I felt awesome.  It was also my first run in several weeks with NO HIP PAIN!  YAY!!!!

After my awesome workout, I was feeling pretty hot and definitely needed someone to bring my ego down. Nothing like chemistry to give you a major reality check.  Yes, I can run for an hour, but damn it, that doesn’t mean work is going to bow down to me.  In fact, work spat in my face this morning.  I’m on the verge of writing my master’s thesis and getting my presentations ready for qualifying exams (one month away, holy crap) and things have not exactly been working.  My project has been stalled for a few months now and neither I nor my boss can seem to figure out why its not working.  The theory is there- the chemistry just isn’t cooperating.  Well, this morning I was reading the literature (something I need to do more of, clearly) and came across a paper from 1990 in some tiny little obscure journal.  Anyway, the group had synthesized the same compounds that I’m working with and managed to shed a lot of light on why I can’t get them to do anything worth a damn.  Basically, had I found this paper 2 months ago I could have saved myself a lot of time and frustration.  I guess that is the world of science, though.  There are so many publications out there, of varying caliber and prominence, that it is nearly impossible to know what is written in all of them.  I’m glad this happened to me at the beginning of my science career and not say, three years down the road when I need to write a PhD dissertation, but its still frustrating.

Thank god for Fridays and my awesome friends who are meeting me for drinks after work.  On days like this, I’m not sure what I would do without them :)

Triathlon Training 1

Today is the first official day of triathlon training!  I’m not following an official training plan, but I’m kicking my workouts up a gear to make sure I’m ready by April.  The triathlon is only a month and some change away and I don’t want to be a big ball of mushy, out of shape Liz when I show up.  This morning I tackled a brick workout and discovered they don’t call them bricks for no reason!  I biked 10 miles on a decently hilly course and then ran a 5k on the treadmill.  It was the fastest 5k I’ve ever run, and actually felt the easiest!  I started off nice and slow around 5.8mph thinking that I could just hold that pace and finish in a solid 32 minutes.  After the first mile my legs felt great and I decided to push the pace.  I ran the second mile at 6.1mph and the third alternating between 6.2 and 6.6! I have NEVER seen that number appear on the treadmill for more than 30 second sprints and this morning I held that pace for 8 minutes!  Holy cow.  My legs are aching right now, but luckily today is the start of my desk work.  Qualifying exams are looming and I’m no longer doing active lab work.  Instead I get (read: have to) sit around and write my thesis, make 2 1-hour long powerpoint presentations and pretty much get my life in order.  I guess its a good time to start serious training.  I have a feeling ice packs will be making an appearance in my near future.