Lies The Fitness Industry Tells Us

Cedar Park, TX Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Cedar Park, TX
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Now, I’m not a nutritionist or an exercise-ologist.  I’m not thin, and I have high cholesterol.  (My doctor tested me; apparently I will always have high cholesterol, unless I eat carrot sticks and celery only for the rest of my days- true story.)  So you can take or leave what I have to say.  But several things occurred to me the other day, and I thought I’d share them.

I was out walking in the woods near my house, sweating like a pig and out of breath.  My legs were tired, and I didn’t want to walk one more step.  And I was having a great time.  In fact, I was figuring out where I could explore next, and assessing the concrete (yes, there’s a concrete path in the woods) for rollerblading potential.  As I walked, I realized two things.  1.  This is exercise.  2.  I’m having a good time.

I’m very pro-body acceptance.  At my thinnest, I’ve never been thin.  And I have skinny friends who can’t gain weight.  Our sizes say nothing about our character, and I’m tried of having weight be made to sound like something important.  So here are some of the lies that the fitness industry tells us.  In no way is this a comprehensive list.

1.  No pain, no gain.  Bear with me for a second.  Yes, exercise needs to be a little strenuous in order to work.  Yes, done well, you might have some sore muscles.  But for me, this always meant that if I wasn’t torturing myself, I wasn’t exercising.  I hate: running and weightlifting, going to the gym (inside!  ick!) and doing pushups.  If it’s exercise, I can almost guarantee I hate it.  But if it’s fun, I don’t mind moving my body.  For me, walking through the woods is fun!  Skating is fun!  Yoga is fun!  Kickboxing is fun!  Running is horrible torture, invented by skinny people for sadistic reality TV to watch me jiggle.  Which brings me to my second point.

2.  You have to work hard to call it exercise.  I kind of stopped skating for awhile because I read on some website that you only burn a lot of calories skating if you’re going full out.  If you’re just kind of cruising along, you’re not exercising.  While I love skating, I need exercise.  I want to take off a few pounds.  So I put my skates away and did nothing.  Effective, right?  Here’s the fundamental flaw with that whole “you’re not exercising” thing.  For anyone who isn’t good at skating, they’ll tell you that it’s hard to stay up, coordinate your feet.  They’ll tell you how much it hurts their leg muscles.  I never understood that, but now I do.  Even cruising along, you’re activating your core muscles.  And I’d rather skate than do sit-ups.  Something is always better than nothing.

3.  A cheeseburger is “better” for you than a salad because that salad has too much fat/ salt/ calories.  You know what I’m talking about, those websites that call out different restaurant foods.  They talk about how unhealthy certain salads can be for you, and that you shouldn’t eat that high calorie/ high fat/ high sodium dressing.  Yes, and we should all be eating organic foods and cook everything from scratch in a blissful, chemical additive free lifestyle.

See, I fell for that too.  I thought, “well then I might as well eat the cheeseburger.” (Back when I ate meat.)  And somehow, in my mind, that worked.  I tried to force myself to eat tasteless, low-fat dressing.  But then I didn’t want to eat salad and made excuses why I should eat something else.  Here’s the thing.  The salad is healthier.  It’s got fiber and vitamins and all that good stuff.  If I use unhealthy dressing, I can just use less because it tastes better.  None of us are perfect, and life is all about harm reduction.  Just do the best you can with eating.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  In a choice between the salad and the cheeseburger, I still think the salad is better for you.  Even if the veggies are drenched in bad for you stuff.  Where’s the redeeming part of the cheeseburger?  The tasteless tomato slice they put on top that almost everyone takes off anyway because its’ mushy?

4.  Certain exercises are better than others.  Yeah, this is true.  But you know what the best exercise is?  The one you’ll do consistently.  That’s the best one.  You can work up to something better later.  But if you’re doing nothing right now, a 5 minute walk is better than thinking about running 30 minutes and putting it off.  5 minutes every day is better than a half an hour once in a awhile.  I live in the real world.

5.  Exercise is something you have to do; no one enjoys it.  We’re talking about average people here, not people who have body smarts.  (I’m talking about the kind of intelligence where people are actually good at moving their body.)  Actually, if you don’t like exercise, you probably just haven’t tried the right one yet.  My husband loves bike riding, and I hate it.  I love to skate, and he thinks the only thing he should ride on 4 wheels is a car.  We both enjoy walking/ hiking.  He likes going to a gym; I think that going inside a building to exercise is crazy.  The only exception to that is DDR, which is the most fun I’ll ever have while sweating.  The point is that if you need to get more exercise, try a few things.  Don’t get stuck in the gym rut or think it has to be one particular type.  Google “exercise for people who hate exercise” or something like that and see what you come up with.  Remember, if you do something weird to get moving, the exercise police aren’t going to come get you.

6.  Weight is a good indicator of health.  Nope.  Disagree.  It’s a lie.  Here’s why I say that.  First off, I’ve been trying to lose weight forever.  I’m a whole foods vegetarian.  Which means that I eat my daily dose of veggies and grains and all that stuff.  And I’m still fat.  Why?  My doctor put it best:  “You come from German farming people.  Being able to keep weight on and be strong was an asset.”  Yep.  I just don’t lose weight like some people.  I could starve myself and exercise excessively, but why?  I have more stamina than my thinner friends (as evidenced by the fact that I can keep going longer when we go places).  I can walk for miles and my body does all the activity I want it to do.  I feel pretty good, sleep pretty well, and am happy overall.  So how am I not healthy?

Like I said, I’m just a person trying to get healthier myself.  I’m also a therapist, and something I’ve noticed is that mental health and physical health are tied together.  If you feel good mentally, it’s easier to get moving.  And if you feel good physically, it’s easier to feel good mentally.  So do yourself a favor; if you’ve been putting off positive change because it’s overwhelming, start teeny tiny.  Babies learn to roll over before they crawl, and they pull themselves up before they walk.  Apply that to your own stuff and remember that even if it seems really, really, really slow, a little progress is better than none.

Oh, and don’t forget that you should probably ask your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program.  Because, you know, I’m not a doctor.

When All’s Right With The World

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Every once in awhile, I just feel GOOD, for no real reason, as if everything were right with the world.  I had one of those nights recently.  The husband and I had gotten quite a bit done during the day, cleared off some projects that needed to be done.   Afterwards, my brother and I hiked 3 miles in 106 degrees.  We had some yummy Indian curry afterward.  When I got home, I made myself some lemonade with juice I’d frozen from my trees.  I lounged in the bathtub with a good book, and as I got out and started drying out, it struck me that I just felt really good, as if everything were all right with the world.

Of course, no sooner did I think that than the dog started barking as if someone were breaking into the house.  No one was, of course.  It was the wind and rumbling thunder that upset her.  Still, I didn’t know that for a minute, and my heart got quite the workout.

When I settled back down and discovered what got her going, I realized that I still felt good.

Do you have those times too, for no reason at all?

J is for Joy

100_0001I’m a fan of doing things that bring me joy, but also finding joy in little things.  I think that joy is a choice every day.  Sometimes it’s an easier choice than others, but I like challenges.  Sometimes.  I mindfully look for things that bring me joy.  So what brings me joy?

1.  My dogs.  No matter how my day has been, they’re happy to see me.  They’ll give me kisses if I’m cranky or happy.  All they ask is to have their ears rubbed and to be allowed to sit at my feet.  They wouldn’t object to a milk bone or a walk though.

2.  A good story.  There’s nothing I love more than a good story.  On paper, told orally, or if it’s good enough, on TV, a good story will keep me entertained and happy.

3.  My garden.  I love playing in the dirt and making things grow.  I especially love eating garden fresh tomatoes and having too many zucchini.

4.  Hiking.  There’s something about putting one foot forward while moving through the desert that makes me happy but also makes me feel humble and connected.  Plus, it’s pretty out there, and sometimes I get to see cool animals.

5.  Helping.  I do love my day job as a counselor, and I love being able to offer people help.  They don’t always take it, but being able to offer it is enough for me.  The choices they make from there are on them.

“One joy shatters a hundred griefs”
-Chinese Proverbs

Joy is a choice.  I choose joy today.

My Alaska Trip

I recently got back from 10 days in Alaska and Vancouver.  My husband and I have always wanted to go to Alaska, and I finally decided to book it, tired of continually saying “maybe next year.”

It was so worth every minute and every penny!  We stopped in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.  My favorite port was probably Skagway, and the husband liked Ketchikan the best.  Juneau was both of our least favorite port, though still great.  I learned a lot of interesting things, did some great relaxing, saw new things, met new people, and came home rested and recharged.

I took notes on my vacation, mostly so I could remember the cool stuff I learned and what I did each day. I could give you a blow by blow account of that, but I’m sure no one actually wants to read that. Do you remember when, in school, you had to write an essay about “My Summer Vacation”? This won’t be that.  I’ll just hit the highlights.  🙂

Our cruise was 7 days to Alaska by way of Vancouver. Although Canada is very nice, going in and out of customs 4 times was a bit of a hassle. Both US and Canadian customs were efficient and pleasant, but I prefer to avoid lines when I can. Bottom line, if you’re traveling from the US, just leave from Seattle. It would be so much easier.

Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan were all fishing towns at one time, though Juneau gets most of its revenue from being the political center these days. We saw whales, bears, bald eagles, huge mutant mosquitoes, and glaciers. I went specifically to see the wildlife and glaciers, and I left satisfied.

In Juneau, we went whale watching, and got to see humpback whales and sea lions while we boated around a bay surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Whale tail

Whale tail

I also hiked to the Mendenhall Glacier.  There’s nothing else quite like standing close to a glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

In Skagway, we took the train down and around the mountain.  It was exhilarating, as in some of the places, it was barely big enough for the tracks.  On one side, I could have reached out and touched rock, but on the other side, it was almost straight down.  That was a pretty packed day, as it’s also the day we went to Liarsville, saw Okie Bob’s show, and had the best salmon of our entire trip.

Abord the White Pass Railway

Abord the White Pass Railway

In between Skagway and Ketchikan, we cruised up to Tracy Arm.  We had fortuitous weather, as we were able to get right up to the glacier.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  We were lucky enough to see the glacier calve, and I’ve never heard anything like the sound the ice makes as it’s breaking up.  It’s like a thousand thunderstorms.

Tracy Arm Glacier... yes, it really is that blue

Tracy Arm Glacier… yes, it really is that blue

In Ketchikan, we went bear watching and had a great hike through the temperate rainforest.  Bears are pretty great!  I didn’t know that Alaska has a lot of rainforest, a lot of volcanoes, and a number of earthquakes.  Now that I’m a bit older, I enjoy learning things on vacation.

Hello, bears!

Hello, bears!

A cruise is a great mix of relaxing and activity (if you book excursions). The first time I took a cruise, I thought it was a bit too slow for my vacationing preference, but this time around, I really paid more attention to it, and I just loved it. I think that’s going to be my ideal way of vacationing now.

See how the water is splashing up in the pool?  Seas were a bit rough that day!

See how the water is splashing up in the pool? Seas were a bit rough that day!

I’ll be uploading a video of a glacier calving to my Facebook page, if you’re interested.

Hiking Makes Me Feel Old

San Tan Mountains, Photo Credit: Doree Weller

San Tan Mountains, Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I love to hike, and my friend and I have been hiking pretty consistently for the past 4 years. When we started, we only did 2 miles. These days, we do 5 miles in the summer and 7 miles when temperatures drop into the 80s or 90s. I love hiking as it makes me feel powerful, strong, and connected with what little nature we have out here.

Getting in my car after a hike is difficult, and getting out of my car is even more difficult. I swear I can hear my bones creak!  The morning after a hike, I’m usually more sore than I like to admit, and I can feel every muscle I’ve used.  But I do it again, week after week.  Why?  I just plain love it.

I love walking through the desert.  We’ve seen coyotes, rabbits, lots of lizards, birds, scorpions, weird prehistoric bugs.  I even saw a snake once.  We also found a skull of some type of animal, which was pretty cool.

The desert is a harsh place to live, and sometimes I regret moving here.  I miss the green that was everywhere in Pennsylvania.  In the grass we never bothered to water, the trees everywhere, flowers that didn’t really need special care.  We had to water the tomatoes, but if we missed a day, it was no great tragedy.

There are pockets of beauty here, and I’m constantly reminded of them when I hike.  I know when the growing seasons in the desert are, and I know that many things make their homes here, despite how hard life must be.

So even though my bones ache, that’s why I hike.  It’s not bad exercise either!

E is for Exercise

Now, I don’t normally talk about such dirty words on my blog, but everyone is throwing the “e” word around these days, so I thought I should address it too.

I hate “exercise.”  I’m not coordinated or physical.  Those people who go to the gym and grin as they “push themselves” are quite frankly, insane in my opinion.

IMG_0587I like to eat healthy, and I like to be active.  I walk about 25 miles a week, and hike 5-7 miles at a time once a week.  I play in my garden and play with my dogs.  Why can’t the road to thinness be paved with this kind of stuff?!?

Honestly, I used to stress a lot more about it, until I started going to a naturopath.  When I explained how frustrated I was, he pointed out that I’m German, and my people were probably farm people.  They survived by being sturdy and strong (which I am).  Healthy meant being able to store fat to last through winter and famine (oh boy can I store fat).

Pop culture tells me I need to be much thinner.  Anti-pop-culture tells me I’m beautiful the way I am.  I certainly don’t want to be responsible for young women’s body image issues!  Yeah, I want to lose weight, but mostly I want to be healthy.  I recently looked in the mirror, and thought I looked pregnant (I’m not).  So… I’ve decided there’s no playtime activity to fix that.  Alas, I’ve got to do (said in a hushed whisper) sit-ups!  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right?!?

Hot Enough For You?

Arizona is not the place to go if you want to spend a lot of time outside in the summer.  The longer you’re here, the more you get used to it.  I wouldn’t say we’re stuck inside all summer, just that smart people do stuff outside in the early morning or in the shade.

My friend and I went hiking a few weeks ago.  As we were walking, a ranger passed us and asked us if we were the ones who got dehydrated.  My friend held up the gallon jug he carries.  I said we were fine but didn’t bother to point to my Camelbak, a backpack with a large bladder on it for me and my dog.  He thanked us and went on his way, and we laughed a little about people who don’t know about Arizona hiking.

When I first moved here, I had constant headaches until I learned that in AZ, you always drink twice as much water as you think you want.  Another friend visited from PA, an experienced hiker, and went hiking alone in the Superstition Mountains one day.  When he came back, he said that he hadn’t taken enough water because he had his water filtration kit, but there were no streams or pools anywhere!

The forecast today is a balmy 100 degrees, and I’m heading out to hike later today. I’ll take plenty of water and wear a hat.  And I’ll have a great time!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blue

When I first came to Arizona, I fell in love with the sky.  I love taking pictures of the sky, being able to look around and see sky stretch far off into the distance.  This photo challenge gave me the opportunity to post one such picture.

I took this while hiking in the Superstition Mountains.  It was a beautiful January day, and I loved the way the clouds looked that day.