Insomnia and The Snooze Button

Button by Sean McGrathLast week I had a rotten case of insomnia. I did everything I could think of – I had my favorite sheets on the bed, my favorite comfy pjs, I went to bed at reasonable times… all for naught. Each night the same thing would happen: my head would hit the pillow, I’d fall fast asleep beautifully, and then at 1:00AM BING! I’d wake up. And not just a quick “need to pee” wake up – I was wide awake for the rest of the night. Since I am regularly getting up at 5:00AM to work out, that meant I was getting roughly 3 hours of sleep a night. I’ve written before that I’m one of those people who needs at least 8 hours of sleep, so it was a bad situation. Fortunately, I was able to function pretty well, considering, but I was getting to the end of my rope.

My best gal Cee suggested taking an allergy med at night. My boyfriend Julian suggested getting away up to my cabin for the weekend, and a coworker suggested lavender oil. I took all three of them up on their advice.

Cee noticed that I was getting a sore throat and suggested that since we are having a particularly wet autumn (and I am very allergic to leaf pollen and mold) that my allergies might be kicking in at night and keeping me awake without my really knowing it. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try taking my allergy med at night, and sure enough, the next night I did get better sleep. Whether that was from the allergy med or my insomnia just finally letting up, I don’t know, but either way I appreciated the sleep.

Julian knows that the cabin is my place to rest and rejuvenate, and by the end of a week with very little sleep, he thought I could use some time away. The cabin is also awesome for naps. (What is it about cabins and couches and naps? They just go together.) Anyway, I think he was right. I went “up North” and pretty much spent the whole weekend relaxing, reading books, taking long walks and longer naps. It was perfect! Just what I needed.

I also have a coworker who is getting into using essential oils. She suggested rubbing a little lavender oil between my palms and then inhaling it before bed. I figured it couldn’t hurt – and I already owned lavender oil – so I gave it a shot. I have to say, I did find it soothing. I felt like the night I used it my sleep was very peaceful. I liked it.

So, I’ve started getting my sleep again. Then yesterday I read this article over on fitisafeministissue.com: Snoozing the snooze button, that’s my resolution for this week. It’s a great post about the perils of using the snooze button, with links to other anti-snooze button articles. This is the part that got me: (From Why Your Snooze Button is Evil)

Research into the science of willpower finds that we wake up with a robust supply of self-discipline that is then depleted by decision-making during the day (see my related post, Can You Learn Willpower?). The snooze button turns the simple act of getting out of bed into a willpower-sapping episode of trench warfare. I’ll give you 9 minutes if you promise not to take so long in the shower. I’ll give you 9 more minutes if you don’t eat breakfast. Eventually, your ability to invest that willpower in meaningful tasks later on is shot.

Here’s something I noticed – when I first started getting up early, I was pretty energetic about it. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to leave a nice warm bed, but still, I was able to get up fairly easily. Lately though, it’s been a real struggle. I thought it was a combination of the novelty of 5:30AM boxing classes starting to wear off and my insomnia. (Even though I was wide awake, I still hit the snooze, trying to get a just a few minutes of sleep.) But reading that bit about willpower… something in that really rang true to me. I decided to join the author of the post in making a resolution not to use the snooze.

Today was my first day, and as weird as it sounds, it actually was easier to get out of bed. It’s so counterintuitive, but it worked. (At least this morning, I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes.) I set my alarm later – closer to the time I actually get up when using the snooze and when the alarm went off, I laid there for a minute to wake up, then got out of bed. No hitting the snooze. I was able to get my stuff together and was out the door in no time – and I felt a lot less groggy. Maybe it is just because I’m mostly caught up on sleep, but whatever it is – anything to make a morning easier – I’ll take it!

 

Photo credit: Sean McGrath via flickr

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Body Esteem Struggles

I just read a great article over on jillfit.com about body esteem issues. Here’s a quick excerpt:

Do Only Certain People Have the Right to Body Esteem Struggles?
by Jill Coleman

one thing I was not ready for were the handful of comments telling me to “stop complaining” about my love handles … in the post, I said, “Could I get my love handles down a bit? Sure. But the mental and physical output it would take it just not worth it anymore.” This, part of a long post about how content and happy I was with my body — just to give you context.

Out of the entire post, what several people clung to was the comment about the love handles. Many took is personally, like, how could I, looking like I do, ever even have a single negative thing to say about my body? They felt I wasn’t justified in my assessment, even though the comment was actually not negative at all — in fact it was 100% about body acceptance — and some even lamented that they could never show my post to their children because it sets a bad example

The rest of the article is fantastic. If you are interested in this like I am, I encourage you to click over and read it.

A Different Point of View

Strong by Scott SwigartIt took me a little while to understand why the post: 10+ Reasons I Love My Ugly Body hit me so hard. I hadn’t read her blog before, I found it on a link from Fit, Feminist and (almost) Fifty on Friday. I’m pretty happy with the way my body looks, overall. So, it wasn’t that I felt particularly close to the author or that I completely identified with her, although like most women, I certainly have things about myself I wish I could change.

I think the reason her post put giant tears in my eyes and made me catch my breath was that it directly addressed something I have been dealing with myself. I’ve mentioned that I gained some weight back in January. I’ve been trying to ditch it, but I haven’t had much success. It’s been really upsetting to me, and I think I am starting to connect the dots as to why. It’s not really about the weight exactly – sure, I wish some of my clothes fit a little better and I liked the way I looked last summer, but a few extra pounds do not look bad on me. I’m upset not about the weight… I’m upset because it is effecting my confidence. I feel like I should be able to just do what I did before and it should come off. But it hasn’t.

This probably wouldn’t be a big deal, except that I have gone through several confidence busting incidents in the last few months. When you start to feel like you can’t even control your own body the way you did before, it eats at your faith in yourself. My weight loss and fitness was something I have been rather proud of, and lately, it’s been slipping. It’s hard when other things in my life are in the same boat. There is a lot of “what is wrong with me??” kind of thoughts going on.

But Andrea turns it around, she celebrates all the things that her body can do that it couldn’t do before. And seriously, look at some of the amazing things she can do! She is a badass!!I mentioned I just achieved a personal record in weight lifting the other day, and honestly, I feel like I have a lot more in me. What if I relax a little and instead of beating myself up, give myself a little credit for all that I can do now – and for all the goals I have in the future? How would that feel?

I think I’ll give that a try.

 

Photo credit: Scott Swigart via flickr

More Thoughts on a Magic Exercise Pill

These would be a thing of the past...

These would be a thing of the past…

After I wrote the post about the magic pill yesterday, I found myself continuing to thinking about it later. I’ve come to a new conclusion: I think if such a pill were invented, more people would exercise, not less. Just in case you missed my post yesterday, here is the thought experiment that Caitlyn at Fit and Feminist posed:

and so I wondered, if medical researchers were to develop a pill that could provide all the physical health benefits of regular exercise, and that pill had no side effects, and it was as inexpensive as a bottle of aspirin – would I still continue to be as physically active as I am? []

First of all, I think nearly everyone would take this pill. Oh, there would be a few holdouts, there always are, but if there was a pill that would allow people to either lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, plus gave all the all the other physical benefits of exercise, that would be reason enough – even for the naturally thin and healthy. The question though is, would people still exercise, and I think not only would they still exercise, far more people would give it a try.

I mean, we all know exercise is good for us, so why don’t we do it? In my opinion the big three reasons are 1) It’s boring, 2) I’m not motivated enough and 3) the inner rebel that hates to do anything we “have to do.” There are other reasons of course, but I’d say these are some of the most common. Now, let’s introduce the magic pill:

Boredom: I think the very first thing to go would be repetitive exercise, (except in specific situations.) Things that people dread because they are monotonous: the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bikes and so on would start to die out almost immediately. The exception would be training tools for athletes, hard core cyclists might still use trainer bikes, runners might still use treadmills in bad weather and so on. But overall? These things would become the next buggy whip.

Gyms would have to start changing their strategy. Right now they succeed in part because people feel they “should” go. If you take away the “should” you are going to have to make it so that people “want” to go. How can you do that? By making it fun. Of the exercise I said I would keep doing, one of the biggest reasons was because it is fun. I think Crossfit gyms understand this. They have elements of friend competition and badassery that make it fun. I can think of lots of ways Gyms could become more fun. So… if they make exercise fun, then it becomes fun to exercise, not boring.

I’m Not Motivated Enough: I think there are two levels of motivation here. There is the, “Meh. I don’t really feel like going for a run today,” sort of malaise that even elite athletes feel sometimes, and then there are the huge debilitating factors that those who are overweight face. I’m not concerned about the “meh” factor too much, I’ll talk about why in the next point. What I want to talk about is how hard it is to exercise when you are overweight.

Now, we all know that no matter where people are or how they feel, they can do some form of exercise. However, in order to do so may involve dealing with public shame, physical disabilities, and limited access. This is why anyone who is overweight and gets out there and exercises is an automatic bad ass and my hero. Let’s break this down a bit and look at it a little closer:

Public shame: Working out when you are out of shape and overweight can be embarrassing. I’ve been told that people at the gym really don’t pay attention to other people and everyone is there to deal with their own stuff. That may be perfectly true, but really, it doesn’t matter. There is a reason that all of my exercise (especially when I first started) was done alone, at home. If we had a pill that could help everyone get to more or less the same healthy body weight, this shame could be lifted.

Physical disabilities: Being overweight can make it really, really hard to work out. I wasn’t that overweight, (5’6”, 170+ lbs) but even for me, it was difficult. Here’s a kind of embarrassing example: I’ve mentioned before that at my heavier weight I was pretty busty. That means that any sort of activity that involved running or jumping was not only awkward, but really uncomfortable. It’s a small silly example, but you can see where I am going. Folks with weight issues also frequently have other medical problems that make exertion hard. Again, to use myself as an example, I have had asthma since I was a child. While I still have it, it has definitely improved since taking off 35+ pounds. Take these examples and extrapolate out – and you see why I think people with weight issues who work out are bad asses!

But wait, there’s more!

Limited access: Do you know what kayaking, rock climbing, biking, gymnastics and skiing all have in common? They are great exercise, lots of fun …and they have weight limitations. Many other sports don’t have specific weight limits, but they are there nonetheless. I’m thinking of things like group sports. Sure, there might not be a specific rule, but that line is there anyway. The magic pill would eliminate it. Sure, some folks (like myself) would still be uncoordinated and lousy at sports, but they wouldn’t be uncomfortable trying them due to their body shape. I’ll tell you, I really dislike group sports, but you would have a much better chance at talking me into a game of volleyball now than you would have 35 some odd pounds ago.

The inner rebel: We all have an inner James Dean that hates the idea of doing anything we “have to” do. But if we take away the guilt with the magic pill, we make gyms and other recreational activities fun and accessible to all, this just disappears. Not everyone is going to run out and start doing Crossfit or take a Kickboxing class, but all the folks who have always been curious about it but afraid, now can jump in.

I know the magic pill is just a thought experiment, but what a wonderful thing that would be for everyone.

Photo credit: Holiday Inn Express on flickr

Thought Experiment: Would You Exercise if You Didn’t Have to?

PillsThere is a really cool conversation going on over at Fit and Feminist on her post: If You Could Have Good Health From A Pill Would You Still Exercise? Go check out her post and be sure and read the comments. I have kind of mixed thoughts, (and because it is me, they are also long and wordy) so I thought I would post them here. Here’s a quick excerpt from the thought experiment she posed:

…and so I wondered, if medical researchers were to develop a pill that could provide all the physical health benefits of regular exercise, and that pill had no side effects, and it was as inexpensive as a bottle of aspirin – would I still continue to be as physically active as I am? []

I love the idea behind this, and if a pill as she described could be invented, I’d be all for it. I think it would change the lives of a lot of people. But the question is, would I take such a pill?

I think about this question a lot actually. Quite often I’ll be in the middle of some kind of exercise and think, “if this didn’t help burn calories or my health in any way, would I still do it?” My answer depends on what I am doing. For example:

Kayaking: A definite “HECK YES!” I love kayaking for many reasons; that it’s a great work out for my arms and shoulders is just icing on the cake. I love being outside, on the water, and feeling the freedom that comes with piloting a tiny one person boat.

Biking: Yep! My bike is my land kayak.

Walking: Mostly yes. I walk for many other reasons than exercise. I walk to clear my head, get fresh air, and to find peace. I also walk because my dog needs regular daily exercise. However, if I had a huge fenced in yard, and I could take the magic pill, I probably would cut down on the time I hit the sidewalks. I most likely would give up my 6:30AM walks, but I would keep my lunch hour strolls when I need to get out of the office. I’d probably still walk in great weather, but I would give up walking in ice storms, thunderstorms and blizzards.

Weight Lifting: Maaaayyyybe. I love the way weight lifting makes me look. I really like what it does for my arms and shoulders, in particular. I’m assuming the magic pill would not build muscle, so if I wanted that look, I’d have to lift. I like lifting, and when I do it, I feel like a total badass. However, it takes time that I would really love to have back. I would be hard pressed (ha!) to keep up with it, I think.

Running: I’d give it up in a New York minute. It has advantages – I love the stamina that I gained by running regularly. And again, I felt like a badass when I ran… and in my goal to become a superhero, running is important, but if it didn’t also burn calories and make me feel like I was improving my health? Nope, no way.

Here’s why I think I would take the pill: I love the way that I feel now that I am roughly 40 pounds lighter, but I am petrified about going back up. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, there are a whole lot of people out there – many of them smarter and with more will power than I have who have lost weight, only to regain it a few years later. If I could take a pill and erase that worry, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

… but I would still exercise too!

 

 

Photo credit: Victor on flickr

 

Food and Happiness

"A Dinner Table at Night"  by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook”
– Julia Child (1912 – 2004)

I’ve been changing how I eat. It’s happened slowly, more by intuition than by anything else. When I started losing weight, I did it with the MyFitnessPal app. At the time, I made a simple vow – eat whatever I want, just make sure to stay under the calorie goal. I did that and it worked. In fact, it worked beautifully. Several friends have not had the same success with the app, but people’s bodies work in different ways. For me, it was perfect.

As I went, I realized that grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc.) were really high in calories for the size of the serving. For example, I figured out that I could eat twice as many of my favorite homemade chicken tacos if I used romaine or cabbage as a shell over tortilla. Plus, because they are stuffed with chicken and avocado (and I was eating twice as many,) I felt full longer. Same thing with rice. I love white rice. For many, many years my breakfast of choice was white rice with butter and salt. However, once I started figuring the calories, the servings just didn’t make it worth it. Little by little, I gave them up, not as a conscious choice, exactly, but as a way of getting bigger and better meals.

I weigh myself daily and I’m pretty tuned in to how my body is feeling. I also discovered that my body takes a long time to metabolize meat. I did a little research on it and started figuring out things about how foods are used in the body, and slowly began another change – I began making breakfast my biggest meal of the day. I ate a lot of protein in the morning, a lighter lunch and a mostly vegetarian dinner. I found that I felt fuller longer throughout the day, but I wasn’t sluggish at night. My body seemed to really like the whole “Eat like a King at breakfast, a Queen at lunch and a pauper at dinner” scenario.

Then I ran across gokaleo.com. I’ll be honest, she rubbed me the wrong way at first. (I suspect based on some of the reactions she gets, I’m not alone.) Yet, many of the fitness writers I admire kept referencing her site. Eventually I added it to my log of daily reading. Slowly, her message started seeping in. It wasn’t that I disagreed with it, in fact, in many ways I was already doing what she was suggesting – working on incremental changes, getting a variety of exercise on a daily basis, and adding strength training as a key part of the mix. One of her other suggestions took a little longer: eating a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight.

I decided to try it. I love experiments, and this was something I was kind of already working towards, although I was far below the daily goal. So, roughly 3 or 4 weeks ago, I started trying to do it regularly. 2 weeks or so ago, I started tracking it on the Lift app.

Honestly? I love it. I feel great. Here’s another interesting thing – for a very brief while I was trying to get an even amount of carbs, fats and proteins: 33/33/33. It was a nightmare. It was like when I had a container garden and I always ended up with too many plants and not enough dirt and pots, or extra pots and no dirt. Whatever I did, I could never get the ratios right. Trying to do that with food was much, much worse.

Then I saw on a forum that someone said they worked towards the protein goal and didn’t worry about the rest, that it somehow always worked out. Sure enough, it almost always does. Oh, for some of the day one part of the pie chart will be larger than others, but by the end of the day, it all evens out. It seems fairly easy to get carbs and fats into the diet!!

Here’s the important part – after I lost the weight, but before concentrating on getting the high protein, my weight was doing these odd little yo-yos. Nothing big, but weird: 2-3 pounds up in a night, 1 pound down the next day. Wilder swings that I would have imagined, considering the circumstances. Once I started eating the protein, the curves leveled off. Oh, I still have ups and downs, but they are more waves than cliffs – and I know why they are there. My weight now has settled down to where I love it, and doesn’t move all that much. It’s fantastic.

I’m not saying this is for everyone, I am just pointing out that this is what works for me, and works really well. This morning I had an amazing breakfast (New York Strip, anyone?) and I have a delicious lunch planned. As far as food goes, I am eating really well. And, I still haven’t cut anything out completely. I mostly stay away from processed grains at my house (except for the odd bit of granola or oats in an apple crisp) but will have them when I am out and being social. I watch my sugar, but I don’t regulate it too much. I drink wine (and beer), eat cheese, meat and vegetables with abandon.

Most importantly? I feel great and I’m happy.

Photo credit: “A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, posted by HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr

Quiet Time

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

“Sitting still is a pain in the ass.”
Noah Levine (1971 – )

I’m trying to develop a practice of daily meditation. It’s another one of the habits I am tracking on Lift. I like to meditate after I work out and during the week on my lunch hours. Other times I meditate just before bed. I like guided meditations, I have an app that I like (Simply Being) and a couple of different podcasts, including some out of UCLA. I pick the meditation based on my mood and how much time I have, but typically I sit for 10-15 minutes.

I enjoy meditation because it gives me a chance to just be quiet and still for awhile. Thoughts come rushing in, but I can let them go for a bit and focus on a simple idea or just my breathing. I’m not looking to be a yogi or anything, all I want is to just have a few moments in every day of quiet. Occasionally I sit in lotus, but most often I don’t. (Especially when I’m sitting in my car during a lunch break. The steering wheel would get in the way!)

It’s a small thing, something I am doing for myself because I enjoy it. I think it is all part of a healthier me – physically and mentally.


For those of you interested in meditation, check out this article: How to be Uncomfortable about learning how to sit. It’s good stuff.

Photo credit: Adophie Borie: Girl Meditating, HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr