The Habit of Exercise

January 27, 2008

I hate winter.  For someone who was born and grew up in Montreal, that is a heretical statement.  But I’ve never been athletic, I get cold easily, I don’t have the greatest sense of balance (not exactly a plus when you’re navigating ice-laden sidewalks while holding the leash of a frisky, determined dog in each hand), and so winter makes me grumpy.  Grumpy, and lazy.

During the snowy months, I have to be vigilant not to let my exercise routine slide somewhat.  I mean, who wants to take the extra twenty minutes to pile on an additional pair of wooly socks, long underwear, scarf, insulated hat, dexterity-diminishing gloves, earmuffs and galoshes, drive through snow and sleet at 15 km./hour to unwrap for another twenty minutes on the other side before changing into workout gear, just to push some weights around for 40 minutes or so? Not I. 

And so, I often end up missing my otherwise quite enjoyable workouts during this cold season (“So long, Septuagenarian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts!  Sorry to miss ya, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!  Catch you next time, Personal Trainer with the Gigantoid Biceps!).  Feeling compelled to make it there this morning, however, (after all, how could I let down the legions of fans interested in my Progress Tracker?), I forced myself to go.  And then, had a very lovely time. And was truly glad I went. 

 Keeping motivated can be problematic at any time of the year, but winter presents its own unique challenges.  For me, a change in routine tends to help (as starting a new set of machines, for example, or a different activity entirely), but it’s still difficult to keep up that kind of momentum. 

I recently came across an interesting article from Lifehack.org that provided some help in this area.  The article is actually about tricks for making new habits stick, but I think many of these apply to the habit of exercise as well.  One that struck a chord with me in particular was using a “but” statement.  As in, “I’m no good at sewing, but if I work at it, I might get better.”  There are seventeen other tips as well, including items such as “commit to 30 days” or “form a trigger” (something else you do right before the desired habit, to create a pattern). 

For me, changes might include setting out my workout gear the night before I plan to go to the club (the trigger) or asking a friend to commit along with me so that we can be accountable to each other. 

I may be having trouble keeping up with my workouts during the winter, BUT I’m working at it.  And I guess that means it can only get easier.  (And I think moving to Florida might help, too.)

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(“Mum, we love the winter.  It must be that Scottish heritage in us.  So why not make walking US your trigger??”)

Hey, Weight Up!

December 2, 2007

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It’s my obstreperous streak, probably.  Today, barely the second day of Holidailies–during which I’ve pledged to write in this blog with unwavering regularity–and already I’ve decided I don’t want to adhere to my self-imposed schedule of writing topics. 

Well, that’s not entirely true.  It’s not the topic, so much, that I don’t like, as the results of focusing on the topic.  For today is the Day I Must Record My Weight for all of the Blogosphere to See.  All right, perhaps I’m being a bit histrionic. Let me correct that:  For today is the Day I Must Record My Weight for all of the Four People Who Read My Blog to See. 

Despite snow drifts as high as my knees, I ventured to the workout club, as usual, this morning.  Had a fairly good go at the machines and free weights among the early-AM regulars (Good morning, Septuagenarian Italian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts!  How ya doin’, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks!  Top o’ the Mornin’ to ya, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!).  Still, I knew that last night’s dinner with my friend Deb (plus those two glasses of our latest favorite–and highly economical!–red wine) would waylay my otherwise descending weight. 

It’s a burden to always be right, I tell you.  Got on the scale with great trepidation to find my worst fears realized, with a weight gain of .5 pounds . So, rather than allow that disappointment to alter my mood and blow a black cloud over my otherwise cheery countenance, I started to reassess this idea of regular weigh-ins.  Yes, after only five weeks of them.

A couple of months ago, in her regular column in a prominent women’s magazine, Geneen Roth talked about this issue.  Why weigh yourself at all, she asked, even if you are trying to lose weight?  It’s a lose-lose situation (except for the number on the scale, that is). 

If the number goes up, you may have previously been feeling pretty self-satisfied, you may have been wearing your new Lululemon sweats like a banner-covered swimsuit at the Miss Universe Pageant, you may have been holding your head high feeling slim and taut and flat in all the right places–only to have that delusional euphoria instantly deflated, your mood for the day permanently altered by the fact that you’d gained 3/4 pound.  Even if you’d had no idea before stepping on that scale.

If the number goes down, it will probably only reinforce what you already knew, anyway:  you’ve been feeling better, lighter, lithe-r; your clothes are starting to loosen; and you’ve been walking just a little bit taller down those supermarket aisles.  Do you really need a scale to tell you all this?

The upshot is this: if you gain weight, do you really want to know?  And if you lose weight, don’t you already know? If the true goal is to focus on healthy eating and ultimate optimum body weight above all, can’t that be accomplished without the aid of a small, square, possibly incorrectly-calibrated mechanical object?

About three years ago, my older sister (let’s call her The Nurse) had a wicked crush on a coworker who didn’t happen to be her husband. And though nothing but a benign friendship ever came of it, she was consumed by guilt on a daily basis.  I mean that literally: she basically stopped eating food most of the day, and her guilt apparently ate up up excess body weight, somewhere in the vicinity of 60 pounds over 5 months. 

Did she use a scale to track this progress?  No, of course not; she wasn’t even aware of trying to lose weight initially.  Did she notice that the pounds had melted away?  Of course she did; her clothes hung like tarpaulins on her newly slimmer frame, she was forced to go out and purchase new clothing, even down to her operating room scrubs; and everyone she’d ever met in the world commented on how great she looked (ironic, huh, since she felt like crap about the illicit crush thing going on).

In any case, here’s my point: if my quest is to become a “normal” eater, I need to behave like one.  And all the normal eaters I know don’t weigh themselves compulsively on a weekly/daily/hourly basis, if at all.   And as soon as I even write down that thought, I can feel the fear in the depth of my (all-too-expansive) stomach, conveying the message, “But if you don’t weigh yourself regularly, how will you put the kibosh on that rising number?  Won’t you just spiral out of control and suddenly start bingeing recklessly and gaining more and more without end?”  Uh, I hate to break it to you, stomach, but that’s what I seem to be doing, anyway, even with the weekly weigh-ins.

In the end, I’ve decided to keep up with the weekly Progress Tracker, mostly because I’ve set up the blog this way and have sworn to do so.  And knowing that the four of you are reading on a semi-regular basis does help me, to some extent, feel accountable.  (Though I’ve had friends on Weight Watchers tell me that the weekly weigh-in, in front of others, acts as motivation to keep them on track during the week, that’s never really seemed to work for me. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I need to tap into motivation from within myself, rather than from an exterior source, to stay on any kind of healthy eating plan). 

So, I guess it’s back to an earlier principle, picking oneself right back up and starting all over again as if nothing has happened.  And I do believe I’m going to tag that as my second “What Actually Works” strategy

Mum, we don’t care if your weight goes up.  We will still love you anyway. And if you decide to finally stop eating those Banana Oat bars, we’ll help get rid of the leftovers, no problem!”

Lifting Weights

November 4, 2007

People are usually surprised (okay, flabbergasted) to find out that I go to the gym and press weights at least 3 times a week.  Their wide-eyed stares and gaping maws would suggest their silent response to this piece of information is something like, “But how can a fat pig like YOU actually do any exercise, let alone lift weights???”  Their polite, public personas instead say something like, “Oh? Really?  Well, good for you!”

Another one of those bizarre paradoxes of my life is that I enjoy going to the gym and lifting weights, yet there seems to be no discernible effect (ie no taut, bulging muscles, no weight loss whatsoever) from what I do. 

True, when the alarm sounds at 6:30 and I’ve only crawled into bed at 11:38 the night before, it can be difficult to haul myself out from under the blankets.  Many mornings, I end up sleeping another 30 minutes or so while C. takes The Girls for their morning exercise, after which I finally throw back the covers and get into my gym clothes to head out as he hops in the shower.  Other days, I don’t manage it at all, and end up rebuking myself for being so lazy.

But when I do get there, I’m always happy.  Years ago, I established a good routine with a personal trainer, and have followed it since (I suspect it’s time for a change–maybe this new Plan will be the catalyst). 

Because of my back and knee problems, my workout is limited, but I do cover all the machines I’m able to.  I love the feeling of pushing those muscles to the limit and lubricating those joints as my blood starts to circulate more quickly and efficiently.  Despite all the overeating and the erratic aerobic exercise, I seem to be able to persist with the weights on a relatively regular basis (except when my back decides to snap and I’m out of commission for a week or so–but I’ll save that for another post).

 As someone who’s relatively shy and inner-directed, I am quite focused when I follow my routine and rarely speak to anyone else there (which also helps me keep to a schedule,  so that I can get home in good time–meaning before Chaser has to be put back in a cage–and get started with my day).

But I do certainly recognize the “regulars” and we tend to acknowledge each other with curt smiles and nods.  Most of the regulars I see are older than me (and my hats go off to them–cudos to you, Bald Man in Your Seventies! My admiration, Little 60-Something with the Spiky Black Hair! You are my inspiration, Septuagenarian Italian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts! And hope I’m as flexible as you at that age, Elderly Gentleman Who Wears Black Knee Socks!).  A few are my age, and some are younger.  There’s one couple who work out together every time I’m there (which leads me to believe they actually go every day, as my own schedule can change day to day), and they look almost exactly like the Canadian couple from the old “Participaction” commercials.  There’s also a rotund girl who’s no more than 18 at best, who dutifully arrives every morning to meet her trainer and strain through a series of exercises on the machines, with hand weights, and on the oversize exercise balls.  I hear her laughing even as she grunts to finish a set, sweat blossoming on her T-shirt, and I feel recharged.

So I like my routine.  I feel guilty when I don’t do it for more than two days.  And I feel energized when I’m done, a bit more lithe and flexible, a bit more awake and ready to start the day.  The fact that it seems to have no impact whatsoever on my physical appearance is secondary, I suppose.  But as I say to C. on occasion, man, I must have fabulous muscles under all this fat.

Today was also my day to update the Progress Tracker–go see how I did!

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