@AlanaFlorence Works Out, Too

Happy One Year Anniversary to this blog….may the second year reflect the authenticity strived for in Year One.

How much can a person change in a year?

I think this blog is a living experiment of exactly that.

When I started out writing on WordPress, I wanted to lose weight. I have. Not enough for me to brag about big numbers, but enough that I feel different and hopefully look a bit different, too.  When I started this blog, I wanted to work out more. I do! And I have found joy in exercise I never thought possible. When I started this blog, I thought clothes would be a good motivator for change. I wanted to feel like Alana again. I wanted to love shopping, and makeup, and hair and new boots.

I still love all of those things…but I’ve realized I love nurturing my soul way more than I love pampering my appearance.

And I’ve learned my dedication to wellness on the inside will reflect in a healthier way than focusing on appearance – as much I love a good outfit and hope to be able to wear the clothes I want to again.

In light of this, my new URL is alanaflorencewrites.wordpress.com. This is generic, yes, but it ties to my general goal of writing and also works with my Twitter, @AlanaFlorence.

And off I go, to Year Two!

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Exercise Anxiety

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‘We Can Do Hard Things.’

This saying is popping up everywhere lately. I even purchased a wooden plaque with the saying from a thrift store the other day. I put it up on my husband’s bed stand, and looking at it makes me giggle just a little bit. Double entendre aside, I like the sentiment. I DO do hard things. Raising my son, looking after my mom, writing a novel, going to endless grad school…

But one of the hardest things for me to do is live an anxiety-free life.

And it’s very, very hard for me to workout; like REALLY workout.  Proper exercise.

Last week I went to Zumba. I’ve gone through phases of doing Zumba regularly, but I always modify it, and leave for at least one song to get a break for my sanity. In the past few years I’ve avoided it completely.  But Lauren, my workout buddy, and I had been doing such a great job at pushing ourselves every day, that on this one day she couldn’t do our cardio/strength routine, I went to Zumba by myself. I felt confident I could do it alone.

The fun ensued and I sweated through a few songs. My heart raced and I tried to ignore it. I shook out my hands, stood in front of the fan, and kept moving. I slowed down the next song, took a drink of water, and willed myself to keep going. But my heart raced and raced,  and as I took a certain misstep I thought for sure I  was going pass to out.

I panicked. This it it, I thought. Death by Zumba.  I wobbled to the door, mopping up my sweat with a towel and willing my heart rate to slow down. It didn’t. The evening remained hot and sunny, and the corridors of the gym filled with warm damp air as I wished for nothing more than a cold place to sit. Everyone walked past happy and fit, unaware I may be dying.

I hyperventilated my way to the locker room. Happy women sat chatting on the chairs and my vision was going blurry but I ran to the toilet and locked myself in, willing myself to stop panicking, trying to ignore the throbbing in my chest, now painful. I tried some vasovagal maneuvers.

I made my way outside somehow, and into my car. I blasted cold air on my face, took a drink of water, an anxiety pill, and sat with my head between my legs. Slowly my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. I was going to live.

It surprised me. It always does after a panic attack.

I texted and called my husband and a few friends, seeking comfort, distraction. I felt better.

Eventually I went on with my evening with nothing but an eye twitch to remind me of the episode.

I cried a bit that night for no real reason. I guess I felt a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t finish Zumba. I obviously needed Lauren or someone to keep me from panicking. I couldn’t even go to the gym like a normal person.

Because this is one truth about me: I’m a worrier, and I’ve had a fear of cardio exercise for a decade.

It sounds almost silly to say. As I gained weight, doctors told me to exercise. I agreed, but never did. Not REALLY. Not in the P90x sort of way. I stuck with yoga and walking.

Finally I admitted it to my GP: “I  can’t do vigorous exercise. I hate the feeling of my heart beating quickly; it makes me panic. I literally think I’m going to  die every time. I actually look for the defibrillator to make me feel better. ”

“That’s not normal,” she said. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they look for a defibrillator for comfort.”

She raised her eyebrows.

I’ve had many heart tests done, just to rule out if I were paranoid or they really were after me. Anxiety is an expensive disorder.

In the end, it turns out I am able to overcome this particular fear through a variety of methods:

1. Distraction –  I work out with a friend. If alone, I listen to really loud music. Really. Loud.

2. Support –  I feel ‘safe’ with a friend.

3. Something to grab- If I’m feeling panicky on the treadmill, I can grip the sides. Steady myself, as it were. Zumba is so open. A definite  trigger for me. (But sooooo fun if I can do it)

4. Channeling my inner calm. Deep breathing, utilizing CBT techniques..

5. Anxiety medication.

6. Strength training. Less risk of getting short of breath.

Exercise may easy for some people. For me, it’s one of the hard things I have to do.

It’s not as hard as most things  in my life. But I know that to be my best self and to be the mom Alistair deserves…I need to overcome my exercise anxiety.

Identity

Specs of glaciers in a sea of blue gave way to expanses of patterned prairie  and I forgot who I was again.

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A train up into the mountains held little more than atmosphere to offer on such a foggy day.

We flew into the sun after our ascent from the dreary Norwegian November morning, and I pulled my window shade up and squinted into the brightness, searching.

The plane hurled us over the Atlantic and I kept my forehead resting on the window pane, taking in glaciers when they periodically broke the swathe of muted color. Alone and drifting in the endless, endless sea.  They looked so tiny and insignificant. My perspective from the sky, skewed.

We floated, it seemed, defying gravity and somehow reality.  How does time exist on a plane? Where was I at any given moment?

There’s no touch screen map in existence  precise enough for that.

I longed for the footing I felt on damp Norwegian soil. The pull towards the earth.

The roots.

I walked confidently there without knowing where I was, like my boots somehow slotted into the cobbled pavement and  my lungs recognized the thick sea air and breathed it in greedily.  In Norway the wind whipped my hair into a frenzy of frizz and tangles. I didn’t care. Instead we let the wind pull our family along as we wandered the streets until our heads hit soft pillows and I fell asleep in a cocoon of belonging.

Because that is what my soul craves to do: Wander, and belong. Wander, and belong. Repeat.

I’ve never been sure the two are compatible, but it felt so, in Norway.

My family is only American as far back as the 20th century.  Nearly all of my roots prior lead to Norway. My grandmother Martha used to teach me Norwegian nursery rhymes and how to count in Norwegian. Her Norwegian artifacts and cultural references were quaint to me as a child; exotic but old-fashioned.  I knew Norway only as my grandma’s trinkets, dusty and handmade. The country was an intangible thing which created my grandma and my dad, and me, too, somehow.

But from the moment I climbed down the plane in Norway, the whir of the engines and the howl of the storm barraged my ears. The mist tickled my face, cool moisture on tired skin. I smelled trees. Lots of trees. I tasted fog and saw nothing but planes. But it was tangible, all of it. Suddenly, Norway was real.

I’ve had many conversations with my good friend in Scotland about roots. I’m fascinated by the notion of them but terrified at the same time of . I don’t feel I have many at the moment. That my family and I are tied to each other, but not things or places.

The wonder of Norway fed my soul. Something I so desperately craved but didn’t know on a conscious level until I was there.

I know no matter where life takes me, my blood is Norwegian. My genes gave me fair skin and big feet.  Ever present reminders of a rootI do have, wherever I plant my feet: my body.

Going forward, I strive to honor my body for its creation, its lineage, and its most important purpose, other than birthing my son…. holding my soul.

My soul doesn’t know where it belongs and maybe it doesn’t belong anywhere but the uncharted space between two lands. My heart and soul is split between so many people and places. My love is scattered all around the world.

But my soul and my body have each other for this time on earth, and each should be loved the same.

Both need to be nourished, and this is my journey.

Until next time, Vi ses!

An Ode to The Dusty Scale

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Farewell, ye olde scale…may modern technology serve me better

The Dusty Scale stares up me with dirt smears and disgrace
She served me well and did her job but now must be replaced
Abandoned as her load grew heavy, shoved against a wall
Under piles of dirty towels and clothes, she held them all
Hidden from sight but not from mind, The Dusty Scale grew old
Abandoned over thousands of steam-filled showers, she never once grew mold
But as the years passed her battery failed, died of a broken heart
She wasn’t sure why she had to die when she’d always done her part
But The Dusty Scale is not alone in neglected weight-loss heaven
She sits amongst pedometers and thigh-masters times seven
Now a new scale joins the fold with promises of treasure
BMIs to judge your size and add so much more pleasure
New and shiny, accurate, it’s time to face the facts
Until they get too much to bear and this one too gets sacked

Day Six: Mindfulness

yogarantsandraves credit
credit: yogarantsandraves

I am currently in the middle of a six-week mindfulness seminar. Every Monday night, I sit around a boardroom table with five strangers and a therapist while we practice breathing, meditation and yoga and learn all about the power of the brain and the power of breath. And wow, is there power in both!

I don’t think any of us in the group are taking the seminar for weight loss, but the principles of mindfulness apply well to all areas of life. I’ve learned so much each week, it’s hard to keep track of it all. I’m hoping by improving my inner self, I can learn and adopt behaviors which will translate to how I treat my body as well.

Here are some of the takeaways I’ve gotten from class so far:

1. Our minds are so often racing ahead into the future (such as worrying and planning, two things I do a lot of) and reflecting on the past (and not always in a reliable fashion), that it’s often hard for us to keep our minds in the present. Too little of our time is spent in the present, and that’s what life is made of – a bunch of little slices of the present, moments which fade quickly into memories.

We were tasked with focusing on deriving pleasure from moments this week, and really focusing on what the moment was doing for us. I had my most ‘mindful’ moment today after giving my son his bath. It’s usually loud and chaotic to get him dressed and dry, but today he let me scoop him up in his towel and lay him on the carpet of his room. He stared up at me with the sweetest smile while I spoke to him and dried him off, focusing on rubbing his legs and feet and enjoying how he looked up into my eyes as we spoke. Our conversation was about peeing dinosaurs – his toy dinosaur was dripping water – but the content wasn’t important. In that moment, my little boy and I were connecting and touching and smiling and focusing on each other. And I’m grateful I knew to be mindful of that.

2. Why do we believe the thoughts our minds present to us? It’s automatic to do this. We take our thoughts literally, and either agree with them or argue with them. And how hard is it to fight off a thought?! It’s nearly impossible to just will a thought away. But really, our thoughts are just part of an ongoing process of relating and reacting. They are neither true or false. They are just thoughts as we relate to them.

I feel this knowledge is important because we experience so much in our minds that is never actually reality. I’m talking about worry, guilt, shame, self-doubt – all which invade our thoughts and block out the real experience of NOW. And how much of those feelings are just projections of a reality that only you inhabit?

This can be applied to weight loss. I’ve yet to learn the secret to will power (and if someone has it, please tell me), but I do know I let negative thoughts interrupt my attempts at healthy habits.

3. Breathe is powerful. My husband knows I’m a fan of deep breathing. I’ve taken enough yoga and CBT and done enough stress reduction research to have felt I was already a deep breathing guru. I was wrong! There is so much more to breathing than I knew. Did you know that taking a really deep belly breath does something to your vasovagal nerve which then sends out serotonin? I knew that taking a deep breath was relaxing, but now I understand the actual science behind how it works and I’m amazed. Breathing is a mini anti-depressant. I also love how deep breathing blocks out anxiety and anger (for the duration of the breath) because your body can’t breathe rapidly and shallowly while you’re doing deep breathing. It literally cancels out the stress response.

I used to lie in bed at night and do the one nostril breathing technique to relax me before sleep. I’m sure my husband will love the addition of center point breathing, etc. Ha. Well, with any luck, I can get him to join me in some heavy breathing before bed….

(Haha)

Day Three: My fitness foe

Five years ago I lost 20 pounds doing Weight Watchers. I went to weekly meetings because I liked, and knew I needed, the accountability. I was able to use the internet to track my progress, but I was still given a booklet and a hand-held points calculator. I did well with this system: pen and paper, and a calculator sitting in my kitchen, daring me to defy it.

Fast-forward into the age of apps, and the popularity of the free and easy-to-use My Fitness Pal. Dozens of people have suggested to me, and it’s sat latently in the background on at least my past three smartphones. I’ve gone through spurts of using it, and I always end up discouraged.

For one thing, it tells me I should be eating 1350 calories a day. And maybe I should, I don’t know. I could lie to tweak the app’s setting- it can’t call me out on it – but I’ve left it as it is, and each day watched myself dive into the red. 1350 calories just seems SO FEW. And the second I’m -200, my brain just goes “Screw it. You’ve already gone over for the day. Try again tomorrow.”

For another thing, it’s not asking to be completed in the same way an empty line on a log book is. I don’t have a completed product at the end of the week. And it sits neatly on my phone, obscured by Facebook notifications and the weather application. It doesn’t taunt me like a Weight Watchers calculator.

But the worst thing of all, to me, is how clear it makes it where I’m nutritionally lacking. I’ve never once met its requirements for fiber or potassium or iron, and I’ve always gone over in sugar. And I just don’t wanna know about it. Lalalala. *fingers in ears*

But for the sake of my renewed endeavors, and for the sake of this blog, I am going to track every thing I eat every single day for one week. And I’m going to turn reaching (and staying with the limits of) the nutrition guidelines a goal of mine. I’ll pretend it’s a game. Or something.  There are limits to what you can trick yourself into thinking is ‘fun.’

But the app deserves a fair shot before I decide it’s not for me.

We’ll see just how good of friends My Fitness Pal and I are truly are, next Saturday.

(Oh, if it seems obvious from this post that I should just try Weight Watchers again….I might. But I’m going to attempt some free versions first)

Day One: History of a married chocolate fiend

The background is telling of an age...
The background is telling of an age…

One thing should be clear from day one of my blog: I am not a proponent of the ‘fat acceptance’ movement. I’m a proponent of a healthy body image movement, and I’m against fat shaming. But I am not a Confident Fat Woman. I won’t buy and post a picture of myself in a fat-kini. I believe we should love ourselves no matter our size, but I don’t think it’s healthy to accept and embrace obesity.

I chose the above photo of myself as a representation of the weight I strive to be. I think of it as my ‘skinny’ self, but really, I’m still curvy in this photo. I like being curvy. I didn’t like being told I had ‘child-bearing hips’ by boys when I was in middle school. I hate bra shopping since the smallest my boobs have ever been is a DD. But being curvy is good.

Being obese is not.

I was a skinny child. The gangly type, all arms and long hair and no coordination. When puberty hit, and it came early for me, I was faced with ill-fitting clothes and general wonderment at the flow of my new figure. I discovered the Juniors section and make-up and from that point on I became pretty, well, vain (it was a phase). The story my best friend and I like to rehash is how ridiculous our grooming rituals were- up at 5:30 to make sure we curled our hair and did full-makeup. Half a bottle of Victoria’s Secret body spray before entering the school halls and a reapplication of lip-gloss at every opportunity. Lunch meant a make-up touch-up and a hair check, and some extra body spray.

I would sit in the bath and hunch over and make sure I didn’t have a ‘roll.’  I could handle my wide hips and my muscular calves. As long as I didn’t have a dreaded stomach roll!

I got married when I was twenty. The photo above is a year into married life – the giddy, super sexy phase where no one gains a pound. But since I have been married for ten years, the phases of marriage have crept into my diet and exercise plan- you know, the I-don’t-give-crap-right-now-because-you’re-a-jerk phase. The he-loves-me-whatever phase. The I-have-no-one-to-impress-right-now phase. The lets-sit-around-and-binge-watch-TV-and-binge-eat-too phase.

I’m not blaming my husband. I’m not blaming marriage. I’m saying it’s made me look in the mirror less and made me lounge around more.

As I mentioned before, I have no will-power. I am good at justifying anything from deserving a piece of cheesecake to deserving a night off from the gym. I’m also good at procrastinating.

There are three other more serious aspects to my weight gain. I’ll keep them brief.

1- Pregnancy and childbirth. Gestational diabetes and my tendency towards meticulousness while pregnant meant I followed my diet to a T. I hardly gained any weight while pregnant. But once I gave birth, I ordered cheesecake right away. The diabetes was gone! I was freeeeeee! And then I was so busy breastfeeding and eating and working to keep up my supply – in addition to sleeping for only 2 or 3 hour stretches- that the last time I stepped on a scale post- partum I weighed 165 and things were looking good. In the three years since I stepped on that scale post-partum, I’ve gained FIFTY POUNDS. It’s not pregnancy’s fault, it’s just a host of factors related to the post-partum period which meant I lost complete control of what I was doing and what my body was doing. I had no idea.

2-Stress. I have quite a stressful life. My OBGYN has said it’s likely stress hormones have contributed to my weight gain.

and on a related note

3. Insulin Resistance. Last time a doctor took a good look at my bloods and scans, I was told I don’t have PCOS, since my bloodwork wasn’t consistent with it, but it was possible I was PCOS-ish (they are very noncommittal about this). But since then I have discovered I am probably insulin resistant. My OBGYN, just last week, said it’s like I have to do twice as much work to lose weight for half the result of a ‘normal’ person. I already knew I had the metabolism of a reptile, but this put it in perspective for me. Hormones are not on my side.

But I shall not be deterred. Day One of my weight loss journey is over and I went to Body Jam today. I drank a protein smoothie but I also had a bowl of ice cream and some Halloween candy. Tomorrow is a new day.