Behind the Fat & Muscle

Neghar Fonooni is a coach, a speaker and a writer, but she got my attention, because she is also a fitness model who decided to stop counting calories and obsessing about the scale. The result: she gained about 15 pounds and felt a lot happier:
In 2009 I was 120 pounds and 12 percent body fat. I was ripped out of my mind and also ACTUALLY out of my mind. I counted every last calorie and worked out about two hours per day. I was in an abusive relationship, lacked confidence, and only felt good about myself when I was lean. I weighed myself every single day and allowed that number to dictate how I felt about myself. – Neghar Fonooni
Today, Neghar exercises less and enjoys red wine and local cuisine when she travels. She describes herself as active and strong but no longer “ripped,” and she couldn’t care less. She now coaches other women towards self-love and authenticity. To paraphrase one of my favorite things she’s written: ‘Know how you get a bikini body? Take your body, and put a bikini on it. No diet necessary.
Neghar has been criticized for shaming the uber-fit by publicly describing how miserable she was back in 2009, but in response, she says she in no way means that every person with rippling muscles is unhappy; her point is 12 percent body fat does not necessarily equal happiness, and when she was in pursuit of ultimate lean-ness, she came at it from an unhealthy angle. Life must be balanced with physical, mental and emotional health all considered, and neither body type – the super-hard nor the softer – is better than the other.
I’m going to take this a step further and say you can’t look at someone and know whether or not they are happy (as in, happy with life in general. If you come upon a stranger screaming at a grocery store clerk, you can safely assume that, in the moment, that person is not happy.)
As soon as we can stop looking at people’s appearances and assuming they are healthy or unhealthy, happy or unhappy, we can begin to see people for what they are – whole, complex, dynamic systems. While generalizations and statistics can be useful when thinking about large groups, dealing with individuals requires the realization that no person fits neatly into one, limited category.
We all do it – make those assumptions based on looks the instant we meet a new person. The trick is not necessarily to berate yourself for those assumptions, but to check yourself. When you see a larger person and assume they don’t eat healthily or see a muscly person and assume they’re stupid or unhappy, give yourself some grace, and then gently remind yourself to suspend that judgment. And, if the opportunity and inclination arises, get to know that person better. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find under whatever their exterior happens to be.
I get weekly emails from Fonooni, and they always make me smile. You can visit her website  to read more about what she does and sign up.

Here’s Your Sign

Recently, I ran out of motivation. I’d think, “okay, it’s time to work out,” and my emotional response was, “blech. I’d rather go to the dentist” (which is saying a lot, because I have serious dental anxiety.) One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my adult exercising years is this: when I consistently don’t want to work out, not because I’m tired or busy, but just because I don’t wanna, it’s time for a change.

Recently, several things have happened: my neighborhood fitness classes became unavailable, my yoga studio closed, and my knees started aching. These things coupled with the heat meant I did all of my summer workouts in my game room in front of the tv. I have an extensive exercise video library, so I was able to mix it up quite a bit, but by August, the idea of pushing play and listening to a recorded trainer’s voice was a serious buzz-kill.

“I know this feeling,” I thought. It’s time for something different, but what? I missed the social aspect and camaraderie of live group classes, and I missed being outside. So, I looked into Camp Gladiator, tried a barre class, discovered something called “PaddleFit,” and bought a Groupon for a Pilates studio. I also got myself a brand new pair of running shoes. Even with achy knees, I can do a short run once a week; running is good for my spirit. With new things to explore, I am enjoying my workouts again and have no problem motivating myself to do them each day.

Just now I was lifting weights in my game room – my own routine with a new, kick-ass playlist my husband made, not with a video – when I thought about how this applies, not only to exercise, but to just about everything. I can feel the need for change, in my workout, in my personal life, in my career. It’s a restlessness, a boredom that comes over me, but I always resist it at first. I am a creature of habit, and I have this subconscious idea in my head that if something works for me now, it should always work. And, if I admit it isn’t working anymore, it is and was the wrong thing, and I am wrong.

When I write it out, it sounds ridiculous; it is ridiculous, but it’s truly why I am so adverse to change. And, it’s not an attitude that has served me well; in fact, it has been the cause of a lot of stress – my unwillingness to change even though I am miserable in my current situation. The thing is, the right thing today can be the wrong thing tomorrow or in different circumstances. We have to be willing to continually re-evaluate our choices and change what we are doing if it no longer works for us. It doesn’t mean we were necessarily wrong when we made the choice in the first place. It just means we are dynamic people, who need different things at various points in our lives, or, hell, even in our days.

I know some people run at change like a labrador to people (or dogs or toys or water – labradors love everything enthusiastically.) But if you’re like me and sometimes resist that change that you know you need, show yourself some love. Leave behind that job, that workout, that friend that no longer serves and find something that does.

Out of the Closet

Recently, I went on an overnight trip to a bed and breakfast for a friend’s 40th birthday. I was hesitant to go, because I didn’t know most of the women attending, but a voice in my head said, “go. You might have fun,” so I did. In the past, I’ve “gotten through” situations like these – events where I didn’t know anyone. I’d make as much small-talk as I could stand, then hide in the bathroom until it was over, and I’d feel like I’d accomplished being social. It was more like checking a chore off the list than doing something fun. This time, though, I decided if I was going to make the effort to go, I was going to go mindfully. I was going to be open to the possibility of genuine connection with people, without developing unrealistic expectations to meet my new best friend at this out-of-town slumber party.

We had a blast. Everyone was so relieved to be away and with other women, despite the fact that many of us didn’t know each other, it was instantly comfortable. We talked about everything from recipes to fears we have for our children to vaginal rejuvenation, complete with photos (yes, of the vaginal rejuvenation.) We laughed a LOT, and we connected over the things we struggle with. In a move that shocked even us, some of us stayed up until 3am talking. None of it was small-talk; we even dabbled in politics. Then, we got to the big one: religion. I decided to go out on a limb, so I “came out” as an atheist.

People press all kinds of assumptions onto that word, but I am a literal atheist. Broken down, the word means, “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” I have a whole mess of “beliefs” (better defined as vague ideas or hypotheses loosely based on science) about universal energy, and I work towards living by Buddhist tenets, but I do not believe in a higher power. Because I am a 40-year-old while lady living in Texas, however, most people assume I’m some variety of Christian.

In the wee hours of the morning, after a fair amount of bonding and wine, I felt comfortable enough with these women to be upfront about my beliefs. The results were liberating. No one judged or argued; we had a discussion. I asked questions, they asked questions, and we shared our honest thoughts on religion. Everyone in the group truly sought to understand. It was a relief to be honest, and it felt something like a miracle not to be alienated, with my views so very different from the rest of the group. In fact, I felt more connected to them for having shared.

Here’s my conundrum: short of making myself a t-shirt that says, “kiss me, I’m atheist,” there’s no concise way to be “out” in my community. Every day, people speak to me about where God has placed them, how he has blessed them, and what his plans are for them. They say these things in casual conversation and underlying the comments, I can feel their assumption I share their beliefs. So, while I am not technically lying about what I believe, I am allowing them to assume something untrue  about me – something fundamental and important. It feels like living a lie at times. I want people to feel free to express their thoughts on God to me; it’s part of how we connect – sharing our core beliefs. But, I want to somehow address that underlying assumption in a gentle, friendly, sharing way, without getting up on a soap box about it. So……suggestions?

Feeling Productive – stress & happiness

When I started my new job back in mid January, I was elated. Thanks to my extrovert friend and neighbor who knows everyone and networks circles around me, I had my first gig that paid me to write. I told my parents,  called my sister,  babbled to my husband, and posted on Facebook. I was the definition of over-the-moon.

That new job came with a deadline, though. I found myself having to turn in the completed contents for the March edition of the magazine about two weeks after I started. I didn’t know what I was doing. The writing part I was comfortable with, but I had no idea how to compile all the content, and I was a nervous wreck about interviewing people. Despite the fact that this was what I’d always wanted, or maybe because of it, I was stressed. I desperately didn’t want to screw it up, but I felt totally overwhelmed. I turned into a bit of a crazy person, shrilly shooing my kids out of my office, venting to Jason with clenched fists. Did I mention this happened the worst week possible – right at the point in my cycle my PMDD is the worst? Yeah, not ideal, but that’s life. When it’s the job you’ve always wanted, you don’t turn it down.

I got through it. It wasn’t graceful, but I didn’t hit anyone or yell too terribly much. I did a lot of deep breathing and reminded myself of all the other times I got through similar situations – teaching for the first time,  running the university-wide blood drive in college. Remembering these reassured me I could do it. I also mentally chanted my mantra, “this too shall pass.” It helped that my advisor for the magazine told me she wanted to quit, the first issue she put out. (This is normal, and if she got through it, so could I.) One evening in those first weeks, I was so stressed and angry-feeling at no one in particular. I went for a run. I ran on the trails, watching the sun set as I went, and got a little lost. I returned after dark, where I found a pointedly calm husband pretending not to worry for the sake of the kids, namely our oldest, who is a worrier. Bless my family, especially Jason, for the support I got that week.

And now, I’ve had this job for seven issues. I know a lot more and continue to learn more each issue, about writing, editing, layout, and also about people. I love this job. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so happily productive at something. And for the first time, I have a job that truly fits what I am naturally good at. I find myself thinking of work late at night or early in the morning, but it’s not stressful. I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to draw boundaries and protect my family time – I do – but it’s so nice not to dread my paying work, like I have a lot of my life. I always thought not wanting to go to work was just what people did. I even chastised myself for being lazy and undedicated. Turns out, I just had to be my true self and find the right thing. The point is this: though it was, to say the least, uncomfortable at first, this job is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I need to feel productive. It’s made me happier and improved my relationship with my kids. Since I have to spend time working, I appreciate the time I have with them more. I am more engaged and present with them. We need rest and play. We also need work. The right work, is good for the soul.

Back on my Meds

I tried to come up with a clever title for this one, but I ended up with bald statement of fact: I am back on my antidepressant. My ob/gyn prescribed sertraline (generic Zoloft) a couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder.) I was experiencing a number of symptoms, both physical and mental, but the overriding one was soul-crushing sadness that came over me like a shroud every month, ten days before my period started and miraculously lifted  with the first drop of blood.

I was elated at first, to have the medication. I had tried a lot of stuff – changing my diet, various supplements, yoga – nothing helped. The medication lifted the fog of depression, and I was thrilled to finally be free of it. But, as time went on, and my initial excitement over not being morosely depressed waned, I started to notice the side effects. I was tired a lot. Sertraline added to the fatigue caused by PMDD to the point where I’d fall asleep while my five year old was telling me about his day at preschool in the afternoon. With the sadness lifted, I had managed to develop some other coping mechanisms – more sleep, less caffeine, meditation – and I thought maybe I could make it without the antidepressant and get rid of being so tired.

So, I quit. At first, I was fine. I got irritable during the last half of my cycle, but I felt it was manageable. Then, one day after being off the medication for about four months, it came back. It was a Tuesday. I spent the entire morning trying not to cry. The sadness overcame me, crushing me like a boulder. I went upstairs, and, without any qualms, fished my bottle of sertraline out of the back of the bathroom cabinet and took one.

After a few days, the sadness abated. And something else happened. Jason seemed like he was in a much better mood, too, and so did the kids. During a heart-to-heart with Jason, he told me it was nice to not have me bitching at them all the time again. I hadn’t even realized. I thought I had kept a lid on my irritability, but my family had known. I had been suffering, and so had they.

The lesson: this is what I need for now. Even if I can function without meds, it’s not worth the impact it has on my loved ones to do without them. I may be a little sleepy here and there, so I’m learning to take naps, which is way better than making my family walk on eggshells, because I can’t stand any noise above a whisper ten days out of the month. Medication isn’t the only answer, or even the first one, but it’s a valid path and choice for many people who suffer from mental/emotional illness, and it is no more a matter of integrity than taking medication for a headache or cancer. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you know you can’t just buck-up and choose to feel better any more than you can if you have the flu. My goal here is destigmatization of mental illness and antidepressants. It shouldn’t be something we have to hide, for fear of being seen as weak. Admitting I needed it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

The Yin and Yang of Facebook

Last night, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I began to get a feeling of “down-ness.” That’s when I knew it was time to put down my phone and go do something else. Usually, when I scroll down the pages of kids and dogs and people doing fun stuff, I smile. I enjoy all the cool stuff people are doing, the funny things their kids say, and the wonderful array of accomplishments people are rightfully proud of.

Sometimes though, I start to feel bad, depressed, down on myself. The negative thoughts creep in: We haven’t been on vacation in a long time. I don’t have friends to go do that sort of thing with. My kids aren’t in that many activities. I’m not working out enough….

Never mind that none of these things are true. It isn’t logic-based, it’s purely emotional. Logically, I know I do lots of cool stuff, too. I know everyone’s lives are complex and different, and just because it seems like everyone on my feed is running a marathon, doesn’t mean I should, too. I know everyone has hard times, even if all they post on Facebook are the glories.

I used to keep scrolling and commenting when I felt bad, trying to logic my way out of the feeling, continuing to post positive comments, thinking that would turn my head around. It doesn’t. The only cure for what a Buddhist would call “comparing mind” in this instance is to get away from it. Put the phone down and go do something else – play with the kids, read a book, go outside – something to remind me that my life is mine and not what I or anyone else portray to the world.

I do it, too. Most of what I post on Facebook is the cool stuff – the kinds of things we used to photograph and put in a paper album. I post the soccer games, the first day and last day of school, my family’s accomplishments, and our vacations. That’s the stuff I want to look back and remember, after all. When I feel like crap, like I don’t know where my career is headed, like I’m unsure how to parent my kids, like I need to get reconnected with my husband but don’t know how….I don’t post that stuff. Why?

Part of it is protective – putting the vulnerable moments out there on the internet leaves me exposed and, well, vulnerable. Part of it is, when I am having a hard time, the last thing I feel like using my energy for is crafting a Facebook post. And part of it is, maybe I don’t want to remember that stuff. Maybe typing it and releasing it into the abyss of the internet makes it more real, forces me to admit its existence, and prevents me from ignoring it.

Something I’ve learned recently, through my readings on Buddhism is this: if you ignore the hard things, if you push them away, they only get stronger and bigger. If you want them to get better, you have to face them head on, examine what they really are, and compassionately absorb them.

Facing something hard, like my periodic insecurity about certain aspects of parenting, doesn’t mean I have to throw it all up on Facebook every day. There are other, more personal ways of doing that. But the point, the thing that motivated me to sit here and write this today, is I know I am not the only one who sometimes can’t handle her Facebook feed. And it has nothing to do with the people on my feed. It has everything to do with me and my mood. If you, like me, sometimes find yourself feeling bad while scrolling but you continue to scroll out of habit, just step away for a while. You don’t have to cancel your account or ban social media from your life for a month. Just step away for now, because what you see online isn’t real life, and it will never be real life anymore than a paper photo album ever was, no matter how technology progresses. That bad feeling is telling you it’s time to get a little perspective.

Being Impulsive

I’ve decided recently I need to be more impulsive. It’s the exact opposite of what parents spend their lives trying to teach their children. When I was eight years old, I stuck a pair of tweezers in a light socket…impulsively, since at eight, I was really “old enough to know better.” When my mom asked, “What were you thinking?” I did my characteristic shrug and “uh uh,” (which is eight year old for “I don’t know.”) But I actually had a better answer than that – the same one I thought every time one of my parents asked exasperatedly, “What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t.”
It was the honest truth. I wasn’t thinking at all. If I’d been thinking, I wouldn’t have stuck the tweezers in the socket, but all that went through my brain was, “they fit so nice.” I circumvented the higher functions of my brain and stuck ’em in.
Okay, so as a kid, learning to be not so impulsive has a survival advantage. Let’s fast forward a few decades. In my thirties, with young children, I took impulse control to new heights.
Want to go back to sleep? Nope.
Want to sit down and rest? Not a chance.
Want to eat a whole meal without being interrupted or sharing it? Never gonna happen.  
As a parent, I found doing what I wanted when I wanted to do it impossible, so much so that I forgot how. Recently, I realized I never do what I want to do, unless there is a good practical reason. But what if there is just not a reason NOT to do it?
Take a bath in the middle of the day? Sure!
Lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling for thirty minutes? Why not?
Stay up past my bedtime to write a post on being impulsive because I was inspired by the Jenny Lawson book I was reading? Great idea!
Jenny does impulsive things like dead raccoon rodeos at two AM, but I have my own slightly more subdued version of impulsive acts.
It’s just that, as adults, we don’t do those things. We don’t do cartwheels in the sand just because we have the sudden urge. We don’t walk barefoot through the wet St. Augustine, because shoes are overrated. We don’t just sit and stare and let our thoughts meander where they will. Try it. Sit in a chair in your living room and just space out for a while. See how long it takes someone in your household to ask you what’s wrong. Just sitting and spacing out is something I used to do as a kid (especially in high school chemistry class) a lot, and I’m rediscovering it. It’s pretty cool.
So there you have it: my argument for impulsive behavior – it doesn’t have to be a good idea, it just has to be not a really bad idea. Because “not bad” can sometimes make you really happy.