One night in October, I was walking with a friend when she asked, “Do you go running on the Mall?”
My response was the standard comeback I’ve used since I quit working out cold turkey in 2005, “Not unless someone is chasing me.”
“So you don’t work out at all?,” she asked.
“Nope, I’m happy with my body and my weight,” I replied.
She thought for a moment, and then mentioned a Facebook status update from some months back that mirrored today’s earlier post, when it expressed that we should separate fitness from weight. And then she said, “So you’re still linking your weight with working out, but instead of punishing yourself to lose, you’re doing the opposite.”
I pondered her point for a second, and realized that she had me. “Damn you, and your logic.”
You see, I hate working out. When I was deep in my body dysmorphia, working out felt like a form of self-abuse. I was only doing it to lose weight and fit some mythical ideal, not because I gave a damn about being strong or healthy.
So when I decided to love my body–shapely hips, small bust and all–I no longer saw any reason to hit the gym. But once my friend pointed out the flaw in my logic, I could no longer ignore it. I was happy with my body, but I wasn’t in good shape or taking good care of my long-term health. I was going to have to start working out. Eff.
My first trip to the gym was rough. I had lost so much strength and tired out so easily, that I didn’t even know how to train myself anymore. I could no longer run a seven minute mile. I could no longer do 50 push ups (I did four.). I could no longer bench anywhere near my previous record. And that’s when I realized that while the weight I’ve gained doesn’t bother me (and shouldn’t), the strength that I’ve lost really does. Thus, I set about the nasty business of working out regularly at a beginner level.
Two days per week, I spend 20 minutes on the elliptical. I also do 50 crunches on a balance ball, and 50 bicycles. And I use the hotel-style fitness center in my building to do a weight circuit of two sets of 12 on about a half-dozen machines. It takes about 45 minutes, if I’m alone in the gym.
On three alternating days, I do Jillian Michaels workout DVD “No More Trouble Zones” on the floor in my living room. The workout is not as intense or as demanding as a P90X or Insanity, but it works. The first time I did it, I could barely sit the next day because my inner thighs were just screaming for mercy. Now, after two months, the 40-minute workout is much easier.
I also take the stairs when I can, walk home when it’s warm enough and walk up instead of ride the Metro escalator. But this is more to break me out of my sedentary mindset than for workout purposes.
After working out this way on a consistent basis (this is the Hill, of course I miss days now and again) for eight weeks, I wondered what I weigh. There was no doubt that my clothes fit differently and that I was stronger, so I thought I’d weigh less. But I climbed on the scale with exuberance only to discover that I’d gained four pounds.
I then spent a full minute reminding myself that muscle is heavier than fat before the impact subsided. No one, not even someone happy with her body, wants to see the second number on the scale go up.
Thanks to my moderate-intensity, beginner workout, I feel stronger. I feel a little more energized. And I feel good about the workout, not as a method for losing weight, but as way to get back into shape and stay healthy. So if you’ve resolved to get fit this year, I would offer you these five pieces of advice.
- Choose a Workout That Fits Your Lifestyle. Like most working women, I don’t have a lot of time to workout. So I chose a workout that takes less than an hour, can be done morning or evening, can be done at my home and doesn’t need to be done on the weekends during my precious Belle-time. This makes it easy for me to keep up with it consistently. I think the biggest mistake a person can make is starting out with a hard core, 2-hour per day workout that they’ll never be able to maintain.
- Choose a Workout That You Enjoy. I hate to run. So I don’t run, ever. Instead, I picked a workout that I like to do (or at least don’t hate to do). I’ve also thought about taking martial arts or maybe trying to learn the silks at Trapeze School NY’s DC location. Because it would be nice to have a hobby that is active instead of sedentary.
- Don’t Weigh Yourself for Two Months. This will not be easy. I suggest removing the batteries from your scale and hiding it in a closet. But the reason for doing this is that you need to wait until your consistently working out and feel good about your progress before you look at “the number.” Otherwise, you could get discouraged or get too caught up in reaching some arbitrary goal.
- Drink Chocolate Milk. Years ago, I had a personal trainer who advocated drinking a glass of chocolate milk one hour after your workout. She believed that this was good for two reasons: 1) it kept you from feeling deprived and gave you a little reward, and 2) it helped with post-workout recovery by replacing key nutrients. If you’re lactose intolerant, she recommended whey powder smoothies.
- Use the Buddy System. It never hurts to have a friend around when you’re starting a workout plan. A partner gives you someone to be accountable to and someone to support you when you need it. It also makes it less scary to start a new class or start going to a new gym if you have a friendly face around. So if you can, pair up.
Please keep in mind that I am neither a medical professional nor a board certified personal trainer. This is just the workout plan that is working for me, and what works for you may be different. If you need help starting a regimen, many local gyms offer sessions with personal trainers. I’d buy a few for myself as a gift and then, start working out on my own when I felt comfortable.
If you want to share any workout tips that work for you, leave them in the comments.
P.S. I should also mention that while I don’t usually resolve to do anything in the New Year, I made a resolution this year to eat at least one serving of fruit or vegetables at every meal, plus one more. This is much harder to do than it sounds. So I’ve also resolved to take a multi-vitamin as well.