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Resolutions 2011: Weight Loss and Fitness, Part II

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.

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  1. Ann says:

    This post hit home in a big way. I have an endocrine disorder but used to work in fashion… you can imagine the body dysmorphia and self-hatred that developed. I went from over-working out/starving to learning to eat again and finding workouts that are fun and non-workouts. I'm still teaching myself to be comfortable in my own skin but I've done everything under the sun as far as workouts. My newest love is figure skating, seriously. Torches 400 calories an hour but most importantly is fun and that's what keeps me going.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Smeeshu says:

    I'm going to start doing the post-workout chocolate milk. Great idea! I've recently discovered the Nike Training Club app. I love it b/c I can do it anywhere, pick my own music, have tons of workouts to choose form, and get a full-body strenght and cardio workout in 30-45 min. It kicks my butt completely, but it's honestly a lot of fun.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  3. aw says:

    This presents a fantastic approach to working out and staying healthy – excellent post.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  4. Ms. B says:

    Looking forward to the strength part myself. I do not like physical weakness AT ALL!!!!!!!

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  5. S says:

    If you do want to try running, I highly recommend the couch to 5k app.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  6. Sarah says:

    Belle, I too noticed the scale went up when I started working out regularly (I'm a Bar Method addict) but I'm trying to be unconcerned about it. I've read in a few mags about 'Fat skinny'–people who don't weigh an unhealthy amount (and look skinny) but are actually really unhealthy and most of them is fat. I think that was/is me…but i'm slowly building more muscle and i feel amazing!

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  7. Michelle says:

    I second the chocolate milk plug. I am a runner, and drink chocolate milk after all of my long training runs. This website explains why it's a good post-workout recovery drink: https://www.refuelwithchocolatemilk.com/science/

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  8. R says:

    Could you post a few examples of good workout wear? I'm starting to get back in and would like some suggestions for good shorts, appropriate tank/workout bras etc. I really appreciated the raw-ness of the last few posts. Thanks for sharing.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  9. Katie says:

    Yes to Jillian Michaels! I'm so glad you pointed out non-scale victories. I feel like a lot of people need to be a certain weight or size to feel good, but I started a workout mission (8000 minutes of working out) for 2011 and I don't weigh less, but I'm certainly in better shape and in better spirits.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  10. annie says:

    this is really quite excellent. thank you, belle, for your forthrightness and useful posts.

    happy holidays.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  11. Julie says:

    Amazing follow-up post. I found that I still was getting into old habits when I went to a gym so I knew I wasn't ready for that. I did a weird thing and bought the Wii Fit system for my birthday. I couldn't run at all before due to lung issues and now I can run 6 minutes straight. I kick ass at the Gold's Gym Cardio Dance game and I hula hoop with the Wii for 10 minutes straight. I know I've lost weight because I went down a pants size and a bra size but I'm so much more focused on my accomplishments than the pounds now. I'm thinking in a few more months I'll be ready to try a gym with this new mindset so I don't get super-competitive about weight loss. I'm thinking that choosing a favorite activity like swimming will be a good start for branching out.

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  12. Allison says:

    Belle – I completely second! I was an athlete in college, and when I stopped working out after a career ending injury I too took to the most unhealthy of habits to “lose weight.” However, I've found the greatest thing for me is either the buddy (or several buddies!) system. I now do boot camp three mornings a week, and do long runs over the weekend with a friend of mine who just discharged from the Army. I'm no where near the shape (or size) I was during my competitive days, but I enjoy spending time with my friends while doing my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    For the record, the occasional glass of wine is in my humble opinion the best reward at the end of a hard workout week!

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  13. K says:

    Sarah, or really anyone else who has been to Bar Method… can you please tell me why you like it?

    I've going to Washington Sports Club for about 6 months now. It's fine, and I like their classes enough. I also sort of feel like I'm all on my own with it, and that maybe Bar Method would hold me more accountable. I'm not in the greatest shape, whenever I go to yoga I have trouble holding the planks as long as everyone else, but I wouldn't say I'm especially large either (size 12/14). I'm afraid Bar Method would be so so hard and I would regret spending all the money.

    Any insights?

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  14. Christine says:

    I really enjoying doing a 20-minute pilates workout DVD after work. It is great exercise, but it also calms and energizes me after a long day at work. However, if you've never done pilates, I recommend taking a few classes with an instructor first so that you can master the basics with someone checking your form. Another recommendation would be hundredpushups.com, which is a 6-week training program that helps you build up to doing (you guessed it) 100 consecutive push-ups (don't worry, you can start out with the modified form). It's a great, easy way to build strength and doesn't require any equipment, so you can even keep up with the routine if you're traveling. Here's to a healthy and strong New Year ladies!

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  15. Sarah says:

    K-
    So I'm the kind of person who when I go to the gym, I do just the minimum…i don't push myself at all. I think it's because I grew up taking dance classes where I had a dance teacher yelling at me all the time–now it's the only way I can do anything. That being said, the Bar Method teachers in no way yell at all haha. But they are very motivating and don't let you slack off! I would say that there is a range of sizes in terms of Bar Method clients…the last class I was in had at least 2 or 3 girls who were larger than you are, and they were absolutely treated the same as anyone else (firm but friendly!).

    Here are the reasons I like Bar Method-
    -i am 2 years out from an ACL injury, and all the exercises are low-impact and were developed with the help of physical therapists
    -for the first time in my life, i can feel muscles all defined in my arms. My husband makes fun of me because I sometimes just feel them and smile…hey, i'm proud!
    -the class is intense, but you feel so accomplished and amaznig when it's over! it really is kind of addicting.

    The negative thing is that it IS expensive. but for me, i would pay the $60 bucks at various gyms per month but only go a few times. With Bar Method, I literally go 4 times a week. i was NEVER 'that girl' who went to the gym or worked out regularly, so it's really motivating for me. If you want to chat about it more, e-mail me at Saraheshah@gmail.com 🙂 Hope that helps!

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  16. KLo says:

    I must recommend myfitnesspal.com as well for getting healthier. Sure there are the unhealthy weight losers, but for the most part, it's my “Facebook for Fat People” and a group of like-mined people working together as a virtual buddy system. It's been really helpful for me (I lost over 40 pounds and kept most of it off – even through the most tumultuous year of my life. And now that I'm working on being healthier again, my friends are all there. I can still text them from the treadmill! And you can be as anonymous as you'd like.

    Love these posts 🙂

    December 21, 2011/Reply
  17. S. L. says:

    Belle, thanks for the last few “resolutions” posts. I needed the inspiration that even those of us with office jobs can get off our butts and exercise. Thanks for the kick in the figurative pants!

    You mentioned multivitamins so a quick note on that: I've found that nothing improves the texture and shine of my hair like taking a multivitamin daily. I can see a difference within 3 or 4 days. Not gonna lie–I know multivitamins are good for general health, but having good hair is what keeps me motivated to take them. Whatever it takes, huh? 🙂

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  18. Artemisia says:

    Great post. It's SO nice to read about fitness from someone that's not insane about it, getting up at 3 am to bike and running monthly marathons and so forth. Those blogs just make me tired. I'm a life-long moderate-intensity off-and-on fitness person. Guess what, I'm healthy and look good for my age without ever having run a 5k race.

    I'm dubious about the chocolate milk thing – what does chocolate add to the milk in terms of recovery? (If you just like the taste, that's different).

    I used to hate to run because I associated it with weight-loss and the nasty-ass punitive mind set behind it. Now I love to run (as long as the weather isn't horrible and I can get to a nice flat course, which sucks because I live in an area that's all hills) but have been terrible about finding the time. After Christmas, I'm going to make sure I get three runs in a week and call it me time.

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  19. Michelle says:

    Artemisia, re: the chocolate milk, it has the right ratio of carbs, protein, and nutrients to help your muscles rebuild after a strenuous workout. Lots of info on that on the interwebs:

    https://www.livestrong.com/article/516427-what-is-the-benefit-of-drinking-chocolate-milk-for-athletes/

    https://www.refuelwithchocolatemilk.com/science/

    https://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/06/22/milk_studies/

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  20. Emme Gee says:

    I would totally recommend the CrossFit program – it's challenging and it's under an hour a day. It may seem intimidating and like the workouts are in a foreign language, but it's easy to learn and anyone can do it. All of the exercises can be scaled for beginners and the program is big on “getting off the scale.” You can find a local affiliate on the main website – https://crossfit.com/.

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  21. KC says:

    I second Cross-Fit. It's also expensive, but I have found that I rarely skip because I am paying so much for it that I have to go. In the first three months I gained 5 pounds but my body fat percentage dropped to 4% lower than it had ever been. And, after 9 months, I can do pull-ups for the first time in my entire life.

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  22. Megan says:

    Thanks for a terrific post, Belle! I really appreciate the emphasis on wellness and on fitness as the way to a fuller life. Here's a question – I've been working out and eating better and have started to slim down. (I used to be on the heavy side.) My clothes are starting to fit better, but some are getting to be too loose! (A true first-world problem, I know!) Since I can't afford to replace my wardrobe (I'm on the low end of the non-profit pay scale) what are my options for tailoring? What items (blouses, sweaters, pants, skirts, etc.) can I reasonably expect that a tailor can take in without charging more than I'd pay to replace the item?

    Have a merry Christmas!

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  23. Steph says:

    I agree with you on the fitness. Working out for your body is sooo important. I also suffered from an eating disorder when I was younger. I've gotten way over it, but there is one website that I wish had been around when I was younger: My Body Gallery. It's just a good reminder that women came in all shapes and sizes and two people could be the same height and weight and look totally different. It's just a helpful sight to remember to respect your body.

    December 22, 2011/Reply
  24. Larry says:

    Awesome post ,All the given information is so informative for us ,I really appreciated from your information.I will bookmark it,and sharing it with my friends.Thanks.

    December 26, 2011/Reply