Thursday, April 28, 2011

Battling the mean girl within

As I stand in front of the bathroom mirror before my shower and wait for the water to warm up, I commence my regular routine of self-loathing.  

I study my stomach in disgust, angry that it still looks 4 months pregnant when all efforts to disguise it are removed.  I woefully acknowledge my stretch marks, battle wounds from two pregnancies, angrily climbing their way up my overly-wide hips; a renegade mark snakes its way across my rounded lower abdomen.  I berate myself for my too-big thighs, calling to mind the line from Love Actually (one of my favorite movies) where the Prime Minister's secretary admits in embarrassment that her boyfriend left her because "no one would fancy a girl with thighs the size of tree trunks". The mirror starts to steam up, signaling that my shower is ready before I even get a chance to move on to my flabby arms and puffy face.

The bathroom mirror offers a stark contrast to what I see when I look at myself in the full-length mirror in my bedroom.  This is the mirror that I study myself in after I've gotten dressed and am ready to leave the house to brave the world.  This mirror seems to be kinder, and actually gives me occasional confidence in my appearance.  Sometimes I even allow myself to think, "Hey girl, looking good today."  But then, that's a dangerous train of thought.  Because when I permit myself that small morsel of self confidence, the fall is all the more difficult.  

The fall comes when I see myself in a photo or on video.  The fall comes when I see how I "really" look to others, when I've been captured in a moment playing with my son, unaware of the camera and not making sure all my clothes are arranged just so, that my stomach is sucked in and that my face is tilted at an angle so that it doesn't appear as fat as it really is.  A moment that I should be happy to have immortalized instead turns into another opportunity for my inner Mean Girl to remind me of how things really are.

And she doesn't let me down.  She pounces with claws fully extended, ready to rip my already bruised self image to shreds.  "Ugh, look at yourself.  How could you think you look skinny in those jeans?  You're NOT skinny, so it's impossible to look skinny.  In fact, you look pretty fat.  You were stupid to think that you might actually be making progress with your weight loss, baby.  Sorry to tell you, but you've got a looooong way to go.  No one can even tell that you've lost any weight.  That's how big you are.  You're so big that losing 10 pounds doesn't even make a difference in how you look."

When I try to do something good for myself, like sticking to my running program, she's there, too.  "You'll never be able to actually run a 5k.  Look at how you're struggling to run for 5 minutes.  You are so screwed when you get to week 6, because that's just straight running.  You just won't be able to do it, and then how embarrassed will you be.  You may as well just give up now.  You always knew running wasn't for you, just accept it."   

It's a constant struggle to silence this evil bitch that lives inside my head.  In the past, I took what she said at face value.  In the  past, I believed her without question.  In the past, her opinion was the only one that mattered.  It barely made a dent when my husband told me how hot I am, how attractive and beautiful I looked.  His words were no match for the suit of armor the Mean Girl had erected around my heart. 

The funny thing about this suit of armor is that it handily brushes away any positive thoughts, but readily and willingly accepts any hint of negativity directed at me.  Well-intentioned but poorly worded comments are easily twisted into grenades that blast holes in my confidence, repeating on loop in my head.  Someone from the office says, "You barely look like you had a baby!  You'll be back to slim and sleek in no time."  I hear, "Wow, last time I saw you, your belly was hugely pregnant!  Now it's not.  But you're still fat.  Maybe in time, you'll be in better shape."

But I'm starting to get sick of this Mean Girl.  She's worn out her welcome, and I'm starting to see her for who she really is.  How is it that she was insulting and berating me when I was in high school, skinnier than I've ever been or ever will be again?  How is it that she was making sure I felt like a huge fatty when I was getting married, weighing in at what is now my goal weight (a number that is still many pounds out of my reach)?  I'm beginning to see the holes in her strategy.

No matter what I look like, she tells me I'm ugly.  No matter what effort I make towards becoming more active and fit, she tells me it's not good enough.  No matter what I weigh, she tells me I'm fat.  No matter how well I ate during the day, she still sends me to bed feeling guilty about some treat or indulgence.  And I'm finally calling bullshit.  

Enough already.  It's more than enough.  Yes, I might still be "fat".  But I'm truly making an effort to get down to a healthier weight.  I have never stuck to a self-imposed exercise program for longer than 4 weeks, and the fact that I'll soon be entering Week 5 of C25K kicks SO much ass.

So when Mean Girl tells me I'll be screwed when I reach Week 6, I respond with, "That's ok.  I'll just do Week 5 until I feel ready to move on."

When Mean Girl tells me the running isn't helping me look any better, I say, "Ah well, doesn't matter.  I'm really doing it because I'm trying to learn to enjoy exercise."

When Mean Girl tells me my stretch marks are hideous, I choke back tears and tell her to shut up because the only person besides me who sees them doesn't care anyway.

When Mean Girl points out someone else who is skinnier, prettier, better dressed than me, I remind her that I'm doing my best and that that other person has different battles.  

Since I'm just starting to fight back, Mean Girl is still pretty strong.  A lot of times she just laughs at my feeble efforts to deflect her jabs.  But they're starting to sink in.  I can feel it.  I'm starting to believe that, just maybe, the things I say in return are true.  

And that's the real battle.                          

Monday, April 11, 2011

Couch (Potato) to 5K

When I got pregnant with L, I was just about to get started on a health kick.  I had finally gotten fed up with the excess flab I was carrying around with me and decided that I'd join Weight Watchers and start training to run a 5K using the Couch to 5K program.  But then I learned I was no longer walking around alone and that positive pregnancy test was like a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Having dodged that bullet, I happily settled into my "I'll get to that after the baby is born" attitude towards eating right and exercising and ate myself stupid for the duration of my pregnancy.  For good measure, I did as little physical activity as possible.  And boy was it good while it lasted.  I figured I was fine because I'd planned on nursing L and had always heard that breastfeeding was to calories what I was to pizza or puppy chow (that amazing stuff you make with Chex, chocolate, peanut butter and powdered sugar).  Basically, I thought that nursing would torch the fat and flab from my body with ease.  

Then L was born.  And I found out that, unfortunately, I was sold a bill of goods on the nursing thing.  After dropping a fraction of the weight I'd gained - mostly just the weight consisting of L and his placenta - I plateaued at a nauseatingly high number.  So, I recommited myself to working out and Weight Watchers. 

I actually did pretty good at first.  I started out doing the 30 Day Shred with Jillian Michaels, but then I hurt my knee because my body was like "WOAH there.  Are you saying we're supposed to be active??"  So too much, too soon.  Then I decided to try different Walking for Weightloss programs with Leslie Sansone.  I loved them.  They were challenging but achievable.  Plus, Leslie was just so nice.  I liked her encouraging, friendly style WAY more than Jillian's barky "You suck, you big fatty" attitude.

Meanwhile, I was doing well with Weight Watchers.  I was counting my points faithfully and was seeing results in the form of a steadily decreasing number on the scale. 

But once I returned to work, the going got tough.  For the first couple weeks, I would come home and dutifully put on my sneaks and walk with Leslie.  I kept my Weight Watchers online points tracker up on my computer at all times and tracked everything I ate.  Gradually, though, I grew weary of counting points and logging everything I ate.  I came home from work exhausted because L was waking 4 to 5 times per night, and the last thing I wanted to do was change my clothes and exercise.  Then my 3 month subscription to Weight Watchers ran out and I didn't want to pay to continue. 

So, Weight Watchers and exercising went by the wayside.  And then I got pregnant with C.  "Well there you go," I said to myself.  "I can't diet anymore and I'm not supposed to start a new workout program so I'll just try to control my eating and not be a total couch potato and I'll be ok." 

And even though I didn't pig out nearly as much as I did with L, I still ate whatever I wanted.  Lucky for me, C was smaller than L and I didn't get fat in the face as I had with L.  So I looked pretty ok, even in my third trimester. 

Towards the end of my pregnancy with C, I decided that I wanted to try the Couch to 5K program I had heard so much about.  I was hoping that I wouldn't have to do Weight Watchers again, telling myself that just because nursing didn't drop the pounds the first time didn't mean it wouldn't do it the second time around.  Maybe just throwing in the exercise component would turn things around. 

Well, of course that wasn't the case.  Even though I gained about 15 pounds less with C, I still somehow plateaued at the same weight I did with L.  Very depressing.  So I grudgingly signed up for Weight Watchers and made a deal with my brother to run a 5K with me in June.  Just barely enough time to finish the C25K program.

As soon as I got cleared by my doctor to exercise, I put on my workout gear and grabbed my iPod.  It didn't even cross my mind that perhaps a complete novice runner should not start trying to run outside when it was 35 degrees outside.

The C25K program is basically this: 5 minutes of brisk walking to warm up, then alternating running and walking intervals, then 5 minutes of walking to cool down.  There is an outdoor track approximately 5 minutes from the house, so I decide to walk up there then do my running/walking on the track.

About 25 seconds into the warm-up walk, I was ready to quit.  My throat was starting to burn from the frigid air, and my nose was cold.  It was not looking good.  But I decided to push past it, my brother's voice ringing in my head: "You just have to realize that it's going to really suck for the first few weeks while your body gets used to it."  And realize I did.

When I got to the track, it felt like I had been walking for an hour.  I had no clue how I was going to summon the energy to run.  With my C25K app prompting me, I proceeded to start my intervals.  Half-way through the first running interval, one solitary thought was playing on loop in my head.  "This sucks this sucks this sucks this sucks..."  Even my running playlist was not enough to distract me.

The walking intervals could not come quick enough.  By the time my second running interval rolled around, my lungs felt like they were simultaneously burning and getting frostbitten.  I don't know how that's even possible, but that's what it felt like.

At first, my only track companions were an old man who was lapping me like it was his job (and giving me concerned looks every time he passed me) and a couple who was walking at a glacial pace on the inside lanes.  Since I had my earbuds in, I couldn't hear how hard I was breathing, but judging by how it felt, I must have sounded like I was seconds away from dropping dead at any time.

Then after a few minutes, a younger guy started walking on the track.  He was likely about my age, give or take a couple years.  If I could describe him in the most politically correct way possible, I'd call him a wigger.  Both legs of his sweatpants were rolled up to his knees and his sweatshirt had "FUBU" emblazoned on the front.  He had a ginormous "diamond" (or wanna-be diamond) in his ear.

Unfortunately, almost every time I was cued by my app to run, I was either right next to him or right behind him.  This made it look like I was running to impress him or otherwise get his attention.  He began to watch me as I passed him, which gave me mixed feelings.  I felt a little creepy about it, since I am an old married lady and don't even think about attracting attention from strange men anymore.  Also, I am far from looking my best, so I don't even really feel like it's possible that said strange men would look at me and think, "Wow, what a babe."  But it also felt kind-of nice.  Like maybe I was impressing him in some way and maybe he was, in fact, thinking, "Wow, what a babe."  But I quickly dismissed this option as not even a remote possibility.

Soon, I was feeling so close to death that I was only running for part of the running intervals.  I considered quitting and going home, but I told myself that I had come this far and even if I had to walk the rest of the time, walking was better than going home and passing out on the couch before I finished.  My throat was on fire and the rest of me was freezing.  My face was numb and all I wanted to do was lay down and take deep breaths of warm air.  But, I trucked on until I finally completed the last running interval and was cued by my app to "cool down".

"I'm freaking freezing, I don't need to cool down!!" I screamed mentally at the stupid app.  But I was beyond relieved, and I started a slow walk home.  I had to stop a few times to bend over at the waist in an attempt to catch my breath and stave off the spells of dizziness that kept rolling over me.

Day 1 of Week 1 felt like it had lasted ages.  I fully expected L and C to be married with children of their own by the time I got home.  And I'll be honest, I had every intention of throwing in the towel and never running again.

Oh, remember the wigger?  Well when I got home, I quickly saw why he kept looking at me.  I happened upon a mirror seconds after arriving at the house, and my face was BRIGHT red.  I'm talking 3rd degree sunburn, lobster red.  The tomato face combined with my heavy panting breaths must have had him worried that I was going to keel over and would need emergency assistance.

I decided not to quit, though.  Lucky for me, my mom has a treadmill and I decided to give that a shot.  To my surprise, Day 2 on the treadmill was substantially easier than Day 1 outside.  This heartened me that maybe I wasn't so ridiculously out of shape as I thought, and I chose to keep my word to my brother and keep on keeping on with the program so I could run the 5K in June.

I just finished Week 2 last night, and while it's still hard, I can do it.  And 3 weeks into Weight Watchers, I've lost 7 pounds.  So I'm doing alright.  I still don't feel great about myself, especially now that I know Wigger Boy doesn't actually think I'm a babe.  But, I'm working on it.  And I really don't care about Wigger Boy.  My husband still (somehow) thinks I'm attractive, and that's enough for me!