Fitness Update

Fitness and healthy eating has remained a huge part of my daily life, but I haven’t posted about it recently. Over the last six years I’ve worked hard to reach numerous fitness goals, have challenged myself with various changes in my diet, taken supplements, taken classes, worked closely with a personal trainer, and finally I’ve ended up here. Happy. And at a mentally stable place with my eating and exercise habits. So that’s why I haven’t been writing about it. I just feel good and normal, with nothing to report.

Then I saw that picture. The one posted up there at the header. My personal trainer snapped it of me a couple weeks ago and posted it to social media. I literally clicked on the tagged post and for a few seconds didn’t understand why she tagged me. Sure, I have a mask and hat on. But that’s no excuse to not recognize yourself. Once I realized it was me I still had a hard time believing that was my actual body. In my own mind, the only way I could convince myself was by verifying my outfit. Adidas NMDs, check. Engagement ring, check.

Seriously. In my mind, I’m still in the “before” picture body.

Most of us spend a fair amount of time taking pictures of ourselves. Those of us on a “fitness journey” may take more than most. I used to take pictures all the time. Usually ones I would never share. In a bikini, same light, same posture, hopefully thinner here. Thicker there. But living in your own body on a daily basis distorts your view. And some things you see, but I’m convinced that most details are lost. Until you literally do not recognize yourself. For better or for worse.

I’m sharing this with you because my goals have evolved from weight loss, to toning, to endurance, and landed solidly about five years ago at muscle building and strength. I’ve been putting in the daily work for YEARS, yet I was still unwilling to give myself and my body any recognition for it. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I just couldn’t see the changes. Like, really see them. I stopped craving the physical validation, but in doing so I forgot to see my progress. I stopped beating myself up (yay!) but forgot to give myself the gold stars I earned.

What’s funny about that is I’m not unhappy about it. I am actually the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m 32 years old and finally comfortable in my body. I’m strong, capable, my hip dips only go away when I drop to an unhealthy weight I will not sustain, and I’ve accepted that as okay. Do I love them and call them beautiful on a daily basis? Nope. But do I actively curse them every time I get dressed in the morning? Not anymore. I happily wear leggings to work when I’m bloated, and if something is too tight I don’t take it personally. I don’t count calories or macros. I don’t own a scale and haven’t weighed myself in years. I don’t feel guilt associated with food, and most of the time I happily enjoy working out. The only time I get angry with clothes is when the arms are too short. And that, while annoying, is not something I take personal responsibility for. It seems silly to me now, that I used to make things like my feet being a size 9 (“too big”) and the unflattering nature of low rise jeans on my body MY problem. As if societal standards of beauty are my body’s responsibility to uphold and low rise jeans are a reason to beat myself up. Yet we all let ourselves take those things personally. Fuck that.

It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’m not perfect and things will still bother me from time to time, but I practice active resistance. It’s the bra’s problem, not my breasts’ problem. You know what I mean? I think that’s the key to finding your strength. Recognizing that those norms are all made up. Probably by some guy in a board room filled with mostly a bunch of other guys. And then let it go because it’s not our responsibility to fit our boob into the cup they gave us. (I’m being funny, but seriously.) I’m making my own cup. And filling it however I see fit.

I’m lifting more weight every week. I’ve officially gone up an entire jean size in the last six months, and that photo made me realize I’m doing it. I’m getting stronger every day. I just didn’t realize how much.

BEFORE I started strength training / living an entirely plant-based lifestyle.
Almost 5 years of strength training and living an entirely plant-based lifestyle.

So, now for the details.

Out of respect for my amazing trainer and nutrition coach Katie, owner of Rebel Strength & Wellness (who I’ve been working with this entire time), I will not post exact workouts. But here is the routine I’m currently on:

Workout 5 Days / Week

Day 1: Personal Training: Heavy Lower Body Hack Squat / Leg Press, 50 Min

Day 2: At Home: Heavy Upper Body Bench / Misc, 1 Hour

Day 3: At Home: Heavy Lower Body Deadlift / Misc, 1 Hour

Day 4: At Home: HIIT Style Booty / Legs with body weight and resistance bands, 1 Hour

Day 5: At Home: Heavy Lower Body Squat / RDL, 1 Hour

The other two days of the week I give myself the option to rest, or do something easy and relaxing, like going on a walk. Because of the pandemic I have not been going to Pilates or Yoga, but hope to add those back in as soon as possible. They help with flexibility, core strength, and form.

The other important piece of my current fitness routine is my nutrition. As I said earlier, I intuitively eat all vegan / plant-based foods. To supplement that, I take a multivitamin, vegan BCAA, B12, B6, Magnesium, Zinc, Cranberry, and CBD. I no longer use protein powder or other supplements. Also, the fact that I quit drinking alcohol and eating refined sugars about two and a half years ago cannot be left out. Those have been game changers.

Stay tuned for a detailed “What I Eat in a Week” post. Coming soon.

Trainer / Nutrition Coach: https://instagram.com/rebel_strengthandwellness?igshid=eyp25nciwhom

2020 Book List / Monthly Resource Collection January 2021

Every year one of my goals is to read more.

In 2020 my objective was to read one book a week. As part of my daily ritual I schedule in thirty minutes of reading per day, early in the morning. I simultaneously listen to audiobooks during workouts and the in-between moments where my mind isn’t otherwise occupied: cleaning, doing my makeup, driving. This allows me the time to read two books at once, and strangely enough, the two mediums of delivery allow my brain to compartmentalize the story lines so they don’t overlap. I highly recommend.

This routine is perfect for me, and yet, in 2020 I still missed my goal by a lot. It was a complicated year. My book club has been put on hold as I struggle to run my business through this pandemic, and I’m learning to let certain things go. Not forever, but for now.

As long as I’m learning, that’s all that matters.

I hope you enjoy this post and pick up a few of my recommendations. I would also encourage you to do three things if reading more is a goal you share.

-First: schedule it in. Even if it’s only a few minutes a day or one block a week, it’s progress.

-Second: take an honest inventory of the materials you read and challenge yourself to expand the diversity of voices in your collection. Are you reading female-identified authors as often as male-identified? What about Black authors as often as white? Are you reading books written by authors from countries other than the one you live in? Throw some non-fiction in there if you typically shy away from it. I think that to truly use reading (or podcast listening, or movie watching… or any media consumption) as a path to learning it is necessary to expand our perspectives and expose ourselves to lived realities that are different from our own. This takes effort, but is important.

-Lastly, make a list of small, locally owned, and/or Black, Indigenous, Latinx-owned, etc. bookstores and support them! Where you purchase books also matters. And, if you are shopping from a variety of stores, it will be easier to find a diversity of voices. I have a list in my phone and rotate between them. I actually use Amazon as a wish list and organizational tool and then order my books elsewhere. It’s easy to do!

Five of the books I’ve read have an asterisk next to their number, indicating they were my favorites. I hope you’ll let me know what you think if you read them!

And for anyone wondering – Yes, The Stand is about a global pandemic. Ironically I did not know that until I picked it up. I simply was interested because I had never read anything by Stephen King and wanted to escape into some fiction (haha; joke’s on me). I’m now hooked (even though I’m not a big fiction reader), and have The Shining cued up next on Audible.

1) The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence, Gavin de Becker

*2) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

3) The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People / Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff

*4) Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi

5) Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis

6) The Color Purple, Alice Walker

7) The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

8) Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique W. Morris

9) When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors

10) Becoming, Michelle Obama

11) Life Will be the Death of Me… and You Too!, Chelsea Handler

12) The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Barack Obama

13) Burden: A Preacher, A Klansman, And a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South, Courtney Hargrave

14) How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

15) Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash, Laura Clery

16) Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World, Michael Pollan

17) What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

*18) Columbine, Dave Cullen

19) Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, Russell Brand

20) White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin Diangelo

21) The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein

22) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

23) Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall

*24) Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah

*25) Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

26) Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, Holly Whitaker

27) So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

28) Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

29) We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

30) The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae

31) The Stand, Stephen King

This year I read ten more than last, so I’m taking it as a win. Only about twenty more than that and with any luck, I’ll meet my 2021 goal of 52.

2021

Last January first I felt hopeful.

I was searching for a way to be myself again. I felt like I had almost found it.

I keep a picture from one Christmas morning sitting on the bookshelf in my office. It’s of me wearing a pink robe that I had just unwrapped. My dad in the background, sturdy hands holding me in place, directed me to focus on the camera. I don’t remember the exact details of that day, who took the photo, or even which house we were in. I don’t exactly remember, as a kid, what was going on in my mind as I unwrapped a gift more suited for my 32-year old self’s taste. What I do remember is being happy. I was appreciating that exact moment for everything it was. Joy to be alive. For Christmas morning, for warmth and family and the idea that sooner or later that very day, I would be creating something – free inside my own mind. Uninhibited.

The photo is posed, but it’s not one bit fake. That’s what I love about it.

I read somewhere that as we get older and search for ourselves, we’re really just trying to remember who we were before the world changed us. When you ask yourself who you really are, the key is to ask who’s asking in the first place. Then go from there. The qualities that are “me” have always been there, I just buried them. The work is in peeling back the armor and eliminating the noise and distractions so I can hear and see what is revealed. Who was I before I created shells of protection? Layers of padding, coping mechanisms, work, survival, distractions and reactions. Which parts of me can I chop off and toss over the metaphorical cliffs because keeping them no longer serves me and the weight is too much? It’s making me tired.

The moments that begin to take up the majority of our lives start to feel like an out of body experience. A movie. It becomes harder to conjure up a genuine smile even though the happiness is real. Then the moment has passed. Our dopamine receptors in need of a reset, our brains taking constant hits, this keeps us at a comfortable level of numbness. Trapped in a box of everything. No room for ourselves.

I keep that particular photo as a reminder that she is in here somewhere. A daily nod to my ultimate goal: to dig her back out, no matter how painful, because it will be worth it. She feels like a different person entirely, and that’s why I think this next part is easy: I keep her around to remind me to act like someone she’d look up to, someone she’d be proud of. Who can I be today that will help her grow up as her most genuine self? If I met her now, what would she say to me? Why would she say it? Kids are brutally honest.

I wrote my first story before I could write. I had to dictate it to my mom who then wrote it down for me. I still have it. It’s mostly a nonsensical amalgamation of fairy tales – a retelling of stories I’d heard over and over. But the point is that I was creating something, specifically out of ideas and words. There is something inside my brain that begins to malfunction the minute I stop allowing myself to interpret my world this way. I say “malfunction” because I honestly have no other way to describe it. This Elizabeth Gilbert quote always comes to mind:

If I am not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something – myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

I have never read anything that more accurately describes my personality. The challenge is in maintaining that kind of momentum, and realizing that not everything constitutes a type of creating that keeps me from destroying something. And even the things that do don’t keep me satisfied for long. That balance is what I’m searching for now that we’re in January again. If I could talk to Elizabeth Gilbert I’d ask her how she keeps that ball rolling. It’s a strange thing to realize about yourself – I must put something out into the world (even if it’s absolute crap and even if I feel like absolute crap) because if I don’t then my mind starts finding other ways to mix things up. And they’re not always pleasant. Actually most of the time they aren’t. These things that I put out do not need to be seen or read by others, but for some reason throwing them out into the universe separates them from me just enough to where my mind no longer owns them, so I can let many of them go. If I don’t feel like it, too bad. Not doing this is always worse.

On the surface level that seems simple enough to maintain. A “writer” with too many ideas is never good. Write the ideas down, expel them from my brain, and move on to the next idea. Keep myself from going insane. However (and this is a huge however that changes everything) what do I do when I know that at the core of myself and my ability to create is wild imagination, and that imagination is like a book at the very bottom of a hundred boxes of books that won’t work until it’s opened? And every day, digging it out, I have to start at the top of the pile again.

I wake up, I have my coffee and I go up to the attic. After going up and down the stairs a hundred times (this is exhausting work but unfortunately I think it’s something best done alone) my house is filled with boxes. Each one filled with so many books, in no particular order, but I’m looking for that one. I start going through them. I get distracted remembering that time I wanted to learn how to garden, or knit. I get lost looking at fairy tales or old copies of children’s books. I remember reading this one in college, that that one before I got married. I cry looking over inscriptions from Grandma Brown; her handwriting is perfection. Before I know it the sun is going down and I’m tired and this is a mess, so I pack them all back up to the attic and tell myself I’ll try to find it another time.

And so it goes. For years.

For most of my mid to late twenties I simply ignored the attic altogether. Pretending like it wasn’t there, I partook in various self deprecating behaviors to distract myself from realizing that the weight of all those boxes would eventually crack the boards of the weak attic floor and come pouring out onto my head one day, maybe crushing me to death. Who cares? Let them crush me.

Then sometime around thirty or so, I came to the conclusion that rather than wait to be crushed in my sleep I should probably just go up there and see what I could do about it. Maybe start sifting through some things, donating, burning, rereading, keeping. Organizing. Curiosity, more than anything, drove this excavation. And so it began, the daily up and down with peeks and glimpses into what I’m looking for, with the exhaustion always winning before I get to where I need to go. In the meantime, ideas stay inside and I keep destroying things outside.

So, January 2020 I decided to do what ten year old Liz would do and get rid of the distractions and go read on a rock. I mean, seriously, I spent much of my childhood packing books out to dried up creek beds so I could sit in silence and read them unbothered. Simpler times. And I did that, literally and figuratively, for one month, and for the first time in years I created the time and energy to clear out most of the shit in the attic, and I was so close to freeing my imagination I could literally see it behind closed eyes at night. The way those sparkles and swirls move under your eyelids.

And then just like that the world changed and instead of unpacking those last few boxes, I became exhausted again when I saw that the attic filled right back up. Right to the top. With the noise and the work and the expectations. Stress and survival and the beating thump in my throat and chest that never goes away. Like someone had played a trick on me and put the boxes all back while I was sleeping. My work undone. The second time always seems harder than the first time.

So that’s where I am going into this new year, 2021. Aware that the boards are bowing overhead. Feeling in my bones that the girl from the photo would matter of factly say something like “Just go up there and dig it out, because once you have it, all the rest will disappear without any effort at all.” And I’ll be left with what I needed all along: a quiet place to find my ideas sitting neatly on my desk. All the clutter and weight missing. Fragments of my own imagination anyway, hiding itself because the timing wasn’t right.

This year I unboxed a robe for Christmas. From my sister, not requested. It’ the first one I’ve been gifted since that photo.