Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Subversive Take On Holiday Eating

I sent this letter to my personal training clients yesterday.

This is my first holiday season as a trainer, and I suppose I’m expected to hold forth on such topics as what to eat, what to avoid, and how, in general, to manage the temptations that come this time of year.

But if you’ve worked with me for any length of time, you know that my take on personal training is just that—training the person—and that I believe in education and not the quick fix. Anybody can get you to sweat or dictate your diet; my job, as I see it, is to help you understand why we do what we do, so that you can go off and do it without me, and sustain these habits for a lifetime. Work myself out of the job, as it were.

Same goes for my advice on food this time of year, and also the busyness of the holidays that may cut into your best intentions to exercise. You can find top ten lists anywhere (everywhere!) on portion control, healthy recipes, and better food choices (if you can't, let me know and I'll guide you). But I'd rather that when you gather around the buffet or the television, you see the bigger picture, which is this: the holidays are a handful of moments in a whole, long lifetime. That is, the key to weight loss and health is consistency, which means we are allowed to enjoy special foods and events, because we'll be back working on this again in just a day or two. This is not advice to overeat but simply to enjoy

Have I ever told you about my $600 meal? The side of me that has worked in homeless shelters and with the poor wants to crawl in a hole before admitting the price of that bill, but here's why I can't: that meal, shared with my husband at a Chicago restaurant, was the single most thrilling aesthetic event of my life. It was a Broadway show, a great book, an amazing circus act and a soaring symphony, all wrapped up in twelve courses. Be careful asking me about it, because my voice will go up in volume and I'll start waving my arms. I don't regret the meal or the money spent for an instant.

Too many advice articles would have us forget that we have been given aesthetic pleasures here on earth to enjoy with our whole being. Enjoyment does not equal engorgement or excess, but rather a slowing down and taking in. With family and friends. An appreciation for what is in front of us, whether it be a bite or a good friend. That's my "advice" this holiday season, and what I wish for you.


Monday, November 25, 2013

my worries

that you'll make fun of the big guys. When a guy told me that lifting weights, to him, was like "...mmmmmm. Y'know? Like MMMMMMMMM. It just feels MMMMmmmmmm," two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was what you're thinking right now; the second, that I understand him completely. I'm not yet to the point of explaining this phenomenon at any level of convincing argument, but I will put out there the idea that some of us need to explore our world by moving our bodies. While lifting weights in a gym may at first appear limited in scope, we must start here. We must exert our strength, feel it, then process the rest of life. Some of us spend too much time doing the former and don't get to the latter. But don't make fun. You spend time on other stuff, don't you, whereas our hobby is, at base, healthy.

that Jesus took Manny out of the game. Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios Saturday night with a sound beating, thank you Jesus, his first win since reconciling with his wife. The philandering Manny had won 54 fights, whereas monogamous, converted Manny found himself facedown on the canvas. All hopes for a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup had gone out the window a couple of years ago, in my opinion, when Jesus took Manny's speed. Possessing both--boxing skill and faith--are apparently incompatible; the New York Times published an article on this topic just before the recent fight, detailing the ways trainers try to keep the edge in their boxers (no sex for 10-30 days before the fight, depending on the coach). Some day I will write a book on testosterone, fidelity and achievement, and I will mention Norman Mailer and quote War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. But for now, I will just say I'm glad Manny's back. I doubt he's ready for Floyd, but finally, again, there's a force in boxing to reckon with and behold.

that I'm losing my own edge. If I learned anything from my very brief foray into bodybuilding, it's this: size takes time. There was a day I did 50 sets of chest and back; had I followed the program religiously, I'd have come back that evening to work calves and abs, probably 30 more. When you've been lifting consistently for a while, it takes major effort to see gains in size or strength; your body and brain have become efficient, and instead of growing bigger, the brain figures out a new neural pathway to lift the heavier weight you picked up. So when I lift heavier and heavier, I'm mostly training my brain, not the muscles. Fifty sets really is necessary to see growth in size for me, but I don't have that kind of time. Plus, protein shakes make me fat. So what now? Maintenance mode 'til the holidays are done, then some deadlift work. I will lift 4 plates (225lbs) in the new year.

that you'll think I'm shallow. Go ahead, trace the arc of these "worries," and you will be forgiven for putting me in a box. Size? Testosterone? Protein shakes? I do think on these topics quite a bit, and I'm paid to do so. But there's another side of me, several of them, that I haven't shown for a while. The writer side is putting a book to bed this week over the holiday break. The mother side of me is having a hard time with some recent problems with Theo's diabetes. So sometimes it's nice just to talk about muscles and Manny. It's just so mmmmmmmmmmm.

Monday, November 4, 2013

INTENSE: my halloween post

You will note that I refrained from posting my buck teeth story this Halloween. This took tremendous restraint, as it is one of my best stories, told each year to my kids as they gather at my feet near the fireplace. Something like that.

The love of Halloween and its scares is rooted, I think, in a desire to touch the void, the precipice of high emotion. A safe freefall. Halloween is safe, whereas other means to this end can be otherwise. At Slugtoberfest last weekend, I found myself missing this via the route of boxing; my God, there's nothing like having someone swing at your head. I'd put boxing on the scale just between Halloween and drugs as it's unsafe, yet happening with a timed end.

The holiday, then, gives me an opportunity to think through the Halloween moments of my life thus far. Times at the brink. I did this before, I believe, but I am unable to find anything on my own blog, and my memory is bad, so this will seem fresh and new to all of us. I will avoid the obvious; childbirth is almost a cliche--you have to know that it was intense for me to give birth, and especially to a 10lb 12oz boy. Having the type 1 diabetes diagnosis come down on this boy--of course that was difficult. But I'm looking here to remember other key, large, unexpected moments. As the leaves fall and the weather turns cold, I want to remember the heat of my life so far.

Happy Halloween.

swimming with manatees. In early 2000, Greg and I drove down from our home in Tallahassee to Homosassa Springs State Park, where we paid our money, got in a boat, and were dropped off mid-river to the instructions "watch out for swimming snakes." Soon enough, not snakes but half-ton creatures approached us for a looksee and a scratch. After some friendly staredowns the manatees would swim over and allow you to scratch their bellies; mine would cross his flippers over his chest and roll in circles as I scratched him, like a playful kitten. At dinner that evening, Greg and I kept looking at each other and saying Wow. It was hard to find any other words.

stopping an illegal act.  I wish I could say more, as this recent experience is probably at the top of my intense list. My expectations, what was undone, what was said and left unsaid--all surprises stemming from an unplanned act on my part. I was left shaking. My children were witnesses.

boxing. Like I said: nothing like the real thing. Even if you've done poorly, you feel invincible, like bring it on. I miss it. I can do without the real risks, but I miss the danger.

simon fainting. Not long after Theo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had Simon in the bathroom for a haircut. He stood to save my back, and midsentence, fell forward and smashed into the doorframe. He ricocheted and slammed his head on the sink, then fell on the floor. He was out for a few seconds, and I was screaming. He had fainted from locked knees, that's all, but with diabetes on my mind and such a violent fall, it was an awful experience.

mugging. Two times in my life I've stared down a potential real danger, one involving a knife held to my face, and each time my instincts told me to do something contrary to what any book might say. This worked; mostly, I just stayed and faced it. I could read the people each time, in the moment, and I knew that if I acted a certain way, they wouldn't follow through. I wouldn't recommend this type of response--i.e., you should go running if someone has a knife and you have a clear path--but I trust my sixth sense. I hope it's always there for me.

shelters. Working in a homeless shelter provided many moments of chaotic intensity, but my memory now zooms in on a time in a teen shelter that I've written about before (but can't find; yeesh). I was teaching a theatre class to at-risk girls, a three-day affair. The first day was spent slowly reeling in the outliers; the second having right at it, with an intense exploration of racism; the third, a meditation on the theme of forgiveness. The exercises traveled to a level beyond anything I had planned, and I the other adults who were my observer/students were blown away by what was created in that room. One girl had told me on the first day that she was "bad." Her tone meant to imply irretrievably so, that she was beyond help. But by day 3, she had become an active catalyst for the transformative art happening among us, and I could see her changing, even in that short period of time. Let me add here that I was young in my theatre teaching, not yet a parent myself, and I had not developed even the slight touch of nurturing instincts that I have now (yes, you should read that as I only have even the slightest touch now, after 13 years and two children). But I knew I had to speak to her. At the closing ceremony, I was told to stand before each of my participants and give them a special pin. I stood in front of this girl, and the tears fell. "You're not bad, Gina," I told her, and she looked at me and said, "I know that now."