Overcoming a Workout or Diet Setback: From Just a Plain Old Girl Who Deals With Them, Too

I am by no means a workout or dieting expert, which is why my advice on overcoming a workout or diet setback may work. I read so many articles about setbacks in working out from fitness instructors that are written from the point of view of someone who works out for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I know that many fitness instructors are former out-of-shapers, but most are people who are naturally driven to workout. They were thin and active all their lives, or just had an athletic inclination. Hearing advice from them on dealing with workout setbacks is like hearing a male ob/gyn talk to you about menstrual cramps and childbirth.

I’ve struggled with weight and food most of my life, even when I didn’t need to do so. My first weight issue began at the age of eight, when I was still in ballet. I was dancing the Nutcracker Suite with the Empire State Ballet in Buffalo, NY and the monstrous choreographer, Barbara Striegel, told me I was too fat and had to lose weight. I remember being crushed, going home and telling my mom, who promptly flipped her lid and went down to the ballet studio to give Ms. Striegel* a piece of her mind. But it was too late, the damage was done. Looking back on it now, I realize how idiotic her statements were. I was petite, lean, and had excellent muscle tone. Oh how I’d kill for the body I had when I was still dancing. Other events occurred in my early life that left me feeling like I had no control over it. My way of controlling things became food. When I learned that other women controlled situations with food by *not* eating it (anorexics), I became insanely jealous that I had not gone that route instead (hey, I never said my relationship with food was healthy).

Needless to say, I’ve had many setbacks when struggling to eat properly and exercise regularly. But it was only through growing up and learning more about myself that I was able to start managing these setbacks in a healthy way. So here is how I do it:

  1. Don’t indulge the baby when he falls – We’ve learned that gushing and cooing and being overly-dramatic when a newly walking baby falls only teaches him that it is a big deal. So what do we do instead when baby falls? We brush it off with nonchalance and a “Get up, you’re ok.” Stop indulging your inner-baby when you fall! Have you missed your workout the last few days? Eat an entire chocolate cake last night? Drink a little too much wine (guilty!)? Stop indulging yourself with gushing, cooing and being dramatic. Next time you fall down, give yourself a simple “Get up, you’re ok” and move on. Once you learn how to do this, you’ll be surprised at how liberating it feels to not beat yourself up. It has helped me learn portion control because not getting into “self-trouble” has made over-indulging feel far less “fun” and “rebellious.”
  2. Recognize if you are a perfectionist – I am a total perfectionist and it sadly took a long time for me to recognize. Why? Because I am the type of perfectionist where, if I am I am not over-achieving, then I won’t try at all. I realized that this was sabotaging my workouts. As always, I loftily planned ridiculous workout goals, and then when I didn’t achieve them because, uh, I have a full-time job and a life, I just stopped all together. How silly! There IS a middle ground. Find it and be happy with that.
  3. Ignore the people on Facebook – If I read how about how many burpees someone did on Facebook one more time, I am going to find the sound clip of Christian Bale shouting at the lighting guy, “Oh GOOD FOR YOU” and put the link in the comments section. Then I’m going to start posting status updates of how many satisfying hump-seshes I had with CAH that week, or posting obnoxious pictures of my feet on the beach. With the exception of those who are truly fitness professionals, those other people are just looking for a pat on the back – so ignore them and don’t feel like you have to do what they are doing. Also remember that doing anything in excess, including working out, is often a way to avoid something else in their lives that is paining or bothering them. Kind of like how guys workout more when they are trying to get over a breakup, or how women clean their house from top to bottom when something is stressing them out.
  4. Go back to basics – Has it been a few days since you’ve worked out? A week? TWO weeks? Remember that going to the gym, or working out in other ways, is a habit. We are creatures of routine and if we break that, we have to start again. If you haven’t worked out in a week and you think about hitting the gym as hard as usual, that might actually unmotivate you to go back. So start again with a scaled back workout, even if it’s a walk on the treadmill. When I do this, 9 times out of 10, once I start my workout I feel inspired to give it my all. And when I don’t, I’m still much happier that I went to the gym rather than staying home.
  5. YOU know YOU – I’ve been given so much crappy fitness advice by “professionals” over the years. I’ve also been given great advice, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing myself. Remember that the goal of fitness professionals is to get you in shape – they are not your therapists. If you know that there are mental and/or emotional reasons that are keeping you from making a habit of working out, then be sure that you are addressing those.

That being said, I have come across some great trainers who, not only have the goal of getting you in shape, but know how to work with the emotional/mental blocks that keep people from reaching their goals. If you find that trainer – CLING TO THEM WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.

*In writing this article, I found out that Ms. Striegel has since died. I am not totally without feeling, even towards such a vapid person. So Rest in Peace, Ms. Striegel. I hope whatever demons made you such vitriolic, vile person, died before you did, allowing you to find peace in your life.

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On Love and Loss: My Kitty Passed Away

I have to apologize for so much time passing since my last posting, but a lot has happened in our household. One of my beloved kitties fell sick and died.

Many people would call it silly to so mourn a cat. For some reason cats have found themselves at the bottom of the pet totem pole. Even CAH is a self-proclaimed cat non-lover, and to his credit, he has accepted his feline “step-kids” much better than one would expect from someone who claims to detest cats. He probably knew that not doing so would be relationship suicide.

In my decade+ in animal welfare, many cats have come and gone. I have fostered more cats and kittens than I can count. I have always had my core group of resident cats and the matriarch was my little darling; Sabrina.

Sabrina made her entrance into this world on April 3rd, 1997. I “rescued” her mom, Jasmine, from a questionable pet store, not knowing she was already pregnant. Jasmine ended up having 4 kittens under my bed: Simba, Flower, Faline and Sabrina. Simba and Flower were re-homed when they were weaned and my boyfriend (at the time) and I kept Faline and Sabrina. We mainly kept Faline because she was a bit sketchy and happiest with her mom, Jasmine, and her sister, Sabrina. We knew that re-homing her in a strange place would stress her out, so she stayed. When me and the boyfriend split, he took Faline and I took Sabrina and Jasmine.

From the very beginning, my little Sabrina was the light of my life, apple of my eye. She was one of those cats who acted like a dog: super laid back, liked water, loved other cats and dogs. She was truly an outgoing kitty. Even those who didn’t like cats loved Sabrina.

Perhaps the reason that Sabrina means so much to me is that she (and her mom, Jasmine) was my constant through my crazy 20’s. She’s been there through umpteen moves, umpteen breakups, tears, struggles and joy. Like most people in animal welfare, I made a pittance. Animal welfare is a labor of love. I’ve lived in so many different rentals over the years, and through it all, I promised my kitties, especially my longest resident Sabrina, that someday I would own a house and tailor it just for them. I had dreams of a beautiful outdoor kitty aviary, kitty-friendly shelves in the house – a whole set up. Someday, I’d pay Sabrina back for all she was forced to go through with me.

Someday never came. And I think that is what pains me the most.

About 3 weeks ago I noticed that Sabrina, now 15, was looking thin and her muscle tone appeared to be wasting. We ran blood work and her liver values were high. The vet was optimistic that it could just be an acute issue and we started a two-week run of a few different medications and some fluids. Last week was the end of the two weeks and the night she received the last of her medication, she stopped eating. I had noticed her eating was slowing down and had taken to hand feeding her. I took her back to the vet and we decided to start steroids and see how she did. By the next morning she had declined significantly. Before long she was clearly starting to go into respiratory distress, so we rushed her to the vet and had her put to sleep.

Oddly enough, we had been expecting our dog Smidge to pass away. She is about 16+ years old and has been in heart failure for 2 years. We felt sucker punched by Sabrina’s passing. Mostly I feel that this is the end of an era; me and my girl. And I never got to keep my promise to her because my husband and I are still renting, and I am heartbroken over that.

Being in this profession I know that everyone grieves differently. I’ve quietly taken myself through the stages of loss: denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It is an odd perspective to be intimately familiar with the grieving process and pet loss, having seen it so many clients over the years. I could look at my thoughts and behaviors and say in the back of my mind, “You’re bargaining, Jess.” It did help, because it allowed me to cut straight to sadness and acceptance. But regardless of this perspective, I cannot escape the fact that this pains me to the core of my being. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for the last 3 weeks and I can’t remember how to breathe again.

I’ve always thought that part of the pain of loss is that human beings are such creatures of habit and so when we lose a pet (or any person of significance), the biggest adjustment is changing our routine. Even after Sabrina died I found myself automatically thinking that night, “Oh I have to give Sabrina her medication” before remembering that she is gone. It is much like a break-up. So that is how I handle the loss of a pet – I establish new routines. That can look like rearranging the furniture, getting a haircut, trying a new workout. I imagine that there is a little tunnel in my brain that is expecting to go one route, but entertaining that route will make me relive the hurt. I like to create new tunnels.

But this does not mean that I forget. And I will never forget my sweet little kitty, Sabrina. She was a wonderful kitty and she has a large piece of my heart.

Goodbye, my little love. Thank you for choosing me. I love you.

Sabrina

4/3/1997-5/18/2012