Diet: The Dreaded 4-Letter Word

This week I decided to try something new. I’m down another 1.2 lbs over last week (WOOP WOOP!), and I wanna keep that trend going as strongly as possible, but since I’m already exercising regularly, there’s only one other change I could make…my diet.

I’ve long considered the word “diet” to be one of the most offensive four-letter words in existence. It triggers my flight reflex and makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. I’ve had looooots of experience with dieting, some of which I’ve mentioned before—no sugar, tracking meals, counting calories, HCG (500 calories per day while taking these little droplet things), Nutrisystem—and all of them have left me miserable. See, my problem is that as soon as I’m on a formal diet, I obsess about every. single. morsel. that goes in my mouth, from the biggest salad to the teensiest bite of cheesecake. I’ve been on diets where sweets were very much off-limits, but I caved and put some kind of dessert in my mouth, chewed a few times, and then, out of fear and a huge sense of failure, spit it back out into the trash. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s pretty freaking unhealthy, and it’s left me with a lingering fear of that one little word.

The trouble is, “diet” didn’t used to have the dual meaning it has today. The version of it I dread, the one that refers to special restrictions or eliminations or what have you for the sake of losing weight, is newer when compared to the original meaning. A diet, traditionally, is simply what we habitually eat. It’s not a temporary thing, it doesn’t have rules, and you can’t fail at it. It’s literally just whatever you regularly stuff your face with. It’s part of your lifestyle. And when I think about it like that, it’s a little less intimidating.

It’s with all of this in mind that I chose my personal dietary changes. I wanted something that could be a learning experience, that I could sustain, and that didn’t tell me that I can’t do or have certain things, but that could still help me get my priorities in order when it comes to what I’m nourishing dis body with every day. (I mean, I’m sure my previous habit of eating three cheese sticks and a quarter jar of peanut butter every day was super balanced, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new, right?) What I knew right from the gate is that anything I chose to do was gonna be followed with the 80/20 rule—I’ll be diligent 80% of the time, especially in the beginning when I’m trying to create a new habit, but the other 20% will be flexible, allowing room for little indulgences and occasional off-the-grid days where I don’t track and just enjoy (like when hubs and I go to our all-time fave seafood restaurant next week and load up on crab soup, warm biscuits with apricot butter, and stay for dessert afterwards since it’ll be the last time we go before he heads to school next month). I know myself. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, and I know that for any dietary changes to become habitual they need to be realistic. I’m not going on a diet, I’m changing my diet, and there are monumental differences between those two.

So what did I choose? Well, a lot of the workouts I’ve been doing are part of the Beachbody on Demand (BOD) service (it’s like $10/month for unlimited streaming, 100% worth it if you’re self-motivated enough to work out at home…or if you’re a SAHM and that’s the only chance you have to get in regular workouts). They sell a lot of supplements and protein powders and such too, none of which I’ve tried, but the thing that intrigued me was these portion-control containers that are part of their 21 Day Fix program. I found a set of very similar ones on Amazon for $7.55 (free shipping and free returns if I didn’t like them), and since I already subscribe to BOD, I was able to get all the other program materials online. The idea is that you use these colored containers to portion out food. Based on your caloric needs (which they have a formula for), you’ll have X number containers each day for six different categories: green (veggies), purple (fruit), red (protein), yellow (carbs), blue (healthy fats), and orange (seeds/dressings). They’re essentially measuring cups. Rather than store food in them, you just use them as a measuring device to portion out whatever you’re putting on your plate or into your larger meal-storage containers (and once you’ve been doing it for a while, I’m sure eyeballing becomes significantly easier). There’s also a section for oils/nut butters but you just use a teaspoon for that (and you bet your sweet butt I’ve already stood in front of an open jar of peanut butter with a teaspoon, making sure I get my fill). And I don’t have to worry about forgetting how many of everything I’ve eaten because, of course, there’s an app for that!

I was concerned at first because I thought it was gonna feel too much like counting calories did back in the My Fitness Pal days, but it’s soooo much easier. I don’t need to look up the exact brand and enter measurements and all that junk, I just go in to the app, select my meal, and say “1 green, 1 red, 1/2 yellow.” Boom. Done. My favorite major difference here is that, rather than just counting calories, the containers help teach you to balance macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat). Counting calories works for a lot of people, but I would much rather know that I’m eating balanced meals at the same time—and whole foods. That’s a big one. You can count calories but have granola bars and Lean Cuisines and all these “diet” foods that aren’t truly that healthy or nutritious, but right now I have categories I’m trying to fill, and that encourages me to choose real food. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see just how much I’m still eating every day, and that I haven’t felt starvy or deprived at all, which makes me believe this is something that really could become a permanent change.

Today is Day 3 and I’ve done fairly well so far. I’m not being super strict with some parts (like their suggestion to use chicken breasts—I’ll stick with juicy thighs, TYVM, and I still have my glorious and oh-so-necessary cup of coffee in the morning with flavored creamer), but again this is where I have to do what works for me. Anything I’m super stringent and restrictive about won’t last, so I’m being realistic while still making huge strides in how I eat. 80/20, ‘member? I ‘member.

I’ll weigh in again next Monday and report on how my first full week went, and that will also mark the end of my first full month of the strength training program (Hammer & Chisel) I’ve been doing, so keep an eye out for progress pics! I’m down 2.8 lbs since I started it, so maybe I can drop one more from that before the week is done!

Have a lovely end of September, I’ll see ya next month!

Stress & Potatoes

Important news from today first: I’ve lost a sack of potatoes! Not literally, like there’s not just a bag of them somewhere that I can’t find. But I’ve lost 5 lbs, and that’s how much a sack of potatoes weighs! I’m feeling super accomplished, and I’m starting to get some nice definition back in my quads that I haven’t had in almost a year. I’m also about to start trying some new dietary changes that I think will help keep my weight loss and fitness journeys on track, so in that realm I’m very happy and more motivated than ever to keep kicking ass so I can keep seeing progress.

On another note, my mind has been in a billion places at once for the past couple weeks. We’re in the middle of a lot of stuff and we have a few big things on the horizon, so any time I have a free moment—especially when I’m trying to fall asleep at night—all I can do is topic-hop from one item to the next, and it’s exhausting. I figured writing about it might help, or it’ll make me even crazier ‘cause then I’ll see it all laid out en masse. Only one way to find out!

I’ve already talked about M’s sleep regression madness, which has alleviated some, but still not perfect. And this week we have her 4-month shots and the transition to her big-girl crib (and out of swaddles), so whatever just improved is about to vanish. But that’s small stuffs.

Let’s flash forward a few weeks. In early October, I become a single parent for two months. Hubs has to go down to a training school in Florida, but because it’s for a “short” amount of time, he’ll be in a hotel versus housing, which means baby girl and I stay put. It’s for the best, really, because living out of suitcases for two months sounds pretty horrible with a baby, plus we have the catmonsters here. So now when he’s at work during the day, I find myself thinking, “Soon I won’t be waiting for him to come home from work, it’ll just be me and baby. All day. Every day.” And thus far in motherhood I have not been great about getting out of the house. Hubs and I are both satisfied with each others company for the most part, and I’ve been so wrapped up with this new role that I’ve found it very difficult to maintain the relationships I had before. Also, babies aren’t welcome everywhere, so there’s some stuff I used to be able to attend that I can’t anymore simply because I’m a momma, and while I completely understand that (and have even hosted no-kiddo events in the past), it still sucks and can leave you feeling like a bit of an outcast. Fortunately, the military community is ripe with women who have bebes, so I’m starting to join forces with those in similar situations to mine so we can all be less hermitty.

Later in October, Momma Bear comes to visit, and I am so excited to see her. She hasn’t been out since birth, and that was a very stressful and crazy time. It’ll be lovely to have her here and actually be able to enjoy each others company and have her harass our ever-growing nugget. Her stay was originally going to be a week earlier, but we moved it because of another upcoming stressor.

Last month, I went to a dermatology appointment to get a spot on my stomach looked at. I’ve had it for about a decade and just assumed it was a bug bite or scrape or something and the skin had just never healed right. Well it turns out it’s basal cell skin cancer (non-life threatening but still needs to be removed), and when I went for a follow-up so doc could do a full-body screening, we found another spot right on top of my head, about two inches back from my hairline. He biopsied it and that, too, is basal cell. So, on October 24 I get to have a Mohs procedure (details here if you’re interested) done to get both spots removed, and from what I understand, I will definitely have a temporary bald spot, and there’s a chance of a permanent one. I won’t know how severe any of it will be until they’re done with the procedure, because they test small sections of skin at a time until all the margins are clear (aka no mo cancer cells visible under microscope). So it could be the spot of black bean, or a nickel, or a half-dollar. Won’t know until we know. And the final size will help determine how the wound is sealed (sutures versus letting it heal on its own, with possibly some cauterizing to stop bleeding). The spot on my stomach will definitely be sealed with sutures regardless of the size, simply because of where it’s located. But again with that, I have no idea how big the final wound will be. All of this fun also means 10 days of nothing more than light walking, which is why mom’s coming later to help with heavy lifting and other odds and ends around the house as needed. But since exercise is my primary source of stress-relief and I’ll be in the middle of hubby’s absence and have a head wound and stomach stitches, I am not excited.

Lastly, hubs going to school means something very major is now in the foreseeable future. He was up for new orders earlier this year and once all was said and done, we were shocked to learn that we were moving to South. Freaking. KOREA. He’ll get back from school in mid-December, then we have a month of travel to visit family for the holidays, and then we pack up our lives and move to the other side of the world in January. We’ll be there for a minimum of two years, possibly three, and the reality of it all has been sneaking up on me more frequently with the passing weeks. I know military folk experience this all the time, but it’s a first for me and it’s just insane. We’re both extremely adventurous and I know we’ll make the most of the experience, but KOREA? Like, really? It’s gonna be a massive culture shock for obvious reasons, but in a second way for me because we’ll be living on base with less than 300 American service members and their families, which is less people than were in my high school graduating class. Hubs grew up in a couple super small towns, but I’ve lived in the SoCal beach cities (LA), Denver, and Hampton Roads. I have no idea what it’s like to be around that few people. We’re part of a FB community board for the base there and people post things like, “Does anyone have sweet eel sauce?” and “Someone’s red ball was in my backyard, I’ll put it on the porch if you wanna come get it.” They all know each other. Everyone. It’s gonna be like living with one giant (rotating) family, which has its pros and cons. Pros, close-knit, supportive, etc. Cons, no room for drama, if you don’t like someone you’re stuck with them, etc. I have no idea how I’ll feel about it once we’re there. Who knows, maybe I’ll love it. But I’m mostly afraid of feeling extremely limited and isolated. Moving to Denver was hard because I left half my family and some of the most amazing women I’ve ever known in California. Moving to Virginia was harder because I left the other half of my family and an environment that I loved. Moving to Korea? I don’t effing know. It’s scary though.

So that’s where I’m at. Awesome fitness update but huge stressors battling each other in mah head. It really is one day at a time right now, because when I let all those other things weigh on my mind it takes away from being able to enjoy the current positives, and I really need to enjoy this while I still can. Hubs hasn’t left yet, I don’t have a hole in my head yet, and we don’t live in Korea yet. I’ll try to remember that.

Holy Sleep Regression, Batman

I’m a big fan of sleep. BIG fan. And prior to the past two weeks, my husband and I were under the impression that our daughter did as well. LMAO. Yeah. We were the standard first-time parents, naive in our well-slept bliss. We thought, “Wow, we got really lucky! Our kid started sleeping through the night at 2 1/2 months and we feel so much better for it!”

(But then the darkness creeped in.)

Sorry for the dramatics, but for reals this phase sucks. We started noticing some crankiness a few weeks ago, and I’m already aware of the Wonder Weeks explanation of how babies go through developmental leaps at certain times and are prone to fussy/fighty/discontent behavior around then, but I shrugged it off ‘cause we’d gone through a couple “leaps” already and fared well, so I expected more of the same.

Well it turns out that this particular leap is kinda gigantic. Between three and four months is when babies start the development phase where they’ll become more fluid with their movements, connect single events together to understand processes, typically learn to roll, and—cue the title of this post—their sleep patterns become less “baby” and more “adult,” meaning instead of falling almost immediately into deep sleep, they now enter light sleep first, making it not only more difficult to fall asleep, but also to stay asleep for long periods of time, especially during the day when melatonin isn’t in effect as strongly as it is at night.

The stay asleep issue is because sleep occurs in cycles, with almost every single one ending in a brief wakeup. As adults, we’ve become so accustomed to putting ourselves back to sleep that most of us don’t even know we’ve woken, we just drift right off again. Babies, however, don’t have this skill set yet, and now that their waking is followed by light sleep instead of deep, it can be very difficult for them to fall back asleep after each cycle. For example, I learned over the past couple weeks that M’s sleep cycles are 37 minutes long. How do I know this? Because she woke up after 37 minutes over and over and over again. Once in a while, she’d wake up after 1 hr 14 minutes. Guess what that is? (Yep, making you do math right now.) You got it! Two 37-minute cycles that she managed to string together.

As for falling asleep, that’s just been a matter of trial and error. Another thing we learned is that she no longer likes to be held horizontally (like in a lying down position) or rocked in our comfy recliner, two things which used to be standard practice for bedtime. (You get screamed at in your face enough nights in a row and you figure out a different plan.) Now we hold her vertically while standing and lightly bounce or sway side-to-side. She still doesn’t fall asleep easily, but our eardrums are generally less traumatized.

But those are just naps. We haven’t even gotten to the real fun yet. Sunday night I got five hours of sleep from 10pm-6:20am. There’s a rather large gap on my sleep tracker from 12:32am-3:25am, courtesy of baby girl. And last night I got six hours from 9:40pm-7:10am. You might be thinking, “Six hours is actually okay! That doesn’t sound bad at all.” The problem is when those six hours are accumulated in hour-long or sometimes even 45-minute long increments. My “deep” sleep has been practically nonexistent. So, I’m tired af, and so is the poor hubs who has not only been dealing with all of this, but has also had to get up early and function at work every day. And believe me, we’ve tried it all…we’ve rocked, swayed, bounced, snuggled, nursed, swaddled, binkied, sung, hummed, shushed, left her to cry…we’ve exhausted our entire toolkit, usually multiple times in succession, only to be completely exhausted hours later, eyes bloodshot and hubs and I close to tears. I’ve actually developed auditory paranoia where I think every. freaking. sound. is the baby waking up. Like I legit hallucinate lips smacking and baby whines when it’s really just the fan gearing up or the cats eating. My own little mild PTSD manifesting itself, super funsies.

I know it gets better. I’ve been promised that by enough people that I have to believe it (or I’m just gonna have to unfriend a lot of big fat liars for getting my hopes up). We finally got a real crib and a sleepsuit that’ll make baby look like a cross between the StayPuft Marshmallow Man and an astronaut, so maybe those will help? Maybe? But like I said before, this phase sucks. Sucky suck suck suckedy sucks. Somehow I’ve managed to still work out almost every day, even when my body is carrying an extra 50 lbs of fatigue, because I know if I don’t I’ll be even more miserable. I can’t operate on shit sleep and stress alone, there has to be some reprieve. Some of that comes in the form of M laughing her head off at something stupid and me completely melting ‘cause she’s so damn adorable, and the rest of it comes from knowing that I’m still taking care of myself as best I can. (And a bit of it also comes from Mississippi Mud Pies and brownies that hubs brings home from our local BBQ joint.)

If you’re the juju-sending type, feel free to send some of the quality-sleepies kind our way. I’ll let ya know how the crib and spacesuit work out, and in the meantime I’ll be here, doing burpees and battling a four-month old who I’m still somehow more in love with every day.

Keeping It in the Family

Fitness is a family affair in my house. My husband is extremely athletic—one of the many attributes that attracted me to him in the first place—and I’ve been active for the better part of a decade, so we mesh well. While he was on the track and swim teams in high school, I played AYSO soccer for five years and swam because I loved it. We were also both part of our respective high school marching bands (and don’t think for a second that that’s not a workout!).

Despite those early experiences, I didn’t develop a deep appreciation for fitness as a lifestyle until I was about 22. I had diverged on a rocky path for a few years, and when I came back around I found myself miserable and very out of shape, as I discussed in an earlier post. I was very surprised to see what an enormous impact changing my habits had, and over the years I would seek out like-minded people to surround myself with. I found that the more connections I had who shared this passion, the better my life would be.

What happens when people start a new workout routine, or are trying to make any big lifestyle change, really, is that they frequently don’t surround themselves with enough support. Any major change is extremely challenging if you’re trying to do it alone. When I first started those Jillian Michaels DVDs, I was doing them alone, then walking alone, then running alone. One of my roommates at the time would come out and sit on the couch so she could cheer me on as I jumped around like a madwoman, and another roommate a couple years later would walk out of her room one day to see me doing supermans (lying on your stomach with arms and legs extended and lifted) and muse, “Ooop, somebody’s flying in the living room!” To this day I can’t do that move without thinking about her and smiling (love you Shellbert!). I had encouragement, but it wasn’t the same as having a true trudging buddy to be sweaty and miserable right alongside me.

The times when I’ve truly excelled are times when I had an awesome support system—people who knew my goals and always wanted to see me achieve them. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved group fitness classes, because it’s an added layer of accountability. Even though I didn’t get super chummy with people, I still went to the same classes often enough that when I didn’t show up, people noticed, and often asked me about it when I came around again. But when I’ve had a particular instructor (yes you, Kim!) or walking buddy (Susan!) or training partner (Guin and Mom!), it’s fueled my fire to not just show up, but also to constantly improve. That’s why I feel like I lucked out so much with the hubs, because with everything I’ve experienced as a result of my pregnancy, he’s been my ultimate fitness partner and cheerleader.

It took a while to get back into my routine, first because I was recovering from the c-section, and then because I did too much too soon and got injured. But every step of the way, whether it was a short walk or a 45-minute cardio strength-training workout, hubs has been right there, telling me what a badass I am. He actually wanted to yell “BEAST MODE” during childbirth, but I vetoed that pretty damn fast. Yelling it while I’m doing 30 burpees, however, is acceptable. And now in addition to him, I’m also part of a Facebook group of fit gals who are all following similar workout programs, and I’ve made a point of posting regularly and commenting on other people’s updates. As nice as it is to receive support, I feel it’s uber important to provide it, too!

This past weekend I had the privilege supporting hubs as I watched him complete his first half-marathon, and I cannot tell you how proud I am. Despite my moments of hormonal envy as he trained his butt off while I was barely able to do a push-up, I made sure to tell him regularly how proud I was, and to keep encouraging his efforts. He’s a natural runner (something I very much am not), and he’s been wanting to do this race for a couple years now, so watching him finally reach that goal—and to keep an incredible pace the whole time—was very inspiring.

When I look at this lifestyle we’ve become so accustomed to, I think about our little girl and hope that she will learn from us. My mom was incredibly active when my older brother and I were growing up, and we loved to participate right along with her (including interrupting her laps in the pool by swimming under her, or popping up right in front of her at the end of the lane…we were clearly very helpful children). We also spent a crapload of time outside—riding bikes, climbing trees (and snapping branches and dropping things to make it sound like someone fell out of it…again, helpful children), rollerblading, playing tag, you name it. I want baby girl to have that same experience.

My focus these days frequently falls to what kind of example I’m setting for our daughter. I want to be the parent that leads by example, not just instruction (and believe me, I’m well aware that won’t be a flawless effort…but maybe I’ll hide in the closet when eating brownies for breakfast so she doesn’t see it). I want to raise her in a culture of fitness, so that it doesn’t have to be a struggle for her to develop that mindset later on. I won’t force her to play sports she doesn’t like or stick her in some dance class she can’t stand, but I will always aim to help her see the endless benefits an active lifestyle has. I hope that she can find a passion of her own, and maybe hubs and I can even learn from her and her choices. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to let her find amusement in us doing burpees, because one day she won’t find those quite so funny.

C is for C-Section

Warning: There are some candid details about c-sections and postpartum recovery in this post. If you don’t want to read that, then you should probably stop here.

This past week, my friend Megan shared an article about a mother who was being shamed for “opting” to have a c-section, with the criticizer saying it wasn’t a “real” birth.
She shared it out of hurt, because she is a c-section momma, and so am I. Continue reading “C is for C-Section”

Work with What You’ve Got

As you all know, I’ve been lamenting my bum leg for a couple weeks now (found out last week that it’s a “medial collateral ligament strain”), and my fairly aggressive workout routine came to a screeching halt because I can’t do all the jumpy-runny-squatty things I was doing. I was biding my time with low-impact home weight workouts, but I was getting bored and restless very quickly, and that’s no bueno. I already have periodic bouts of postpartum hormonal issues where I lapse into feeling very low and sad and overwhelmed, and exercise is my absolute top outlet for all of that. It’s my sanity-keeper, and without it I feel kinda lost.

For several weeks the husband had been in my ear about a larger exercise equipment purchase he wanted to make that I was somewhat skeptical of—a sandbag. As in, a heavy-duty duffel-type bag with multiple handles on the outside that then has other heavy-duty bags you can fill with different weights of sand and stuff inside the first bag. I’d never used one, but he had and swore it’d be well worth it. As I’m prone to do, I judged his request, because I saw it as something that would help him and not me (truth: when I’m in a sour place I can become self-centered and envious very quickly), and due our current financial situation I wasn’t too keen on the $130 price tag either. But, at the end of the day he is the breadwinner in our family, and even though I’m the voice of financial reason, when something like this comes up that I know he really wants and it’s at least somewhat practical, I’m not gonna stop him.

So now we own a sandbag. He got it last week and we have interchangeable liner bags that are filled with 22 lbs (mine) and 45 lbs (his) of “play sand,” which is pretty much just slightly damp sand that won’t slide around and spill easily (and isn’t filled with rocks and twigs and broken glass and trash like the sand at most beaches). Let me tell you…it only took one workout with this thing for me to fall in love. After one workout I felt more like myself, and I immediately no longer cared about the cost. I spent a solid two weeks feeling sorry for myself, and after one super legit, painful strength routine with Mr. Sandbag, I felt amazing. And when I feel better, I get to a more solution-oriented place, which then leads to other ways to feel better. For example, the husband mentioned that one of his coworkers does yoga and pilates, and I went, “Oh! Pilates! Duh!” I used to do it all the time back in the day, but it’d completely fallen off my radar with all the other stuff I started. So I hopped on YouTube, found free workouts, and did them three times last week (my upper body and core don’t know whether to love me or hate me right now). I also kept doing sandbag workouts and knee push-ups, as well as the PT moves my doc gave me for my leg. And guess what? I’m healing! Sitting on my butt for two weeks, I swear the pain was getting worse, but that’s because I wasn’t doing anything to help it. It might sound counterintuitive, but “active recovery” is definitely a thing. I haven’t been going crazy, mind you—95% of the workouts I’ve been doing have intentionally omitted heavy leg work—but I haven’t left it out entirely either. Yesterday my big accomplishment was taking that 22 lb sandbag and walking the half-mile loop around our apartment complex (a fun task, I assure you). And today I’ll swing by our front office and pick up the flexible knee brace I ordered so I can *hopefully* try a barre class later this week.

The moral of this week’s story is to work with what you’ve got. I spent too long being a mopey moo and hating everything, only to realize that I just needed to look for a different solution. Sending all of you “inner beast” vibes so you can find whatever strength you need this week too!

Weighing In

When I first started working on this post, it carried a different tone. I was feeling irritated by a recent injury and I forgot what I know to be true—I am strong, determined (aka stubborn), and capable of damn near anything I put my mind to, even if the universe isn’t moving at rapid speed when I want. Let me explain…

Prior to getting knocked up, one of my biggest pregnancy fears was gaining a ton of weight and not being able to lose it. I’m just shy of 5’7″ (5’6 3/4″ to be exact, and you better believe that’s what I tell doctors), and twice in my life I’ve been single digits away from 200 lbs. Continue reading “Weighing In”

A Little Background

Basics first: My name is Cara, I’m 31 years old, I’m married with one daughter (Maisie) and two cats, and my husband (aka Mike/hubs) is a sailor in the US Navy. My professional background is in marketing, but currently I’m a “domestic engineer” whose primary focuses are keeping her child and spouse alive (the felines do fine on their own). Continue reading “A Little Background”