Exercise and Weight Loss

Estimated read time... 8 minutes

You may or may not know that I’ve recently embarked upon my own weight loss journey. My goal is to be back to where I felt best physically: strong, resilient, full of life and endurance, powerful, conquering, beautiful. I want to look in the mirror and be proud of myself and my body. I want to be able to help more people than I have to date, with boundless energy and enthusiasm.

I’ve spent the last few years doing a lot of work on my internal health (diet, herbs, doctor visits, meditation, creativity, etc.) and it’s high time I address this most important, and forgotten, aspect of my self-care and self-nurturing routine: exercise!

Oh, if only we could lose weight and get to our “feel best” state while doing nothing more than taking that magical pill, herb, or food!  Our weight would magically disappear without us doing anything aside from ingesting something, and our bodies would transform into our own ideal of physical beauty.  Alas, this is not reality and no amount of wishful thinking, crash diets (or detoxes, or cleanses, or fasts) will bring us to our “feel best” state.

What’s a gal to do who wants and needs to lose 15lbs, to be back at her “feel best” weight? Certainly we can’t expect her to lose those 15lbs all at once, in one month, or even two depending on her physiological state and constitution.

Know this: we need to move and make changes otherwise things stay the same.  Our bodies were built to move.  If we don’t move, our bodies stagnate and shut down – this is even true for children.  To want a big change like losing weight, for whatever reason, we must get moving. To attain our “feel best” state, we need to move. After all, if we are wanting to get to our “feel best” state, isn’t it so that we can do and be more in our lives? Doesn’t that involve movement?

Sit down, figure out what the goals are – the big goals, the little goals, and everything in between. 

I view these as mile markers – you’re running a marathon and you know you need to have the stamina to get through to the end, so those little goals are the mile markers which tell you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going. Write all of  your goals down, write the “whys” of what you want to accomplish down too, write about how you will feel when you accomplish these goals, write about how you will feel if you do not accomplish these goals.  Refer to this document often – to check off your goals, to make notes about the journey thus far, and to provide yourself with a boost when you need it most.

What is your plan going to be to make this marathon happen? 

Can you realistically spend 1.5 hours at the gym every single day, or is 30 minutes four times a week more manageable for you right now?

Can you realistically cook three meals a day from scratch when you barely cook dinner at home?

How long do you want to take to make this happen?

Realistically, losing 15lbs in one month is not healthy for a 5’2” woman who needs to lose 15lbs – what are date goals for your exercise, eating and weights?

Acknowledge where you are at, this way you can figure out how to plan your attack.

Believe me, I know it is so easy to want these things and not make changes, or to feel that it has to be all or nothing. I’m an over-achiever: everything has to be the way I envision it from the get-go, if it isn’t then there is no point in continuing or there is incredible amounts of frustration associated with the changes.

This mindset and emotional upheaval can happen when our immediate goals are too big for our current reality.

This is where the shift has to happen: real, manageable goals that set you up for success not failure. 

As I so often say to my Foundation TCM theory students: we need to build the foundation of your TCM house before you can put in the windows, the furniture and move in!  In other words: do you have a plan and foundation laid for your home, your body? If your blueprint and foundation aren’t laid and built properly, how can you expect the walls to be able to hold up the roof?

Along with the big and little goals, we have to keep checking in: the mirror, the scale, the food journal, the exercise journal the journal where our innermost thoughts and feelings are catalogued, with a friend or partner who keeps us accountable and who reminds us to stay on track when we want to go off track. FitBit is a free and easy to use app that keeps all of your vital data in once place (food entries, current weight/measurements, steps, exercise, even nutrition goals and notes for each day).

This is where I started: I asked myself, have I been doing real, regular, consistent exercise that makes me sweat? Nope, none of that. Absolutely positively none in over eight years save the couple of seasons where I bicycled round-trip 15 miles to work before I saw my life flash before my eyes one too many times.  Another thing: I hate sweating. I’ve always hated sweating. I tried swimming laps, which in theory is awesome right? You’re in a pool, in the zone, swimming back and forth, feeling the water over your buoyant body, if you are sweating you don’t know it because the water whisks it away. The reality, for me, was: in a pool, with about 6 other people in your lane, the other people kick and shove you out of the way, and it felt like a race to see who could swim the fastest. That was NOT how I wanted my exercise to be, I ride the subway every day and live in NYC, and I get enough of that getting around town. What did I do then? I stopped going, and did nothing for a couple of months aside from walking and the random at-home high intensity interval training workout. Then I did Tai Chi for a while, which I loved, but it didn’t bring the sweat on, and it was expensive for the classes to bring me up to speed (which was unsustainable). Then, I got hurt walking across the street, was off my leg for almost 2 months with minimal to no activity, then finally got the okay from my orthopedist to start working out again. (NB: Please check with your doctor to ensure that working out and exercising is suitable for you.)

It is clear that I needed to find something that was solitary like the bicycling and swimming that I enjoy so much, and in an environment that was safe and free from aggression.

First step accomplished: where I am at right now.

Second step: What is your plan, your big-win goal?  What are all of the little wins and goals to keep you moving towards the big goal?  What is the first goal you can do to help get you to your end-goal?

The big-win goal: lose 15lbs by February 15, 2016 – allowing me 5 months to re-build my strength after the injury, and work towards losing the weight while allowing myself the holidays to get off the rails a bit. That works out to be about 25 weeks total.  It means that calorie counting won’t be as strict since this is a longer time frame, and it means that my pre-existing health conditions have plenty of time to adjust to my new state of being.

The first goal: join a gym near home, go to work out 3-4 days per week for 30 minutes, walk 10,000 steps per day on work-out days and 12,500 (minimum) on non-work-out days, track everything I eat and don’t worry about the calories. That’s all I did for 4 weeks.

Now I’m on my second goal: adding strength training to the mix, and eating all three meals prepared and portioned at home. I’ve built upon my previous goal because the first goal was successful and I got comfortable with it.

After this goal, my third goal will be: continue eating all three meals prepared at home every day of the week but one day for my “relaxed but not out of control” day. I will also begin using the weightlifting equipment 3 days per week, and rowing another 3 days per week.

Since this post is centered on movement and exercise goals, let me share with you what I am doing at the moment in a bit more detail:

I go the gym for 30 mins at least three times a week, and to date I use one machine: the rowing machine (also known as the ergometer, or the erg). I LOVE IT. I get on, get strapped in, cover the clock on the machine so that I can only see how fast I’m rowing, and then I get to rowing. Back and forth, and back and forth, catch, drive, finish, recover, catch, drive, finish, recover, and so on. With a good mix of music, and a towel to wipe sweat from the brow, this is a great workout. The thirty minutes goes by in a flash, and I feel great when I’m done. Sometimes I feel so good that I row for another 15 minutes (see the workout plan).

After the first 4 weeks, I hired a personal trainer to help me with the strength portion of my exercise routine. I’ve come to realize that doing a lot of cardio (running, elliptical, even the rowing machine) can leave me feeling exhausted. True to the research (http://jap.physiology.org/content/113/12/1831, https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/HIITvsCardio.html ), when I row too many days in a row, I am depleted and lacking in muscle strength.  I am now working high intensity training (or HIIT) into my rowing workouts and it has made a big difference.  The strength training involves planks, lunges, lifts, and so on – all with my own body weight as resistance.  I can do it at home, or at the gym.

My workout plan looks something like this so far:

Sunday – row for 45 mins (30 mins HIIT, 15 mins cool down)

Monday – row for 30 mins or strength training (typically I will row)

Tuesday – strength training

Wednesday – row for 30 mins

Thursday – rest day or strength training

Friday – row for 45 mins (30 mins HIIT, 15 mins cool down)

Saturday – rest day

My HIIT rowing workouts look like this: if I’m rowing 5,000m (5k) I will row for 1,000 meters, then row as hard as possible for 200m, then row at a slower pace for 800-1,000m, row hard for 200m and so on until I reach 5,000m. This is very motivating, and keeps my eye on the prize: finishing hard, strong, and meeting or reducing my previous time.

My biggest goal with rowing is to row for the entirety of the 30 mins with as few breaks as possible, preferably with no breaks.  If I have an “off” day rowing, and row slower than my last time, then the next time I go I push myself to row as good as, or better than, my best time to date. It’s a good reminder that if we fall off the horse, we can get back on and give it our all and often succeed.

I always warm up for 5 minutes, cool down for at least that long, and stretch after my warm up and cool down.

These are some of my goals – big ones, little ones, specific ones. What are yours?

Remember, while you are working out, sweating is your fat crying!

Perhaps you are thinking, “wait, what about the weight loss? You’ve been working out for well over a month now, what’s the scoop?”

Well, it’s been a little more complicated than I would have liked to report: I started working out, lost a pound, then gained four pounds (which was interesting because my caloric intake had not changed), and now am back to my pre-injury weight.  Some losses, some gains.

However, I have gained muscle (I should have taken before and after shots of my arms), and now I’m starting to see some fat loss.  My pants are fitting better, I am sleeping more soundly, and I feel more energetic.

In short: I have had a zero gain/loss and I’m okay with it because I am seeing some wins that were on my goal-list. It’s motivated me to keep going despite the numbers not going anywhere yet.  I highly recommend weekly vs daily (or near daily) weigh-ins, it is much more motivating than daily weigh-ins.  Keep track though, and keep track of the size of your waist, your belly, your thighs, calves, arms and chest to see the changes in real-time numbers!  As you get used to doing these sorts of activities, they’ll become second nature and motivate you to keep forging ahead.  If you see the changes, you’ll want to keep moving forward.  If you don’t see any changes, well… stay tuned for a post that’s sure to come revolving around lack of change despite trying!

Thankfully, I still have a good amount of fight left in me, as I am sure that you do too. The great thing about us is that we are resilient and adaptable creatures.

What is here, right now, is not unchangeable or intractable, because our bodies and minds are ever changing and can be changed with effort, hard work and the tears of our fat crying (er, sweat).


1 reply
  1. steven shomo
    steven shomo says:

    great blog… I can understand completely having dropped 80# myself and now working with many people as an acupuncturist/herbalist, personal trainer and movement therapist in battling the issues surrounding weight gain. Just a mental note, food for thought if you will… the term WEIGHT LOSS, is a difficult issue for the mind. When you lose your dog, you want him back; if you lose your child you want her back; if you lose your keys, you want them back; so when you lose your weight … ? well you get the point. Change the mental vocabulary to reducing, dropping, eliminating, giving away… this frees the mind to focus on the task at hand, engaging the present moment.

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