Friday, May 25, 2012

There Are Diets, and Then There Is Your Diet

Simply speaking, the term diet simply means “what you eat”.  For me, the word had a completely different connotation until about a year ago, and I don’t think I’m alone. I always associated “diet” with “being on a diet”. The typical use refers to all kinds of crazy rules, regulations and restrictions usually wrapped up in a nice little marketing package with spokes-celebs, recipes, workouts, and sometimes even the food itself! I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, those pre-packaged options are exactly what most people need to kick-start healthy choices and lifestyle changes.

What worries me is that this idea of a “diet” is so universal, which is just wrong. Your diet means what you actually put into your mouth every day, which is different for all of us. The pre-packaged program that you try really, really hard to stick to is irrelevant. This distinction of personalization did not occur to me until earlier this year. I had become completely used to viewing personal routines as products that you can pick out in a store. I think we’ve all confused the program with the real thing, and along the way, completely lost control of our own health. This kind of de-personalization is scary because it takes our power away and places responsibility for our health outside of ourselves.

mmmmm. Chicken pot pie...
If you follow them to the letter, all pre-packaged diets work. Always. If you did a diet and nothing happened, you cheated and you know it. To be fair, this is different than not getting your “hoped for” result from a nutrition plan, but that is beside the point. The biggest problem with most diet programs is that people don’t stick to them. They never go from being “the diet” to Your Diet. This isn’t surprising, because a lot of pre-packaged diets are CRAZY. Also, food is delicious! So Your Diet ends of being this mish-mash of rigor and backsliding where you eat all kinds of ridiculous things without any thought towards balance, nutrition, or (heaven forbid!) how you actually feel (physically, not emotionally – we all know cookies make us happy) after eating certain foods.
Brussel Sprouts with Bacon make me happy...
So how can we take control or our diets and turn them into something that is sustainable and healthy? I think it’s all in the viewpoint. You can’t kick those diet books to the curb, they’re filled with valuable information. But instead of seeing them as an end-all, be-all, we need to start seeing them as the starting point for an education. Let’s say you lost a lot of weight on a low carb diet. That doesn’t mean you can never eat bread again, it means that bread is a problem food for you. Then when you start working bread back into your diet (and you know you will), start slowly and really focus on how you physically feel after you eat that bread. Are you bloated? Do you have a headache? Does your stomach hurt? These kinds of observations help change your emotional feelings towards certain foods and also force you to notice when your body doesn’t like something.
It seems so simple, but we often get caught up in the “failure response” to leaving a diet behind. The truth is that you’re not failing at all. You’ve had a learning experience that perhaps encouraged you to change some habits, and that is success! Maybe you got used to eating less and need smaller meals now. Maybe you discovered new and delicious ways to prepare vegetables. Maybe you noticed how much more energy you had when you ate more fruit. The key is integration. If you can’t make a part of a diet fit with your life, you need to leave it behind, because it’s only going to make you feel bad when you can’t follow “the rules”.  

mmmm Cider.
I noticed that when I started taking responsibility and “owning” my diet, I started feeling a lot better about myself. I also started eating healthier. I had thought that the two were mutually exclusive. I paid attention when I felt bloated and sick after eating greasy pizza and stopped. I took note when I felt great all day when I drank a protein shake right after my morning run. And what I’ve ended up with is a diet that you won’t find in any book or in any set of pre-cooked meals. The only rewards are feeling good and the only penalties are feeling kind of queasy or getting a headache. It gets a lot easier when you stop telling yourself that “cake is bad and I must never ever eat it”. Instead you can say, “Cake will give me a headache, and that will suck.” You can also follow that up with “but I will eat it anyway”.

Grige and Ham! Grige and Ham!
When we think about the way that food actually makes us feel, rather than the rather nebulous concepts of “it will make me fat” or “but it’s supposed to be good for me”, we’re able to make a much more sense out of nutrition. Our bodies are amazing! Besides, one order of fries will never make you fat and sometimes that order of chili cheese fries is worth the stomach ache. Only you can decide.

Lights.... Curtain.... SHOW!

I'm a bit bitter about the similarties between throwing a wedding and putting on a theatrical production. It's not that I don't love theatre, because I do. It's the fact that, for me, this wedding has felt so much less authentic than I want it to be. Somewhere in between being a meticulous planner, a people-pleaser and having an out-of-control guest list, I've completely lost track of the Grige and myself.
Maybe it would be better to lose track of us... We're odd.
Photo: Megan Shiley

I shouldn't be complaining: "Oh, poor ME! So many people love me and want to attend our wedding! My life is so horrible!". I'm thrilled that so many people want to be there for me, for my parents, and to meet the Grige. When I look at the list, I can't think of a single person who I would cut. But the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Somehow, this group of individuals who I know and love has turned into an audience that I must impress. And that, is a horrible feeling.

My parents come from a small town. They've lived there all of my life, and for the 10 years they were married before they had me. They have an amazingly kind, interesting, wonderful and ENORMOUS group of friends. They've been my mentors, my teachers and my friends for my whole life. However, given the nature of small towns to be on the gossip-y and competitive side, I've been bombarded with advice on how to impress everyone and how to take the best from every wedding this group has ever been to.

We're not the world's most impressive bunch, but boy are we happy!
Photo: Tom Zych

It's all made me feel like my mantra, "this is just a party to support and celebrate the commitment of two people who love each other", is a bit quaint. It's to the point where I wonder if people who will be receiving our painstakingly designed and beautifully letterpressed invitations in a few short weeks will even be thinking about the Grige and I when they open them. Or will they be thinking about what kind favors we'll give? Or why we didn't offer chicken? Or, god forbid, how much did these fancy invites cost???

It's like the playbill is out, and everyone is sitting in the theatre wondering if the players are up to their tasks. Wondering if the set will be realistic, if the script will make them cry, if the tickets were worth it, how long will the show run?

And for me, the person trying to write the ceremony script - to pick readings that will be meaningful to us, but relatable to other people; to pick music that we like but that makes sense at a wedding; to meaningfullly incorporate our values and visions for our marriage without ending up feeling too exposed or vulnerable in front of so many critics - I mean guests.... Well, it's kind of a lot of pressure.

Something relaxing - to relieve the pressure...
Photo: Evan Quasney

And frankly, it's pressure I didn't sign on for. I am an extremely sensitive introvert. I do not like large groups of people and I do not like exposing my work publicly for criticism. In fact, it's kind of a miracle I have a blog at all. All I wanted was to marry the Grige, and to make as many people happy as possible in the process, which inherently meant a big wedding.

I'm left feeling like I'd like to have a banner with a disclaimer made to hang over our ceremony site to remind people that they are witnessing an authentic commitment, and not a performance. There may be a script, and it may be a big party, but the real reason for a wedding is to celebrate love and support two people as they start their lives together. I wish I could shake the feeling that I need to remind people of that.

ACTION! The show must go on.
Photo: Jeanine Finch

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More on Body Image

I had a crappy run this morning, even the magic shoes failed me  :-(  Damn you, fickle magic shoes. I could probably blame the beer I had last night, or overtraining, or not getting enough sleep. But I don't think that was it. I think my shirt was a little too tight, and it made me feel so self-conscious about my salad-and-coconut-water-filled gut flapping around above my running shorts that I couldn't focus. I kept imagining people in their cars staring at it as I trotted by. I kept thinking how awful and out of shape I must look. Nevermind that it was dark and drizzling and anyone out running at 6:00 am in that weather is probably in decent shape. Nevermind that I had a great yoga practice the night before and a healthy dinner. Nevermind that I have a strong body that gets me through all kinds of things and a man who loves me no matter how I look in a bikini.

My body is strong, but my mind is weak.

So there you have it. Self-confidence has a strong and noticable impact on performance in athletics. And probably in life too. With that, I am going to send you over to APW, where there is a good post on body image and the way smart women beat themselves up about their bodies. And then beat themselves up for beating themselves up about their bodies. Double negativity. No wonder I had a crappy run.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It Is What It Is - On Bridal Attire and Loving Your Body

I have seen so many pictures of perfect brides. I actually didn’t realize that it was getting to me until people started asking me why I wasn’t more excited to get a dress. I really, really wanted to wear my grandmother’s wedding dress. My mom wore it too, and I just loved the idea of continuing that tradition. Unfortunately, the dress has seen better days, and apparently so has my weight. It didn’t button, which is kind of a relief, because if it had, it would have looked pretty frumpy.

And then I found the wedding blogs. I discovered all the pretty pictures of beautiful weddings where every bride looked so stunning it was hard to look straight at them. So I put off making dress appointments. I figured I would just wait until I lost some weight and felt a little more comfortable with being the center of attention for an entire day. So I didn’t look at dresses too much, and just tried to focus on losing the weight.
Honestly, I didn't really want to leave the "engagement phase", because it looked like this.
Which is to say very happy and wearing sweatpants.

On a visit home, my mom finally hustled me into a bridal appointment. I had the small store all to myself with two kind sales girls and I couldn’t have been more surprised to learn lesson number one (of three) about bridal gowns and self-image.
Lesson Number One – Designers make money by making you look (and feel) amazing
Wedding dresses are the most flattering pieces of attire that will ever grace your hips. Seriously. I very very very much regret the energy I spent worrying about losing weight, because these dresses are designed to make a woman’s body look fantastic. Until I entered the store, I’d only seen these dresses on bone thin models, so it didn’t occur to me that they might actually look good on normal people too. The regular rules do not apply in bridal land, because these dresses actually look better on real life women with a little meat on their bones. I do plenty of hating on the bridal industry, but trying on dresses convinced me, without a shadow of a doubt, that there are designers out there who care about (and study) women’s bodies and work hard to make a wide variety of dresses that will flatter them. In my experience, a great deal of these dresses were actually under $1000 as well.
So, I’m sorry, indie blog world. I enjoyed shopping for a dress at a regular bridal boutique. The sales staff was nice and down to earth and all the dresses were within a reasonable price range (no “surprise! Now that you love it, I can tell you that it is $30,000!).  Furthermore, many women complain about the fact that there are only strapless wedding dresses available. In the same breath, they complain about having to custom order a dress instead of buying “off the rack”. Here’s the thing: Strapless dresses are much easier to design (and alter) than dresses with straps, because women’s sizes differ so much. The wild thing about it, is that when you custom order a dress (which is the way they want you to do it), it’s very easy for the designer (or your seamstress) to add straps that will fit you exactly. Sometimes they even use scraps from your hem, which makes them virtually free. So seriously, stop complaining. I don’t know what boutique you went to, but I don’t think you looked hard enough to condemn the whole industry.
After I found my dress and learned lesson number one, I went back with a closer eye to those “perfect brides”. I was surprised to notice (after very close scrutiny) that they were not, in fact, skinny models, but real women who happened to be wearing flattering dresses. It didn’t seem like enough to account for how amazing they all looked. So I began to ponder. Finally, I stumbled upon lesson number two…
Lesson Number Two: Those women look amazing because they are happy. Because they are getting married.
Right? Duh. Happiness makes you look good. Especially when you have a professional photographer to photograph and edit your happiness. So I can’t imagine how I could possibly look bad on my wedding day. I have a flattering dress, and I am insanely happy to be marrying the Grige. Done and done, no diet or makeup required.
Three cheers for getting married!
So after all that, you would think that I wouldn’t be worried at all about my appearance. Sadly, I still have nightmares about forgetting my makeup. I worry that my awesome 40’s wedding hat will make me look like a cone-head. I’m afraid I’ll get a zit or that my arms will look flabby. Even once I was able to step away from the idea that I had to look like a model, I still wanted to look like the best version of myself. I wanted to weigh what I weighed in High School, I wanted to have the clear skin I had before work stressed me into acne and eczema, I wanted to have the toned arms I have when I fit yoga in every day and the long hair I had 2 years ago. I convinced myself that it was okay to judge myself against those standards because I’d had those things before. All I wanted was to be the best version of myself that I could imagine – was that so bad? It was. And as we approach the wedding, I’m finally getting a grip on lesson number three….
Lesson Number Three: You can only be who you are on your wedding day. Learn to love that person.
On the day I get married, I just want to be happy. Planning a wedding (and moving across the country) is stressful. I might miss yoga a few days a week. I might miss a few runs too.  I might not have time to cook healthy food. I probably won’t have time to get a tan, and I won’t be able to afford hair extensions. I definitely won’t be able to get botox injected into my armpits to stop me from sweating outside in August. The stress of all these things might make me break out. But you know what? That’s the person I’ll be on the day I get married. The Grige loves that person and wants to marry her. I always try to eat well and exercise frequently and manage my stress, but in the middle of wedding planning is not the ideal time to step all of that effort up, because you have other things to worry about. Like guest lists, and feeding hundreds of people, and whether or not your grandmother feels included.
So when the Grige and I say “I do”, I’ll be myself in a flattering dress that is hopefully not destroyed by tan lines. It probably won’t be the best I’ve ever looked in my life, but I bet you won’t be able to tell. I’ll be that happy.
Yep, this happy.
Photo: Jeanine Finch

Friday, May 11, 2012

On Caring for Yourself When Life Gets Crazy

Let’s start with the good news: I’ve been in a fog all week, and today I feel like it finally broke. I just felt exhausted and half-awake. I’m thinking that stress, poor eating and lack of exercise are probably to blame, so I’ve been trying extra hard to eat well, get my runs in and get back into yoga this week. I felt like I was running through 3 feet of water on Wednesday and Thursday, and my times really showed it. Today, I pulled on my new trail shoes and blew through my morning 5K route in just 26:03 minutes. That is far and away a personal record, and I felt great the whole time. My yoga practice last night also left me feeling sort of invincible – I actually held a forearm stand.

Magic Shoes.
Photo: Me
It continually amazes me how much of a difference taking care of your body can make. It makes all the effort I’ve put in feel worth it. I always try to remind myself of this when I’m thinking of staying at work late and skipping yoga, or sleeping in and missing my run. I feel so much better when I make that time for myself.
It’s a good thing I’m feeling better, because I have a very busy weekend ahead! My parents are flying into town tonight and our couples wedding shower is tomorrow! I can’t wait to see all of our friends and family together, and to get some gifts, of course! The Grige and I have all kinds of fun activities planned for my parents. We’re going to go kayaking, eat some blue crabs, go to a baseball game, and eat at our favorite pizza place. I’m sad that it will be our last chance to host them in DC, but we’re going to make it count!
My Parents, kayaking on our trip to MI last fall
Photo: Chad Fisk
So now, let’s talk about letting your self-care get away from you when things get busy at work, or in life. Last week, I did a big chunk of the planning for a dinner for 550 attorneys followed by a full day conference for 300 attorneys. I take work (and perfection) very seriously, so this was incredibly stressful for me. Especially since I am also planning our wedding – don’t even get me started on the wacked out dreams I had where the two events suddenly combined. I seriously never want to see another seating chart or place-card again right now. Hopefully I get over that in another week or two.

Late night at the office snack. Starbucks actually has pretty healthy snack packs! They're pricey though...
Photo: Me

In preparation for the event, I was slaving over things like nametags, table assignments, RSVPs, and hotel arrangements until after 10:00 pm pretty much every night for 2 weeks. And I learned some things – of course.
1.      It is impossible to make 850 nametags and spell everyone’s name right every time. No one will care if you apologize kindly and re-print a correct one immediately.
2.      It is almost impossible to keep 850 nametags alphabetized while transporting them.
3.      A thoughtfully designed seating plan can make or break an event.
4.      Hotels will lie to you about how many people they can comfortably seat for lunch in a banquet room. There’s probably nothing you can do about it.

I also learned, via my extremely hazy start to this week, that you cannot ignore your body for 2 weeks and not expect consequences. So here is my plan for the next time things get crazy:
1.      Get up and RUN. That extra hour of sleep is not going to help you in the long run. Getting your heart rate up with a run instead of coffee is going to help you feel better all day.
2.      Prepare your lunch and dinner the night before a busy day. Bring them both to work. If you don’t end up staying late, you’ll have lunch for the next day. If you do end up staying late, you will not end up eating pizza or chipotle at your desk at 9:00 pm. I think fast food is a huge culprit in my feeling miserable last week. The Grige and I eat a very “clean” diet, and I feel like tossing a bunch of coffee, pizza and burritos in the tank was a huge mistake. *pro-tip – if it was prepared in less than 10 minutes, it’s probably bad for you.
3.      Take lunch and dinner breaks. If you know you are going to be at work late anyway, take at least 30 minutes to walk away from whatever you are doing at mealtimes. Also, I think I may institute the “yoga dinner break” next time. This way, I won’t miss out on a week of yoga, and then I can work in my loafing ‘loons for the rest of the evening (BONUS!)
So with those thoughts, work isn’t the only thing that impacts how I care for my body. I’m challenging myself this busy weekend to do a long run (whoo 6 miler!) and make it to yoga once. I’m also challenging myself to make healthy choices when we are out at restaurants – this is always my biggest weakness. The big exception will be the crab feast. I plan to stuff myself silly at that!
Happy Cinco de Drinko!
Me: Making bad decisions at a restaurant
Photo: Megan Shiley
How do you take care of yourself when life gets crazy?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy Monday!

Please allow me to make an announcement. You may have noticed that I am kind of an APW groupie. I link back there all the time, and the backbone of my entire marriage planning strategy is built on the backbone of awesome that those ladies bring to the internet day after day. And today, they are running a post that I wrote! I wish I could accurately portray my excitement in writing, but I can’t. You will just have to imagine me jumping up and down behind the filing cabinet in my cubicle. If you came over from APW, welcome, and please imagine me jumping up and down with a secret “I <3 Team Practical” shirt under my blazer.
Yep, I get to marry that guy!
Photo: Megan Shiley

So for APW visitors, here’s the best of the wedding-related stuff I’ve got:
Single me talks about affording weddings: Other People's Weddings and You can't Spray Roundup on Jesus

Our engagement announcement and why our wedding won't be about us: On Weddings, Spending and Self-Definition

In which I promise to love my wedding for what it is, and not what I wanted it to be: My Vow to Our Wedding

I argue that I should get work experience credit for planning my monstrosity of a wedding: Wedding Planning as Project Management Experience

I break down and do a little much needed wedding b*tching: Wedding Planning: 4 Months Out

I start talking about our marriage counseling, but get distracted by Shakespeare references: A Small Identity Crisis