Celebrating the results of “unthinking”.

It’s confirmed.  I cannot sit still.  My plan to take some time off from school lasted less than three months.  I tried to explore various avenues, from personal training to more fitness certifications.  I even took on a kickboxing circuit class, which was quite fun.

However, I couldn’t help but think that I was going in circles.  Even though I’m going to be a year older in a couple of weeks, and it’s an age that would hardly qualify me as a “spring chicken”, I need something that has more potential and possibilities.

In the first two weeks of August I started to go into a major funk.  I had a giant list of things to do around the house, and an even larger list of things to do for my classes at the gym.  But I was just feeling so uninspired.  All I wanted to do was nap.

Thanks to social media, I was constantly being reminded that school was starting.  I no longer felt the trauma leftover by my Physics class last spring and I actually wanted to return to academia.  When I felt very much DONE with school, my biggest concern was what to do next.  I needed to stay in school in order to jump up in my career, because right now “fitness instructor”, although a fun job, is hardly what I call a career.  It is not self sustaining, and it cannot be done on a full time basis unless I start to do things that are more forgiving, like yoga or Silver Sneakers.  I’ve considered that, of course, but my thought process always hit a dead end, which was a clear indication that I needed something a little more.

So thinking out of the box, I started to research more traditional graduate school options that were still related to fitness.  I came upon a program in Clinical Exercise Physiology, but was strongly advised against that route due to the limitations in job possibilities.  And then I had that ah-ha moment:  Nutrition.  As I did more thinking and researching, I came upon a dual graduate program in Nutrition & Wellness and Public Health.  One would give me focus on something I am passionate about, while the other will allow me to broaden my scope, and give me a platform in which I can make a difference to others.  The MPH opens up so many possibilities, but perhaps my focus will be Nutritional Epidemiology.  It feels like such an awesome prospect, and once again I’m excited about school.  Yay!

Although the Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness will require more prerequisites (sigh), which I hope will be sufficient. I’m waiting to hear back from the admissions department at a nearby university, and crossing my fingers that it will be a straightforward path.  In the mean time, I’m paving that path by taking a Science of Nutrition class, alongside Organic Chemistry, which is a prerequisite for a prerequisite (I hate it when that happens, but it must be done).  Next semester the plan is to take Biochemistry.  If all is fine and dandy with admissions, I should be able to start on the dual degree program next summer!

The future is so bright!

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The love/hate relationship with academia.

I welcomed the summer break with open arms.  I was sick of school, and as much as I reminded myself that I should enjoy and appreciate the opportunity of learning something new, I just could not help but wish Spring semester would end.

In hindsight, I can think of 101 ways the semester could have been more manageable, even though Physics caused great upheaval in my life for five months.  Teaching 5:30 a.m. classes at the gym hampered my much-needed study time (and sleep time).  It was also probably not a great idea to enroll in an 8-week online Biomedical Terminology course, a decision I made so last minute that I was almost unable to pay my tuition for the course.  At the time I was vying for a spot in the Physical Therapy Assistant program for Fall 2015, and I was 90% certain I would get in.  But one letter of recommendation somehow did not make it to the admissions office and I was handed a rejection letter – no ifs, ands or buts.  I was disappointed, though I keep telling myself that the missing letter was likely a sign that this was not my intended path.  I would have loved the program, gotten a job easily, and made a decent income.  Which are all desirable end results, no doubt.  But I had that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I might want more.  Perhaps I was meant to take a bigger bite and go for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which was always my intended plan, so I continued with my applications, diligently compiling all the necessary documentation, tweaking my essay, and making sure everything was ready to be sent digitally before the upcoming deadline this October.

But I still hesitated.  I have accumulated more than 100 hours of volunteer and observation time in various rehabilitation settings.  I have firsthand knowledge of a physical therapist’s job because of my sister’s own journey with Muscular Dystrophy. While I was full speed ahead since August 2013, suddenly I was running idly, waiting for that emotional push to go for it.

I have gotten plenty of advice in the last two years.  While most people have been very encouraging and supportive, some people were in shock that I would want to endure such a grueling program for three years.  And for what?  A really awesome salary with an even more impressive school loan to pay off?  Not to mention, my biggest responsibility still lies with my three kids, all of whom have grown to be so independent and self-sufficient. They have been absolutely amazing since I decided to go back to college, and I also have to give credit to my husband for having my back every time I had to lock myself in the bedroom to get homework done.

I started to question if this will all be worth it.  Of course, I won’t know until I try it and see, but if there is one thing in my life in which failure is absolutely unacceptable, it’s with the most important job I took on nearly fifteen years ago, and that is being a parent.  I don’t care how many accolades I gain in my future career or how big of a salary I will hopefully be earning.  If my kids ever feel like they are lacking because I can’t be there for them, then I have failed as a parent.

So there is the challenge that I have always faced since the day I brought the Teenager home from the hospital:  finding balance.  When is it okay to focus on ME, when is it best to focus on everyone else?  Every day it goes one way or the other, for quite honestly I sometimes feel like I could lose my mind if I don’t do something for myself, but on the other hand, the “mommy guilt” kicks in and I feel the need to drop everything for them.

During this time off, I’ve had the opportunity to research other graduate school options.  Clearly I need to find something more traditional that would allow for more balance between work and family.  I think I’ve found it something, but I’m lacking a couple of prerequisites so that means I will have to enroll in those classes for Fall semester and at the same time start working on applications.

Self doubt kicks in when I think about the giant roller coaster ride of this past school year.  From love to hate… to love again, only to end in tears of frustration and guilt.  Yes, it was dramatic, proof that even though I’m the mom of a teenager, sometimes I can behave as emotionally as one still.  But that’s what Physics did to me:  it turned me into a lunatic.  I always start the semester with the goal of earning an A.  Physics fought back hard and I was left bruised and battered.  It was a tremendous amount of work for me because it was not one of my strengths and that was a tough pill to swallow.

As much as I hesitate while deviating from my intended path of DPT, I have to remember:  if I don’t just do it, I’ll be wondering what if I did.  So that probably means I should.

“Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?”

That’s the song that comes to mind, every Monday evening around 7 p.m., half way through teaching PoundFit when I start to get really, really hangry hungry.  I see stars, not to be mistaken for the disco lights from the party-in-the-box.  And then there are visions of food, most often peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

My summer teaching schedule, coupled with my summer marathon training schedule, has often left me deprivation mode, especially on Monday nights when I’m still recovering from the weekend miles and I’m faced with what I call “the trifecta”:  Bodypump, PoundFit, CXWorx.  I’ve tried subbing out my Sunday classes, tweaking the diet, drinking more water, consuming a protein shake (or two) in between classes, during classes, after classes.  Nothing seemed to work quite right.  The worst end result from all of this tweaking has been insatiable hunger on my rest days and an overly snug sports bra, two of the worst things that can happen at the same time, short of an injury, in my opinion.

A fellow instructor introduced me to Beachbody’s Performance products, and I immediately had to give it a try.  Just several months ago, I learned a valuable lesson about Shakeology.  Despite the fact that most of my fitness friends were devout followers of this product, I refused to believe the hype.  For years I let it go in one ear and out the other, until one day I decided to just give it a try because I could not deny the fact that the people who preached the benefits of this product were also in excellent shape, with abs to prove it.  Sure enough, I was instantly hooked.  Whenever my monthly supply runs out before the new shipment arrives, I literally go into a depression.  I’m sure most of it is that I’m a creature of habit and when one daily occurring event doesn’t happen (for example, my daily dose of Shakeology), my whole entire week is thrown completely off.

But getting back to the Performance line, I had to order the complete package:  pre-workout, hydrate, post-workout recovery, creatine, and overnight recovery.  Starting Saturday I’ve had the opportunity to test the full package since very day has involved quite a bit of exercise:

Saturday:  BodyCombat

Sunday:  10 mile training run, BodyPump

Monday:  Bodypump, PoundFit, CXWorx

Needless to say, Tuesdays I’m about as useful as anybody would be in the supine position.  Any attempt at being productive is curtailed by muscle soreness and frequent foraging into the fridge for food.  My mantra at the beginning of the week:  Just get through Tuesday.  Tuesdays are supposed to be easy because I just teach one Bodypump class in the evening, which gives me plenty of time to recover.  But Tuesdays are such a bear.

I have been telling  myself that my fatigue has more to do with lack of sleep and nutrition.  And okay, I’ll admit that teaching as much Bodypump as I do is not recommended, especially when there is marathon training involved.  However, I am often so wired Monday night that I toss and turn, often waking at 3 a.m. with little more than 4-5 hours of sleep under my belt.  Usually I’m still in recovery mode from Sunday, so the giant coffee I consume before my Monday classes is likely the culprit, but I didn’t know of any other way to get my game face on, and I refuse to teach a class in a tired, monotone voice.

Since I am new to all these workout supplements, I can say right off the bat that I’m mostly happy about a few things:  Sunday felt easy.  I thought we still had 5 miles to go until my husband informed me we were already at 7.84 miles.  Bodypump was uneventful that afternoon, and I didn’t notice any overwhelming soreness in my legs Monday morning.  Monday evening, the pre-workout gave me a ton of energy and focus from 5:30 p.m. until I said my final gym goodnights at 8:15 p.m.  I did not once get hungry or see stars last night even though I ate my usual food earlier in the day, except for the slice of whole wheat bread and peanut butter before class.  Admittedly, I was so busy trying to get all the supplements ready that I forgot about it.  The post workout shake kept me from gnawing on someone’s arm on the way home, which I’m sure my kids were thankful for because every time I pick them up from their dad’s house after dinner, they carry with them the aroma of whatever they ate, and it always smells so delicious.  I have yet to determine if the overnight recovery shake has worked its magic, since soreness often creeps up on me later on in the day.  However, nothing gave me an upset stomach AND I was able to fall asleep, and stay asleep.  That in itself is the best part of it.

I will continue to use these products since I’m curious to see how they help in the long term.  But for now I’m going to relish my Tuesday and be acutely aware of tiredness or soreness later on today.  Even though I love everything I have tried from Beachbody, the science student in me is always the skeptic.  I have to see how it goes before I can sing its praises to everyone I meet.  But I’m hopeful for this one, for the sake of my hangriness.

The 21 Day Fix. Revisited.

The concept of “clean eating” was first introduced to me several years ago by a personal trainer I worked with in North Carolina.  At the time I was teaching my fair share of group fitness classes, specifically Les Mills Bodypump and Bodyflow, but in addition to that I was attending Bodyattack and RPM classes, with a few Bodyjam and Bodycombat classes here and there, which are all pretty intense cardio formats also offered by Les Mills.

It was common practice for me to take a class, teach a class, then head straight to the nearby Harris Teeter, where I’d purchase a full slab of ribs and a loaf of cornbread.  Without a healthy breakfast to head off my morning workouts, my famished self would devour the whole entire thing, all in one sitting.  I would eat again in the evening sometime, though that meal was often something I’d find leftover in the fridge, but without fail, I’d have an alcoholic beverage of some sort to accompany my dinner.  For the longest time I liked to mix a bit of diet Sprite with some red mine, what my friends like to call the “wine spritzer”.  Of course one was never enough, and I deemed multiple pourings okay since I had worked out so hard that day.

I continued this way for many months because I didn’t know any better.  I was by no means overweight, but I wanted to look as trim and fit as some of my fellow instructor friends who were lifelong athletes.  I convinced myself the only way to do this was to jump on the bandwagon and see the personal trainer that all the instructors trained with.  He and I already had a professional relationship established because I had done a number of photography assignments for him, so it was a win-win arrangement for both of us.  I take his photos, he gives me free training sessions.

Wouldn’t you know it, the first thing he told me was to hold off on weighing myself – for the next month.  He also said to start taking vitamins regularly.  And then he had me sign up for an online calorie counting website (at the time it was Livestrong.com, though now there are many out there that are just as good) and told me to buy this book:  The Clean Eating Diet by Tosca Reno.

For the first week I was overwhelmed, and of course, I continued with my habits and ate poorly.  One night, around 11 p.m., I received a text message from my personal trainer which simply said:  “Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Are you serious?”  Yes, that’s what I had for dinner.  In fact, I was so hungry that I snarfed it down, then headed to Bonefish Grill to visit my girlfriend who tended bar there, and chitchatted with her while enjoying a vodka martini.

The next morning I likely dragged myself to the gym to take an RPM class, followed by Bodyflow, which I was on the schedule to teach.  But in hindsight I can count many, many times in which I taught that class feeling very much under the weather.

I finally decided to clean up the diet, and though I didn’t lose actual weight, my body fat percentage went down and people started to notice that I looked “different”.  They weren’t sure why, but I just did.  So, there’s definitely something to be said about this “clean eating” shenanigans after all.

Since that time I’ve done a number of different things to play around with my poor eating habits (because admittedly, I tend to revert back to the full slab of ribs and cornbread, sometimes).  My cousin, who owns a yoga studio, often does a 21 day cleanse in which we give up six known inflammatory foods:  wheat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and meat.  Aside from the massive headaches the first couple of days, it was a great experience, though I don’t necessarily recommend this if the workouts are intense.  I was training for my third marathon at the time, and had one scary moment after a 12 mile training run that involved seeing stars and complete blackness for a moment, at which time it suddenly dawned on me that while being very thin was great and I had an abundance of energy, my thinning hair and protruding collarbones were probably an indication that I wasn’t eating enough.

Which brings me to the whole concept of eating clean but at the same time eating to fuel the body.  That’s when I finally took off the blinders and removed all the negative thoughts in my head and decided to jump on the Beachbody bandwagon.  Everybody was doing it, so what was all the fuss about?

First I have to say that Shakeology, as much as I frowned upon it as an expensive gimmick, is AMAZING.  I used to go through great lengths to find dense nutrition, and there are many products out there that fulfill this need.  However, I am lazy about some things.  If it’s not convenient, I simply don’t feel like tackling it.  In one serving of Shakeology, everything is there.  I no longer need to take vitamin supplements, not that I ever did on a consistent basis.  But my ongoing issue with thinning hair?  Gone.  That is the one biggest indication that I was finally doing something nutritionally correct for myself.  I can see all the baby hairs growing back in, which made my hair very poofy once again, like back in my college days, before kids and breastfeeding and over the top workouts.

Shakeology:  Your daily dose of dense nutrition.

And then I decided to try the 21 Day Fix.  When the colorful little boxes arrived, I laughed.  Partly because they were so little and looked like ridiculous little toys, and partly because I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to feel satiated with so little food.  The amount, I soon realized, was enough.  But when I made the effort to follow the 21 Day Fix guidelines and eat the recommended foods, it was effortless and easy.  I was energized and never felt deprived.

So as we kick off another month, I’m starting another round of the 21 Day Fix.  Next week I have an order of the Beachbody Performance line coming in, to add some much needed oomph to my full teaching schedule, and just in time as we start to dive in to the double digits of marathon training.  I also ordered the much anticipated Fixate Cookbook, created by the 21 Day Fix’s mastermind Autumn Calabrese.  I’ve followed many of her recipes and admittedly I’m not a very good indicator of what is considered “yummy” since I will eat just about anything, especially when I’m hangry hungry.  But everything I’ve made thus far has gotten an overwhelming thumbs up from the hubby and the kiddos, so I’m excited to try more recipes.

I try to stay away from the aesthetics of it all and instead try to focus more on how I feel throughout the day, whether it’s while teaching or running, or even when I first wake up in the morning, and changes in the diet have definitely made the biggest impact, physically and mentally.  While the clothes start to fit differently, ultimately when I’m feeling good in my head, everything else falls into place.  Next week will be like Christmas in August.

A different perspective.

There used to be a time when I felt like I had to exercise every single day.  Yoga did not count because the kind of yoga I practiced wasn’t intense enough.  Every single day I had to do something so intense that I had to hurt the next day.

It was difficult for me to type that because it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it comes from the old “calories in, calories out” mentality I once had in which I convinced myself I could eat myself out of house and home and still be okay as long as I kept track of the calories and burned more than what I consumed.  That works, but only to a certain extent.  If I worked hard enough, the number on the scale would be a favorable one, but I found after a while the number refused to move because there is only so much a petite woman of barely 5-foot stature can lose.  I was basically that dreaded term “skinny fat”.  Obviously eating the right kinds of food made the biggest difference.

A splash of purple at the Springbrook Forest Preserve.So there are now days in which I intentionally do nothing.  In fact, there are many “rest days” in which I don’t do a single thing, exercise-wise, and I’m in better shape than I was 5 years ago when I insisted on my torturous regimen of endless workouts.  However, I sometimes fall into a lazy stupor and tell myself I need to get out of the house and do something.

Last Saturday I decided to wait until the golden hour and headed to the forest preserve.  This is a trail I normally run with my husband, though I hated it even when I was an avid runner.  I always seem to find myself running here on the hottest of days, and at a 5.5 mile loop, the bathrooms are usually too far away when I need them the most.  On Saturday I decided to grab my camera and take a leisurely stroll in the hopes of capturing some warm light as the sun started to set.  I thought I might gain a different perspective on a path I often travel if I were to see it in a different light.

It was a beautiful, relaxing evening, to say the very least.  I was only there for a half hour, which was long enough to clear my mind and take a few shots of the wild flowers alongside the trail.  I’ve had many positive experiences running this trail, but for some reason the negative thoughts are the first to enter my mind the minute I pull into the parking lot.  This evening gave me a fresh perspective that I will hopefully keep with me for the duration of this training season.

A splash of color along the Springbrook Forest Preserve.

Discovering Bloglovin!

It’s been more than a decade since I blogged on a regular basis.  Times have definitely changed.  Years ago I blogged for the sake of journaling my days as a stay-at-home mom, and many of my blogging friends had similar goals.  Perhaps my focus has now changed, but I’m finding that I am in the constant search for information related to fitness, photography, recipe ideas, or whatever question might pop into my head at any given moment.

Since taking a back-to-college hiatus, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading in my free time, which has been more frequent than not due to teaching (probably) one too many classes this summer, nursing an injury, and marathon training.  Recovery time can’t be idle time.  I must be in constant busy mode, even if it’s a few minutes of vegging on the couch.  And that is how I’ve stumbled upon some great websites, one of which is Bloglovin.  It’s like, a buffet of interesting tidbits to chomp on.

So I shall jump on the bandwagon and see where this goes.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

When it hurts to sneeze.

This kickboxing circuit class.  It’s going to kick ass.  I know this every time I sneeze, cough, or burp because all those muscles that are apparently used to do these simple bodily functions scream in pain every.single.time.

It’s been two days since my test run, with my only intention to see if the combinations flowed smoothly and, most importantly, to make sure the intervals app I downloaded on my iPhone worked without crashing.  I’ve realized through the years of teaching that anything related to technology can go wrong at any time, so the latter will require some crossing of fingers and a back up in the form of my old school iPod Classic, which has it’s own story of death and resurrection that I will save for another blog entry.

At least now I know what sorts of pain the participants might be feeling a week from today, and hopefully it’s the type of pain that will keep them coming back for more.  Not that I have a no-pain-no-gain mantra by any means, but at this particular gym I know the members have been seeking a class that isn’t Zumba or anything related to music and choreography.  It’s bare bones, simple, but intense, which will add some nice variety to the evening schedule.  Followed by CXWorx, a 30-minute core conditioning class, we will all have awesome core muscles in a few weeks’ time.  Honestly, can it get any better?

Well, I can answer that more honestly in a couple more days after I get a much needed massage from the hubby and the soreness subsides.  Until then, all those muscles.  They seriously hate me right now.