The Fat Chick Works Out – Week 2 (ish)

So, back in July, I started up with The Fat Chick Works Out, and blogged a bit about Week 1. I got a lot of good walking done that week, totally 6.65 miles and 2.68 hours.

And then life happened. The week of the 22nd, I only walked once, and got all of 2 miles in. And I didn’t crack the book at all. I was working a bunch of extra hours and trying to get ready for Pennsic.

Pennsic itself was a workout in and of itself, despite the fact that I didn’t fight this year. I wasn’t keeping track, but because of how spread out everything is, I’m pretty confident that I walked at least a mile every day.

This past week, after getting back from Pennsic, was also kind of “meh” workout-wise. I only got in an hour and a half, and 3.72 miles.

So, now, it’s time to get back on the horse, with Week 2, Chapter 4. This week, the focus is on ramping up gradually. Key word being “gradually.” The overarching metaphor for the book is a baby bird breaking out of its shell and learning to fly. Where last week was about “life in the egg,” that is, living completely in your head and needing to learn to focus on your body, this week is about cracking that shell open, slowly and steadily.

A real, live chick can take anywhere from 1 to 24 hours to emerge from its shell. It may peck at that shell hundreds or even thousands of times until it makes a small hole. The chick then gradually works its way up to making that hole bigger and bigger. The chick needs to rest from time to time in order to make it through the ordeal. The mama hen can’t intervene and break the baby chick out. There is no shortcut. The process itself is essential. The struggle to hatch allows the chick to develop strength in its muscles that eventually will allow it to fly. So we are going to talk about increasing your weekly exercise, but just a little bit at a time. We’re going to allow you to rest from time to time. We’re going to show you how to build up your muscles and gain the strength to fly.”

In this chapter, Jeanette talks about her two failed attempts to run a marathon, before she got it on the third try. Both those early attempts ended with injury after she started ramping up too fast. She explains the concept of ramping up by a *maximum* of ten percent a week (either in duration, intensity, or frequency), and includes a handy chart for calculating how to up your workout duration in 10% increments.

She recommends focusing on time rather than distance because it’s easier to measure in small increments, and because the amount of exertion it takes to go a particular distance isn’t actually a constant: “One mile may feel like a 5 on the sweat scale on Tuesday and an 8 on the sweat scale on Friday. This means that you are technically changing two parameters at once.” That does make a ton of sense, since lots of factors can affect your energy level and therefore your intensity level—stress, sleep, weather, illness, time of day, etc.

The flip side of that, and the issue I have, is that if you’re walking outside, distance is much more easily controllable than time. In theory, I can pick a duration for my workout, track my time, and turn around when I reach my halfway point. *But* that assumes I’ll do the second half as fast as the first, which usually doesn’t happen. If I reach my stopping time before I reach my house, I’ll end up overshooting that time goal because I still have to get home.

To use duration rather than distance, I think I’d need to use a shorter route and repeat it. So, instead of “Walk a mile and turn around,” it might be “Walk a quarter mile, turn around, get home, turn around, and lather, rinse, repeat until I hit my time goal.” I can see that getting frustrating, both because of the repetition of scenery and because it’ll make it harder to track my mileage, which I do still want to keep track of.

So, my current plan is to try to keep both my weekly time and mileage within 10% of the previous week—or, if the previous week was a slacker week, 10% of the best week in the past 2-3 weeks.

Another key point was that you only ramp up if you feel pretty good with your current level of exercise. If you’re exhausted and sore, then it’s not time to ramp up yet. So, I think I’m going to try to track how I feel after each workout to see if I should be pushing it harder the next week. That’s going to be hard to determine, because between the sciatica, the general pissiness of my ankle, and the hypothyroid, it’s sometimes hard to tell if I feel crappy because I pushed too hard or for completely unrelated reasons. And, for that matter, even if it *is* one of the other issues, whether it’d be better to take it easy or push through.

To make things even more exciting, there’s a distinct possibility that I have fibromyalgia, so my pain tolerance and how my brain processes pain may just be screwed up. I’m not sure what to do with that information, though, because it’s not like I can be in the middle of a workout and say, “Oh, yes, I can tell that my ankle is screaming *just because* and I totally have another mile in me,” or “Yep, this is screwing up my ankle—time to stop now.”

So, what I’m hoping is that keeping the 10% factor in mind and keeping track of how I feel after each workout will help me avoid overdoing it.


The Fat Chick Works Out – Week 1

I’m going to blog my way through Jeanette DePatie’s awesome exercise book, The Fat Chick Works Out. Jeanette is one of the co-founders of the Fit Fatties Forum, a discussion spot for fat athletes at all ability levels–everybody from the gym rat who does a marathon every few months to the person who just wants to try out this whole “exercise” thing without it being conflated with weight loss.

A main focus of the book is starting slow and not breaking yourself. There are a lot of activities to find out what your starting level of fitness is and guidelines on how to ramp up (no more than 10% a week, *if* you’re feeling good). I tend to do that to myself a lot–I push too hard, I regret it, and I get out of the exercise habit. Then when I come back, I forget that I’m out of practice and expect things to be as easy as they were before, and the lovely cycle starts up again.

So, here we go with Week 1. The first step is to pick an exercise and set up a schedule for yourself. I’m skipping the “Rock the Block” exercise because I’ve done it before, but it’s a really neat way to figure out your current level of fitness. You walk for 40 minutes, or until you’re tired, whichever comes first. Then you take that distance and duration, and that’s your starting point.

My plan is to walk 5 days a week, for roughly half an hour a day (getting my weekly 150 minutes of exercise) with a goal of 5-ish miles per week to start. My standard walking days will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but that will flex a little bit depending on my weekly schedule.

The theme for Week 1 is coping with panic and managing expectations:

We’re terrified of being fat, or out of shape, or headed for serious health problems. We’re terrified that we’ll never be slim enough or fit enough to be accepted by our peers or approved by our doctors. We alternate between despair from the failure of all the previous exercise programs we’ve started and discarded, and wild optimism that this will be the one time that everything is perfect. This time we’ll lose the weight, achieve fantastic muscled bodies like Greek Gods or Goddesses, attract a rich and gorgeous spouse who wants to sweep us off to a fantastic yacht in Monaco where visiting Hollywood producers will discover us and put us in blockbuster movies as long as this time, we don’t make one small mistake and blow everything.

So what happens next? We lose all perspective and fueled by equal parts panic and fantasy, try to do way too much too soon. This leads to pain, injury, frustration, burn out, and ultimately drop out. Which leads to more panic. Which starts the whole thing up all over again.

I love her focus on doing what you can do, then building on that one step at a time. It’s very realistic, and it has a much better chance of helping someone be active for life than a program that asks you to start with a ton of exercise all at once. And I really like the way she shoots holes in the Fantasy of Being Thin right from the get-go.

So, this week, I’ve walked twice so far, Tuesday and yesterday. (I didn’t start on a Monday, darn the luck.) Today is a rest day, but I may get in some yoga and PT stretches. Tomorrow, I’m thinking I’ll walk in the morning before work, hopefully before the temperature cracks 80, since it’s been in the 90s all week. Since I missed Monday, I’m shooting for two walks over the weekend, subject to change if my ankle gets cranky. I’m visiting my brother, four hours’ drive away, so that may make it tricky to squeeze a walk in. But I’m pretty sure I wake up earlier than he does, so I can get in a walk in the morning. He’s even got a treadmill, so I’m in luck if it’s stupid hot there too.

My assignment for the week is to come up with a little mantra that encourages incremental thinking, and say it to myself as I’m working out. Something upbeat, like “Every little step gets me there” or “Each step brings me closer” (the ones Jeanette uses). I’m kind of blanking on that, so I may just shamelessly snag hers. I may also use “I am already an athlete.” Although it doesn’t explicitly have the focus on each little step, it’s a way of accepting the skill level I have right now and working from there.


Looking back through past posts, I realized that I went from saying “If you see me run, something’s probably chasing me,” to identifying myself as a runner. What changed? Well, I’m currently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

I heard about Run for Your Lives, a 5K zombie obstacle course, and it sounded like a blast. And, I’ve never run a race before, so what better way to start than with one that has obstacles *and* zombies? I’ve probably taken complete leave of my senses, but it sounded like fun.

So I’ve been running to get ready for it. And I discovered the Zombies, Run! app. It’s an immersive cross between an audio-book and an exercise game. The zombie apocalypse has happened, and one of the important jobs in post-apocalyptic society is the runner. Scavenging for food, electronics and medical supplies, distracting zombies, running rescue missions. The game alternates with your playlist, so you get a snippet of story, a song, and another snippet of story. The story is well written, and the voice acting is good. It alternates between being hilarious and depressing (well, society did collapse and the dead are shambling around feeding on the flesh of the living). Using the app at night is particularly creepy.

It also has chases, where you randomly get chased by zombies. That tends to work best with GPS, and I only have an iPod, not an iPhone, so I haven’t experienced the joy of having the walking dead motivate me to run intervals, but it’s a really cool idea.

I may have to retire my, “If I’m running, look behind me to see what’s chasing me,” line. We’ll see if I want to keep running once I get tired of the game (yes, I’ve already run out of story missions…an update is apparently in the works, though). Either way, I’m having fun now.

Well, that went better than expected

So, I had my appointment with my new endo today, which I was more than a little worried about.

It went surprisingly well. No weight lecture whatsoever, even though I’ve gained 4 pounds in the past year (which the doctor said was “probably normal fluctuations.”)

My blood pressure was a tad bit higher than it had been the last time. Probably mostly the stress. The way being in a less privileged group interacts with having anxiety disorder is really unpleasant. I mean, I know I’m paranoid, but they kind of *are* out to get me. “They” in this case being the 60 billion dollar a year weight loss industry, most doctors to some extent, and even the freaking First Lady. So it’s difficult to use the techniques I would use to talk myself down from other worries, because this one is more grounded in reality.

On my patient consent form, I did cross out the “Pictures or video may be taken of me and used for educational purposes” line. I have no desire to be the headless fatty accompanying their Facebook post of some article on gastric bypass. (Odds are those are stock photos rather than their patients, but still, “education” covers a lot of ground that I may or may not be comfortable having my image used for.)

I hope this wasn’t a fluke, and that my follow-up in six months goes the same.

Doctors, Power, and Honesty

So, I have to make an appointment with a new endocrinologist, which I’m dreading the heck out of. (My previous endo finished her fellowship program and isn’t going to be at Hopkins anymore.)

With the previous endocrinologist, I pretty passively sat through a lot of weight lecturing because I really need someone to actually treat my thyroid issues. The previous one hadn’t, and I knew that if I got written off as the “non-compliant fat chick” there, I was pretty thoroughly screwed.

Since my current endo was extremely knowledgeable, polite, and helpful, I figured sitting through a yearly weight lecture and giving lip service to the idea of losing weight was a fair price to pay.

And, let’s be honest, I was freaking terrified. The power doctors have over you when you’re sick is a scary thing. I remember thinking, before I went to Hopkins, that if they blew me off like the last endocrinologist did, that my best option was probably to crash diet to lose 50 or 100 pounds, in the hopes that if I got down to a socially acceptable weight and was still showing hypo symptoms, someone would actually listen to me.

So, now that I need to make an appointment with the new fellow, I’m trying to figure out whether I’m brave enough to actually say I’m trying to approach my health from an HAES perspective, or if I’m going to just smile, nod, and get out with a prescription for the synthroid that keeps me functioning.

I may take a middle approach where I ask about research and studies without flat-out saying that I don’t plant to attempt weight loss under any circumstances. Because if you can show me a study where even half the participants lost a significant amount of weight, kept it off for five years, and didn’t experience worse health outcomes than the control group, I might be convinced to try *that* diet. To my knowledge, no such studies exist. But if I approach it from an angle of asking questions and being interested in evidence, I may be at least a little less likely to be blown off.

I’m also planning on going into the appointment dressed nicely and groomed as thoroughly as I would be for a job interview, make-up and all. It kind of is a job interview, where I’m applying for the position of “vaguely intelligent grown-up who’s allowed to make her own medical decisions.” And fat people, being supposedly stupid, lazy, and low-class, are generally disqualified from that position. So I’m going to shamelessly work on the markers that I can manipulate to be seen as a person worth helping.

I also have another medical thing going on. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, which seems to be preventing me from getting pregnant, despite a whole bunch of trying. (I kind of wish I’d known I had a condition that’s linked to infertility before I spent hundreds of dollars on BC pills that made me feel like shit, when we probably could’ve just used condoms and been more than fine.)

It’s been six months, which is the point at which you’re supposed to go to the doctor if you’re over 30. I’m thinking the first step will be to go back on metformin. I should also find out what other options are available if that doesn’t do it. I’m not keen on the idea of fertility drugs, since i really don’t want multiples. I also have my doubts that anyone would do IVF on someone with my BMI.

The one nice thing about the fertility stuff is that I don’t *need* to have a baby, not in the same way I *need* to have my hypothyroid managed. I want to have a baby, I will be very sad if I can’t have one, but my life will still be good. My awesome husband will still love me, I will still have a fantastic group of friends and a house full of furry critters. It would suck, but ultimately it would be okay.

That knowledge is a good thing, because it means that if any doctor I deal with in my quest to get knocked up is rude, or bullying, or manipulative, I’m completely free to walk away, in a way that I’m really not with my endocrinologist. I mean, I can walk away, obviously, but it’s not a risk I want to take unless I really have no choice.

It does make me wish doctors had a little more respect for their patients, particularly fat patients, and that they were a little more aware of the power they have over them.

Hooray for Small Victories

Ragen at Dances With Fat posted about pointing out to Taylor Mali, one of her heroes, why one of the lines in a poem he wrote about health was problematic. It started off very positive and healthy-behavior oriented, and then threw in a line about “scores are dying because they’re getting fatter and fatter.”

Being disappointed by the people you look up to, whether they’re real friends and family or celebrities whose work you admire, sucks. I remember being really bummed when Alton Brown started getting really fat-hating, because I love his show and his recipes.

But this has a happy ending. She e-mailed, politely explaining why the line was problematic, and he *agreed with her* and said that he wouldn’t use the line if he performed the poem live.

I love it when people listen, when you get to see your words have a positive impact. It’s easy to get discouraged, because for every one person who takes your message to heart–whatever the message is that you’re trying so hard to get across–there are usually a hundred telling you to shut up and go away. But it’s worth pushing through, because not only do you occasionally plant a seed, you show others that it’s possible to stand up for what they believe in. It’s possible, and it’s worth doing. And oh my gosh did I need that reminder right about now.

On a happier note…

Today was my first class at the new yoga studio, and it was fabulous. Very knowledgeable, helpful teacher, good about going around to each student to make sure we’re doing the poses right and suggest modifications. My legs feel like jello right about now, but not in a bad way. They offer bellydance too. I’m not sure the ankle’s up for that, but I can give it a try. I may check out their “all the classes you want for a month” payment option so that if I go to the bellydance class and have to bail after 20 minutes or something, it’s not a waste of money.

I also did some stretching and ab stuff yesterday, which made the sciatic pain a lot better. Yesterday was a really unhappy day painwise, between lots of time in the car and getting busy enough at work to forget to take stretch breaks. Today, though, I’m feeling much better!