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This time of year, it’s crazy busy for most everyone. Finding time to stay healthy can tumble down the priority list pretty quick. That’s why I collapse all of my goals into this single thought: Just show up. I show up, then I listen to my body. No time clocks. No calorie burn rates. Just me, whatever time I’ve got, and whatever my body can handle that day.
This simple idea keeps healthy habits alive because it nurtures momentum. I can eat too many treats. I can detour my workout away from what I had planned. But I can’t lose my momentum. Once that’s gone, it is so-so-so-so hard to get back up.
Here’s what keeping momentum looks like for me this month:
This time of year, I have to narrow my focus and just show up. There’ll be plenty of time later to ramp back up, and I’ll have all that momentum to propel me forward.
Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.
Note: I first published this post in 2012. Reading it now, the corners of my holly jolly cheeks lift in ironic jest. “Hah!” I say to my younger self. “You thought that was healthy?” For sure, my definition of healthful food has shifted. Just goes to show – diets or no – tastes evolve. I’m a nomadic foodie. What was once a rest area on my road to health is now a spot to zoom by and toss wildflower seeds for next year’s visitors. I wonder what new foodie facts I’ve yet to discover and how that will change my plate; which resembles a map more than a platter. When I come to table this Christmas, my assignment will be to honor the ever-changing landscape between fork and knife.
In that spirit of transformation, I’ve tweaked the original recipe below. Notes in red reflect new food discoveries, including:
Special thanks to Anna Rose-McComb of Tiny Farm Nutrition and Fitness for these discoveries. If they’re new to you, as they once were to me, I invite you to taste them in the most delicious way I can dream up: in the fudge recipe below which can satisfy holiday cravings and literally not make me fat. Enjoy!
From 2012…We’re smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season, and I’m starting to do a lot more smackin’ — of my lips, that is. I love, love, love Christmas treats: peanut butter fudge, yogurt-covered pretzels, divinity, candy canes, ribbon candy, brightly painted Christmas sugar cookies, and those morsels with the jelly in the middle. What else is out there? Too bad no one has discovered a way for me to eat my fudge and not gain weight, too (Guess what, girl…) Nonetheless, I’ve accepted my love for Christmas treats. This year, instead of fighting the temptation or judging myself for caving into desire, I’ve made peace with the bounty of sugar, butter, and chocolate that appears this time of year. If I maintain my weight from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, I count that as a win.
To celebrate and embrace my holiday sweet tooth, I’d like to share a favorite recipe. Hubby and I love to bake up these Cranberry Walnut Breads as gifts. Whenever I watch him in the kitchen I’m convinced he’d make a great TV chef. I’d put a twist on it and call it The Naked Baker Show (camera peeking just above the counter). But, that’s for another blog…Here’s the recipe:
Each batch makes 6 loaves.
Grease (coconut oil!) and flour (alternative) 6, 9 x 5 loaf pans and divide batter into each. Spread evenly into corners of pans and bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350 and continue baking for about 50-60 minutes more, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Heads-up: these healthier substitutions may shift the temp and time a bit, so stay vigilant, check often and tweak if necessary. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Spread with as much butter or coconut oil as your heart desires!
When I come to table this Christmas, my assignment will be to honor the ever-changing landscape between fork and knife.
I’ve been flexing my muscles ever since I was ten. That’s when I hauled home a record from Disneyland, put the needle on a record, and started to dance. That album, titled “Exercise with the Jungle Book,” had Baloo the Bear leading me in early 80’s aerobics (Baloo had a little extra junk in the trunk, so I liked him better than Jane Fonda.) Thirty-two years later, I’m still on the hunt for that next best workout. Be it abs, glutes, or core, I’ll try anything that keeps me engaged and brings results. So when I discovered a little-known, master muscle that boosts all my exercise efforts, I got excited.
What is this mystery strength, and why don’t we hear more about it?
To answer that question, I’ll share a story often told and retold around these parts, especially during winter. In fact, it was winter in Butte — our highest Montana town – at Berkeley Pit, our deepest toxic wastewater site (locals call it Berkeley Lake.) Butte’s an old copper mining town perched atop the Continental Divide. It weathers blizzards that would otherwise breeze over lower elevations. One whiteout evening in ’95, a large flock of migrating geese decided to take refuge from a storm. Scanning for water, they spotted Berkeley Pit. They landed, free from icy winds. The next morning, Butte awoke to a sad site. Almost 350 winter-white geese lay dead, floating atop the toxic waters of Berkeley Pit.
Not long after the geese tragedy, a chemist returned to the pit and pulled a rope its waters. It was covered in green slime – life. Researchers at Montana Tech identified the slime as algae. Not just any algae, though. This plant could neutralize acid and absorb heavy metals. It literally thrived in Berkeley Pit. Theoretically — if scientists can scale up the algae’s metabolism to Berkeley Pit size – a Superfund site could become just like any other clean mountain lake in Montana.
But there’s more to the story, and it’s this surprise ending that reveals the mystery muscle.
The only other place those algae have ever been found is in the guts of geese. Their sacrifice gave birth to new life. Honestly, if I had been there, I would have been too sad and full of guilt to believe such a miracle. After seeing all those geese dead, any hope arising from those toxic waters would have been the furthest thing from my mind. Nonetheless, only months later, that chemist did something amazing when he took a walk down to the pit. Scanning its depths, he had to peer past grief to see that rope floating just below the water’s surface. To reach into that toxic soup and keep pulling, hand over hand, he had to ignore the doubt that countered each tug of the slimy rope. Finally, he had to reach for hope when he delivered that rope to experts for examination.
That chemist flexed the mystery muscle. He demonstrated a strength we rarely hear about in exercise circles: returning. Not exercising for a while can bring its own form of loss. The decision to return can be hard. I usually grieve all the ground I’ve lost and weight I’ve gained. Still, I want to move again. At first, doubt and fear follow me into each workout. For a while, I have to decide over and over to return again and again. Eventually, repeated returning helps me break through into hope.
Is “returning” really a muscle, though? How does deciding to return actually strengthen things?
Neuroscientists point to meditation as an example of how returning can fundamentally change our brains. Meditation rides a looping rhythm of focus, distraction, and returning. It’s less about perfect, zero-point calm and more about returning to the moment. It’s this perfecting of returning which changes the brain. In her article, “This is Your Brain on Meditation,” psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding, MD, explains that meditation strengthens the, “Lateral prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that allows you to look at things from a more rational, logical and balanced perspective.” At the same time, it weakens caustic neural connections which magnify our failures into flaws. Fewer flaws? Balanced perspective? I’ll take some of that (especially when arguing with myself just to get dressed for a workout).
So “returning” really does change things, but how do I start?
For me, the first, hardest, and most important step is to let go of any shame about being sedentary. As my husband, Frank, says, “I can feel all the stupid that I want, but that won’t keep me from acting stupid in the future.” Shame is a waste of time. It doesn’t make me move any more or work any harder. Positive thoughts actually get me moving. Thoughts like:
Like those scientists who returned to the pit after its greatest tragedy, I can return to fitness. There’s no limit to do-overs. When I decide to return, I flex a master muscle of the mind. For sure, the results aren’t instant. Just like any muscle, returning can atrophy without use. Every time I decide to return, though, it gets stronger, and so do I.
It’s this perfecting of returning which changes the brain.
“I Hate Forcing Myself to Exercise” plus more in “Just Show Up: Why Movement Matters,” a free weight loss eGuide
New Life in a Death Trap
This is Your Brain on Meditation by Rebecca Gladding, MD, in Psychology Today
This summer, my mental health took a dive. When that happens, I gain weight. Pounds accrued between a mix of inspiration/exhaustion, insight/grouchiness, hope/resentment. Between the extremes, I took refuge on the couch, watching TV to calm my ping-pong brain. I knew what could make me feel better. I just couldn’t do it. At this point, it was easy to sink into hopelessness — which I did. Eventually, when hope returned, a question arose like a buoy bobbing up from the deep:
When life gets hard, how are we supposed to keep going?
It sucks to be this stuck. I’m living a nagging paradox: feeling like less, but still wanting more. I float in lazy limbo, having lost my tether to any tactics I have used to keep going. Little stops and starts fill the time but get me nowhere. I resort to quirky, impulsive attempts at resuscitating hope (“Clear!”)
For example, this summer, I caught myself examining my hands a lot. I used them as a barometer for my entire body. Puffy pillows between my knuckles? Weight gain. Tendons pop as I flutter my fingers? Lost weight. This became my nightly ritual, catching clues out of the corner of my eye while reading in bed. Wrinkles reminded me of Reva. In her 80’s, she was a social sprite with a streak of moxie (the kind of gal I want to be when I’m that age). Sure, her fingers wore wrinkles, but she kept them ringed in cherished bobbles, so I didn’t get it when, one late night at Denny’s, she started crying.
Reva dropped her fork and floated both hands in front of her. Bobbles up, fingers shaking, she held the table in silence. I stopped chewing. Stillness is the best dish for digesting wisdom, and Reva was about to serve some. A tired huff rose from her throat. “These are not my hands,” she objected. I nested my own fork. “They used to be so smooth; they used to be so pretty,” she lamented in a teary tremor, palms up.
When I remember Reva, I wonder…
Will my body eventually drift that much out of reach for me? Will it become a stranger to me?
When life gets hard, and I get stuck, it sometimes feel like that day is closer than ever. Desperation drives me to JUST DO SOMETHING. I plan extreme workouts or consider starving myself. Like an animal caught in a steel trap, I would gnaw my leg off to escape the rusty clench of doom. That pain would be easier to bare than any loss of control. But they say control is an illusion, right? In cheerier moments, I remember that. Plus, I realize that I can micro-measure all I want, but it won’t keep me from finding some other body part to worry into a problem. There’s a better way.
What if I chose compassion over control? Could I learn to become a friend to my body? This is more than just accepting my body as it is (I still want to feel better; I still want to get fit.) It’s not acceptance but insistence. Insistence on kindness: towards me, by me, and around me. This radically-generous approach, in fact, redeems the only control I ever really have. I get to decide how to see myself. I get to determine what health looks like on me. So, recently, I had this thought…
I’m already taking up space with my body. It’s time to start taking up space in my life.
I started where I could. When my dog, Huxley, licked my hands to get me off the couch, I got up and took him to the river. When I arrived river rats were anchoring their kayaks or rafts after a sunny day on the water. I refused to resent their fun. Instead, I insisted on my own version. I threw a stick into the current, and Huxley vaulted in. I scanned the crowd: no kids. I shed my shirt. Huxley nabbed his treasure. I dropped my shorts. He dog-paddled back. I tightened my sandals. Just before he touched down in the shallows, I dove past Huxley – in all my nakedness – leaving him bobbing in my wake. I didn’t glance back. My belly, double-chin, curves, and ripples, they all came unabashedly with me.
By Labor Day, the spirit behind those chunky-dunks had trickled into other parts of my life. Ironically, tiny doses of kindness can bring big healing. Things I’ve tweaked so far:
As of this writing, the river has cooled to a brisk polar plunge. I’ve lost some of the weight I gained. Though, some days, I still brace for a crash on the couch. The hardest part is trust. Trusting my best self to return. Trusting my body to want to move when the time comes. I tuck my soft self between kindness and trust — holding both at the same time – waiting for energy to come. Compassion creates space, and I keep finding ways to take it up by living in the full spectrum of my life. It’s easier to move through the spaces in life (an old Chinese adage). Even if hard times get in the way again – as they undoubtedly will – I’ll have a way to keep going.
It’s not acceptance, but insistence, that keeps me going.
Is your fitness routine fading? Is that promise you made to yourself getting harder to keep? Welcome to the “3rd week wall.” There’s something magical about making it through the third week, and its common to get stuck just as you thought you were doing great. Don’t get down on yourself. Instead, read ahead for some tools and tips to help you clear this hurdle and go even farther (first published in Living Well, 2013).
We know what they’re going to say: eat better, exercise more. As soon as health experts open their mouths, we hear their advice like an overplayed pop hit. Our eyes glaze-over. Our minds go numb. Yet, knowing the latest research hasn’t kept us from a nationwide Obesity and Diabetes epidemic. Why? Is there a missing link between what we’re learning and what we’re doing? Or, is it how we’re learning? Maybe we need easier ideas, something we can do right now that translates all that advice into real results. We need tips that can come alongside us, not create more conflict with our already-busy lives. While we’re at it, let’s demand something we can do and still be ourselves. Make it not too far out of reach but still inspire us to be our best selves. In that spirit of uncomplicated accomplishment, here are three revelations which can revive any mission to become and stay healthy.
First, Take a Step Backwards
Alyssa Schrock, Mrs. Montana 2013, recognizes that gap between knowledge and know-how. At a young age, she was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. “Here’s a pamphlet, go figure out a plan,” she quips, mimicking the limp advice she received from her doctor. “No one took the time to explain, ‘This is how you cope. This is what you do.’ As a result, it’s taken me all of fifteen years to learn how to manage my illness.”
Today, Alyssa lectures and educates others about how to navigate health challenges by developing a personal care plan. “I like to work backwards by starting with the end results.” Asking people to envision a fuller life, Alyssa poses questions like, “What do you want?” “Why are you doing this?” “What do you want it to look like?” For her, the answers included reducing her prescription medications, becoming strong enough to care for her family, and increasing her overall stamina. With those kinds of long-term desires in mind, Alyssa then considers short-term actions. “They need to be small steps, things we can do right where we’re at today,” she explains. Every time she progresses to the next step, Alyssa claims a win. It’s those tiny victories which keep her focused, so much so that she now has energy to support others. “I still have tired days when I have to remind myself this is normal for me, but I’m feeling good enough now that I can make my bubble bigger by reaching my arms out to the community, so that others won’t have to walk out of a hospital with a pamphlet and no idea what to do next.”
Think Big, Then Think Even Bigger
Just as Alyssa has learned how supporting her community helps her stay healthy, we may need to unite our health routine with a larger purpose. Often times, we find more motivation when connect with the “why.” Nurturing wellbeing can be an expression of our commitment to something bigger. This bigger picture provides fresh purpose to pluck us from stuck places and create momentum again.
The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center of Missoula – one of the nation’s first women’s only gyms which started 30 years ago – takes that bigger purpose to heart. “TWC women don’t separate caring for their health from caring for the Missoula community; to them, it’s all connected,” explains Camie Evans, Manager and Co-Owner of the club. Their latest investment is a saline pool and hot tub. Recently, The Women’s Club converted to a salt water system. “We hear how important environmental stewardship is to our members, and they’re happier when they know their workout supports their values” says Cathy Schwenk, Facility Maintenance Leader. “We’ve been looking at a saline system for years, but it’s only recently that the technology has become compatible with our facility. We like to say, ‘We’re going green, so your hair won’t have to.’”
Get off the Guilt-Go-‘Round
I once heard a young mom with a large family lament her sedentary lifestyle. “I know I need to get me and the kids exercising more, but it’s not easy,” she groaned. “They say this town is such an easy place to be active, but you either have to have lots of time or lots of money, and I don’t have either.” I nodded my head. She indeed was one of the busiest moms I knew. I also knew, however, that there was a public trail system just minutes from her home. Spotting the gap between what she said and what she could do, I surmise her frustration served more as a deflection of guilt.
Come to think of it, criticizing the sometimes conflicting health advice we receive is an effective deflection, as well. Resistance can cover up guilt over not being healthier. Here’s the good news: guilt doesn’t work, so you can let it go. Guilt is a disconnecting force which short-circuits our best intentions. Guilt acts like static to our souls; keeping us judging ourselves and arguing with those judgments. It fuzzes that heart/mind connection where creativity and motivation abide. So let go of guilt about not exercising enough or eating bad food.
You can create a vibrant lifestyle when you cultivate these ideas. First, begin with your vision for a healthier you. Then, support that vision by connecting with a bigger purpose. Finally, release energy-sucking guilt. Now you can harness all that energy you’ve been using to simply survive the stuckness and shift your focus into drive.
We need tips that can come alongside us, not create more conflict with our already-busy lives.
I’ll never forget an interview with Jillian Michaels (of Biggest Loser fame). When asked why she became a personal trainer, she answered (I’m paraphrasing here): I noticed that overweight people were shut off from many areas of their lives. I want to help them live life fully, and weight loss is one doorway to that.
That’s bang-on with my experience. Losing almost 100 pounds has blown my doors way open. However, they weren’t the double-doors of Destiny guarded by a Butler of Truth wearing white gloves and checking for dust. No, I’ve come through a wormhole of sorts, squeezing through and going where I hadn’t planned. Sure, I wanted to lose 100 pounds, but I had no idea that I’d have to root out the cause of those pounds. Jillian Michaels would probably say, “Of course!” Actually, she’s witnessed enough psychological breakthroughs to know it’s always about more than the weight. For me, those added pounds were tangled up in finding my purpose.
I’ve been searching for purpose most of my life. There are worse things to go OCD over — and everyone wants to be special — but I needed a purpose to feel my specialness. I created tons of pressure for myself, and that’s where I got into trouble. I ate and ate just to relieve my burden, so it’s not hard to understand how something as promising as purpose can become a 100 pound problem.
There’s another problem, though (one uniquely tied to purpose). It’s a closed loop of sorts, setting purpose up as both my drug and my cure. When food didn’t relieve the pressure, I’d get down and dirty with all my unanswered dreams, as if mud-wrestling with my angst would earn me a victory, and the prize was my purpose. Often, nothing gelled, so I became even more desperate. How convenient, then, when a new prospect supplied fresh desire (“Ooh, shiny!”) The cycle rebooted. I was an addict addicted to rehab.
I’ll admit, this routine became a delicious distraction. It’s more fun to dream than to actually do the work of making those dreams come true. Plus, I wasn’t alone. Most everyone wants to align their work with their passion, and many people think they need to find their purpose before they can be happy. We get lots of help forming that idea. Experts admonish us to follow our passion, but here’s the rub: they’re usually already passionate about something, and they’re usually talking to people just like them. To be clear, I see nothing wrong with setting goals or achieving dreams, but words like “passion,” “parachutes,” and “out-of-the-box” have become as sour as summer bed sheets to me. These are things that come after, not the things themselves. (Full disclosure: my first email address started with “outta_d_box.”)
What do I mean by “after?” After the wormhole. After the work. Unfortunately, I’ve not found any easy way around either. The only way I’ve found is through. Purpose hasn’t validated my life. It came already embedded, and I was always in it. It took going through the wormhole to see that. Even when I’ve tapped out, I was still just recouping on the couch – living off a trickle-charge of hope – until I could get up and go again (“What’s next, Kemo-Slobby?”)
My cycle of escalating desperation came to a head in 2006. I got off the couch (Actually, the couch was more like a cliff, and I jumped off.) I quit my full-time job with benefits to make myself “available.” I wanted my willingness to attract fate to my feet, where she would scoop me up in her arms and let me ride that stallion of destiny across the sand dunes of life. Well, the last day of work, I remember thinking, “I don’t care. Even if I go down in a ball of fire, I’m doing this.” Six months later, I smelled like smoke. I hadn’t found anything. Nothing found me. Instead, I grew angry. That’s when I made fiery speeches to the Heavens. They went something like…
“No, seriously, this is not what I meant.”
“Great. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Fine. I quit.”
“We’re going inside.”
“Uh, yeah, I think you misunderstood me. I’m going out, not in.”
“We’re going inside.”
“Inside? Heck no! I’ve seen the inside. I’ve had enough of what’s on the inside.”
Eight years later, inside is exactly where I’ve been. I sank into that place — reluctantly, furiously, and bitching the whole way – at least until I started to see real answers there. (Learn from my mistakes in my weight loss eGuide, “I Want My Outside to Match My Inside.”) For sure, the idea of going inside is scary – no one wants more pain – but what I discovered is that all my avoidance was more painful than actually sinking into the hurt. And there was hurt, lots of it. Once I looked at what was there, though, it was a relief. Plus, the hurt did not stay. It didn’t go away, either. Rather, it decayed on a curve. In its wake, healing happened. I relearned that I could affect my world. I owned my pain, and I was doing something about it. I became the healer of my own wound. That was more satisfying than any purpose I could have claimed.
Is searching for purpose a worthwhile endeavor, then? I still say “yes,” but if I skip over the obvious, then the search can be more of a hindrance than a help. On this side of the wormhole, more than having a purpose, I practice purpose. I plan. I do. I dream and make goals. I still want my life to have meaning, but how can it not? That’s what I ask now, and that’s the difference. My core desire remains active, but I’m not driven by it. This is a good thing. I am happier.
I don’t have to be all fixed up to practice purpose, either. My wound is still healing from the inside out, so I walk through life with a limp. However, I’m slower to judge and quicker to listen. Otherwise, I’d probably become like those experts, only more annoying (“Hold my green tea and watch this.”)
I recently discovered the German poet Rilke. He described what I’m trying to explain when he wrote:
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees…This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.”
Being overweight is a symptom, but it’s so much more than that. Big bodies can become gateways to healing. Every wound is an invitation to live life large. The hurt won’t disappear, but it will transform into an entry point for joy. The tenderness left behind becomes a safe place. That kind of recovery is contagious. It seeps out the sides, and purpose can’t help but gush from it.
For sure, the idea of going inside is scary – no one wants more pain – but what I discovered is that all my avoidance was more painful than sinking into the hurt.
100 Pounds weight loss eGuide, “I Want My Outside to Match My Inside.”)
Seven years ago, I had a dream which I’ve never really been able to shake. I always wondered what it meant. I think I’ve finally figured it out. At the time, I was working with a therapist. I shared the dream’s details with her. I described the dug-out pit I occupied and how it resembled a sunken site of an old, archeological dig. We surmised why the pit’s fence – which ran along the top of the ground above me, at shoulder height – seemed more like a military perimeter. With its bulky timbers reinforced by steel rebar, I wasn’t going anywhere. Why did it need to be so strong? More intriguing, however, were the holes underneath the fence. Someone had dug out gaps underneath the fence. Just enough space for a torso appeared along the edges every ten feet. Why had no one filled them in? Had hope carved out each escape route, and I hadn’t bothered to replace it? Maybe there was no point, since a pair of army boots stood patrol on the other side of every hollow. Why the necessary precaution? Who was out there, standing in those boots, and why did I stand inside, alone? I felt trapped. My solace was the open, blue sky above me. Puffy, white clouds paraded over me. This brings me to my biggest question…
Why didn’t I just fly out?
All notions of “flying dreams” aside, this seems a legit question. I acted as if the sky was a roof. There wasn’t anything holding me back, except me. In thinking of the top seven lessons I’ve learned throughout my weight loss journey, that’s the clincher. I see this self-limiting pattern over and over. Each of these seven ideas healed some element of whatever, or whyever, I was my biggest obstacle.
Why not just fly out?
For more in-depth, down-and-dirty-details of how I learned these lessons, check out the 100 Pounds eGuides
Lately, when sharing my story, the same question keeps popping up: What does it take to get unstuck and make the healthy choices we already know to make? It’s as if there’s this mysterious black box that we cannot see into, but which holds the key to flipping whatever switch inside, so we can make the choices we want to make — but for some reason — haven ‘t. I cannot know what will flip the switch for you, but I can suggest one way to feel for it. I call it “Micro-Meditation.” I started this practice as a way to calm my monkey mind. To my surprise, it also helped me make better decisions, including the ones about what to eat and how to move.
I started inside my car, waiting for traffic. I focused on where I placed my hands on the steering wheel, which finger reached for the stereo, or how I slid my sunglasses around my face. Then, while getting out of the car, how I grabbed my purse strap before wrapping it around my shoulder. How I leaned into the door to unlock the car. Which foot hit the ground first and how my balance changed as I closed the door. You see what I mean? It sounds too simple to make a difference (Typing this paragraph took more effort than the actual doing of it.) However, if I wasn’t practicing micro-meditation, I would be busy worrying, planning, or just being numb. There’s lots to gain and nothing to lose.
Soon after starting this practice, my insides started to change. It’s hard to describe, but it was that same feeling when every light turns green, you take curves with the perfect balance of speed and torque, and seas of traffic part with mere intention. In one word: flow.
I’ve since fallen in love with “Micro-Mediation” (when I remember to do it). It works instantly at any moment without extra equipment. It takes nothing from my day and, in fact, saves time because I make better decisions with more clarity. When it’s time to choose a meal or workout, the switch almost flips itself.