Tag Archives: Mind

To Get Fit, Flex this Little-Known Muscle

Jungle Book Baloo DancingI’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:

  • “It took a while to get here; it will take a while to get back.”
  • “The body is smart. It did what it had to do while you were away; it will adapt as you start to move now.”
  • “You may not be able to pick up from where you left off, but you can pick up.”

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.

Take Home Tip from 100poundsin1year.com

It’s this perfecting of returning which changes the brain.

Explore It More By Following the Links Below

“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

More Sassy Weight Loss Stories
from Shelby in Every 100 Pounds eGuide

Every 100 Pounds in1 Year eGuide contains







Filed under Exercise

I Want My Body Back

Lost So Far“Well, f*** them if they think they can keep electricity out of here, I’ll do it.”  These are the words of folk legend Bob Dylan.  After organizers of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival complained about an amped-up blues band, Dylan snubbed them with his own rock performance.  Strapping an electric guitar across his chest, he plugged in and played to boos and jeers from the folk faithful.  In retrospect, Dylan’s move was a no brainer.  He’d always made his own rules, and he’d always been willing to break ‘em.  Following the festival, media went crazy, accusing their former “spokesman of a generation” of selling out.

Or did he?  For sure, some fans felt betrayed, but only because they had made an idol out of Dylan.  His gut-check, acoustic style matched the folk’s uncompromising poke at the establishment.  To be “folk,” you had to be a discontented outlier who slammed the status quo and refused to cut your hair or sing in perfect pitch.  You had to be divergent.  You had to be Dylan.  Consequently, going electric at Newport made Dylan a rebel to the rebels.  In reality, as he pulled notes into a drawn-out, electrified wale, Dylan was doing what he had always done.  He stayed true to himself.  His performance only appeared profane because he was an authentic rebel and not a poser.

With this 100 pounds post, I feel like Dylan going electric.

I started my weight loss journey resisting diets or any kind of food restriction.  I love food.  I wanted to believe – and still do – that health would not ask me to choose between what I love and feeling good.  That philosophy got me 62 pounds down the scale.  Then, I plateaued.  I’ve tried everything that’s not a diet – build muscle, be patient, monitor calories, be patient, keep a food diary, be patient –  and nothing has vanquished the seven pounds I’ve lost, gained, and relost over what feels like forever.  Not that this time has been a waste.  I’ve used it to dig deeper.  I’ve healed from heavy hurt and learned to inhabit my skin with confidence.

While laboring through my plateau, I’ve learned that health involves more than making healthy choices.  Staying healthy requires me to adapt to ongoing change.  What worked for me in my 20’s doesn’t work for me now, in my 40’s.  Of course, twenty years ago, I had my hardbody in a delicious, brick sh**-house kind of way.  I competed in triathlons.  I squatted over 200 pounds.  I burned out at the top of mountains and offered ancestral hollers to the hills.  I was an animal.

I still am.

I just haven’t been for a while.  I don’t want to stop here.  I want to lose the rest of the weight.  To break this plateau and get my body back, I have to be like Dylan.  If I make a rule out of not managing food, I could miss the very thing which could propel me out of my plateau.  I must make food a significant piece of my weight loss puzzle.

This realization coincided with a visit to my doctor last week.  She agreed that I was a trooper.  I’d done everything I could on my own.  Now it was time for her help.  When she challenged me to eat different, I was ready to listen.  Then, she recommended I try Intermittent Fasting (IF).  Whoa!  Not sure I was ready for that!  The word “fasting” grabbed my body’s attention.  My stomach tightened.  My jaw stiffened.  As I listened to her explain IF, however, I realized she was talking less about “starve and binge” and recommending something far more intelligent and effective.  In fact, you could call IF Intelligent Fasting.

There are lots of ways to approach IF (Read a review of different IF schedules from Dr. Mercola below.)  I chose a daily fast, moving my breakfast forward and eating only between Noon and 8 pm.  I’m not changing what I eat, just the timing of my meals.  IF can flex to work with many lifestyles, but the principle is the same:  reteach my body to use fat as fuel.  I definitely need that.  For two years, I ate processed, unhealthy fats almost every day.  I didn’t need to access my stored fat because I was already eating plenty of it.  You know the old adage, “Use it or lose it.”  Well, my body didn’t need those metabolic fat-burning pathways, so I lost them.  I’m eating clean today, but I still crave fatty foods because I can’t access my stored fat.  I don’t have those pathways.  IF can fix that.  Fasting reintroduces my need for more calories, so I can reteach my body how to get the fat out of my cells and burn it up.  Today, as I sip my coffee, I remind myself that I am finally dipping into those fat reserves and melting my muffin top.

This transition has been easier than expected.  Moment of truth:  after I left my doctor’s office, I headed straight for a doughnut case.  My mind raced.  I couldn’t focus.  Between gooey mouthfuls of maple bar and gulps of scorching coffee, I slugged down worries like, If I don’t take care of myself with food, who’s going to take care of me?  Aha!  More fodder for heart-level work.  That’s o.k.  I want a new mind as much as I want a new body.  As afraid as I was to start fasting, I knew I could sabotage the whole idea if I leap-frogged over my fears.  Before starting, I had to get vulnerable, pay attention, and look at my panic as if it was trying to teach me something.

My acute emotional reaction to the idea of fasting meant something had been festering for a long time.  Thoughts burst through my brain like a popped zit.  I knew I was an emotional eater, but I had no idea these emotions tied back to elementary memories of a particular lunchroom drama.  After being called out among my junior high peers for being such a gossip, I had reverted to food for comfort.  I’ve used food as currency ever since.  I’ve eaten as a way to pay myself back for hard work or feed my value after a proud effort.  No wonder I was afraid of fasting.  I wouldn’t just give up food for a short while.  I would surrender feeling worthy in this world.

In my first week of fasting, I do feel a sense of sacrifice, but it’s filled me up, not left me empty.  In those moments of mild discomfort, I tap into an enduring strength which cannot be diminished by hunger.  When I return to food, I relish my first meal of the day.  The moment feels sacred.  Gratefulness arises as that first bite goes down.  As my stomach settles into comfy fullness, I understand that I was always of great value, and so it is with everything else.

As I settle into my new meal schedule, I feel better about making food such a big part of my weight loss.  When I look upstream from all this rule making and rule breaking, I realize I’m just doing what I’ve always done.  I’m staying true to my best self even as I change, age, and evolve.  That’s how I’ve approached my 100 pounds journey all along.  Fair warning, though; I will let loose and wail on my electric body someday soon, so get ready.

Take Home Tip

Health involves more than making healthy choices.  Staying healthy requires adaptation to ongoing change.

Explore It More

One Dylan Interview Which Demonstrates How People Tried to Make Him an Idol

Review of Various IF Schedules by Ori Hofmekler for Dr. Mercola

Daily IF Cycle

 Enjoy more Vision Boards on 100 Pounds Pinterest

4 Ways to Join the 100 Pounds Community: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or submit your guest poset

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Filed under Food

The Key to Lifelong Fitness

the mind is the keyIt’s the end of week 22, and I’m confident that the scale will be down another two pounds when I weigh myself tomorrow.  I’m writing at my laptop; sitting at Bernice’s Bakery and enjoying a pastry filled with cream cheese and blueberries.  The pastry feels soft and silky in my mouth; like biting into a satin pillow.  Why am I so confident, even as I take another swig of robust coffee with 100% cream?

I think it’s because I’ve found a secret.  I’ve discovered a key to losing weight that goes beyond pounds and inches.  I’ve found a way to change my mind, as well as my dress size.  It’s this turn of the tumblers inside, more than food or exercise regiments, which has delivered the most results.

I’ve said this before.  In my post, “How to Get Started,” I admitted that my bad habits weren’t really about food or exercise.  They were about what was going on inside my head.  I snarfed McDonald’s because I was bored.  I gorged on doughnuts because I wanted a reward for pushing so hard.  I crashed on the couch because I was exhausted from the low-level barrage of negative, judgmental thoughts boiling in my brain.  My mind was my biggest barrier to improved health.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed among professionals, too.  When I asked Certified Personal Trainer, Lani Bolenbaugh (see “Interview with a Personal Trainer”), “What do you think are the biggest challenges facing people who want to lose weight?” she immediately answered, “Their minds.”

Unfortunately, most weight loss plans place the mind a distant third behind food or exercise.  Diets like “The Zone,” “Atkins,” and the recently-popular “HCG” target food as Enemy #1.  Workouts like “Insanity” and “P90X” promote extreme, killer exercise.  While I see benefits to these food and exercise programs, I notice that they rarely address the mind.  It’s the mind where all of our habits start.

I decided to bring my “mind revolution” to life with a visual concept.  It looks like this:

triangel hierarchy of weight loss approaches

As you can see, I’ve rebelliously turned the typical weight loss approach upside-down.  Mind becomes about 60% of the whole; exercise 30%; and food a small 10%.  How can this work?  Again, I believe it’s all because our daily routine stems from thought patterns in our heads.  To see our patterns clearly, we have to work backwards, like this:  The shape of our bodies comes from our habits.  Our habits come from our experiences.  Our experiences come from our thoughts.

For example, last Thanksgiving, I weighed 44 pounds more than I do today.  I constantly felt heavy, like I was moving through invisible sludge.  I developed a habit of eating McDonald’s drive-thru three to four times each week.  When I ate fast food, I experienced relief.  The food became a comfort to me.  In fact, it subconsciously spoke to me.  When I was tired of pushing all day, the fries said, Relax.  Be comfortable.  You deserve a break.  If I had to rev up for another event that evening, the Diet Coke would say, Take a sip.  Be energized.  You’re going to need this.  It’s no surprise that these thoughts led me to pack on the pounds

To make a difference in my life, I needed to start with those thoughts.  But, not in an attacking, “my mind is my enemy” kind of way.  Instead, I had to start with a positive thought.  The first thought is often the most important – and the hardest to authentically believe.  In her book, “Secrets of a Former Fat Girl,” Lisa Delaney puts it perfectly.  She explains that, to lose weight, we need to begin, not with judgment, rules, or programs, but with the idea that we can lose weight.  I’m a person who can be healthier is a powerful starting point.

How we get there, and however long it takes, is our own process and, really, nobody’s business.  For example, before I began my journey, I spent six months doing nothing but working and sleeping in bed.  But, I learned that I was of intrinsic value; no matter what I did.  I spent another six months being thankful for my belly because it literally saved my life.  After all, when I had become submerged in deep depression, eating was a safer option than suicide.  It was that real; that much “rubber hits the road.”  It needs to be.  Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels on the weight loss roller-coaster.

To get off the ride, we need to spend some time in our heads.  However, some people worry, If I spend so much effort on my mind, then I’ll become obsessed.  I won’t be moving.  I won’t be dieting.  How will I get real results?

In reality, when I was heavier, I was already obsessed.  I bet I thought about my size, or compared my body to another woman’s shape, at least once an hour.  Little things would constantly remind me of my weight:  the butt-squishing chairs in the movie theater, the painful rubbing of tight waistbands, and the “swishing” sound my inner-thighs made when I walked.  I was always thinking about my size all the time.

Today, I bet I spend at least half as much mental/emotional energy focusing on my weight, and I haven’t even lost the whole 100 pounds yet.  Sure, my thighs still swish when I walk, but it doesn’t bother me as much.  That’s because I’m doing something about it.  Action dispels fear.  So, my fear of forever being fat has diminished, just from paying attention.

Something magical began to unfold when I started paying attention to my mind.  That same, habit-forming pattern which caused me to gain weight began to work in reverse.  I considered the possibility that I could get healthy again.  I had that first thought.  So, I started moving.  I started reading about health.  I joined a support group to help me examine my thoughts.  Soon, I began having fresh experiences:  I felt lighter while doing water aerobics in the pool, I didn’t feel so alone in my struggle, and I cultivated a deep acceptance of who I already was.  It didn’t take long to notice a change in my habits.  Exercising in the water re-energized me, so I wasn’t as tired after work.  This meant fewer trips through the drive-thru.  Instead, I began to crave a crisp, green salad with dinner.  Eventually, I began to see how my thinking had kept me stuck for so long.

Today, I rarely visit McDonald’s.  I’m aware of my triggers, like stress and lack of sleep, and I actively anticipate ways to work around them.  I feel like I can affect my life again.  I feel like anything is possible.  It’s with that same enthusiasm that I look forward to stepping on the scale.  Even if the number hasn’t moved, I’ll still count this last week as a success.  After all, I’m more myself than I’ve been in a long time.

Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet:  to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year.  She began on Thanksgiving 2011.    Will she make it?  Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind.  Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.


Filed under Principles