Breathe in. Breathe out.

By faith, I did it.

I couldn’t believe it.  Was I dreaming?  What was I doing?  Was this for real?

Take a journey with me, back to a week ago.  Picture it:  It was a warm summer Saturday night, and the hubby and I were winding down a dinner date where we munched on burgers (venison for me, beet and veggie patty for him), breadfruit fries, and cheesy cauliflower at a local downtown burger and pub-style restaurant.  After the meal, we decided to take a walk around the local shopping area, where there were numerous dessert shops and boutiques.  Maybe it was the two glasses of adult beverage I had at dinner or the fact that I was feeling sublimely relaxed with no motherhood responsibilities (the kids were sleeping over at the in-laws), but either way, I saw it on the shelf in one of the shops we were walking through, picked it up, and bought it.

“It” was a nondescript yoga mat.  Nothing incredibly special, as in this day and age, yoga mats are a dime a dozen.  But purchasing that pale pink-purple rectangular piece of cushion was a signal of some sort.  I was ready to venture back into the yoga routine.

As described in my previous posts, I was an extremely addicted long-distance runner.  Well, “addicted” is one term to describe the hours I spent hitting the pavement, trying to whittle my thighs down through miles or jogging in the beating sun or hailing rain.  “Obsessive” may be a more accurate term to highlight how marathons took over all my thoughts and cognitions, as I owned close to 10 running shoes, scoured “Runner’s World” magazine daily, and spoke about Deena Kastor like she was my best friend.  Eventually I saw the err of my ways in regards to long-distance running, but similar to what many individuals battling eating disorders figure out, they trade the one addiction (restrictive eating, purging, obsessive exercising) for another addiction (alcoholism, cutting, excessive shopping).  Following suit, I decided to turn in my running shoes for a yoga mat.

Ironically, it was at the suggestion of my eating disorder dietitian almost 10+ years ago that I take up a new sport, one that did not require me to be outdoors in running shoes, one that had a definitive beginning and end, one that was in the company of others.  She suggested Bikram Yoga, as doing Hatha yoga postures in a heated room for 90 minutes would conjure up the same type of sweat and euphoria that running for 90 minutes would induce.

Little did she (or I) know that Bikram Yoga would become take the place of long-distance running, and in due time I’d end up doing two classes a day everyday, showing up to the studio at least 30 minutes early to do extra postures before, spend up to 30 minutes after class doing extra postures and crunches, and having a fit if I were unable to make it down to the hot room.  I distinctly remember one such incident, when my husband’s good friends from Japan were in town, and he made last minute dinner plans with them.  My initial reaction?  No, I can’t go because I have to go to yoga.  My second reaction?  Well, maybe I can meet everyone late for dinner after I go to yoga.  It took a lot of argumentative conversation between my husband and I (well, about 30 minutes of him talking and me crying a toddler-like tantrum) before I rescinded into saying that yes, missing one class would not be the end of the world.

My addiction to Bikram Yoga, however, eventually spilled into my eating habits, and I created rules around what I could and could not eat.

I couldn’t eat at least 3 hours before yoga.  And I couldn’t eat anything with fat in it.

I couldn’t drink any liquid of any kind during or after class.

I couldn’t eat anything right after yoga.  I had to wait until I could feel my stomach growling before consuming any type of food.

Needless to say, those rules plus all of the extreme amounts of yoga I was doing made it so that I was doing a heck of a lot of output and barely getting any input.  And so I started to lose weight.  And then I lost more weight.  And then more.  Granted, part of it was probably dehydration as I didn’t drink a lot of liquids before, during, or after class–on weekends, in fact, I would try to not eat the whole day if possible, take a steamy afternoon class, and then have 2 glasses of wine at dinner.  Why 2 glasses?  I’m not sure.  But the fact is, I was already sucked dry from no water plus a heated yoga class, and consuming alcoholic beverages soon thereafter did not help my hydration levels.  It got to a point where the owner of the studio I frequented actually put a hold on my membership, as she and many other individuals noticed my disintegrating weight and compulsivity.

Needless to say, much like the obsession with running, I eventually realized that I needed to stop.  Stop yoga, stop the compulsion, stop the insanity (ha ha, throwback to Susan Powter right there), and find balance.  I am a person of extremes, and although now I am much more balanced in my approach to, well, everything, the times when I do swing from one end to another results in my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demise.  At a recent sermon, the preacher reflected on how what our minds are focused on, that is what our “god” or “God” is.  Thankfully now I do not wake up thinking about yoga postures, nor do I sit in traffic daydreaming about how to perfect my camel posture or headstands.  Yoga is no longer my “god”, but back when I was constantly in the hot room, the 26 Hatha postures WERE.

So how did I stop?  Basically, it was all God.  Philippians 3:15 states, “So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet!”  It could only have been by God’s sovereign hand that I was able to resist packing my towel, mat, and clothes, driving down to the studio, and partaking in a 90 minute session.  Sure, my membership at a studio was put on hold, but I very easily went to another Bikram place, took class, and no one besides me knew that I was “breaking the rules.”  Eating disorders and addictions are very crafty, and they know how to get a person to be stealthily sly and conniving in order to continue growing the obsession.  My husband couldn’t police me during the day, and neither could my family or friends.  In the end, it was only a supernatural God that could have released me from the bondages of compulsivity.

Since that time when I prayed to God to help me overcome my yoga addiction, I had no real compulsion to take a class. Stretch after working out?  Sure.  Try doing some postures with the hubby for fun?  Yeah.  But no formal classes, since the drive to WANT to go to a class wasn’t there.  After a few years of focusing more on weightlifting and getting stronger, the numerous yoga mats I accumulated throughout the years became stained with oil as they were used when my hubby fixed the cars.  One mat was cut in half so that my daughter could use it as an exercise mat in our garage.  I relegated yoga to “that thing I used to do back in the day”–it was in my past, something that I didn’t give a second thought about.

It wasn’t until I started training with a new powerlifting coach, that he recommended that one day a week I focus on stretching.  Internally, I laughed at the idea because I’m naturally hyper-mobile and can touch my toes with straight legs even after not taking a yoga class for the past 5 years.  Stretching?  What for?  And then after working with this coach for the past three weeks (ironically, he pointed out my lack of ankle mobility after our first video conference, which I didn’t realize was an issue when I squatted), it dawned on me why stretching was so important.  Like anything in life, there needs to be balance.  Monday through Friday I work my major muscles HARD, tearing down the fibers in hopes that they grow back stronger, denser, and bigger.  Come Saturday and Sunday, my body wants to recover.  It’s cool to be able to heft gigantic weights overhead or squat way more than my bodyweight, but what good is it if I can barely move after because my knees are stiff and my back aches?  The body needs a chance to recuperate, and what better way to achieve a mind-body balance than yoga?

So I did it.  I bought a yoga mat, and with that purchase, it solidified the fact that I am going to give myself that weekly refreshing and give my body a break from the barbell.  More importantly, it broke a fear I had for numerous years, that if I happened to return to a yoga class, the same compulsivity that haunted me years ago would start to echo in my thoughts, and I’d soon end up living in the yoga studio doing inversions all day.  But therein lies the difference between the yogini I was versus the yogini I am:  I know that while yoga can become competitive because I’m a natural Gumby, yoga is actually a relaxing and calming practice that gets me more in touch with my breath and alignment.  My main purpose in practicing is to feel my muscles lengthening, to be astounded by the wonderful body God created–it’s not for pride to be able to say I can wrap my foot around my head in lotus or bite my toes in a seated forward bend.

Here’s another disclaimer too:  I appreciate all styles of yoga, yet I am a strong Christian, and I don’t believe in the religious aspects of the practice.  I am certified in sports yoga, and know all about the importance of meditation and the definitions of the different limbs and such–but I don’t chant.  I don’t pray to any other god other than Jesus.  And I don’t find my god in yoga.  As much as I know meditating and chanting in yoga are a part of bringing together the spirit, mind, and body, I don’t do it, merely because I don’t believe in it.  I believe in Jesus as Lord, and that His peace transcends all understanding.  Don’t get me wrong–I love savassana as much as the next person, but while laying there on my mat, I’m not thinking about Vishnu.  Instead, I am feeling the breath go in and out of my lungs, and I’m thanking Jesus for the body He gave me and His strength in my being.

So the mat I bought two Saturdays ago?  It was put to use yesterday at a friend’s new hot yoga studio.  And can I just say, I loved it.  My yoga teacher friend is a wonderfully down to earth gal and her classes are always remarkable (look it up–her new studio is R3d Hot Yoga on Kapahulu Ave.), but what I loved more was that I wasn’t competing with anyone in class.  I was breathing.  I was feeling my spine move in ways it hasn’t moved in awhile.  I felt my hamstrings lengthen with each forward fold, and I felt the oxygen rush in and out of my lungs as I moved in and out of camel pose.  It was lovely.  It was peaceful.  And in the final relaxation pose, I thanked God for the health and life He has blessed me with.

I felt no compulsions, no addictive voice trying to pervade my thoughts.  And by faith, I know that finding balance in my training (and in life) is making me a more sound and whole person.

 

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Where Does My Weight Come From? Part 2

Despite the fact that I am a total right-brain-make-a-list-for-everything-type-A-kind of gal, I was never great at following plans.  No, correction.  I was never great at following plans other people made for me, mostly because my pride would get in the way.

For example, when I decided to do my first marathon in Walt Disney World many moons ago, I signed up with Team in Training, an organization that provides athletes with a group and coach to work out with.  Participants raise funds for cancer research throughout the course of the 3 month long training, and I quickly joined the team because my mom had recently passed away from the dreaded illness and I wanted to do SOMETHING grand in her memory.  After the introductory group meeting when the coach described the set up of the running program, I soon realized that I was one of the faster runners (even though I’d never run more than 8 miles), the youngest person there by far, and could probably fare pretty well in the 26.2 mile race.  But then I looked at the weekly training schedule, and internally scoffed at it.

Run only 3-4 times a week?

What is this “deload” thing for?  Why do I need to let my body “rest”?

Why don’t we ever run a full 26.2?  How will only going 20 miles prepare me for this monstrous race?

When the coach asked if I had any questions, I politely shook my head no, but inside I knew that an extra 20 minutes on the “easy” recovery run day or another extra 5 miler thrown in after the long run day probably wouldn’t hurt me.  OF COURSE I knew better than the professional in charge of the training.

I soon realized how little I knew about running, and that my pride would get the best of me.

True to form, throughout the course of the three month training, I logged in a few more miles on Mondays and Wednesdays, re-ran the previous week’s mileage when I was supposed to deload, and added another mile to the long runs as a cool down.  Flying to Florida for the race, I was a bit tired, but chalked it up to waking early to catch a long flight and the pre-race jitters that raged through my body.  The marathon began on a Sunday at 6am, so I showed up to the start line at 5am.  Just walking to the start, my legs felt like lead.  I tried pushing the gnawing voice of “OH MY GOD YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!” out of my brain, and when the race began, I started out at a conservative pace, shuffling along with the other 10-minute milers.  It was deathly cold (50 degrees for this Hawaii gal is freezing), and when mile three and four ticked by, my calves started to cramp a little.  Mile ten came and went, and my knees ached.  Mile fifteen signaled the point when I knew I had made a mistake adding in those extra miles:  my feet were flat, my thighs felt jello-y, and I saw Jeff Galloway cruise right past me with a smile on his face like he had just started the race.  Oof.  The one positive take away from the marathon was that I accomplished my goal and finished in under five hours–sadly, the last 10k felt like it lasted forever and I mentally counted every step from mile 20 until the end, telling myself I could lay in a tub of bubbles after the ordeal was over.  Thank goodness for the men and women dressed in Disney character costumes cheering us runners on towards the end, otherwise I probably would have dropped out.

I thought I knew better than the coach, who to his credit, was quite an accomplished long distance runner with numerous marathon and local race wins under his belt, and so did what I thought was best.  Adding additional miles onto an already strenuous training regimen along with skipping rest weeks did not equate to marathon success.  In my case, it resulted in marathon pain.

My pride got to me then, and as a result I’m always quite vigilant about my pride getting the best of me now.  For example, take this last period when I saw a dietitian to help me gain weight.  From the onset, this professional gave me a very regimented meal plan to follow which included daily Haagen Daas desserts, fries everyday if I wanted it, and full fat milk with every meal.  I tried to push aside my “I think I know better” thoughts and followed her plan, yet as I documented in my previous post, there came a point when the structure of the meal plan left me feeling down right miserable.  That feeling plus being away from my family to attend groups left me struggling with the prospect of stopping seeing her and finding guidance elsewhere.  My biggest concern, however, was that I didn’t want my decision to leave be one sourced in pride.

Did I really not agree with her meal plan structure?  Or was it that I thought I knew better than her and was projecting my own prideful views on her methods?  After much prayer, deliberation, and talking it over with my husband, I realized that my desire to gain weight did not have to leave me feeling physically, emotionally, and psychologically drained.  There are other options out there, and so I made the decision to find guidance with food and exercise elsewhere.  I knew I needed someone to hold me accountable to gaining weight, and that same person also needed to be educated in nutrition so as to help me tinker with my food intake if I wasn’t gaining or, Heaven forbid, lost weight.  On the flip side, what if I saw another professional for guidance and she gave me a lovely meal plan to follow, but I once again took the same “I know better” route and merely tinkered with the template until it was unrecognizable to the original?

That was where RP stepped in.

RP, or Renaissance Periodization, is a program I discovered while scouring Instagram about a year and a half ago.  At the time, I was wanting to make gains with my weightlifting, and it seemed like EVERY SINGLE WEIGHTLIFTER was adhering to this company’s protocols of pre/post training eating.  I hate to say that RP is a “program”  because the facets of their approach to health, eating, and performance are purposeful and thoughtful lifestyle changes that many individuals need to make regardless if they are athletes or not.  Some of the tenants most RP folks adhere to are as follows:

Eating every 3-4 hours so the body doesn’t go too long without fuel.

Eating whole foods whenever possible.

Including vegetables at (almost) every meal.

Making sure to include all three vital macronutrients throughout the day.

Eating/drinking carbohydrates and protein around training time so muscles are adequately fueled.

Making sure the body gets enough rest and deloads (ha ha, there’s that word again!) so it doesn’t stress itself out.

Eating/drinking casein before bed to help muscle repair.

These statements may seem like standard and common sense approaches to nutrition (well, maybe you may not have known the thing about casein), but with the onslaught of Atkins-Keto-Low Carb-Paleo-and-the-list-goes-on-diets, these aims of RP are (sadly) NOT the norm for some folks.

In my last foray with RP, I followed their massing template and put on around 10 pounds over the span of 3 weeks.  I also PRd many of my lifts and felt energetic and fulfilled.  After my 12 week massing season ended, however, I didn’t follow the RP maintenance protocol as I should have (once again, pride got in the way and I thought I knew how to handle weight maintenance, ha ha), and ended up losing the hard earned weight I had gained.  Thus, months later, I ended up ten pounds down, staring at an Easter picture of a skinny-me, wondering what went wrong.

Ahh, that pride got in the way.

And so my journey to weight gain (which you are probably familiar with now after reading my posts) took a detour from RP as I started seeing my old eating disorder-specialized dietitian.  After following her structure for a little less than a month, I regained all ten pounds.  Wonderful, right?  Well, in actuality I felt awfully lethargic and was on a constant diet of highly processed food and caffeine, which I knew was contributing to me feeling physically BLAH. I didn’t have energy or a spring in my step, even with the additional weight on my body–and sadly, these first ten pounds were only the starting point as I actually wanted to gain beyond that in order to help me increase my lifts in the gym.  I was quite lost at this point as I couldn’t forsee myself following this dietitian’s structure for the next month or two or three.  It wasn’t until talking to a gal from an RP online group about my situation that she suggested I go back to the templates, start off maintaining on those, and then attempt another weight gain cycle once my body was adjusted to eating more whole foods.  My online friend is quite knowledgeable on the subject of weight gain and RP had worked in my situation before, so I dusted off the old templates I purchased almost a year ago and started once again at square 1.  After a week or so of eating on the massing template, I found myself feeling a whole lot more energized–my lifts didn’t feel monstrously heavy like in the previous weeks, and I was able to go through a busy day on only 2 cups of coffee a day.  My weight was stable, and eating peanut butter daily, making my own chicken for dinner, and preparing vegetables for our family felt exciting and new.

But like anything “new”, I anticipated the honeymoon phase to end.  Because there was no person I could check in with like I did with my old dietitian, I COULD follow the template one day, I COULD NOT follow it another day.  There was no person to hold me accountable and slap my hand to say, “No, you need 1/2 cup more of rice with that meal.”  More importantly, I was afraid my pride would get to me, and that the massing diet would morph into a juggling of macronutrients so that my meals could fit what I thought was best for me at the time.  James 4:10 says to “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”  Well, I needed that humility in me.  I needed to give the reigns over to someone else totally, a professional who could help me gain weight healthfully and with great intention.

And then the day came.  I was browsing through Facebook one afternoon, thinking about my lack of humility and how I really needed outside help to get me where I wanted to go, when an ad for someone called the Nutrition Tactician popped up on my feed.  I didn’t think much of his smiling face and was about to continue scrolling when I caught one of my friend’s comments under his photo.

“Paul is awesome.  Listen to this video he just made.”

Maybe it was divine intervention–maybe Jesus knew I needed an answer to pop up right in front of me.  Either way, I clicked on his video about dieting myths, and it was then that I knew.  Paul Salter, a RP dietitian and founder of The Nutrition Tactician, was the professional I wanted to guide me in gaining weight.  Needless to say, within minutes of messaging him, I was sent forms to fill out, and just like that, Paul became my accountability partner, the person who I trusted (and am still trusting) to get me where I want to be with my weight and lifting.  What was it about Paul that I was drawn to?  Well, despite the fact that he is a friendly and energetic person in general, I appreciated the way he was able to explain complex nutritional advice in an understandable way.  Plus, when I initially talked with him about my history with anorexia, he immediately said that I wouldn’t have to weigh-in if I didn’t want to as seeing numbers on a scale may be triggering–for me, seeing how much pounds I am isn’t a source of negativity so I do weigh myself with Paul, but I appreciated that he was cognizant of the fact that seeing a number on a scale may cause unnecessary mental anguish.  Furthermore, he laid out a plan that lasted beyond just a month–he took into consideration my goals and timed out appropriate massing and maintenance weight phases for the next year or so.

Awesome.

Paul prescribes a very detailed meal plan for me to follow–daily eating times are broken down according to what kind of training I’m doing when, and I email him my weights twice a week along with any other questions I may have.  Here’s the thing though:  it would be very easy for me to alter the templates he created for me or sub in this protein for this carb or not eat a fat serving now and save it for later.  I could let my pride or “I know better” thinking affect my daily eating.  But for what purpose?  I’m investing in a professional’s guidance in helping me gain weight, and so far I have been faring well in following his plan and seeing results in the gym and out.  The proof of his expertise (I am making personal bests in all my lifts, have increased energy so I’m only drinking 1/3 cup of coffee in the morning to wake up instead of multiple energy drinks throughout the day, and eating for a mass cycle that has me gaining steadily each week) makes it easy to know that the plan he has me on is GOLD.  I don’t need to change anything because the results speak for themselves.

My decision to work with Paul, however, is quite individualized according to my physical and emotional needs.  Would I have made the same choice if I were hovering at 90 pounds and running everyday?  Probably not.  Would I have made the same choice if I were at a similar weight to what I am now but mentally fearful of eating avocados and nuts and putting Vitargo in my intra-training shake?  Probably not.  The thing is, Paul gives me a plan and it is then up to me to follow through on it.  Everyday when I wake up, I know that there is a template to adhere to, and so I push aside my pride and make my breakfast, prepare my after training meal, and devour my nighttime casein because I know that these actions are healthy for me.

I have goals to attain, and I’m not only referring to powerlifting totals.  I want to be able to fuel myself throughout the day in a way that allows me the most flexibility to be a mom, teacher and wife.  I want to be able to fuel myself so that I am able to get my kids ready for the school day, lecture to all my classes on Walden, and prepare dinner for my family without feeling physically spent.  I want to live the life God intended me to live, and the only way to do that is if I’m physically, emotionally, and spiritually strong.

Some may say that following a regimented eating schedule like what I follow is no different than when I was restricting myself to one Subway sandwich a day or subsisting on vegetables and diet soda.  There may be some truth in that both styles of eating require a person to have a certain type of meal at a certain time, but here’s the catch:  the plan Paul has laid out for me was made with the intention to help me thrive in all of my daily activities.  Unlike the rigid veggie-Subway-diet soda diet I adhered to for many years while in the thick of anorexia, there is no condemnation or feelings of dread if I eat more than prescribed.  I know that I can go out with my family for dinner and the anxious pangs of “Oh no, what do I eat?!” are not ruminating in my thoughts like they would have many years ago.  Paul and RP have given me accountability to maintain my health, a mindset of moderation in what to eat and how to train, and most importantly, a lifestyle change that has awarded me more freedom to live an energetic and freeing life in and out of the gym.

As always, I will keep you all updated on my progress with Paul and RP.  For the first time in a long time, I feel comfortable with the weight I gained and HOW I gained said pounds.  Rather than feel lethargic and conflicted about getting bigger legs and beefier arms, I am actually looking forward to making additional gains in the upcoming weeks.  I am constantly reminded that like everything in life, there is a season for all things.  Right now is the time for me to make strides in my physical strength and use those external gains to encourage and propel me to continue to improve my emotional and spiritual well being–and I couldn’t be more excited to see what transpires in the following weeks.

Running the Good Race

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, running was my life.  I know that is a pretty cliched saying, that “ABCDE is my life,” but in all seriousness, strapping on my pair of Brooks and hitting the pavement was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, the image that replayed in my mind while sitting in class, and the last mental cue that popped up in my brain before falling asleep at night.

My high school boyfriend joked that I’d be one of “those” mothers who would lace up her sneakers until the day she was in labor and a few weeks later would be out pushing around an all-terrain jogging stroller at Ala Moana Park.  Small talk with family and friends revolved around the latest running news, and more often than not acquaintances would gawk at my twig-like legs and state with awe, “Wow, still running I see!  What is it?  Did you do four marathons already?”

During college I worked part-time at a running shoe store, where I was able to test run the newest styles, measure people’s feet, and fit them with appropriate sneakers.  I felt a LITTLE like Al Bundy, retying shoes for customers and passing them the box of try on socks, but to me, being in the store was Heaven on earth.

Outwardly I was a devoted athlete, doing fartleks and tempo runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, incorporating long, slow distances on the weekends, and signing up for every local race I could.  Adorned in Nike shorts and finisher t-shirts, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a “runner.”

But inwardly, running was dangerous.  Physically, cardiovascular exercise is tremendous for the body–it helps keep the heart healthy and protects it from disease and degeneration.  But like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes, well, dangerous.  When my obsession with accumulating miles and trying to be faster and faster with every run morphed into me losing 15 pounds from my already small frame, running became dangerous.  However, despite my body’s need for fuel and rest (two things I never gave it during my stint in long-distance racing), I neglected to see the folly of my actions, and instead focused on the immediate gratification I got from completing a cool ten miles.  Running was my drug of choice, yet at the time I was blind to how the pavement pounding and wind in my face could be such a detrimental addiction.

I remember the first time I ran three miles with my high school cross country team.  The feeling of my legs hitting the grass in the Manoa neighborhood and the blood rushing through my thighs was exhilarating.  But what was even better was the endorphin rush at the end, the feeling of calmness and (oddly enough) tranquility in my bones that came when I collapsed on the ground with my friends to stretch and chatter about the short training jaunt.  Back then, three miles felt like an eternity.  During the run I even contemplated turning back early, as all I could think was that there was no way I’d be able to make it to the turn around point and then retrace my steps to campus without hyperventilating.

Flash forward a few years, and three miles was my warm up.  I was up to an easy ten miles a day, clicking away at a 8 minute or less pace.

Ten.  Miles.  A.  Day.  Every.  Day.

Well, except for Saturdays when I’d log between 15-20 miles.  In one session.

Writing that now, my knees ache.  Literally, my patellas cry out in pain at the amount of pounding they used to take day in and day out.  Praise God I never sustained a traumatic injury of any kind–with that much output and no rest, I’m shocked that I didn’t develop some kind of bone spur, strain, or tear.

Why was I so compelled to log in that many miles?  Why???

It may seem like a cop-out answer, but 99% of the reason why I sacrificed sleep, time with friends, and my health to run was because of the eating disorder.  Along with restricting and being highly selective of my intake (hey, it was the nineties and the low fat rage was booming), I also saw long distance running as a way to form the ideal body–which in effect, was a way to numb and distract myself from the real issues at hand that were out of my control, namely my mother’s illness, graduating college, finding a real job, and meeting a guy that I could end up marrying.

The fear of the unknown left me with a multitude of questions:  What am I going to do after college?  What if I hate my job?  Will my mother be able to see me graduate?  What if I never find anyone who will love me?  What if I never become a mother?  There were times at night when I’d wake up, my room cool and dark, and yet I’d be sweating.  Seriously, beads of perspiration would drip down my head as these thoughts and questions filled my perplexed brain.

Basically, I was scared to grow up and be a woman.  So instead, I fixated on changing SOMETHING about myself that I did have control over and eased my mental turmoil:  my body.  Long distance running was one activity that could tune out the noise, relive me of the anxiety, and grant me some kind of serenity.

Runners often claim of getting that “runner’s high”, when one feels like her legs could turn over and over for miles on end, breathing even and unlabored, mind clear.  That “runner’s high” was what I aimed for every time I hit the pavement.  Ironically, the more and more I ran, the longer and longer it took for me to achieve that state of euphoria.  Whereas I could once get that calmness after a short three miles, the following month I’d have to go five miles to receive that same feeling.  And then five miles turned to seven.  And so on.  And so on.

Those people who have met me within the last few years would be astonished to know that I once spent close to twenty hours a week JUST RUNNING.  Why?  Because I now can’t go more than 2.5 miles on a treadmill or the road without feeling like my head is going to explode from boredom.  What made the change?  God.

I tried willing myself to stop running cold turkey, especially when I weighed 88 pounds and was still attempting to huff and puff around Diamond Head under the blistering noon sun.  My husband even went so far as to hide all of my shoes (and boy, did I have SO MANY shoes!), shorts, socks, sports bras, and shirts in his office so that I wouldn’t be tempted to run.  Sadly, the eating disorder voice would speak to me when the itch to lace up hit, and I’d end up spending God knows how much money on second hand clothing and gear–and then hide them around the house and in my car so I’d still be able to run in secret.

It was only Jesus–the same God who healed the deaf and mute, who cast out demons and walked on water–who was able to change my thinking around overnight.  I remember the time very clearly:  I had just come back from a secret run around the neighborhood before heading off to work, and the overwhelming feeling of guilt burdened my spirit so much that I broke down into tears.  Why couldn’t I just WILL myself to stop?  If I could restrict food in a world full of hamburgers, shakes, and ice cream, how come I couldn’t just stop running?  And then I felt the Holy Spirit urge me:  Pray.  Pray that Jesus would guide my actions. Pray that whatever Jesus would want me to do in life I would do, and that everything else He didn’t want me to partake in be pushed aside.  Pray for His heart and His will, not my desires and wants.

Truthfully, it’s a scary prayer.  Give up everything that I wanted?  It’s a misnomer to think that what one desires is more than what God would want.  In Isaiah 55:8-9, the scripture states, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”  God is more in tune with a person’s needs and wants–even moreso than the individual himself.  If that is true, then who am I to say that I know what’s better for my life than the God who created the world and my existence?  Didn’t He knit me in my mother’s womb, and am I not fearfully and wonderfully made by Him?  

So on my knees in the middle of the living room, tears rolling down my face, I prayed that prayer.  Lord, let Your will be done in my life.  Not mine.  Whatever is not of You, in my spirit, take it away.

And like a switch that was in the off position, with those words the lights went “on” and I had no desire to run.  Seriously, I kid you not, the lure of the road, the feeling of sweat dripping down my brow, my legs pumping full of blood as I gasped through mile after mile, disintegrated.  I’m sure this may sound quite “easy” or unbelievable to you who are reading this blog (“What?  Lauren just prayed?  And her addiction lifted?”), but in all honesty, there is a spiritual power at work when one prays.  Jesus is not a liar, and when He said to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), He will be faithful and just to follow through on His word.  Jesus did and can do miraculous physical healings, and in that same way he gave sight to the blind and rose people from the dead, so can He take away an addiction that had plagued my life for years on end.

Don’t get me wrong.  The enemy, the eating disorder voice, would love for me to relapse into a full-blown marathon running spree.  There are moments since that day when I feel like I want to run, and when that urge comes up, I ask, “Lord, is this ok?  Do you mind if I go for a jog around the neighborhood?”  The majority of the time, I feel a sense of peace in my spirit, and so I pop on my shoes and 20 minutes later the deed is done.  And if I don’t feel that sense of peace?  Well, I don’t go.  Honestly, there have been a few times when I didn’t listen and strapped on my Mizunos anyway, and let me tell you, those runs were HELL.  If I can imagine what hell is like, those runs were it.  Dead legs.  Gasping for air.  Counting down every second until the distance was reached.  With God, there is a peace that transcends all understanding.  Without Him, there is much struggle.

In the end, I look back on all those marathons I completed and am thankful.  I don’t miss the blisters on my toes, the millions of Clif Shots I’d buy a year, or waking up at the crack of dawn to file to the starting line of a race.  What I am thankful for is that through all of those miles, through the years of me not listening to God and instead choosing to listen to myself, Jesus nonetheless still loved me and was there for me.  And when the time came to return to Him, He welcomed me with open arms.  No medal, no race PR, no amount of miles I logged could ever compare to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God–because unlike the fleeting records and trophies of this world, the prize from running a race for Him reaps eternal and everlasting rewards.

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

I should be laying supinely on the sofa in baggy sweats, spoon-feeding myself pint after pint of gooey Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, legs draped precariously over the edge of the armrest.

My eyes should be rimmed with tears, almost swollen shut due to continuously crying for minutes, no, hours on end.

It is a grand cliche, but oh so true:  my heart should feel like it is broken in two, split apart, and ripped from my chest.

We just broke up.

We are no longer.

The relationship is over.

Now before you start hyperventilating at the thought of Misha and Shogun being without a mother and father, let me assure you that my husband and I are still happily together. Last night, in fact, we all sat down around our tiny wood table, ate dinner together amidst conversation of the day’s events, and then ended the night curled up watching Nickelodeon (“Full House” is on every weekday at 7pm on that channel, just in case you were wondering).

No, it is not my marriage that has disintegrated–it is actually my relationship with Olympic weightlifting that has taken a substantial hit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still go to the gym, and I still place a barbell on my back and squat, or lie on a bench and press it with all the strength I can muster.  I still love scrolling through Mattie Roger’s picture perfect videos on IG and fan girl over Morghan King and her monumentally powerful lifts.  But the lure of stepping onto a platform, hearing the resounding STOMP of my Adidas shoes on the wood, dipping and driving under a loaded bar to complete a magnificent jerk–that compulsion, that obsession has vanished.

Within the last few months, my love for Olympic lifting took a turn from fun pastime to addictive activity that took up the majority of my brain power and physical energy.  What caused this switch?  What propelled me to obsess over the fundamentals of the clean and jerk and the intricacies of the snatch so much so, that I woke up thinking about the platform and went to bed dreaming of one day competing as a Master’s athlete?

I could say that it was the people I was surrounded with, and that their enthusiasm for the sport led me to also develop an obsession for weightlifting that (sadly) rivaled the same excitement I had for teaching, reading, and writing.  I could say that the constant barrage of Hookgrip pictures and slow-motion videos of Olympians hefting massive barbells overhead led to this turn (social media at its’ finest!).  But in reality, obsession is in my personality.  Moderation is not in my vocabulary.  I am a black or white, hot or cold, all or nothing type of person, and whether it is with sports, family, friends, or work, it is incredibly challenging for me to live in the “grey” area.  I cannot merely jog a few miles a few times a week–I must train to qualify for Boston.  I cannot take a yoga class every so often–I must do two a day to practice for an asana competition.  It’s black or white.  No grey.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), individuals with eating disorders seem to have very addictive, OCD-type personalities.  They fixate on one idea, and then the tunnel vision effect takes over.  Before these people know it, they are so deep into their obsession that what was once normal and healthy (going to the gym three times a week, incorporating fruits and veggies into 3 meals) becomes circumvented to an all-encompassing, mind-numbing addiction.  Hence why anorexics can refuse eating food in a society filled with fast food commercials, convenience store snacks, and soda ads–they are so overwhelmed with needing to consume only XXX amount of calories, that no amount of propaganda will push them towards breaking their rigid good/bad food diet.

When I started Olympic weightlifting, it was actually because I wanted to get better at CrossFit.  After having my daughter, I realized how much muscular strength I didn’t have, and took to circuit-type training to build some mass.  After failing 65 pound cleans and being unable to snatch to save my life, I decided to work with a coach on those skills.  I would get easily frustrated that I couldn’t keep my hips down in the initial pull or that my elbows weren’t whipping forward fast enough in the clean.  As a few months passed, my technique got a bit better–and then I became pregnant with my son.  I stopped stomping on the platform during those nine months, and when Shogun turned four months old I made my shaky return to my trusty Adidas shoes.  For the next year and a half, my interest in Olympic lifting went from, “Wow, this is cool that I’m getting stronger.  Nice.” to “I want to compete as a Master’s athlete.  Soon.”  My “white” view of Olympic lifting switched to a “black” one.  I bypassed the “grey” and soon found myself entrenched in an addictive relationship with the sport.  Given that I have two young children, a full-time job, and husband to tend to, I wound up training in the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing sleep to “get it done.”  To any other gym goer, I was a dedicated lifter.  In my heart, however, I knew that a sport that once made me smile was slowly becoming a chore, something that I HAD to do.  On my drive to the gym I’d hem and haw over that day’s programming, debating whether or not I’d be able to make the percentages and lifts prescribed, and if not, that would be two hours of my life in the gym wasted.  Reading through these thoughts that ran through my head, my heart sinks.  How stressful, how debilitating, how sad I felt, yet on the outside all people saw was the dedicated athlete spending hours trying to perfect her skills.

Yes, you read that right.  My time on the platform transformed from an hour-long session to 2-3 hours each time, sweating under the harsh lights.  And my body felt the effects of my compulsivity and addiction.  My right shoulder would ache when I lifted it, my left trap was significantly (and perpetually) higher than my right, my left IT band yelled in irritation whenever I walked, and my right butt cheek shot daggers of pain when I’d sit.  To any normal person, these physical ailments would signal a day, a week, maybe even a month of rest.  But my obsessive, eating disordered brain wouldn’t have it.  A day off meant weakness.  A day off meant I’d be losing gains.  A day off meant I was not a serious athlete.

It wasn’t until one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, an hour before I was to go to a training session, that I curled up next to my husband and two kids who were laying on the bed watching cartoons, and just laid there next to them.

I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to go.

The words echoed in my head, and it was at that moment I realized how my obsession with Olympic lifting had blinded me to what were the real priorities in my life:  my family, my relationships with others, my health, my joy.  Spending so much time in the gym prevented me from being fully present when my children wanted to ride bikes outside or when my husband wanted to sit and chat.  All I could think about was saving my body for the next training session (can’t run around with the kids too much, it’ll tire out the legs), or that I needed to sleep early to prepare to hit the platform early the next day.

My life revolved around Olympic lifting.  And that obsession not only translated to lost time and energy, but also a loss in weight.  Caloric restriction plus insane caloric output does not equal great health.  It equals “Lauren-is-in-need-of-putting-on-some-much-needed-pounds-because-a-relapse-is-happening.” I wanted to be known as a great athlete.  I wanted to achieve some kind of weightlifting status that I thought obsessive practice could attain, yet my goals were not God’s.  I was trying to rationalize my addictive actions, but to no avail.  In Matthew 6:33, the author states, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Putting the platform before Jesus was definitely not something God intended for my life, and an indication of that was the obsession to train and my ailing body.  Why would He fill my head with anxious and compulsive thoughts about weightlifting when His word clearly states that we should “cast all our anxieties onto Him”?  When I delight in the Lord and seek Him, I feel internally free, and He fills me with what I need:  faith, freedom, and joy.  If I know that to be true, why remain locked into an obsessive pattern of cleaning, jerking, and pulling that was deteriorating my body?

And so on that Saturday morning, I decided that a break up needed to happen.  A splitting of ways was necessary, a departure from a relationship that was once wonderful and lovely but had morphed to an unhealthy addiction was imperative.  I notified my coach that I was no longer going to pursue Olympic lifting, and immediately after that was verbalized, I felt, oddly, lighter.  Not lighter pound-wise, but lighter in my spirit.  That freeing faith, the joyful possibility that I could do anything, that the road of opportunity was waiting for me, was awakened in my soul.

And so we broke-up.  Me and the Olympic lifting barbell.  Me and the obsession with clean and jerks and snatches.  Me and the addiction to analyzing the movements, the addiction to push harder and more until my body be on the verge of collapse.

It was an unhealthy relationship, and just like any person will do after a romantic break-up, I had to distance myself.  I haven’t clean and jerked or snatched since that Saturday, and truthfully, I don’t miss it.  Yes, I still squat, deadlift, and do other powerlifting-type movements, but without the obsession, without the quilt, without the fear.  I do these lifts according to how I feel, and even test that I’m NOT becoming addicted by stopping a workout prematurely and limiting the amount of time I spend with the weights.  I’m cautious about entering a new relationship with a new sport, as I need some time to heal from the past one.  But I know that wherever the Lord will lead me, whatever relationship is on the horizon, I will have to be aware to not let it digress to one of obsession and addiction.  This last break-up was a doozy, but thankfully I have a tub of Ben and Jerry’s to help heal those wounds.

Running…to Where?

I was always an athletic individual.  No, wait, let me take that back.  I ATTEMPTED being a powerful and skilled soccer play at the ripe age of seven, and from first grade to my freshman year of high school I spent the majority of my time with a shin guard tan.  At one point I played on three different teams, and it was only when the pressure of having to be better than the other pre-pubscent girls my age reared its ugly head and gave me stomach aches did I stop kicking around the ball.

Enter long distance running.

I always enjoyed trampling through the grass on the school playground and consistently finished in the top five of my class whenever we ran 400 meters.  How hard could running a mile, or two, or three be?  Surprisingly, VERY challenging for a young girl with no slow-twitch muscle fiber.

When I started my freshman year of high school I had soccer thighs–the legs of my Umbro shorts rubbed together and my quads were full of explosive power.  I felt a bit out of place among the sea of tall track runners and swimmers during PE, but otherwise, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to my legs.  Or running.  After a dismal week or so of playing in the elite division of high school soccer (and realizing that I wouldn’t make it as a starter so what was the point?), I opted to pursue another sport that had no cuts (victory!) and was a great way to earn PE credit:  cross country.

And so the obsession with long distance running began.  At first going on a thirty-minute run felt GOOD–the blood pumped through my legs, I got a bit out of breath (but not too much), and the sweat on my brow made me feel accomplished.  But given my OCD and perfectionist attitude, I wanted to be faster than my teammates and run longer without getting winded.  So from my sophomore I made it a point to run at least 20 minutes or so every other day.  In my mind it was nothing crazy.  I mean, it seemed like everyone did some kind of physical activity afterschool–the weight room was always filled with girls on the bicycles and guys benching the big weights.

Fast forward a few years to that fateful day when anorexia took hold over my mind, and a normal 30 minute run suddenly became the minimum I could do.  But here’s the tricky part.  Lets say I ran 35 minutes one day.  Now I couldn’t run less than 35 minutes, otherwise the run was for nothing.

Little did I know that the eating disorder was seeping into my daily life.  Rather than have to deal with the thought of my mother not being around for my wedding or graduation, I instead turned to trekking through the neighborhood in my Brooks shoes as a way to distract myself.  I was never great at confrontation, and in fact, I remember crumbling my third grade math homework in the back corner of my desk because I couldn’t understand units of measurement.  Rather than ask the teacher for help, I believed that if I didn’t see it, it didn’t exist.

Sadly, I took that same route with even the bigger issues in my life, namely my mother’s illness.  If I ran and ran and ran and only concentrated on mile split times and making sure I was the lightest weight possible (because hey, less body weight to move meant a faster cross country finish), then I wouldn’t have to entertain the prospect that I would soon be without a parent.  My mother and I were quite close, and although she was the disciplinarian in the household, I revealed many of my darkest secrets to her–in her warm smile and big bear hugs I felt secure and protected.  The thought of losing that comfort scared me to no end.  And so I laced up my shoes day in and day out.  Afterschool, after church, even in the early mornings, I found a way to get SOME kind of run in.

By God’s miracle, my mother emerged from surgery feeling fine…and actually entered into remission.  While she slowly gained strength, I actually began deteriorating.  My daily runs plus the 1000 calorie diet I placed myself on was slowly eating away my muscles.  Ironically my mother intervened one weekend when I was lacing up my shoes to go for a post-church jog.  With a firm, pursed lip frown she told me I COULD NOT go out for a jog, and that I was losing weight.  I smiled and said ok, but inside the anorexia screamed

HELL NO.  HELL NO.