Monday, May 29, 2006

Lucie Meets the Fure-Cat

He popped up on the Internet at the oddest times - a broad-shouldered, bald man with a strong resemblance to the "Mr. Clean" icon (minus the thick white eyebrows) and abs that could have served as a Merriam-Webster entry under "six pack" - always bare-chested, the better to display his highly trained physique, and always in an advertisement for something called "Combat Abs" or "Combat Conditioning."

Military man, I thought. Must be. He keeps using the word "combat."

I decided that he was, at the least, a master of marketing, because his ads seemed to follow me. Then again, perhaps it was coincidence. Perhaps it was even fate. After all, I was lugging around a gut I call "Big Bertha"* and the word "abs" can usually get my attention faster than almost anything except a piece of chocolate.

Finally, out of sheer curiosity, I clicked on one of his ads. There he was, wearing what looked like a Speedo and crouching in a position I'd not only never seen before, but knew perfectly well I was incapable of reaching except in the realm of fantasy. It was called a Hindu Squat, and his name was Matt Furey.

If you've seen the movie "Jerry Maguire," you'll recall that Tom Cruise had Renee Zellweger at hello. Well, I had never heard of a Hindu Squat or Matt Furey, and furthermore, I didn't particularly care for men who were bald or wore Speedos, but Furey had me at the line "Five Second Abs Burn Fat From Your Waistline" that appeared on one of his ads.

I read. I was intrigued. I bought. Big Bertha would shortly be on her way to the history pile, I decided.

My copy of "Combat Abs" arrived quickly and I sat down to study it. I read the introduction and the opening comments, but I didn't actually start the exercises until the upcoming Monday, because, as I've previously noted, I always start a new diet or exercise program on a Monday. That way I can have the weekend, as well as any remaining days in the week, to have a good time. Last meal of the condemned man, you might say. I'm sure some of you have also done this. Don't worry, you don't have to admit it here. That's my job.

At any rate, "Combat Abs" begins with a set of exercises called "The Magnificent Seven." I looked them over and decided, yes, I can do those with little problem. If anything, they seemed almost too simplistic to work on something as challenging as Big Bertha. But what came afterwards? I started leafing through the book.


Even some of the "Basic Exercises" looked pretty challenging. I wasn't sure I could get into a few of those positions. I put the book down and tried.

I was right.

I kept leafing. There were several moves that I'd seen or done before in years past, and I was fairly sure I could still manage them, even in my present condition. But what in the heck was this thing called a "bridge"? It looked like a back bend. I had been able to do back bends when I was in grade school. Granted, that was a long time ago and I had lost a good deal of flexibility since then, but surely I could still manage one.


There was no other word for it. The first time I tried what is called a gymnastic bridge, using the technique that Matt himself described, I managed to lift my upper body perhaps two inches off the floor. Originally I thought it was about four inches, but I have since come to the conclusion that I was being generous. The attempt was such a dismal failure that I actually had to laugh out loud.

Okay, I thought. Let's just start with the Magnificent Seven.

So I did. I started getting up earlier in the morning just to do them, no little sacrifice since I have never been "a morning person" by any stretch of the imagination. And I discovered that those seemingly simple exercises were a bit of a challenge for someone like me, because they all involved something I wasn't used to - deep breathing.

I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere that Americans in general, or perhaps people in the West, tend to breathe more shallowly than their counterparts in the East. It was certainly true of me. All that deep breathing made me...dizzy! I'd have to pause for a moment. Do a couple more repetitions. Holy cow, was that nausea? What was that about? Why did my ears seem to close up when I did the "Trunk Rotators"? And why the heck did my forearms itch so much when I tried to do those "Hands Overhead Side Bends"?

I still don't have an explanation for the latter, which continues (to a milder extent) to this day, but the dizziness was not entirely unexpected. I knew I was a shallow breather, and now I was sucking in oxygen as far as I could suck it. My poor brain just wasn't used to that. Over time, it got better, as did the nausea, and the itch. It wasn't long at all before I could do the required number of repetitions without pausing. But Big Bertha, and her counterpart, Big Beatrice* (my protruding posterior) were both still a Big Challenge. After about a month I thought I could see some reduction in both, but it was clear that I had a long way to go. As Matt himself said, "Rome wasn't built in a day...but it was built."

And as it turned out, the Fure-Cat had a few more things to show me.

Next week: Tools of the Trade.

-Treader Lucie-

*No offense whatsoever is intended to any readers named Bertha or Beatrice.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Starting at Ground Zero!

I didn't think losing weight would be an easy process. I've tried it too many times, in too many different ways. I've tried the Weight Watchers plan (twice), Slender Now (I'm dating myself!), the Weight Loss Clinic, and ediets. The latter is the only one with which I stuck for any length of time - about five and a half months - and I managed to drop 25 pounds, the most I have ever managed to lose, in that period. But as with every other program, once I quit, I gained back the weight - on this occasion, in half the time it took me to lose it.

Can I get a witness?

What does it take to find a program that works for one, and stick with it, either until a specific goal is reached, or for a lifetime? Until fairly recently, if you had asked me this question I probably would have answered with one word: willpower. Now I am beginning to realize more fully than ever that the answer is deeper and more complex. But that will have to wait until a future entry. Right now, I want to give you a little background on myself and the very beginning of how I came to be writing this blog.

If someone had asked me only a few months ago to assess my physical fitness level, I would have said something like, "Oh, moderately fit." Moderately. A safe word, smack in the middle of the fence between gymnast and couch potato. Yes, moderately sounded good: I could do a few pushups if I absolutely had to; I could walk a few miles; I could do some know. So what if I couldn't touch my toes? A lot of people couldn't. At least I could still see them. So what if even a couple of flights of stairs put me out of breath? I could still climb stairs. I walked in the evenings...occasionally. Yep, I was, at least, moderately fit.

And even as I would have said this, I would have been mentally crossing my fingers behind my back.

I would, however, most likely have continued on this path indefinitely, in spite of my dislike of my body's appearance, had it not been for a visit to my family physician. Almost all my life I had been aware of a ticking time bomb that lodged in the maternal side of my family tree - diabetes. It had reared its ugly head yet again, this time in a relative whom no one had expected to be diagnosed. For the past several years I had made a habit of having my blood sugar checked in a laboratory at least once a year. And each time the results came back as acceptable, I breathed a sigh of relief. Now, for the first time, I was truly worried, for not only was this relative the last one anyone would have expected - as they frequently said! - but he was not a sweets addict like me. Wasn't excessive sugar intake, after all, what caused diabetes?

It was not. For the first time I began to learn of the connection between diabetes and weight. Between diabetes and age. Between diabetes and a sedentary life style. Between diabetes and excessive carbohydrate consumption. I began ticking off warning points on a checklist - too many of them. I began to worry... and I went to the local laboratory to give blood.

That was in October, 2005. I was fortunate then - the diagnosis I had dreaded was "only" pre-diabetes, but it was enough to scare me straight - at least for a while. For a few months I monitored my blood sugar daily. Watched what I ate, exercised at least semi-regularly. And then I learned from a call to the American Diabetes Association that the readings on the monitor didn't tell me whether or not I had crossed the line into the actual disease, but how well I was managing if I had the disease.


I am not proud to say this, but for someone like me, that was enough of an "excuse" to gradually slip back into my old habits. The unhealthy eating patterns, once chastened, came crawling back and the exercise all but vanished. Both friends and family were concerned that I was heading straight down the hill to the land of diabetics. In the back of my mind I knew they were right. I was puffy, flabby, and too often stiff. I had reached my heaviest weight ever, at least as far as I knew, since I didn't weigh myself on a regular basis - I really didn't want to know! Something had to be done. I had to start over. I just didn't realize exactly what "starting over" meant until I met Matt Furey.

Who is Matt Furey? Tune in next week to find out.

-Treader Lucie-

Monday, May 15, 2006

Put On Your Walking Shoes!

Tread: To step or walk on or over, to walk along. To beat or press with the feet, to subdue or repress as if by trampling.

Greetings! On this 15th day of May, 2006, I welcome any readers who may find this tiny corner of the Internet, by direct invitation or by "accident," to "Treading Towards a New Horizon." If there had been room for a subtitle, it would have been this: "One Woman's Journey to Physical, Mental and Financial Fitness." When this blog was still a mere idea, I envisioned it as being a year-long journey. Then as I began to write today, I realized - what nonsense, if not arrogance!

It's true that I hope to accomplish a good deal by May 15, 2007. But true fitness, especially in three categories at once, is more likely to be a lifelong journey, isn't it?

Some of you may wonder why I chose May 15 as my "start date," rather than the more common January 1. Like most of you, I've made - and broken - my share of New Year's resolutions. A few years ago I stopped making them entirely, refusing to fool myself into believing that I'd really keep them. (Does anyone?) Actually, there is nothing particularly special about May 15. It just happens to be a Monday, and I always start a diet and/or fitness program on a Monday. That, after all, gives you leeway to do whatever you want for a weekend, at least! And this is at least the third time I've begun this latest journey. I hope it will be the last for a long while.

But why blog about it? I have to admit that I approached this new venture with trepidation. After all, blogging would make me more accountable! People would be reading my entries - hopefully - and would know when I cheated as well as succeeded! Being a sometimes painfully honest person, I would be revealing some things about my current physical state, such as my beginning weight, that are embarrassing!

I had other concerns, too. What if I ran out of things to say? I'm not normally a very talkative person, nor an extraordinarily deep thinker. So much has been written already. Would the people I wanted to reach find me?

Because, you see, there are specific people I want to reach...people who, like me, have spent much of their lives sedentary and when they set out to change their physical state, discover that the joints and muscles don't move as smoothly as they expected, that the shouted claims of advertisments are too often false, that pounds and inches don't vanish as quickly as they hoped, that the scale is both a kind friend and a harsh enemy, depending on a variety of factors, some of which are unseen and unguessed at. People like me who are dissatisfied, at least sometimes, with their current level of mental and financial, as well as physical, fitness. People who wonder if it's too late for change, or at least the amount of change they would like to see.

If this describes you - especially if you're in middle life, as I am, when fitness at all levels is more challenging - it's my hope that the personal experiences, thoughts, observations, quotations, and questions I post here will be of help to you. And I hope that you will have many things to teach me! Along the way I'll be sharing the practical tools I use, as well as how well they work (or don't work) for me. I'll share my failures and temptations as well as my successes, and I hope you'll share yours as well.

To tread is to "walk," but it also means "to subdue or repress." What a fitting meaning for this blog, because there are things I'll be trying to "subdue or repress," from a mid-life identity that fights change with a sharp sword, to cravings for food that stem more from self-medication than hunger, to simple but deeply ingrained habits. If you'd like to tread with me, then put on your walking shoes and...

Come along.

-Treader Lucie-