Coronavirus Calories

When it comes to diet and exercise, my motto is moderation. I don’t believe in extremes or in deprivation. Exceptions to this are fast food burgers, because God only knows where the meat comes from,  soda, never liked it, and anything labeled diet, sugar-free or low-calorie, all gimmicks in my view. Otherwise, I enjoy most foods and indulge in sweets a few times a week, because life is too short to go without chocolate.

My usual exercise routine includes power yoga, brisk walks, and twice weekly gym workouts. I never owned a scale until my mother bought me one two years ago. Though I think she really bought it for her. She’d just retired and moved to another state, and so started staying with us during holidays and visits. She’s always been scale-obsessed. I receive regular text updates whenever she gains or loses a pound, which means near-daily. I stopped telling her that it’s probably water weight.

Typically, I maintain a healthy weight for my 5’4″ frame, with one bout of weight gain several years ago when I was stressed from pursuing an advanced degree while working full-time. I worked hard to lose the 10 pounds by restricting calories for the first time in my life and ramping up exercise. It was torture, and I never wanted to do that again.

Enter COVID-19.

In the six weeks I’ve been working from home, I’ve gained six pounds. At a pound a week, I’m in big trouble if our state’s stay home, stay safe order lasts much longer, as it likely will. This on top of the four pounds I gained over winter.

Though I’ve been walking, doing moderate yoga, and even running up and down a steep hill a couple times a week, being glued to a screen all day and stuck home has made for a far more sedentary lifestyle. Being over 50 doesn’t help. My metabolism is slowing, I’m sleeping poorly, likely because of pre-menopause and increased work-related stress, and as a Gen Xer, I’m sandwiched between two generations that need me.

But the real story is, I’m eating way too much, and too much of the wrong kinds of food.

To begin with, the refrigerator is always there. One little rumbly in my tumbly and it’s off to the kitchen. Then there is the panic grocery shopping I did in the first weeks of the pandemic. I spent inordinate amounts of money on food, fearing a shelter-in-place order any moment. I started buying things I never usually do, like bread flour and yeast in case I had to bake bread (which I actually did a few times and it was so good). I definitely suffered deprivation mentality for a while.

Another challenge is having two sons hunkered down with us. Our 21 year old sleeps most of the day and, like a vampire, stays up all night, eating everything in sight, healthy or unhealthy. There’s my 13 year old who, God love him, has become a vegetarian and overall health nut. He eats everything healthy in the house like a vulture. Between these two, I wake up most mornings to an empty fridge and a full sink, forced to resort to high-fat, carb-packed meals like grilled cheese sandwiches and potato pancakes.

I’m also bored. Doing the same things day after day and never being able to go out gets tiresome. Daily sweet and salty snacks make life more exciting. So does wine. I’m drinking it nearly every evening now, even on work nights, which is usually a no-no for me.

Summer is coming. I don’t know if beaches will be open, but I am determined to get my body bathing suit ready, or as ready as a 51 year old woman can. I did it once, and I can do it again.

This means saying no to sweets, bread, pasta, and heavy cheeses on weekdays. Choosing hard-boiled eggs and bananas for breakfast, salads for lunch, and rice, vegetables, and lean proteins for dinner. The only snacks will be nuts and pineapple, because the latter is so sweet it takes away my chocolate cravings. When my belly rumbles, I will remind myself that I’m eating three meals a day plus snacks, and therefore I am absolutely not starving to death.

On weekends, anything will go. Calorie restriction during the week, and then eating what you want on weekends (within reason), tricks the body, which would normally start storing fat if calorie-deprived, into restarting burning calories. I don’t have proof of this, other than it worked last time.

I admit that weight gain is a small price to pay compared to what some folks are going through during this pandemic. This isn’t just about my physical appearance, though. It’s about how I feel. Right now, I feel physically, mentally, and energetically heavy and drained. I want to feel light, nimble, and strong in every way. I have always believed that our physical bodies are reflections of our inner state, and vice-versa.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, this pandemic will end. In the meantime, I’ve warned the boys that beginning this week, I’m labeling a drawer in the fridge and a cabinet just for my food, and they are under strict hands-off orders.

Excuses Don’t Burn Calories

Excuses. We all make them from time to time. Some of us make them all the time. As we enter mid-life, we owe it to ourselves to examine the myriad of excuses we use that hold us back from reaching our full potential and achieving our life goals. Otherwise, we might come to the end of our days and realize that we’ve excused away our lives.

Don’t be that person.

According to Dictionary.com, an excuse is an “attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify”. Some people might think of excuses simply as the reasons or explanations for why they can or cannot do something. I have come to believe that they come down to personal choices.

Case in point: I’d wanted to lose 10 pounds for a while. I’d gained the extra weight while pursuing my master’s degree on top of working full-time and caring for a home and family. The little spare time I’d once enjoyed had been replaced with reading texts, writing papers, and working on projects. To deal with the stress and busyness of my life, I turned to stuffing my face with cheese and crackers while studying at night and drinking too much wine on the weekends.

I’m sure many of you can relate.

My attempt to awaken at 5:00am to exercise lasted only a few months. When my students started telling me with increased frequency that I looked exhausted and was repeating myself, and my husband point-blank said, “You’ve been acting really bitchy since you started waking up earlier” (ouch), I knew I needed that extra hour or so of sleep more than the exercise.

When I graduated in December, my plan was to start working out immediately, but it didn’t happen. I had so many good excuses why not: I’m too busy preparing for the holiday season; it’s too cold and dark out when I get home from work; I’m too drained and exhausted from work; I just need to chill out and recover from the insanity of the past two years.

Then one day I saw them, emblazoned on a billboard advertisement for a fitness center, four words: Excuses Don’t Burn Calories. They resonated so deeply with me that I practically stopped the car in the middle of the street.

My initial reaction was resentment. I mean, the model on the billboard couldn’t be a day older than 18 and was skinny as a rail. What could she possibly know about the stress of juggling a demanding full-time job while trying to keep a family, household, and marriage going? She was so young that her metabolism probably worked in overdrive; I’ll bet she burned hundreds of calories just by breathing.

Then I felt ashamed. The model was probably a lovely young woman, and what did I know about her life anyway? I certainly didn’t want to become one of those pathetic, bitter older women who despised any woman who was young and attractive. Where was the grace in that?

I drove by the billboard a few more times after that. Each time the words sunk into my psyche a little more, until finally I realized that I had a choice: I could keep making excuses for not working out and changing my diet or I could make a choice to lose the weight.

It’s been a little over a month since I made the choice to lose the weight. During that time I’ve been going to the gym three times per week without fail, power yoga once per week, and educating myself about calories and healthier food options. It’s not always easy. Some days I’m so exhausted when I come home from work that, after cooking dinner, I literally have to drag myself to the gym by putting one foot in front of the other. But I always feel so much better afterward. So far, I’ve lost close to five pounds.

I’ve come to realize that excuses blame factors outside of us. They keep us numb and stagnant. Choices come from within; therefore, they have the ability to empower us. When we feel empowered, we are more apt to make decisions for our life that support our well-being rather than harm it.

Excuses don’t burn calories. They don’t help us get that new job or promotion. They don’t improve our relationships with others. Excuses don’t start and complete projects, decrease debt and increase savings, or do a damn thing to help us realize our dreams.

What excuses are holding you back from leading your healthiest, happiest, most fulfilling life? You owe it to yourself to ask.

Note: I must give credit to Planet Fitness; it was their billboard advertisement that inspired me. Visit them at: http://www.planetfitness.com/.