I've made it no secret over the years that I feel pretty strongly about training with my sons. It has helped hold both them and myself accountable for our individual training because I am pushed to set a good example, and they can see for themselves that I am not asking them to do anything I am not willing to do myself. It has also helped them to feel more validated in their own training goals because I understand both the passion AND the struggle that is involved in the journey.
As a single mother of boys, it has helped me earn more respect from them because they know that I am not delicate, nor am I a pushover. As boys get older and start wanting their independence, the jockeying for the alpha position within the pack begins. Trust me, when you have to be both the woman AND the man of the household, being a physically capable woman helps when it comes to raising boys.
And-- it has provided us an even ground to see eye-to-eye on when we're unable to see eye-to-eye on anything else. This has been the most valuable aspect to me in regards to training with my kids. No matter the type of relationship (parent, child, siblings, spouses, friends, co-workers, etc.), you're not always going to see eye-to-eye with the other person, and that can be the most difficult time to practice empathy if the lack of common ground causes heated emotions in either party. Parenting becomes most difficult (in my opinion) when your son/daughter reaches the age when they begin developing their own ideas on how to approach life and adopting the culture of their generation because that is when they begin to quit feeling understood-- something that all humans crave regardless of their age. Their taste in music is different. Their taste in movies is different. Their taste in just about everything is different from yours, as is their idea of what's fun and even the lingo they begin to use to communicate with you. This poses a problem for both of you because the more they feel you don't understand their world, the more misunderstood they will begin to feel as an individual.
Jiu jitsu and striking have helped me bridge that gap with my kids. Our individual training journeys, with all their accompanying highs and lows, have served as a reminder to them (and even me sometimes) that in some things -- and perhaps in certain ways the most important thing in life: the human struggle -- we're not all that different after all. When we get lost in our relationship with each other as "mother" and "son", we can find ourselves again on the mats and in so doing, also find our way back to each other as well.
You don't have to have any major goals within the martial arts to begin training. Your major goal can quite simply remain to be raising your kiddo to the best of your ability, in which case I can PROMISE you that signing up for jiu jitsu and/or muay thai or boxing WITH your kiddo(s) will help you accomplish that goal. It is by far the best decision I have made as a parent for myself, for my kids, and for our relationship and entire family dynamic.
Empathy has been on my mind for quite a few years now, and as more and more tragedy surfaces throughout the world, the idea of empathy only weighs heavier and heavier on my mind. The world needs more empathy, desperately. More empathy equals less hatred. Less hatred equals more love. More love equals less war. It seems like such a simple concept to me, and yet so far out of reach. So how do we increase empathy in the world? I believe it starts with the individual, and for those of us who have children, that change within the individual impresses upon them as well.
As I sit here going through some pictures from my recent trip back to Thailand and seeing the faces of all my friends who came from all over the world to train at Phuket Top Team as well, the solution to increasing empathy in our communities on a worldwide level seems to be right in front of my face. Travel. Travel to as many places as you can and do so in such a way that you can experience the culture, instead of only seeing the side of the country that was specifically designed and altered to attract tourism.
My experiences training at Phuket Top Team have been invaluable in exposing me to a variety of cultures because of how many different people come from all over the world to train there. On any given day numerous cultures are represented on the training floor. At every team gathering, a myriad of culture is brought to the occasion. Over the course of my travels I have made wonderful friends with people not just from Thailand, but from Australia, Scotland, England, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Ireland and more, and what I love about that is the amount of culture I have been exposed to as a result while simply speaking and laughing with them. Even something as simple as differences in slang serve as a reminder of empathy, for one definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference.
I remember sitting around with some friends after training one night on my first trip to Thailand, and the Australians were talking about their excessive use of a certain four letter word that Americans simply do not use (hint hint.. it begins with a "c" and most American women would tear your head off for referring to them as such). They were laughing at my reaction every time they used the word (apparently my eyes involuntarily widened a little bit with each use). I explained how taboo and insulting that word is in America, and they went on to explain that while there is a certain use of the word that is the highest insult in Australia as well, there are also two other uses of the word that are instead the highest compliment. I know this might sound strange to link a mini-lesson on the various uses of this particular word with empathy, but it was interesting to witness my shock over the word compared to their ease, as it was caused by a simple difference in paradigms.
Even by simply acknowledging the existence of differing paradigms throughout the world, even within our own neighborhoods, we are practicing and increasing empathy. Now, imagine traveling somewhere and witnessing the way families interact, how children are raised, how diets differ or even how meal time rituals differ. When you immerse yourself in the culture of a place and pay attention to the little details throughout the day, your eyes are opened to an entire different way of living and experiencing the world around you in such a way you might never have thought of for the simple reason that it was outside your paradigm.
I remember sitting down to lunch with my friend on my most recent trip. He is Thai so I began having him order my food for me when we went out, not because I'm one of those women who can't make decisions for herself, but because I wanted to experience the country, including the food, through a Thai's eyes. I knew if I ordered for myself, I would naturally gravitate toward what looked familiar. So we were each sitting there eating our matching dishes, which included shrimp, and I watched him spoon the shrimp up and place the whole thing in his mouth -- including the tail! He smiled at me and nodded at my spoon which also had a shrimp waiting on it. "You try." He said. I looked at the shrimp and realized my hesitation wasn't because it sounded gross or anything, but simply because I never knew you could even eat the tail! It was completely outside of my paradigm! So, I shrugged my shoulders, opened my mouth and ate the entire shrimp, tail and all, and while I had to chew it a little longer than I am used to, I haven't removed the tail from shrimp before eating them since.
I know these are small and possibly silly sounding things to stick out in my mind when considering empathy, but they really did have a big impact on me in terms of opening my eyes and making me reflect on how much of the world we view through the closed in tunnel of our paradigms. I've always wanted to travel with my children, but that desire is even stronger now that I have begun having these reflections. My youngest son and I will be going to Thailand together next summer and it is all we can talk about lately. He is fascinated by the stories I bring home, including the small stories about eating the tail off the shrimp. Hearing about how other people do things excites and fascinates him and watching that fascination in his eyes causes me to reflect on empathy and the relevance of travel in connection to empathy even more. It is not always easy to travel, but in my experience traveling to certain countries (such as Thailand) is cheaper than an extended weekend vacation in most U.S. cities. It takes some planning, sure, but it can absolutely be done. Just imagine the gift you'll be giving yourself, your children (if you have them), and as a result the world if you begin insisting on seeing more of this beautiful, culture rich world we live in.
This is a common saying heard in the inspirational/motivational industry. I have been guilty of saying it myself as well; recently, in fact. However, the truth is, we need our fear. Fear keeps us safe. Not safe in the sense that we stay comfortable and stagnant, although that is a risk of indulging too much in irrational fear, but safe in the literal sense of the word. Fear is what tells us yeah, jumping off that cliff might not actually be a good idea, or something about that person makes me uncomfortable, maybe I shouldn't go with him into that dark alley like he wants. So in that sense, being fearless would be reckless and dumb. In the unfortunate situation where we cannot avoid the danger, fear is what primes us to be able to fight if necessary, so again, being fearless would actually put us in danger.
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being fearless this week. There was a pretty big fight offer in the works (alas it did not work out though) and a word that was in my mind as I thought about the potential fight was "fearless". However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized I'm not fearless, I'm just in control of my fear. I know how to decipher when fear is doing its job responsibly, and when it's just being an overprotective, nagging inner-mother. I'm definitely not fearless; I've just chosen to rule my fear instead of being ruled by it.
Fear tends to be an emotion faced by many in any entrepreneurial venture. It's that voice that whispers I don't know, maybe we shouldn't head off on our own; it feels awfully nice to be able to depend on this bi-weekly paycheck. Fear, I believe, is the main culprit when people choose not to pursue their dreams. Turning dreams into reality can be scary as hell! It takes an unbelievable amount of faith and self-confidence, but it also requires we become the king or queen of our own fear.
Any good ruler earns the respect of their people by proving they are capable of protecting them and their best interests. Irrational fear comes into play when our subconscious does not believe in our ability to make sound decisions for ourselves. Irrational fear tells us that paycheck is nice because it doesn't believe we are capable of creating that income on our own without the foundation of our employer. Committing ourselves to the repetitive actions that will prove otherwise will earn the trust of that fear we are trying to rule.
A good king or queen is wise and decisive. He or she gathers information through formal education and from trusted advisors. We have to show fear that we are making informed decisions before acting, and when we do so, fear will not feel so alarmed. If we do not make uneducated decisions, fear will not feel it is necessary to hover over every decision we make on the path toward achieving our goals.
A good ruler enforces law and order justly. When fear is doing its job appropriately we have to honor it and thank it for a job well done. However, when fear is being irrational, we have to enforce law and order by putting it in its place.
We have to rule our fear, or be ruled by it. The choice is always ours. I always ask the question: What's YOUR Possible? The question serves as a reminder that the only person that can dictate what is possible and impossible in your life is YOU. No one else can tell you something is impossible, so make sure you don't allow your irrational fear to tell you it is impossible either. Once upon a time electricity was impossible, as was space travel. All things are impossible until proven otherwise.
I believe if you love something, you make an effort to learn all you can about it, so with immense baby steps I've been learning to speak Thai. I asked my friend earlier this morning how to say "please", and with a slight hesitation he replied, "Kruna.. but we don't use that word. You say ka or khob khun ka to be polite." Khob khun ka (or khob khun krup for men), means "thank you", but since we differentiate between "please" and "thank you" in English, I thought the same would be the case in all languages. I asked him why they had a word (kruna) if they didn't use it, and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Later as I sat drinking my coffee, I was looking through some pictures my friend had taken from the muay thai class at Phuket Top Team last night, and I immediately began picking apart my technique in every photograph. As I've mentioned before, I'm a perfectionist to a flaw. It is very difficult for me to approve of almost anything I do. I want to do everything perfectly. I want to train perfectly. I want to spar perfectly. I want to fight perfectly. I even want to rest and recover perfectly.
I think it stems from being adopted and spending my whole life wanting to show my appreciation to my parents for adopting me by being perfect for them always. I wanted them to know in my every action as a growing human that they did well by me, and I appreciated how they were raising me. I followed the rules out of appreciation. I worked hard in school and graduated when I was 16 out of appreciation. I opened my own business out of appreciation. I tried to be perfect in all I did out of appreciation. I don't know where I picked up this idea of being perfect, because my parents never encouraged perfectionism. My parents encouraged me to try and fail over and over and over again until I succeeded in my dreams. In fact, one day I went to my parents' house seeking advice from my father when I was struggling with fear over the amount of risk that is involved in self-employment, and he pointed at the ceiling where my room had been located my entire life and still sat unchanged and unoccupied. "You will always have a room here, Maureen." He said. "Your children will always have a room here. You will always have clothes on your backs, a roof over your heads, and food in your bellies. If you risk everything and lose it all, you can always come back here. There will always be a place for you here. Now go take risks because you have nothing to fear." What a blessing being adopted turned out to be...
Perfectionism... what a childish notion. Perfect doesn't exist. It's a word we have... but not one we use. "Perfect", perhaps, should be our kruna. Just a word that isn't used. The beauty of life is the plethora of experiences it offers, meaning there is no perfect. The beauty of martial arts is the plethora of techniques available, meaning once more that there is no perfect. Even a black belt doesn't reach perfectionism, where he knows all there is to know and trains it perfectly every day. It simply does not exist. Nothing and no one is perfect, so why do we even have the word in our language?
The more I reflect on perfectionism, the more I realize what a boring existence it would be anyhow. There would be nothing to learn, nothing to grow from, nothing to make life more thrilling. To do things perfectly always would drain life of much of its richness: the highs that are made possible only by the lows; the celebrations we are able to partake in only because of the failures we have also experienced. There is no perfect, and THAT is what makes life an adventure every day.
It is my intention from this day forward to continue pursuing my best self, but while also eliminating the idea of "perfect" and enjoying the imperfections of every day a little bit more. After all... the truth is each and every one of us is perfectly imperfect and that is what feeds the beautiful diversity our world is filled with. <3
Every fighter has experienced it.. that moment where your bread and butter move is changed and then your entire fighting paradigm seems to have been changed as well. You question yourself, and maybe you even question your previous training. Every time I have worked with a new coach I have always felt like I was starting over at square one.
One of the most frustrating techniques for me throughout my entire fight career has been the round kick, which is also one of the most basic fundamental techniques there is. So why the struggle? I am pretty sure for every single coach I have ever worked with, I have been shown a completely different "round kick", which frustrated my Type-A personality to no end. Being a "nerdy academic" my entire life, I have grown quite used to the learned step-by-step way of doing things. 2+2=4 no matter how many times you work the equation. The answer never changes, and the method for solving the equation is always the same. This has been the brain I have wrestled with on the training floor for years. Every time I was shown a new round kick I would question myself and wonder whether my previous training had been wrong or if "this" particular round kick was just a different round kick... It was all very confusing for a time.
During my time here in Thailand training at Phuket Top Team I have worked primarily with Kru Athit Praditphon who has a style that works really well for me. So much of what he has taught me has really sunken in and filled in the gaps of confusion I've had on when to use certain techniques, which has led to countless "a-ha moments" while learning from him. However, almost everything he has taught me, or has corrected in my technique, he has prefaced with "I am not telling you what you do is wrong; I am showing you MY style."
Combat sports is a stylistic art and for every coach you work with you are likely going to learn what works best for them. I tell my own students this all the time. The techniques I show are those that have worked well for me in my career. While I know how to teach other techniques, I don't like to show something if it hasn't worked out well for me in the past because I haven't developed an emotional buy-in for the technique. For instance, I much prefer round knees compared to straight knees. Perhaps this is because I landed numerous round knees to the body and head in my first professional fight for Glory Kickboxing, while I have found little success with the straight knee as of yet. So while I teach both, many of the combinations I show that include knees tend to involve the round knee because I have been "emotionally rewarded" for that one more often. However, I don't think this concept of style rather than an idea of right or wrong is always clarified to students, which I intend to make an effort to begin doing more often.
As the days have gone on I have continued to work primarily with Kru Praditphon, but a few of the other Krus have begun to step in and add their input to my training as well. It was after my first pad session with Kru Pariwat Wisripat that the entire concept of style really hit home in a whole new light. Everything I worked with him was completely different than what I had been working on with Kru Praditphon. In fact, the first few rounds made me feel like I had never done pad work before, something I have always felt frustration over when working with a new coach. What was really exciting for me though was being able to see for the first time how BOTH styles applied. I wasn't battling right over wrong technique in my mind. Instead I was adding to my tool box. Everything I had learned from Kru Praditphon was still in the forefront of my mind, but I was picking up new little tricks from Kru Wisripat's style as well.
Perhaps the problem in the past has been that I tended to only work with one coach, and this was one of the first times I had worked with two people at the same time and got to really experience the difference in styles in the present time rather than comparing past and present learning. Instead of being a good student and adding to my toolbox, I was getting stuck in the paradigm of right and wrong techniques. Such a mentality was only ever going to stunt my growth and plateau my career as a fighter. My time here at Phuket Top Team has taught me I have much to learn about not only teaching, but learning as well. I think learning how to be a good student is just as important as learning to be a good coach, and perhaps the only way to become a good coach is by learning to become a good student first.
"In Muay Thai, nothing is wrong. We do whatever we want. That is the Thai way. Sometimes we punch. Sometimes we kick. And sometimes we kick, but we kick this way instead of that way. There is no wrong in Muay Thai; there are just different styles. This is my style." ~Kru Athit Praditphon
Thank you to each and every one of the Krus at Phuket Top Team that has contributed to my learning as a fighter, as a student, and as someone who wishes to pass on this knowledge to others. Your impact on me has been a permanent one. <3
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
These are the most commonly repeated words I have heard in training during my time here in Thailand at Phuket Top Team. "You're too serious." My kru, Athit Praditphon said to me last night while practicing clinch. "You must learn to play more." Of course, he is absolutely right, and this is not something I haven't heard before, but this advice has never quite sunken in as brilliantly as it has here while learning from him.
Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles", and if you do your research you'll find varying reasons why, but in direct relation to how I see all the Thais acting in the gym... They are always smiling and playing, even when they're working hard. I feel like there is a lot to learn in this. When trying to correct something, we often sway from one extreme to the other. We hear Get to work! and we immediately stop playing and get serious; we hear Loosen up! and we stop working hard and start playing around. Watching the Thais train and work has shown me the reality that there is a sweet spot, so to say, in the middle somewhere. It is possible to both play AND work hard simultaneously.
When Kru Praditphon said these words to me last night it was because in an effort to try a newly learned sweep, I tensed up, forgot EVERYTHING else I knew about clinch work, waited stiffly for my opportunity to execute the sweep, and... got swept myself, over and over and over and over again in varying fashions. I kept asking what I was doing wrong and without realizing it, was essentially asking for a break down of every sweep I was caught in which, of course, was ABSURD in a group setting. As a coach myself, I know this all too well. When I am teaching a large group class and a student wants a step-by-step breakdown of something outside of what we're working on it can be frustrating, not because I don't appreciate their hunger for knowledge, but because there simply isn't enough time to work with every student individually like that, and to do so with one student would be unfair to the rest. That is what private lessons are for. And yet there I was, letting my perfectionist brain get the best of me and instead of watching, feeling and learning as I was swept, I wanted to receive the "quick fix breakdown".
"The Thai way is not to teach everything." Kru Praditphon said. "The Thai way is to learn some things from instruction and to learn other things from watching, feeling and trying. That is the Thai way. I know you know this, because you have children."
Light bulb! We don't teach our children everything. The majority of what they learn is from watching the world around them and then putting what they see into trial and error. Children learn from example and from practicing those examples, sometimes successfully and sometimes failing. Every fighter has heard some version of the saying We bleed in the gym so we don't bleed in the fight. Learning something, TRULY learning it, often means "losing" at it a thousand times first. While instruction is an important element of learning, it is not the only method, and requiring it to be so is like asking for the shortcut to your success. Relaxing, embracing the fact that repeated failures make us better, and just settling in to play and practice what we learn are what really facilitate mastery of any art. Only by getting caught in a technique do you truly understand the technique from both sides. If you only know how to execute the technique in principal you are less likely to fully understand it; you have to know how it feels.
While I am madly taking notes after every training session both for personal growth and to remember some specific drills I want to bring home to my students, if there is one thing that I am promising myself to take away from this trip it is those words I have heard so many times from Kru Praditphon. "Try to play." Not just in practice, but in the competition, in life, in my friendships, in my work... How much could we all benefit by learning to play a little more?
Much love from the Land of Smiles! Xo
The topic on my mind lately has been the pursuit of goals, and no wonder since I have been thinking a lot lately about my own goals in the sport and whether or not I will be able to come out of retirement and return to what I love (read more about that here). Regardless of whether you are chasing athletic goals, weight loss goals, career goals, or goals of another sort, many of the keys to success are the same.
In Part I of Staying the Course, I discussed the value of community. While being a one man show is often possible in many scenarios, surrounding yourself with a community that supports and enhances your journey will only increase your odds of success and enrich your life.
Part II of Staying the Course focused on finding the right mentor to gain the knowledge necessary to achieve your goals. No goal is possible without the proper knowledge, and it is important to embrace the fact that not all sources of information were created equal. Whether you gain the knowledge you seek through books, instructors or mentors, make sure the teaching style is appropriate for your learning style and know the credentials of the person you turn to for that knowledge.
Part III and IV switched to a more fitness related focus on goals. I explained the dangers of becoming too attached to the scale, focusing on health factors instead of aesthetics, and practicing patience by adopting maintainable lifestyle changes instead of playing into the yo-yo fad diets that have become popular in today's society. However, while I discussed the scale and maintainable lifestyle changes in regards to diet and fitness, the same concept should be kept in mind for any goal. You have to become an expert at practicing patience. Yes, work hard, but cut yourself some slack if your success doesn't manifest overnight, and stop measuring your progress or comparing your success to the success of others every day. All good things take time. Patience. Patience. Patience my friends.
And finally, I would like to close out this series of articles with the best advice I can give on the subject of chasing your dreams. Embrace the journey... ALL of it. No matter what type of goal you are chasing, you are going to have extreme highs and extreme lows in the journey, and it's important (and valuable) to embrace both "altitudes". Nothing outside of my career in combat sports has better shown me that it's in the middle of life's struggles where we learn the most beneficial lessons. When I win, oh man does that feel good (SWOON), but while I try to remember that no fight, even a fight well won, was fought perfectly and there is always room for improvement, it is very difficult to see the flaws in your performance while your hand is raised in the air. On the other hand, when yours isn't the hand raised, it is much easier to see where you need to improve and thus continue moving forward toward your goals with an educated plan.
In the case of athletics, if my head is too high in the clouds after a win I have my coaching staff there to ground me and, despite walking away with the win, seeing where I need to improve for the next fight. However, not all "goal-chasers" have those people to guide them, so it's important to remember in your journey that when things are going really well enjoy that, but don't ever forget to look for where you can improve as well, and when things are getting tough and not going the way you want, learn from the lessons you are being shown. An important point to make as well is just as you can improve despite winning, there are still things you did perfectly despite losing.
You may experience some major setbacks as well. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee it. In my case, the setbacks came in the form of injuries, but in hindsight I can see those injuries were actually blessings in disguise. They helped guide me in my self-improvements. When I broke my hand in October of 2012, I wasn't much of a kicker in my fights. I was more of a grappler at the time so my interest was in getting on the inside so I could take it to the ground so I tended to "box" my way in. Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs though, so when I broke my hand I took that as an opportunity to improve my kicks. In fact, there is a video of me working my kicks on the bag right after breaking my hand with my arm in a sling and me doped up on pain killers to take the vibration the kicks were sending up through my body. Now, I'll admit a GREAT deal of stubbornness and unhelpful anger is being shown here. Really what I'm doing here is throwing an adult version of a three year old temper tantrum. I lost my fight because of breaking my hand in the first 15-30 seconds and I was pissed about it, so I had NO patience to wait on improving. However, it serves as a great visual that while my hand was useless that did not mean I couldn't work on improving elsewhere.
By the time my hand was healed and I was released to start training again in January of 2013, I was a much more confident kicker. In fact, I had become so comfortable with setting up my kicks off my jab that I essentially quit using my hands in sparring. Plus, I'll admit after breaking my right hand I was a bit gun shy to use it. So another gift in the form of a setback was provided me just a month and a half after returning to training when I tore my LCL and hamstring when a training session turned south in February of 2013. That was a devastating setback as it took me out of training for a full year. I was allowed to do very little stationary training (upper body lifting and light mitt work as long as there was absolutely no pivoting of my lead foot), but refusing to accept a year hiatus, I trained what I could and was forced to find my comfort zone once more in boxing.
While at the time I thought those two setbacks were going to be the end of my career, they made the time and space I needed to focus on improving as a fighter so I could enter into my professional career. When I was released to begin training again in March of 2014, I was immediately offered my professional debuts in both kickboxing (with Glory World Series in May 2014) and MMA (with Resurrection Fighting Alliance in July 2014).
It took a while for me to really embrace that all things happen for a reason and if we can find the gift within the setbacks we'll both enjoy and grow from the journey that much more. Since then my journey has been fraught with many more perils and setbacks, but I have learned to embrace the lows with the highs. Doing any less will detract you from your goals, or worse simply drive you crazy. I know this is not unique to my journey, which is why I chose to close out this series of articles with this gentle reminder: All journeys are a roller coaster, and remember at some point in our lives most of us liked roller coasters.
Smash the scale!
Focus on health over aesthetics!
These have been the focuses of my latest articles (read Staying the Course Part III - Smash the Scale and the follow up article Health vs Aesthetics through these links), but if you are anything like I was at the beginning of my fitness journey, you may be thinking "Well, that's all well and good, but how exactly do I stay the course in my goals without a scale to obsess over my weight with and the most recent fad diet everyone is raving about?"
The most well kept secret to success in the pursuit of any goal is PATIENCE. Many success blogs, memes, videos, etc. all praise the value of hard work and dedication, and while they might mean to include patience as well, they rarely speak of it directly.
"There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs." Unknown.
"I never dreamed about success. I worked for it." Estee Lauder
"Hustle until your haters ask if you're hiring." Steve Maraboli
"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out." Robert Collier
While I too would preach the importance of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance in the pursuit of your goals, it is my belief that we live in such a fast paced society that we often forget the value of patience as well and the truth that all good things take time. I can attest to this in the fitness industry especially, where we are constantly barraged with advertisements for the latest magic pill. "Lose 40 pounds in 30 days!" You've all heard that weight loss supplement claim, right? I plan to write an entire article debunking these ridiculous claims, but for now, I'll just refer you to my previous article Health vs Aesthetics where I discussed the woes of quick weight loss and touched briefly on the fact that it is easy to manipulate a quick reduction in weight without it being a true indicator of health or fat loss.
Success in any long term goal requires patience. Patience to devise a plan. Patience to fail. Patience to devise a new plan. Patience while you experience set backs. Patience as you coast through a plateau. Patience is CRUCIAL to success, and in regards to weight loss and fitness, it is the most important element to the whole journey if you want to reach the other side with your health (allow me to clarify I mean both physical AND emotional) intact. Success is an outcome, not a stage, and if you find your success in weight loss and fitness is a temporary experience because you keep falling off the wagon again, what you've experienced is a stage in your journey, not the final outcome of your journey. If you ever want to find TRUE success in your fitness related goals, you have to learn how to make maintainable lifestyle changes that still support happiness and success in the other areas of your life as well.
Keeping in mind that "maintainable" is a subjective term and what is maintainable for me might be out of the question for another or vice versa, here is a list of EXAMPLES of maintainable lifestyle changes:
1. Replace all cooking oils with coconut oil. Coconut oil is processed by the liver and immediately converted to energy instead of being stored as fat so this one change alone can lend significant help in reaching your weight loss goals over the course of a year.
2. Stop drinking your calories. The average person seems to drink more calories in a day than they eat. Think about all the things you drink in a day. Starbucks. Soda. Beer. Wine. Cocktails. Juice. Milk. Smoothies. Protein shakes. Many people forget that those drinks are chalk full of calories as well. Now I still drink coffee and post-workout drinks, so I'm not saying LITERALLY banish all liquid calories, but I AM telling you to bring your attention to how many calories a day you are drinking. The average Starbucks drink is 300-500 calories in one sitting. Multiply that by five (on the pretense that you order one every day on your way to work as many people do nowadays) and you are at 1500-2500 calories a week from that one drink alone. A can of regular cola is approximately 150 calories, but the average size of a drink at a restaurant is probably twice that so let's bump that total up to 300 and multiply that by five as well since many people order a soda every day with lunch. That's an additional 1500 calories per week. In comes the weekend and of course happy hour! The average pint of beer is a little more than 200 calories, but let's cut ourselves a break and just leave it at 200. Assuming we have a few beers at each get together and no other liquid drinks over the weekend, let's multiply that 200 by nine (three beers per day) and we've increased our total to 1800 calories. We are now at 4800-5800 calories PER WEEK that were in liquid form. That's 249,600-301,600 calories per YEAR. With one pound of fat consisting of approximately 3500 stored calories, that's 71-86 pounds per year. Can you see how reducing liquid calories alone could aide in your weight loss goals?
3. Drink more water. I could go on and on and on about the benefits of water, but will suffice it to say that we are comprised of 50-65% water. We have to replace the water our body uses each day for our system to run efficiently. Drinking more water will lead to a more efficient digestive system which will lead to a more efficient fat burning system. All those calories we just discussed drinking above could easily be substituted with water. Start reasonable though. Again, it's about maintainable lifestyle changes. Perhaps instead of drinking that soda at lunch, order water instead. Replacing one can of soda per day is 1050 calories per week (assuming your serving size is simply one can and not the restaurant equivalent of two cans or more), which is one third of a pound toward your fat loss goals.
4. Start exercising, but be reasonable! When you begin an exercise regimen, expecting yourself to make it to the gym every day for an hour or more is simply not realistic. However, you can get a major boost in your weight loss and fitness goals by doing two 20 minutes sessions per day of HIIT sessions (high intensity interval training), which has become a highly popular form of training and is easily done with no equipment from home using body weight exercises.
5. Time your treats! I do NOT believe in "earning" your food. That is an unhealthy mentality that only perpetuates a toxic cycle of binge eating and body image issues. However, understanding how the body uses the various nutrients can help you better time your indulgences. We're often told that sugar is bad (more on that later); however, after exercise our bodies actually need that insulin spike to better feed the muscles. So if you want that treat, why not time it for after your workout? I am sure there are plenty of nutritionists out there that would scoff at such a suggestion, but the truth is we are not going to be saints in a rigid diet. We are surrounded by treats and refraining from ever having a dessert is an unreasonable expectation. If you can better understand how the body processes sugar, you can approach those treats in a more educated manner. Spikes in insulin are not always bad.
6. Take the stairs. While going up and down one flight of stairs will only burn approximately five calories, we're discussing lifestyle changes and PATIENCE, so let's look at our behaviors in the home over the course of a year. How many times do you go up and down the stairs in your home in one day? I personally would estimate I do this at least 20 times. So that totals 100 calories per day and approximately one pound per year just from my behaviors at home. What if I extended those behaviors to work, shopping at the mall, the parking garage, so on and so forth. Again, one pound a year may not seem significant, but if we add up all of our lifestyle changes that would require little effort to turn into habits, we are quickly racking up the weight loss over the course of a year. This same principle applies to parking further away from the entrance, not cutting through the front lawn and going around to walk up the driveway when coming home, and taking the dog for a walk rather than just letting him out the back door before bed.
7. Eat more vegetables. Half your plate should be vegetables. Have the other things you enjoy too, but get full on vegetables first. This will reduce the amount of calories you eat in one sitting.
8. Order off the kids menu. Here's another one that nutritionists will scoff at, but again I'm writing this with the understanding that we are trying to make PATIENT lifestyle changes that will help us reach an OUTCOME of success, not a stage of success. If you can't resist the fast food, order off the kids menu. The portion sizes are smaller and will still satisfy your craving while resulting in far fewer calories. Indulging in your "need" for the fast food before the craving gets out of hand will help prevent a major binge eating relapse later. Of course, try to refrain from the fast food (aside from high calories there are a lot of toxins in that stuff that are literally poisoning our body), but what I'm saying here is if you find you CAN'T, go the "lesser of two evils" route. This would be the same moment that I suggest for you candy lovers, to buy the mini versions. If you are craving candy, often a piece will satisfy that craving just as well as eating a full-sized candy bar would. I am an ice cream lover myself. Instead of buying the full gallon, I buy the tiny single serving ice creams and only buy them one at a time when I want them. Not only does this reduce the amount of calories I eat in one serving, but it reduces the number of times I eat ice cream in a week. If the gallon is there you are more likely to reach for it, than if you had to get up and go to the store to satisfy your ice cream craving.
9. When possible, cook at home. Cooking at home will immediately reduce the number of calories you eat as the oils, spices and sauces used at restaurants have much higher calorie contents. You don't even have to be a saint and cook "healthy" meals. Eating a home cooked hamburger compared to a hamburger at a hamburger stand is going to result in fewer calories. On the other side of the coin, a restaurant can ruin a perfectly healthy dinner of salmon, for example, by drowning it in a high sugar, high calorie sauce.
10. Add in strength training. I've left this one for last because it does require a bit more commitment to your exercise routine, but the fact of the matter is muscle utilizes more calories for basic daily functioning than fat does. Adding a little bit of muscle mass will increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate) which is the number of calories you burn every day in an awake yet sedentary state. Basically it will increase your metabolism resulting in more calories burned throughout your day. You don't have to get crazy with your weight training either. You can go buy a single kettlebell to use at home during the commercials of your evening television show.
There are dozens of other ideas like these, but if you start with this list, you'll begin to find other ideas on your own. Don't try to make all the changes at once either, or it won't feel subtle anymore and your chances of long-term success will dwindle. Start with a few and once they start to feel like second-nature (because you adopted them as a LIFESTYLE), you can add a few more. Once you have incorporated all of the ideas you can start getting creative and coming up with ideas on your own!
After discussing a lot of calories and pounds in this article though, I feel compelled once more to urge you to get rid of that damn scale. I provided numbers in this article simply for the purpose of illustrating a point, but not because I want you to start stepping on the scale every day to track your long-term progress. Make these little lifestyle changes and you will watch the pounds in FAT start coming off. You won't need the scale to do that. A scale might only discourage you in the beginning because you will most likely drop weight fast from water loss alone, but eventually your body will return to homeostasis within your new lifestyle changes and you will replace that water. I do not want you to see the number on that scale go back up and mistakenly think you are gaining fat again because you're not. It's only water.
Start changing the way you look at your weight loss and fitness goals. Shift them into a more long-term, maintainable and PATIENT approach. Life should be enjoyable. A healthy life should be even MORE enjoyable. Pursuing and building a healthy lifestyle should not make you miserable, or make you feel frustrated and deprived. As the frequently used saying goes, life is all about balance. Small, consistent changes add up to large, maintainable results in the end.
I posted an article yesterday encouraging those on a fitness journey of their own to smash the scale, explaining that the scale is an unreliable way of tracking your progress and, in the long run, can lead to eating disorders, body image issues, and at the very least, immense amounts of frustration. The main reason the scale is so unreliable is the number of factors, having nothing to do with fat loss, that can affect the final number. In an effort to illustrate this, I posted a picture from my April 2015 weigh in at 125 pounds.
What I was attempting to explain with this photograph was that the only way I made 125 pounds with my frame and body composition, was by ending my lifting program to reduce my muscle mass, eating a highly restricted diet consisting of no more than 1200 calories worth of foods that specifically manipulate body fat loss and water and sodium levels in the body, and then by severely dehydrating myself for several days leading up to the weigh in. I manipulated my weight loss so the scale would read 125 pounds. Was it REAL weight loss though? No. Weigh ins for all weight regulated sports (and show day for bodybuilders) are essentially a trick of smoke and mirrors. The second I drank anything, my weight increased. The moment I ate salt, my weight increased even further. As soon as I ate real food, my weight increased once more. Most fighters weigh anything from 10 to 30 pounds heavier the next day for the fight. Yes, 30 pounds. This is when I really started understanding that the number on the scale means nothing in terms of fat loss, health or progress toward my fitness goals.
However, due to website links on social media displaying a photo with the link, this picture ended up leading to a lot of misinterpretations of my message. I received a lot of comments congratulating me on my physique, my accomplishment of what the person assumed was a personal fitness goal, and compliments of "Looking good girl!". While I appreciated the good intentions behind the comments, I was disappointed that my message was completely buried beneath our appreciation as a culture of superficial aesthetics. This wasn't health though. Sure some people find the abs and low body fat percentage attractive, but in this picture I was dehydrated, depleted of nutrients, and much less muscular than my normal build. The comments I received reinforced my fear that as a society we are more concerned about looks and numbers on the scale than we are about health.
Here is another example from December 2014 when I weighed in at 125 for the first time. Hopefully it will make a better point. The week leading up to this fight I was extremely sick and was in bed with a high fever for days changing everything I normally do to make weight. Come the day of weigh ins, I was still running a fever and my weight cut procedures were very obviously taxing me far past the point of what would be considered a healthy weight cut resulting in black outs and needing to be carried at certain points.
The level of dehydration for this weigh in was even more than the weigh in that would follow four months later, which you can see from the extent my ribs are showing. I had far fewer people congratulate me on this weigh in because I think the lack of health is obvious in my body, my face, and the lack of energy surrounding me. Can I make 125 pounds (the beginning weight suggested for a woman of my height)? Yes. Can I sustain that weight. No. It is a wonder I was healthy enough to compete the next day against a very game and aggressive opponent in a four round boxing fight that I was fortunate enough to walk away from with my hand raised and no brain injuries from how severely I dehydrated myself.
If truth be told though, my health has not been the same since that weight cut. It was the first of several very unhealthy attempts to compete in the featherweight division. Which leads me to another reason you should steer clear of the scale. I have lost count of the number of people that have described their yo-yo dieting attempts to reach a number on the scale that just wasn't realistic for their frame. A yo-yo diet is any way of eating that is only temporary because it is not a sustainable lifestyle. We humans LOVE to justify behaviors that aren't necessarily good for us but that result in getting what we want and yo-yo diets are just that. Once we learn we can lose a few pounds by following a temporary restricted diet, we tend to justify that week of unhealthy eating habits telling ourselves we'll just diet it off later, or we undergo a yo-yo diet in preparation to justify a period of binge eating such as over the holidays. I could write an entire article about the woes of yo-yo dieting, and perhaps some day I will, but for now let me just say that yo-yo dieting can severely affect your metabolism and hormones in a way that is contradictory to your health and goals and often result in a period of binge eating afterwards that puts all the weight lost right back on with typically a few additional pounds as well.
While I have known this for years, I have spent the last year being taught a lesson of sorts. Allow me to detail what has been going on with my body since that first unhealthy weigh in at 125 pounds in December of 2014. Following that fight, I experienced a sort of head to toe edema, where I had obvious swelling throughout my entire body. However, it only lasted a few days and I chalked it up to a possible shell fish allergy, as sushi is something I reward myself with after every fight and I love the rolls that have soft shell crab in them.
Four months later after weighing in at 125 again, I experienced a similar issue that lasted a full week. However, while it was much more severe, I had taken my chances with the same sushi rolls again and only used the experience to confirm in my own mind that I was indeed allergic to shell fish.
The following month I was supposed to fight again and while I had to withdraw due to injury, I had already made weight once more at 125 pounds. The edema that followed that weight cut was the same as the previous two experiences, but seemed to last a few weeks. I began to get a little suspicious since that time I had steered clear of shell fish and my food allergy explanation was no longer relevant. However, each time my weight always returned to normal and as the fight offers came in I quickly forgot about my weight problems.
My last weight cut was perhaps the worst nutritionally speaking and involved the most unhealthy approach yet to manipulating my weight as I was juggling too many responsibilities by trying to manage the event I was attempting to fight on, so I answered the problem of working too many hours and training few hours by restricting my calorie intake even further. I failed to make weight, but didn't fail to push my body over the edge of whatever was happening after my recent weight cuts. I weighed in on October 8th at 137 pounds and by October 12th I was 173 pounds, 18 pounds over my normal "walking weight" of 155. The amount of swelling throughout my body was so severe that my skin hurt to touch. After a month, it was painful to walk because of the pressure in my feet. I was in Thailand at the time and the edema was so bad that while accompanying a friend to the hospital, the doctors took one look at my legs and feet and immediately grabbed me to run tests for kidney failure or deep vein thrombosis (all of which came back negative). Since that day I have not been able to get my weight below 171 pounds, despite the fact that I was training three times a day in Thailand and at a low enough percentage of body fat that I was showing definition in my obliques.
While I have been working with my doctor here in Colorado to try and find out what is going on with my body, I haven't been able to get any answers yet. However, what I have been able to do is completely unchain myself from the scale and learn just how empowering that can be. I have detached from any notions of what I should weigh that have been placed on me by that archaic height and weight chart, by society, or by coaches in my past. I quit weighing myself regularly months ago, not out of defeat but in acceptance that the number means even less now until I can figure out what is going on with my health. As a result I have embraced my body and become more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been in my entire life. I am not a petite woman. I have large legs and a large butt; my breasts are certainly not tiny; I put muscle on in my arms and shoulders fairly easy. For the sake of making a point, I weighed myself again yesterday after posting my article about smashing the scale.
As of right now I weigh 183 pounds; that's 58 pounds more than what I weighed in the picture from my April 2015 weigh in. In the past I would have panicked over this, but today I don't care aside from what it means for me in a weight regulated sport if I wish to return. When I focus my attention inward and listen to my body, I realize that while I certainly have body fat I could stand to lose, I feel strong, powerful and healthy. I feel energetic because I'm not deprived of nutrients on a restricted diet. I am simply eating and moving in a way that feels healthy while I wait to understand what else is going on with my body to cause the weight gain. Now that I am not focused on a number on the scale, I am free to set athletic goals without worrying about increasing my weight, something that has always been a concern because I put on muscle mass fairly easy. I have forgotten about the stupid scale and instead have been able to focus my attention on the reality that I was blessed with a powerful frame to chase my athletic goals with, but I am also a woman DESIGNED to store a feminine layer of fat in order to support a pregnancy. Many women seem to have forgotten this fact as they beat their heads against a wall trying to chase a low number on the scale and their own definition of "skinny".
The truth is, this is me and no number on that scale will change that.
In a society where yo-yo and fad diets are more well known than actual health facts, it is my hope that we will all start turning our attention inward and listening to our bodies and learning how we need to eat and move as individuals to feel healthy, energetic and comfortable in our own skin. It is a very empowering journey actually once you can unchain yourself from your scale and start focusing more on health and less on aesthetics. In the end, it will all work out and you'll have the aesthetic perks that naturally come along with eating and moving in a healthy way, but you'll only maintain those aesthetics if health is your main priority reached through making lifestyle changes rather than temporary changes.
As always, it is my hope that by sharing the ups and downs of my own journey, I can help others in theirs. <3
Turning dreams into attainable goals, while rewarding, is not for the feint of heart. It takes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and belief in oneself. It also takes finding the right mentor, as discussed in Part II of Staying the Course, and, as discussed in Part I, finding the right community to surround yourself with can increase your odds of success as well.
In previous blog posts I discussed goals in general, but let's begin to move the focus to specifically health and fitness goals. No matter the goals you are pursuing in your life, health and fitness should still be at the top of your list. Numerous studies have been conducted on how increasing physical activity can improve cognitive abilities. In an article published by the NY Times, a direct link was established between exercise and academic performance in children. "Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less active children." With these same benefits carrying into adulthood, it is clear how increasing your physical activity will help you increase your odds of success in reaching whatever other goals you have set for yourself.
As the battle with obesity and diabetes continues, health and fitness is a hot topic right now. In fact, it is so hot that recent market research has reported that the health and fitness industry is currently totaling $30 billion per year, with the supplement industry raking in $82 billion per year! Go to any bookstore or library and the number of titles trying to draw your attention to the latest diet fad is mind boggling. Watch one episode of your favorite television show and you'll be hard pressed not to find several diet and health related commercials trying to sell you the latest product whether that be health food, supplements, fitness apparel, or a gym membership. With all this coverage being placed right in front of our eyes on a daily basis, it's difficult to admit health and fitness goals aren't somewhere on our list, even if they are admittedly at the bottom of our list.
However, despite the amount of information out there, it is very difficult to find any one expert or point of reference to guide us. If you've ever tried to figure out your own nutrition, you'll know firsthand the frustration of figuring out what is right and what is wrong. One "expert" says to eat a diet high in fat and protein, while another "expert" says all that fat will give you heart problems and all that protein will give you cancer. So not only is it frustrating, but all the scare tactics used to push their individual agendas are, well, scary! And then you have the doctors, who despite medical advancements are still using a chart full of essentially useless numbers to track obesity rates, which brings me to the single most useful piece of advice I can give anyone (especially women) embarking on their fitness journey...
Smash. The. Scale! Smash it! Right now. Take one of those huge hammers you see all those fitness models banging on the large tires with and smash the shit out of your scale. If you don't have one, don't buy one. And every time you go into the doctor and they make you step on the scale to track your weight, do so with an eye-rolling attitude and forget what the number says.
Becoming too focused on the number on the scale is unhealthy. It can become very addicting and, just like any addiction, ruin your life. There are FAR too many factors that can affect our weight for it to be the most accurate way of tracking your progress toward your fitness goals. For example, if you weigh yourself in the morning on Monday, but not until the evening on Tuesday you'll have the weight of an entire day's worth of food affecting the number on the scale. Or perhaps you diligently weigh yourself every morning but Monday morning it was in your clothes before leaving for work and Tuesday morning it was before you got dressed. Or perhaps one day you weighed yourself when you woke up but before you used the restroom. Or one day you weighed yourself after you woke up and after you had used the restroom, but after you had showered as well with a head full of heavy sopping wet hair. Or what if you weighed yourself on Wednesday after enjoying a high sodium dinner for Taco Tuesday? All that sodium will make you retain more water than normal and increase the number on the scale. Or what if you ate more potassium than normal (a mineral that causes your kidneys to excrete more water) thus causing you to retain less water than normal and reducing the number on the scale... I could go on and on and on, but hopefully you get the point that none of these factors listed are an indicator of how much body fat I've lost; they're all simply factors of weight alone that have nothing to do with my health.
If I were to look at the height and weight chart still archaically used today to indicate how much I should weigh, the starting range for my height is 125 pounds. Allow me to show you what 125 pounds looks like on my frame.
The only way I was able to weigh in at 125 pounds last year was by not lifting in order to lose muscle mass, eating a highly restricted diet that left me feeling weak for my final two weeks, and by severely dehydrating myself to the point my cheeks were sunken in and I couldn't speak due to a lack of saliva in my mouth. Did I weigh what some chart said was a healthy weight for me? Yep! Was I healthy? Hell no! While I performed just fine the next day, there is no way I could have maintained that weight.
In a society too focused on weight and not on actual indicators of health, it's a shame the number of people (women especially due to society's influence on what is considered attractive) who start training and, when they see the number on the scale increase unexpectedly, stop training out of fear and/or frustration. Tracking your weight isn't necessarily a bad thing, and can be helpful in the grand scheme of things, but using it as the only reference of progress is doing yourself a major disservice. Besides, unless you are competing in a weight regulated sport such as I do, why does that number on the scale really matter anyhow? If you are eating and moving in a way that feels healthy, your clothes are fitting looser, and you can SEE the fat coming off your body simply by looking in the mirror, who cares if that means you're 150 pounds or 185 pounds? 30 pounds may sound like a lot, but once you've competed in a weight regulated sport where manipulating your weight is a necessary evil, you'll realize 30 pounds is actually nothing.
Like I said, weighing yourself constantly can become addicting and create a whole host of body image issues and eating disorders. I believe you will do yourself a disservice if you weigh yourself too often, especially without understanding the extensive list of things that can affect your weight without having anything to do with your body fat. Instead of weighing yourself all the time, I encourage you to find out what your body fat percentage is and track that monthly. Most gyms have body calipers and can help you find out what your body fat percentage is. Learning this number will give you a clearer picture of your obesity rate and any resulting health risks you are susceptible to as a result, and tracking your body fat percentage through your fitness journey will give you a more reliable idea of how much progress you've made.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.