Cruise Control

IMG_2916I recently left dry land, my cell phone, email, and normal life in NYC for eight beautiful days sailing and exploring the Western Caribbean. I documented my trip, and will post the video blog in a few weeks. That blog will give some tips of staying active and on track with a training plan, and unfortunately how difficult that was. More on that later.

Folks, I think we can all agree that America is, in general, an overweight culture. If you don’t agree, go on a cruise. Seriously. The health risks so many of the passengers are putting on themselves due to what they put in their mouths – it’s so sad.

I am not saying that everyone should be thin, or feel pressured to look a certain way. The stigma if what is “attractive” causes so much emotional damage, and is never positive even as weight loss motivation. Frankly, looks have little to do with it. I am not talking about people carrying around an extra 10-20lbs., but those carrying around an extra 100-200lbs. You cannot hide the evidence of your lifestyle while walking around in swim wear.

Perhaps I was so baffled by the reality of just how out of control the obesity issue is because in NYC, though there are certainly obese people, the number of obese or morbidly obese was nothing like it was on the ship.

I am not judging those who are obese, morbidly obese, or even over weight. However, as someone who is passionate about health (physical and mental), and reversing this obesity epidemic, my heart breaks to see folks slowly kill themselves. If anything, the cruise reaffirmed how strongly I feel about the need to reverse the course Americans are taking, and how I want to be a leader in that movement.

The first step is recognizing and acknowledging that we need to change. How we manufacture, market, understand and prepare food needs to be questioned and examined. Education regarding nutrition and exercise are practically non-existent, and many medications (which are dished out left and right!) have many side effects that can contribute to depression, change in mood, and difficulty losing weight. How we view happiness, self worth, confidence – so many of us turn to food for these things. I’m part of the class, folks. Don’t believe me? Check out the recent blog entry “Comfort Food” where I share my own personal struggle with food, body image and self worth. We are all in this together.

I guess what I am taking back from the cruise is this: America is fat. Liking “going to slowly kill ourselves while stressing the health care system” fat. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. Not at the fat people, but at the manufacturers, advertisers, and media. It makes me want to help.

If YOU need help, it’s out there. Yes, it takes some major work to admit you need help, ask for help, and follow through with the plan. It’s much easier to ignore it. But I PROMISE you, if you can extend your life by a few decades, and more importantly the QUALITY of your life, isn’t it worth a little work?

Comfort Food

We all have different relationships with food. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you are in control of how you choose to eat, and how food fits into your life. This blog was prompted by going through some old home videos and seeing how I looked 10-6 years ago. I was floored by the person I saw on camera. That person isn’t me. That person is completely different, and has a completely different relationship with food than I do today.

Me in 2004. The years of birth control, diet pills, starving and bingeing. Not a happy person.

Me in 2004. The years of birth control, diet pills, starving and bingeing. Not a happy person.

I am going to get a bit personal here in hope of connecting with you and reminding you that we all struggle, we all fail, but we can always pick ourselves back up. Okay, so here we go….

I began using food for comfort in high school. I was bullied a lot, and found food to be a way to cope. I would eat healthy food at home, but would stop on the way to school, home from school – whenever, and pick up food. Often it was fast food, or bags of chocolate, or swedish fish, or bags of chips, or pints of ice cream. I would eat to calm myself. Luckily, thanks to good genetics, and dancing 8+ hours per week, I was never considered “heavy” or overweight. I recall at my heaviest point topping the scale under 150lbs., a size 6-8, and a 36C at 5’7″. So no, I was never obese or anything.

However, my relationship with food wasn’t healthy. Honestly, I was extremely damaged due to being bullied, so by the time I went to college I had this concept of perfection and felt like a disappointment. The hours I would spend going through outfits, trying to find something that I didn’t feel pudgy or awkward in – all for what? I didn’t like myself. When you don’t like yourself, and at times question your worth, you can become desperate.

It’s a bit of a miracle that I didn’t balloon in college. Perhaps going to the gym daily, out of fear of gaining weight, or not being cast in a show (I was going to school for a degree in Musical Theatre), kept me out of the Freshman Fifteen Club. Because in college, I did not eat well. Midnight pizzas. Tons of booze. Pina Coladas were a favorite. Lots of bagels and granola. This was also when I experimented with weight-loss pills. It was a sick cycle. Popping pills. Hours at the gym. Midnight Pizza and booze. And I wasn’t happy. I was self-loathing. Insecure. Miserable. I dreamed I had the money for Lipo.

It should also be noted that I was on birth control pills, which in my experience, can have a HUGE effect on weight loss/gain, mood, sex drive, confidence, and more.

When I realized the diet pills weren’t doing a darn thing, I went to crash diets, and upping the amount of gym time. I began cutting calories, writing them down, and feeling like a disappointment if I consumed more than 1200 calories per day. ironically, I never dropped any weight while “starving” myself. Maybe the birth control? Maybe the fact that I’d binge on food after a week of doing “good” threw everything off. Whatever the reasons, I was counting every calorie and judging myself if I wasn’t “strong” enough to control what I ate, while sweating at the gym everyday, not losing any weight, and loathing myself even more.

Looking back, I made a couple huge mistakes. First, I put WAY to much value on being judged due to my size. I didn’t enjoy my time at the gym, but went because I felt like if I didn’t go I would gain more weight. I had some basic nutrition knowledge, but I made some TERRIBLE dietary choices. I also always ended up ‘falling off the horse,” feeling defeated, terrible, and extremely frustrated.

At the age of 23, I went off birth control pills for the first time in five years. As soon as I went off the pill, I dropped weight. It was almost laughable how easy it was to lose weight, thanks to cutting that stupid pill out of my life. My mood and self image changed too, and I began to actually enjoy running and working out for the sake of the experience. I will NEVER go back on birth control EVER again. I could write a blog about how toxic that pill can be.

Flash forward a few more years, and I was running regularly. I still didn’t consider myself a “runner,” and was terrified of the concept of entering a race, but I ran almost daily. It was my sanity. Going through a bad divorce and a few other terrible experiences, running was my time to clear my head. Sweating was cleansing, and something I looked forward to every day. I also stopped using food as a coping mechanism the way I used to, perhaps due to being off the pill? Don’t get me wrong, I would still stress eat, but it was more of a “choice” from here on, and didn’t happen regularly.

Then, at 26 years old, I decided I would run my first race: Philly’s Broad Street Run, a 10-miler held along Broad Street. Before I toed the line for my first race ever, I signed up for the Philly Marathon. My goal: Qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had turned over a new leaf. Suddenly, I had this desire to test myself. To see how strong I could be. To tackle something that scared me. To no longer care about looking silly, or embarrassing myself, or failing. I somehow decided to let go of all the weak, insecure, damaged feelings I had about myself. I chose to make a change.

Me in 2013. Happy. Strong. Loving food, and no longer obsessing.

Me in 2013. Happy. Strong. Loving food, and no longer obsessing.

Since that first year of racing, my relationship with food and training has evolved. In general, I view food as my fuel for running – which causes me to usually make smart decisions. I decided that if knowledge is power, I wanted to learn about nutrition. So I studied to become a Sports Nutritionist. I also started viewing exercise differently. It suddenly wasn’t about “being thin” or “looking good,” it was about getting fitter and faster. Ironically, any extra weight seemed to melt off me as I trained to be a better runner. In fact, two years ago I dropped so much weight that a few people in my life were concerned. My body had done a complete 180 since my college days, and I had become a calorie-burning machine. I had to force myself to consume MORE calories than felt necessary.

To be clear, I STILL binge eat when stressed. Last week, thanks to a Boston Marathon Bombing PTSD-induced panic attack, I consumed TWO pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a 6-pack of beer, and a bunch of spring rolls – all within a few hours. Food is still my comfort in a lot of ways. I love food. I always will. Sure, I sometimes wake up with regret the morning after a binge-fest, but I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. One reason: I burn so many calories training for races that I can afford some binge days now and then. The other reason: I don’t care. I mean, I care about my body and don’t want to poison it, but I don’t care the way I did back in college. In the big picture, it’s no big deal, so why hate myself for it?The crazy thing is that I am now the body type I would have killed for back in college. I’m a size 0-2, 32A/B, 130lbs, 5’7″ and STRONG. I used to put so much value on my dress size. Now, it rarely crosses my mind. I am so incredibly comfortable in my own skin that I cannot identify with the girl I was not so long ago. Unlike that college kid, I don’t spend much time at all thinking about my weight, body fat, waist size – it doesn’t matter to me. Instead what I care about is feeling strong, healthy, and working to be the best athlete I can be.

So, there’s my little story. I hope it helps you in some way. You are not alone. We all have our own demons. But you can conquer, or at least tame them. I swear. If I can find ways to change my relationship with food and exercise, you can too. Take a deep breath. Smile. Laugh. And take it one day at a time.

When to take a day off

Runners and fitness enthusiasts, in general, are overachievers and type-A personalities. After all, these road and trail warriors sign up for races months in advance and stick religiously to a training schedule. Freezing cold? They’ll bundle up. Raining cats and dogs? They’ll embrace the soggy shoes and enjoy skipping through puddles. Gym crowded after work? They’ll come back and 10pm to get  that quality arm day in.

This dedication is what makes these overachiever type-A’s successful at achieving their goals – whatever they may be.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

The downside to this driven, dedicated personality is that often that person doesn’t know when all signs point toward a rest day. Often the scheduled workout on the calendar trumps an achy knee, a head cold, or a sleepless night.

When should we suck it up and power through and when should we take some quality time off? The answer isn’t always simple. There are lots of factors, like how close are you to race day, a fitness competition, etc.

Things you can probably power through: sore muscles (not INJURED, but sore), lack of sleep, less than ideal weather. Being sore is part of the process while getting in shape, so you cannot take time off every time something hurts. Having a “easy” workout the day after a hard one is best. Lack of sleep makes motivation hard, but as soon as you get moving, your body and mind will wake up. Just budget some time to catch up on sleep. The weather on race day is completely unpredictable, so you need to get your body and mind used to the demands different climates offer. Unless there is thunder and lightning, lace up.

Things you should NOT power through: a nagging injury (unless you have seen a Doctor and been given the okay), serious illness (stomach flu, high fever, strep throat, etc.). Unless you have seen a doctor (a SPORTS DOCTOR), you do not know what is wrong with you. Yes, the internet has a ton of information out there, but how can you assume your self-diagnosis is accurate? Once you see a doctor, you will be told whether or not you can continue training or need to take time off. LISTEN to your doctor. If you are ill, you may want to push through. Most often, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Why would you power through a workout with a high fever or stomach flu? What benefit will come from this training? Another way to think of it, what damage could this workout do? You’ll recover best while resting, and powering through a workout today, while ill, may mean having to take off more days in the future.

The tricky area: when you feel a cold coming on, or are on the road to recovery from being sick, or have a strange pain that is new and not too bad, etc. If you choose to train on one of these days, don’t do a hard workout – even if your training plan says otherwise. Switch out that hard tempo run with an easy “recovery” pace run, or don’t move up the weights at the gym if you were planning on doing so. Go into the workout with the acceptance that you may need to bail out of the workout early, and that’s okay.

At the end of the day, you need to remember to be smart. Your training calendar is created assuming everyday you are in optimal health, and working under optimal conditions. Life isn’t always optimal.

Remember, by the time you toe the line for a race, or hit that goal beach vacation, missing a few workouts here or there are not going to hurt your potential on race day. Showing up to the race under the weather, injured, or simply burnt out certainly will.

Burned Vs. Consumed

_MG_9291_finalIn our own delusional world, we’ll say an hour at the gym equals the ability to eat whatever we want for the rest of the day and we’ll end up calorically at zero. Ah, our foolish delusions. If you are still clinging onto those delusions, your coach is going to give you a reality check.

Folks, as I have mentioned before, gym equipment lie about your calories burned. Ignore that lovely, delusional number and know your own stats and calories burned. Refueling (also a previous blog topic) is important, but refuel with a purpose: to replenish and aid those muscles.

Personally, when I trained for my first marathon, I gained weight. Why? Well, part of it was a delusional mentality. I wanted to be fueled for my next workout, and had no concept of what was necessary instead of excess. Another reason I gained weight was that my appetite seemed out of control, and I kept feeding the beast. The last reason was my work environment. At the time I was working on the set of “Blue Bloods” full time, and the dreaded Craft Services was a constant temptation for my out-of-control appetite. The long hours, and unpredictable running schedule left me shoveling trail mix, pasta, and bagels into my mouth.

Yes, while training for a marathon you will need to eat more than before you started training. (HOORAY!!!!) However, if you use that as an excuse to eat everything, you will be in the same boat as the gym rat who decides an hour on the elliptical equals indulging on 2000 calories out at the local pub. Folks, it’s a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned.

Here’s a secret: If you love to workout and/or run, and you love food, you get the best of both worlds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love a juicy cheeseburger with fries and a few pints, or a large piece of cake as much as the next person. I LOVE FOOD. I love to cook. I love to bake. I love to eat. HOWEVER, I have learned since that first marathon season how to fuel, refuel and train without gaining any weight while savoring those indulgences too.

Do you need help balancing your food versus exercise? I’m pretty sure you know a coach who can help.

Lying Machine

_MG_9072_finalIf you have been watching your calories, sweating hard at the gym, and left scratching your head because of little improvements, here’s something to consider: the machines at the gyms are lying.

Cardio equipment make us feel good as we see how many calories we have burned as we sweat away and watch tv at the gym. Here’s the problem: cardio equipment doesn’t give you an accurate count of calories burned. If you are taking the number on the machine as your factual calories burned, I have bad news.

When hopping on cardio equipment, you can enter your age and weight on the machine. Here’s the problem: there are a lot of factors that machine ISN’T asking you. Your sex, hight, body fat, fitness level – those are factors that the machine doesn’t consider. Even the heart rate monitor can be wrong.

Don’t lose faith. You can find tools to more accurately calculate your cardio burn. Remember, knowledge is power. If you don’t know your numbers, you may be consuming more calories than desired. Still confused? Contact your coach or personal trainer.

Weight Loss Rut

Liz Corkum 516We’ve all been there. You’ve gained 10 lbs., or 40 lbs, or whatever – and you freak out and look for the “easy” way to shed those extra pounds. You look into quick solutions, which include diet pills, cleanses, delivery food plans, fad diets, etc. You are miserable on said “easy” diet plan, and within a few weeks gain any weight you lost on your “quick fix” back, and are exactly where you started – only even more frustrated.

Let’s stop that cycle, for once and for all. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, there is no quick fix, and fad diets should be avoided at all cost. Personally, I probably tried a dozen of them (maybe 2 dozen!), and I know first-hand how that cycle can continue.

if you take anything away from this blog, consider this: You need to be honest with yourself about how many calories you need to consume in a day to maintain your current weight, and what would be a healthy amount to consume for weight loss. Most people I know are SHOCKED when they find out how many calories they consume in a day, or what a serving size actually looks like.

For example, as a 5’7″, 20-something athlete, calculating my body fat, BMI, etc – on days I am stationary (not training), I only need 1500-1800 calories per day. PER DAY. Most people eat 1500-1800 calories in ONE MEAL. This is why Americans are so obese.

The good news: the more you exercise, the higher that number of necessary calories.

Know your body, your lifestyle, your needs – and you will begin to have the tools to take control of the scale, your abilities and your body fat.