I can’t believe how much I like yoga

Yoga story! Who wants to hear my yoga story? 

The short version is: I used to be a runner. Then some muscle and gait problems caught up with me, and my hip started to hurt so much, I could barely walk. So I was looking for something non-jarring to keep me active while I slowly healed with physical therapy. I randomly chose yoga because it looked easy, and was amazed to discover I love it, it’s the perfect exercise for me, and I hope to do it for the rest of my life. 

Disclaimer: I’ve only ever followed one instructor, someone named Julia Marie Lopez whose videos are currently on Amazon Prime. (They are also on YouTube.) All my experience with yoga are from her classes, and I’ve only been following them for a few months.  

Here’s what I like about yoga:

It is a challenging, incredibly efficient workout. It uses every part of my body, and has made me much stronger, improved my posture, and has also improved my balance, which is something I didn’t realize needed improving (apparently it seemed normal to tip over while putting on pants or socks). I noticed a big difference during my recent renovations projects that involved a lot of getting up, getting down, reaching, scrambling, ducking, etc. I have so much more control and elasticity in my movements, it’s just easier to do all kinds of work. I expect gardening will be a different experience in the spring, too. 

It is just as effective as running for losing or maintaining my weight, together with my loose plan of modified intermittent fasting and counting calories. I started doing yoga just to do something, anything, until I could get back to “real exercise,” by which I meant something violent and sweaty. Changed my mind! I do often break a sweat with yoga, and I’m clearly building muscle and losing fat. But a lot of it a subtle, isometric, and efficient, so you don’t necessarily feel like you’re being wrung out like an old rag. 

It has shaped my body amazingly quickly. I’m 47 and was kind of resigned to just becoming more and more sack-like even if I lost more weight, but it turns out that I’m still kind of cute. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. 

It’s been awesome for my mental and emotional state. I sleep better, and I feel energized and invigorated when I do yoga regularly, and it’s as effective as running for keeping migraines away. I have better posture, which feeds into a better mood. I apologize in advance for this, but at the end of a class, I feel like all my fluid-filled sacs have been replenished. Seriously, it’s just easier to be chill and even-tempered and confident when I get my yoga in regularly. I feel more put together as a person. This probably has something to do with lymph, but who knows. 

It’s fun, which I was not expecting. There’s lots of variety, lots of different modes of action, and the class flies by. It keeps my attention in a way that no other form of exercise has (and I have tried MANY many different kinds of workouts).  When I was running, I always craved that state where I would forget I was running and my body would enter a lovely automatic flow. With yoga (at least as I’ve done it so far), it’s kind of the opposite: You’re hyper-focused on the physical experience, and you get a lot of satisfaction out of achieving it. And you know, it’s kind of like playing. How often does a 47-year-old housewife get to be a warrior, or a cactus, or a swan? This is not something I realized I wanted to do, but now I know. I also very much enjoy how non-western some of the poses feel. It’s cool to be doing things with my body that just aren’t part of my normal body movement vocabulary. I also like learning words in a language that I’m completely unfamiliar with. 

I have not gotten even a single demon. (Yeah, this was a bit of a concern for me. More about this later.)

Now some specifics about this series. 

As I said, the videos I’ve been following are by Julia Marie. First I did her 30 Day Yoga for Weight Loss challenge, and today I’m finishing her Couch to Confident 14-Day Yoga Challenge, both of which are on Amazon Prime. They are thirty-minute classes, and there is quiet mood music playing throughout all the class. She has several more courses on Prime as well, but I may just go back and re-do these when I’m done. I think you can pay to follow live videos on her site. The classes are half an hour each, and the Weight Loss ones have little bonus chats with advice about losing weight (which I skip, because it seems to be stuff I already know). The Couch to Confident series is about getting more proficient at various yoga practices. 

I like her overall approach very much. I went into it never having done a single bit of yoga in my life, and she does an excellent job of easing you into familiarity and proficiency with the various poses, and explaining exactly what you’re supposed to be feeling, and how to correct if it you’re experiencing something amiss. Some of the poses are pretty subtle, and it looks from the outside like you’re doing it right, but you need to make an interior, isometric shift that makes a significant change in your experience. 

This is fascinating to me — because of the newness of the practice itself, and also because of her skill in describing bodily gestures and sensations. I don’t know what most yoga instructors are like, but I’ve certainly tried taking classes from other fitness instructors who are not this articulate, and it’s so frustrating, trying to play catch-up to what you see on the screen. I have a lot of trouble following left/right body commands. With this instructor, though, I rarely feel confused. Even if I can’t perform the pose, I understand what it is. (She does occasionally fill up some long spaces with talk, probably to take your mind of the discomfort of holding the pose, and a few times I’m pretty sure I caught her starting a sentence that she had no idea how she was going to end. It was suspenseful for a few seconds, but she pulled through!) 

She’s encouraging, but not patronizing, and it’s more or less a dignified experience overall. That means a lot to me, because I get embarrassed and discouraged easily.  She’s pretty open about not liking certain poses or actions, and being okay with that, but also honoring your body’s limitations, and being content with doing what you’re ready to do on any particular day. There’s no “oooh gurl, feel that burn, it hurts so good” stuff, but I still end up feeling motivated to try hard to do the best I can, because I usually end up feeling so dang good at the end of the class. She gives brief pep talks about the importance of making time for yourself, and allowing yourself to take up space, and I didn’t think I needed to hear that, but I did. I also kind of rolled my eyes at the part where you spend a few seconds in fetal pose before getting up and starting your day again, but you know what? Now I do it. Because if you can be a fetus for thirty seconds, why would you not? I even did the class that was just about resting, because I figured she must know what she’s talking about. (My normal approach would be “aw, screw this, lady, don’t waste my time!” so the fact that I listened to her will give you some idea of how much respect I’ve gained for her.) 

There is some stuff that is too hard for me. She’s very good about suggesting a modification, if you’re not feeling up to it (or, as she phrases it, “if [such-and-such] isn’t available to you today”). In a few cases, I just skipped a whole class and did an easier one, and then returned to the challenging one when I was feeling more ambitious. 

For instance, she started doing this, and I just noped right out of it, stopped the video, and went back to an easier class. A few days later, I was ready to try this pose, and I did it! I didn’t look cute, but I did it.

I was joking when I said earlier I was afraid I might get a yoga demon, but I am also Catholic and do not want to participate in something that could be an expression of a different religion, whether that’s Hinduism or Buddhism, or some kind of nameless New Age spiritual practice. What I have learned is that yoga, as it’s practiced in the United States, is actually a quite recent invention, and not an ancient religious practice at all. However, modern or not, there is most certainly such a thing as yoga that invites you to participate in spiritual practices that are foreign to Christianity. What we do with our minds matters, so I get a little annoyed at Catholics who scoff at the idea that any yoga class could possibly be spiritually harmful or inappropriate. I would not take a yoga class that included a spiritual element. (That includes yoga classes that try to be explicitly Christian yoga, because that’s just weird. Just exercise! Or, do whatever you want, I don’t care.) 

This particular class, though, is almost entirely about physical exercise, breathing, and occasionally spiritually neutral emotional things like gratitude or calm. She very occasionally slips in some quasi-spiritual stuff, and I just ignore it. She says bring your thumbs to your third eye, I think, “Forehead, though.” She says to close your eyes and express gratitude toward the spirit of whatever, I think, “Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But it honestly very rarely comes up, at least in the classes I’ve done so far. It’s usually just about breathing, muscles, where to look, where to shift your weight, what to do with your fingers and toes, and so on. 

She also mentions some stuff that may or may not be medically accurate. I don’t know what she means by “shadow side of the heart,” so I just ignore it. She mentions what effect breathing and stretching and being upside down has on your body, and I have no idea if she knows what she’s talking about or not. I’m not in it to learn about biology. I see that it’s making me feel better and be stronger, so if she says get on the floor and be a pigeon, I’ll do that.  

The weight loss classes incorporates some HIIT (high intensity interval training), so you will be doing mostly yoga, but also some classes that have terrible things like bicycle crunches and mountain climbers and even burpees; but she keeps it quick and doesn’t make you do endless repetitions. She also tends to count in breaths, rather than in repetitions, which makes it more tolerable, somehow. And I have to admit, it works really well. 

Anyway, about my hip. The physical therapist said that my glute and core muscles were weak, and I was compensating for them by using some muscles I wasn’t supposed to be using, which was putting strain on my hip. Or something. The solution was to do some boring, unpleasant exercises to strengthen my glutes and my core. 

WELL, guess what yoga does? At first I was doing my PT exercises and then yoga, but now I’m just doing yoga, especially yoga with a lot of planks, and my hip is feeling fine. Yoga is not a substitute for real physical therapy, but it’s great for maintaining the gains I made in PT.

I use an exercise mat and occasionally a yoga block. The “Couch to Confident” class has one session where you need a roller, which I don’t have; but you could easily get along through both classes just using a mat. I recommend wearing a close-fitting top, because you spend a lot of time upside-down.

And that’s it! Happy to answer any questions, although I only know what I’ve seen and learned in these videos. 

Image is a screenshot from Episode 31 of 30 Day Yoga for Weight Loss with Julia Marie

I lost 40 pounds and I’ll tell you how, but you’re not going to like it

It’s counting calories and exercise, plus a little intermittent fasting, that’s how.

Ha! Told you you wouldn’t like it. If you want more details, they are below. The good news is, losing weight isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I just had to be ready. 

I am 5’5″ and 46 years old. Here’s my current driver’s license photo, on which I lied through my teeth about being 230 pounds. 

I don’t know how much I actually weighed, but it was more than that! My size 20 jeans cut into my waist and I was breathless all the time. 

I want to make it clear right now that it’s not evil to be fat. There are so, so many worse things in the world than being fat. Furthermore, I am still fat! But on April 14 of this year, I decided to at least try one more time to lose weight, and I thought you might want to hear about how it’s going. 

So, now it’s August, and now I weigh 195 pounds and fit comfortably into a size 16. I’ve lost about 40 pounds and I’m not pushing myself too hard, and I’m still losing about a pound a week. I haven’t really set a goal, but I would like to get down to 145 pounds. 175 would be awesome. Feeling more in control is already very awesome, so that’s really what this post is about. And yes, it’s about looking better.  I’ll also share some of my food strategies with you, but it’s nothing you can’t find anywhere else. 

So as not to be coy, I’ll start with the food part, and then I’ll tell the part about my brain. Here’s a typical day:

-Coffee with half and half when I get up. 
-Go for a run around 11:00
-Lunch at 2:00 (300-400 calories and high in protein)
-A snack or two around 4:00 or 5:00, or sometimes no snack
-A normal person’s dinner at 6:00 or 7:00
-Gin and seltzer with lime around 10:00

Typical lunch: Pita with four slices of turkey, mustard and pickles, and maybe a little cup of Greek yogurt or a piece of fruit; or a big plate of salad with leftover chicken, nuts, cheese, and vinegar; or pita fried with an egg. If I’m out shopping, I often get the Wendy’s strawberry chicken salad or grilled chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie, I eat a lot of turkey and chicken.

Typical dinner: Well, if you read this site, you know how I cook. I’m cooking as I always have, and just eating slightly smaller portions. Maybe I’ll go easy on the part of the meal that looks gooiest. If I’m still hungry after one serving, I’ll go back for a little more of the lowest-calorie element of the meal. If I’m really still hungry after dinner, I’ll have a green apple, and that seems to tell my brain “that’s enough.” 

And I drink plain seltzer all day long. 

I know I said I was counting calories, but I don’t actually know how many calories I eat per day. When I started trying to lose weight, I put my age, weight, and activity level into a calorie calculator and was surprised how many calories it said I could eat and still have a deficit; so at first, I calculated everything meticulously. Then I got sick of it and just started eyeballing everything besides lunch, and I still kept losing weight, so it seemed good enough. When I get stalled out, and stay the same weight for a week, I buckle down and pay more attention for a while. 

There is also a giant asterisk next to all of this that says “WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS.” If I had to name my weight loss plan, it would be the “with some exceptions” plan. More about that in a bit. 

The thing is, I was already doing a lot of things that should have helped me lose weight. I can’t have more than one cup of coffee, or it keeps me up at night, and I don’t like sugar in my coffee. Breakfast in general makes me feel blah. I don’t really like cake or pastries. Sugary foods and drinks give me headaches. I truly enjoy fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Chocolate is a migraine trigger. And I run 4-5 times a week to counteract hereditary heart issues and blood pressure issues, and to manage anxiety, migraines, and PMS. I was even intermittent fasting most of the time. But when I was eating, I was eating a lot. 

So mostly, I had to get smarter about all the ~e~m~o~t~i~o~n~a~l~ e~a~t~i~n~g~ I was doing all day long. I had about 523 different reasons for eating things, and only one of them was hunger. Not exactly groundbreaking info, but what to doooo?

I know some people have luck by addressing overeating as a sin to be corrected, and I’m not saying it’s not, but this doesn’t help me. It just doesn’t. I find the psychological approach much more useful. 

One thing I tell myself pretty often: “Nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t eat that [fistful of Cheezits or whatever].” First I had to acknowledge to myself that some part of me did halfway believe something bad going to happen if I didn’t eat it! That was embarrassing. Who knows where such a fear comes from. Poverty, pregnancy, anxiety, being just plain nuts, whatever. Anyway, I had to firmly tell myself that I was going to be okay, and I could just not eat the thing, and move along. Sometimes I had to tell myself more than once. Sometimes, oops, I didn’t listen, and ate it anyway.

So then the other half of the equation is that I often have to tell myself it’s also going to be okay if I did eat the thing. Because if it’s just food, it’s just food, whether I ate it or not.

A big part of disordered eating is not just the actual overeating; it’s being furious at myself for eating too much, and then punishing myself by eating more, and so on. Boo. Boo!

So what I’m working on is just calming the hell down about food, whether I’m having a good food day or a bad food day. I don’t want to be one of those people who gets skinny but is still crazy, you know? (Although it’s pretty likely I’ll end up both fat and crazy.) Food is important, and it can give real pleasure, and that’s not a bad thing. But it begins and ends in a certain place, and I’m the one in charge of that. That’s what I really want: To be in charge. That’s a big part of why being fat makes me so unhappy: Because I know I’m not in charge. I’m at the mercy of food and of food feelings. 

How to stay in charge? I have found through sad experience that trying to exert very rigid control doesn’t work with me. I panic and can’t sustain it, especially when something crazy happens and makes my careful plan feel overwhelming. And something crazy always happens. 

What I want is to eat in way that I can live with, no matter what else is going on. I don’t want to have to drag around a food scale or have special powders or say goodbye to entire categories of food forever. If I go to a party and there is baked brie or lobster in drawn butter involved, you bet I would have some — and then I would just cool with calories the next day, or else have a light lunch in preparation. That’s it! Because no single meal or single day is the final word. Even if I gain a few pounds, which definitely has happened, I got time. I can work with this. I can be cool. 

Every once in a while, flexibility or no, I get mad anyway, and feel kind of rebellious about having to think about what I eat, and I will stomp around and stuff unauthorized corn chips in my face, and eat a leftover pop tart I don’t even want, and sit around after dinner polishing off everyone’s leftover kielbasa even though I’m full. This goes on for a couple of days, and then I think, okay. You did that. It’s not the end of the world. But is it making you happy? And of course it is not.

That’s what really flipped the switch in the first place. I was gaining and gaining, and I knew I needed to do something, but I hated the idea of counting calories or joining a program, because I didn’t want to be thinking about food all the time. It seemed so dreary and awful and petty, thinking about food all the time.

Then it hit me: I think about being fat all the time. I think about it every day, every hour, sometimes more. I already think about it constantly, and it makes me unhappy every single time I think about it. So I thought OH WHAT THE HELL, I MIGHT AS WELL COUNT CALORIES. I didn’t even expect it to work! I just figured as long as I was going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable while trying, instead of being miserable while not trying.

And then the scale started to budge, what do you know about that.

So I’ve had to start over more than a few times, and it’s okay. Every time I’ve had to start over again, the scale starts to budge again eventually. 

I have had so many weird things happen to my brain over the last few months. One minute I feel absolutely vast, like an endless piece of obscenely overstuffed furniture. Then I get on the scale and I weigh ten ounces less than I expect, and I look in the mirror and bam, instantly I look slim and willowy and angular. This is bonkers. Completely bonkers. I have just had to learn to accept how bonkers it is and just stick with the program anyway, because what else am I gonna do? 

And what I’ve found is I’m getting this whiplash less and less often. I look the same to myself more and more often. How I look to myself when I look down at my body is more and more similar to what I see in the mirror, and that’s more and more similar to what I see in photographs of myself. This . . . has never happened to me in my whole entire life. I’ve always had half a dozen different conceptions of myself. But I’m starting to feel like just one person. I don’t know how else to explain it. It is some kind of healing and I am grateful for it.

A bit more about flexibility and fasting. If I don’t eat until 2:00, I have the best chance of having a sensible snack and a sensible dinner, for whatever reason. But sometimes I just get ravenous, and I’m not interested in torturing myself to make the numbers come out right; so sometimes I have some nuts in the morning, or sometimes I eat lunch at 1:00, and just try again for 2:00 the next day. On weekends, our schedule is different, and I usually eat a bit more, and earlier. It’s okay, because it’s the weekend and it’s part of the plan for it to be different. I figure if I have a little pie on the weekend, my body won’t get too used to low calories, and it will stay on its toes or something. 

For my afternoon snack, I eat pretty much whatever I want — the key being figuring out what I really want. If I’m feeling like hot stuff, I’ll want baby carrots or sugar snap peas and maybe a rice cake with chili lime powder. If I’m feeling like I just wanna eat something, I’ll have some potato chips or peanut butter crackers or whatever. What I always try to do is eat what I want, and then stop and see how I feel. Just give myself a second to make a choice, rather than bullying myself into rushing into the next thing without thinking about it. 

And then sometimes I blow it, and just snack my head off, and gobble up everything in the house because I’m just so hungry right before dinner time and I want all the stupid corn syrup and salt in the world. And then guess what? I’m not hungry for dinner. So guess what? I don’t eat it! Because my stomach is full, because I already ate, and do not actually wish to eat more food! It turns out there’s not a rule you have to eat the food you made for dinner, just because it’s dinner time, and my stomach has learned what it feels like to be full. Amazing. 

I weigh myself just about every day at the same time of day. There is a three-to-four-pound range that I expect to be in day to day, and what happens is the range, rather than the individual number, gradually shifts down. So if I were graphing my weight loss, I wouldn’t see a straight line down unless I zoomed out. I think daily weigh ins are probably a good idea, because sometimes you have a rogue high number, and if you weigh yourself every day, you’ll recognize it as a blip, and it doesn’t freak you out as much.

Where does exercise fit in? You can’t exercise fat away, but there’s still a link between exercise and weight loss. How it works for me is that I don’t feel hungry for a long time after I work out, and it seems to keep my blood sugar more stable throughout the day; and when I work out regularly, it sets in motion all kinds of good things that lead to eating better. I feel more confident, which makes me feel more capable of taking care of myself. I’m more energetic, so I’m more likely to get stuff done, rather than moping around the kitchen scrounging for snacks. I sleep better, so I’m less likely to go chasing after sugar and caffeine to give me an energy boost the next day. And so on.

I still highly recommend the Couch to 5K program, which has no end of free apps you can download to get you started. If running is no good for whatever reason, I also really like Jenny Ford’s marching workouts.  I have also somewhat grimly purchased a digital copy of Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout for those days when it’s too cold to run but I feel the need to suffer somehow.

I was also lifting weights and using a planks app for a long while. I ferkin HATED it, but I had to admit, I liked the results, and I know old bags like me need the bone density work. For a while I was running 3-5 miles a day, up to fifty miles a month. But I’m fundamentally lazy, and it’s gross and muggy and buggy out, so right now I’m just running a mile and a half most days and calling it good enough. 

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is my husband. He started this endeavor on his own over a year ago, and has lost an astonishing 70+ pounds, and at one point he was running over 100 miles a month. He’s a private guy and doesn’t like me blabbing about all his stuff, but I’m very proud of him, and he’s very handsome, and he’s got some pretty bitchin cheekbones, too, so there. I truly don’t think I could have done it without his example and companionship. At the same time, he never pushed me or made me feel like I was anything but beautiful to him, 235+ pounds and all.

If you are going to start overhauling your food life, I highly recommend having someone you can do it with, or at least someone you can talk about it with, someone who will reassure and encourage you and maybe occasionally gently tell you when you’re being crazy. 

There is a little part of me that is protesting: Why is it that the thing making me so happy is that there’s less of me? But truly, it’s not about diminishment. I’m starting to see my cheekbones again, too, and I feel like I look like myself again. Sometimes shifting calories around is like a little game: I’ll skip having french fries now, and maybe I’ll have a little fancy cheese later. Exercising self control feels like flexing muscles. It’s fun. It’s fun being able to zip my pants without it being a whole production. And you know, I pick up a dress I could barely zip up last time I tried it on, and now it just floats down over my head. It’s the best feeling.And that’s my story. 

Happy to answer questions if you have them. As you can see, I have zero training or professional information of any kind. All I have is a few months of some hopeful-looking success after a long string of failures in my past, brought on mainly by emotional immaturity, I suppose. And as I said, I’ve probably doomed myself for making this public, and now I’m going to swell up like a diaper in a kiddie pool, and now this essay will turn up in my Facebook memories every year to haunt and and taunt my fat ass forever, and then we’ll see who’s body positive and who’s just another yogurt-eating bitch. The truth is, I don’t have anything else to write about, so I’m writing about the forty pounds. You didn’t really want another essay about covid anyway, right?