Why I Hate Running, and Why I Do It Anyway

Here are just some of the reasons I don't like to run (in no particular order):

  1. I don't like to sweat.
  2. I don't like to huff and puff.
  3. It's hard for me. I was born with malformed hip sockets, leading to two separate hip replacement surgeries in the last few years (I'm now fully bionic!). Calcification in one of the artificial joints limits my range of motion, and many years of pain-induced inactivity gave me atrophied muscles, so it's just very hard work for me to make my legs run.
  4. I look funny when I run, so I feel self-conscious. The aforementioned birth defect and surgeries left me with legs of unequal length (in addition to those weak muscles), so I have very goofy looking gait when I run. (I'm also very, very slow.)
  5. It takes time. I have a demanding job, a long commute, and family and household responsibilities that are important to me. There are other ways I'd rather use my limited free time instead of sweating and huffing/puffing and working hard.
  6. I'm just basically a lazy person who'd rather lie on the couch and read a book than exert myself.

And here are some of the reasons why I do it anyway (also in no particular order):

  1. I used to be quite overweight, and I did not like how I felt. I don't want to get fat again.
  2. I'm in my early 50s, and as I get older, things don't work as well as they used to. I don't mind getting older, but I don't want to be old and decrepit. Running (and strength training, which I also do a little bit of) is something I can do to make myself stronger and enable myself to stay healthy and active longer.
  3. I prefer the kinds of clothes I can wear when I'm thinner.
  4. Although it seems counter-intuitive, I have more energy when I work out than when I don't.
  5. I spend most of my time indoors, working at a desk. Running gives me an opportunity to get outside.
  6. I can eat more if I exercise (and I do like to eat).
  7. I want to be healthy – running strengthens my heart and lungs as well as my muscles.

Everybody has to decide for herself whether the benefits of exercise outweigh the costs. I haven't yet felt that “runner's high” that I read about in the magazines. The act of running is not fun for me, and there are other things I'd rather be doing, but feeling healthier and fitter ultimately motivates me to put on my running clothes and head out the door. My workout mantra?

I don't have to like it. I just have to do it.

What about you?

One Approach to Getting Thinner and Fitter

Before reading this post, you might want to go back to my previous post on weight loss and health, in which I explained why I'm blogging on this topic, and gave the short list of my top tips for getting thinner and fitter. In this post and one to follow, I'll provide a little explanation on the tips I shared in that first post. So . . . items one through four:

1. Write down everything you eat.

Most of us eat more than we think we do. The first step toward getting control of your weight is to get an honest look at what you're eating. So for at least a week, write down everything you put in your mouth. You can do this in a little notebook that you keep with you, or in one of the many websites that are set up for keeping food journals. You need to write down what you ate and how much of it you ate. During the initial phase of your food journal, you should actually measure your food — don't eyeball it and estimate, but get out your measuring cups. This is sure to be an eye-opening exercise, because a serving size of most foods (nutritionally speaking) is far, far smaller than most people think — and certainly far smaller than, for example, the portions served at most restaurants. You also should write down the amount of calories for each food that you eat, and total it at the end of the day. (More about why later.) For most prepackaged foods, you will find portion and calorie information on the federally mandated nutritional label. You can also buy an inexpensive paperback calorie-counter book at most bookstores. Alternatively, sign up for a free online food diary like www.fitday.com or www.my-calorie-counter.com, or check out the Lose It! app for iPhone or iPad. For maximum benefit, write down the time and location each time you eat as well. You might begin to notice some patterns of, for example, boredom eating or stress eating.

Again, the purpose of this exercise is to gain a realistic understanding of how many calories you take in each day. Why? Because the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume.

2. Eat mindfully.
This is a corollary to the first item on the list. Part of eating mindfully is paying attention to what and how much you eat. But eating mindfully goes beyond just that. It also means thinking about why you're eating. Each time you reach for food, pause and ask yourself a few important questions.
  • Am I hungry?
  • What am I hungry for? (Is it this thing I have in my hand, or am I just about to eat it because it's here, when what I really want to eat is . . . )?
  • If I'm not hungry, why do I want to eat? Am I under stress? Am I tired? Am I bored? What else could I do to satisfy whatever urge prompted me to pick up this food?
Whole shelves full of books have been written about the way we use food as a substitute for other things — companionship, emotions, activity. Think before you eat. If what you're thinking of eating isn't the best choice, wait. Go for a walk if you can. Drink a glass of water. Wait fifteen minutes. If you still want it, then go ahead. But write it down in your food journal!
3. Cheat responsibly.
Although I know that a lot of diet and fitness gurus take a very strict approach to eating, I'm a big believer in doing all things in moderation. I know that if I tell myself I'll never eat another bit of junk food, my self is going to rebel and eat the rest of that half-gallon of chocolate ice cream (or whatever). So while most of the time I try to eat the right things in the right amounts, when I have one of those days where I really, really, really want a slice of pizza or a candy bar or some other junky treat, I give myself permission to do so. But I try to be responsible about it. Instead of a king-sized candy bar, have a miniature (or two). If dessert is too tempting to pass, share it with someone else. If you're dying for chips and dip, how about baked chips and a lowfat dip (and put a reasonable portion on your plate instead of taking the bag to the couch with you)? If you need a slice of pizza, try the thin crust version, piled with veggies. If you must have a McFlurry (yum!), get the snack size!
4. Eat breakfast.
I thought about doing some research and quoting some studies here, but surely you already know that there's all kinds of evidence that eating breakfast is important not only for your health in general, but for your weight-control efforts. At least for now I'll let it suffice to say that you should eat breakfast every day. And not Cocoa Puffs — a healthier cereal with skim milk and fruit, or perhaps a veggie omelet with a piece of wheat toast. Oatmeal, if you like it. Get something in your stomach in the morning to carry you through the morning hours.
In a subsequent post I'll elaborate a bit more on the other four “pillars” of my own weight-control program, and share some resources that I've found helpful. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from others about what does, or doesn't, work for them.

Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

Talking About Getting Thinner & Fitter

I hope for this post to be the launch of a discussion about weight loss and fitness, aimed mostly at women like me. The current plan is to have regular posts on those topics, either on Mondays or Wednesdays. But if interesting things come up on other days, then I'll post as they come up.

First, because I'm a lawyer by training, I have to include a disclaimer: I'm a lawyer, not a doctor. Not a nutritionist. Not a certified personal trainer. I decided to post on the subject of weight loss and fitness only because so many people have asked me how I lost 40+ pounds. What follows, then, is not a scientific expert opinion. It's . . . how I did it.

Before I start, some context: I'm a 51-year-old woman, mother of five, grandmother of five. I work more-than-fulltime hours as a partner at a large law firm in Dallas. I have no more free time than anybody else, and a lot less than many people have. My long work days are made longer by the fact that I live 54 miles away from my office, so most business days I spend at least two, and often as much as five, hours driving. I was born with congenital hip dysplasia, with resultant joint deterioration that left me in excruciating pain for years and eventually led to hip replacement surgery (one in May 2003 and the other in January 2011). All of this is important, because I don't want anyone to think that it's any easier for me to do these things than anyone else.

July 2006

I graduated from law school at 38, and started my law career with a husband and five children (and two dogs) in tow. When I graduated from Cornell Law School in 1998, I wore a size 4 dress. Within a few years of starting my law practice, the long, sedentary days, stress, lousy diet, and the pain of my bad hips took their toll. By the time my oldest daughter got married (in 2006), my weight had ballooned and I wore a size 14 mother-of-the-bride dress. I looked at least ten years older than my husband (he's five months younger than me). Size 14 is not huge, but I am less than 5'4″ tall and fairly small-boned, and size 14 meant I weighed almost 170 pounds. That's way too much for my height and bone structure. I looked awful and felt worse. I was 46 years old.

I finally got the incentive I needed to do something about my weight. In late 2007, I bought a small Arabian mare, and as she started her training I decided I wanted to be able to ride her without (a) looking ridiculous and (b) breaking her back. So at the end of December 2007, I made the decision to get healthier and lose the extra weight that I'd been carrying for all those years. Fairplay was the catalyst for the decision, but the bottom line for me was this: I couldn't stop getting older. But if I was going to be old, I didn't want to be old and decrepit. If I was going to be old, I didn't want to be sick and tired and unable to enjoy life. So I decided to stop making excuses and start making some changes.

First step was to stop eating so much. I simply cut all sugar and junk food out of my diet and started paying attention to what went into my mouth. A few days later, I started exercising — got on the stationary bike that had been serving as a clothes rack and started pedaling. All I could manage was about ten minutes, after which I thought I was going to die, but I made that ten minutes, and then ten minutes the next day, and so on, adding a minute or so to my time every few days, and then graduating to walking on a treadmill and then outside.

Over the course of many months I lost about forty pounds and worked my way up to jogging as much as five miles several times a week. I'm now 51 years old and wearing size 6 dresses. I feel younger now than I did at my daughter's wedding. If I could find a photo of what I look like now, I'd insert it here. But I don't seem to have one on any of our computers, so I'll have to track one down and add it later.

I mention all of this to give some background to what I'm going to say next. As I lost the weight, I was asked many, many times how I'd done it. I think many of the askers hoped I had some “secret” key to weight loss, because they looked awfully disappointed at my answer: I quit eating so much and started exercising regularly. That's it. That's the secret. You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume.

I could describe the process, but I'm afraid readers would just fall asleep, so instead let me just share my top tips for getting thinner and fitter:

  1. Write down everything you eat.
  2. Eat mindfully.
  3. Cheat responsibly.
  4. Eat breakfast.
  5. Keep healthy snacks handy.
  6. Start small, and increase gradually.
  7. Get help when you need it.
  8. Take one day at a time.
That's the list. In future posts, I'll explain each a little bit and share some of what I did to lose weight and what I'm doing to keep it off. I'll also pass along some of the resources that have helped me with both. I'm hoping that sharing what I know will help others, and that others will join in the conversation and share both their struggles and their insights. 
Although as of the date of this post I don't think anyone ever actually reads this blog but me, I'm hoping eventually others will find their way here and join the discussion. I look forward to that.

What I Did On My Christmas Break

It is Sunday evening, almost 5 pm, and tomorrow I have to go back to the office after a four-day break. When I have a break like this from the office, I seldom find myself heading back to the office refreshed and reinvigorated, ready to take on the world. Instead I find myself wishing I had more time off. What this says about the wisdom of my career choice is a topic for another day. Today I instead want to think for a moment about what I did right–and wrong–during my four-day hiatus.

What I did right: spent time with Mike and the kids who live here, as well as Rachel and Gary and the granddaughters, who spent Christmas Eve and most of Christmas day with us on the farm. Cooked a meal for Christmas day and enjoyed it with the family. Took some time to look out the window and enjoy the serenity of the view it affords: our lake and and the trees, mostly bare of leaves, the blue sky, the chickens wandering around the yard looking for bugs, the cats stalking the chickens. Took several naps. Got the laundry done. Made homemade fudge and shared the pan and spoon with the vultures who appeared just in time. Made homemade potato salad because Gary asked for it–and he never asks us for anything. Shared a little bit of Christmas day with Matthew and Kahi and the boys via Google video chat. Cleaned out my closet and boxed up a big stack of outgrown clothes for charity. Read parts of a novel and a book on fiction writing and several horse magazines. Puttered a bit at working on the outlines of a novel I want to write. Pondered some goals for 2010. Ran on the treadmill yesterday and today.

What I did wrong: Ate way, way, WAY too much. Ate a lot of that fudge. Ate various types of Christmas candy. Ate a big bowl of buttered popcorn. Ate two big pieces of pan-crust veggie pizza (sans the onions) from Chicago Style Pizza (thanks, Mike, for driving in to pick it up). Just ate. Watched too much TV. Skipped going to a church Christmas Eve service because I was too tired/lazy to get dressed. Skipped running two out of the four days.

Nobody's perfect, but I think I did more right than wrong with these four days I had at home. I've got some work to do at the gym to undo all that fudge (I really ate a lot), but after all . . . tomorruh is anothuh day.

Doing the Impossible (With a Little Outside Encouragement)

I really intended to write a profound post about why I don't go to church anymore, and I will write that one (although I can't promise it really will be profound), but what's on my mind this morning is exercise. This makes sense, because this morning I had a session with “Guido,” my trainer at the gym. (His name isn't really Guido. He does have an Italian name, thought, and my husband nicknamed him Guido one day when I was whining about how hard he was making me work. I hope the nickname isn't offensive; it's meant as an humorous analogy to him being as tough as a mob enforcer.)

Anyway . . . I've been meeting with Guido twice a week since early February, when I joined a gym about a mile from my office. This is phase 2 in an effort that started just before New Years Day 2008. I am 5'4″ tall and had reached somewhere in the vicinity of 170-175 pounds. Not a pretty sight. I was fat and feeling old and worn out and uncomfortable. I can't even remember what triggered the decision (I think it might have something to do with my purchase of a new horse who was on the small side; I didn't want to break her back), but sometime between Christmas 2007 and New Years 2008, I decided it was time to do something about the weight. So I started watching what I ate, and dragged the stationary bike out of the closet. First time on it I could barely do ten minutes. Each day I added a minute more until I'd worked my way up to thirty minutes a day. I was getting bored sitting on that thing, so I dragged the treadmill in front of the TV and started walking every morning. First fifteen minutes, then twenty, then up to thirty. Then raised the incline and increased the speed. Eventually I got to where I'd do my walking outside when the weather cooperated, and I worked my way up to jogging part of the time and walking fast the other.

Following that routine and continuing to watch my diet, by October 2008 I'd lost close to thirty pounds, weighing in at 145 point something according to my endocrinologist's scale (I don't have a working scale at home). And I got stuck there. I tried walking/jogging longer, and doing more jogging. I tried adding some basic weight training at home, but I really didn't know how to do anything and just couldn't make myself do anything too difficult. So late in January 2009, still at 145 pounds, I decided to try some outside help. I joined the gym and signed up for personal training, and that's how I met Guido.

Two mornings a week I get up at 4 a.m. and drive in to the gym to suffer the torments of the damned. We do weight training and some cardio; it varies from one session to the next. I sweat and whine and fuss, but I just realized, sitting here today, that I love it. (Okay, I don't love it while I'm sweating and straining, but I actually look forward to going. Is that sick?)

The best part of it all is finding out that I'm able to do more, work harder, than I thought I was capable of. I've lost track of the number of times I've started a set on one of the weight machines and looked at him in disbelief when I feel the weight he's put on it. “Twelve reps,” he'll say, and on the third rep I am sure I've got no more than one or two left in me at that weight.

But I hate to disappoint anybody. And so I try, with everything I can find in me, to give him the reps he asks for. And so far, every time, I've been able to do it. Much to my surprise. (A week or so ago he gave me the biggest compliment I've received lately — I don't think he even realizes how much it meant to me — when he said something to the effect that he was impressed by the fact that I hadn't given up and that “so far, you've never refused to do anything I've asked you to do.”)

I had the same experience with my horse trainer/riding instructor. Often he'd ask me to do something during our lessons that I was certain I couldn't do (or maybe that I was just terrified to do). Afraid or not, though, I just couldn't bear to let him down, and I would surprise myself by being able to do the “impossible.”

That happens regularly at the gym with Guido. I have come to realize that left to my own devices I give up easily when something gets hard. But I will kill myself to avoid disappointing someone. So Guido gets out of me things I didn't think were in me, and I'm seeing results. After months stuck at 145 (despite regular exercise), I broke the barrier a week or so ago, and this morning the gym's electronic scale read 142.6!! Finally sliding down again. And even better, I'm finding muscles I didn't know I had — abs and arm muscles. (The other day while I was sweating away working my arms on one of the nasty weight machines, Guido commented, “Somebody's starting to get some definition in her arms.” And, wow, he's right!! Still too much body fat covering it, but little by little it's coming off, and my form-fitting exercise shirts are starting to look better on me!)

So the point of all this rambling? Sometimes we need a little outside motivation to find out what we're really capable of. And I'm glad I found Guido to provide that motivation for me.