To the ladies (and gents) out there trying to get a “summer body”

It’s SWEATING SEASON.

Boston is finally starting to heat up and I am looooooving it. As if I don’t go through laundry quickly enough, I am wearing multiple outfits a day now to accommodate my perpetual sweatiness. Actually, I am perpetually sweaty no matter what season it is, but now it’s profuse perpetual sweatiness.

Not that you care.

Someone on Instagram asked me last week to talk about my fitness journey a little bit, to which I agreed. I have talked about it a few times here on the blog, but I am always happy to share my story (which is ever evolving anyway) with any new friends (hi!).

For those who are returning readers (ily) familiar with my fitness journey, perhaps you can appreciate this post’s current perspective, which is in light of “summer body” season.

I made a little collage comparing pre-college and graduate school Alison. This will serve as a bit of context for the rest of my story.

D i s c l a i m e r: Please understand that every BODY is so uniquely different. There are some of you who currently look more like “pre-college” Alison who are perfectly healthy (i.e., no disordered thoughts around food or exercise, regular menstrual cycle, happy gal). There are some of you who look more like “grad school” Alison but may struggle with disordered eating and exercise, etc. And then there’s every type of body in between and beyond. Please do your best to know thyself. ♥︎

I won’t dive too deeply into how my fitness journey started, because I recently wrote a post about how it started very humbly with a Beyonce dance video and 15 minutes per day on the elliptical. Essentially, I am a naturally lazy person who was motivated to start working out by the will to lose weight in my high school years.

My story follows a relatively common narrative seen in many young women’s lives. She starts having an obsessive eating/exercise disorder because of sports or an innocent (or not) desire to get “toned”/less fat/whatever ➔ she has a deeply cutting revelation of her health state and embarks a long but beautiful push-pull journey of recovering (e.g., needing to take breaks from intense exercise in order to get menstrual cycle back) ➔ sometimes revisits old habits in times of stress and insecurity ➔ overall remains 99.9% recovered.

In no way do I mean to minimize anyone’s unique story, nor my own, but I am simplifying the narrative as a testament to how easy and common it is to fall into the trap of disordered eating and exercise.

(Here is a post about when I felt I truly stopped becoming obsessed with exercise and here is a peek into my undergrad workout routine, which is kind of similar to my routine now, except I am currently more lax.)

In all transparency, I do still go through phases during which I struggle with my body image and wonder if X, Y, or Z will help me feel better about myself. I attribute this to being a human who uses social media. However, fitness has slowly but surely become something that is first and foremost FOR function, mental health, and happiness. It is NOT FOR (or I avoid at all costs to make it for) a certain physique, weight, or “summer body.”

Back to the photo above. I had ripped abs in high school. You could perhaps say I had a nice “summer body.” True, I did a lot of core work, but the main reason my abs were so prominent is that I had very little body fat due to restriction of calories and overexercising.

I was chronically tired and unhappy.

I would like to draw your attention to my wrists in the first photo. I have genetically tiny wrists in the first place, but at that time, even I would think they were on the brink of snapping at some point. I don’t look incredibly unhealthy in the rest of the photo; some would say I look great. I remember people commenting on how fit and strong I looked (again, just because you could SEE my abs). But recalling how skeletal my hands looked, and, above all, recalling how unhappy I felt within, I know now that no external appearance made summer any better for me.

My workouts at that point had to make me want to die or else it wasn’t really worth it. I must admit that I did grow a lot in my general fitness and strength this time, because I pushed myself more than I ever did in my life (remember, I am a naturally lazy person). However, I could only improve to a certain point. There was very little rest and very little fuel to keep me going.

Refer to some of the above posts if you are interested in the interim between pre-college Alison and grad school (current) Alison. It’s been a long journey!

As the photo caption says, I have since gained 40-45 lbs in both fat and muscle (and maybe bone honestly; I was a late bloomer). You can no longer see a 6-pack. Who knows what you can even see; I don’t like posting my midriff on social media now (for modesty reasons, not due to any sort of shame for what my abs do or do not look like).

I am a pear-shaped, lower-body-heavy person who is consequently challenged by any sort of leg raise exercise. People (usually older Asian folks) have commented on how large and bulky I look. I have also gained weight pretty much every single year since I entered college (although my weight is probably at its happy point currently).

However, I am stronger, faster, happier, and healthier than I was in the first two photos, and I genuinely look forward to working out. And this freedom and joy in moving my body is worth so much more than a photo of ripped abs could ever capture.

Regarding my current fitness routine, quarantine has of course made me get creative. But even if the gyms were available, I like to think that my routine and mindset would be the same. 9/10 times I make up my workout the day of, and I frequently modify the workout as I’m doing it, whether it’s too easy or too difficult.

I could not report to you the number of workouts I do every week, because I don’t log them or premeditate the number (although I have been posting some of my workouts on my Instagram story recently to share ideas, so I guess you can check there to approximate).

I have learned a lot from physical therapy school, which helps me to think about different muscle groups and exercises that are for far more than an aesthetic.

I also have come to appreciate intentionality during workouts (thanks to the knowledge of some cool women like Natacha Oceane and Tanya Poppett). In other words, whatever you are doing, do. it. well. If it’s supposed to be explosive, explode for every rep. If it’s supposed to be slow and controlled working every tiny muscle you never knew you had, then do that. If you’re stretching, focus continually on the positioning of your joints. Adjust the reps and time as needed to make it quality > quantity. With this change, every movement session is an opportunity for improvement in fitness (note: not necessarily improvement in physique), because all my brain power is going into something particular, even if it is just the positioning of a stretch, for example.

More intention = better form = better motor patterns = better movement. And get sufficient rest in between! I guess this is how I always wished I approached fitness. If I could give advice to those trying to build up their fitness in a healthy way, this would be it.

So to all the ladies and gents out there tryin’ to get a summer body: I’m not here to tell you to stop your fitness or food regimen to get shredded for the summer. There are plenty of people who can do that happily and healthfully. I will just, as always, implore you to reflect honestly about the motivations, the goal, and how happy and healthy you are in the process.

A practical self-check is asking yourself how much time during the day you spend think about how you can achieve a certain physique goal. I can’t give you a certain percentage of the day, but if it’s “most of the day”, that could indicate the need for re-evaluation of your current habits.

You might not be “one of those people” who can get shredded without compromising mental/physical health. I am here to tell you that I understand the frustration of that deeply, and you are not alone. But the freeing happiness to which you are called is worth more than a “perfect” summer body.

My “summer bod” (whatever that means for 2020) is a short and stocky conglomerate of all the cells that are uniquely me. I’m enjoying fitness right now and I feel rested and well. I hope you feel rested and well, too. Ain’t no time for summer stressing.

(Disclaimer #2: All my recommendations are coming from my own anecdotal experience, as well as from others with whom I have spoken. However, I am not a medical doctor nor an eating disorder specialist. Please speak with other trusted healthcare professionals if you are seeking personalized help. As a resource, my friend Lauren Bickford, RD, aka the Food Fight RD, is a certified intuitive eating counselor.)

An Easy and Weird Way to Make a “Chopped” Salad

Moves. This workout was quick and dirty, and it was one of my favorites in a while!

10 minutes EMOM (every minute on the minute)

~Rest for a few minutes~

10 minutes EMOM

It doesn’t look like much on paper, but if you go heavy enough on the kettlebell and high enough with the box jumps, it gets spicy.

If you’re not sure what EMOM entails… Set a timer for 10 minutes (+ a few seconds of countdown to get ready). At 10:00, start the “even” exercise, completing it as fast as possible with good form. Once you’ve completed the assigned reps, you get to rest for the remainder of the minute. At 9:00, start the “odd” exercise and do the same thing. Etc…

These are all pretty high intensity moves, so that remaining time in the minute should be much needed! If not, first check form, then increase weight/height of box, then increase reps if still too easy.

“Chopped” salad. One of the many weird things I do is make chopped salads by hacking at all the ingredients together in a large container (e.g., last night I used my rice cooker pot because it’s the largest vessel I have right now) with kitchen scissors.

If you’ve ever been to a bougie chopped salad bar, they’ll often pour out all the ingredients onto a giant cutting board and use a curved axe-saw type of thing to chop-chop the salad so that you have perfectly proportioned bites vs. large, stemmy leaves that are unflattering to eat.

Well I don’t have those tools, but I still want the chopped salad experience sometimes. I do have a large container, and I do have kitchen scissors. So last night’s super easy salad at 9pm was spinach, avocado, deli ham, homemade maple mustard vinaigrette ➔ dump into clean rice cooker pot ➔ hack at all of it with kitchen shears while occasionally tossing.

I’ll post a video example on my instagram story today if you’re interested. And yes, I ate my salad straight out of the rice cooker pot.

p.s. I definitely ate more food after my salad, so don’t go thinking I eat 300 calories for dinner.

a blurry throwback photo of a “chopped” salad a la scissor hacking

Avocado smoothie. Speaking of avocados, I went out to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant with my friends on Sunday, and John ordered an avocado smoothie for us to share. It is literally just ice, avocado, and some condensed milk. I loved it. It was like a light, refreshing guacamole milkshake that had a subtle but sure taste of the beloved creamy fruit. I recommend it the next time you’re out eating pho!

So tell me:

Do you like to make “chopped” salads at home? If so, how? Have you/would you ever try the kitchen scissors+bowl method?

Have you ever done an EMOM workout? Do you like them?

Have you ever tried an avocado smoothie? Do you like to put avocados IN your smoothies?

Day in the Life {Third Clinical of DPT School}

Whoopsie, I didn’t mean to duck out of here for so long. No excuses to share!

To get back into the swing of things, I think it’s fine time for another “day in the life” post, given that I am over halfway through my third of four clinicals here in physical therapy school. February is also over halfway over, which is somethin’ to chew on. Lent is coming!!

I am currently working four 10-hour days (Mon-Thurs), and each day looks a little different after I leave work, but here is a typical Monday.

a super close up selfie of me on my very first day of clinical (6 weeks ago)

5:40am — Wake up. Kick a leg off the bed, then the other, then (sometimes literally) hit the floor to say a morning offering prayer. Go to the bathroom.

6:00am — Make bed, get changed, and put on a small bit of makeup. Get my lunch box packed.

6:15am — Leave apartment and walk to a farther train station than necessary to get the blood pumping. I like to breathe in the fresh morning air and say a rosary.

6:40am — Arrive at the train station and get on the train.

7:00am — Take a shuttle from the train station to work building.

7:15am — Arrive at work. Change my upper garments because I always sweat walking to the train station.

7:30am — Start pre-charting while eating breakfast. On Mondays, we technically start work at 8:00am, but I like to get there slightly earlier to have more time to chart review and plan for the day.

8:15am — The first slot for seeing a patient. Some days it’s filled, others it’s not.

Occasionally, I’ll scarf down a nut bar if we have a free moment and if I’m really hungry between breakfast and lunch.

12:00pm — Lunch break! Depending on how many notes I need to write, I’ll either stay in my cubicle documenting while eating lunch or take some time to go down to the cafeteria where there is 10x more light and warmth than in the office.

1:00pm — Back to work. Technically, our lunch break is 30 minutes, so half is for actual eating and relaxing. The other half is for documenting.

4:00-5:00 pm — Sometime in here I’ll likely have a snack for the final push of the work day.

5:30pm — No more patients seen after this time, but time to finish up notes and prepare for the next day!

6:30pm — Leave work (if all goes as planned). I’ve been walking from work to the train station instead of waiting for the shuttle, unless it’s already there. It’s another nice way to unwind from work and just enjoy the fresh air (if it’s not raining, that is).

7:00pm — Take the train to the gym. Usually I just sit and stare to let my mind rest. Often will say some prayers. Occasionally I’ll listen to a podcast. John suggested I read a book when I’m commuting, which seems obvious, but I have not done it yet!

7:30pm — Arrive at the gym, change, and do a quick workout. Usually, since it’s quite late already, I do a warmup + 20 minute HIIT workout.

It’s a victory in and of itself for me to get my butt to the gym after a long day, and that’s coming from someone who likes to work out. Holla at everyone who struggles getting to the gym after a long day of work. The gym does not open early enough for me to go before work… but I doubt I’d go at 5am anyway, even if it was open at that time.

The worst part about the gym at this time of day is that many college students are like me and don’t go to the gym before classes; they go AFTER classes are done for the day. So it’s a mad house. Utter mad house. The beauty of a HIIT workout though is that I need limited space, so I usually gather myself in a corner and get to work.

8:30pm — Arrive home and eat dinner! Try to not occupy my mind too much, but maybe FaceTime a friend, maybe text some people.

9:15pm — Shower.

9:30pm — Pack food for the next day.

10:00pm — Soooo…. what I should be doing at this time is winding down, praying, reading, etc. But I often will be texting people or busying myself with pointless things that are unproductive at this hour of the night. But the goal is to be in bed around this time and getting my snooze on.

Recently I’ve been getting to sleep closer to 10:30-10:40pm, for whatever reason. I need to work on cleaning up that nighttime routine, let me tell ya.

That’s about it though! Some variations include bible study on Tuesday nights instead of the gym. Mondays and Wednesdays I start at 8am, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am. Some nights I get off earlier from work. Wednesdays I’m often tired and don’t make it to the gym. Thursdays I usually try to push through to work out since I have Fridays off. It’s all just a general routine with lots of flexibility, for which I am grateful.

I hope all those who have today off (President’s Day in America) have lots of fun and relaxation! For those like me who are working today, I hope it’s still lots of fun 🙂

So tell me:

What does your daily schedule look like generally?

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

Do you go to the gym before or after work?

Spontaneity

Moves.

  • Core and grip strength work at rock climbing (no actual wall climbing for now) + 15 min single leg assault biking on Thursday
  • Rest day Friday
  • 20 min HIIT workout Saturday
  • Swimming and aqua jogging yesterday

Less pressure. Because I have limited options with what I can do for my workout, I feel less pressure to choose the “perfect” workout each day. It’s very literally a matter of, “whatever I can do, I will do, and I’m happy with that.” It’s freeing, and I’ve found it to be a blessing in disguise with this femur fiasco.

MRI. I got one on Friday morning at 6am and I swear I was falling asleep in that large, loud tube they put you through. It was my first MRI ever, and what an interesting experience it was! They gave me a blanket to stay warm, large headphones to block out the noise (with the option to play music for you but I declined because I wanted to try to nap for the 30 min I was in there), and the machine is a painless, loud as heck, gentle giant. I’m glad I went in feet first though, because I think my slight claustrophobia would have freaked me out a little bit. Results will come back tomorrow I hope!

Spontaneity. I made a spontaneous trip to Providence, RI this weekend to visit my friend Zoe, who was hosting essentially a Catholic women’s brunch at her apartment. It was totally off brand for me to make a decision like that so last minute, but I was feeling good about the amount of work I had to do, and how often do I get to do spontaneous things like this? Making plans also helps me to actually get work done rather than derp around because “I have soooo much timeeee.”

Brunch was a blast! It was a super girly Pinterest-y thing to start, but then we started talking about farts and that’s when the real party started. I made little ham and cheese crescent rolls, and boy do I love pillsbury crescent rolls. Buttery, pillowy goodness.

Also spontaneous? Getting burgers, fries and shakes last night with my friends Abby and Joy. It was good for the soul.

Monday, here we come!

So tell me:

What was the best spontaneous thing you’ve done recently?

Have you ever gotten an MRI before? Did you enjoy the experience?

What did you do this weekend?

Dreams and Tattoos

Moves: Some upper body superset shenanigans!

  • 3×15 TRX rows, 3×10 atomic pushups
  • 3×8-10 lat pull downs (increasing weight each set), 3×12 decline pushups
  • 3×20 cable oblique twists each side, 3×20 alternating bear crawl rows with DBs
  • 3×10 Arnold presses, 3×4-6 dips

I think I take longer breaks than I’m supposed to according to what a “superset” should be, but I’m soft these days.

Super sleepy. As I’ve gotten older, waking up has been easier, no matter how little sleep I seem to get. But yesterday morning and all day I felt like a pubescent teen going through a growth spurt who needs 12 hours of sleep to function normally.

Would you ever get a(nother) tattoo? Tattoos have been catching my attention more than usual lately, whether it’s a friend who is considering getting one or seeing one posted on Instagram or seeing one on someone at the gym that I think is cool. I don’t have any and I don’t plan on getting one any time soon, but I always like to imagine what I would get if I did ever decide to get one…

Initial thought: Bible verse or saint quote of sorts.

Next thought: a rose for St. Therese of Lisieux but how cliche is a ROSE, ya know? Not that that’s bad if it has special meaning to me.

Next thought: an image of the heart (like, the actual organ)… but I already have a heart inside me and can be reminded of it as long as I’m alive.

I’d like more creative juices to flow. P.S. If you’re Catholic and are ever on the fence about whether or not a tattoo is a good idea, this video is a good guide for making that decision. I currently have no real reason to ink myself, but a girl can dream…

Speaking of dreams. Janice asked me at dinner yesterday if I had a dream (*enter MLK coming down from the heavens*). I told her I don’t really have one that I’m committed to in any way, but I think it’s a good thing to hope and dream, with the prudence of knowing that my plans are not my own in the end.

My dream? I would love to bring the practice of evidence-based physical therapy to people in other countries. Sort of like medical missions except for physical therapy. I also have this dream to establish (with my intelligent, talented, and faithful friends) some sort of holistic spiritual, mental, physical health institute that encompasses evidence-based practice and faith-based values in its services. Ask me another time how exactly that might work.

Cheers to Thursday!

So tell me:

Would you ever get a(nother) tattoo? What would it be?

Do you have a big dream? What is it?