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.)

My fitness journey started with a little Beyonce.

Wow, it’s Thursday already. On Monday I thought to myself, “Hmmm feels like this week is going to be kinda long.” Wrong.

Moves.

Tuesday – 100 burpees throughout the day + upper body workout

*10 burpees between each exercise

Wednesday – active recovery day

  • some walking
  • Blogilates’ extreme abs 3 (done virtually with my friend Dom!)
  • stretching and foam rolling
  • some dancing
some tulips from my walk

Beyonce and the start of my fitness journey. I started gaining interest in fitness as a sophomore in high school. My cardiovascular health was never really great, so I had very humble beginnings that started with 15 minutes on our basement elliptical. Running a mile was a sTrUgGLe for me at this time as well.

As I was still just starting out my training, if I was feeling spicy, I would do a few rounds of Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” music video dance (which is really fun btw) to get my heart rate up. Yesterday I wanted to do it just for fun on my active recovery day, and I just remembered how I used to be winded at the end of it when I was in high school.

Not that I’m super fit (especially cardiovascularly, which is still a weak point for me), but this is all to say that you should never be ashamed of where you are in your fitness journey. You are not pathetic if you can’t run a mile without stopping, do a pushup, do a squat, whatever. You are not pathetic if you get winded with 15 minutes of elliptical like I did in high school. There are benefits to increasing cardiovascular endurance, but start and build up safely and consistently from where you are. That’s perfect.

Johnnyswim. Do you guys know this artist? It’s a husband and wife who make sorta folksy-pop music that is really beautiful. Their new quarantine project is called “Songs with Strangers,” where they select a person on their Instagram Live each week. In ONE DAY, they write, produce, mix and release a new song with the help of that person (usually the person just contributes their story, which becomes the basis of the song lyrics), who ends up getting half of the rights to the song. And let me tell you, these songs are wonderful. Here’s one of my favorites:

It’s also awesome that they’ve been posting the full 7-8 hour Instagram live videos of the entire process. Musicians are amazing.

So tell me:

What do you like to do on rest days / active recovery days? (Sometimes I don’t walk or really do anything. Yesterday was still pretty active!)

Do you remember some things you found difficult at the beginning of your fitness journey?

Do you like Johnnyswim? Are there any cool celebrity quarantine projects that you fancy?

If you are struggling with disordered eating at this time…

Being pent up within four walls for weeks on end is not the most fun for a lot of people.

But if you are someone who experiences any sort of mental health issue to any degree, you might understand that an overhaul of routine and a severance of social gathering can be devastating.

To be completely transparent, my quarantine life has not been devastating, but I remember a time when this severity of change would have been so.

During Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (I think that was the disaster, but perhaps it was just a bad winter storm that I’m thinking of… but that’s not critical to the rest of this), my family and I were trying to keep warm and fed in our house with no electricity for several days. I didn’t exercise because it would be too cold and dark to do anything except sit by the fire, all while still trying to do some school work. Food involved things that were out of the ordinary — slices of bread toasted on a pan atop our gas stove (#lifesaver), canned soup warmed up in the same way. Not the usual salads and Greek yogurt bowls.

I didn’t have control of anything, and I was not really okay with it. Our priorities were really to survive (and we were doing a-okay, by the way; things could have been worse) at that point, but the desire to maintain my eating and exercise routines had become just as severe of a “need” in my mind.

I remember sitting in front of the fire one of those nights, and my dad said that eating a bit more would help us to stay warm (i.e., thermic effect of food). However, I suggested that maybe we should be eating less because we weren’t moving as much (i.e., burning as many calories as usual). It was a small sign of how deeply uncomfortable I was with the whole situation, even though it probably lasted less than a week.

It is now 2020, and we all meet a similar yet different situation.

Maybe you are frustrated that you can’t lift as heavy or take your favorite intense workout classes. Maybe you’re sitting for much longer periods of time and getting thousands fewer steps than usual (holla). Maybe your favorite produce or preferred types of foods are constantly off the shelves.

The extra time on social media (in efforts to gain a semblance of human contact) might bring an onslaught of advertisements for home workout programs and meal plans to “keep you on track.” There might be fewer distractions to keep you from falling into the rabbit hole that is the fitness industry, something you were great at avoiding for so long.

Maybe the shift in control of your life in and of itself throws you into a tizzy and causes you to more intensely cling to the things you can control.

“If I can’t do ______, ________, and ________, at least I can still count my calories and go on super long runs/walks. I can still have my six pack abs.” This is just an example.

I understand that there are people who can do this without compromising their mental health. In fact, there are people are taking control of their physical health to benefit their mental health during this time. But you — YOU — might need something different, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And YOU are not alone in that.

You all know that I am a physical therapist to be, not a psychologist or eating disorder specialist. I can only give advice and counsel from my own experience. So I will offer four things for you today:

  1. Continue to seek help if you need it. For less pervasive and just pesky thoughts of disordered eating, reach out to a trusted friend or family member. For what you think might be a relapse, please reach out to your therapist or eating disorder specialist (or a new one), and I am confident that they will either provide or refer you to online services. I have heard of great success with online counseling.
  2. Find creative outlet. Draw, dance, sing, write poetry, knit, crochet, sidewalk chalk, blow huge bubbles (far away from other people), play an instrument, blog, journal. Use that awesome brain and body of yours to do some really cool and impressive things that are not fitness.
  3. Catch up with friends who care about you as a whole person. This might not be the ideal time to reach out to the friend who can primarily bonds with you over running or CrossFit. Talk with people who know other things about your life and who are likely to ask you about / listen to how your heart is doing at this time.
  4. Be gentle but very honest with yourself. No one is going to tell you to just be sedentary, eat dessert, and deal with your disordered eating that way. At least, no one should give that kind of ultimatum, even if that is what you need. Let yourself move, and eat well. But be very, very honest with yourself in how much the thoughts of fitness and food are pervading your mind. If it’s on your mind and making you feel anxious for most of the day and distracting you from other things, consider #1.

Be not afraid! We will get through this.

Both Mental and Physical Healing

Moves. Some random single leg burpees with no rhyme or reason right before dinner in my apartment room.

Less mobility and the mind. This period of limited mobility has been difficult, because besides the high impact workouts, I can’t just pick up and even go on a nice brisk walk (one of my favorite things to do). Stairs are a hassle and taking the elevator to the second floor is more of a norm. People drive me places (so grateful!). Such is the nature of healing an injury in your leg.

But I’ve reflected a bit on how my mind has actually healed a lot in these past few years. When I was a freshman in college, I would likely be in a BIG tizzy if I were in my situation today. When I came to college, I did 50 squats every day while brushing my teeth. I only took the stairs. I could count on one hand the number of times I took the bus / train. My step count would be well over 10,000 every single day. I would do burpees as a study break. And this was not even including my formal workout. I fueled myself well, but I knew that I was moving so often.

Let me tell you, I’ve been moving a LOT less these days. I do what I can, and I stay active, but my body hasn’t experienced a “formal” workout in forever it seems. Bummed? Of course! But I have so much to explore in terms of what I can do with 3 of 4 limbs. I can put a lot of my mental effort into thinking about my…plank and pushup form. My left hip hinging motion in a pistol squat. Breathing when swimming.

I have so many resources available to me, so there is no real reason for me to complain. I can also be grateful to say that it’s temporary; not everyone can say that. And I can still eat to my satisfaction. Might be less than usual since I’m just not expending as much energy, but sometimes it’s the same amount of food as before my injury, and that’s okay. It helps me get out of the mindset of “workout = must eat more food, no workout = must eat less.”

“Why does Janice’s face look like yours?” Real quote from one of our (*cough* Asian) students in dance class last night. Like, what!? Boy, in that case, my face looks like yours too! It was comical and I’m not actually mad at this 5 year old boy, but Janice and I have definitely received a lot of comments and questions about our ethnicity and/or relation to each other, especially in St. Louis this past summer (I love STL but it truly has a different demographic and… disposition). Diversity (and general manners? even in adults, lemme tell ya) is a work in progress.

Halloween. I do not have a costume, but one of my favorite embarrassing costumes from the past is a flamingo one year. Oh, and a toucan the next year. Costco apparently stocked up on exotic bird costumes back in the day.

So tell me:

Do you ever have mental struggles when required to back off from exercise / movement?

Do you ever face comments of ignorance re: ethnicity / religion?

Are you dressing up for halloween this year? What are you!?

 

Burning, Sweating, Smiling

I genuinely wonder how many gallons of sweat have been excreted from my body in this past week.

Summer is in full force, which is 75% of the reason why it’s been so long since I’ve posted. The other 25% is school. Those numbers are definitely supposed to be switched, but alas, this weekend definitely involved more summer fun than schoolwork.

There has been a lot of burnin’, sweatin’, and smilin’ happening here!

Wednesday

Yes, I’m starting all the way from last Wednesday, but I promise these are just the highlights.

After a full day of class, Colby, my friend/classmate Elayne and I used our ClassPass trial on a TRAINx360 class at a place called Everybody Fights in Boston’s financial district.

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The gym looks pretty trendy and is packed with all kinds of equipment. Our energetic instructor took us through several stations, including four different boxing stations, air dyne bike, battle ropes, KB burpees, jump squats, rowing, med ball high knees, and suspension trainer pikes. We did 6 rounds of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds active rest at each station, and we were beat by the end of it.

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Oh, and the instructor ended it with a squat finisher that burned my quads.

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I freaking LOVED it though! The atmosphere, the group effort, the workout format, the movements. Highly recommend this gym if you’re in the Boston area!

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burning, sweating and smiling

All last week I noshed on my favorite chicken drumsticks with brown rice and some sort of vegetable.

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Thursday

The most exciting news from Thursday was seeing a turtle on the way to campus…

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…and using another one of my ClassPass trials on Happy Hour Yoga at BurnFit. This was both a relaxing and challenging class with some groovy tunes playing in the background.

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Friday

After classes, I headed to the gym and completed this workout:

5 rounds:

  • 500m row (2:18 pace)
  • 10 burpees

12 minute abs:

Then I met up with some friends at Le’s Vietnamese Restaurant for some bomb pho. Rachel and I shared a bowl of pork/shrimp/egg roll vermicelli and a large bowl of meatball pho. It was everything we needed.

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Fun fact: it has always been a rainy day when I’ve gone to Le’s. Pho weather is a thing.

Afterwards, we headed to Ben’s place to watch John Mulaney comedy on Netflix while eating ice cream right out of the carton. Casey, Lauren and I were sharing four different pints at once, and it was bliss.

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everyone give attention to Casey’s corgi sweatshirt

Casey bought the birthday cake flavor of Halo Top, which everyone raves about, and for good reason because it was so good!!

Saturday

The sun was out and burning bright. Perfect for kayaking (given that you have loads of sunscreen)!

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Photo compliments of my friend Nico

My Boston friends + Colby (honorary Boston friend now 🙂 ) and I headed to Cambridge to rent some kayaks and explore the city by water for a couple hours. ‘Twas glorious.

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Thank you x2 for capturing this, Nico!

Colby was my kayak buddy, but we made the mistake of putting her in the front. The stronger person is supposed to go in the back, so I think her mighty strength at the front of the boat (and my less mighty strength in the back) caused us to have some steering issues at the start, but we figured it out (sorta) by the end.

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So much fun!!

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Shoulder muscles and skin burning, definitely sweating, still smiling.

I didn’t have shorts to wear that day though, so I was wearing capris. This was the result.

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That’s not disappearing until 2018.

After kayaking, we were more than ready for nourishment, so we took our kayaking receipts to Za for 10% off pizza! Lauren and I split a portobello/roasted red pepper/roasted garlic/goat cheese pizza + garlic scape/tomato/feta pizza.

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Both were fantastic. The crust was perfectly doughy and crispy all at once.

For the rest of the day, I stayed home and got some schoolwork done. That time in the intense sun also wiped us all out.

Sunday

I woke up early-ish to meet Ben for a quick workout before BEACH DAY! We ran a little less than 2 miles in the very muggy heat and then did a mini circuit of tricep dips and split squats before we needed to down a million gallons of water.

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lol at the butt sweat, ew

Rachel kindly drove us to the beach because she’s an adult and has a car now. We were headed for one beach, but parking was full when we got there at around 11, so we went a few miles farther to Singing Beach, which worked out well!

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The sun was hot but the water was NOT. I was literally kneeling in it so I could ice my injured knee. I couldn’t even keep my feet in the water for more than 30 seconds.

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But Rachel is a cold-blooded fish apparently.

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I don’t get it.

I was just trying to read some functional anatomy while not getting a weird textbook tan over my legs or anything.

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We all packed our own sandwiches for lunch, and Rachel and I packed the same sandwich (except for the bread we used): pepperjack, turkey, arugula, bacon. I also had berry preserves and mustard on mine because I’m greedy for flavor.

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Speaking of greedy, Lauren and I just listened to Ariana Grande’s song “Greedy” for the first time this weekend and are obsessed with it. That KEY CHANGE after the bridge!!

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thanks for this photo, Austin!

After we frolicked at the beach all afternoon, we headed back home for showers and a quick turnaround to get to Mass at 6pm. Following Mass, we wanted fooooood. More importantly, we wanted to continue our ice cream Sunday tradition by going to J.P. Licks, so we planned around that. Yelp told me that Chilacates was cheap and delicious Mexican food, so we chose that for dinner.

I got three tacos that hit the spot. So much flavor!

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al pastor (pork and pineapple) // chicken tinga (spicy chipotle sauce) // papas con chorizo (potatoes and chorizo) 

We all scream for ice cream!

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I got a scoop of peanut butter cookies ‘n’ cream. Mmmmhmmmm.

The rest of our night involved The Game of Things, aka the greatest game to play with close friends/family. This photo of Ben and Austin laughing/crying sums up the night.

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Monday

I had planned on hiking and going to brunch with the gang, but my knee was hurting from my short run with Ben on Sunday (the same pain I felt after the Spartan Race…I think it’s IT band syndrome), so I decided to stay home and rest. My moves and grooves of the day was Blogilates’ Extreme Abs 3, which never fails to annihilate my core.

Studying, laundry, a trip to the library, getting more quarters for laundry and cooking also needed to be done! Lunch intermission was an avocado, arugula, bacon, egg, sriracha sandwich. 😀

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I made these spicy peanut chicken soba noodles for dinner, which I hadn’t made since Rachel’s birthday five months ago. These are THE BEST. I made so much of it, so I have leftovers for dayyyyyzzzz.

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Tuesday – Fourth of July!

God bless America!!! This day was so wonderful.

I started off with some banana pudding for breakfast, followed by some studying and a 16 minute workout.

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4 rounds, 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off:

  • tuck jump burpees
  • DB thrusters
  • skaters
  • dive bomber pushups
  • plank jack burpees
  • reverse lunge to front kick (one side at a time)

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burnin’, sweatin’, smilin’

I took a long walk to Rachel’s place for the festivities and picked up some groceries on the way. Rachel and I double teamed and cooked up some burgers before everyone arrived.

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Many chips with much dip, Lofthouse cookies (← forever have a place in my heart), apple pie, brownies, homemade chocolate chip banana bread a la mode…

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100% brought peanut butter just for the banana bread

#BoozeAndGrooves was also in full swing. Ben brought some Jell-O shots, and I choked down this red one, which tasted exactly like cough syrup. The blue one was a little better. Lauren also made lovely prosecco grapes!

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Alcohol doesn’t amaze me, but I appreciate fun and festive alcohol “snacks”(?).

After several hours of grazing, dancing, more grazing, and chatting, we cleaned up and headed out towards the river to get ready for the fireworks show. The fireworks weren’t until 10:30 pm, so we killed our time with some walking, playing “Contact” (← also a fun game!), and…

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cigars burnin’, all of us were sweatin’, but only some of us were smilin’

…smoking cigars (NOT cigarettes, Madre and Pop!). I learned that you do not inhale the smoke from cigars, but you’re supposed to swirl it in your mouth to taste it and then puff it out. “For conversations about philosophy.”

You can see that I was just utterly pleased with the experience. I probably wouldn’t do it again because it doesn’t taste great, I still don’t like smoke that close to my lungs, and I don’t love that I’m emitting smoke around others. BUT I’m glad I tried it once, and to my friends’ pleasure, I didn’t absolutely hate it.

Weather-wise, it was a perfect night to celebrate our nation.

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The fireworks were spectacular, but these people easily outdo them.

Wednesday

Back to reality. I had class all day and then went back to Everybody Fights with Elayne for our last ClassPass trial. This time we did the BAGSxBODY class, which involved a lot more punching of heavy bags. It was A BLAST. I need to box more!

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burnin’, sweatin’ A LOT, smilin’ 

I just housed more soba noodles, 1/3 of a pan of roasted brussels sprouts, a frozen banana with pb, and some cereal after that boxing class.

It’s Thursday already!?

So tell me:

Americans – What did you do for the Fourth of July?

Have you ever tried boxing?

What is your favorite group game to play?

Three fun things you did this past week!