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.)

Life Back in Boston + 6 Years of Blogging

One of my very favorite places to do life!

Since we last chatted (about the great and small things I learned in STL), I have visited family at home, gone camping, gone back home, moved apartments, and started my third and LAST year of PT school!

I feel like I’ve been in school forever, but here I am in my last semester of school forever (please, Lord).

In all honesty, I have felt very few emotions about a lot of things. Maybe it’s because I’ve run this gamut a few times already.

School? Grateful and happy to be back. Excited or nervous? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Eh. It’s a light semester of classes with a crap ton of self-directed research/work time in between, which is nice but also dangerously deceiving and deceptively difficult. “Oh, so you mean I need to motivate MYSELF for the WHOLE 12 hours that I’m not in class today?…….God help me.”

The future/my career? I have not a darn clue in the world what will be happening in these next 12 months of my life. I know that I will be in Boston for my next two clinicals (woohoo!), but otherwise, that’s about it. The rest, we throw to the wind of the Holy Spirit. I am neither worried nor sad nor stoked about anything. I’m at peace with the unknown though. Just trying to trust the process and go through the motions with an open heart.

The changes in my friends’ lives? Well, two of my best friends got married, and for that I was overwhelmingly excited and joyful The sacrament, the celebration, the reunion with so many beautiful people — such a blessing. I must say, there is no party like a party with people who know Love and Joy Himself. Congratulations, Ben and Casey!

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Friends are also having babies now, and that’s when I’m like, “I need a second.” *breathes heavily*

But I love Boston, and I am incredibly grateful to be back for at least another year. The Lord is kind and merciful.


I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my 6 year blogging anniversary! The exact date of which I am not entirely sure… early August. Maybe it was the 3rd.

In honor of 6 years of blogging, for my entertainment and potentially yours, here is a blast from the past — a random blog post from each year that I’ve blogged.

2013: “I Like Burpees (You know it.)

2014: “Boston University is Making Things Complicated” (This was when I visited BU for open house and fell in love with it. UGH what a little human I was.)

2015: “I Should Be Embarrassed About These Things…” (OMG UNDERGRAD LIFE *CRIES*)

2016: “48 Hours Unplugged” (An incredible two days in the middle-of-nowhere-NY with Fiona and Rachel that we will never ever forget.)

2017: “Greater Love” (BU Catholic Center retreats are a highlight of my life.)

2018: “October” (Despite, or perhaps lending to, the simple name, this was a time of deep emotion for me.)

2019: “Never A Dull Moment” (And I think this blog testifies to that.)

As I look through all of these blog posts, I notice:

  • Alison went from squirrelly young lass to emotionless city girl (lol jk…kinda).
  • I went from blogging ~almost~ every day to blogging ~almost~ monthly.
  • I have grown physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually in ways that I could not have tried to do myself.
  • Selfies never seem to go out of style for me.
  • The list of things that truly matter never changes.
  • God’s hand has been in all of it, without a doubt.

Thank you, as always, to every single one of you who takes time out of your busy days to read my words, laugh/cry with me, and reflect on the goodness/hardness/”what!?”-ness of life with me. I very am grateful for you and for the ways this blog has brought me closer to people.

So tell me:

What’s on deck for you for the rest of 2019? School? New job? Same job? New life events?

Share your current emotions! If ya want…That’s kinda personal though, so up to you.

The Great and Small Things I Learned {Summer Clinical #2}

Sometimes I forget I have a blog.

But I lounged around yesterday for about an hour just scrolling through blogs that I follow on my Feedly like I used to during my high school leisure days… ahhhh. It was lovely, and I remembered that I like to blog too HAHA.

I’ve given a glimpse of how this summer has been in STL. Now that I am back home in New York / Boston, the reflective mindset has started to settle a bit. Ergo, it is time for another edition of “Great and Small Things I Learned.”

How to even begin summarizing the oodles of things I learned in the hospital!?

I worked with a physical therapist on the medicine floor of Barnes Jewish Hospital. This means we saw patients who have pretty much any and every comorbidity under the sun and who were admitted for a reason that is not primarily neurological, cardiopulmonary, or orthopedic. For example, I saw a lot of patients admitted for falls, sepsis, altered mental status, acute kidney injuries, hypoglycemia, hypertensive emergencies, acute onset of weakness from metabolic causes… etc… I guess.

Communication

50% of patients wanted nothing to do with physical therapy. De-escalating situations with  patients who had altered mental status or who were agitated at the time was a big skill to learn, but by the end of the clinical, almost no amount of sass or yelling could faze me.

Empathy and Listening

Requirements in the healthcare field. In the first few weeks of clinical, it was easy to be stressed and preoccupied over my performance as a student PT, so I had to remind myself that this job is about the patient in front of me, and the patient is hurting, often in more ways than one. Listening and motivational interviewing are always helpful.

Integrity, Honesty and Moving Forward

I made plenty of mistakes during clinical, but some were bigger than others. Thankfully, none of the mistakes resulted in anyone’s injury, but I learned some valuable lessons the hard way, that’s for sure. I had to practice integrity and timely honesty about my mistakes, and furthermore, I had to move forward and continue in confidence after all was said and done. My clinical instructor (who was amazing!) counseled me that letting my mistakes get to my head does not serve anyone well.

Neuromuscular Connection

The trendy/granola term for this is “mind-muscle connection,” I think. THINKING about what I want my muscles to do and how fast I want them to it during a workout has helped with increasing strength. There’s literature about it out there… I’m not going to go find it right now. But intentionality in life is important, and working out ain’t an exception! As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would say, “FOCUS!!!”

To “Just Be”

Moving onto matters outside of the hospital, I am grateful to say that I made several great friends through the young adult group at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. So many people took me (and Janice) under their wings and welcomed us into their community with love and generosity that were just astounding. People cooked for us, drove us around, invited us to watch the sunrise with them on a hill in the park, took us grocery/thrift store shopping, helped me babysit my cousins, toured us through the art museum, swing danced with us, prayed with and for us…

In so many of these great times, my friend Maria would call it “just being” — putting the phone down (even though I’d still snap a photo or two for posterity/the blog, ya know) and soaking in the moment, whatever it is, however mundane it may be. To “just be” with pals in fellowship and faith through the everyday and not-so-everyday things, and to do it all joyfully.

My heart misses all of our friends back there. They were so f r e e. Free and secure in their love for Christ which showed so evidently and made me want to love God more.

They made St. Louis home away from home. So did Janice, my roomie! She’d tuck me in almost every night (upon her offer) LOL. We shared a lot of ups and downs together this summer, and I am grateful for her being a dear friend through it all.

Don’t Give Up on Prayer

It can be hard to maintain a consistent prayer life with a 9-5 (or in my case, a 7-4:30) job, not so much because I don’t have time, but because brain energy is limitedddd at the end of the day. Prayer takes mental energy and attention that admittedly I don’t want to give when I get home from a long day of work + going to the gym. And I failed many days and did not prioritize prayer, but I learned to fight the good fight and never give up on it. Start anew the next day. Whether you meditate, pray, do some reading for personal development, do it, man. Probably in the morning before you’re wiped out from the day. Which means you (I) have to sleep early, which is difficult at times… But God is worthy of our love, the best we can give.

I could go on for ages and pages about my time in STL, but these are enough words for now. Thank you for reading along if you’ve made it this far.

At home now, I am doing at least 20x less work/activity and I am at least 20x MORE tired. I love being with the fam though ♥︎

Off to a camping trip with Boston friends this weekend!

P.S. Tori Kelly’s new album is FIRE.

So tell me:

What are some things you’ve learned this summer?

What are your plans this weekend?

 

VLOG: A Day Off in St. Louis

Greetings!

Long time, no vlog. Not gonna lie, I filmed this vlog almost a month ago, and somehow I had not gotten around to editing and publishing it until today. However, a day off still looks quite like this one anyway.

Enjoy!

So tell me:

Do you like runny egg yolks?

What is your favorite meat marinade?

What are you grateful for today?

Summer in St. Louis

On this Memorial Day, we remember all the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country.


Summa timeeeeee (almost officially)!!

Meanwhile, I’m still listening to my “winter grooves 2019” playlist on Spotify.

After finishing up the semester, I spent a week at home in NY with the family for Mother’s Day and couch time down time. My body probably needs 10 hours of sleep per night to make up for my lack of sleep this semester, but anything >7.5 hours is a MIRACLE, because this brain of mine can’t shut down for much longer than that. I’ve been a fan of using a blindfold to sleep at night so the light doesn’t wake me.

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despite our insistence, she is still washing dishes in her beautiful red dress as we speak 🤦🏻‍♀️ happy Mother’s Day, @yeungvictoria500 I love you very much and am so grateful for your life of self-sacrificial love —————————— a prayer for mothers (adapted from a prayer at Mass today): For all our mothers - for those who are joyful and those who are mourning; for those who are strong and those who are weak; for those who are loved and those who are unloved - thank You, O Lord for the gift of mothers who share in the gift and the power of creation. Bring them closer to the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Virgin Mother and to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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Moves and grooves have been happening, just a little less intensely and less frequently these days. I’m just pooped. I’ll probably write a post about fitness/food life these days, since it’s been a minute since we have discussed!

But I still love getting in some good ol’ burpees. Forever and always ♥︎

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“be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9) has been the theme this week - in final exams, maintaining prayer life, choosing the good, exercising, sleeping after watching a scary movie (#regrets; still traumatized). aka normal things. but I’ve found that I need the most strength and courage for the most mundane and small things in life, because I’m a naturally lazy, procrastinating, fearful person. the Lord, our God is with us always though, so be not afraid!! hop to it! 🐰 —————————— 3 rounds (I took lots of breaks) • 10 tuck jump burpees • 10 squat cleans • 10 strict presses • 10 triple lunge jump kicks • 10 inclined clapping pushups (you can see I took a break halfway thru) • 10 prisoner squat jumps (#ouch) #moveandgroove

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So the situation for summer: I’m doing my second PT clinical in St. Louis!! I’ve completed my first week already, and I am grateful to say that I am loving it so far. I am here with three other friends from my program, which has made the transition a lot more enjoyable and comforting. You can see the Boston University crew on the top right corner of this nifty collage.

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The scrubs lifestyle is superior to all work attire. No question. Except for the fact that we also have to wear a lab coat with pulse oximeters and gait belts in the pockets too, so it’s a hefty uniform.

The gym that is affiliated with our hospital is LIT. It has a sled (see bottom right of collage), pull-up resistance bands, free fitness classes, a tire, and TOWEL SERVICE INCLUDED. I actually have only used the towels once so far, but there is something bougie about having the option, I feel. The student rate is also great!

Speaking of fitness, I did a Tough Mudder Classic Race with one of my uncles (who lives in STL) last weekend. It was a relatively impulsive, last-minute decision, but it was on sale via Groupon and my uncle kindly treated me to it as an early birthday gift (thanks, Uncle P!!). I figured it would just be for fun, and since I am missing the Spartan Race in Boston this year with my friend, Ben, I thought this would suffice as a substitute, despite not being trained at all…

It was a blast!! It’s less of an athletic race than the Spartan Race, IMO. The obstacles overall require less strength and conditioning, but if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of heights / cold water / electric shock, the Tough Mudder helps ya get over those real quick, haha! I would do it again with friends!

I got to hang out with my uncle, aunt, and cousins before starting clinical, which was fantastic. These kids are so fun and fit, man.

We even did a tabata together!

Throwback to our first tabata together ever (before their 4th child was even born!):

In other news, there was a big tornado watch in STL last week, as some of you might know. It seemed legit enough that we moved from the third floor of our apartment building to the first floor lobby entrance with our plates full of dinner (see far left second row)…priorities, ya know? Girls gotta eat. Thanks be to God, we were all okay in our area. Praying for those who were not as fortunate.

I’m actually standing in LaGuardia airport right now because after my first week of clinical, I already got a four day weekend (#spoiled). I took that opportunity to join my family and relatives in Maryland to witness my uncle being ordained a deacon! I flew into NY and then drove down to Maryland with my family on Friday. Then we drove back up to NY Saturday night after the long day of festivities and now I’m headed back to STL. Good grief.

But GOOD > grief. What an incredible, blessed weekend to be with the whole family, especially those who I had not seen in ages, to witness my uncle’s ordination. My uncle who was ordained, as well as his family, were beaming the whole weekend. There were lots of happy tears shed. It’s difficult to explain what his ordination means to each of my family members, including myself, but the best I can say for now is that we are all filled with deep joy and gratitude.

That’s the update for now! Keep an eye out for more posts this summer; I’m hoping to do a day in the life and some chats about recent fitness/body image thoughts soon!

Hope you are doing well 🙂 Thanks for reading along.

(I almost just signed, “Best, Alison” lol.)

So tell me:

Have you ever been to STL? Tips on what to do / where to eat / how to stay safe (jk but not really)? 

Have you ever done a Tough Mudder? What about a Spartan Race? Both (if so, which do you like more and why)?

What are you up to this MDW, Americans?

A highlight of your weekend otherwise!