An Open Letter to Self Magazine

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 Dear Self Magazine,

I’m not entirely sure if you’re aware of this, but there’s a really rather unfortunate stereotype surrounding women, one which has been ingrained in our society for far too long. It’s a heavy-duty contributor to why it’s still a struggle for women to be seriously accepted as capable equals in the greater part of the real world, and since your magazine was founded and is currently run by women, you’d think that you of all people would understand how significant that struggle is. That stereotype is that women are petty, shallow, and that we are only capable of gleaning self-respect or self-worth by the mockery and putting-down of other women.

 You know, of course, that what I’m getting at has something to do with your blatant mockery of Monika Allen in the March issue of your magazine, but what really set me off was not just the story, nor your half-assed apology, but rather, your magazine’s determination to make other women feel bad on the merit of what they wear, how they look, and the choices they make. Your BS Meter section, the inclusion of Monika Allen in that section, and your ridiculous “apology” all work together in a perfect storm of sheer ineptitude and degradation to show that you’re devolving into another crass, shallow excuse for a magazine, and that you feel you can only bring yourself readership and credibility by the mockery and putting down of others. Does this sound conducive to a pro-woman atmosphere? Do you think this is doing womankind any favors as far as earning credibility and respect? Because news flash, it’s not.

 Other people have said it, I’m just repeating it, but what if Monika DIDN’T have cancer? What if she was, in fact, just a woman running a marathon in a tutu? What right do you have to make fun of her? What could you possibly hope to accomplish by actively putting down a woman who chooses to run in a tutu for ANY reason? You’re not sorry that you made fun of her, you’re sorry that you got called out on your crap, because you just so happened to mock a woman with brain cancer. But what you’re missing is the most important point. Monika Allen, whom I’m almost entirely sure would agree with me, is not defined by her brain cancer. She’s defined by the choices she makes, just like the rest of us are. If you make the choice to put her down because of your own preconceived notions of what is “lame” and what isn’t, then you are defined as exactly the type of entity that contributes to the detriment of progressive women and equal respect.

I will never read your magazine and I will actively encourage others to likewise abstain, not just because you published that piece, but because you clearly don’t have the common sense to understand how degrading it was, and not just because Monika has cancer. When you’re perpetuating a damaging culture of women, one that paints us as petty, shallow, and abusive to our own gender, it would be counterproductive for me or anyone to take part in that. And when I run my next 5k, I will be wearing a tutu. Call me lame, if you dare.

 

Sincerely,

 

Michelle, and her middle fingers

A&L Series: Does This Shit Really Work? An Experiment with the “No Poo” Method, Part 2

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First of all, before continuing on, yes my birthday was on Monday. I’m 28. Hooray! I work under the belief that every girl should do something nice for herself once in a while, especially on her birthday. My birthday was no exception. Weather was beautiful and I made a little extra money this last paycheck, so I’m thinking I’m gonna spoil myself just rotten.

Second bit is that since I do now have some extra $$, the blog is going to be seeing a major overhaul. My friend David is an excellent web designer, so he’s going to be helping me update the layout, and I’ll be shelling out some bucks to WordPress for an updated account. Big things changing around here! And all his services will cost me is lunch. I’m lucky to have such amazing friends ❤

But anyways, let’s get back to talking about hair.

I ended up not washing my hair on Sunday because my workday ended up running pretty late, and frankly, when I got home, I didn’t feel like it. But we can just say that I wanted to see if the baking soda would mitigate any extra oil production, since hair can get pretty gross when you don’t wash it. Yeah, that sounds better, let’s go with that. You guys see the sacrifices I make for you? Jeez.

Anyway! As you can imagine, the week was pretty hectic, balancing between my birthday madness and work, so I didn’t get around to making a proper blog post until now. Sorry about that! But I’ve dutifully taken pictures and gotten everything good to go, so at least the week was properly documented. Brace yourselves, I’ll be showing you pictures of me at my greasiest, and it will not be pleasant. Consider yourselves warned. But that comes later. Onto the schematics of the week.

Whenever I go to the gym to work out, I start out with a mile run, and cardio is usually when the faucet turns on in my scalp. Monday was upper body, so I only spent an hour at the gym, as opposed to the two I spend whenever I do full-body workouts. I debated whether or not I wanted to wait until Friday, when I do said full-body, but I figured I don’t sweat much more doing those than I do when I just focus on one area, because most of the sweating, as I said, comes from the cardio I do either way. Plus, again, it was my birthday and I was going out to dinner that night, so I want my hair to look as nice as possible under the circumstances.  So I went ahead after I washed my hair to do the coconut oil deep conditioning.

Verdict? When they tell you you need soap to wash that shit out, THEY MEAN IT.

I tried to use as little shampoo as possible to get rid of the coconut oil, but I also made the mistake of using too much. I didn’t realize it until later when I was out with my grandmother wondering why my hair was taking so long to dry…until I realized it was. My hair was so oiled up, it roped up and made me look like an absolute greaseball. I had to borrow my grandmother’s shower and use more shampoo to get the rest of the stuff out of my hair in time to meet with my best friend for my extremely wonderful and memorable birthday dinner. But I learned really quickly that there’s a definite balance to coconut oil and you have to make sure you use enough soap to get it out, because you won’t know whether or not your hair is clean and free of the residue until it dries. Needless to say, I didn’t give it another go until today.

So fast forward to Friday. Have I seen any difference this week, having subjected my hair to the debatable reputation of baking soda? Well yes, actually. I have noticed within the past day or two that my hair is actually less dry than it was the first go around. And yes, baking soda did hold up against the monstrous greaseball that is my head post-gym. This is what that looks like, for people who are dying to see me at my least attractive:

I could fuel my car with the oil from my head. SO ATTRACTIVE RIGHT?!

SCRUNCHY FACE!

This and the aftershot that will come later was before today, before I gave the coconut oil another go. It’s really just to point out that even on super dirty hair, the baking soda is just as, if not more, effective than traditional shampoo. And again, the dryness is definitely starting to taper off, so I’m erring on the side of optimism that baking soda and ACV may just be my new hair care regime of choice.

I'm told it's artsier not to look at the camera when taking a selfie.

INFINITELY MORE ATTRACTIVE AMIRITE?

As you can see from the picture (or not, it’s a terrible shot),  my hair is still a little on the frizzy side, but overall, it’s holding up very well. I didn’t use any product in my hair when I took this pic, which probably accounts for the flyaways, but I’m still cautiously optimistic that my hair will smooth out. Your scalp goes through cycles where skin is replaced, and a typical scalp turnover is 28 days, so I know I probably won’t see optimal results for at least another three weeks – but I’m liking the progress I’ve made so far!

 

Now, as for the coconut oil bit…I did that again today. And this time, by George, I was smarter. I shampooed my hair after using the oil, and I used much less than last time, but this time,  of course, I fear that I didn’t use enough! But again, we’ll have to see in a few weeks. Using coconut oil is not going to be a weekly thing – more like a bi-weekly deep conditioning, to be adjusted as needed. The important bit, however, remains that the baking soda and ACV treatment do seem to be working well, and I’m pretty pleased with the results. More research, however, I think is necessary before I reach a conclusion, but for me and my hair type and bathing habits, I think it’s working pretty damned well. We’ll check in again in a week and see if there’s any further improvement! Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I smell my birthday cake.

A&L Series: Does This Shit Really Work? An Experiment with the “No Poo” Method

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The irony of that title is literally killing me.

LITERALLY.

Anyway, since this blog is supposed to be a sort of jack-of-all-topics kind of thing, I’m starting up a series to coincide with the Weight Loss Series. I figured since I’m spending a lot more time focusing on my health, I should also be paying attention to the bits of me that don’t necessarily benefit from going to the gym.

It’s funny, but once you start adapting to a more active, healthy lifestyle, you really do start to think about all of the things you put in/on your body. I’ve gotten much pickier about what kind of produce I buy (much to the annoyance of my family/wallet), and I’ve long since stopped eating most processed food and all fast food. Going to the gym and jogging 6 days a week has been doing wonders for my body tone, but now that I’m kind of in the zone, I’ve been thinking about what else I can do to support my overall health.

My extremely beautiful and awesome friend Rochelle, who is one of my biggest fitness inspirations, linked up a post on Facebook about a woman who had given up shampoo in favor of what is apparently floating around the internet as the “No Poo” method (these puns will be the death of me). The method entails forsaking sulfate-loaded shampoo and conditioner in lieu of baking soda in order to remove oils from the hair and apple cider vinegar for conditioning. The idea itself intrigued me, especially since my hair is really prone to flyaways and frizz, no matter what I do with it, so I debated over giving it a shot. I was a little worried about the whole baking soda thing because testimonials from those wiser than I claimed that baking soda was too harsh for hair, because it’s a high pH alkaline. But my resident natural product guru Anna assured me that using apple cider vinegar would help mitigate any damage that the baking soda could do, along with a dosage of coconut oil. And as luck would have it, I happen to have an abundance of both in my pantry and I’m fresh out of shampoo! Hooray?

So let’s figure this shit out, one week at a time. Is baking soda and ACV a better alternative to shampoo, or does it cause damage in the long run? A&L will be figuring it out!

At least if it works on my hair. Your results may vary 😀

So to get started, here’s a look at my hair in its current condition.

POOF ALERT!

My hair in its current state of poof.

As you can see, my hair is curly and fine, and prone to some major poof in the right conditions. I get split ends very easily because curly hair goes hand in hand with brittle cuticles, and this, naturally, leads to some major frizz if I let the dead ends get out of hand, so I have to trim the ends off roughly every 2-2 1/2 months. It’s kind of a pain because I’m trying to grow my hair and I end up cutting off all of the growth I’ve accomplished to keep it from looking brittle and frizzy. My hair is fairly healthy, but the problem is that I shampoo it almost every day because I sweat so much when I exercise, and dry shampoos never really did the job. So I’ve become increasingly worried that my hair is going to start paying the price for my frequent need to shower, especially because it’s prone to drying out.

But anyways, let’s talk about the ingredients.

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Value-sized for great justice

All three ingredients are incredibly easy to find at pretty much any reputable grocery store. Baking soda has been around since the dawn of creation, and apple cider vinegar is currently enjoying a renaissance due to the health world’s espousal of its multitude of health benefits. Coconut oil is making a splash lately since its promotion by supermodel Miranda Kerr, who I would, quite frankly, murder a village to look like (Don’t worry, I plan to stick to diet and exercise, and conveniently forgetting that she only eats fruits, vegetables, and fish). Coconut oil is meant to be used only on occasion because you do need some kind of soap to thoroughly clean it, but it reputedly makes for an excellent deep conditioner, since raw, unrefined coconut oil is the only oil with a molecular structure that allows it to penetrate the shaft (giggity). Make sure that you’re using raw, unrefined coconut oil, since the refined stuff has an altered structure.

As far as measurements go, I’ve heard 1/2-1/3 a cup of baking soda per wash, with enough water to make it into a paste; but I don’t buy that. Remember, baking soda is still an alkaline, with a pH balance of 8.3-9 on a 1-14 scale, whereas healthy hair and skin has a pH of around 5. So for the initial bit of this experiment, I added more water so that I had a solution that was roughly the consistency of milk. I figured less is better, as long as it still cleans. As far as ACV, an ideal ratio would be 2 tbl to 8 ounces, or one cup of water. Any less water will make it harder to wash out the smell.

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Plz ignore my greasiness thx

For containers, I just recycled my shampoo and conditioner bottles for their less chemically counterparts. Recycling is good, children.

I opted out of doing a coconut oil conditioning, since I showered late last night, and I was substituting in the morning. Plus I had no soap to wash it out with. Don’t judge me.

So I mixed up my solutions, brushed and detangled my hair, and I took a shower. Sorry, no pictures! I focused the baking soda on my scalp first, then the rest of my hair, and it felt WEIRD. I guess it’s because I’m so used to having sudsy, sweet – smelling stuff in my hair when I wash it, not some strange gritty nonsense. But I scrubbed it and rinsed like usual. With the ACV, I soaked the ends of my hair first before applying to the rest of my hair, since my ends are often the driest bit. The solution rinsed out easily, and didn’t leave any lingering vinegar smell. I normally don’t blow dry my hair and I’m not about to start now, so I brushed my hair again, put it up, and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning, I did notice that my hair was very clean, but was definitely drier than usual. I didn’t have any concerns, however, since this is a common issue when starting out. Shampooing normally strips the hair of all oils, including the essential, so the scalp has to pump out even more oil to make up for the loss. As a result, when switching to the “No Poo” method, the hair and scalp have to readjust to the chemical change, which means dry hair for the first few days. I’m not planning to do the coconut oil conditioning until tomorrow, since I’ll be challenging the “No Poo” method with my post – gym hair, which will be way greasier than my hair last night, and the fact that it’s my birthday tomorrow and I think I deserve a little pampering. So expect a report tomorrow sometime about whether coconut oil is as awesome as Miranda Kerr says it is. Until then, happy washing!

THe A&L Weight Loss Series Presents: Gaining Momentum

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First off, Happy Pi Day! For those of you who think with the left side of the brain, that means the celebration of the mathematical constant representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. For the right siders, that means the celebration of the homophonous and infinitely more delicious pie. I majored in English, so you can probably bet pretty safely as to which one I care more about. And also can’t have yet.

The irony in Pi Day (at least for me and today) is that on this one in particular, I managed to hit my lowest weight in around four years, clocking in at 173.8! You can bet that when I stepped off of the scale this morning, I was grinning so wide, you’d have thought someone had given me a Glasgow smile – only without all of the blood.

Anyway, the reason I felt so giddy about it is because I’ve been stuck at a stagnant point in my weight loss regime for well over a month. No matter how well I tried to eat, no matter how hard or often I exercised, the goddamned scale absolutely refused to budge to under 175. I had to remind myself that I was succeeding in other ways – I could do more reps per exercise at the gym, I could run more consistently when I went jogging, I continuously shaved precious seconds off of my mile run (I dropped my mile run time from 11:46 to 10:55 in the span of three weeks! A major victory that I think constitutes my being allowed to have cake and ice cream on my birthday). Yet I have to confess that for all of my self-righteous spouting in my last post, I do check the scale to see how I’m doing, because I do have a numeric weight goal to reach and it’s kind of hard to know if I’ve achieved it without, you know, measuring it on a scale. I was feeling a little discouraged yesterday about the fact that the scale still wasn’t moving, especially because I found out my 10-year high school reunion is being planned for August of this year, and I’ll be absolutely damned if I’m going to show up as the same person – down to my weight – that I was in high school. So all of those factors combined this morning after I stepped on the scale cumulated in a big fat sigh of relief and a jump for joy from me.

Momentum with weight loss follows every other form of physics on the planet, in that it starts out really slowly, and then has to gradually build – and I think that’s part of the reason people are so easily discouraged. You see these people on TV or read about them, or you talk to them at the gym,  and they’ve already gained momentum, so they’re losing 2-3 pounds or more per week, whereas you’re in month 2 or 3 and you have yet to see a single iota of change. Maybe you lost a pound, maybe your pants are just a tiny bit less snug, but you’d expect to be pulling the same kind of weekly weight loss as people who have been doing it for much longer. It’s really frustrating to think that people who are twice your size are losing twice the weight you are in half the time doing half as much, or someone who’s in your age and weight range just cutting out one or two junk food items or hitting the gym once or twice a week and is dropping weight like a rock. It contributes to a very defeatist mindset, and it’s one that I know I’ve had for a number of years, so I guess I just wanted to share my perspective on it to help anyone who’s been in a similar situation to understand that things will, in fact, get  better.

The biggest problem that I think is prevalent in the weight-loss community, and I’ve mentioned it before, is the use of scales as a measure of health or success. People can tell you that on the first day you decide to go running, or to go to the gym, that you’re already healthier than you were yesterday, but you certainly don’t believe it because you go home and step on the scale and absolutely nothing has changed. So, the first step in changing your attitude about healthy habits and exercise is to stop using the scale as a measure of your health. Your scale measures your weight. It does not measure your BMI, your cholesterol level, or how fast or far you can run, how much you can lift, or how long you can go. It measures your weight, something that can be affected by a multitude of different things – not just fat. Your weight can be influenced by water retention, the contents of your digestive system, and, most significantly, by the amount of muscle you have. Muscle does, in fact, weigh more than fat, and I had to have my friend Amanda beat that into my head for weeks before I finally accepted it. Fat is a factor too, but just because you’re noticing you still have some jiggle in your thighs doesn’t mean you’re not making progress if you’re performing healthy habits on a DAILY BASIS. What you’re doing today is building momentum. The longer you do it, the more momentum you gain. If you’re pushing a boulder across a field, you have to start out with the most amount of work, and the longer you go, once that momentum is achieved, the easier it gets to roll that rock. That’s why the first step is not only the most important, but also the most difficult, and it’s where people falter the fastest. It’s why people who make resolutions at New Years to go back to the gym are usually gone by February. The initial phase is the hardest, and shows the least amount of progress. The real progress happens when you get the ball rolling, and then, there’s no stopping you.

But you have to remove yourself from the mindset that your weight is the ONLY indicator of your success. The scale is the tiniest factor in measuring your progress, but people turn it into the most important tool. And I realize that stopping relying on the scale is an easier concept to say than it is to apply. Even when I was stuck at 175 on the scale for well over a month, people were still commenting on how much slimmer I looked, and I realized that my body was, in fact, changing. There was a meme floating around on Facebook that says it takes 4 weeks (this is a rough estimate, I can’t remember the details for the life of me) for you to notice a change in your body and 12 weeks for everyone else to notice, but I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. I actually think that because people who are trying to lose weight have a general predisposition to be more self-critical, that other people notice your weight loss/body changing before you yourself do. Plus it all goes back to the scale, unfortunately. The first time someone told me I looked skinnier, I thought they were just being nice, because it was someone I know and see often, and I knew for a fact that my weight as far as being measured by the scale hadn’t changed from the previous time I’d see them up until they’d made the comment. But then it was others – people I hadn’t seen in a few months, no less, telling me how good I looked, asking how much weight I’d lost, commenting that I must’ve been hitting the gym pretty hard! You can be self-effacing as much as you want only to a certain extent – then afterwards, you kind of have to accept that there’s something GOOD going on here, because the world, in fact, didn’t just randomly go collectively crazy. I was still at 175 and had been for a while, and even then, the most weight I’d lost in recent months was 5 pounds, and surely it didn’t make THAT much of a difference. But it did. Not because the weight was gone, but because I was, in fact, losing fat. My body was changing. I was gaining muscle, which more than likely compensated for the fat loss as far as my weight. I was running farther and faster, I was lifting more weight and more reps, and my clothes were getting looser by the day. The progress was there. It’s still there, and I didn’t need a scale to see it, once I really began to understand that change was,in fact, happening.

I don’t want to tell people to throw their scales away because that would make a hypocrite out of me. I still have mine. I check my weight every day (which is a big no no, by the way. Weight can fluctuate from day to day based on hormones and water retention, especially if you’re a woman), because I do glean quite a bit of comfort out of having a number to show my progress. But it’s not the only number I base my progress on. It’s paired up there with my current mile-run time, how many weeks into Couch to 5K I am, how many pounds I can lift or press, and how many reps I can do. If that scale goes up, I have all of those other numbers to remind me that I’m not failing. All of those numbers together are what measure how exercising has positively affected my body, but at the end of the day, my feelings of happiness and optimism and overall good health are what measure my success. And that’s because I’ve finally gained enough momentum.

A&L Special Series: Weight Loss With a Girl Who Knows Jack Squat About Weight Loss

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So this blog post is going to be the first in a series about my own personal battles with my weight, and my journey to change it. I know plenty of you out there would rather not read about it, but I’d like to say I’m chronicling it for my own sake, and for the sake of those out there who know what it feels like to be intimidated by women who already have fabulous bodies. I know I sure am.

So backstory. I’ve been a little bit on the heavier side my entire life, and before anyone brands me with all that “oh it’s just the media pumping unrealistic body images in your face” stuff, it’s something I’ve known since I was a kid. A part of me knew that I wasn’t as healthy as I ought to be, especially when I was always finishing near last in mile runs and I would drop out of sports only halfway through. Of course, it doesn’t help when your best friend is tiny and gorgeous, so I kind of got into the mindset of why even bother to try, because failure was imminent anyway.

It wasn’t until I hit my twenties that I realized that that was exactly my problem – it wasn’t my weight, it was my mentality. It wasn’t that my body couldn’t handle running a mile, or finishing a soccer game. It was my mind convincing me that it couldn’t. I always gave up halfway through instead of pushing myself to finish. It went hand-in-hand with an unfortunately common mentality that I’m not alone in possessing – if you don’t see results instantly, it’s not working. So for the longest time, I didn’t try, because when I did, I didn’t see any immediate change. And when I didn’t see any change, I didn’t want to continue. Why make yourself sweaty and gross if you were just going to step on the scale the next morning and see that the number is still the same as it was yesterday? It’s not particularly encouraging.

But I decided I did want to make myself better. I was battling depression in my early twenties that was intrinsically linked to many of my own personal demons, one of which, of course, was my astonishing lack of self-esteem. But then, of course, came real life, and with it, many of the excuses that people use in order to avoid going to the gym. I was a full-time college student and I was at several points in time working up to three jobs in order to pay rent and living expenses. I didn’t have the time or the money for the gym. And then something happened. My last year of CC, I took a semester each of yoga and pilates as part of my PE requirement, and during that time, I lost roughly 30 pounds. I dropped from 183 to 155, and was below 160 for the first time since I was 15 years old. It was fucking MAGICAL.

Losing that kind of weight was a turning point for me. It changed every perception I had about my body and what it could do. People complimented me on how much better I looked and I marvelled in how much better I FELT. Not only being able to fit into pants with a single digit size number, but I had more energy and a greatly improved disposition. Despite the fact that I was going through a messy breakup at the time, I felt like I was on top of the world. That there wasn’t anything that could stop me.

Then I went to University.

If I had thought community college full-time with two jobs was a chore, I can look back now and laugh at how naive I was. University was pure insanity. I never had time for anything, and since I worked at a coffee shop, it was everything I could do to stop myself falling asleep in class or passing out after I got home. I got caught back up in the norms of college life, from late nights to processed food to living in the library. I also had a social life I had to try to maintain if I was to keep my sanity, and of course, that year of yoga and pilates came almost entirely undone. I went back up to a rousing 182 pounds by the end of my junior year of college, and I was mad as a hatter. Something had to change. ESPECIALLY because I just found out my best friend was getting married, and because God just loves to throw in the cliches, the two other bridesmaids (at the time. Hava raised it to 7 by the time the wedding happened) were, of course, a fucking fitness model and a competitive triathlete. Both of them are, of course, wonderful, lovely, amazing women with great personalities who are both as sweet as pie, but I had to stand next to them in a dress and get to be the token fat bridesmaid. UGH.

Through dieting and whatever exercise I managed to pull off, by the time the wedding came around, I managed to drop down to 175 pounds, which is, of course, about 30 pounds off the mark of what I had wanted to be. But I could fit into my dress, which was one small accomplishment. I knew my body shape wasn’t going to change particularly drastically because of my bone structure – I have a broad rib cage and a wide pelvic bone. It just so happens that I also happen to have a rather poochy gut, fat on my arms, and a huge ass. I went through my best friend’s wedding feeling okay, but knowing that I could’ve felt so much better.

And that brings us to here and now. I’ve since quit working the coffee shop circuit, I’ve discovered both Couch to 5K and MyFitnessPal, and I’ve signed up for my very first 5k in July – despite the fact that I can barely finish running a single mile, let alone 6. I’ve learned that cardio alone isn’t going to keep my weight off, that I have to mix it up with building muscle, which was really where I went wrong after I stopped doing yoga. And I did the most important thing I could do in order to have a successful venture in weight loss. I made time to do it. Instead of trying to fit my exercising around my work life, I fit my work life around my exercising. And I know that that is much easier said than done, since I’m more fortunate than most to have a very flexible job, but I really think that people sell themselves short on making time to take care of themselves, which is why so many people stall in the health game, or, like how I used to be, just drop out entirely. I’ve managed to get into the routine of going to the gym 3 days a week, and doing my Couch to 5K the other three with one rest day. I try to keep track of my carb and calorie intake with MyFitnessPal. After all, after the wedding, I managed to eke back up to 185, and I came dangerously close to hitting 190. But since I’ve taken control of my fitness and physical well-being, I got back down to 175, and I can only lose more from here. My goal is still to hit 145, preferably by summer. I did not make the most successful start, in terms of numbers. And trust me, I get pretty discouraged when I see that the scale is still stubbornly hitting 175.6, when my short term goal by the end of February (now March) was to break the 170 mark for the first time in several years. 

But I can’t be discouraged by the fact that I don’t see instantaneous results, or maybe that the results aren’t happening the way I want them to. I have to take every pound, every ounce lost as a victory. I have to realize that every time I zip up a dress or pair of pants and they fit a little better than before that I’m making progress. I may not be a size 8 yet, but I’m certainly not a 12 anymore. And for me, that’s saying something.

My current weight loss and diet plan is as follows. I use the ketosis diet as a temporary boost, and am planning on continuing it until around mid-April, when I’ll be phasing complex carbs and grains back into my diet slowly. I’m currently on Week 3 of the Couch to 5, although I’ve been doing it for about six weeks, and this is because if I don’t feel satisfied with my progress during one of the weeks, I’ll simply start over. I go to the gym three days a week, where I’ll start off with a mile run, followed by abs, and then do arms one day, legs the next, and a full-body workout on the third. I’m feeling that I might be peaking with this routine though, and will be looking for new exercises in order to break through the wall. I’ve only recently discovered the Tone It Up community, and while I normally balk at overly-peppy women showing me how to use a kettlebell, it really is a pretty wonderful community filled with girls who aren’t supermodels or already stick-thin trying to tell me how to lose weight. There are girls like me who have all of their own struggles with weight and are in the process of taking control of their health too. Because it’s the feeling of loneliness, of being singled out, that is the most discouraging thing. The feeling that there isn’t anyone at the gym who understands because most of them are already so fit. So it definitely made a nice place to start. I also take an almost exorbitant amount of advice from my bestie’s sister-in-law, the aforementioned fitness model, at Via Thea, as she majored in kinesiology, is a certified fitness trainer, and is, of course, a bona fide hottie – major ethos there, amirite?

So the best advice I can give anyone in situations where they feel that their weight loss situation is hopeless is that all of those ridiculous memes on Facebook that remind you that you are your own worst enemy, biggest obstacle, etc., and that it takes time, is that all of those sayings are absolutely, and unfortunately, true. You are your own biggest obstacle, and no fitness goal can be instantaneously achieved. It takes weeks, even months, to really make a difference. And it’s hard to keep in perspective that by taking the first step that you’re already a step ahead of where you were before when the scale is reading the same today as it was yesterday, or even last week. But something that I’ve learned is that success isn’t measured in numbers, but in milestones. When I achieved my goal of being able to run a full mile without stopping, I had broken through the wall that my weight was the only indicator of my health. Find a small goal to achieve, and achieve it. Get addicted to the feeling of success. Stop using the scale as an indicator of your success. Find friends who can support you emphatically, not just with words, but with actions. And stop comparing yourself to the fitness models.

I know. Easier said than done.

Friendzoning versus Girlfriendzoning – An Objective Analysis

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So I recently read an article explicating the sexist social plague otherwise known as friendzoning – you’ve all seen the memes, I really shouldn’t have to explain the concept – and how someone on reddit finally flipped the idiocy on its head by pointing out that a guy who was nice to a girl just to get her to go out with him was essentially guilty of having ulterior motives that effectively negated his so-called good intentions. This idea of being nice to a girl solely for a shot to get into her panties has been coined “girlfriendzoning,” a really rather apt label to counteract the increasingly popular notion that a girl is only worth being nice to if she’ll sleep with you.
Now, I am often considered a feminist, and I consider many of my beliefs to be pro – feminism, but that shouldn’t mean that I don’t have a certain amount of understanding of the male side of the equation. In a society in which we eschew rape culture and a woman’s right to dress and behave in any way she chooses without fear of judgment or attack, the idea of checking one’s behavior and the effect that it can have on others is a topic that is still considered a little too sensitive for most people to discuss. However, I am not most people and I’m certainly not sensitive, so here we go.
I need to preface this first by stating that the following arguments are meant to be as gender – neutral as possible, but because the concept of friendzoning is predominantly “done” by women more against men, I’ll be using that setup more often. I’m not trying to single out either side of the equation, because frankly, I think that they’re both full of shit. The whole idea of friendzoning and girlfriendzoning is getting to be a lot of gender generalization and he said/she said nonsense. So instead of trying to place blame for the existence of either notion in the first place, why don’t we stop and think about why either one happens at all.
One of the most unavoidable facts of life is that human choices are driven by two basic necessities: the need for food, and the need for sex. The key ingredients necessary for our survival as a species are nutrition and propagation. It’s just a fact. I didn’t

The Measure of Success

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As an unfortunate member of Generation Y, my biggest concern about life, and the choices that I’ve made, are where my choices will take me in the future. It goes without saying that my dreams and my income don’t particularly get along. My dream is to buy a beat up old Victorian house and fix it up, a dream that doesn’t exactly seem feasible with a teacher’s salary. In California, no less.
I have spent more than my fair share of time wondering if I’ve made the right decisions, from my choice of degree, to the paths I have walked with it. And in my musings, I’ve come to the understanding that we live in a world where salary is our only indicator of our success, and by extension, of our individual value.
  I read a comic recently, penned by the incomparable Bill Watterson, that sums up the issue more succinctly than I can. About how we as a society measure our success by the amount of money we earn, by the number of our possessions, and by the value of them. And frankly, it’s difficult to not be discouraged by that blaring misinterpretation of what success is. Generation Y suffers from an affliction I lovingly refer to as “Entitle-itis,” in that we have the expectation that we go to college, graduate, and waltz right into a lucrative career; and then we’re positively flabbergasted when we don’t. To add insult to injury, there are plenty of people in our age group for whom that expectation has been fulfilled – I, for example, have a friend not much older than me who pulls in 180k a year as a software development engineer. Another, who graduated from USC at the age of 17, is the youngest person in history to raise a million dollars in startup funding for her tech company, and is only gaining momentum. And then there’s me. I have a degree in English, the only job I’ve managed to land is teaching part time, and I can barely keep my head above water. It’s easy to determine which ones are considered successful, and which one isn’t.
But here’s an important distinction, often overlooked, which equalizes the three of us. And it took me a while to really understand what that was, once I learned to dissuade my definition of success with the one that is so commonly accepted.
I’m pretty happy with my life. I love my job. My coworkers are great, I have a lot of freedom in which to pursue my other passions, I’m actually using my degree and the skills I had developed while pursuing it. Are there times when I wish for more? Of course there are. But I’m blessed in many ways already. My family, my friends, my prospects are always there – they’ll never go away. I make more per hour than my mother did at my age, and my job offers me experience that can only ever help me. I still get caught up in all of my material wants from time to time, but the trick is learning to disassociate material gain with success. I may not have a house or be able to travel as much as I want to, but no one can really argue that I haven’t accomplished a certain amount of success.
So will I ever fulfill my dream of that fixer upper house? Maybe,  maybe not. I’d rather measure my success by the happiness that I’ve achieved, not the objects I’ve obtained. After all, as the great philosopher Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Wanderlust

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I’m sure that everyone out there has a list of all of the places that they would like to see or visit. I happen to have a list that could fill a book. And while I’m sure that there are a majority of people who could survive having not done a significant amount of traveling before they die, I am absolutely not one of those people. I need travel like I need oxygen, and that’s something that I know is a fact despite not having done a whole lot of it.
  The problem is that I have no money. No money and traveling are rarely compatible bedfellows. Chalk it up to a degree in English, a decent, but not lucrative job, and several thousand dollars in debt, and you have a recipe for a permanently fixed position. Crappy? Oh, you bet. Impossible to get out of? Not so much. Like so many rules of life, there are rules in the world of travel that are easily bent or broken. It does take a lot of research and even more imagination, but it’s doable. I don’t pretend to be an expert on travel hacking, because I’m just getting started myself. But part of this blog is meant to chronicle my discoveries as they happen, so that people can be privy to my mistakes, as well as my successes.
The first thing that I learned is that you have to be open to opportunities as they happen. The second is that you have to know how to mix business with pleasure. I guess “business” is kind of a misnomer, but it’s the most appropriate term I could think of. What I mean is, take advantage of the trips that are necessary to help you with the trips that aren’t.
  In June, I’ll be flying up to Seattle to visit two of my best friends in the world; one would hardly qualify that as a business trip. But it is a trip with an intention, not one without. Travel for pleasure has no business or intention, and that’s what I mean by take opportunities as they come.  Open ended travel means going just to go, not going because. If the opportunity came up when I booked my flight to Seattle that there was a lengthy stopover in Portland, I wouldn’t scoff at the extra time spent trying to get to my destination. I’d embrace the opportunity to visit a city that I’m especially fond of, or at least have never seen before.
  When I was booking my flight, it occurred to me that it would be wise to take advantage of an oft not taken service – frequent flyer miles programs. People automatically assume that you have to actually fly on planes to accumulate them, but you often don’t. The company that offers the service is often linked to a multitude of other services that you can also use to acquire points without actually flying. Since I was flying Southwest Airlines, I signed up for their Rapid Rewards Program, so the flight racked up a good amount of points that I can use for my next flight. I also noticed that buying from 1-800-Flowers would get me even more points. Since my mother is so fond of buying my grandmother flowers, there’s a little bit of an advantage already. Is it super lucrative?  No, not yet. But I’m hoping that in time, it will be, after I learn more about it. Again, all of the tricks are there. It’s just figuring out how to make the best of them.

Holy Gender Roles, Batman!

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Hey, sometimes I feel the need to rant about my personal views on life. M’kay.

So, for those of you who don’t know me (HA!), I was raised to be extremely self-sufficient. My grandmother sometimes tells me she’s worried she’s too hard on me because she’s determined to make sure that I’m smart enough to make my own way in the world. My mother raised me pretty much single-handedly and she only had a high-school education, but she’s certainly not stupid and worked her ass off. So, suffice it to say, there will never be in a time in my life where I will ever need anyone else to support me, and that’s how I think it should be. But I was in the car with a dear friend of mine the other day, and we got onto the topic of her sister-in-law, who is a dear, sweet girl, but ran into a marriage at the first conceivable opportunity, and has never in her entire life supported herself in any way, shape, or form. To preface the remaining bit of this rant, let me just state that I know her life is her own to lead, and her choices are her own cross to bear, and I have no right to pass any judgment on how she lives her life. But women like that just baffle me, and the entire conversation got me thinking about the dichotomy between men and women when it comes to self-sufficiency.

We live in a day and age where a marriage is supposed to be an equal partnership, with no one person supporting the other more than vice versa. At least, that’s the theory, and I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s part of the reason why the divorce rate is so high. But I don’t see that as often as I’d like to. I’d like to think any marriage that I ever get myself into would involve equal support, equal contribution, and that if something should happen, I would never be in a position where I would be screwed out of comfort or the ability to take care of myself. I don’t ever want to need alimony or child support or to take half of his money because I didn’t earn it. Again, this all goes back to how I was raised – a woman makes the choice to marry, to bear the children, and to support herself. If I couldn’t do the latter two on my own, I would certainly not get myself involved with the former. I’ve heard too many stories of women who boast of their husband’s financial status, who live under the impression that he is going to take care of her for the rest of his life, and is absolutely baffled, not to mention royally screwed, when he hits the cliche midlife crisis and runs off with a twenty-year old. All the usual mistakes are made – the man assumes the younger woman loves him for his personality, not his money, the now ill-to-do wife is left with nothing but broken promises and nothing to fend for herself with. There have been women in my life who have never worked a day in their lives because they went straight from their parents’ house to the marriage bed, and when the marriage crumbles, they are left with nothing – no work experience, no ability to maintain their lifestyle, nothing. 

Now ask yourself a question – how often do you see that with men?

How often is the man the submissive partner in the relationship, who feeds off of his wife’s breadwinnings? How often does the wife dominate in the money-making end of the marriage, and then leave her husband for a younger man when she gets bored with him? Not particularly often. So really, people can talk about equal roles in a relationship, but as far as my observation goes, women are making a pretty poor name for themselves when they get themselves into situations like this knowingly, living under the fairy-tale illusion that marriage equals their permanent protection. That they have no need to protect or support themselves because there’s a man who will be there to do it.

The fuck is this? The fifties? I thought feminism was supposed to have progressed! But these stories are still common. Before, it was my grandmother telling me about an aunt of hers who was so certain of her place in the world because of her husband’s money. When he divorced her and left her with nothing, her certainty didn’t save her. She had no work experience, no savings, and nothing to save herself with. She ended up having to live with her daughter. And now, it’s my friend telling me about her sister in law, who’s over thirty, ran into marriage with a guy she knew for six months who makes a good amount of money that allows him to buy her a house to move from her parents’ place into, and has never worked more than 15 hours a week in her entire freaking life. The writing on the walls is all there. In the beginning of a marriage, all of the intentions are good. But the divorce rate didn’t reach 50% because people kept their promises. It is true that a man should be more faithful to his wife, and his promises, than his need to prove his virility, or whatever the hell the reason is for leaving her for another woman. But a woman has her own role to play in her protection. A woman should be able to work a forty hour a week job. She should be able to get health insurance for herself, and any children they may have. She should have a nest egg, and all the preparations she can get if, for whatever reason, she finds herself without her husband there to save her. All kinds of things happen, besides divorce. He loses all the money in a ponzi scheme, he loses his job and there’s still a mortgage to pay, or, heaven forbid, he dies and there’s no life insurance. What then? What on earth are you gonna do to help yourself? These are all the questions that have been drilled into my head since childhood, and as a result, I find the idea of being dependent on a man absolutely repugnant. It actually made me cringe when the sales clerk at the consignment store made three burly moving guys take my tiny, 20 pound tea table to the car. Something I’m sure they did for insurance reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that I felt completely repulsed by the notion of someone else doing for me what I could easily do for myself, had I simply made the effort. So maybe, in many ways, I’m lucky that my grandmother was so hard on me. Maybe it did suck a bit of the romance of marriage out of my brain, because I have to look at everything logically and I always have to prepare for the worst, which is not conducive to a romantic outlook. I have difficulties with dating men because so many of them wanted to take care of me, which I don’t want. I want to take care of myself. The idea of being someone like my friend’s sister-in-law makes me physically ill. I’m not trying to hoist myself and my way of thinking onto any kind of pedestal – I know plenty of women married to good men who respect their independence, women who know how to take care of themselves if the worst should happen. Strong women. But it makes me sad that despite all of our advances into gender equality, this is still a one-sided scenario.