Archive for the ‘ exercise ’ Category

Self-Discipline

A friend recently sent me an article on why self-disciplined people are happier than and not as deprived as some people think.

Psychologically speaking, the immediacy of a short-term (small) reinforcement is infinitely more powerful and reinforcing than a long-term (enormous) negative consequence.  Hence the reason why smokers don’t quit smoking, at least not very easily: the immediacy of the (relatively small) “fix” from the cigarette is much more powerful than the (enormous) long-term negative consequence of poor health, lung cancer, etc.

“Discipline,” the way I have always defined it, is being able to place higher value on the long-term reinforcement (e.g. living a long, healthy life with clear lungs) and lower value on the “pain” of forgoing the immediate reinforcement.  I am thankful that I am “disciplined,” as it were, because like the article said, I think in the long run I am happier and healthier and avoid certain problems.  I feel like this is just the way God wired me, it isn’t something I make an effort to do, per se.  That’s why it is a bit strange when people tell me that I am disciplined as if it is a compliment, because to me, it’s just the way I am wired and it comes naturally to me.

In contrast, while there is debate as to whether there is truly an “addictive personality,” in my mind, the characteristically defining feature of an addictive personality is the inability or at least the extreme difficulty of weighing the future consequence into the equation at all.  The power of the immediate reinforcement is even greater than for the average person, and the long-term negative consequence just doesn’t exist.  I have read that an addict has a different concept of time than the average person, that for the addict, nearly all thinking is about the present or very near future.  Delays and the distant future have no place in an addict’s mind.  There is a great misunderstanding about addiction: addiction has little to do with substance abuse (the behavior) and nearly everything to do with thinking and psychology.  Thus, someone can be clean from drug use but still an addict, because of his/her pattern of thinking.

Some people say I am disciplined because I eat very healthy and I exercise every day.  In part, it is because I place a higher value on the long-term positive benefits, but there are also short-term and more immediate benefits, as well.  If there weren’t, I don’t think I would stick with it.  For instance, it’s just simpler to eat the same thing every day, it’s less of a hassle.  I enjoy the feeling of having my endorphins kicking around in my body when I exercise, I like being able to sleep more soundly and restfully, I like the feeling of being physically active after a long day in front of my computer.

Incidentally, I have heard it said, and now I truly believe that there is such a thing as a sugar addiction.  For a few months, my husband brought home a lot of sweets (apple pie, brownies), and I started eating some of those sweets in the evenings.  I’m not even sure why I ate them, just because they were there, I guess.  He finally said he wanted to cut back, so he stopped bringing home these types of sweets.  For a week or two, I experienced a sugar craving each evening.  Eventually, the craving subsided, but it was weird because I don’t even like sweets all that much, but I saw how I became addicted to the sugar.

What Does the Bible Say About Exercise?

During a worship service, our pastor recently quoted Eric Liddell, the 1934 Olympic runner who said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  This statement made me think more deeply about the hobbies I enjoy. God gave me passions and interests, gifts from Him that may be simply for my pleasure and enjoyment.  But that enjoyment should point me towards God.  Do I have an attitude of thanking Him for my gifts and interests?

Nutrition and fitness are hobbies that I am passionate about.  God-given passions can easily turn into idols, and because I invest a lot of time and thought in working out and eating a healthy diet, I sometimes think about whether my priorities are in the right place.  I decided to see if God’s word (the Bible) has anything to say about exercise and nutrition. 

First Timothy 4:8 states, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”   Until today, I never realized that God specifically mentioned exercise in the Bible.  The Message translation, a paraphrase version of the Bible, of this verse reads, “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”  Paul mentions physical exercise in a positive light while exhorting us that investing in our spiritual growth has both temporal and eternal benefits.  The implication is that physical exercise and discipline over our physical bodies is good, but that it only has temporal benefits.  We should practice spiritual discipline (e.g. praying, reading the Bible, worshipping), as well, as the benefits of spiritual health are great.

First Corinthians 6:19-20 reads, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”  Again, the Message states, “Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”  These verses have several implications.  If you read the preceding verses, this passage seems to refer to lust and sex outside of marriage.  Additionally, our bodies are literally the place where the Holy Spirit is housed.  In the Old Testament, qualified officials had to go to the temples to access the Holy Spirit, but after Jesus died, God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers, and now the Spirit resides in each of us who belong to God (Acts 2:1-4).  We are now the temples.  More relevant to the purpose of this writing, the words, “honor God with your body” implies that we are to take care of our bodies.  Maintaining appropriate physical health can give us more physical energy to devote to spiritual endeavors.

Like virtually any hobby, bodybuilding and dieting can become idols.  We can begin to put too much priority on our physique and weight on the scale.  I ask myself difficult questions: Am I spending at least as much time with God (praying, listening to worship music, reading and studying the Bible) as I am at the gym?  Do I find my identity in the way I look, or do I find my identity as a child of God?  Am I exercising for fitness and strength, or am I exercising because of my vanity and pride?  

At times, I do not have clear answers to these questions.  I exercise because it energizes me, it helps me to manage my insomnia, depression, and anxiety, it is empowering and fun, and I desire to be healthy and attractive to my husband.

Yet I have always struggled with body image, and I easily slip into a mindset that my physical appearance defines me as a person.  If I don’t like the way I look on a particular day, I feel like a failure.  I tend to compare myself to others, either condemning myself or feeling superior.  When I catch myself struggling in these areas, I ask God for His help in seeing myself as beautiful because I am His daughter, but clearly there is sin in my attitude towards my appearance.  I have begun thanking God for my health and for the pleasure I get from lifting weights, as I have not always been mindful that these are gifts from Him. 

Today I am thankful for my health.  I have been feeling a bit under the weather, but I am free from major illness or disability.  I am thankful for the passions that God gave me: exercise, artistic and creative outlets, writing, and reading books.

Additional Bible verses related to exercise:

3 John 1:2 – Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.

1 Corinthians 9:27 – I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

Nutrition Guidelines

There are so many opinions out there, and a lot of bad advice, and everyone’s body is different.  What works for me may not work for anyone else. 

 Here are a few basic tips that I follow:

  1. Eat about 6 meals per day, 250-350 calories each, depending on your overall calorie needs. 
  2. Eat enough.  Never go below 1,200 calories a day because it will slow your metabolism, and you may need significantly more, depending on your body and your goals, (e.g. whether you want to gain muscle).  I eat about 1,700-1,800 calories per day and have actually lost weight at that level.
  3. Eat a lot of protein.  I try to aim for 50%/30%/20% breakdown of my calories from protein/carbs/fat, respectively.  Jamie Eason writes about this on her website: http://www.jamieeason.com/projects/nutrition/is_counting_calories_necessary.php.
  4. Good carbs are necessary, but the more you “cheat” with “bad carbs” like white bread, sweets, cereal, juice, soda, etc., the less definition you will be able to achieve.  It is okay to cheat once in a while or in small amounts, but it does affect your results. 
  5. Eat simple, non-processed foods.  Don’t get your protein from hot dogs and expect results.  Again, Jamie Eason gives a great list of foods that are good for you to eat: http://www.jamieeason.com/projects/nutrition/healthy_grocery_shopping_list.php
  6. Track what you are eating.  I use www.myfitnesspal.com so I can see the amount of carbs, protein, and fat I eat per day.  I do not go by their recommendations, since I think they figure 15% of calories from protein or something ridiculous.  You can go in and customize your settings to 50%/30%/20%.  I don’t stay exact, but it does give me an idea of what I’m really eating.
  7. Do a lot of strength training, which is a lot more important than cardio, and use free weights if possible.  Always work to add more weight (each set, each workout). 

Working Out

I am my own personal experiment. A friend of mine thought that fact was weird and that I should keep it to myself, so of course I am doing the exact opposite and writing it for all to see. But Jean Piaget, the famous developmental psychologist and constructivist philosopher, basically came up with his brilliant ideas by studying and experimenting with his own children. What’s good enough for Piaget is good enough for me, but since I do not have any offspring, I just study myself.

I am constantly making small changes to my workouts and my diet, and it is interesting to see the results. I made some strength gains over the past 3-4 months, and I have noticed some increased muscular definition over the past few weeks. This is very encouraging to me.

I have written previously about how I make myself attractive and about wellness, if you are curious to read more. Here, I want to list what I have been doing recently.

1. The same friend who thought I was weird (admittedly, I am weird, so I don’t hold it against him for his observation) gave me great advice on my abdominal workouts. I have been doing abs 3-4 times a week, and I have started doing a much greater variety of exercises from day to day. I have noticed that my abs are getting more shredded just by constantly confusing my abdominal muscles.  No, those are not my abs in the picture.  I would never post a picture of my abs online. 

2. I have been incorporating more supersets and drop sets in my workouts, which keeps my heart rate up. I am still also hitting heavier sets, as well.

3. I have cut back on cardio. I now do 5 minutes of cardio warm up (down from 10 minutes), about an hour of weight training (mostly free weights), and 30 minutes of cardio (down from 40-45 minutes). Incidentally, I work out 6-7 days a week (I really have to force myself to take a rest day, and it really helps, but it is hard for me to rest, I’ll rest when I die), and I have 6 muscle groups that I rotate throughout the week, one per day: chest, legs, back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps. This part is no different than usual, but if you are curious, there you have it.

4. Since I gained in strength and am lifting heavier weights over the past couple of months, I noticed that I felt much more fatigued and hungry as I started to do cardio. So, I started eating a Power Bar on the way to the gym, and this helps my energy level tremendously. I try to steer clear of pre-workout drinks/powders because of the high level of caffeine they contain.

5. I have been diligently drinking two protein shakes a day, each containing about 35 grams of protein.

6. I take a high quality multivitamin (GNC Women’s Ultra Mega vitamin) and a probiotic daily. One day last week I forgot to take them in the morning, and I was dragging all day.

7. New music makes me feel so energetic during my workouts.

8. If I stay up late, I cannot seem to sleep in. My body simply will not allow it. And it takes me 24-48 hours to recover when I stay up too late. Adequate sleep is a necessity for me.

9. I have been eating a lot of high-fiber cereal (All Bran), and I eat very little other carbohydrate from refined bread/grain sources.  I do consume a lot of carbs, which is necessary to maintain good health and energy.

By the way, TR, if you are reading this, thank you so much for your comments. The things you write are very encouraging and useful.

I Think

A friend of mine, who is probably on the verge of getting an alias on my blog, sent me an email. “Penny for your thoughts,” he wrote.

I think that the following questions are music to an INTJs ears: “What do you think?” “What’s your opinion?” “What is your input?”

I think that pharmaceutical companies are scary. I refer to them as Big Pharma. Drug sales are fueled by marketing, not efficacy or safety. In other words, the best-selling drug in our country is the one on which Big Pharma spent the most money advertising. It has nothing to do with how good or safe the drug is, or what its side effects are.

I think advertising pollutes our mental environment, Big Pharma being a prime example. In general, advertising (think of print ads in magazines or commercials on the “electronic bookshelf” you have your furniture pointed at) promotes dissatisfaction.

I think that some bands are good even though they are popular and mainstream. But sometimes I am a snob and I don’t *want* to like them because they are popular and mainstream. I am the same way with books. I totally won’t read Twilight or Harry Potter.

I think that the Keurig they put into the office next to mine (for anyone to use) is going to take my caffeine addiction to the next level.

I think a lot about how to constantly change up my workouts (to keep them interesting and to enable myself to make progress and not plateau). A person cannot really get stronger and get leaner at the same time. I mean, it depends on the person’s existing body composition, but especially for people who already have little body fat, it is difficult because it’s like trying to gain weight and lose weight at the same time. Yet, I can never quite decide which I want.

I suppose if I had to choose, I prefer to get stronger. To me, it is easier and more fun. When I lose weight (which I am not at all trying to do), I feel weak, and I don’t like it. Conversely, when I am able to lift more weight, I feel so strong and empowered. Incidentally, over the past two years since I learned to work out properly, I have gained a lot of muscle, but I have not gained any weight. Every woman on the planet struggles with body image (thanks in part to advertising and the promotion of an unrealistic ideal), but I have never felt as secure in my body image as when I started to weight train properly and get strong.

Many women, I think, underestimate their strength. I see women who military press 10 pound dumbbells. “Your shoulders are stronger than that!,” I think. Sometimes I want to go up to them and encourage them, but I never do. That is how I became stronger and felt better about myself, though. I had people who handed me more weight than I thought I could lift, they encouraged me, and I was able to lift it.

I think teenagers are very fascinating. They are in a stage of life where they are searching for identity. They are no longer as authentic as young children are, yet often, teens are still more authentic than many adults. Teenagers have an intriguing balance of idealism and cynicism. They expect and thirst for a lot out of other people and out of life, yet they mistrust people, especially adults (many times rightfully so).

Teens experience all the same insecurities and struggles that adults face, yet they do not have the experience to understand how time changes things. I think that most adults marginalize and discount teenagers, yet often the teens are right (e.g. “I shouldn’t have to do this homework, which is really just busy work, because it is a waste of time that I could be using more productively, and I’m never going to use this crap in real life.” Yes, that actually is true.).

How to Be Attractive

Ninety percent of what I do takes place in my head. The remaining ten percent comprises the execution stage. I examine many possibilities, take in information, conduct research, weigh the alternatives, decide on the most effective and efficient solution or course of action, and then I execute.

I have mentioned to a few people that my physical attractiveness is a result of this very process. I am fascinated by all topics related to psychology, and the psychology of physical beauty in our culture is no exception. I wanted to know what makes a person attractive in the eyes of others, and what the benefits of attractiveness are (of which there are many, but that is a post for another day).

I read many books on attractiveness, nutrition, fitness, and self-care, including these favorites to which I still refer on a regular basis:
1. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty by Nancy Etcoff – Etcoff discusses what features contribute to attractiveness and the survival value of beauty.
2. Makeup Makeovers by Robert Jones – Jones presents a how-to guide on makeup application with amazing photo illustrations.
3. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman – Freedman discusses the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
4. Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier – Delavier lists essential free weight exercises for each muscle group in a detailed illustrated guide.
5. Sports Nutrition by Anita Bean – Bean covers the basics of how nutrition contributes to and works together with exercise.

Some basic essentials of female attractiveness include the following:
1. Maintain your ideal weight with a body mass index of 21 and a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. This is achieved with diet, exercise, youth, and a not having children.
2. Work to have clear, dewy skin that is free of acne and wrinkles by using gentle soap, exfoliate regularly, use eye cream and moisturizer every day, and use good quality makeup that matches your skin tone.
3. Eyes should be large, clear, and sparkly. Avoid alcohol and drugs, get adequate amounts of sleep, use luminizing concealer and shadow, and use eye whitening drops if necessary.
4. Have long, glossy hair that looks feminine by taking your B vitamins and using conditioners and creams.
5. Get straight white teeth with braces, veneers, and/or bleaching strips, and remember to floss. Lips look best when full and hydrated. Dark lipstick can age you drastically, so aim to use lighter colors on your lips.
6. Develop curves in all the right places (back, waist, hips, buttocks, legs, and arms) with exercise, proper nutrition (NOT with dieting, but as a lifestyle), exercise, eating healthy, and exercise – especially weight training, which so many women neglect. I have never been as secure about my body image as when I concentrate on strength training and bodybuilding.
7. Strive for symmetrical facial features by using artful makeup techniques or plastic surgery.
8. Get self-confident by finding friends who are encouraging and can help you achieve your full potential.
9. Increase your energy levels by exercising regularly, eating plenty of slow-digesting carbs, fruits, and vegetables, and by taking a multivitamin.
10. Get that je ne sais quoi by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and constantly seeking to build your relationship with God.

Je Ne Sais Quoi

A friend told me this story:
“I was sitting in an airport, and a man came by and told me, ‘You are very beautiful. I mean, you are an attractive woman, but there is something else about you that makes you extraordinarily lovely.’ I knew what he was talking about. I didn’t say this to him, but having Jesus in you makes you very attractive to some people. I just thanked him and he went on his way.”

I sometimes assume that people who aren’t Christians are turned off by those who are, in part because they are different, and differences invariably cause rifts, and in part because Christians themselves are often the worst evidence for Christianity. Those who call themselves Christians are often hypocrites or overly religious, cramming God down the throats of all they encounter.

But I have been surprised by the number of people who seem drawn to me, particularly as I grow in my faith. I became a Christian about four and a half years ago, and the longer I have spent on my journey, the more I die to myself and live for Christ. He is truly changing me from the inside out. It is often difficult for me to see myself as others do, but I can tell that over the past few years, people approach and respond to me differently than they did in the past. And my sense is that they notice a quality in me that they may not understand, but that I know is Jesus.

I spend a lot of time working out at the gym, and I have been passionate about exercise and a member of a gym for about ten years. For many years, though I was at the gym every evening, no one ever talked to me or approached me. That was fine with me, as I am an introvert, and I am at the gym to work out, not to socialize. And I never really gave it much thought one way or the other.

But increasingly over the past several years, people have begun approaching me, especially in the past couple of years. Granted, there are likely other contributing factors, but I cannot help but think that people see something in me that was not there before. As my identity in Christ grows, I am more confident and more at peace. People seem very intrigued by me, or by the qualities Jesus imbues in me. This is not to give myself props; there is nothing particularly special about me. I am not drastically different than I was years ago. Except God.

I feel that God is using me somehow. He has made me more approachable (often much to my chagrin; if you’ll remember from a previous post how I loathe small talk) so that He can work through me.

I have had some amusing encounters, one of which I will share with you in another post. I am not entirely sure how God is using me, but I sense that He is.

Incidentally, and while I’m on the topic of what God is doing in and through me, I have been thinking a lot about spiritual warfare. I have noticed how the evil one uses my sin and temptations to sin to make me think negative, self-deprecating thoughts about myself. It dawned on me that instead of jumping on that downward spiral, I can instead remind myself that I am a daughter of God. I am His beloved child, and nothing I do can make Him love me any less. He is there for me when I call to Him. This is not an excuse for licentiousness, but it is a comfort when I begin believing the lies about myself that I am weak and worthless.

The way that temptation and sin gets a hold on me is when I tell myself I am powerless. I start to believe that I am no good because I am tempted to be disobedient. But instead of being hard on myself, I now see that I need to come to God and tell Him I need his help. I need to believe the truth, that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).