I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I work out four to five times a week. I regularly care for my mental, spiritual and emotional health. I go to bed right after Jimmy Fallon’s monologue every night and get plenty of sleep.
I am boring as hell.
The only vices I have left are caffeine and sugar. I love good coffee and milk chocolate. Sometimes together. Up until recently, I had no reason or desire to give either one up.
Then I had the brilliant idea to start working with a new personal trainer. Who promptly told me I had to give up sweets — and any added sugar — for four weeks.
The rat bastard.
So for the past 10 days, I have taken the sugar out of my coffee (I’m keepin’ the damn coffee, though), and the candy, ice cream and cake out of my diet. He has given me some pretty strict guidelines on what I can eat and when, and I have to report in several times a day via text message.
This may sound like torture to some people, but for me it is providing an enormous sense of relief.
See, I have found that the only way I ever successfully make a change is when there is some element of accountability involved, either self-imposed or enforced by an outside person or entity. Example: I needed a network of supportive women and the structure of 12-step recovery to quit drinking, and to a slightly lesser degree, to quit smoking.
Another one: The only reason I maintain a rigorous workout schedule is because I pay for a fitness studio membership and sign up for classes at specific times. The classes I like tend to fill up fast, so I have to act quickly to reserve my spot. Not showing up for my assigned slot when there is a waiting list would just be rude, so I am committed to regular attendance.
(I can tell you from past experience that just joining a gym is not enough to make me go. I have to have a definite day and time so I can block it out on my calendar, as well as an instructor and classmates who will miss me if I am not there.)
Even in my career, I need accountability. Sure, I work for myself, and can essentially do whatever the hell I want — sleep late, slough off, screw around. But I don’t, because I am accountable to bill collectors, for one thing, but also because I am accountable to my clients.
When I take on a new project, I insist that the client give me a deadline on it, even if he really doesn’t care when the work gets done (you would be surprised how often that happens). “Whenever you can get to it” or “As soon as possible” are statements that quickly slide your job down to the bottom of the pile because they mean nothing to me. I don’t care if your deadline is more flexible than Mary Lou Retton, having SOMETHING on my calendar makes the difference between gettin’ ‘er dun and permanent procrastination.
Anyhoo, back to sugar. For the next phase of my ongoing self-care efforts, I’m trying to improve my eating habits so I can maximize the effects of all this damn exercise and be bangin' in a bikini (or as bangin' as this old broad can possibly be, anyway). I finally want to achieve some pronounced muscle definition, by God. I already feel stronger, but I want to look it, too.
There’s this one instructor who I love at the awesome little studio I joined back in the fall, Intensity Fitness. I love Jeff Howard's teaching style, but more than that, I love the results I am seeing from taking his classes. Each class is, well, intense, and through whatever magical combo of exercises he uses, they succeed is shocking his students' muscles into changing size and shape. In a good way. (After some classes, mine get so terrified they crawl under the kitchen table and whine for their mommy, but I digress.)
I stopped working with another trainer around the holidays because of a lack of time on her part and money on mine, but I have been thinking about starting up again for the past month. I knew Jeff did some personal training, but I didn’t think I could afford him. Then I found out that he does group sessions for a cheaper price. Another woman I work out with, who has become a good friend, suggested we ask Jeff if he would train the two of us together at a discounted rate. He said yes.
So what I am doing, and doing willingly? I am taking photos of every morsel of food that enters my mouth and texting them to Jeff. If I have a question about whether something conforms to his food plan, I have to text him and ask about it before I can eat it. Hello, maximum accountability.
On one level, it makes me feel like a four-year-old, but on another, it’s very liberating to not have to figure out the confusing quagmire of healthy eating on my own. I mean, shit … there are thousands of books on dieting and nutrition, and weeding through them on my own has historically been pretty overwhelming. No carbs? Complex carbs? No fat? Good fat? Dark chocolate? No chocolate? Gluten-free? Sugar-free? Fuck all that, just tell me what to eat!!
Since Jeff is a trained professional and knows what he is doing, I am willing follow his instructions. No sugar, but I can have fruit. Low-fat foods, with protein at every meal. Nothing fried in oil or butter. White potatoes or pasta as a small side at lunch only, never at dinner. Try to stay under 1,200 calories a day. One “cheat” meal per week.
Fortunately, Jeff is not asking me to give up sugar or fun foods like French fries forever. Just for four weeks to start, then we will revisit how my diet is going and readjust. I don’t want to lose much weight, just an inch or two, especially in the thigh and belly area. But I want to get lean and as healthy as possible.
I was never athletic in my youth, and I did not lift a single weight until I was in my late 30s. So I don’t know what “trim and toned” looks like on me. My goal is to finally achieve the very best physical shape I can, whatever that means. (I’m 41, not 21, so I'm trying to have realistic expectations. A two-pack instead of a six-pack, maybe?)
If getting my ass in shape means no sugar in my coffee and no more Cadbury Mini Eggs for a while, so be it. Fitness really is the new midlife crisis. Pass the fruit, and I'll see you at the gym!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.