Body for Life, the Universe, and Everything

Being a description of the author's thoughts on the experience of participating in the "Body for Life" Challenge, questions of great philosophical import, and randomly selected topics of no significance whatsoever

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Location: Missouri, United States

In no particular order, I'm a professional lettering artist, a yoga practitioner, a cat lover, a vegetarian, a reader of everything from books to cereal boxes, married to a very attractive guy named Tom (nope, no kids), an exercise enthusiast, and a lot of other things I don't care to admit in a public forum. I have a BS in applied math that I haven't used in over 10 years, and I can put both feet behind my head. What else would you like to know?

Monday, June 13, 2005


I took some measurements with the tape measure and calipers and such a couple of days ago, and I was ticked. T-I-C-K-E-D! For eleven weeks, I've been pedaling my legs off and sweating on everything in sight and sending my heartrate to 200 bpm three days a week, and lifting weights heavy enough that I feel like I'm gonna pop a blood vessel three other days a week, and slapping my hands anytime I even think about eating anything other than soy, cottage cheese, whole grains, or vegetables, all six of those days a week, and restraining myself almost that much even on the one weekly free day...and I haven't lost a fraction of an inch, or a fraction of a pound!! I didn't get into this to lose actual poundage, because I was already pretty much at my ideal weight, but still...!! (Actually, I've gained a couple of pounds, but I'm certain that it is all I feel a bit better about that.) I was pretty steamed about this situation for most of the day, but then I calmed down and started trying to attain some perspective about it. (Inner peace, anyone? Would you like fries with that, Ms. Buddha? No, no fries, it's not my free day.)

Tom says I look different--better, I guess--and is upset that I don't seem to believe him because I don't have any hard numbers to prove it to myself. What I really got into this whole BFL thing for was to try to get rid of the superfluous abdominal fat--which has been hanging around and bothering me for about ten years, even though there's not that much of it--but most or all of it hasn't budged. In general, I was hoping to get just a bit trimmer all through the middle section of my body (waist to knees). If that has happened at all, I can't see it or measure it, and I'm very frustrated by that. body fat percentages have improved a bit (although not much), so a little of it must be coming off from somewhere. And the big thing is that I am now lifting at least twice as much weight in my weightlifting workouts as I did when I first started lifting, only eleven weeks ago. Right before we started the program, we purchased the additional dumbbells that we felt we needed for our workouts; I lifted the 20-pound dumbbells into the shopping cart and said, "Wow, I don't think I'll be using those anytime soon!" Now I'm using 50 pounds per hand in a couple of my lower-body lifts! I now have shoulders like a mini-Schwarzenegger, which I've never had before! (BTW, the picture that's currently posted with my blog profile, on this page, is from our 9-week photo session, just two weeks ago, and it actually shows those shoulder muscles a little bit!) A couple of weeks ago, three friends and I had a "girls' night out," and when I was asked what I'd been up to lately, I pushed up my sleeve and showed off my new muscles, and there we were in the restaurant, with them squeezing my upper arm like we were in a Charmin commercial and saying, "Ooooh!" like groupies!! It was most gratifying! :) They were embarrassed later. I wasn't!

But back to my hissy fit about my lack of measurable results.... I have decided that I am going to work the program to the letter, to the very best of my ability, for the week that remains in the current Challenge, and then continuing likewise into the next Challenge, which we will start very shortly afterward. (Tom wants to wait a week or two, and I want to start again immediately.) If this doesn't give me the kind of results I want, I don't want there to be any excuses about it along the lines of, "Well, you didn't follow the program exactly...." But if I don't have anything better to show for it after Challenge #2, I'm going back to what I was doing before (which is actually relatively far off the American norm, what with my vegan, mostly sugar-free diet, and my moderately extensive exercise program), because it is obviously enough to maintain more or less the body I have now.

Tom points out that the people in the pictures in the BFL publications are the ones on the far end of the bell curve (yes, we both have scientific degrees; can you tell?). I am going to find out where I stand on the bell curve, and I will either get results or prove that this program doesn't work for my body. NO EXCUSES.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Brooke Shields--1; Tom Cruise--zilch

I'm a bit of an odd duck in several ways. (Isn't everybody??) One of them is that I don't follow the news in any form whatsoever (TV, radio, newspaper), because I find that it's almost all *bad* news, and I don't think that's something I need in my life. However, I do glance at the Yahoo headlines when I access my e-mail accounts every day, and I will occasionally click on a headline link if it is about a particular interest of mine. That's how I ended up seeing the story about Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise. The headline read, "Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise clash over drug use." What the hey??!? I don't have any special interest in either of these actors, but I thought this was an odd enough implication that I followed it up, especially since I already knew that Brooke Shields had been taking an antidepressant/antianxiety medication because of postpartum depression, although it wasn't clear that that was what this was all about. Note: If you want to read the article for yourself, here's the link, assuming it is still up when you read this (additional note: I had to break this link into two lines because my entire blog spacing went haywire otherwise, but if you paste them together without space in between, I think it will work):

I read the article, and by the time I was done, I was furious!

This is a sterling example of an entertainer expounding on a subject he is not qualified in any way, shape, or form to speak about with any authority whatsoever. Tom Cruise, as a Scientology follower (can you really call it a church? I admit that I don't know much about it, but it doesn't seem very church-y to me), believes that any mind-altering drugs are "dangerous" and the use of them is "irresponsible," and that postpartum depression should be treated with vitamins! He's quoted as saying, "When someone says [medication] has helped them, it is to cope, it didn't cure anything. There is no science. There is nothing that can cure them whatsoever."


Okay, I feel a bit better now.

Brooke Shields, in what I thought was a commendably restrained and well-mannered response, considering that he had just basically called her an idiot and weakling, said, "Tom Cruise's comments are irresponsible and dangerous. Tom should stick to saving the world from aliens and let women who are experiencing postpartum depression decide what treatment options are best for them." You go, girl!!

Now, I am all for treating medical problems with vitamins if that will do the trick--I'm more into the whole organic, natural, healthy, no-unnecessary-drugs thing than just about anyone I know, so please don't even think about accusing me of being too hepped about drug solutions to medical issues. I have frequently been known to suffer through three days of a screaming headache without reaching for so much as an aspirin, trying to treat it with things like yoga and acupressure instead. And of course mind-altering drugs are dangerous; that's why it's illegal to get them without a prescription! (well, duh!) And I don't claim to know much about the less obvious differences between postpartum depression and any other variety of depression. But, having suffered (a particularly apt term) from suicidal clinical depression for the last twenty-five years (yes, you read that right, a quarter of a century--and I'm still under 40!), and having been under treatment for it for the last three of those years, I believe I have at least a *modicum* of authority to speak about treatment for depression in general.

Here's my analogy for Tom Cruise to chew on:

Okay, Tom, you're supposed to be an expert (on film, anyway) at dealing with problematic, dangerous situations. Suppose you are in a burning building, and during the previous scene, in which the building was set afire, both your legs were broken. (Oh, why don't we have your arms broken too, to make this more realistic...and to keep you from being able to just push yourself along using your arms.) You happen to have with you, through the wonders of improbable movie magic, an instantaneous, very strong painkiller that will not cloud your thinking...and some vitamins. Your choices have been narrowed down to exactly three: 1) escape from the burning building by walking on your broken legs...with the help of the vitamins, if you like, but without the painkiller; 2) same as (1), but with the painkiller; or 3) burn to death to avoid the pain of walking on your broken legs or the issues of taking the painkiller.

So, Tom, what option would you like to choose today? Oh, you don't think any of them sound like much fun? Well, welcome to the world of depression, which, strangely enough, has a lot in common with being in a burning building. You see, a depressive person who is suicidal enough and isn't treated (and sometimes even when they are treated, but that's another story) will sooner or later be just as dead, and about as much from "natural causes," as someone trapped in a burning building. And those painkillers? Well, they won't heal your broken legs one bit, now or later, but they will help you cope with them enough to escape certain death. You obviously don't know that, but I do. From personal experience. And your friends, those vitamins? Well, vitamins are good. They will probably help you in the long run. They might even help heal your broken legs. But only if you live long enough to get out of that building.

This isn't a perfect analogy (not that there has ever been such a thing as a "perfect" analogy), because it leads to the conclusion that it is possible to permanently escape from the burning building, which as a rule with suicidal tendencies, isn't super-likely (although that might be different for the postpartum variety of depression; I don't know enough about that to be sure). But if a person did manage to permanently eliminate the suicidal part of their depression, then what would be left would be something like walking on broken legs (not walking at all and just waiting to heal is *not* an option--if you live, you walk), which is what living with the sometimes-searing agony of depression is like. You can use medication to help you cope with it, or not, as you choose, but the pain is *not* going to go away by itself. I tried waiting it out for 22 years, so I know a little about just how well that approach works. And if you think it is an exaggeration to talk about that kind of pain going on for over two decades...well, I know a guy named Greedo whose specialty is wielding a club, and he gives discounts on multiple visits....

Oh, here's an idea, Tom. Got anyone you love with insulin-dependent diabetes? Maybe one of your children, who I hear you're commendably crazy about? How would you like to have them treated with vitamins instead of insulin? Or suppose one of them desperately needed an organ transplant--want to treat that with vitamins?

I have a better idea. Get a lot more informed on anything you speak about, or keep your mouth shut. You can start by attending a Suicide Survivors meeting. I would not recommend that you tell the people in that room that their loved ones would still be with them if they had only gotten the proper vitamins.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Deep Thoughts on Art and Self

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I read a lot. I mean A LOT. (Until I realized that I wasn't getting much else done and *forced* myself to cut back, I was regularly reading on the order of one to two books every day--fat novels, not slim volumes of poetry. Does that seem like a lot to you?) And I read faster than anyone I know, which is what enables me to get through so much material in the time I spend doing it and still have some kind of a life outside the printed page. I received from my parents the tremendous gift of both the intelligence and the training/education to understand complex ideas and advanced vocabulary. But lately I have come to realize that I have some kind of mental block about reading non-fiction--I just shy away from it, for some reason. Perhaps it is some sort of wish to stay in a juvenile fantasy world; I don't know if that theory is correct, but to tell the truth, I can't see that the reason is very important at this juncture.

Regardless, I recently had recommended to me, in a rather serendipitous fashion, a book I had never heard of by one of my favorite authors--NOT a novel, this time, but a book of philosophical reflections. I checked it out from the library, but after reading a few pages, my "non-fiction anxiety" took over and I put it down again, and it stayed firmly on the nightstand with the bookmark all but glued in place, while the time I had left for keeping it checked out (without late fees) grew shorter and shorter, and finally elapsed. I am a stubborn cuss (well, I am from Missouri, after all--you have heard about Missouri mules, and about the state slogan? ["I'm from Missouri, and you gotta show me!"]), so I was determined to actually read this book, because I knew it would be well worth my time to do so, if I could successfully fight the desire to put it down and pull out something with a storyline. So this morning, I decided to read the first two chapters and then stop and think about it, and after I had thought about it, read the next two chapters at some later juncture--perhaps tomorrow. This blog entry is an attempt to put into words my thoughts on it.

The book is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle, who wrote the book A Wrinkle in Time (and its sequels), which instantly became one of my favorite books of all time when I first read it at about the age of ten, and has remained a favorite in the many years since. The book's subtitle pretty much explains the theme, but to expand a bit, it is a collection of her thoughts/meditations on art/artists and Christianity, and on how they relate and interact and influence each other. Of course, her primary experience as an artist, and what she bases many of her examples on, is writing, but she also has a strong background in music, and theatre, and to some extent in visual art, so she pretty much covers all the bases.

Reading this book, I felt both inspired and humbled. Inspired by things like a quote she included from a writer named Jean Rhys, who said this in an interview: "Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake." And then both inspired and humbled by her comments on the same topic: "If the work comes to the artist and says, 'Here I am, serve me,' then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist's talent is not what it is about....When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist....When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens. But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer....The prayers of words cannot be eliminated. And I must pray them daily, whether I feel like praying or not. Otherwise, when God has something to say to me, I will not know how to listen. Until I have worked through self, I will not be enabled to get out of the way. Someone wrote, 'The principal part of faith is patience,' and this applies, too, to art of all disciplines. We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it." And here is a quote from a theologian, Timothy Kallistos Ware, that sums up beautifully: " abstract composition by Kandinsky or Van Gogh's landscape of the cornfield with a real instance of divine transfiguration, in which we see matter rendered spiritual and entering into the 'glorious liberty of the children of God.' This remains true, even when the artist does not personally believe in God. Provided he is an artist of integrity, he is a genuine servant of the glory which he does not recognize, and unknown to himself there is 'something divine' about his work." And finally, from Tchekov: "You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don't let that concern you. It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures."

Whew! It makes me want to run right to my studio and start creating! (Side note: I do hope I have not quoted an inappropriate amount of the book in this blog.) I, like probably nearly everyone who would like to think of themselves as artists of one flavor or another, have often wondered whether the ideas that came to me were worth the trouble of putting down on paper (or the equivalent), not because they were bad ideas, but because I wasn't sure whether my level of talent was adequate to the task. Things like this book counter that feeling of uncertainty and inferiority.

I have a quotation, beautifully lettered and illustrated by a fellow calligrapher, next to my working area in my studio, which reads, "The woods would be silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." I keep it there to remind me to do what I am called to do, no matter how inadequate I may feel I am. A member of my church with whom I have been on several committees, Carl, has a saying he likes to repeat when similar worries are expressed: "God doesn't call the equipped; he equips the called." I believe that if I am called to do something, to create something, to share something, I will be provided with whatever I need to do it. Sometimes I wonder if I am being called to do this or that or the other thing, but I never have those doubts when it comes to creating art. I know that if an idea of something to create appears in my head, I am supposed to do it, especially if it keeps reappearing.

Why, then, if I believe I have been called to create certain things (I have a long list of ideas for calligraphy projects that I have never even attempted), and if I believe I will be given whatever I need to bring these ideas to life, have I never even started the vast majority of them?? Very simply, fear. Fear of failure (which in this case seems to mean lack of recognition, given my other beliefs). Fear of success. Fear of having to discipline myself to work through the rough spots inevitable in the creation of anything [I hear that giving birth is no picnic :) ]. Fear of starting. (Not sure what that is all about, but I'm leaving it in there anyway.) Fear of not being satisfied, on a personal level, with the end result.

Something that may or may not seem related has popped into my mind here: I remember when Tom was doing a particular show (community theatre) a few years ago. It was his first true lead role, so he was pretty excited about doing the show. The cast was great, the script was great, the set was great--but the director was a complete witch. She did nothing but criticize for two solid months. (And no, it's not a female-director thing--the director he has worked with a number of times and, I think, liked the best out of all the ones he's worked with, is also female.) Tom probably had higher blood pressure during the two months of working on that show than he has ever had, before or since. It was a horrible, stressful experience for him (ironically enough, the show was a comedy). And yet...that may very well be the best show (from the audience's perspective) that he has ever been in, and he's been in over twenty of them now. The crux of this whole story is this: some people we had invited from my church came to see that show, and afterward one of them (who had been going through a divorce) came up to Tom and said, "I haven't laughed so hard in years...and I didn't realize how much I desperately needed to laugh right now." And Tom was profoundly moved by discovering the result of what he (and others) had done to serve the work, despite the difficulties of doing so. The moral of the story is that the artist--any variety of artist--is called to focus on serving the work, without being sidetracked with worries about other people's response to it. That seems like kind of a weak way to say it, but that is the essence. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, among other intensely thought-provoking and life-changing books, points out the utter futility of trying to control results. All you can control is your actions. You cannot control the actions of other people, and you cannot control the results of your own (or anyone else's) actions. Focus on your actions. Focus on your actions.

And serve the work rather than fussing about yourself.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cross-Training Experiment, and, On Being Vegan

The other day, I spent half the evening (the later half!) reading through John Hussman's excellent site (, and among other things, was struck by some of the things he said about the importance/benefits of cross-training. So today, instead of doing my BFL "20-minute aerobics solution" on the stationary bike, the way I have for every aerobics HIIT (that's "High-Intensity Interval Training," for you non-muscleheads) workout in the previous nine weeks of doing BFL, I decided to switch to the mini-trampoline (rebounder).

I do NOT like to run. To me, running is something you do to avoid being caught by something larger than you are that has sharp teeth. But the rebounder is okay. When I was using it pre-BFL, I would put Fantasia on the VCR to keep me distracted (why Fantasia? it's interesting, but you can stop anywhere and not feel like you're missing part of a story), and just jog and do arm exercises until the timer went off. Not today. Today I was on a mission to do my HIIT workout, and distraction was not what I needed. I set myself up with my timer in front of me, water bottle on a chair to the left of the rebounder, daily workout plan/report, and pen, on a chair to the right, 5-pound dumbbell in each hand, Styx blasting from the surround sound. And we were off.

Initially, it wasn't too bad. But pretty soon, I came to several conclusions: first, that my arms would fall off if I waved them around as much as I normally do while on the mini-tramp (doing various arm exercises), while holding that much weight, for 20 minutes without a break. (Never mind that in my upper-body weight workout, five-pound dumbbells are, at most, a starter weight for my various exercises, assuming I don't start considerably higher.) That problem mostly solved itself, because I needed to put down the weights to take my pulse rate after each interval, and that gave me enough of a rest. The second conclusion was that it was much harder to take my pulse while continuing to jog than it was while riding the bike, because with the bike there's no significant foot-pounding rhythm to interfere with counting the pulse. I was forced to resort to just lifting and lowering my heels as fast as I could to keep things moving while I counted. The third conclusion was that it was hard to jog fast enough on the rebounder to get to the higher intensity levels, because it can only spring back so fast from each step, and that makes for a rough ride if you try to go faster than the rate at which it can spring back. The fourth and final conclusion was that it is much harder to stick to the prescribed intensities when you don't have some objective controls/measurements for things like resistance levels and speed. You are forced to resort to saying to yourself, "Well, this feels like about a seven," and then thirty seconds later you realize either that you have slowed down a lot and you're now at about a six, or that you're going the same speed but it's no longer a seven, it's pushing a ten, and you don't think you can make the last fifteen seconds without slowing down. Whereas on the stationary bike it is much more cut-and-dried: Set the resistance level at two here, and then increase it by one step each minute until the end of the interval, then drop it back to two and repeat, and keep it above such-and-such a speed the entire time. So then when you feel you can't do it, you can remind yourself, "Yes I can, I did it with these exact settings two days ago." But the rebounder routine is much more nebulous. Sooooo...with all those disadvantages, I don't think I will use the rebounder for my "aerobics solution" again, but I'm glad I did it once. And it does have the advantage of having given my arms a workout as well as my legs, which doesn't happen nearly so much on the bike.

And now for the second part of this post: the diet part.

Reading John Hussman's extensive information and comments on diet for people on BFL convinced me that I needed to be more diligent about my meals. Not that I was eating the wrong things, or in the wrong proportions, but I was having a hard time converting myself to small portions, six times a day. You see, pre-BFL, if I ate three times a day, it was an unusual event. Mostly I had one big meal, late in the evening, and then nibbled until I went to bed. Yes, I know, I should have had all my hair fall out and should have sprouted limbs in odd places for such dietary outrage. But what I ate was *extremely* healthy 98% of the time, so that apparently made up for it. I have a tendency to forget to eat, especially when I get busy. (Tom was always saying, "How can anyone forget to eat??" I think there are people who sometimes forget to eat, and people who never do, and the second type will never understand the first.) I have even been known to go without food, or even much thought about it, for as long as about 36 hours, although eventually it would catch up with me and I would be about ready to chew off my own arm.

Fast-forward to reading all this stuff the other night on John Hussman's site. I decided that I needed to go back to planning my meals, the way I had for just a few days at the beginning of the Challenge. While I was reading through the site, I was looking for any info he might have about vegan sources of protein, since there aren't many I know of. He did have some information on it, but it wasn't good news for me, since he basically says soy is about the only non-animal source...and I am not particularly fond of soy. A lot of people say it doesn't have any taste, but to me it does, and I don't care for that taste, so I try to only use it in things that are strongly flavored to disguise the taste of the soy. Yes, it has a bazillion forms, but I think I have had every one, and several times a day, too, since starting BFL, and I am pretty sick of it. Incidentally, I am always vegetarian, but I will relax my preference for being vegan if I feel it is necessary, and it has been necessary a lot more since starting BFL. I have been eating a lot of cottage cheese, and a few things with whey, and Morningstar "bacon" and "sausage"--the truly vegan bacon/sausage substitutes I have found taste like shoe leather to me, and one of my firm rules is that I won't eat anything I don't like. I restrict myself to a certain (large!) extent about eating things I do like, but I absolutely refuse to eat anything I don't like. That is also why I stopped using Myoplex shakes very early on (like, after half a glass and a few tastes of other flavors)--I can't stand them! (Sorry, EAS!) I liked some of the Myoplex bars, but I found out when I was experimenting with them, and with some of the other protein bars on the market, that some of the brands taste chalky to me (so they're out), some taste too sweet to me, like the particular Myoplex bars I was using (keep in mind that I have been mostly off refined sugar for several years, so my idea of "too sweet" is not the same as the average person's), and *all* of them that I have tried make me a bit sick, and significantly more so if I have more than one in a I try not to use them unless the alternatives are truly unacceptable. The Luna lemon-zest-flavor bars are really the only ones that I *really* like (I don't care much for chocolate--yes, I know that makes me un-American and totally weird to boot!), and even those still make me sick, just like the others. I think it might be the whey protein that is found in most of these bars that is a problem for me.

All of this--the limitations on what I can/will eat, especially since there's not much in the way of "pre-prepared" foodstuffs left on the possibilities list--means I have to spend a *lot* of time cooking. Fortunately, I was already doing a lot of that. But it does mean I have had to change the way I cook, and what I cook; I now have to look for ways to get that protein in there somehow. It has been a challenge, and has used a lot of mental and physical energy in the last nine weeks that we have been on BFL. I would like to think that is why I can't seem to get anything else done...!