The vital muscle you didn’t know you had

I’ve been regularly working out and eating better for about five weeks now, and I’m not gonna sugarcoat the truth— waiting for visible progress sucks. The good news is there’s one muscle that I have made significant invisible progress on: my confidence.

I know it sounds a little silly to refer to confidence as a muscle, but let me put it in perspective for you. For starters, think about some of the major muscles we have: quads, abs, biceps, etc. We all have these, but some are more visible than others, depending on how much time we’ve spent working on them. So the more you work on a muscle, the stronger it becomes, right? Well when it comes to confidence, some of us aren’t exactly The Hulk.

I’ll be the first to admit that this invisible muscle has been (and still is) one of the weakest ones in my body. In college, I avoided the first floor weight room at the gym like the plague. I applauded the brave women in there who pumped iron alongside the herd of swole frat boys in cutoff tanks. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. In my entire four years, there was only one day I went in there with two friends to work out. I couldn’t shake the feeling of dozens of eyes on me—red-faced, sweaty and struggling hard with the lowest weight setting on the shoulder press. I laughed at myself as a defense mechanism, repeating out loud over and over that I was too weak to be in there. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t go in there ever again. Now I regret that my fear had stolen from me countless opportunities to build strength.

Thanks to my amazing sister/partial personal trainer, I feel more comfortable in the (usually) male-dominated area of the gym. About a week ago, she took me through a leg day circuit right in front of the mirrors and right in the middle of the buff dudes. After several sets of different lower body moves (Bulgarian split squats, sumo squats, and curtsy lunges to name a few), I felt physically weak. Mentally though, I felt strong. Not only did I notice that my confidence was building, but I also noticed that the males around us weren’t staring, snickering or anything like that— it was all in my head! They seemed to be in their own zone, just like Hannah and I were.

Today I biked to the gym and walked up (a little nervous, of course) to that same area by myself. And after five minutes, I was too in tune with my own music (pun slightly intended) and my own workout to give a damn about what the guys there were thinking or doing. Heck, except for the one woman on the other side of the room doing her barbell thing, I was the only female around! I was so proud of myself!

Training muscles— you guessed it, confidence included— requires a ton of discipline, time and patience; if you’re too comfortable in the process, you’ll never see progress. As one of my favorite fitness quotes goes, “Suck it up so one day you won’t have to suck it in.”

Now get out there and flex your confidence in the gym (or anywhere else) for the world to see!

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How YOU can build a better workout 

There are a number of commandments we’re told to worship in the gym, but there’s one in particular that everyone loves to preach about: “you shall not skip leg day.” While there’s nothing wrong with matching your muscle groups to certain days, I am a huge advocate for mixing it up, which is what I did today. In fact, I created my own commandment: “when in doubt, you shall flow it out.” In other words, if you’re stuck on where to start in the gym that day, I figured out a formula that’ll help you find your flow.

First, choose an easy form of cardio that you can vibe with for at least 10 minutes (maybe it’s the elliptical, the treadmill or even the stationary bike). During this warm-up, offer yourself two options: continue with cardio at a medium to high intensity for at least 20 minutes, or pick a piece of weight training equipment (machines, free weights, etc.). By this point, you’ll most likely be listening to what your body wants without even realizing it! Tune into that little voice. When you make your choice, focus on absolutely crushing it. Now there are TONS of feel-good endorphins pumping through your system, so let them flow you toward whatever makes you think, “Yeah, I can conquer that too.”

I know I sound ridiculous– and that’s OK with me, because guess what? It totally worked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the gym and said to myself, “Ha yep, not feeling it today. I should just leave before I embarrass myself even attempting to do that… um… whatever that machine is called.” Or I’ve walked in at peak times only to find out every treadmill was taken; then I would take that aimless, defeating walk around the other areas, panicking about a plan B. No one wants to go through that!

When you follow this formula, not only do you can get to know your body better, but you can also use it as a planning tool for future workouts. Here’s how I flowed it out today:

  • 10 minutes on the rowing machine
  • 30 minutes of treadmill running intervals
  • 5 x 15 reps on calf press machine
  • 3 x 15 reps on ab machine
  • 4 x 12 reps dumbbell bicep curls
  • 4 x 15 reps (each side) dumbbell side bends
  • 3 x 12 reps dumbbell shoulder press
  • Stretching for cool down

I bounced around a bunch of different muscle groups so I could work one while resting the other, which saved me time while keeping up my heart rate. It was so much fun to do a little bit of everything!

I challenge you this weekend to free yourself of a rigid routine and try flowing it out– your body, mind and imagination will thank you! Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Saying “yes” to a bridesmaid dress (and a new body)

When my sister Hannah asked my sister Hayley and me to be maids of honor for her wedding next June, I was overjoyed. I have obviously been to weddings before, but as far as being in one– I’m a total rookie. Hannah and her fiancé Nick have done just about everything on their wedding planning list, but there’s an important box that has yet to be checked: pick out bridesmaid dresses.

A couple of weeks ago, Hannah and I went to a boutique to browse some styles and colors. The saleslady helped us pull about 20 dresses from the racks for me to try on. My fingers swam through a sea of colorful fabrics and textures, but it didn’t take long for my body confidence to be thrown in the deep end. All but two of the sample-sized dresses I wiggled into were no match for my curvy, busty figure. I know those aren’t meant to fit like a glove, but it was tough to not be able to visualize what each dress would look like on me in the proper size. No matter how much we adjusted those electrical clamps and no matter how much I sucked in my stomach, I didn’t feel comfortable or pretty. That was my breaking point.

After Hannah consoled me and helped me put things in perspective, I took a step back to think. OK. It’s August and we don’t have to make a final decision on bridesmaid dresses until around November. That’s three months from now, which means I have time to make progress. I can work with this realistic timeline to slim down and develop a healthier lifestyle for the long-term, instead of rushing into some crazy, drop-30-pounds-in-two-weeks diet. On that (hopefully) sunny day in June 2018, I want to look back and say, “Look how far I’ve come.”

It’s this specific vision in mind that has kept me motivated in the gym and in the kitchen the past two weeks. I’ve been working out at least four times a week, cutting back on carbs and eating more vegetables. I switched to eating homemade salads with lean protein for lunch. I have hopped on the weight and cardio machines in the rec center, pushing myself to bust out those final reps when it counts the most.

I plan on using this blog to stay accountable for my progress, so the best is yet to come. With that tiny bit of change I’m starting to feel (and see) already, I’ve said “I do” to a healthier lifestyle!

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HIIT is a great way to switch things up on the treadmill: run (or walk) for the verses of a song and sprint for the choruses!

One hashtag. 39 days. 80 miles.

Patience is power.
Like most of my generation, I crave instant gratification. Thanks to technology, our world has become so accustomed to making things happen with the tap of a button. Unfortunately, there are some things in life that even the most advanced smartphone or robot can’t grant immediately, like finding the perfect job or getting over a breakup.

For me, it’s weight loss.

I can’t count how many times I’ve given up on trying to change the number on the scale. I tried eliminating certain foods, going to different fitness classes, tracking what I ate, but I never had the patience to stick with those changes long enough to see the results I wanted.

80.1 miles (that’s roughly three marathons), nearly 14.5 hours and 10,070 calories later, that all changed.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

This past Thanksgiving, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw an article about the RW Run Streak by the magazine Runner’s World. The streak challenges participants to run at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving until New Years—39 consecutive days. I didn’t have to join anything, register or pay a penny to do it. By using the hashtag #RWRunStreak, I could keep myself accountable and harness motivation and support from the hundreds of other people doing it too. I ran several mornings a week when I was in New York City this past summer, so I was relatively comfortable taking on the challenge. Still—39 days seemed astronomical. And in the winter?!

So later that day, I laced up my tennis shoes, strapped on my iPhone armband and set out to conquer this monster.

SO THIS IS GOING TO TAKE GETTING USED TO…

I’m not going to lie—it was a pain in the butt for the first couple of weeks. But I had already committed by tweeting about it, and giving up was not an option. To keep myself focused and motivated, I used the Runmeter app to track my time, distance and calories and recorded the stats on a calendar in my bedroom. By doing that, my progress became my inspiration. After about 15 days, running became ingrained in my daily routine to the point where I looked forward to it. You know that “runner’s high” thing people talk about? Yeah, it’s real—and it’s the best.

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CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP

The other obstacles I faced were dealing with inconvenient circumstances and horrible weather conditions. Icy sidewalks and roads, windburn on my face, you name it, I experienced it. I don’t have a gym membership at home, so it was me against Mother Nature. There were a couple of days when it was really bad outside, so I had to suck up the $8 day pass at the rec center in order to hop on a treadmill.
On the other hand, sometimes I had to make it work at super inconvenient times. For example, I met up with friends to study during finals week and would leave them for 15 minutes to go for a run around campus. On New Years Eve, I had 45 minutes to run, shower and get ready for a surprise party. Through it all, I didn’t let anyone or anything extinguish the fire within me.

MAMA, I MADE IT!

For the first time in my life, I finished what I started. And I want to keep going. 39 days later, I’m just now starting to see results and notice a change in my body. But it’s not all physical. I feel mentally stronger and more confident. I’ll probably never reach my true dream body (let’s be realistic here), and that’s fine by me. The biggest takeaway from this experience is that the old phrase rings true: good things do come to those who wait.

So if you’re making a resolution in 2017, work hard, be realistic about your goal and give it time. I know how impossible it is to be patient, but you can do it! If you need someone to count on for support, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

CLEarly Proud

Just inside the door of John’s Diner, the smell of grease, bacon and coffee greets each customer before the seating hostess gets the chance to. If you brought a credit card, you might need to use the ATM at the entrance because they only accept cash payment. Call them old-fashioned.

Behind the traditional diner counter is a circus of servers and cooks rushing to put out the next breakfast order. Here comes a regular; he plops onto a vinyl stool and chats up the waitress as she pours him a hot cup of joe.
I help my grandma into her seat at a blue vinyl booth toward the back of the old boxcar restaurant. In his thick Greek accent, the owner asks us how we are doing, each tired wrinkle on his face lifting to form a sincere smile.
“We’re doing well, thank you,” I say while opening my menu.
For a not-so-glamorous place, the menu boasts a cheap yet diverse array of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My mom, grandma and I have our breakfast delivered about eight minutes after ordering. It’s hot, too.
I take a break from digging into my strawberry topping-smothered pancakes to observe the owner and two men who must be of a similar age (in their 70s probably). One of them points to a framed faded photo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
“That’s the 1909 World Series,” he says.
“Well… I’ll be damned,” the other man whispers almost breathlessly.

I’ve never felt so connected to my roots in Cleveland as I have throughout the past six months. After breakfast that day, my mom took my grandma and I down Arden Avenue in Lakewood (the city in which John’s Diner is located) to see the house where I was raised as a baby. My mom mentioned how the porch, garage and paint job were still holding up rather well; Dad put a lot of money and elbow grease into those projects 23 years ago. Though I don’t remember my days there, I felt this powerful connection as I gazed at the house. My first home.

Next, we drove on I-90 E to downtown Cleveland to pick up some heartworm medication for our puppy Finley. This was the same route I took for my commute to the Cleveland Magazine office over the summer, so some major déjà-vu was brewing inside me. It was a euphoric sense of nostalgia; I recall switching between KISS-FM and Q104 to catch up on the news and celebrity gossip. Elvis Duran made sitting in rush hour traffic so worth it.

I learned more about Cleveland from my internship this summer than I can put into words, but that never would have happened without actually being out and about. When the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals, ESPN camped out on East 4th Street and reporters from all over the world roamed the streets. Being at the epicenter of something historic is an indescribable feeling, and I’ll never forget the palpable energy that permeated through the whole city.

I attended several Indians games (no shocker there, since I’m a major fan). I chowed down at a new restaurant almost every Monday with the other Cleveland Magazine interns. I immersed myself in every opportunity possible. I even ran my first 5K at the annual Turkey Trot downtown this past Thanksgiving.

While we are criticized for our poor performance in the world of pro sports (go ahead and rip on Manziel for the millionth time), us Clevelanders are proud of our city as a whole. It’s that loyalty and pride that makes up a large part of who we are as individuals. Yeah, we know deep down the Browns won’t make it to the Super Bowl in the near future, no matter how many times the fans say “There’s always next Sunday’s game” or “There’s always next year.” But in the big picture of things, Cleveland is so much more than sports. We are a city rich in history, loaded with passion and dripping with pride. I wouldn’t trade my Cleveland roots for anything.

A Furry Farewell

IMG_7258With the spirit of a puppy trapped in her aging body, Reilly was a dog unlike any other. She had a special way of putting a contagious smile on the faces of neighbors, friends, relatives, and even made fast friends with the other neighborhood dogs. Between eating two bags of Hershey kisses (with the foil), remnants of a turkey carcass, a box of Clif Bars, packs of gum, and even cinnamon-scented Christmas ornaments, her stomach of steel could handle just about anything. The only thing stronger than her digestive system was her tail– it wagged nonstop, up until today when she slipped into an eternal, peaceful sleep.
Reilly’s health had been going downhill for quite a while; she endured cancer, two torn ACLs, tumors/cysts growing underneath her skin, allergies and a narrowing trachea. The past few days, she couldn’t catch her breath and could barely stand for longer than about 15 seconds. As heart-wrenching as it was to admit, putting Reilly to sleep was the only right way to put an end to her suffering.
After leaving the Cleveland Magazine office in tears, I met up with Mom, Dad and Hayley at the animal clinic this morning. In the parking lot, Reilly looked up at me, tail wagging, and sweet, brown eyes shining. My heart instantly shattered into a million pieces. It felt as if tiny shards of glass were desperately trying to pierce into the reality of what was about to follow.
The vet technician guided the four of us into a tiny exam room with a soft floral blanket on the floor. Poor Reilly was too worked up to settle down, yet she looked happy as a clam. That’s what made it so difficult.
Once the vet explained that this was the best option and we decided to go through with it, everything happened so fast. Mom, Dad, Hayley and I held down Reilly and fed her treats as the vet slipped the needle into her back left leg.
In one blurred moment, Reilly went from quickly gobbling up treats, to drifting in slow-mo to the floor. After about 10 seconds, reality struck.
“Yeah, she’s gone,” the vet murmured.
I didn’t hold back a single tear. The sobs came harder as I rested my head on Reilly’s motionless body. I hugged her with more love in my heart than I ever had before. In a
shaky voice, I whispered in her soft, golden ear. I stroked her silky fur, just taking in all of her beauty, reminiscing on the good times we shared. While it was sad beyond words to experience that today, I’m grateful that I was able to say goodbye before heading back to college, grateful that she passed in the most peaceful way possible, and grateful for her unforgettable and unconditional love she gave to us for nearly 13 years.
No one else could ever replace the permanent pawprint that Reilly has left on my heart.
Rest in peace, old girl. I miss you already.

 

Under Construction

No, I’m not talking about the parade of neon orange cones and barrels that seem to never end on the freeway these days. I’m not talking about the West 25th Street exit that’s finally open on I-90 E.

I’m talking about me.

It may sound silly, but it’s true. When I came home for the summer, I realized how truly unhappy I have been with myself for years. Since my elementary school days, it’s been a vicious cycle of trying to achieve perfection in everything. No matter how hard I push myself to make the outcome perfect, it backfires more often than not. The next step is to flood my mind with negative thoughts, punishing myself for failing to reach the ridiculously high standards I set.

This summer, I made a promise to myself to put an end to that cycle. There was only one way that was going to happen though, and it started with something most of Generation Y can’t fathom—giving up social media.

Yes, I know I’m crazy for doing so. But you know what else is crazy? How obsessed we have become with how many “likes” we get on our Instagrams (only 59? Why not 60?), how many followers or Retweets we boast on Twitter, how many people match with us on Tinder, and even how many people write “happy birthday!” on our Facebook wall. Tease all you want, but you know it’s true. And you know what? For someone to rely on social media to determine how much value they hold—on the inside and the outside—it’s not healthy, and it takes away from any self-esteem that is there.

My body has been my biggest enemy, above anything else. For me, it’s always been about trying to lose enough weight to fit into the same clothes as my sisters (they swap closets all the time); I would get jealous and comparative. Once I sought help, I realized that focusing on fitting into a specific size or number was setting me up for failure. Instead, I recently started focusing on becoming the healthiest I can be; so, I invested in a membership at the rec center (the price has motivated me to get my money’s worth). I don’t really care if I’m late to the “get your beach body” game, because what matters is I made that first step in the right direction. And frankly, it’s going great! Since I stopped obsessing over measuring my progress, I’ve actually gotten rid of some weight. I say “getting rid of” and not “losing” because I have no intention of “finding” it again. The secret is, you can’t expect to see a change if you don’t make one.

So for now, my confidence, self-image and path to happiness are under construction. A project like this requires a super strong foundation, and that means shutting down the tempting pressure of comparison on social media.

Believe me, this process has been the hardest one I’ve had to go through in my entire life. Some friends agree that this “cyber cleanse” is a good idea, and others make fun of me for it (which can sting, I admit). But if it means not having eating disorder-related thoughts, picking out every imperfection on my body when I stand in the mirror, or trying to please everyone, then that’s worth more to me than missing out on what’s trending on Twitter or clicking through a Snapchat story that—well, do you really care about which girl has the better duck face for five seconds?