To Failure- Part 1
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
I thought all I wanted to do was drop 10 pounds. Maybe 12.
After all, I could not even begin to fathom how these loathsome things had crept upon my frame in the last 8 or 9 months. And yet they apparently had-- if I was to trust something as catty as my SCALE. Well, and to be honest- my pants. My pants never had appeared to have it in for me, as did my fatuous bathroom scale, and so I did tend to believe them more readily. And my pants were very clear on the matter of me having gained weight. They obviously didn't like me anymore. They did not make me feel hot and sexy as they had at times in our mutual past- rather they chose to sort of splat themselves upon me, sharply cutting in and awkwardly jutting out in weird places they never had before. Groaning and seam splitting as I walked down the stairs. They were not happy at all, the pants.
It was roughly early April. And after finally listening to my miserable pants, and having stepped on a scale for the first time in months, I had just finished the following two weeks in raging denial. First, I forced my doctor's hand into giving me a test not only for low Thyroid (which can cause lethargy, depression, and inexplicable weight gain) but I made her write a scrip for the holiest of Thyroid issues. She had me tested for Hashimoto's disease. Which is basically a rare autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack the thyroid and therefore deplete itself of its ability to produce hormones in balance. See I was CONVINCED this twelve-ish pounds that had (so suddenly!) appeared upon my body had to be some sort of hormone disorder throwing my metabolism all out of whack. Because god knows, I wasn't doing anything differently. (So I thought. ) I wasn't OVEREATING. (So I decided.) Hells bells, I wasn't even DRINKING any more than usual! (So I convinced myself.)
Well the truth will set you free, as my third Thyroid and first and only Hashimoto's blood tests eventually did for me. They stated most factually and inarguably that I did not have anything close to a Thyroid issue. In fact, exactly the opposite was true. My numbers were GREAT. Staggeringly AMAZING. I was exactly where I needed to be Thyroid wise. Sigh.
So, next, I turned my laser vision on to GLUTEN. My next step in the drop-those-12-pounds-that-god-knows-how-they-landed-upon-me-in-the-first-place campaign. I had already started cutting out gluten in my diet- because that's one thing that almost all healthcare professionals agree will help mitigate Thyroid symptoms. So having already cut some of my very favorite foods from my diet successfully for a few weeks since I had been convinced I was Hypo-thyroid, I decided to sally forth. Seeing as I liked some of the other results. No, I had not lost any weight per se, but that surely was to occur anytime soon-- as everyone told me it would. Oh my god- said my friends. Said the paid info-mercials. Stop eating gluten and the pounds will just MELT off!!
Course, the pounds did not MELT off. In fact, in those first weeks after discovering I had no Thyroid issues, and yet staying religiously off gluten- I actually GAINED a few pounds. I was now up to a whopping 15 I wanted to viciously carve off my thighs and butt and upper arms and stomach. Looking back now I can see that though avoiding gluten might be a good thing for my body, substituting high fat or sugar for the gluten is not. (Sure- I'll have THREE hot dogs since I'm not eating any buns! For heaven sake- yes! Bring on that huge ice cream sundae since I had not one teeny inkling of bread or pasta today. In fact, let's throw in some chocolate sauce AND whipped cream! No gluten in either of those!)
It had been two months since I had seriously started "dieting" and thinking every day about the scale and the unhappy pants. I hadn't lost a thing. I'd gained three pounds. I was as discouraged and pudgy as ever- still avoiding a large portion of my closet. Still hoping and praying that maybe there was something just plain wrong with my chemistry because this had never happened to me before. Up until now, I had basically enjoyed life as a thin, relatively in-shape human with a brisk metabolism and a spotty, though overall healthy exercise ethic. Anytime I'd gained a little. certainly in my twenties I just went running a couple more times than usual that week and bing! All gone! In my thirties, I went on a serious diet and serious training program and lost the baby weight from number two in about six weeks total. And wasn't I still going to the gym now? And back on a different, but still "serious" diet? Avoiding so many delicious foody foods and not eating Gluten at ALL?
There was a lot of blubbering to my husband about all this nonsense. There was a lot of feeling incredibly sorry for myself. And more to the point, there was a lot of hyper-extending this inability to lose weight into a bigger picture. I was throwing this frustration into the big net that threatens occasionally to scoop up my entire life and psyche into it. This big net is called something like "Holly Is Powerless To Do Anything." My dear husband listened to my blubbering. Held my hand. Told me he understood and he loved me. And then he said- Hol. You need to get off your butt now. You need to call Michael.
Michael was my trainer at our local gym back in early '08 when I had hit this similar wall (though not nearly in such a biblical way.) Michael helped bring me back to myself in February of 2008 by teaching me how to truly and actually DIET for the first time. Meaning- no gimmicks. No short cuts or pills or juicing or only eating avocados and lemon ....just dieting. Counting calories. And working out every day. So it was math back then. Less (and better) calories in. More calories out. Math. Every day. That's it. That's all there is in the whole Weight Loss Conundrum. I'd learned it before - and it had worked for me- and I was to learn it again.
Though this time felt different- bigger. More monumental and endemic of my life as a whole. I think as I picked up the phone - finally - that pathetic day after the encouraging pat on the back from Jeff and the ensuing two more hours of gnarly mucus-producing self pity...I think I knew that Michael was going to be my ticket not just to losing some weight this time around, but to something a little bigger. Something that involved other areas of my life-- like feeling useful and hopeful. Like feeling I had anything left to offer at all.
(Little did I know that was going to come from a crap load of new horrible stomach crunch routines, agonizing leg squats, and humiliating giant leap lunges across the gym floor. For days and days to come.)
So that's how it all began this time around. Early May- I'm back in the gym I'd still been going to sporadically for six years since my initial successful diet. My old pal Michael--who does not age one day, not one minute, of his perfectly fueled and hydrated, continually physically engaged life-- next to me at the machines. Only this time, instead of talking about numbers -- instead of diligently counting my reps to equal up to three perfect sets in tandem on each machine- each side of my body....there's different language here.
And that phrase, as Michael keeps trying it on me over and over again- that phrase is "To Failure."
To exercise To Failure means- he encourages me not to count reps. He encourages me instead to get my form perfectly perfect on each exercise-- to be anally diligent about this-- because we are targeting the exact areas I would like to take a machete to. And apparently in order to see results in these areas in some way that doesn't involve a lot of blood and tissue loss with sharp knives, one must be incredibly diligent about the form. AND in order to see results fastest- one must bring one's body "to Failure." (I could wax layman-like about how the targeted stress on your muscle causes some sort of acidic break-down that can be repaired with eating high protein and which causes your muscle to thereby SUCK the surrounding fat from itself in order to replenish... causing something which may look a little bit like melting fat off your body thereby exposing the lean six pack underneath. yadda yadda. But I'm not sure I really understand it.)
So some sets of excruciating leg lifts on the abs balancer produce 16 or 18 reps (generally the first in the set.) Whereas others produce 6. I found I could leg press at 80 pounds - after having done three nauseating sets of squats- 40 on my first set. And barely make 15 by my third. So the math became different. Instead, it all became about pain, really. Good old fashioned positive pain. Weary, luggy. grey ache kind of pain. (Not searing- tear your liver out of position sort of pain. To be clear. ) I would leave these first few sessions barely able to stumble the three blocks home from the gym. Not because I had torn or dislocated anything. But because I had worked my body "to failure" for the first time ever. Because I REALLY wanted this. And I was really willing to do whatever it took to get there.
The first month or so of this kind of training brought about a lot of naps in my life. A lot of waking up in the morning to aches in muscles I had forgotten I had. A lot of counting calories and saying no to the bacon the rest of my family hungrily chomped in the morning. Endless lunches with salads and low calorie soups. Guiltily pouring only 1 glass of wine for myself at night (because why oh why could I just not forgo it entirely! Well- that's a whole different blog post.) And then of course the first hideous five weeks of LOSING NOTHING. Kicking myself in the ass three to four times a week and seeing no difference on that mother effing son of a birch tree scale. (Because I was building muscle alongside dropping little bits of fat, so the actual weight differential was nil.)
But then came the beautiful morning when I finally stepped on the scale to realize that TWO whole pounds were gone. And then in another couple days it was THREE. Undeniable. I had already started to feel a little different in my clothing. My pants were definitely less upset with me. I was entertaining the notion of trying on some pieces that had been tucked away in my closet for months- perhaps never to be seen again.
But most importantly- I was ecstatic and totally encouraged. I was riding gorgeous gold tipped waves of endorphins because I had proven to myself that I could DO something. Which may sound really odd and a little sad to some of you more accomplished, Type A, sturdier souls who were born into this world and kinda figured it out pretty quickly. It might seem sort of pathetic and small that a woman of my age, who has found herself living quite a cush life and is quite grateful for the challenge of being able to parent two souls, and lucky to be able to diddle around on instruments and sing ditties for a (paltry) living... would find such solace, would take such pride in the "melting away" of a couple of pounds off of her body.
But thems the facts. These first few pounds gone were so huge for me. So empowering and grounding, that the rest of the initial 10 pounds that I've lost so far, felt like they came off in no time at all after that. Bringing my muscles to failure- as much or as little as I could do relatively consistently a few times a week- in a few months changed my body. Not so much that I'm anywhere near being in the running for Fitness Queen of California 2014, but enough that I saw a different me that brought to mind (and closet!) the lithe, ready-for-anything girl I felt like in younger days. And so changed my outlook.
Now I won't pretend that it's all been wine and roses for me since then. Hardly. I'm a complicated human, living in complicated times, with a complicated set of terms I'm constantly trying to negotiate with myself here. But. 2014 has brought for me the knowledge and self-satisfaction of having done at least one thing that's visibly, measureably made a difference. Which means maybe I'm not such a huge fuck up after all. Maybe when I really really put my mind to it-- when I'm willing to ride the ride "To Failure" there's actually success at the end of it somewhere.
But that's for Part 2.