The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 29 April 2006

The Way We Were

This post isn't about food, but it's about something that should be as important as food: Fitness. It is a bit long, but I hope that it will encourage somebody to be more fit and healthy. What got me onto this? The final episode of the Australian Biggest Loser was on TV last night (I only watch half of the finale because an episode of Lost was on at the same time - two out of the only three TV shows I watch too!), and there are some really inspiring stories. I guess that got me reminiscing about how unfit and big I used to be. With all our bikeriding and weight training, my friends and family reckon we are fitness freaks. A year ago, we were anything but that. We only started bike riding and weight training at the beginning of 2005, and are pleasantly surprised at how far we've progressed in just one year. In April 2005 it took us a little over 2hours to ride on our bicycles from Highgate to Joondalup (30kms). We had another go (our third attempt) at riding to Joondalup from Highgate a couple of weeks ago (i.e. 1 year since our first attempt), and we took 1.5 hours to complete the journey.

Rob is really proud of how well I'm progressing with my weight training and he reckons I ought to be proud too. I guess I am not so good at recognising my achievements myself (I am quite the perfectionist and tend to aim quite high and think that I can always do better) and rely on others to let me know when I'm doing good. The other day at the gym, one of the instructors walked by while I was doing my squats with a 45kg weighted barbell across my shoulders, and she heartily commended the effort saying that it is very tough. Rob was really chuffed on my behalf, but strangely I didn't feel much. I guess it's coz 45kg is nothing in comparison to what Rob does (95kg!) or what the others in the gym do. See, that's my problem - so far I have not seen any girls use the squat rack to do squats. All of the girls (and most guys) stay away from that equipment and use the machine equivalent or much lighter barbell weights. Some just stick to cardio machines like treadmill and cycling. The only ones who use this free weight machine are guys serious about weight training. So guys are all I have to compare my performance against..

Since young, I'd never been very athletic and never controlled the junk I ate. My dad even said I was the cuddly one - everyone wanted to hold and cuddle me when I was a kid. My parents' greasy Asian cooking didn't help either. Came uni years and I became even less active. Or maybe I ate more. Whatever it is, I think in 2001 I weighed at least 13kg more than I do now. Truth be told, I never tried dieting - I wasn't thin but I wasn't obese hence I didn't think it was necessary to lose weight. Besides, I loved my food and I didn't want to sacrifice anything! (That includes polishing off a packet of Timtams in one sitting *shudder*)

Everyone has to start somewhere. Rob moved into Highgate at the beginning of 2002, and since it was within walking distance to the city and Northbridge, he wanted to walk everywhere. I wasn't so enthusiastic - he had to literally drag me along. Back then it took about 30-35minutes to walk to Northbridge, and I kid you not - I had to stop every 10 minutes to rest and catch my breath - I was that unfit. And we weren't even walking fast! Needless to say, walking to Northbridge and Perth didn't happen very often. I started spending less time at home and more time at Rob's, and had a bit more control over the stuff we ate, but mind you we still ate a whole lot more junk compared to what we eat now. And healthy doesn't mean yucky - I honestly honestly much prefer the food we eat now - more wholesome, natural, less articial stuff that comes in packaged stuff and less junk like preservatives and flavours etc. Mind you, we don't deny ourselves chocolate and sweets - we have them almost every night after dinner but the only difference is we don't scoff lots down - control is the key. In that year, I lost about 5kgs, and I wasn't even trying! I guess I was really encouraged by that - it wasn't as impossible as I thought!

Then I officially moved in with Rob at the beginning of 2003. I still relied on a lot of the bottled sauces like Kantong and Chicken Tonight to make our dinners (geez, I honestly cannot remember the last time I used one of them in my cooking! Maybe last year?). I love cooking but I never was taught how to cook while I was at home (always enthusiastic to learn but my mum always gave me menial things to do like chopping onions). So I pretty well learnt cooking on my own using what little skills I picked up from observing my mum while chopping onions, and I found that I really enjoyed cooking! I loved experimenting with the different ingredients to make my own dishes, and Rob loved eating what I cooked. Anyway, I had even more control of the food we ate so we started eating more fresh produce, less packaged stuff, ate less Hungry Jack's etc - but I didn't cut down the amount of food I ate - the food were just healthier and better. I started walking more to Northbridge and Perth and found it easier each time. The weight just came off and I wasn't even dieting or doing any strenous exercise other than the odd walk (maybe weekly?) to and from Perth/Northbridge. I was stoked because I was finally the same weight as Honey, who was *always* at least a couple of kgs lighter than me.

2004 was a big year for me - I completed my thesis, graduated, began working and got married all in that year. I guess I had less time to take care of myself and I lost a bit more weight. People who hadn't seen me for a long time was amazed at how much weight I'd lost. We bought bicycles at the beginning of 2005 and started doing weight training around the same time. At the time, I complained lots and Rob had to literally drag me out cycling to my workplace or weight training (hm, see a pattern here? Rob's a big motivator and I'm really grateful for that). Since I wasn't eating *more* to compensate for these training, I think lost a bit too much weight. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I indeed do have control over my weight after all those "chubby" years.

My goals are different now. I'm trying to bulk up and put on *muscle* weight and get nice arms like Jillian (the trainer on the Biggest Loser) or Evangeline Lilly (aka Kate on Lost) or even Felicity Huffman (on Desperate Housewives). Because of how small I am now compared to how I was five years ago, I have trouble convincing people that I am actually quite obsessed with food and that I eat a lot (just ask Rob!). I like this 'bulking up' phase coz it means I get to eat more, however, it's not as simple as it seems. I have to put aside my fears of being big and chubby. And convince myself that the weight I put on will hopefully mainly be muscle mass and not fat. I eat small-ish but often - very often. This maintains my energy levels - which is so important especially to Rob because I get grumpy + moody when I don't get food! ;P I eat when I get the first signs of being hungry (hehe, which is when I start thinking about food). I pack lots of food to work and I usually have eaten all of them by 3pm. I feel like a pig too coz it seems like I'm the only one in my office who eats this much and this often! With this volume of food, it's important to keep it varied because it's easy for me to get tired of eating one type of food. So I can't simply double the portions of whatever I eat which poses a problem because I often run out of things to eat!

We are making good gains with our weight training and last night Rob pointed out that I'm now doing weights that are equal or more than what Rob was doing at the beginning of our weight training last year (e.g. started out doing squats with 20kg - I'm now doing 45kg; started out doing deadlifts with 24kg - now doing 65kg). I don't pretend that it's easy - it's really tough work but you get good results. And I don't pretend to like weight training - even after 15mths of doing the stuff, it's not something I look forward to.

Anyway, the point of this post is to encourage you to be more healthy. Your body and mind will love you for it.


  1. Do you find it's easier to fit this in to your timetable now that you're no longer at university? The biggest problem for me is fitting in some time that I can go to the gym. I leave at around 6:15am every morning and most evenings don't get back until around 8:00pm (totally starved at this point, because I've run out of packed lunch) if I don't skip any classes. Admittedly these long days are partly because I ride to uni and spend a lot of time doing homework there...
    My other question is how do you cope with injuries in your regime? I fell while riding and sprained my ankle badly a 3 weeks ago (always fun, and I still can't support my full weight on it - the legacy of not getting the correct treatment straight away), and it totally disrupted my routine - I couldn't walk, run or ride, which was pretty depressing for both the dog and I.
    Anyway, I find it difficult to believe you were ever chubby seeing you at Coralee's wedding. If there's one word Mum and I use to describe you, it's usually "stunning" - so whatever you're doing, keep it up!
    PS: Give Rob a pat on the back for being so supportive!! I know just how hard it is doing things like this on your own... my motivation is the extra $100 per fortnight I save in fuel and food, and how badly I want a laptop for my thesis work (those two being related. I am such a geek... :P)!!

  2. Jean's Awesome
    Great Post, Jean :D
    It does suck how not enough women do weight training in the gym. Almost all women have this crazy idea that if they pick up a dumbbell they'll somehow turn bulky overnight like a female bodybuilder or something. They don't seem to realise that that sort of body doesn't happen by accident; bodybuilders put in a helluva lot of effort (steroids, eat like a horse, professional training regime) and have that sort of body as their goal. Like Mistress Krista says: "If you don't like the bulk on your ass, honey, try laying off the Twinkies, not the squats."
    Anyway, I think it's best to avoid comparing to others in the gym. Everyone's at a different level anyway. Goals have to be oriented on your own progress. Seeing stuff like increasing from 20kg squats to 45kg squats - there's where you see your progress. Forget what everyone else is doing, set goals like squatting your own weight or benching an extra 10 kg and letting yourself celebrate when you achieve it. I think that's how to keep the motivation up :)
    I'm really proud of you Jean. If everyone else could see how far you've come - from the girl who complained every five minutes about having to walk or ride to the girl who says "Hey, wanna ride up to Joondalup this weekend?" and does it without complaint but rather with the goal of seeing how quickly she can finish the trip... it's just amazing. I hope you can inspire some others to help themselves in the same way :)
    Kris: if we get injured or sick we just stop training. It's the only solution. For example I'm gonna have to lay off the shoulder presses for about 6 months because I've got shoulder impingement. It sucks, but it's important to always keep in mind the mantra: "when in doubt, do less, not more". Overtraining's can hurt just as bad as undertraining. And yeah, training alone is really hard. She hasn't mentioned it in her posts but she supports me as much as I support her - I wouldn't have the motivation to do it if I didn't have her company or her pushing me when I'm feeling lazy. I think training partners are the best possible gym accessory ;)

  3. Heya
    Aw shucks, thanks for your compliments :). I have photos of my 'chub' years, but they're too embarassing to show.. Your sister and the others can vouch that I was bigger in high school and uni. I wouldn't use the word "stunning" for myself personally, but I would use the word "stunning" to describe your mum - I hope I look as good as she does when I reach her age. She looked 'wow' in that cheongsam at your sister's wedding - and I can't believe she had it made even before Coralee was born!!
    With regards to your 1st question - I actually find that having full time work is actually less flexible than when I was at uni. I work 8-5 everyday whereas I sometimes have free spots during the day at uni. Going to gym requires commitment, and it's important to make time in your routine to train to keep fit. BUT training doesn't have to take up all your time. We do no more than 1 hour of training each session, 3 times a week - that's taking only 3 hours a week to go to the gym. Admittedly, we do save a lot of time not having to go on cardio machines both for cardio work and warm-up/cool-down because we already cycle to and from the gym. And it helps that the gym is in Northbridge on the way home from my workplace so I can pop in after work. Maybe it would help you if you can find a gym near uni (better still if you have one at uni) to train in between classes or when you need a break from doing your homework. Or if going to gym is not within your budget (it is so expensive!) then maybe you can buy some dumbbell weights and put it at a willing friend's place near uni (you can do a complete weight training workout using dumbbells - we did that for one year until it became far too awkward and difficult for Rob to add more weights to the dumbbells and we were forced to join the gym a couple of months ago).
    And pack more food! It's so important to eat more than enough if you weight train and you want to make gains. It does help a lot to trian with someone else to help with motivation levels (I don't particularly enjoy weight training so unfortunately, there are many times when Rob's had to put up with my huge lack of motivation) - so try and rope someone in with you to train.
    With regards to your second question, I believe Rob has answered that adequately. Unfortunately, if you are sick or injured, it's not good to continue training because you compromise your body's ability to heal properly. Your body can't train optimally when it's not 100%, so it's far better to take the time to rest to heal quicker and resume training as soon as possible, rather than train at sub-optimal performance for a longer period. I have to admit that it is tough to have that mentality but your health should come first.
    Good luck, and hope your ankle gets better soon! :)

  4. Aaah, thanks heaps :D
    Motivation-wise achieving those small goals of an extra 10 kg on the bench or squatting your own weight doesn't really seem to work for me. I tried to get interested in that, but the only feeling I get out of it is almost one of being nonplussed. The only thing I really felt happy about similar to that was leg pressing over twice my own body weight, but to be honest I really didn't get a kick out of much at the gym. I haven't had a training partner to date - my mates are the embodiment of all things lazy - so maybe that will help.
    Unfortunately, it looks like this will lean towards the upper limit of how long it takes a sprain to get better, so I'm just going to have to take it easy :(. Not real keen on the idea as riding to and from uni is probably the best part of my day, but I guess the faster I heal up the faster I get back to doing that.
    [Kris out]

  5. Heheh I reckon Jean could sympathise with not getting a kick out of going to the gym.
    I think it's a case of reminding yourself of why you're going to the gym in the first place. If the goal is to get stronger or reduce your muscles' natural tendency to atrophy with age then keeping track of small gains like that is feedback indicating how well you're progressing with your goal. If you're not the type to celebrate, that's fine, but it's still important to acknowledge to yourself that your effort has contributed to your overall goal.
    If the riding doesn't irritate your ankle you can probably continue riding. But if it does irritate it at all then yeah, best keep off it.

  6. Thanks Jean, it was really good to read what you wrote about your journey to getting fit. I'm literally only at the beginning of my journey I think, and funny enough triggered by Bryn and I breaking up. I bought a new bed (a futon), and no longer sleep in in the mornings. I am now going for a walk every morning, and hope to start trying to make myself jog every second day or so. (I love walking but HATE jogging!) I find that the morning air just feels so much better
    It's also just really inspiring and affirming to see that its a habit-changing, long term committment that once you've made it, its harder to go back. I'm also trying to be motivated by my excruciating climb up steep steps to get to a little shrine in Laos last year. SO, travelling is my other motivation. And I have to face that I've gained a lot of weight in the past few years..
    I will let you know how it goes!!
    Ellen xx

  7. Hey Ellen,
    I'm glad that this post helps you :) Getting fit and eating healthy is a life-changing habit that I hope will prove hard to break. I can tell you that I still hate going to the gym, yet I'm a gym addict! I like the results I'm seeing. And eating healthy gives you rewards - I hardly ever get sick now compared to a few years ago when it was common for me to get sick a few times a year.
    I myself began jogging two weeks ago. And I'm not finding it too bad (I used to hate jogging!). Of course, I still prefer cycling..
    Do keep me posted on your progress! :)