Monday, April 7, 2014

Health milestone

Over a year ago I was skyping with a friend and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend said his back was aching even though he'd been sleeping well and eating healthy, so he didn't know why he was sore. I told him I was sore too but it was probably due to "my chain-smoking, over-eating and lack of exercize."

That got a laugh out of them, but the words resounded in my head when I went to sleep that night. I've known all along that these things weren't good, but saying it out loud for the first time made me wonder what the heck I was doing with my life. I'm in my mid-twenties, this is supposed to be the peak of my life, yet you'd sooner catch me huffing up the stairs than munching on a piece of broccoli. I cringed in the dark at the idea of becoming a contestant on those weightloss reality shows 10 years down the line, in my mid-thirties but looking much older and barely able to do simple things like walk around a park without a cane. And what of my travel plans, climbing mountains or canoing down rivers? Would I really let something like a stupid addiction and poor lifestyle stop me from that?

The next day, I quit smoking; cold turkey.

I don't know how it worked like that, how the stark realization stopped me in my tracks but it did. Later I would experience the withdrawal symptoms and I would always miss smoking, but I just stopped because the realization made me feel so stupid. Smoking is a well-documented unhealthy addiction that does your health and your wallet no favors, yet I continued for so long. My subconscious questioned me: 'if the health warnings can't stop you, then financially-speaking how much are you really willing to budget for bronchitis, respiratory issues, or cancer?'

Taken at a hospital in Malaysia

In my private shame and despair I just stopped smoking and considered that I was saving money from investments I wasn't willing to risk getting into any longer. I still miss it, but I feel better thinking of all the other useless things I could lose my money to besides medical bills (like money for parking tickets, or library fines).

Next, I still had to tackle my lack of exercise and overeating, but how? Unlike smoking, this wouldn't be stopping bad habits, it would be about creating good ones, which is monumentally much harder. Aside from a few school sports and one college semester when I did attend a circuits gym, I was never in the habit of working out. And eating? I love eating, especially at night and with huge portions of rice and pasta with creamy gravy.

I decided to seek out a friend who gave up her day job to become a personal trainer. Because we knew each other she gave me a rate for 12 classes and we decided to meet twice a week for 6 weeks at a local park.

During my first training session with Kelsey (not her real name), I was red and sweating within 5 minutes, and ready to throw up within 15 minutes. She let me gasp for air on the ground while she explained how my eating habits for the day was the reason why I couldn't push through the exercise. She was very sweet about it, so we spent the next half hour discussing meal plans and what I like to eat and when.

The advice she gave me was deceptively simple: Have breakfast everyday (eggs and fruits), have snacks (nuts and fruits or carrots), maximum half a cup of rice or noodles for your lunch, and salad or kebabs at night (minimal gravy/sauce/dressing). On work out days I had to be sure to have some snack at least an hour before, something like a banana, granola bar or a cup of skimmed milk (just anything that my body could draw on for energy).

The face of true health

It took about 3 weeks of this routine and exercise before I felt stronger and better inside, and 6 weeks to actually see a difference outside. I wasn't losing weight but I was becoming toned and dropped a pant size. I was losing inches in interesting places, like my back (so that my shirts fit better - no longer risking busting out of them like the Hulk) and under my chin. It was like watching slivers melt off of me a little here and there, and this was just toning up.

After my 6 week program I traveled for a month to Bangladesh and Thailand. I didn't exercise that month but I had zero access to processed and packaged foods; every meal was prepared with fresh ingredients and usually involved lots of veggies and chicken, so I lost 10lb in that time.

I can't tell you how much I love Thai food.
Probably more than life itself.
Possibly more than my family...

And now I'm back, and I'm doing my best not to fall off the bandwagon. Most days I get up an hour earlier to make an omelet before heading out to work, and I go down to my neighborhood gym for body combat classes.

My life has changed now, and my goal is to lose more weight while gaining muscle. I put my targets on my next birthday to acknowledge and allow time for this transformation to happen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

That's weird, so "Gravity" turns out to be fiction? Could've fooled me

**Spoiler alert: This movie is listed under fiction. Gasp shock.**
***No but really there are spoilers to the movie you've been warned***

I went to see "Gravity" some weeks ago with some friends and I enjoyed it for the action and the drama, it had me twisted up in suspense on the edge of my seat while Sandra Bullock flipped uncontrollably on the edge of space. I had seen an interview Sandra Bullock did with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and as she tried to describe the amount of work each frame required, Jon flapped his arms in desperation and she took the hint and conceded "sorry not CGI, we were in space, we were in space."

What surprised me later was the backlash "Gravity" received for inaccuracy. Seriously? Have you seen that movie? Sandra Bullock jumped (in space! where you technically can't jump!) from the Soyuz to the Chinese ship, she controlled her movements with a fire hydrant (in space!), she flipped head over heels several times without throwing up once! OF COURSE it's inaccurate, that's why it's called fiction. Just in case you didn't know:

The keyword here being "imaginary" then there's also "invented" and "untrue" incase the word "fiction" doesn't do it.

I don't feel like it's worth ripping into a movie about whether the space suit was correct or whether Sandra Bullock should have worn a diaper for believability (though that would have reinforced the birth scene when she rolled into the fetal position).

Our favorite scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson runs a series of tweets questioning the movie's accuracy (he called it "Mysteries of Gravity" haha), but then he ends it with "I actually enjoyed the movie." One of his tweets did ring a little with me though:

Mysteries of : Why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space

It's true, you might wonder, why is that? I feel like the sad truth boils down to marketing; NASA has not branded space travel interesting enough to get viewers to get up on the weekends and check the news on NASA's latest funding updates.

Maybe if NASA can get Miley to twerk the countdown to launch then NASA can enjoy a healthy boost of public interest. Oh if only.

Donda esta my Texan-Arab friends?

A former client of mine is Yemeni-American and his wife is Venezuelan-American, and their kids are beautiful caramel babies with big brown eyes and curly hair. The 6-year-old girl is piercingly smart, and is the linguistic polyglot bridge between her parents. 

The family just moved to Dubai from Texas, so I sat her down and asked her (in English) how she was liking her new school Choueifat. "It's really nice," she started out saying, "even though the teachers are, uhh..." then she turns to her mother and in Spanish asks "Mama donde esta Ms. Iva blah blah blah?" (which I didn't catch because I don't speak Spanish) and her mother says "ask your father" to which she turns to her father in Arabic and seamlessly asks "Baba, Ms. Iva min fayn?" and without looking up from his phone he says "Ireland." The little girl turns to me and continues with "Yeah, so one of my teachers Ms. Iva is really nice, but she's from Ireland and they don't really speak English correctly." This got a huge laugh from her dad, while her mother reached over firmly and attempted to clear her Irish perceptions, but her dad laughed out "tell Ms. Iva you're from Texas and you know what real English is!" 

Throughout this exchange the little girl had a steady expression on her face, completely in control of herself and quietly impressing the shit out of me. I would love to catch up with her in 10 years and see what Spanish/Arabic/English worlds she'd be dominating by her mid-teens.