A Better New Year’s Resolution Than Weight Loss

via PixaBay

Losing Weight has been one of, if not the most, common new year’s resolutions, and as most of us are familiar, one of the most notoriously difficult to achieve. It’s one of those touchy topics that has garnered a ton of attention from journalists to scientists. Magazines obsess over it – their writers scrutinize celebrity waistlines, jabber about how to “get flat abs in x days” (and throw in a couple quotes from an MD to make their articles sound more credible). There is a constant influx of miracle products that make extravagant claims (some of which garner a loyal fanbase…like Shakeology) about weight loss. There are programs like Weight Watchers and calorie counting tools that try to simplify the whole process. There are societal pressures to “look like a dancer,” “get huge,” or “have an athletic body.” And it’s all very confusing, frustrating, and in my opinion, overwhelmingly complicated.

I accumulated 15 pounds of pudge in college, and spent the first  year out of college trying to work it off with a combination of Stepmania (known to most as DDR or Dance Dance Revolution, 90’s kids rejoice), skipping meals, and obsessive salad eating. I was never obese or overweight, but I felt pressure to conform to an Asian beauty standard. Asian women are frequently portrayed as more attractive if they are petite with skinny limbs, a teeny waist, a small face, and large eyes. Growing up, I was always encouraged to be, for lack of a better term, “delicate” and “ladylike.” It was never about taking care of my body – it was about being thin and pretty. Quite frankly, thanks to my work ethic and discipline, my efforts to reduce the pudge did in fact work, and I dropped the fifteen pounds I had gained in college after about 6 months or so. But it was never easy. I was never obese by any means, but I remember obsessing over the scale and the numbers. And to be honest, doing the same boring exercises every day gets old really quickly.

I was a weakling with a flat stomach. And I’ve gained it all back – in muscle!

When we talk about weight loss, we focus a lot on how we look. And when I think about women and the standard of skinny with a flat stomach, I feel discouraged by how misguided we’ve been and still are. At the gyms I’ve been to, women in general are still spending a disproportionate amount of time cardio’ing off their calories and doing core exercises to get rid of belly fat. Strength training tends to take a back seat – women don’t generally set goals to do push-ups or pull-ups because there is this perception that trying to do them will either bulk them up or simply not make them skinnier (the first is false, and the second is true, but hear me out). Now, fitness is a very personal journey and I would never flat out tell someone “you’re doing it wrong” or “your goals are bad,” but I feel strongly that as a society, the fact that women have been told to “burn off the fat” and that gaining muscle will make them look fatter and gain too much weight is misguiding us to excessive cardio hysteria and endless ab work. Sure, it’s better than vegging on a couch, but spending hours pummeling treadmills and doing a million sit-ups gets old, and well, it’s all rather inefficient and can sometimes work against you. For example, cyclists need a lot of sugar to get through their training (think energy gels, powders, Clif bars, and other sugar-heavy cycling foods) – all that cardio happens to make us crave the stuff.

Please note that I’m not saying cardio has no benefits at all – it does and I do it regularly too!

When I started my fitness journey – this was years before I started circus training – my goal was still appearance based. It was always about how I looked in the mirror. What I actually happened as I made my way through the 90 days of P90X (which I highly recommended to fitness newbies) was that I felt better. I didn’t lose weight, but I suddenly had tons of energy and it was affecting me in a very big way. I remember when I was still in school, I would constantly need naps. I struggled to keep myself awake in early morning. Focusing was hard and I dragged myself around a lot. After I finished the 90 days, the newfound energy I was feeling was exciting and I continued doing it. I realized that fitness wasn’t really about weight loss, or looking great, or having toned limbs at all. It was about feeling great, seeing what my body is capable of, and always taking the chance to be active, whether that’s biking to work or building a snowman instead of playing a video game or watching a TV show. Weight loss and being thin was largely a dietary side effect, and I learned that the hard way.

Being able to do things is a very different goal from simply losing weight. Having the ability to touch your toes, nail that yoga pose, or run that marathon. Having the ability to balance in relevé. Feeling energetic enough to not require coffee every morning. The more we focus on what our bodies could do instead of what they look like, the more naturally the aesthetic benefits will come, because when you are strong and active, chances are, you will feel more drive to hike a mountain than bog down inside with chocolate cake. Yes, we should all eat less slop, and reducing our body fat is still a formidable pursuit, but perhaps we should do that in the name of self care, getting stronger, and feeling better rather than trying to look like a supermodel.

Why Everyone Should Cook Like a Pro

You know that one friend of yours who always posts the most scrumptious homemade dishes on social media and raves about how amazing they are? And every week is a different concoction – a slow cooked stew, strips of grilled chicken on a bed of greens, Thai spring rolls, steaming fresh apple pie…

Yep, I’m one of those people.

I’ve already written about how going out to eat is subjecting yourself to dependency. That satisfying your hunger is now entirely in strangers’ hands, who may or may not have your best interest in mind, and who don’t necessarily know what your tastes are. Put a business profit on something as basic and necessary as food, and you risk subjecting the food you put in your body to standard business practices – sell more, sell quickly, and run the operation efficiently. This often comes with buying cheaper or lower quality ingredients. Reduce waste and retain inventory with preservatives (or copious amounts of salt and sugar). Prepackaged has become the normal weeknight meal. “From scratch” is morphing into a novelty. Not only do we have frozen meals, we now have services that mail you pre-assembled and pre-measured cooking ingredients (freshness questionable).

We’ve become so detached from the basic skill of making our own meals and savoring our own creations, and I cringe at the whispers of pride of escaping the “unfortunate” fate of “domestication.”

Cooking isn’t supposed to be some hallmark of “domesticity” – it is a basic skill used to create delicious food and nothing more. Cooking illiteracy has led some of us to whine about how there isn’t anything good to eat where we live (have you checked your local grocery store??). We already have it so easy – no need to farm and hunt – and yet, so many of us still think we are completely incapable of making a decent meal for ourselves.

We seem to care so little about the food that we eat, that we’ve come to satisfying our human needs with something as  atrocious as Soylent. And don’t get me started on that. When we do care, it’s about something as innocuous as fat and animal products.

My job here isn’t to “make” anyone care about this. Because we know how ineffective changing other people tends to be. We’re usually too determined to believe that we’re going about life the “correct” way to think anything to the contrary (whatever “correct” happens to be, who knows). I go out to eat on occasion, usually because someone else I know wants to. And we need cafes and coffee shops to mix and mingle without worrying about who’s doing the dishes. They contribute to the vibrancy of a city.

But, there isn’t any harm in introducing the idea that we would perhaps be more intentional about how we eat if we all strive to become our own personal pro chefs. And there is so much benefit – control over your own nutrition, money saved, the freedom to whip up just about whatever you want.

Let’s say, for example, that you really like Italian food. Italian food tends to have tomato sauce, garlic, parmesan, and parsley. Great! Now you know staples for your pantry. Let’s say you really dig sandwiches. There’s nothing too hard about assembling your own artisan-style sandwich with the pretty decorative toothpick on top. At the grocery store, you have a bread selection that beats whatever is on the menu at the deli down the street. Even the tomato sauce has a million varieties. Life is grand when you have such power at your fingertips.

You know your taste best, and it is so rewarding (and Instagram-worthy) to concoct a tasty meal for yourself. You’ll probably end up only buying ingredients you like, so chances are, by a matter of personal bias, you’ll like what you make.

The idea of relying on yourself to cook your own food seems like such a novel idea for some people, but it needn’t be. Arm yourself with kitchen finesse, add a dash of creativity, and a whole world of dishes is at your fingertips.

Psst, here’s a great place to start.