Friday, November 12, 2010

Cheese, a Good Pain, and the Horizon

Saturday was a dark day. After spending too many hours on Facebook, I saw that my friend M had linked to this New York Times article entitled "While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales". I don't know why I clicked it, as I suspected it would say terrible things about my good friend cheese; maybe it was because I had already sucked that day's entertainment value out of Facebook (which, more and more, felt like a substitute for the friends I haven't made in Chattanooga).

Anyway, I found the first several paragraphs quite alarming ~
Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits... But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate.

No one likes to think that they're a dupe for "the man" but I clearly am. I considered the last four cheese-laden meals I'd consumed, and why ~
Cheese pizza with crumbled sausage - Duh, it's pizza. I'm not eating pizza without cheese

Bagel with cream cheese and lox - Okay, maybe I would eat a buttered bagel, but there was lox. I'm not eating a bagel and lox without cream cheese

Turkey meatloaf with cheddar cheese, with a cheddar corn muffin on the side - I guess corn muffins and meat loaf don't have to have cheese, but cheese makes it so much better!

Welsh rarebit - It's cold outside

It happens that lately I've been extra concerned about my gut, especially when I catch the least flattering view of it in the mirror. I don't feel unattractive but my current shape isn't my ideal. I could blame it on so many things - my love of nearly all food (excluding only hot dogs and sugary junk foods in the style of Hostess or Little Debbie), a general decrease in physical activity since moving to Chattanooga, beer. I certainly knew that cheese accounted for some of my girth, but might my favorite of all foods make up the bulk of it?

I sighed at the thought of a new food rule. I'm not opposed to lifestyle changes. In the spring and early summer I worked out four hours a week and ate way less fried food, red meat and pork. The frustrating thing is that it doesn't make much difference in terms of my weight. Sure, I felt better when I lived that way, but I wasn't any smaller. The rewards just didn't match the work and sacrifice that went into that lifestyle, which makes laziness and indulgence more attractive options. Would I really subject myself to new cheese parameters? Could I really make it last beyond Thanksgiving?

In considering ways to limit my cheese consumption, I became dejected. At least I could be grateful that last Friday, I accidentally answered my phone and spoke to a trainer from my gym. Her name was C and she was calling about my freebie training session that I had yet to redeem. We decided to meet on Tuesday morning. The anticipation of this workout made me feel a little better on Monday afternoon, when my friend S and I ordered a bowl of cheese dip at the pub down the road.

When I got to the gym on Tuesday, I found C to be a very serious and very fit young woman with smart eyes and a razor sharp glance. She had me complete a form that asked questions about my weight, my desired weight, the parts of my body I wanted to work on, etc. Then she handed me a small electronic device that looked like something a Star Trek doctor would use.

"This is to check your body fat percentage. Have you used one of these before?"

"Um, not since elementary school and it was one of those creepy scissor-like thingies."

"Oh, with the pinchers?" She smiled, which seemed out of the ordinary, which made me proud. "Yeah, those were weird." She demonstrated how to use the device and handed it to me. "The bottom number is your BMI, but I'm not paying attention to that. We're just going to look at the top number. That's your body fat percentage."

It wasn't pretty. Turns out, I am over 1/3 fat.

We sat down and she looked at my form. She wrote down the percentage next to the columns where I had listed my current and desired weights, which she covered with her hand. "We're not going to look at those numbers. We're only going to look at this percentage. You really need to be here," she said as she scrawled "21% - 23%". I appreciated her discretion, but not as much as her honesty.

We talked a bit about the kind of workout I've been doing, which is almost all cardio. "That's the problem," she said as she drew a triangle. "Building muscle tissue has to be the foundation." She wrote that at the bottom of the triangle. "On top of that you have cardio activity. At the top of the pyramid, you have food and diet. But I'm not going to tell you how to eat."

"Yeeeeeesssss!" I said with a gleeful arm pump. Hello, cheese!

She smiled as if she really wanted to roll her eyes. "You know how you should be eating." Then she launched into the most articulate, informative explanation about why it's important to build muscle tissue and approach weight training holistically (as opposed to focusing on one region of the body), and how this can be done effectively. I'm not going to repeat everything she said, because I would probably say it all wrong, but let's just say that for the first time I got it. Sure, I've heard that it's important to build muscle if you're trying to lose weight, but I always found the message vague, and it got lost in the midst of those thousand-and-one other vague messages we hear every day about fitness and health. Most importantly, C focused on the lifelong benefits of muscular fitness (so you don't wear out your joints, so you can lift things when you're old, so you can increase your metabolism), which really got to the heart of my belly fears. As she said herself, it isn't about getting skinny - after all, muscle weighs more than fat. It's about health.

Then she had me work out. I began with five minutes of cardio - easy enough. Then came the regimen that has left me sore in places I've never felt before. It hurts to sneeze, and I know that comes from all that core-building stuff she had me do with a strange object that looks like this

I was honestly stunned by my capabilities. I didn't know I could use my gut, forearms and tippy toes to support the length of my body. I pushed myself in a way that I never have before and I didn't even care if I looked weird while I was doing it (even when I rolled over on my side doing that forearm thing). The sometimes painful exertion felt good.

She had me work out for a half hour. Then came the hard sell. "Have you ever considered a personal training program?"

In my winded state, I couldn't help being honest. "No."

A bitter smile. "And why not?"

Because that's something movie stars do was what I was thinking, but I said, "I guess I just never thought I could afford it."

She offered the customary sales pitch, broken down into my various options - I spend a little less per session if I sign up for more sessions per month, and I'll get a great deal if I sign up immediately. If I could afford it, I would have signed up for weekly sessions right then, but I knew I needed to think about it and look at my budget.

Perhaps misinterpreting my hesitation for a lack of interest, C said something that I would have chalked up to a down and dirty sales tactic if it weren't so obviously true. "You can't do this alone."

Doing it alone is always my first inclination, but then I remembered those weak solo attempts to improve my mental health before I got into therapy. Just as deep breathing is no replacement for a shrink, I doubt that even the most extensive internet research is a replacement for an educated physical trainer.

So, I'm gonna do it. Two sessions a month. I'm geeked. This seems like the perfect next step after many years of therapy (from which I finally "graduated" in July - hooray!!). I'm ready to make some dietary changes too but this decision feels like the revolution. I also find it exciting, because even though it really sucked to learn that I'm over 1/3 fat, I finally feel thrust into this new life in Chatttanooga. Something about the fall weather and the mild loneliness has made me incredibly nostalgic and I find myself too often on Facebook, or daydreaming about my December trip to Michigan. Now, me and my belly have a new thing, and it's focused on progress.


  1. Lady, I miss you. I was so excited to talk to you the other day - I would've loved to just stay on the phone, but work was busy and tense, soooo...that is life.

    BUT, I totally get this. I was really good about working out for a while there, and then I just...didn't have time. And I keep coming up with excuses, too (homework, my wrist hurts - Cece told me I have a ganglion cyst), I rolled my ankle, etc.) but I need to just buckle down, and be serious.

    Working out sucks, but a personal trainer is a GREAT idea. You can do it!!

    I can't wait for karaoke with you and Dan. It's just NOT the same. :(

    <3 Mo-rah

  2. Wow, I had to look up "ganglion cyst". I hope that's not true!

    Thanks for the encouragement : ) And I was very happy to talk to you, too (though I could tell it was crazy in production).

    I am honestly looking forward to karaoke even more than I am looking forward to Christmas.

    Can't wait to see you!