Monthly Archives: November 2012

Exercise That Isn’t For Weight Loss

November 27, 2012

Being pregnant sometimes feels like one big departure from regular life. Things I never thought about are now a big deal (what position I sleep in, taking a multivitamin, putting on my shoes) and things that once mattered a lot, don’t. I’ve had a lot of mental shifts in the past 6 months, and one of the biggest ones is exercise.

I’m the first to admit that except for a brief stint in college when I exercised mainly to deal with depression and anxiety (did you know that 30 minutes of cardio a day is oftentimes more effective than an antidepressant?), I have always been an “exercise to look good” type of person. And although I’m glad I’ve remained active, I now think that my original approach was wrong. I also have a hunch that the popular reason for exercise (at least in our culture) doesn’t seem to be providing the motivation most of us need. (Think fitness centers packed in January and deserted by Valentine’s Day.)

After a lot of reading and personal experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that “exercising to look good” doesn’t seem to work as well as we’d like. Many people find that an increase in exercise leads to an increase in hunger and they eat the extra calories they work so hard to burn off. Others choose workouts geared towards looks only (think body builders) that don’t actually give them functional strength–just silly muscles designed to bulge when they point towards the gym. Others get highly motivated for a few days, then completely burn out after a few days of sore muscles. And some people think that it has to be all or nothing–a 6 mile run or it’s not worth lacing up your shoes.

(BTW, I am 100% not knocking anyone who has made exercise a part of their life for any reason–there are so many people who don’t do it, that any motivation that gets your heart pumping is well worth the effort.)

Before I got pregnant I was regularly working out to the point of exhaustion, or nausea, or both. Some days that was fun. Some days it wasn’t. But that changed immediately upon seeing that second pink line. I didn’t know what was safe and felt nervous going to my regular classes. In the early weeks of my first trimester I read a popular book that suggested avoiding exercise altogether because regardless of how hard the bump and I worked out I would a.) Still gain weight, and b.) still look terrible in workout clothes. For a few weeks of extreme sickness I enjoyed this philosophy, because frankly I could barely shower, so exercise seemed to be off the menu. But that all changed the first day I got in a pool.

I was on a research trip to gather info for my dad’s upcoming book in The Walk Series (shameless plug!). I can’t remember what city we were in but I woke up early one morning and went to the hotel pool. It was small, but empty, and I decided to break my exercise fast by doing some water aerobics moves I’d learned in my one ill-fated attempt at a prenatal water aerobics class (it was basically an hour of one participant complaining about foot cramps and the rest of us having to do foot stretches with her). I didn’t have music or a clock, but I decided to move as long as felt good. When I got out of the pool it had been 45 minutes and I experienced one of the least nauseating days I had in about 3 months.

At that point swimming became non-negotiable. It is the half hour a day that I am weightless, cold, and moving without things aching. I don’t swim very fast or well (just ask the well-meaning lifeguards who have tried to offer me swimming tips). Some days I dread it like you wouldn’t believe. My hair and skin hate it, my goggles always fog up, and I despise seeing band-aids at the bottom of the pool after the facility has had a swim meet. And here’s the weird part–despite my daily exercise, I just keep gaining weight. Lots of it. Most of it centered around my abdomen but also appearing in my breasts, butt, thighs and arms.

And still I go!

In other words, for the first time in my life I am really, truly exercising for a reason that does not involve vanity. I am exercising because it improves my mood. Because I enjoy feeling cold and weightless, and the happy wriggles of what I’m assuming is a half-fish baby. I am exercising to stave off gestational diabetes and to give myself a chance to unwind, and to entertain the lifeguards with my valiant attempts to swim laps with my gigantic maternity swimsuit never quite cooperating.

And I’m wondering, can I take this new mentality with me post-baby? Can I exercise because it feels good and makes me happy? Can I give up bootcamps and workout that leave me exhausted rather than energized? We are made to move–absolutely–I’m just wondering if a lot of us have lost sight of the fact that it is supposed to be enjoyable, not punishing. That we are supposed to feel our blood pumping and our breath moving through our body–but in a way that feels good to us. Long walks. Stretching. Bike riding. Those are things that feel good to me–but there are about a million different things that could feel good to you.

Am I alone on this? Does anyone else exercise for a reason other than burning calories? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lemon Bar Mania.

November 14, 2012

Last night I went to bed on an empty stomach.

No, that’s not really true. I went to bed on a stomach full of perfectly good things like three-cheese tortellini tossed with roasted vegetables. I guess what I mean is that I went to bed with an empty heart. A heart that yearned–nay burned–for something more. And what was missing? What could I possibly desire with such an otherworldly intensity? A lemon bar. A silky, tangy, gooey ray of light to soothe my pregnant soul.

But it was not to be.

For one thing, when the craving hit it was past 10 PM and any conceivable lemon bar vendor was closed. So I looked to my own kitchen. Yes, it was true I had plenty of butter, sugar and even a glowing orb of hope sitting in my fruit basket. But I was exhausted. David had a test the next morning, which meant no demanding he put on my red-checked apron and learn how to make me some lemon bars. And as talented as our canine roommate means to be, he had worn himself out trying to interest our new handyman (who spent the evening hauling away a third of our storm-damaged tree) in playing with his squeaky penguin.

Shoot. I just realized I should have asked the handyman if he had any experience with baking. Next time, handyman. Next time.

So I did what any pregnant desperado would do–I tried to substitute what I really wanted (nirvana through butter) with something I had on hand, which happened to be a gorgeous bowl of pomegranate seeds. It almost did the trick. But I had to promise myself a silky smooth breakfast of what my heart desired.

So guess what I did first thing this morning? (Hint, it was not brushing my teeth.)

As I prepared to bake I congratulated myself on my excellent decision. But then the mania started. Here is an incomplete list of things that went wrong in the Welch Kitchen this morning:

  • My original recipe vanished from the internet. Vanished.
  • I realized I was missing my 8×8 pan
  • Butter exploded in the microwave and dripped like a summer rainstorm when I opened the door
  • Had the wrong size of eggs. This seems to matter
  • Wiped a handful of caramelized red onions through my hair

And finally, as I lovingly pulverized an entire lemon to create the filling (try this!):

  • My food processor sprang a leak and drowned my kitchen in a custardy river of disappointment.

And yet I carried on. I cobbled together extra ingredients. I fashioned a pan out of tin foil. I scraped filling off my counter. And somehow, somehow, they turned out. Gloriously. Hopefully. Tartly. I promptly served myself 1/3 of the pan and am now bathing in the afterglow of certain sugary bliss.

Here’s the recipe–best of luck to you. It was absolutely, one-hundred percent worth the effort.


Some things I love about being pregnant.

November 12, 2012

Several days ago we got home from one of the dreamiest trips I’ve ever taken: Costa Rica.

One of my best friends grew up there and after a few descriptions of the waterfalls and tropical storms and overall lushness I put it on my bucket list. When a TravelZoo deal too good to pass up popped up a mere week or two before we found out I was a Pregnant Wildebeest I may or may not have talked David into putting the whole thing on our credit card and paying it in reverse (you know, rather than the more practical, save-up approach). On the 8 hour flight over I watched my feet swell to the size of melons and then spent the week cooing at toucans, swimming in waterfalls, yelling at David to slow down on the ridiculously windy roads. It was amazing.

People in Costa Rica were not shy about my pregnancy. Granted, I suddenly have a Buddha belly and feel like I am lumbering everywhere I go, but for heaven’s sakes, no one here directs me to the Special Needs line at customs (1-hr line avoided, yes!). I wore plenty of horizontal stripes to show off my new shape and rubbed my belly way too much. I think I may be in the honeymoon stage of pregnancy. Here are some of the things I love about being pregnant:

1. Maternity jeans. Yes, this is number 1. I’ve always preferred yoga pants to a pair of Lucky’s, but now I get to wear jeans with a stretchy waist band. And they’re adorable. Someone may need to wrestle them from me post-baby.

2. Doting strangers. People like pregnant people. When I swim laps water aerobics ladies tell me about the 10 children they birthed. Neighbors touch my belly and refuse to apologize. People I never would have spoken to previously suddenly want to be buddies. It’s kind of like having a new puppy.

3. No more awkward conversations. Pregnancy is the ultimate conversation starter. People want to know about your pregnancy and they want to tell you about theirs. I recently went to a party that had the potential to be a full night of awkward conversations. But literally every conversation I had was about pregnancy and ended with both parties smiling. This is a huge improvement to conversations that start with “So what’s new?” and end with “…Well, good to see ya.”

4. Husband doting. David has always been rather attentive, but now I’m not allowed to lift economy-sized boxes of cereal or drag my own rolling suitcase. Adorable. He also talks to my stomach constantly–I’ve even caught him talking to the baby when I’m asleep.

5. Body image. I love this change. When you’re pregnant you give up the reigns on your body. Yes, weird and uncomfortable things happen, but you also get to let go a bit. No more crazy boot camp workout classes. No more diets. No more trying to assess if your stomach looks big in your new shirt (because the answer is always “yes”). This feels like a mental break.

6. Sleep. I know this will change as baby gets bigger, but I am sleeping like a baby. And my nightmares about misplacing a baby in a grocery bag or David impregnating other women have (mercifully) disappeared.

7. Feeling baby move. I love this. Barrel rolls, hiccups, and general unruliness seem to be constantly emanating from my belly. He is an active little guy and I love knowing he’s there.

8. Getting a sense of the baby. I don’t know if  this is a shared experience, but I feel like I’m getting a sense of the baby’s personality. I am also craving a warm little peanut body to cart around everywhere I go. We have about a thousand things to do before we’re ready for him to get here, but sometimes I wish he could be here now.