Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Mourning Run

It’s been eight weeks since my mom died. My heart aches every time I think about her, a homesick feeling I’m guessing will always be with me. There’s just something about a mom, and something not right about me not having one anymore. Of course she lives on in her family. In my youngest, her namesake, and my oldest, whose hair is the same beautiful shade of red my mom’s once was. I’m comforted by over 40 years of memories, I really am. But it’s just not enough.
I want my mom. Alive.
And so this new homesick feeling is a companion I’ve been busying myself trying impossibly to ignore. Probably not the best strategy, I know, but you do what you do to get by, right? There are times I let my guard down. Times I let my grief surface and heavy my chest until there is nothing left for me to do but lay down and cry myself to sleep. Times I go to the one place I can see my mom alive again—dreams filled with the healthy and spirited woman she once was.
Running has always been a type of therapy for me, helping soften the edges of the anxiety and depression I’ve had since I was a kid. But lately its therapeutic effects have grown even stronger. Physical pain (from pace or distance) has become an expression of grief, leaving me free to experience the memory of my mom in a calmer, softer way. While running, the memories don’t hurt my heart so much, because the pain is somehow channeled through my body. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, perhaps you can relate.
IMG_4875This “substitute pain” is why I decided to run for 12 hours and 24 minutes the other weekend. It would be a way for me to spend some quality time with my mom, without that heavy-hearted feeling I’ve grown to disdain. I could let go of the heaviness and spend the day with her, being open to whatever memories surfaced and whatever thoughts crossed my mind.
Spending quality time with my mom is what helped me to finish the hardest ultra distance race I’ve ever participated in. It was that desire that helped me push hard, finishing second overall among women and first among master’s women. I let my body take away my pain for 52 technical miles on the Superior Hiking Trail until I was able to say, out loud with the finish line in sight, that I miss her.
Healing from my mom’s death will take time; and I’m quite confident the wound will always be with me to some degree. But somehow I’m stronger for it. Just like crossing that finish line in Lutsen made me stronger. It helped me open the door a little, to test the experience of grief like a toe in a pool of water, to find strength in my sadness.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My mom had her first stroke 20 years ago, shortly after her 57th birthday. I was 21 years old at the time and had just returned to college after spending winter break at home. She and my brother were out for lunch when it happened—her speech changed and the left side of her body become temporarily paralyzed. I rushed home from Milwaukee and for the first time in my life really worried about losing a parent.

Thankfully, I didn’t lose her. Small parts of her personality seemed to disappear, but for the most part she returned to the same caring soul she’d always been. She still had some residual left-sided weakness, but probably not something a stranger would catch on to.

It’s been 20 years since that stroke and my parents are now well into their 70s. While they’ve each had they’re own physical challenges along the way, they’ve been doing okay and adjusting to their aging bodies for the most part.

That changed two months ago when my mom suffered another large stroke to the right side of her brain. Unlike the last time, she probably won’t be walking again and her personality isn’t bouncing back like it did back in 1992. She’s lost her left-side vision in both eyes (homonymous hemianopsia). In some ways, I feel like I’ve lost my mom—she’s prone to the silence, fatigue and a lack of motivation that are common side affects of stroke. But she’s still here and for that I am truly grateful.

After spending two months in a transitional care facility trying to regain her strength to walk, my mom is being discharged tomorrow. Truth be told, I’m terrified to see her go home. She’ll need 24-hour assistance—just going to the bathroom or getting into the car require the help of two people. I’m not sure she really understands how different life will be at home.

I’m sharing all of this because I think it’s important for us all remember how significant a healthy diet and exercise are to us as moms. We spend so much time watching after our kids that sometimes we forget what we need to do in order to stay healthy ourselves. I’m not saying my mom brought this on herself, but I often wonder what things might be like if she’d kept up with her tennis game, continued golfing on a regular basis, or skipped a few of my sporting events so she could exercise. Maybe she'd be taking my kids on walks, reading them books, babysitting even.

But we'll never know.

I love my mom, and it kills me to watch her go through this.  Sadly, she was in a similar situation with her mother. I’m not going to let the cycle continue. If I can help it, my grandkids will have active grandparents.  Be a role model for your kids.  They need to learn good habits, and you need to keep these habits going.  Remember, some day your life may depend on it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Are you Drawn to Scale?

Sometimes you know you’re the bee’s knees. Like those mornings when you drag yourself out of bed an hour early so you can squeeze in a workout before the rest of the crew gets up. Or, those afternoons you insist everyone (including Mom) enjoys a healthy afterschool snack. Maybe you’ve raised your chin a little higher because you’ve been consistent and dedicated to a new healthy way of life.

And then, feeling confident and self-assured, you feel compelled to step on the scale for a little extra validation. Which quickly becomes




Stepping on the scale isn’t always happy inducing, is it? Sometimes that number just doesn’t jive with what’s going on in your life and suddenly, faster than you can down a little high carb comfort food, your mood is soured and your motivation squashed.

Here’s where your mindset can be make-or-break. On a good day you might assume the scale is inaccurate, you’re retaining water, or the weight gain is the result of fat turning to muscle. You shrug your shoulders, step off, and move on with your life. A “bad” number is nothing but a small blip on your radar.

Other times a disagreement with the scale can leave you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut. You decide you’re a hopeless case who is never going to meet her health and fitness goals and make your way to the cookie jar. Or, maybe you’re prone to the opposite behavior and begin restricting your diet. Either way, there is no healthy escape.

We’re all prone to either reaction on any given day. Ensure you’re doing everything you can to foster your fit lifestyle. Live life a little more deliberately and follow these five pointers when you’re drawn to check the scale:  

1.    Don’t weigh yourself every day. Lots of factors, especially water retention, can cause your weight to vary significantly from day to day. Don’t get sucked into those daily fluctuations in weight—your mood is likely to follow. Who needs another reason to be moody?
2.    Your weight can vary 2-4 pounds during the day so when you do hit the scale, do it at the same time each day. Morning, when you first get out of bed, is best since that’s when most of us are at our lightest.
3.    Use the same scale each time to weight yourself to avoid confusing accuracy with variance.
4.    Think through the consequences of meeting and not meeting your goal. Only step on the scale if you are confident you won’t let an unexpectedly high number defeat you.
5.    Chuck it (as in garbage heap). Remember that your weight doesn’t tell the whole story. Instead of judging your progress by the number on the scale, gauge your success by how your clothes are fitting, your energy level, or your general state of health.  After all, that’s what this whole healthy living thing is all about anyway, isn’t it?

What's your relationship with the scale like? Connected at the hip, separated for good, or somewhere in between? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does Being Skinny Make You Happy?

I’ve been thin my whole life. It’s not some genetics thing; I was a mover even before my brothers used me for football tackle practice, had me run the bases, and positioned me in goal for hockey drills. Lucky for me I still love moving—both the hardcore sweaty stuff, and the more relaxed play that fills a mom’s day.

Being active has helped spare me excess worry about heart disease, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure that run in my family. It’s also helped me control anxiety and depression, two of my other little DNA-powered gifts.

I know I’m not alone. In a survey we conducted while writing Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel, 2011), almost all of the fit moms who responded realized some mental health benefits from their fitness pursuits.  It wasn’t being skinny that made them happier; in fact most of them probably wouldn’t even consider themselves skinny by societal standards. So it must be something else.

And yet we see the message that getting skinny means getting happy, don’t we? I saw it at the gym last weekend. Thirteen flat screen televisions on the wall in front of me and over half of them were playing advertisements (dressed as television shows) showing amazing product-related transformations—women who went from obese and unhappy to skinny and smiling.

If only it were that simple. We all have our struggles, whether it’s depression with a capital “D” or an occasional sadness that leaves us looking for more in life. Exercise is great medicine for mental health; it’s a proven physiological and psychological supplement.

But simply getting skinny doesn’t make you happier. As with most things, it’s all in the process. It’s what you’re doing to get there that’s really helping. It’s setting and reaching goals, developing a new (healthier) identity, connecting with a community of likeminded people, feeling cared about and caring for others as mentee and mentor.

In short:

Being skinny won’t make you happy.
Wearing $100 workout pants won’t make you happy (a post for another day!)
Breathing, sweating, and moving with intention—even just a little bit every day—will.

So, whether you’re on your way to being fit, or been there for a while now… keep your eyes focused on the process. Cause that’s what living a fit lifestyle is: a process, a (for lack of a better, less overused word) journey. It’s okay to enjoy the way your body looks, a nice side effect of the underlying increase in overall health. But if you’re looking for happiness, step away from the mirror. You won’t find it there.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Mother of Inspiration

A year and a half ago, Lisa Erickson (a high school classmate of mine) did not consider herself a hot (sweaty) mama. She was tired and she was frustrated. At 220 pounds, Lisa was fatigued just walking up a flight of stairs. She says she spent so much time focusing on her failing marriage and raising her children that she didn't have time to take care of herself. 

That's when Lisa joined a gym with a childcare center, which gave her two hours a day for to focus on her health. Lisa made a resolution, a life resolution, to get and stay fit. That decision has completely changed her body, and her life. In less than two years she's lost 85 lbs. and found happiness and self-confidence she never anticipated.

The following is a recent conversation I had with Lisa. She's honest and real and hard not to like... Read on and be inspired!  

Laurie:  Secret number one in the book Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel, 2011) is “You Have to Train Your Brain Before You Can Train Your Body.” In what ways did you prepare yourself mentally for the road in front of you before getting started living a fit lifestyle? Was there one thing that really helped you make the decision to get fit? 

Lisa:  I recently separated from my husband and put so much energy in trying to repair our marriage and care for our 3 children that I completely lost myself. I was tired of being overweight and unfit so I made the decision to change. I started small and focused on each day.

Laurie:  Once you got going, what did you do to keep Mother Guilt away when you were taking time to care for yourself?

Lisa:  I joined the gym for the childcare and as a result got in the best shape of my life. I have sole physical custody of my three kids and no time to myself. Those two hours of childcare are the only break I get. If they complain about going (they rarely do) I explain that they need a healthy mom to take care of them. These two hours are about mom and the rest of the day is about them. 

Laurie:  Let’s talk about excuses. We’ve all used them, right? What are your biggest triggers to forgo fitness? How do you keep yourself in check so that you’re only listening to valid reasons and not lame excuses when you take a day off or back off a bit?

Lisa:  My biggest obstacle right now is not taking a break. I have a hard time missing a workout. I do "active recovery" days where I only do yoga or something light, but I rarely miss a day at the gym.

Laurie:  In our book we remind readers to “Be As Good To Your Body As You Are To Your Children.” What techniques do you use to protect your overall well-being, not just your fitness pursuits? Do you think these parts of your life training are as important as the sweaty ones?

Lisa:  I try to keep my life in balance. I realize that sounds contradictory by going to the gym every day, but I do what I feel is best for my mental and physical well-being as well as my children’s. I try to eat clean, train well and rest when needed.

Laurie:  If I remember correctly, you were pretty social in high school. How have your relationships with others helped and hindered your lifestyle changes? Is there any one relationship that stands out as particularly toxic or particularly supportive?

Lisa:  The group fitness instructors at my gym have been a huge inspiration to me. They are the ones I credit with my love for fitness—it’s their classes that got me going to the gym everyday. I have developed strong friendships with several of them who are not just instructors but good friends. They continue to motivate me and are strong supporters to both me and to my kids. As far as toxic people, I've changed how I react to others and those I choose to be close to. My home situation is unique in the fact I'm raising my children alone, which isolated me from a lot of my former friends. Getting a divorce forces people to look at their own marriages and it shuts off social circles as a result. I've learned to value true friendships and people for who they are and leave the rest behind. I don't worry about what others think of me. I am doing exactly what I need to be doing for myself and for my kids and I don't feel the need to explain myself or worry about how others perceive me. This realization has been equally instrumental as fitness and nutrition in my healthy lifestyle. 
Laurie:  The last secret of our book is “Act Like Others Are Watching Because They Are.” How do you think your transformation has impacted other people in your life, particularly your children?

Lisa:  I love seeing people working hard to achieve something. When I see someone struggling while exercising it humbles me to see how far I've come. That 220lb lady is gone for good. I have all the tools I need to continue my success with my fitness goals. As a result my children understand the importance of caring for their bodies. Moderation, healthy food choices and moving daily are things we emphasize in our household.

Laurie:  What changes did you experience mentally as you gained strength and improved your overall fitness? Are you happier now? If so, why?

Lisa:  The feeling of accomplishment makes you a stronger person. My transformation has not only changed my body but my entire life. I'm the happiest I've ever been and the best shape of my life. There are days when I nit pick at little things and then I stop and look at the big picture and everything I've accomplished in the past couple years. It puts it all in perspective. I’m a better friend, mom and person as a result. I feel like there is nothing I can't do.

Laurie:  Anything else you want to add that might be inspirational to another mom?

Lisa:  Start small and focus on each day. Don't look at how far you have to go, look at how much you have done. The journey is continuous so enjoy each day!

Monday, January 2, 2012

TV Time for Hot (Sweaty) Mamas

Had such a great time talking about Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom with Belinda Jensen on the KARE 11 Saturday show this weekend. If you're looking for some motivation check out the interview, which gives a little taste of each of the secrets!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Little Things

My kids go gaga over Playmobil, and now after finding the set pictured (left), I do too. It's not just the obvious things that draw me in either, like the subtle writing on Mom's shirt or the red jogger I think every mom should have. What tops my list are the smiles on both Mom's and Baby's faces. That and the fact that my kids are fighting over who gets to play with it... Music to my ears!

I snatched up the two remaining figurines and will be giving one away here (my kids insisted on keeping one for themselves). Pretty great stocking stuffer for any kid on your list (the baby is even dressed in gender-neutral green!). Just add a comment below with your best stocking stuffer idea (or a small gift item for those of you who do not celebrate Christmas) and be sure to sign up to be a follower of my blog. I'll randomly select and announce the winner next Monday! Good luck and let's hear those ideas!