Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The demoralizing reality of the common cold...

As hard as I tried to avoid it, I fell prey to a devilish cold that's been plaguing my loved ones and colleagues. All the hand washing in the world could not keep this little bastard away from nestling itself happily in the back of my now dry, scratchy, swollen throat. The worst thing about having a cold is the psychological havoc it wreaks. It completely breaks a man down, from the inside. Normally well-adjusted adults transform into whimpering lumps, mimicking their former child selves. I am easily the worst sick person. I lie on the couch and proclaim, "I'm sick!" repeatedly in what sounds like the voice of a 4 year old due to my congestion and defeated spirit. This must drive my husband crazy. He made me chicken soup. He's a saint.

Perhaps it's the lack of energy, the dependence on others, or the fact that you look like complete crap, no bones about it, having a cold is simply depressing. Ironically, clinical depression has been shown to weaken the immune system and lead to an increased vulnerability to getting colds. Well, what the hell is a person to do? Benjamin Franklin, 18th century smarty pants, documented his personal research on the common cold and concluded: "People often catch cold from one another when shut up together in small close rooms, coaches, etc. and when sitting near and conversing so as to breathe in each other's transpiration." Ew. His solution? Well, he suggested exercise, bathing, and moderation in food and drink consumption to avoid the common cold. But what about a cure? We've put men on the moon, cloned animals, and now we have both a black man and a women fighting for the oval office. Isn't it time we find a cure for the common cold??

This may seem like a petty and tired request, but colds are a great cost to the country. This poster from World War II highlights the cost of a cold back then:

As you may very well know, things have gotten mighty pricey since then. According to Wikipedia, my favorite website ever, the total economic cost of cold-related work loss exceeds $20 billion. Yes, you read that right...billion. You would think that the big pharmaceutical companies would be chomping at the bit to find a solution...it would be an absolute gold mine! It seems that a few companies are working on it but there doesn't appear to be much of a fire under their rears to get this going fast.

The next time you're laid up with a nasty bout of viral nasopharyngitis, you might think that research efforts towards a cure might not be too shabby. Perhaps this is just a manifestation of my cold-related regression to a time when I thought my mom could do anything...including curing the common cold. I think more research should be done on the therapeutic effects of chicken cutlets and ThunderCats. Ah, ah, ah, chooo!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Do you enjoy the smell of calories burning in the morning?

Since moving to Los Angeles--land of the beautiful and scantily clad-- from New York, I had expected to experience a physical metamorphosis into a svelte and athletic Angeleno. Why not? Everyone is so outdoorsy and health conscious, pounds of extraneous lard should just melt off me by merely breathing in the same smog as the minuscule wannabe starlet waiting for her soy latte ahead of me at the Coffee Bean. Alas, when moving from a city where I hoofed it up and down subway stairs and back and forth between the west and east sides of the island to a city where one drives everywhere, the healthy lifestyle change I longed for so passionately felt more like a pipe dream. Instead, I became less healthy as I packed on 15 pounds of "traffic muscle". I watched in horror as my backside expanded exponentially with the combination of driving and hours of sedentary work as a psychology graduate student. What the eff! Granted, LA is pretty diverse and I don't stand out as a total sloth but in my hip east side neighborhood, well, that’s another story. Let's just say that among the emaciated hipsters in their impossibly tight jeans, I am a lummox. A lumbering mass of a woman...but at least I still have my hourglass curves (thank goodness), which are just a little bigger than usual. As much as I tried to convince myself that this change didn't matter, it did. I was treated differently, at least I thought I was. Whenever I saw friends from NY, they always seemed shocked that I wasn't sharing my closet with Nicole Ricci. Nuts. "You're skin looks great!" Gee, thanks. My skin looks great stretched across the fat that pads my body. You're a sweetheart. Klonk (sound of my head hitting the table)!

As a former soccer player, I knew I could up my activity and do something about this predicament I've found myself in ...I had to make a change, stat! Like a sign from up above, I received an email about entering a contest to win a free 1-month bootcamp package...a bridal bootcamp, that is. Hmmm. Well, technically, I'm already married but we have yet to plan a reception back home (yes, it is happening a year after--it's 2008, get over it.) and I need to wear a dress for that, too (Grr). Why not? I enter. I wait. I don't win. I am sad. I eat a black-n-white cookie. Then I felt full and guilty--but it was a really good cookie. To my credit, I have very good culinary taste. Anyway, a few weeks and some sad attempts at establishing a running program later, I get another email. The offer was for three bootcamp sessions (just three days). I took a look at the website and got nervous. The women in the pictures were pretty fit already, all wearing snug workout clothes, and the trainer is a lumpy blond dude with a giant smile on his face--lumpy in a muscle kind of way (think Venice Beach body builder). Totally intimidated, I close the window. I think. What do I have to lose? It's just three days. Hmm. I open my email again, hit reply and say "Sign me up!". Oi. I quickly get a friendly reply from trainer and I'm scheduled for a consultation before the next session.

Now, there's bootcamp sessions offered twice a day, 6:30 am and pm. My schedule is totally horrid lately with seeing clients and teaching undergrads about the marvels of psychology 101. I'm forced to go to the morning session, which means I need to get there by 6am for the consultation. You should also know that the bootcamp takes place across town...way, way across town near Santa Monica. Ugh. I already feel like this is impossible but I convince myself that I can sleep in and stay chubby or I can do this and hopefully get to a healthy weight. I'm not an idiot. I don't expect to start wearing size zeros. I'd settle for an 8. My alarm buzzes at 5 am and I make my way across town, half asleep but kind of excited. Trainer, as I will refer to him, is very nice and extremely enthusiastic. He asks me a bunch of questions and get's me set up. I notice he has a funny accent. Turns out he's Jewish and from Texas. Yes, you read that right. The rest of the gals arrive and they're pretty friendly...friendly and thin. I use the thought stopping techniques I teach my clients and try to switch to positive supportive thoughts. I hum "Eye of the Tiger" to myself. We start with all of these jumpy things, jumping jacks, jumping from side to side, pretending to jump rope. We run laterally and then to a fence far down the field. I feel pretty good. Not first but definitely not last. We get back to the yoga mats we're instructed to bring and start doing some weight training kinds of stuff. Here, I notice I'm a total wienie. I have no upper body strength, whatsoever. We're doing pushups, planking (a push up position without the push up--so you just hold it there), side planking...the works. My arms, which appear formidable due to the heft of my upper "wings", shake uncontrollable under the weight of my body. Holy shit. "Eye of the Tiger" shifts to Radiohead's "Creep". I'm a loser. STOP! I'm strong. I can do this. UUuuugh.

Trainer screams, "I love the smell of calories burning in the morning!" as me makes us do sprints. I hate sprints. "Backpacks on and to the hill!" Huh? So at this point, I see all the girls putting a 10 pound medicine ball in the backpacks we get as part of bootcamp and swing them pack onto their backs as they take off to a hill I can't even see from where we're standing. I follow suite and huff and puff as this pack is bopping up and down my sweaty back. "You've got the eye of the tiger today!" Trainer says as I run/waddle by. I crack a grin but I'm thinking "eff you and your effing muscles." We get to "the hill" which is a steep drop behind the parking lot. The other girls are at the bottom and running in place. I make my way down and run in place and notice how my heart is pounding in my chest. "Okay, take off! I want three times up the hill! Go, go!" I take off with everyone else. My legs burn and I slow down fast. Holy effing shit! My heart is pounding as I reach the top. Okay, one down. As I head back down, my legs start to buckle. Yikes, I fly down the hill, pretty out of control and slam into the fence at the bottom. Totally embarrassed, I swing around and make my second ascent up the hill. Now, my run has become a steady power walk up and I start saying to myself, "I'm going to die. I'm going to die." That's not positive. STOP! I start saying, "No, I can do this. I can do this." But I can't. By the time I get to the top of the hill, the other girls finish their third time up and are running back to the mats. I follow behind them, remembering that Trainer said not to push it too much this first time. Back at the mats, I am panting and wheezing. I have never wheezed before in my life. This is nuts. Everyone is doing a high-knee run in place. I just stand there. Trainer smiles and tells me I'm doing great. Uh, yeah. No wonder these chicks are so fit.

The workout winds down, and by winding down I mean we do more sprints and "burpies". Burpies are jumping jacks followed by jumping up in the air, jumping down, kicking your legs out (like in a push up position), getting back up and doing it all over again, and again, and again. I think I did two. As we gather our things, the other girls warn me of the hell that's ahead of me. I'm thankful that they're nice...and they were totally right. I was sore for a week straight, in places I didn't think I had muscle.

I've stuck with the bootcamp for two months now. Is it working? Well, that depends on what you mean by working. I'm definitely more fit. My legs are more firm and sculpted. I've lost 3 pounds, maybe. I'm a little discouraged but I have to admit, I feel good and part of the weight I still have is muscle. Trainer is totally goofy and I realize how much of bootcamp is psychological. "Mind over body, ladies. Not body over mind!" he howls. He's right. I've started listening to the Rocky soundtrack in my car on the way to workouts. I'm running harder and faster. The one thing I'm trying to work on is eating better and that's a slow progression. As with any behavior modification program, I need to take steps. Now that the exercise is coming along, the eating will soon follow. As a really annoying bootcamper said to me the other day after I told her I do health psychology research, "Oh, this should be easy for you!" She's new. I hope she's really sore.