Body Issues

A few weeks ago, a new-ish friend asked me if I would be interested in running a four-mile race with him in Central Park in February. You clearly don’t know me well enough, I told him. If there’s one thing I loathe more than running outdoors, it’s exercising in the company of anyone I know. Plus, I said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone for a run in the last few years. There’s no way I could be ready to run a four-mile race in just a few weeks, even if I wanted to.

As I’ve gotten further into my twenties, it seems like everyone around me is more interested in exercise – both for health and for fun. Many close friends of mine, friends who were not runners when we met, have become serial participators in 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons. Others have become devotees of pilates or barre or, in a few cases (and I’m still not certain if this is more of a joke than a real thing), jazzercise. One good friend rock climbs at a climbing gym several times a week. He brought me there once and, though I did end up having a good time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience that I never went back.

When it comes to exercise, I don’t have a THING. Actually, that’s not totally true. My real thing has become reading The New Yorker while on the elliptical machine or treadmill in the Greenpoint YMCA’s cardio room. I joke about this a lot, but it really is what I do to “work out”. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating myself to exercise. Even though I know it will make me feel good and may even make me “healthier” – whatever that means – I almost always prefer doing an activity that requires minimal movement, like writing or cooking, to going for a jog or attending a gym class. And I have a hard time buying into the cult of fitness, something that’s only seemed to grow more intense (at least in urban areas) with the rise of non-traditional exercise routines like SoulCycle and fitness startups like ClassPass in the last few years.

This all makes me feel sort of adrift when it comes to figuring out what’s best for me in terms of “staying in shape” or “maintaining a healthy body weight” or any other fitness-related goals I think I should have.

Running really doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried to get into it, even when I was I was a teenager and under the supervision of a coach, I’ve gotten injured. And, as I’ve stated, I seriously dislike group exercise (other than yoga, for some reason). I really, truly am not interested in pedaling on a stationary bike while someone with an extremely toned body spews motivational bullshit into a wireless microphone headset.

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, OK, so if you don’t like exercise…then don’t do it. Or maybe you’re saying, Hey, dummy, you should just try doing more of the stuff you know you like and can do, like using cardio machines at the gym or yoga or, even though you didn’t mention this, taking really, really long walks, which is another thing you like to do.

But who knows what you’re thinking? All I know is that my brain vacillates between telling me to not exercise and telling me to exercise and now, at the end of the first month of the new year, it’s driving me crazy.

Of course, I’m always like this. As I’ve said, I’m not naturally motivated to exercise. But the reason I’m super ambivalent about exercise now, more than usual, is because – once again – I’ve developed pretty negative feelings about my body.

I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’m at the heaviest I’ve been since prior to going on Weight Watchers in 2010. (I lost 20 lbs over the course of a year, tried to maintain that weight for another year, and then backslid over time into my old habits of eating and drinking whatever I wanted to and not exercising more than twice a week or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.) My pants still fit, but not really. I make jokes on Twitter about unbuttoning them all the time, but it’s actually because they’re pretty uncomfortable when I’m sitting at my desk all day! I don’t look “fat” or “bad” or “unhealthy”. I just don’t feel good anymore.

I only go to the gym a few times a month now. And that might even be an exaggeration. But I used to go a few times a week. I haven’t gone to yoga in two years; I quit going to my regular class because it interfered with a German class I was taking (and later quit, both because of lack of funds and the severe embarrassment I felt after drunkenly hooking up with a classmate who I’d had a bit of a crush on and who most likely lost any warm feelings he’d had toward me after that night). And even though my gym has a pool, I refuse to even consider getting into it – I know it’s weird to bring up swimming now, but I should have mentioned before that I was a competitive swimmer (of questionable talent) through high school – because it has an irregular lap swim schedule, only has four lanes, is shorter than 25 yards, and looks ill-kept.

I know what I should do to not feel like this (gross): Slowly get back into working out, doing the things that I know I can handle and ramp up the frequency. There was a time I had never jogged on a treadmill or done yoga. I know I can do those things again, but it’s just a matter of…doing them. Or overcoming the fear of doing them. I’m afraid that I won’t “see results” and therefore won’t feel better about myself. I’m afraid of getting too extreme, as I did back in my Weight Watchers days, when I used exercise to punish myself for not being thin enough or good enough or loveable enough or whatever it was that led me to become obsessive about Weight Watchers in the first place.* I wonder if I’ll ever be able to find a balance.

So, I think I’ve been building up to telling you this crazy fact, which is that I’m going to the gym tonight. I brought my gym clothes with me today so that I have to go directly there after work and cannot make up an excuse to not go once I get home. My plan is to walk on the treadmill for a bit and maybe get on the elliptical. I (literally) do not want to hurt myself, so I think taking it slow for now is best.

I probably won’t be running races anytime soon. And I really don’t think I’ll be participating in the 40-mile bike race my dad asked me to sign up for the other day. But maybe I’ll try one of these dumb classes (not SoulCycle, please don’t make me do Soul Cycle) sometime if I can at least get myself back into yoga. And I’m definitely going to attempt to normalize the way I think about myself again, to get back to being OK with the choices I make in terms of food and exercise and not judging myself or comparing myself to other people.

I don’t really know how to end this in a meaningful or very conclusive way, so I’ll just blurt out some final thoughts in the form of a numbered list and hope they are satisfactory to read.

  1. I understand that exercise is an important part of “being healthy” but I really don’t like it! (However, I will admit that most of the time I feel really good after I do it.)
  2. It’s annoying when people suggest different forms of exercise to me or urge me to try something new. It’s super cool if you’re into, for example, barre (which I don’t even really understand, like as a concept) but I’ll do it if I decide that I want to do it and not because you asked me to.
  3. I worry about everyone’s devotion to exercise classes and gyms in general, because they (the gyms, fitness franchises, etc.) are clearly out to make a lot of money off of people who are willing to pay them and not to promote health for all humans. But hey, we’re all (pretty much) participants in capitalism and who am I to tell anyone where they should spend their money? (For the record, I spend most of my money, after rent, on food and booze and entertainment like books and movies. My gym costs $50 per month.)
  4. (If you like exercising and going to classes and those are things that make you happy, please don’t hate me! I want everyone to just do their thing that makes them happy.)
  5. Sometimes I feel bad about my body. Mostly it’s because I look around and I see and hear people talking about diet and exercise. And I compare what I’m eating to what they’re eating and I compare my body to theirs.
  6. But I don’t really want to be a person who is really into the gym and has intense goals when it comes to weight or strength or whatever.
  7. I just want to find the best way to feel better about myself without turning into a crazy person who is obsessed with calorie-counting and/or burning calories. (Or Points. It was all about the Points when I was on Weight Watchers.)
  8. I know I should not care and just run around naked like Lena Dunham or love myself the way I am like Amy Schumer keeps telling me to do but I’m obviously not quite there yet, otherwise I would be doing those things right now.
  9. Sorry for even bringing Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer up –it seems unfair to reduce them to whatever I just did above – but I felt like I should say something about how it’s great that there are people out there who are talking about body positivity, etc. And I wanted to point out that being confronted by those attitudes – which again, are great and important – in the media makes me feel bad for feeling bad about myself.
  10. Anyway, I’m going to the gym tonight. Go, me!


*Hi! I feel like I should talk more about Weight Watchers. So, the thing is, Weight Watchers really worked for me! I lost a bunch of weight and I was in really great shape after a few months on the program. I didn’t constantly eat and drink to excess and I developed a regular exercise routine. However, this all happened at a pretty weird time in my life. I was just out of college, lived with my parents in the suburbs, and was super depressed. Weight Watchers helped me feel a lot better about myself, my ability to make positive changes, and a bunch of other good crap. BUT I now realize I also used my Weight Watchers success to feel superior to other people who maybe didn’t make the best food choices or didn’t exercise and that wasn’t cool. I talked about Points constantly, shamed my friends for eating or drinking certain things, and was just generally an asshole about how much “better” I looked. Even though it gave me some tools and knowledge I can use again in the future to make living healthier easier, I would think twice about going back on Weight Watchers. It’s hard, I think, to do something that’s so completely about oneself and maintain a normal level of compassion for others.

What I Accomplished in 2012

Not much, it turns out. I was looking through my “journal” – a Moleskine I purchased in 2008 when I was in college and still have not filled nearly five years later – and I found my New Year’s Resolutions from last year. I don’t remember writing them down, but I do know that I was hungover and alone in my apartment for the majority of New Year’s Day 2012, which I’m sure had much to do with my state of mind while I was writing. I can’t see myself writing half of these things down as “resolutions” now. (I mean, I actually didn’t write down any resolutions for 2013 so, this last statement is pretty true.)

Here’s my list of resolutions for 2012 and what I did with them:

* Re-learn how to play the piano

(I didn’t even TOUCH a piano last year except for one time when I sat down at my parents’ piano and played the chords from “Hey, Jude” for about a minute.)

*Learn how to play the guitar

(Nope. Though I did think about contacting Marnie Stern for lessons.)

* Continue German study

(Nein. This didn’t happen either. I mean, I still think about taking German classes all the time but at this point I would probably have to start in a beginner’s class and ugh what’s the point?)

*Go back on Weight Watchers

(Um, I did this a few times for a few weeks at a time. And then inevitably I would have a sort of binge-y weekend and would just totally forget about tracking points and whatnot and then eventually I would remember and I would think to myself, “Howwwww did I ever do this religiously for over a year?”.)

*Try online dating again

(Haha. This didn’t happen. In fact, I ended up deleting the OKCupid profile that I hadn’t updated in two years.)

*Tweet more/funnier things

(OMG, ugh. I know. I feel bad for the Haley of January 2012 who wrote this. But then again, I didn’t anticipate publishing this in any kind of public forum, so…there we are.)

*Deactivate Facebook at some point

(I wish. I did this once a few years ago and it was incredibly freeing. Unfortunately though, it’s the only way I get anyone to look at this here blog, so I’ll keep these virtual shackles on as long as that remains true.)

*Write more/on a schedule

(Actually, I did this! I did start writing a lot more. I don’t know how much I’ve been able to keep to a schedule but I’ve at least put more words on more pages than in years past.)

*Get a new job

(I did this too! This was probably the biggest thing I accomplished in 2012 considering all of the effort and time it took. So…Huzzah!)

Maybe you’re wondering what my 2013 resolutions are. (Probably you’re not.) I didn’t think of any before the clock struck 12 on January 1st, but I’ve tried to think of a few since – frankly, since I started writing this – and not much has come to mind other than that I want to not put so much pressure on myself to do things. Like, I really don’t think I intended to learn the guitar last year because I knew I wouldn’t have the time or drive to do it, but I put it on that list and when I read the list a year later, I felt kind of bad about not even trying. This year, I think I’ll be much better off if I focus on and enjoy the things that I’m actually doing rather than lamenting not doing things that I knew I wasn’t going to do in the first place. And now I will get 2013 started off right by bringing this post to a close because I think I’ve stopped making sense.

The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem

I’ve been on and off Weight Watchers for the last three years and it’s safe to say that I’m really and truly off right now. Like, I just went to the site to track my points for the first time in weeks (and weeks and weeks) and I didn’t even recognize the log in page. There was a whole year where I tracked points religiously. Or maybe I mean to say continuously. Because it was an all-day-everyday thing. It was half of what I thought about and three quarters of what I talked about. And then, one day, I stopped. I mean, not totally, but I stopped being such a psycho about calculating points and weighting myself. I had lost a very decent amount of weight. I missed drinking good beer in large quantities and eating meals that were not mostly composed of green leaves. And I really, really missed baking.

I went a whole year without baking more than probably six or seven times which now just seems ABSURD to me. Baking has been one of my hobbies since I was a kid. Now, I bake a lot. Maybe more than I should? It’s kind of negatively affecting my life. Like an addiction!

Whenever I have some sort of gathering to attend, I feel the need to bake something before it. So, if this gathering is on a weeknight, I spend the whole night before baking. Which means I don’t go to the gym or do laundry or read or write or do whatever other thing I had planned on doing that night in addition to baking but don’t actually do because I have a job and need to sleep. I also inevitably eat a lot of what I make. So, I’m like a person who cooks meth and then does some of it before giving it to other people. (That’s an apt comparison, right?)

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to start baking in moderation. Or at least, not when I need to get other things done. I’m telling myself that I’m going to plan ahead and stick to those plans! Which is, I guess, something that I learned from Weight Watchers many moons ago before I fell off the wagon.

Anyway, I’ve annoyed myself by writing all of the above because my original intention was just to tell you about two good things I baked recently!

1. Pumpkin-Chocolate Swirl Brownies

I used this Smitten Kitchen recipe (well, adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe) that I’ve been a big fan of since I first tried it last fall. Pumpkin and chocolate are amazing together and these brownies have just a little bit of cayenne pepper, setting them apart from other “fall” desserts. The only part of the recipe that I didn’t follow was the whole melting the butter and chocolate with a double boiler. I don’t have a double boiler and I also am too lazy to purchase one. The microwave worked just fine for the task.

Two of my favorite things.

I meant to take a photo of the finished product when it came out of the oven, but I didn’t because I was in a rush. So, I took a picture of the last brownie left in the batch!


Note: These are even better after a few days!

2.  Banana Blackout Cupcakes

OK, I made up the name for these chocolate-banana cupcakes myself. I needed to call them something clever because they were for our book club discussion of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, which incidentally is about addiction. I adapted this recipe from Joy of Baking. And by adapted, I mean I tried to halve it and then I accidentally added twice as much milk as I needed and then I tried to fix it by only adding a little bit of vegetable oil. But they turned out to be amazing! They were really moist – I think because of the bananas – and um, basically perfect. I’ll just have to figure out what I did exactly before I try to replicate my success.

Banana Blackout Cupcake Leftovers

I also made my own frosting for these…by hand. Aggressively stirring a bunch of butter and sugar and cocoa powder together at 11 PM isn’t so much fun, but the finished product was delicious!


(I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ultimate Chocolate Frosting.)

What should I try making next? (Now that I’ve written about these I’m excited to try something new!) A pie? One of the cakes in Baking by James Peterson? Whatever I do, I’m going to set aside an afternoon weekend for it so it doesn’t make me crazy.

Also, there won’t be a Friday Roundup this week because I’ll be in Montreal, which I’ll tell you all about once I’m back!