The Health Journey, Part III:  The Crossfit Post

I’ve been doing Crossfit at Crossfit Merge now for about two and a half months, since mid April.  It’s two short blocks from my apartment, and every time I walk to a class I feel a low-grade dread as I wonder how I’m going to fail or be humiliated.

Yesterday I was introduced to the GHD, the Glute-Hamstring Developer. Imagine feeding yourself feet-first into a giant pasta roller, your face toward the floor.  Go into the pasta roller until it’s halfway up your quads, and from there, SUPPORTED BY YOUR QUADS, hip extensions:  you straighten your back and then raise and lower your chest.  It was terrifying, and I told the coach I was going to tip the apparatus forward, where I would fall on my face and break both my legs at the upper thigh.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

In between sets of  hip extensions on the GHD, we were supposed to do “banded good-mornings” where you stand on a rubber band, squat down and hook it around your shoulders, and then use your glutes to stand up straight. I was pretty sure that the band was going to snap and fly sideways and flay my coach alive.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

So when I started doing crossfit, people that hadn’t done it themselves exhorted me not to do it; they said it’s a cult that forces you to injure yourself. One friend said it’s just a fad, our generation’s jazzercize.  Two other friends have done crossfit; one who left because he kept injuring himself, and another who left because of injury but misses it terribly.

One of my friends, K, said that she went to the crossfit by my house, and she liked it a lot, that it was a different workout every day, and she wasn’t sure why she didn’t do it anymore. She said the atmosphere was very positive, and that it’s appropriate for all levels, and that it was right by my house.

So that’s when I signed up for Crossfit Merge; almost everybody warned me against end it, but K likes it and it was by my house.  I signed up because it was by my house.

After the first intro class I was dizzy for over an hour, and all that first week I had to throw myself into chairs like Betty Davis, since I was too sore to lower myself with control.  Sitting down on to the toilet was the worst, and I wished my bathroom had the big handrails like in the wheelchair-access bathroom stalls.  I messaged positive K and asked her if she was this sore after her first week of Crossfit Merge, and she said Crossfit Merge?  No, the place I went to was All About You Fitness, right by your house.

Once I realized I had failed to join the place K was so positive about, I thought about switching over, but by then I was already liking Crossfit Merge.  They are teaching me new exercises, looking out for my safety, and are encouraging and motivating without being drill sergeants.  If someone has an injury or is too inexperienced to do an exercise safely, they are quick to offer a scaled-down version of the exercise, an appropriate alternative.

It’s impressive, actually, how fast they offer you a scaled-down alternative when you ask for one, and that’s one of the key reasons why this is a good program for me.  I need a good coach in the room because there’s just too much technical knowledge involved in exercise for me to carry around in my head; it is a lot to remember.  Just yesterday it dawned on me that a power clean = a deadlift + a hang clean.  Is that right?  I DON’T KNOW.  My brain is full of French relative pronouns and Italian irregular past participles.  I don’t know the weightlifting moves; the coach knows.  Ask coach.

By the way, I noticed on my first day that the coaches all look like they’re wearing that fake superhero armor; the men and the women.  Except it’s not armor, it’s their muscles, with no help from the fabric.  I don’t want to be overly creepy about that, but I do feel like I made it in life when these kids with movie star physiques are paid to be kind to me.

Just a quick note about squatting:  there’s a lot of squatting involved in crossfit, and it turns out that I have a substantial cultural advantage in my ability to squat.  We work on squat position occasionally, and I’m able to go heels flat, full planting-rice right away, it’s a relaxed position for me, you might as well give me laundry to sort while I’m down there.  My coach said once, “That’s a deep squat, JP,” and I was like, “guh, this is how Filipinos wait for the bus.”  I’ll smoke a cigarette in that position.  The only thing is, squatting is a tense position in weight lifting; my Ilocana massage therapist warned me not to go all they way to “picking sweet potatoes” because then I’d be working harder to lift those weights.

I have a lot of silly stories and brilliant thoughts about crossfit now, but I know it can be off-putting to prosthelatize for the injury cult.  Suffice it to say, that I like Crossfit, for all the same reasons that I hate going to a regular gym–I didn’t get into that here but if you want to know, ask me in the comments.

If you want to join a crossfit box, read the Yelp reviews and look for comments that talk about how safety-oriented, and how kind the coaches are.  Coaches that make you feel bad or let you get injured don’t get your money.  Expect to be debilitatingly sore the first week, and if you’re as out of shape as I was, dizzy for an hour after the first workout.  If you want to know more, just ask me in the comments, because oh, I’ll talk about it…

The Health Journey, Part II: Calorie Deficit

Here’s that heartbreaking article that says that eating fewer calories than you expend is really the only way to to lose weight; that exercise is good for health but doesn’t directly make you thinner.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to create a calorie deficit lately:

  • I moved to a place where I’m not emotionally attached to the food.  I know there is good food in LA, but for the most part I haven’t found it yet, and realistically that is important to my weight loss.  Also, there is a lot of junky, cheap, tacky, low-quality food all around, and I don’t have a taste for it.
  • I’m diabetic, and that means that sugar and fruit juice are poison to me, and simple carbohydrates turn into poison in my blood.  I haven’t had a Dr. Pepper or a glass of orange juice in 10 years.  Anyway, I know not everyone is diabetic but I recommend to everyone to lose their taste for sugars and simple carbs.  
  • I’ve stopped eating land animals.  Part of it was the horrible meat industry, and the animals, and the environmental damage.  Also, part of it is that it’s an easy shortcut for eating fewer calories; it’s easy to explain to people and it’s easy to stick to.
  • I’m using a calorie tracker; loosely.  The one I use is My Fitness Pal, for the most part I can dial in a food by name and it already knows how many calories that is.  I don’t really care to track or record all my meals and calories, I just want to know where I am in relation to my calorie ceiling; if I go above, it’s weight gain.
  • I eat on time.  When I studied in Europe, I always came back thinner, despite eating calorie dense foods and dessert every night.  I noticed (everybody noticed) that my appetite was way smaller than in America, and I think my stomach may have actually shrunk.  I think this happened because I ate at regular times.

Ok, here’s specifically what I’m eating.

6:45 am — Breakfast before crossfit.  It’s usually a Glucerna meal replacement shake that the dietitian told me to start doing to get ready for bariatric surgery, and weeks of all-liquid diet.  There’s also coffee:  fresh roast, ground on the spot, french press.  No cream or sugar.

11:00 am — “Haimaiketako.”  An entire stalk of celery, sliced into sticks.  Or a few celery sticks and some hummus.  Or a green salad with some tuna on it.  It’s always vegetables.

1:00 pm — Bento lunch.   I try to make a lunch that I don’t have to refrigerate or microwave, so that I don’t have to talk to coworkers in the break room.  Usually I just grab a bunch of banchan from the Korean supermarket deli and cram it into the bento and call it lunch.  Here are some examples.

Sometimes I don’t get the chance to go shopping or pack a bento in the morning.  On those days I usually go to the Middle Eastern place and get either a Veggie Plate or a Grilled Mahi plate.  It’s too much food for me, I don’t eat all the rice or salad.


4:00 pm — Four o’clock fruit.  It’s usually an apple or a banana.

Anytime — Rescue snack.  It’s usually a handful of roasted almonds.

7:00 pm — Dinner. When I first started I ate a lot of ratatouille and salad.  Then I stared going to the all-vegetarian Indian cafeteria down the street, and just eating curries and dosas.

If I’m hungry before bedtime:  some kind of soup, like miso, or a vegan soup from the Italian lady at the Sunday farmer’s market.

I don’t know how long the breakfast shake thing is going to last.  It’s a convenient thing to do in the morning but I’d honestly rather fry an egg.  We’ll see.

Next time:  the crossfit post.

The Health Journey; Part I

Last year at this time (May 2015)  my doctor in Seattle said that my hemoglobin A1c was 9.4%, and that it was time for me to start insulin therapy; I would have to inject myself with insulin twice a day, through a syringe.  Wait, I said, I’m going to quit my unhealthy job, move to LA, and go back to a carless lifestyle, like when I lived in Manhattan and Shanghai, where my diabetes was under control.  The doctor agreed to hold off on insulin therapy, telling me that moving cities is a bad time to start insulin anyway.

In November I met with my new doctor in LA for the first time; he said nice to meet you, your A1C has dropped to 8.4% which is a nice drop but still dangerous, have you thought about gastric bypass.  And I said, oh, doctor, nice to meet you, I’m JP.

Two months later, I told the doctor I was ready to think about getting my stomach cut out, and he sent me to a bariatric surgeon, who sent me to a dietitian.  Because of my diabetes I qualified as a candidate for gastric bypass, but they don’t just hand it out.  They want to make sure you’re not going to be one of the people that gets the surgery and then gains all the weight back anyway, which is a mess.  This was in January, and they also did an A1C test and didn’t tell me the results.

At my first meeting with the dietitian, she asked me what I had eaten the day before, and when I told her, she said, ” I notice you didn’t have ANY FRUIT!” and then meta-morphed into a werewolf.  The werewolf went into a well-rehearsed monologue about whole grains and protein-centric eating.

For my part, my eyes glowed orange and flames shot around me as I shook the earth with the words, “WHITE PEOPLE HAVE THE MOST DEMORALIZING HEALTH FOOD ON THE PLANET.”  As I said the word “planet, ” I hovered about a meter above the Living Simply sofa.  We didn’t speak for the next twenty minutes, listening to a windstorm outside the shuttered window, sitting quietly.

That was the first meeting.  Weeks later at the second meeting, I told her, “I’ve stopped eating land animals, and I’m starting crossfit in the next cycle.”  For her part, she said she thought a lot about how ethnocentric a lot of her information was, and thanked me for bringing it up.  She hadn’t realized how most of the industry’s recommendations were by and for white Americans, and that for people like me, changing cultures to eat healthy was an added stress.

Last week (May 2016)  I had another appointment with my doctor.  He told me I had lost 15 pounds since my last visit and that my A1C way back in January was 7.4%, just above my target of 7.0% where it’s considered “well-controlled.”  The following day I went for another blood draw.

The results from that blood draw came back this week:  6.7% “well-controlled.”  I am no longer a candidate for insulin therapy. To celebrate, I ate a whole pecan pie.*

In future posts: the land animals, the crossfit.

*I did not actually eat any pecan pie.

Friends from Other Places

It’s 11pm and I didn’t do laundry this weekend, and my kitchen is a mess, and I don’t have any lunches ready for this coming week.  In other words, it was a great weekend.

Saturday morning I went to a crossfit workout, and I learned about the insanities of “Turkish Get Ups.”  I have a hard time getting up from the kneel.  We also did snatches, and coach J made me take the weights off my bar, which is FINE WITH ME.  My quads are starting to rebel against their new job in my life, which is to constantly get up from a squat while my back is straight.  These workouts are hard but I enjoy the endorphins afterwards, that feeling of well being.  It’s the same feeling I get after an ugly cry, the kind with uncontrollable sobbing.

After that, I made bought some ono fish and baked them up for tacos, brought the whole kit to M&F’s house for JB’s big birthday party.  It was supposed to have been a beach party but the cloudy weather made it a backyard firepit party.  I learned that when LA people start a fire, they buy a cardboard box filled with firewood, which has some kindling in it.  At first none us knew about the kindling because we all failed to read the box, and I offered to bust up some kindling if I could use a hatchet, which is a chore I kind of like to do.  They all looked at me like I was an alien from an other planet and brought out  a box of “fire starter” which is how they do it here, it’s a package from the convenience store that you light on fire, and that starts the kindling which starts the wood.  I felt I had stepped into the future.  I couldn’t believe there was an actual product that saved us from using wadded up news paper like some cave people, and that firewood and kindling came from a box.  The package of firewood was marked as from Madera, California, by the way, and all the Spanish speakers winked at each other.  Haha, Madera.

By the way, I think my fish tacos were a hit.  The fish market was a little reluctant to sell me ono fish for tacos, which further confirmed my suspicion that they don’t know much about fish.  Good product though.

Today I went to a yoga class at the box, my first yoga class ever.  I liked it mostly, it was strenuous and relaxing at the same time.  For the most part I was limber enough and strong enough for the class, but my knees didn’t like being in table position or, even worse, being in a tripod position.  These yoga sessions are once a week, I would consider going more.  After yoga I got a mysoor dosa and then hit the road for San Diego.

I met JG in Del Mar at a highly rated taqueria which I deemed mediocre.  After fish tacos we walked around La Jolla, got a beer in Pacific Beach, and then a sushi restaurant in downtown San Diego.  JG is in town for a surfing vacation, it was good to see him as always.

My knees feel a little bruised but we’ll see if I’m up for more crossfit tomorrow.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a big week.