Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Relationship with Food

I have always had an unhealthy relationship with food.  I use it as a reward after a long workout or a hard day.  I use it as a crutch when I'm in a situation that makes me nervous.  I eat when I'm bored.  I eat when I'm sad.  I eat when I'm happy.  I'm definitely an emotional eater. 

Due to potential allergic reactions, I've been forced to clean up my diet over the past year.  Dairy and gluten are a much smaller part of my diet than they used to be.  I eat more veggies and less sweets.  I still allow myself indulgences but nothing like how I used to eat.  I definitely feel better when I eat better. 

I still have moments of weakness when I'm craving the really bad stuff that I used to eat.  I eat it and within minutes I start to feel sick.  My body is getting used to the healthier choices.  It is not taking the bad food.  

I'd love to say that the solution is curing my unhealthy relationship with food but I don't think that is realistic.  I think that I need to find new indulgences that aren't going to make me sick.  I'm never going to sit down with a bag of carrots and hummus instead of a bowl of ice cream but there has to be something in the middle.  

I recently met someone who lost half of herself on Weight Watchers.  She used to be 300+ lbs and is now a very trim 150 lbs.  When we go out to dinner she is extremely disciplined.  She never gets the items with heavy sauce.  Nothing fried.  No desserts.  I asked her what her food indulgences were.  She said that she craved nuts.  That in uncontrollable moments she could eat an entire jar of peanuts.  I looked at her like she was crazy.  She talked about peanuts like I talk about ice cream and Chinese buffet.  

Clearly that wasn't her splurge when she weighed 300 lbs.  How did she make that switch?  How come people have to become morbidly obese to make major life changes that stick?  Why can't those of us who need to drop 30 lbs go through the same transformation?

When I'm craving something bad I need to remember how I feel now.  Dizzy, noxious, bloated, tired, etc.  I need to remind myself that no piece of pizza is worth being sick for the next 12 hours.  That a long workout might burn 2000+ calories but that doesn't give me an excuse to indulge in double that afterwards.  Sigh.  I might have just eaten my last egg roll.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Life Change

I have known that it was time for a career change for a while now.  I don't have any passion for my job any more.  What my job used to be and what I thought it could become are no longer possibilities.  If it weren't for fitness I think I would have quit years ago.  Teaching fitness has feed my soul and kept me from losing my mind.  After a miserable day at work all I want to do is eat a pint of ice cream and watch reality TV.  But I can't because there is a group of people depending on me to give them a good workout. 

So I drag my cranky ass to the gym.  Sometimes I have a sour look on my face when I walk in the door because I'm still thinking about my work day.  But once I see one of my students it erases all the crap from the day.  And once the class gets going and the music is pumping and I'm starting to sweat it's like the rest of the day never happened.  It is an amazing feeling. 

Am I person who enjoys being the center of attention? Absolutely, if it's for the right reason.  I don't want to be on the Jumbotron at a sporting event.  I would hate for someone to throw me a surprise party.  I can't think of anything worse than being on any of the shows that I love to watch (What Not to Wear, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Dog Whisperer, House Hunters, etc).  I love to watch reality TV.  I would hate to be a part of it.  I hate having people in my personal space if I didn't invite them there. 

I have always been an overachiever.  Professionally, I have been successful at most things that I have attempted.  These achievements have earned me recognition that I enjoy receiving.  I love tackling difficult problems.  I love picking things apart and discovering issues that some one else overlooked.  I thrive on finding new and innovative ways to solve old problems.  This is at it's core what an engineer is to me.  A problem solver.  An innovator. 

Unfortunately many large corporations employ engineers as people managers, legal consultants, real estate advisers, community liaisons and a number of other unsavory tasks that don't require engineering skills.  I'm okay with these tasks being a component of my job as long but they have become 90% of what I do on a daily basis.  Many engineers are okay with this.  As they move deeper into their careers they no longer want to deal with the daily grind of site management and problem solving.  They like being in the office and dealing with the business side of things.  In my 14 year professional career it seems that this transition is expected if you work for large corporations as I have.

I started my new job search 2 weeks ago.  I have been searching for engineering/project management jobs.  Demanding, high pressure jobs that are commensurate with my experience.  Jobs where a lot will be expected of me.  As I look over my resume and the jobs that I think I am qualified for I don't think it will be difficult for me to a find another job that is similar to the one that I have now. But do I really want that job?  Do I want to go down that path again if I know where it's likely to end up?

When I was in college I was at my happiest.  I had a full course load, did a lot of volunteer work, had an awesome social life and participated in numerous extracurricular activities.  I was very busy but I was never bored.  When I got my first engineering job it was difficult to maintain all of my hobbies and still work full time.  Slowly, as the demands from work increased, my extracurricular activities decreased.  Add in a few pets and a husband and it's nearly impossible to manage everything without major sacrifices in some, if not all, areas. 

I have been teaching fitness for 4 years.  I teach an average of 10 hours a week but those 10 hours of teaching equal about 20 hours of preparation.  It is a part time job.  Even though it is fun it requires a lot of work.  When I think back to when I first started my engineering career I was working long hours.  60+ hours a week for several weeks at a time.  If I'm going into another situation where I'm expected to be a problem solver, this initial time commitment will be a must.  I have no desire to go through that again at this stage in my life.  My fitness and my family are too important to me. 

It struck me that what I need is a part-time job.  A job where I can have the flexibility to teach fitness classes on the side.  A job with a social component to it but not one where I am spending 40 hours a week in an office with a bunch of people.  I recognize that even though I may be solving problems, I probably won't be a senior member on staff.  I will not be in the spotlight.  But I'm in the spotlight with fitness and maybe that's enough.

To have the time to dedicate to my hobbies.  To not have to carry my cell phone at all times just in case there is an emergency and I'm needed.  To stop checking my e-mails once I sign off for the day.  To truly put in my hours and then leave work at work. 

Assuming my ego can handle me being just another member of the team, can it handle me making significantly less money?  As my husband moves into a position in his career where he is the go to person.  The person who has to check his phone at all times.  The person who can't leave work at work.  The guy in the spotlight.  His salary has increased dramatically during this time.  I still make more money than him but I don't think that would be true for very long.  Maybe it's time to let him take the lead financially.  He is only 2 years into his career.  I am 14 years into mine.  He made a career change 2 years ago to do something that he loved. I need to do the same thing. 

Recently my husband and I have clashed over his lack of contribution to the household.  The maintenance of the house, meals, shopping, the pets, projects, setting up appointments, etc are all my responsibility.  I have always taken the lead with things but he used to be around more to offer assistance and appreciation.  At this point it seems like there is the assumption that I will handle everything.  That I am the housewife.  Maybe that's okay.

If no one is making huge demands on me at work I don't know if I would mind this transition.  I enjoy being the "house manager".  I take pride in all of the things that I do with the house and the pets.  I like taking care of my man.  Maybe that's an old fashioned way to think of things but it's absolutely how I feel. 

So I need to start looking for part time jobs.  Financially, we will probably have to go through a period where I'm working 2 jobs so we can pay down debt and set up a nice emergency fund.  So that my husband can take over the role of primary bread winner and I can find a new career path that will make me happy.  Somehow just acknowledging that this is the change that needs to happen makes me feel better.  I'm ready. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Positive Dog Training

Like every dog owner I know, I have had moments where I get extremely frustrated with my dogs.  Even though I know that being positive is the best way to get results I have yanked a leash or yelled at my dogs during tense moments.  Not too long ago it felt like there were more tense moments than happy ones so my husband and I sought help from the professionals.

First we contacted a local dog training company that came highly recommended.  Two trainers came out to our house and observed our reactive dogs and recommended cages and pills right off the bat.  I understand that these are tools that might be necessary.  But to recommend these tools before trying anything else, was extremely troublesome to my husband and I.   They didn't ask us how much exercise our dogs received.  We didn't go for a walk or do any obedience.  Yes, my dogs are highly reactive but I have seen worse.  I thought were were going to come away with a plan of action but instead we were even more frustrated and out $180.

I consider myself a pretty experienced dog owner.  I grew up with dogs.  I have volunteered with animal rescue.  I have read more books and articles about dogs than may seem normal.  Not to mention my years of watching The Dog Whisperer, It's Me or the Dog, Animal Cops and just about every other show or documentary involving dogs.  People come to me with their dog problems and I can usually give them solutions.  But I cannot control my own dogs and that is something that I am not proud of.

After our negative training experience, we gave up for a few months.  We just accepted that we were the house with the bad dogs.  The dogs that bark maniacally at every noise, shadow, mammal that comes any where near them.  The dogs who bark at the UPS guy even when he's not at your house.  

After a few months of this we contacted a new dog trainer that we saw advertised in the local paper.  He promised quick results for even the most reactive dogs.  We went in for our free consultation with our dogs, hopeful but skeptical that he could help us.  He explained to us that they used training collars to reinforce verbal commands.  So that when you say sit, you hit the button and the dog receives a physical correction to go along with the verbal one. 

Neither my husband nor I are advocates of training collars but we had to admit that it made sense.  The dogs were extremely responsive to these collars during our one on one sessions with him.  We could achieve results on fairly low settings and were able to be in a room with 2 other dogs without constant barking.

When we were back at home we found that we had to put the collars on higher settings to achieve similar results.   Walking around the neighborhood still presented a challenge.  Everything that passed them warranted barking and lunging.  The worst incident occurred when we passed a family riding bikes while their dog ran beside them.  I had to turn the collar up to it's max level to get my one dog to respond.  He yelped and whimpered as I continued to pull him away from the family while giving him corrections.  My other dog continued to bark and lunge at the family despite being shocked at the highest level. 

When we expressed our concerns that the shock was actually sending a negative message to the dogs the trainer disagreed.  He indicated that the dog yelped out of frustration not out of pain.  He said the dogs would become less reactive with repetition of the training over time.  There was no way I ever wanted to repeat this incident and I could tell by my dogs' body language that the collars were having a negative affect on them.

When we attended group training classes with our dogs it was obvious that the trainer was very knowledgeable about the collar but not very knowledgeable about dogs.  None of the standard animal behavior and training methods were ever discussed.  Maybe Rover just needs some more exercise.  Maybe he's just being a puppy and you need to be patient and teach him basic obedience.  Maybe he's bored and needs more stimulation.  At times he said things that seemed to completely contradict "doggie common sense"and basic animal behavior.  This guy was shocking dogs into submission without teaching them anything.

We decided to stop attending group classes and work with the dogs on our own.  We lowered the collars to the vibration setting and turned off the shock completely.  The dogs were immediately more responsive to training with the minimum amount of correction.  We felt much better about using the collars and, as a result, used them more often. 

We moved out of our house for a month during renovations and saw it as a chance for a fresh start with our dogs in a new location.  In our temporary housing we didn't have a large fenced in back yard to let our dogs run in.  We had to walk them multiple times a day, every day.  For the first week we put the collars on the dogs every time we went outside.  We even used them inside to work on the barking at the windows.  By the end of the week it seemed like the dogs were having a negative association with the collars so we stopped using them. 

There happened to be an article in our monthly issue of The Whole Dog Journal that reminded us that positive reinforcement is always the best way to go.  So we clipped on our bags full of high-value treats and shoved treats in our dogs' faces every time we ran into an obstacle.  For our dog who is not responsive to treats, an obedience command and lots of praise on a loose leash did the trick.  And you know what, the past 4 days have been significantly more peaceful than the previous 7. 

Yes, I still have highly reactive dogs but I also have hope that they can be less reactive if we are consistent with the training.  Maybe we'll even keep walking them once we get back to the big backyard.  Maybe a pet store one day.  Or dare even dream of a concert in the park or outdoor cafe.  All things that I have gotten to experience with previous dogs that I haven't been able to do with my dogs.....yet.  As always, dogs are capable of learning new tricks, as long as their humans learn how to teach them. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Marriage is Hard

I often get frustrated with my husband because it seems like he asks for permission to do everything and/or volunteers to inconvenience himself for no good reason.  Whether it is work or family, he frequently invites people to take advantage of him by taking on more than any one else.  

I don't think people should steamroll their way through life but there is no reason to accommodate everyone to the point that your are putting yourself last.  Sometimes these incidents lead to friction between us which I'd like to avoid.  I am working on taking a breath and evaluating situations before I react.  I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and overreact and that never ends well. 

I'm trying to consider the alternative.  Do I want my husband to be so brash that he never considers someone else's opinion?  Of course not.  I have dated men who considered me as an afterthought.  Who blatantly commented on how beautiful other women were to me but never complimented me.  Who forgot to pick me up for dates.  Who always made me feel guilty for expecting any attention.  Those guys were jerks.  I never would have married those guys.  I didn't have healthy relationships with them.  I didn't value myself and I let them treat me like crap.   My husband would never do those things.  He is a very loving and supportive person.  

Maybe my husband will stop being so accommodating as his self confidence increases.  Maybe he won't.  He's already been like this for 37 years.  Maybe I just have to accept that we are very different people and that this is one of those things that I just have to learn to deal with.  Pointing out where he is weak doesn't make me strong and it definitely doesn't make our relationship stronger.  Ugh.