with Lynne and Leslie
Tag Archives: fitness

NBC’s “Strong”: Why my trainer and I wouldn’t win the show but are winning, anyway

by SweetMidlife


Not on a TV near you. But still rocking.

Not on a TV near you. But still rocking.

I am Leslie, and I watch too much TV, which is OK because sometimes it’s for work and the other times it’s so I catch up on my “Murder She Wrote” game and I refuse to be judged by you or anyone about that, OK? I WILL NOT BE JUDGED.

So one of the things that happens with all this TV, particularly if I’m too lazy to find the remote and bleep-bloop the commercials, is that I have to actually watch the commercials, which is why during “The Voice” a while back I caught word of “Strong,” which is what “The Biggest Loser” might be if every contestant had their own trainer, no one was really fat, the trainers had to compete physically right with their clients, and they all had to do a modified version of “American Ninja Gladiator Habitrail Thunderdome.” And somehow Sylvester Stallone was involved.

This looks intriguing, not only because I am over “The Biggest Loser” and its head games on people who probably need therapy more than they need to be shamed about “only” losing 5 pounds a week, and because the dynamics of the male trainers and female clients reminds me some of that between myself and my trainer, Victor Ayala. We’re not on the show, and I can’t see us jumping off scaffolding tethered to each other on a giant bungee cord, because Leslie does not do that. Also, I have no interest in being tired and sweaty on camera. I don’t even like being tired and sweaty at Walgreen’s on the way home.

But Victor and I do, at least, have that same connection that the pairs on “Strong” seem to have, with all the emotional connection and breakthroughs and whatnot, even if we’re not being paid big NBC dollars for our efforts. We’ve worked together off and on for about a decade, most intensely in the last several months, since the death of my husband Scott, who also worked with Victor.  We don’t have a network contract or the pull of the camera, but we do have that bond established by friendship and that time he looked me up and down and said “I swear to God, you’re doing this right this time, because I’m telling people I train you and if you don’t get in shape it’s on me.”

And that made sense to me, so I’m 13 pounds, a dress size and a half, and some inches down. I’m not sure why NBC went with the male/female dynamic – there doesn’t seem to be a romantic element to the pairings, but I can tell you n that at least in my experience, I work better with a guy trainer in general, and Victor specifically. I had a female trainer once, years ago, and as much as I liked her I couldn’t help comparing myself to her, even though we were a decade apart and completely different body types and fitness levels. I looked at her and thought “Why can’t I be a cute little blonde with no body fat?” I mean, I did not really want to be a cute little blonde, because I’m very happy being a black woman with blond highlights. But that’s the female fit body I saw every week, and it kinda messed with my head, even though I (temporarily) lost the weight.

I am not competitive with Victor, because I cannot compete with a man who ran a marathon in the South Florida heat in a sweatshirt, long fatigues and a weighted pack on his back. I can only hope to learn from him, when he’s yelling at me to not punk out on my stair runs, or sneaking up on my on the stair climber and saying “Why are you only on Level 6?” Or when he’s out of town and texting my workouts to me in sadistic bursts – “Do 1000 crunches. And then run two more miles. And I wanna see pictures when you’re done so I can tell if you’re actually sweating.”

He crazy. But our bond is about history, a shared loss, professional respect and a deep friendship where you need the other one to do well. For Victor, that’s pushing me to be the best, healthiest Leslie I can be, and for me, that’s not wasting his time and reputation. I don’t know if that’s something Sly Stallone would put on TV. But if there’s no bungees involved, we’d consider it.




I am not a fat girl, or The Fitness Benefits of A Large Man Yelling At You

by SweetMidlife
leslie and victor

This is my friend. He loves me enough to yell when I am mean to me. This is a good friend.


“You have to cut that mess out!”

I am running up the steps of a fancy outdoor mall, on the ascent of my second of five trips up and back. And there is large, black-clad man standing at the top, his eyes wide, arms above his head in emphasis. He is serious. He is not playing.

And I’m not gonna lie – It freaks me out a little. But because Victor is my friend, and my trainer, and I am paying for him to make me run up and down the steps, I keep toward him, admittedly wobbly because we’ve been at this for a few minutes and stairs hurt, and because I know I need whatever is coming. I can’t even breath right now, so I can’t muster more than a half-nod and a huffed “OK.”

What Victor is mad at me about – and what I should be mad at me about –  is my self-deprecating tendency to call myself fat. Or old. Or something. And it is true that I am…more robust that I was when we met, back 25 pounds ago when I even thought I had weight to lose then, and that I am like ten years older, but isn’t that a gift to be. I do it because I keep remembering what I used to look like, what my knee used to feel like, how easy this used to be or at least how easy my self-deprecation tells me it used to be (NOTE: This was never ever easy, even when I was all relatively hot and stuff.)

I also admit, when the stairs are done and we are taking a nice recovery walk, that I do that as a way to say I’m fat first before anyone can say it first. I know it’s messed up.

So does Victor.




Apparently, yeah. I’m not alone, either, the people – probably mostly women – who think they can motivate themselves to change by bullying themselves, not in a “Girl, you better do this” tough love way, but the way an actual bully who hates you and wishes you harm would do. Like you’re worthless. Like you suck.

I do not suck. I am worth being out here on these steps so early in the morning, watching my mother wheel my kid at a leisurely pace around the square in a non-sweaty fashion. Those people make me worth it. If I am not worth being healthy, being happy, why am I here? And what makes me think that if I find reasons to hate myself at this weight that I won’t find more reasons to keep slagging myself?

So I’m done. I don’t need to pretend that this body is my ideal because it ain’t. But I can tell myself that it is strong enough to get me up the steps, that it physically carries another human being to bed when he’s sleepy and kicky and weird, that it calms him when he is scared and cranky and ready to cause mischief. That it is worthy because it is mine.

Thanks Victor. I got it. And if I lose it, feel free to yell. I can take it.

Revisiting the “Abs Diet,” spaghetti squash, and hopefully my abs

by SweetMidlife
Here we go again!

Here we go again!

This is Leslie, and I’ve been writing about my attempts at good health, weight loss and general prolonged fabulousness for, well, ever. Things have started to turn around, with a brief budging on the scale and some changes in flabbiness in some areas. The workouts have been more consistent, and that helps, but the biggest key to weight loss is what you eat. That sucks, because I would much rather work out three hours a day and still eat pecan pie every night than never have pecan pie. Or pecans. Or pie. I love you, pie.

But I also love not being fat, and it is to that end that I have been trying to stick to eating well. I’ve done everything – Weight Watchers, clean eating, calorie counting and, off and on, Men’s Health’s “The Abs Diet,” which I had amazing success with about, like 8 or so years ago. I think I read about it in “Women’s Health,” and I took to it, because even though it has the word “diet” in it, it’s really more like a lifestyle, but with enough rules to keep my honest. I do better with some rules, because if not the pie takes over.

I admit that when I had the most success with the Abs Diet, I was still running hardcore, working out five or six days a week, and was also in my 30s before the Bad Metabolism set it. And I wasn’t a regular cocktail reviewer, didn’t share food and a home with a husband and a toddler, and just seemed to have more time to plan meals and do stuff. But I broke out the book the other day and realized that a lot of it is in keeping with how I’ve been trying to eat – whole grains, lots of veggies, lean fish and meats, the avoidance of processed stuff.

But, again, there’s rules and a cute little acronym, which tells you of the foods you should focus on, eating at least two of them in each meal and one in each snack. So I ordered the 2012 version, the “New Abs Diet For Women,” plus a cookbook I am still waiting for. It’s basically like the first one, but with some updated testimonies and more women-centric info.

So it goes like this…

Almonds and other nuts

Beans and legumes

Spinach and other green veggies

Dairy (low fat or fat free)

Instant oatmeal


Turkey and other lean meats

Peanut butter

Olive oil

Whole grain breads and cereal

Extra-protein (whey) powder

Raspberries and other berries

There are things on this list I always fudged, since I don’t eat turkey or meat, and used lean cuts of fish and tofu for that “T,” and I like real oatmeal instead of the instant stuff and it seems that was only there for the “I.” And now that I’ve been trying to eat clean, I would rather not do protein powder, preferring instead to do ricotta cheese, which is listed as a substitute. If I can do it naturally, I would rather do it.

photo (40)

Since Mondays are a good day to start things, I started today, with a yogurt parfait (two Power foods, although the toddler who lives here ate half of it), then the end of some Israeli couscous with nuts, avocado and greens in a miso broth with tofu (three Power foods) and half a spaghetti squash with olive oil, Hoppin’ John and avocado with cheese (three Power foods). We haven’t gotten to dinner yet but I hope not to fall to ruin. Much.


Fabulous ’15! Five resolutions you can keep!

by SweetMidlife
It's a blank slate. You might as well fill it well.

It’s a blank slate. You might as well fill it well.


Leslie here! I greet you on this fine New Year’s Day from the Sweet Midlife’s southern headquarters, over a green smoothie and an episode from Season 4 of “The Wire.” My husband is sitting on the couch next to me under an afghan knitted by my Great-Aunt Martha. Many of those details figure into my New Year’s Resolutions…stop rolling your eyes. Yes, yes, I like you have been super stoked about all the stuff I was gonna do on Jan. 1, involving diet, exercise, job, you name it.

And Jan. 27 I, like you, was like “Screw it. Ice cream and couches rule.”

My sister wrote recently about her resolution to be more loving, and that’s an amazing thing to promise. That’s certainly on my list, but here are five more things I think I can stick to. For real. Stop side-eyeing me. You haven’t read them yet!

1) Be specific about my health goals while being realistic and non-sadistic. That rhymes. Almost like a Johnnie Cochran situation. But there are no gloves to fit into this one, just a middle-aged woman trying to fit into the clothes she was trying to be too skinny to fit into last year (and ain’t that a pip?). Last year I had a very mapped-out goal, to dive into a clean eating program, to work out a specific amount of time, and lose a specific amount of weight. This worked out quite well until a kid came to live with us in March, and to paraphrase Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody have time for making tomato soup from scratch. I beat myself up for my failure to fit my previous resolve into our new life, and got fatter for it. This year, I have decided to be proactive about my eating and working out and not use my fatigue as an excuse, because either I’m gonna do it or I’m not. Won’t get done for me. But I also refuse to use a timeline, and to beat myself up if that arbitrary deadline doesn’t pan out. Instead it’s day by day – I’ve got this smoothie, already told the guys at the gym they’ll see me today, and am going to hit my ab work the minute I get finished typing this. If we get lunch I get a salad or something not fried. I keep that up. I feel good about it. I go to bed and don’t tie my self worth into the choices I made. And then start over tomorrow.

Let's do this! Sweaty and set on change!

Let’s do this! Sweaty and set on change!

2) Call my grandmother more: And my aunties and my uncles, and my goddaughter and cousins and all the people I wonder about but don’t always pick up a phone and talk to.

3) Write everything down – I am not the most organized person in the world (understatement understatement understatement) and making myself write stuff down – my grocery list, the errands I have to run, my blogging and work interview schedule my work out goals – keeps me honest and accountable and not slapping myself in the forehead and going “Acck! I was supposed to blah blah blah!”

4) Finish what I started – meaning the novel I’ve been hovering around for three years in various incarnations. This year. For real. Been too long.

5) Be better to my skin: My consistent skin care regimen for the last 43 years, between a Grand Canyon’s worth of products, has basically been “Black don’t crack.” (Ahem) But my family’s excellent genes don’t mean I shouldn’t wear sunscreen, or daily wash my face with….something, and drink lots of water. I need to not be the first woman in my family to look her age.

I think these are all do-able. Sometimes stuff is hard, the stuff we need to do to survive. But it doesn’t have to be awful, or unpleasant. Let’s do it! Who’s with me?

Running up that hill: starting all over again

by SweetMidlife
That is 2005 Marathon Lynne on the left, her fierce twin on the right.    That is our friend Funnel T. Cake on the plate.

Us in 2005, fiercely fierce with the fierceness.

Leslie here!

My fabulous sister wrote a really great post a few weeks back  http://sweetmidlife.com/?p=2714 about how the 2014 version of herself was just as fierce, in a different way, than the sleek marathon-running 2005 version, and about how she was embracing the earlier Lynne’s ability to crush it by figuring out how New Lynne can do that and still live her current life.

I read that intently as we are twins and were at similar levels of crush at 34, and have similar interest in re-crushing it at 43. We also both really love running, not just for its weight loss possibilities, but because it’s transformative mentally and spiritually. I love yoga, but I have meditated more deeply, more truly while sweating and pounding on a path by the water with the sun coming up than I ever have in a darkened room with quiet intonations and cymbal-y music. Maybe I’m just weird or a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe it’s the rhythm of your heart, that’s beating like a drum (thanks, Rod Stewart!) to the time of your feet, to your breath, to the water and the sky. And even though you’re in pain, and your muscles are screaming at you, and you’re noticing that you’re running past the home of a friend who would surely drive you home….you keep running. You NEED to run. Or shuffle. Or crawl. You gotta get there. The rhythm demands it.

Anyway, I want back in. I started running again, just 20 minutes at a time, a few weeks ago, and I find that I crave it. I plan to run a 5K – my first race in nearly three years – in December, and I’m thrilled and terrified all together (thrillified? terried?) This is my running morning, and as I write this and drink the green juice of repentance for what I ate this weekend, I find myself imagining the things I’m gonna see as I run – the mothers pushing strollers, the pretty houses with “For Sale” signs, the little details I never notice when I’m driving. And I’m hungry for it…certainly hungrier than I am for his green juice. But it’s all a part of the run.

And I’m ready. Who’s coming with me?

“Sweet” Half Marathon training, Week 1: Or Owww!

by SweetMidlife
I can run now!

Leslie here!

Eight years ago, Lynne and I ran the Baltimore Marathon, through downtown, through Fort McHenry past the harbor where ship-bound prisoner Francis Scott Key penned a long poem as his young country fought for its survival, past our old high school and through Johns Hopkins as students dressed like tigers played Survivor and handed out Gummi bears. It was hard, and tiring, and slow, but by the end we felt great, looked great and guiltlessly wolfed down funnel cake.Screw you, Weight Watchers. I just burned like a million activities points! I am Iron Man! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah give me cake! And don’t bogart that wine, neither!

We’d just run 26.2 miles. We were 34 years old, had flat stomachs, great legs and the world on a string. I could eat pretty much anything, for the first time in my life, and it just fell off me like sweat. I was a machine. I ran 5Ks every weekend for fun. It was awesome.

This is eight years later. And this is no longer the case.

I am 42 years old. My stomach is so not flat that an obnoxious woman at a dinner told me she was surprised I didn’t have any kids. (She was also a horrible person, because who says that to a stranger they’re dining with, at least if they’re not running out the door far away as they’re saying it? Jackass.) My knees and ankles have seen better days, and so has my butt.

But this morning, I was out running by different water, through the grounds of the Flagler Museum and the former home of the man who made Palm Beach possible, past mansions and boats. My breath is harder. My ankle is a little achier. I see the bridge ahead of me, a mile still from where I can stop, and I think “I can’t do this.”

Today it’s just four miles. But in 11 weeks I’ve committed to running 13.1, for the Southernmost Half in Key West, sponsored by Pat Croce’s Rum Barrel Bar and Grill. Ha ha rum sponsored race! Reminding me of what I have to stop drinking, or at least stop drinking less of, and the sacrifices I have to make, the extra sleep I need, the invites I’ll have to turn down. This will be my fifth half since 2004, when my running spirit guide Kristen kept me going through the rainy streets of West Palm Beach fueled on competition, Bon Jovi songs and her New England pluckiness. And it’s the first one I’m running completely alone – she ran most of the Miami half with me unofficially, and Baltimore, while Lynne and I did Baltimore together in 2009. I did the Ragnar, an awesomely insane relay on a team of 12 from Miami to Key West, a year and a half ago, and it was exceptionally difficult. I wasn’t ready, and it showed. But I gutted through.

This morning, as I make my way up the bridge, I think about why I’m doing this. I love running – I truly do – and even though my podiatrist shakes his head at me every time he sees me because he thinks running is the world’s stupidest endeavor ever, nothing gives me the high that I get gliding (or lumbering) through my city under my own power. I have been cheating on running, doing all kinds of other workouts like CrossFit, which I love. But I’m giving it up, because while it’s changed my butt and made me able to hoist boxes above my head, it hasn’t done a thing for my endurance.

And half marathons are an endurance game.

So here I am, back over the bridge, sweating and wanting to stop, less than a mile to go. And my ankle is reminding me to check out those Dr. Scholl’s inserts that Pretty Dolvett from “The Biggest Loser” is always hawking on TV. Why am I doing this? I want to lose 30 pounds, and the Weight Watchers is helping, as is my husband’s sudden turn to fitness, because I am not going to be the fat wife of the hot guy. Also, I promised my Daddy before he died I was gonna do this, because he’s the runner that made me want to be one.

All of those are good reasons. But my husband isn’t hear. Neither, sadly, are Daddy or Dolvett. (Oh, Dolvett.) But I am. And I’m gonna be out there in Key West in the heat and noise and excitement, alongside other runners but really by myself. So I gotta do this for me. And for my butt. And for my health, and for the kids I hope to adopt soon, because I want them to know that being 42 and fatter than you want and older than you were doesn’t have to mean that you can’t get there.

I will get there.

Four miles.

So many more to go.

Five minute Fridays: Fall

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here!


I am a clumsy runner. The evidence is all over my knees, because I am also an easy scar-er. Which is to say that my toned legs are also covered in the fading reminders of spills taken on city streets, on the concrete trail that overlooks the insanely huge house on Palm Beach, just a hop, skip and jump over the Intracoastal Waterway.

So I fall. But I know how to fall. That’s something my daddy always told me – “Learn how to fall” which means more that you know how to catch yourself. I fall so much now over the sidewalk, my own feet or ill-timed attempts at voguing while running (don’t do that) that my body now instinctively folds over itself, my hands automatically dropping to catch myself as I scrunch in to avoid impact on my knees, on my chest.

I know what I am doing but my fellow runners and dog walkers don’t know that I do. All they see is this not young, not small woman taking a sudden violent spill on the sidewalk – I’ve had cars slow down and shriek “Are you OK?” But by then I’ve always popped up like a middle-aged whack-a-mole.

“I’m OK!” I say, sometimes while bleeding, and then I keep running.

You are going to fall. Learn how to fall. Get up. Smile. Dust off the blood. Keep running.


Five good reasons for getting up and going to the gym right now

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here.

1) I’ve already paid for it, and I have more fat than money to burn.

2) My weight loss has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but right now it’s on its way down, and it might not stay that way if I stay on my butt in this comfortable room with the tea and the cat and…stop talking, Leslie. Get up.

3) DVR’d episodes of “Guys With Kids” will still be there when I come back.

4) Going to the gym allows the cat free time to do…whatever it is she does when she’s alone, which is probably no good. But it’s her time, and she’s earned it.

5) I need to be right with my body, and my time, and the promise I made to be the best me I can be. And won’t those skinny jeans look better when I’m actually, you know…skinny?

Ageism, size-ism and anti-peanut butterism…or “I just wanted to buy a smoothie”

by SweetMidlife

First of all, hello again! It’s been ages since either Lynne or I have updated this, because we’ve been emotionally and physically drained. Our dad died on June 25, and with lots of traveling, mourning and stress eating to do, we just haven’t found the time or energy to post.

But we’re back, with an incident that if my Daddy were still available to answer phone calls, he’d be hearing about, because he’d think it was hilarious. I am not a small woman. I would like to lose 25 pounds or so, which I have been trying to do unsuccessfully with all of the traveling and crying and aforementioned stress eating. But I am back to my regular workouts, and usually mindful eating. I am aware that I do not jump out at people at this moment as someone who definitely works out. Then again, if all I’m asking for is a smoothie, I don’t see how that matters.

The following story not only makes me want to punch people, but makes me wonder if as a 41-year-old, I automatically assume that the obnoxious behavior of those younger than me is because of their youth. So, Unknown Smoothie Girl, forgive me if the story I am about to tell of your trifling behavior isn’t because of your age. Maybe you’re just trifling. Forgive me.

So I leave a 6:30 workout, all showered and fresh and office-y, and head over to the nearest smoothie shop, as the diet that I am once again following encourages them, especially with whey powder, in reasonable portions and not as a side to your french fries and Coke. I take a while to narrow down the field to two, both of which contain nuts or peanut butter. I ask the cute, early 20s-ish lady behind the counter what she thinks of those two.

“Well,” she says, “the people who work out a lot like those.”

I am not a clairvoyant, but it was obvious that there was a part of the sentence she was not saying. And that was, obviously, “and you are not one of those people.” Which is not actually true. I am not as fit as I want to be, and if I worked out more and ate consistently healthier, I would be. But how can she decide who works out and who doesn’t? She’s not my trainer. She’s the girl at the smoothie store.

“I just came from the gym, actually,” I say, in a tone of voice that I swear was even and not stabby. Counter Girl’s eyes get mildly wild, but she tries to pull it back. And sticks her foot further down her throat.

“Well, they have peanut butter in them, and there’s a lot of calories in peanut butter, and if you’re trying to lose calories, you should stay away from peanut butter,” she says brightly, and I swear she’s trying to be helpful, and I know this, but it doesn’t make that help any less tone deaf or, by the way, wrong. Many trainers and nutritionists will tell you that peanut butter, again, in small doses, is an excellent source of protein, fills you up, and is great for you in foods like oatmeal and smoothies. Like the one I was trying to order. OK, I did ask her to tell me about the smoothie, but I didn’t ask her whether I was too fat to drink them.

“Peanut butter is a great source of protein,” I tell her, and she looks at me the way you look at a four-year-old who insists on wearing their Elmo slippers to pre-school, even though you tell them they aren’t real shoes – You can’t stop them from being stupid, so you just purse your lips and think “Well, you’re the one who’s gonna look stupid.”

Or drink a lot of peanutty calories that will hurt you, you fat butt.

I wound up ordering one with berries, but with almonds crushed up in it, instead of the peanut butter, although it was clear from her “whatever” face that she didn’t approve of that either. And again I know she was trying to help. But not only was her advice wrong, it was judgmental, tone deaf and out of her range of expertise. I asked if it tasted good and if people liked it, not if she thought I was thin enough to buy it.

I’ve decided not to call her manager and complain. But I am going to order that peanut butter one tomorrow.

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