Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Get a Buff Body and Be a Better Writer (A Two-fer!)

By Karin Gillespie
(Also a book giveaway so it’s actually a three-fer!)

For the longest time, two subjects loomed large in my thoughts: weight loss and writing. About fifteen years ago I quit smoking and ever since then I’ve been lugging around too much poundage, Periodically I’d lose weight but eventually it would creep back on. The older I got, the more difficult it was to shoo away those extra pounds.
I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t thinner. I exercised regularly (running four miles and weight lifting almost daily), and ate modest portions. Every time People’s weight loss issue hit the stands I’d eagerly read “how they did it.” To my distress, I discovered the newly-minted skinny folk ate like Sumo wrestlers compared to me. I can’t remember the last time ice cream crossed my lips, and I’m sad to say I’ve eaten a disheartening amount of grilled chicken salads.

 Everybody Has a Downfall
To be honest, I do have a daily indulgence: red wine; two glasses every night, and maybe a smidge more on the weekends. I figured wine was the one thing standing between me and a size six. Almost every weight loss book I’ve ever read has advised, “No alcohol allowed.” Not that I’ve ever followed their directives. I was willing to forgo anything from French fries to fois gras, but didn’t want to give up my nightly nip.   
 For may years I simply tried to accept the extra weight, continually telling myself I was curvy rather than chunky. But the positive talk never really sunk in. The simple act of getting dressed was so dispiriting. Nothing looked good on me, and I wasn’t motivated to shop for more flattering tents… I mean, clothes. Besides carrying around extra pounds wasn’t the healthiest choice.     
I also knew that re-hauling my diet wouldn’t help much; I was already subsisting on super model rations. I made a few tweaks in my diet, trying to eat cleaner and consume more veggies. I also made sure I had lean protein at every meal so I wouldn’t get hungry as often.

The Secret to My Success
Short of lipo, changing my workout routine was the only option left. I already did about an hour’s worth of exercise daily, and wasn’t willing to add more. More exercise seemed needlessly excessive. It wasn’t as if I was angling to be Victoria Secret model. I simply didn’t want my butt to look like a barge anymore.

I didn’t add more time to my workout, but I radically changed what I was doing. I signed up for Daily Burn on Roku, and dusted off my P90X CDs. (Bought a couple of Christmases ago but rarely used.) I’d always been a cardio gal, but now I incorporated much more strength training into my routine.
For three months I worked out harder than I had in years. (Harder not longer; my new routine was actually shorter than my old one). I hadn’t done a workout video since Denise Austen days, and I quickly discovered that the new fangled routines were far more rigorous. The first time I attempted a burpee it nearly destroyed me. (My friend calls them barf-ees.) I doubt Denise in her cute spandex leotard would have survived them. 
  During the summer, I sweated more than I’d ever sweated in my entire life, and yet the needle on my scale scarcely moved. Oddly, I didn’t give up. While I wasn’t losing much weight I liked how strong I was getting and I enjoyed challenging my body. Bit by bit, I did lose pounds, but mostly I was losing inches. I was such a slave to the scale I didn’t realize how much my physique was changing.
Now I am twelve pounds lighter, about five pounds more than my last weight loss attempt. Yet I’m a size smaller and my weight is much better distributed.

Eating Up a Storm

Here’s the unexpected part: As a result of my new program: I can now eat far more than before. Why? Because I’ve added so much muscularity to my frame that my resting metabolism is now higher. I’d always heard that a high metabolism is an added benefit of strength training, but I never believed it. I always assumed cardio was king. 

 If you’re still with me you’re probably thinking, bully for you, but what does your smaller backside have to do with writing?
It turns out that many of the habits I’ve developed to become a writer also helped me to lose weight. And yes, most of these ideas aren’t any more groundbreaking than a new chocolate chip cookie recipe, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. (Did I say cookies? I meant kale, of course.)

  1. Keep Score. 
While losing weight I wrote down everything I ate and diligently kept track of my daily exercise. I also weighed myself every day. (Absolutely essential if you don’t want the weight to sneak up on you again.) Likewise, when I write, I keep track of how many words I’ve produced each day and a maintain  daily log of progress  Did I have a productive work day, writing several brilliant scenes or was I on Facebook chuckling over cute cat videos? (Speaking of which, have you seen this one?)    
  1. Plan ahead.
Every night before I go to sleep, I decide what I’ll be eating the next day and what workout routine I’ll be doing. Same with my writing day. I set a word count goal and plan out my scenes instead of willy nilly attacking the page. Supposedly if you make daily plans just before you go to sleep, your subconscious will be busy all night earnestly preparing for your success.  
  1. Visualize.
Even though I wasn’t losing weight at first, I kept visualizing my scale registering a much smaller number. I imagined myself easily slipping into my skinny jeans. Similarly when it comes to writing, I always imagining the next goal: typing “the end” on my WIP, selling my work at a heated auction or seeing my name on the New York Times bestselling list.
(Still working on the last two.)        
  1. Persevere through failure.
Those stubborn pounds weren’t coming off quickly! But other positive things were happening so I kept up the exercise. And then, almost overnight, I was suddenly much thinner. In my writing life, failure has been my constant companion, but I’ve never been tempted to quit. Instead failure has been my teacher, prodding me to change my game when past habits weren’t getting me where I wanted to be. Recently I got an MFA to become a better writer, and in the last few years I’ve thrown myself into experimenting with the elements of storytelling. I’ve had a few botched books along the way but they’ve taught me plenty.

5. Push a little farther.
For the first few reps weight lifting is a fairly mellow activity; it’s when you get to last two or three reps that it becomes painful. If you quit before you feel the burn, the muscles won’t change because the development of lean muscle mass is dependent on pushing yourself beyond your comfort level. Likewise, when it comes to writing, it’s so tempting to skimp on those last round of revisions. Yet that extra bit of heroic effort is what elevates good writing to fabulous writing.  As Mark Twain said, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”  (And when I say fruit, I obviously mean grapefruit, not chocolate covered cherries).
It’s true. Nothing tastes as good as being thin (or fit) feels. (Except maybe a full-bodied Zinfandel) Likewise nothing feels as gratifying as growing and achieving as a writer.  

P.S. I’m giving away a new novel by Janis Thomas called Sweet Nothings Although it’s about a woman who owns a bakery, it’s completely calorie-free, not to mention a super cute and funny read.  Just leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win. I’ll contact a winner by Monday, Nov. 11.
 Life's sweetest moments happen when you least expect them . . .
When Ruby McMillan's husband announces one morning that he's dumping her for another woman, she's unable to decide which indignity stings the most: the dissolution of their eighteen-year marriage or the deflation of her white-chocolate soufflé with raspberry Grand Marnier sauce. Without a good-bye to their two teenaged children, Walter leaves Ruby to cope with her ruined dessert, an unpaid mortgage, and her failing bakery.
 For as long as she can remember, Ruby has done what's practical, eschewing far-fetched dreams and true love in favor of stability. But suddenly single again at the age of forty-four, she's beginning to discover that life is most delicious when you stop following a recipe and just live.



  1. That's fabulous! The weight loss and the writing advice!

  2. Karin - enjoyed (and related to) your post. Good for you taking on and winning the battle in both realms. :)

  3. Karin, you write the best posts! I love your story of weight loss/fitness. I have been a straight out yoga nut, and my muscles are stronger than they ever were, with the same results you describe. The writing, yes, I ought to try that pre-planning on. Can't wait for your next book!

  4. Thank you, Shelia. You are too kind. I do some yoga and really enjoy it. Hi Melody, Glad it resonated with you

  5. Congrats, Karin and thanks for the great post! I've had a similar experience recently with weight loss. It all boiled down to, for me, increasing the time I spent exercising (mainly on a stationary bike but I also do some yoga/pilates and free weights) and changing my diet (mainly breakfast) has helped me lose some stubborn pounds. Yes, nothing beats how you feel when you're thin and fit!

  6. I changed breakfast to, Wendy.. I actually quit eating it :)

  7. This was an absolutely awesome post, Karin!! Loved what you said (must do more planning the night before...). Many thanks for sharing it!

  8. Love it! I admire your determination!

  9. Funny, my husband announced the same thing this past April... I'd love to win a book out of the deal! xoxo We both lost some extra weight

  10. Great post! Thanks for the giveaway sounds like my kind of book:)

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  12. Great article! I had Weight Loss Surgery and have lost TOO much weight! Now I am struggling with resistance training to try and regain lost muscle mass (i.e....butt and boobs! LOL)....Thanks for offering the giveaway and giving me the hope to persevere through the training!

  13. oh heck I have no idea why it keeps calling me "Scentsable" Wendy LOL...trying to post under my google account wvburr27@gmail

  14. Love it, Karin! Thanks for sharing. (I struggle with both of these things...).

  15. Good for you, Karin, for being so persistent! (And here's to wine!)