Sunday, January 8, 2012

Flabby Prof Gets Moving

In my experience, being a professor is a very fattening activity.

Throughout most of my life, I had a healthy weight, which I managed to maintain alongside varying levels of activity. But then I took a tenure track faculty position (in 2004). At that point, I had one kid, and my husband stayed back at our alma mater trying to finish his PhD, so I was effectively a single mom for the first two years on the tenure track. The first year was absolutely brutal. Lots of teaching duties, all new courses, writing innumerable grants. I was extremely stressed out. During that year alone, I packed on 20 lbs.

Over the following years, slowly but surely, I ended up packing 30 lbs more. I had two more kids, but the physical act of pregnancy is not particularly fattening in my case, as I vomit a lot and lose weight in early pregnancy. After giving birth, I lose weight quickly in the first couple of months, when the universe gives me permission to just feed and care for the baby and nap whenever I want to. But eventually comes the time to resume all my usual duties, including caring for the rest of my family and doing my work, and my weight begins to climb back up. The main reason is that there are not enough hours in the day, and the only place to generate them is to cut back on sleep. Now that I have a baby, I sleep very little (probably no more than 5 hrs per day, and not in a row), and in order to keep functioning I tend to consume too much carbs.
Even without an infant, every time there are additional deadlines or elevated workload, stress levels go up and more sleep is lost, and the intake of food goes up.

So here I am, about 50 lbs over what I had when I came into the tenure track position. I am pretty tall so I don't look horrible and I am quite healthy (great blood pressure, lipids, cholesterol, the works) but lugging all that extra weight around is bad for my mood and my energy levels, and makes me look too matronly for my taste. I have a baby of about 20 lbs and a 4-year-old of about 50 lbs. Picking my kids up gives me a vivid reminded of how large a weight 20 lbs or 50 lbs actually is.

When you are a working parent, finding the time to exercise can be tough. You need to have iron will to squeeze exercise into the schedule, while keeping enough time for kid pick-up/drop-off, cooking dinner, cleaning up house, and perhaps spending some time with your partner. Having a very young child throws you another curveball, because they have erratic sleeping schedules and are often much more demanding on one parent than the other. With multiple kids, both you and your partner are stretched thin just covering extracurriculars, dinner, cleanup, and bedtimes; it's easy to simply plop on the couch and watch TV after the kids are in bed or spend time surfing the web.

A couple of years ago, I finally started exercising at a women-only club in the neighborhood. It was great! They had fun classes that combined aerobics with strength training, and I went there three times a week early in the morning. After several weeks, they announced that they were going out of business. My husband teases me to this day that it was me who jinxed them out of existence.

Meanwhile, I got pregnant, had another baby, and a new fitness franchise moved into the premises occupied by my former club. One of my sabbatical resolutions was to get in shape, but I have been busier than usual with the infant, associate editor duties, and a fairly large conference I am organizing in the spring, in addition to all the things a faculty must usually do -- grant and paper writing, advising students, etc.
Excuses, excuses... right? So when I heard on the radio that the new franchise in my neighborhood was starting a 10-week fitness challenge, I knew it was time to do something.

As of tomorrow, I will be starting a 10-week, 6-days-a-week fitness program. The total cost is roughly $400. It's three days -- MWF-- of kickboxing (I've got some pent-up rage to release) and three days of resistance training; Sunday is off. We had the orientation yesterday, they measured our weight, body fat, pulse after a 4 min step test, time on a mile run, and the number of push-ups and sit-ups in a minute. They repeat the tests after 5 weeks and then again after 10 weeks. The person who improves the most in these stats after 10 weeks receives $1k; the catch is that you must let them take and use a "before" and "after" photo in a two-piece bathing suit. Being a faculty, I am really not comfortable with bathing suit pictures of me available freely on the web; I would not be comfortable even if I were super hot -- I think there are just some things that my students and colleagues should never know out about me, so I won't be going for the handsome monetary prize. But, we all got cool boxing gloves and, surprisingly, my eldest son thinks it's super cool that mom will be doing kickboxing -- who knew?

I will be going to the 9 am session, after all the kids have been sent to their respective schools; thank God for the sabbatical, which is the only way I can pull this time slot off. I know that it's about a lifestyle change and committing to exercising for all eternitiy. When I get back to work, I will likely have to do the early morning (5 am or 6 am) slots, but hopefully by then the baby will be sleeping more predictably so I will be able to manage the early times without compromising everyone's morning routine.

There is a whole class of about 90-100 people starting with me tomorrow (at different times in the day), so we're all in the same boat. One interesting observation -- there are about equal numbers of women and men signed up for the program. Women are overwhelmingly there to lose weight; most men who signed up are quite fit already, and are doing this for additional exercise. There was an occasional overweight man, but most are quite fit, whereas nearly all the women who signed up are overweight. This tells you that men and women seem to want to exercise for different reasons, likely linked to what is expected of them (looks vs strength/stamina). Most people of both genders were young and without wedding rings. There were a few people older than me, but not many.

Anyway, I am quite excited about this program (if a little sore from the testing yesterday), and can't wait to break in by kickboxing gloves!!!

To my readers who are working parents: do you exercise at all? If yes, what do you do, when in the day, and how often? How did you manage to squeeze it into the schedule? Is your partner supportive? Does s/he exercise too?


Comrade PhysioProf said...

Being a faculty

You are not a "faculty"; you are a "faculty member". A "faculty" is the collection of all faculty members who are within a particular school or subspecialty within a school, such as a Faculty of Arts & Sciences or a Faculty of Medicine, etc. I don't doubt that you gained weight on the tenure track--I sure as fucke did, too, and have a serious fitness plan in the works, so good luck to both of us--but there is no way you gained enough to make you a "faculty".

Ianqui said...

I only have 1 kid, so it might be a bit easier for me. My husband gets the preschooler out the door at 8am to get to his school, and I go to the gym at that time. I work out for about 45-60 mins, then come home to shower (it's right across the street). I'm in my office at 10am, which is probably a bit indulgent but my department is a late bunch so I'm one of the first ones in anyway. On Mondays, I go in the evening instead b/c I have a kickboxing class at 7pm. I personally dislike working out at night, but I can't make it to the 6 or 7am classes and they don't have any classes at this gym again until after 5pm.

My husband (not an academic) is a runner. He usually goes on Tues & Thurs at 6pm for about 1.5 hours, and then on Sat morning while I take Yo to karate. So yeah, we make it work, but I probably work fewer hours than you do on the whole :)

Cherish said...

What a topic! I have always been a walker, but a few years back, I did a triathlon. However, a week after I completed it, I fell and hurt my knee, then my MS got in the way, then I hurt myself again, then grad school got rough...and on and on. I've intended to do one again ever since, but I really had a bunch of stumbling blocks until recently.

I bought a treadmill about 5 years back, and it's been one of the best things I ever did. I rigged up a desk on it. When I need to read papers, I walk on it very slowly and read because reading is a surefire way to put me, as a sleep-deprived person, to sleep. I started running a couple months ago. I'm too embarrassed to go up to the local track and run, so I use my treadmill. (Although, with the nice weather tomorrow, I'm going to be brave and run outside...just hope the neighbors don't see me and laugh.)

My schedule is somewhat peculiar. What seems to work best is working in the morning, running and then having lunch, then I take care of kids in the afternoon and work on dissertation at night (if I can stay conscious). I have simply had to make a point of doing it, but my schedule is more flexible than most people's. My husband is very supportive as he says he can tell I feel better when I do it. (I fear this is a euphemistic way of saying I'm less bitchy.) His exercise is taking Gigadog for a walk around the neighborhood. During the summers, we like to ride bike together.

feMOMhist said...

JMJ what would we do without the semantic police?

anywho EFF YES, I tot. expected to be in kick ass shape by now and sadly sabbatical has not proved the exercise friendly lifestyle I'd anticipated. In fact I guesstemate that even with holiday weight factored in as a normally annual occurrence I'm still up. It is like all my discipline goes into the book and I've none left for exercise. I really need to get back on the cardio because I'm pretty sure this is shaping up to be peri-menopause sabbatical year and I'll be damned if I'm coming out fatter at the end than I started.

GL with the boot camp approach!

Alyssa said...

Ugghhh...I SUCK at incorporating exercise into my life. Since I got pregnant (over two years ago now), I haven't worked out seriously even once. I know this needs to change, because I feel so out of shape, but I just do NOT have the motivation.

Good luck with your program - it sounds awesome!

Clarissa said...

I have a very similar history of weight gain on the tenure-track (only without the kids.)

Your program sounds super cool. Good luck and have tons of fun!

Cloud said...

Exercise... a perennial issue around our house. We both used to be pretty fit, my husband more so than me. We've both gotten less fit since the kids arrived- particularly kid #2. I'm about 15 lbs heavier than I should be, and 10 lbs heavier than pre-pregnancy.

I love, love, love kickboxing. I used to do Muay Thai. It was awesome, even if my classmates were all Marines who insisted on calling me ma'am. I can't find any sort of martial arts class that fits my schedule now, which sucks. But for Christmas, I got a heavy bag, and I am now coming home one day/week and beating the crap out of it for 30 minutes. It is great fun, and a pretty good workout.

I also bought a 10 minute workout DVD. It is a dance workout, which is so not right for me. But I can do one of the 10 minute segments while my husband gives the kids their bath (we alternate nights giving the bath), so it gets some use. Sometimes, one or both of the girls ask to join me for one of the workouts- which is hilarious, and at least a little bit of exercise.

Other than that, I walk. Anytime I have no meetings at lunch time, I go out for a ~20-30 minute walk. Walking helps me think and I solve a lot of problems on my walks, so I hardly even consider it a break from work.

I also try to take an hour walk one weekend day, usually while pushing a sleeping toddler in a stroller.

I miss yoga, too, and keep trying to find a way to make it a part of my routine. I've been failing pretty comprehensively on that front these days.

My husband likes to run and mountain bike. He mountain bikes with some friends at work most Fridays. He's now trying to add a run into one of the weekend days.

We're both pretty supportive of the other's workout needs. We'd both like to do more active things as a family, but we're struggling with that. I think that will get easier as the kids get older, before it gets harder because the kids get their own ideas about how they want to spend their weekends. We'll see what actually happens.

inBetween said...

That program sounds awesome! I wish I could partake...

I have always been pretty into running and exercise, but my husband is not so much. Moving in with him was theproblem for me. Being single when I started my TT job meant that I could create a fantastic schedule that included excercise.

The long getting-pregnant phase was not good at all for my weight, as I used a fear of it affecting my chances at getting and staying pregnant as a reason to not work out. I gained about 10 pounds, but then gained about 50 while pregnant. Towards the end of my pregnancy I gave up completely on that healthy crap.

I have found that the last three months of single parenting have done wonders for my weight. I don't really have time to eat, which would normally translate into lots of snacking for me, but since I also don't have time to shop I don't have junk food in the house. So I took to having lunch at school and then eating the baby's leftovers for dinner.

Additionally, I set up persnal training sessions at the Y starting around the time that my husband left for the field. I only went for 45 mins once a week but after a few weeks I was able to figure out how to work out twice a week. I didn't get to hit the gym over the holiday b/c I was traveling. But hopefully I will be able to keep up the gym thing this semester even though I am teaching again and my-not-so-supportive-of-formal-workouts-husband will be back.

good luck with your program! you have inspired me to get back on the horse...

Pika said...

Possibly not applicable in your place or in this decade (because I don't see people doing this anymore, or maybe I'm in the wrong place, because I remember seeing many biking families in my PhD country a few years back), but when I was a kid, we used to go biking, the whole family together, parents and two kids. This weren't long trips, perhaps an hour or so long, but we did it consistently, all four of us, every 2-3 days or so, whenever my parents felt like it. And on the weekends we went hiking into the mountains or nearby hills. I liked both these activites, but neither are possible where I am now (no biking paths, too dangerous to drive on the roads and no hills), but perhaps if I move, this will change...

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your programme - I envy anyone who can fit in exercise alongside 3 children and a faculty position. I have long resisted exercise and been at the top end of the "normal" weight for my height. However, what I was doing dwindled to zero since returning to work after my second child was born. I used to walk to work, but needing to get the kids to and from childcare and not lose too much time in the office has put paid to that. I follow a diet plan ok during the week, but it gets hit hard at weekends, or when I'm procrastinating at work.. I promised I would do something about it this year - but haven't yet - so well done you!!!

Anonymous said...

Somehow I managed to hang on to 15 pounds of extra weight even after breastfeeding a ravenous baby for 18 months (!yikes!) after baby #2. So last spring I finally buckled down and lost the weight by watching what I eat carefully. Somehow exercise never made it into the equation, though. I find it nearly impossible to fit exercise in because it's just too low on the priority list. It shouldn't be, but it is. My husband is the one who wakes up before the crack of dawn to go to the gym, and so I'm left with the only rest of the day to find a time to exercise, and as anyone in this career track knows, 8:30 am - 10 pm is nowhere near enough time to get everything else done, let alone exercise ;)! Good luck, and keep posting updates, maybe I'll finally find the motivation to get off my own lazy butt.

BugDoc said...

I have the same problem! The extra weight didn't come with the kids, it came with my faculty position (basically sitting on my ass writing all the time). I've been slowly trying to work more exercise and better eating habits into my routine, but when grant deadlines or holidays come up, all that stuff goes out the window! I feel more motivated after reading your post - good luck with the program....

Anonymous said...

It is disheartening when scientists equate lower weight with higher health, when it has been shown that health correlates much better with healthy behaviors (exercise, mostly) than with actual weight. I applaud you trying to get active again, though, even if I don't think weight loss is an admirable (it's moreso a completely aesthetic and unhealthy) goal. You should check out health at every size (, which is a movement (started by a scientist who actually wrote a book summarizing literature on health/weight loss) to get healthier in the absence of focusing on how one looks. Check it out, if you are open to it. It's the only thing that makes sense, scientifically, since intentional dieting/weight loss leads to decreased health (and, surprisingly, higher weight) in 85-95% of people.

Barefoot Doctoral said...

Before Epsilon, I would gain weight during term, and then either go hit the gym or a lot of hiking during the breaks.

Post Epsilon is the first time I've ever had to diet to loose weight. Ever since Epsilon was 1, we got a little bike trailer for him, and biked him to daycare, and then ourselves to work. That's the exercise I can fit into my day. It's harder during winter than other times of the year, but it's good for most of the time.

MamaRox said...

Way to go!

I feel sooo much better when I exercise. When Babe was 6 weeks old, I started biking to work again, and have been doing so nearly every day since (1.5 years). Until a few weeks ago I hadn't really started a running or gym routine (now, I do so at lunch 3x week). I can already tell I have more energy. Yes, I'm still tired a lot, because, heck, I'm TT with an active toddler who still wants to breastfeed all the time. Exercise cuts into my work time, but I think I have more cylinders firing post-workout.

DRo said...

I work out 3 days a week at the gym (elliptical machine), during work hours. I try to do a DVD-workout (The Firm -- highly recommend) on one of the weekend days, while my kids are napping. Now that they are on the same nap schedule it is a little easier to fit it in. Sometimes my husband takes them on an outing and I work out then.

But you are right. With your (and my) commitments, you either have to sacrifice sleep, time with kids/husband, or work time. I sacrifice the latter. It is frustrating. But, I do feel like I think more clearly and work more efficiently when I am exercising regularly. So perhaps it is worth it to cut into the work time. Hopefully I am making the right choice.

Anonymous said...

The best way to lose weight is to eat less, IMO. I lost almost 25 pounds over a year just by slowly transitioning to smaller portion sizes of healthier foods. (I did it slowly because I figured that would be the best way to establish good habits that would continue after I reached my target weight.) I didn't exercise much at all. I find that exercising more tends to lead to eating more, which is often counterproductive.

I did gain 5 pounds over the holidays, so I'm going back to small portions for a while until I'm back to where I want to be.

Dr. Sneetch said...

I gained 40 pounds with three kids. It is a struggle to lose weight. The best I can do is not gain more. Since the begining of the yearI'm going to the gym frequently. Just walking and cycling. Maybe I'll work an exercise class in. I throw my knee out easily if I'm not super careful all the time.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I totally sympathise - I don't even have kids, but I put on weight pretty fast as soon as I left the lab (a surprisingly decent workout!) and took a desk job. I'm trying to get more "exercise snacks", as a helpful blog commenter put it, throughout the day, and I've been going swimming with a friend at least once a week, plus cycling to work as usual 4-5 days per week, Canadian winter weather permitting! But it's still not enough. It's never enough.

My friend who had a kid 2.5 years ago jokes that kids are the best arm-toning workout ever: you start lifting a low weight but with lots of (i.e. constant) reps, and build up to fewer reps with a much heavier load. Just like you're supposed to do it :)