Happy 2017! I like that it’s 2017, because I like sevens (my birthday’s in July). And this is the year that I turn 61, and six plus one equals seven. Come on! This year was made for me! (OK, and you, too.)
Is it a stretch? Maybe. But I’m taking it. Plus, this is the first year of my adult life when I haven’t made a sorrowful, hopeless resolution on New Year’s Eve to get in shape and lose weight. I’m already on my way to getting in really good shape, and I’m still losing weight. My resolution this year is to take my health and fitness to a whole new level.
Even children can see I’m different. It’s evident in their drawings, where I am slim and happy.
And here’s Lily’s drawing of me.
Finally, here’s May’s drawing of a very glamorous, very blond Auntie Doni. Notice the waist. I like it.
I’m absolutely on my way to improved health and fitness, words I type with arms that are so sore from weight-workouts this week at Align with Matthew R. Lister that it actually hurts a little just to type, because wonder of wonders, all those muscles are connected from my fingers to my forearms to my biceps beyond to whatever muscles are located on the outer side of my upper arm. Whatever they are, they’re sore. Just reaching for a cup to make some tea made me wince.
Erin, who’s one of my workout buddies four days a week, made the observation that Matthew had a look in his eye after the holidays that struck a little fear in Erin’s heart. That’s saying a lot, because Erin doesn’t scare easily. Erin said his hunch was that Matthew was really going to kick up our workouts to a more intense level. I can already see he’s right.
Now that we’ve been working out at Align for more than a year, we’ve progressed to a routine two days a week that’s called independent workouts. Matthew’s there, and he corrects us or guides us (hips up, core tight, shoulders down, make it clean … not two rounds, but four). On those days, we work through the paces without Matthew standing right over us, or doing as he did this morning, circling our group of five like a shark as we did every rep, looking to correct improper form or technique.
He writes our custom workout recipe on a dry-erase board for us to follow that day. There’s nothing that can suck the conversation out of the Align gym faster than to see Matthew mosey over to the board – moving his head to music – with his black marker, and watch – breaths held – as he begins to write that day’s
Sometimes, we whimper when we see what’s in store for us. Other times, we actually groan as we read what’s ahead in our immediate workout future. No amount of reaction ever changes Matthew’s mind, so we know to just get it over with. And when it’s done, the feeling of accomplishment is so nice, whether we’ve just done a routine that includes four sets of planks, followed by 20-pound weighted arm curls, or 75 calories of cardio – three times – or as we did today, 200 crunches.
I notice that it’s always the halfway point of any set where I feel I can’t go on. If he gives us, say, 100 donkey kicks to do, it’s right around 50 when I feel like quitting. Likewise, if we’re supposed to do a 2-minute plank, I feel like stopping at 1 minute. If he prescribes a 1-minute plank, I want to cave in at 30 seconds.
And that’s exactly why I still lack the discipline to work out alone at home, even if I had some equipment, like my favorite rowing machine, in my living room. I know that as soon as the going got tough, I’d throw in the towel, stop and go make a cup of coffee or check emails. Working out with Matthew, stopping is really not an option. I mean, I suppose if I passed out or threw up or something along those lines Matthew might let me hit the exercise pause button for a few minutes. But anything short of that, forget it.
I actually am happy that Matthew works me and my workout buddies so hard. It means we’ve progressed and improved enough that our bodies have grown strong enough to handle more, elevated to the next level of fitness.
I remember where I started a year ago: so out of shape that even the most simple workout tasks were difficult. I remember that in the beginning, Matthew had me spend a lot of time on the recumbent bike, which I think of as the cat-bird seat, because there’s not much to do except look around and observe others’ workouts. From there, I’d pedal at level 8 (I do 13 now) and watch, sometimes in fear and disbelief, what other people were doing.
I felt conflicted: On the one hand I wanted to be at that level, but on the other hand I questioned whether I could do it. I was pretty sure I had the answer.
Over the days, weeks, months and now a whole year, Matthew gradually guided me to increasingly more difficult workouts. At each stage – and even now, when he introduces me to something new and seemingly impossible-looking – inside my mind I close my eyes and scream bloody murder.
No way! No way! No way! I can NOT do that!
Usually I’m good about keeping those thoughts to myself, but occasionally they quietly leak out.
I don’t think I can do that.
Matthew’s reply is the same. Oh, I think you can. You’ve got it.
He’s been right about that – so far – every time.
Now, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. But I know I still have a ways to go. I know that because I’ve seen Align’s hard-core workout group and I am in complete awe. I know of this group because I made the mistake once of coming in at 6 a.m. instead of my usual time because I was unable to come in later that day.
No biggie, I told myself. I’ll just come in at 6 and do an independent workout. As it turned out, it was a biggie, because, to my absolute horror, Matthew had me work out with the hard-core group. The only thing I remember for sure from that awful morning were these side tap things on one of those flat floor half-dome balls (I don’t know how else to describe them) – quickly. And because I was part of a team, my team had to hold whatever plank or whatever they had to do, until I finished. My teammate drew the short straw that day.
I. Thought. I. Might. Die.
Unlike my current workout buddies, there’s not a lot of chatter in the hard-core group (of course, at 6 a.m. they may be still waking up). They all look fantastic. There’s not an ounce of fat between them. They could be models, every one.
I aspire to one day be like them – look like them and work out like them.
Exercise aside, there’s the nutrition plan, which is under Matthew’s guidance, but as he says, we’re on our own for that part, because he’s not following us around all day to see what we eat and drink. I’m so much better at sticking to the food program now than I was last year. Case in point, I went to a friend’s house the other night, just hanging out, girl-talking. Before, we would have had a bottle of wine. This time, we drank hot tea. It was fine. Amazingly, we could still talk without wine.
Also, there are now foods that I literally cannot imagine eating, like lasagna with a side of garlic bread, or an ice cream sundae or a milk shake or pancakes or French toast. Sure, in the beginning I craved sugar like an addict. It took me about three weeks before I stopped feeling like a scene from “Lady Sings the Blues”.
Back then I created some cookies to share with my Align buddies, cookies to help me cope with the sugar withdrawals, cookies I could eat and not feel as if I were off program. Even though I’m beyond the sugar-cravings, I made another batch this week, at Erin’s request, and brought them into Align. They included a disclaimer and description that I wrote on a note beside the boxes of sample cookies:
Doni’s Experimental Cookies: No flour. No sugar. No honey. Ingredients: Peanut butter, egg whites, salt, cococa power, pecans, almonds, baking powder, Stevia, coconut, coconut sugar (scant amout), oats, carob (scant), dusted with powdered sugar. These could qualify as a protein/carb.
Some people said they’d wished I’d left the recipe. That would be impossible because I didn’t measure. I just kept adding stuff until it looked about right.
I tasted the batter periodically, and although it was never exactly delicious, it did resemble cookie batter. I made another batch Wednesday, and this time I made some adjustments. (Actually, the next time I make these I won’t use Stevia, but maybe Truvia instead. Stevia leaves a bitter after taste.) It really is an everything-but-the kitchen-sink cookie, with so many ingredients, except they’re missing the holy trinity of classic cookie ingredients: flour, sugar, butter.
Peanut butter stood in for the butter. Ground nuts stood in for the flour. Orange juice and Stevia stood in for the sugar. Then I formed the dough into balls and rolled them in powdered sugar, figuring that a dusting wouldn’t hurt.
The cookies are OK. Not terrific. But they’ll pass as a cookie replica when you just really want something in the cookie family. Even so, remember if you’re watching your carbs and calories, you still just get one cookie. One of these cookies is a snack, you don’t get a whole stack.
I’ve provided a very rough recipe for you, though I can’t guarantee they’ll turn out just like my cookies. Think of this recipe as a guide. Feel free to improvise and tell me how your version turned out. Or better yet, skip the cookies and have a half an apple with some peanut butter. You’ll find it pretty delicious. Maybe even better than the cookies.
That said, I might whip up a special batch, a sweet little treat for Align’s hardcore 6 a.m. workout people. For them: full sugar, full butter and full white flour in their chocolate peanut butter cookies.
That 6-a.m. hard-body group is a formidable moving target, just as my group is an enviable moving target for the people behind us. But hopefully, those “extra special” cookies will slow down the hard-body group just enough to allow me and my group to catch up.
Watch out, hard-bodies. We’re on our way.
Doni’s Fake it/Bake-it Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp. espresso powder in 1/4 cup of warm water (or instant coffee, or 1/4 cup cold coffee)
1 orange, zested and juiced (set both aside)
2 tsp. vanilla
5 T. Stevia
4 egg whites, room temperature, beaten until white and frothy
1 cup nuts, finely chopped (I used almonds and pecans, but use your favorites)
1 cup oats
1/2 cup chopped carob chips
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/8 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 powdered sugar, for rolling the cookies
In a stand mixer, blend the peanut butter with the espresso, orange juice and zest, Stevia and vanilla until creamy. Add the egg whites and blend well. Add everything else, except the powdered sugar.
If the dough looks too runny, add more oats. If it’s too stiff, add more orange juice or coffee. You should have a dough that can be formed into wet balls about the size of a walnut. Roll the balls in powdered sugar.
Place the dough balls about 2-inches apart, three in each row, on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Use your palm or a spatula to flatten them slightly. Bake in a 350-degree oven for between 10 – 12 minutes, so they look set, and the tops aren’t wet.
Makes about 3 dozen.