Out of all the masochistic machines that exist in the average gym, and there are many, The Stairmaster is the most malevolent of competitors. Its merciless potential for unending sorrow makes it the antagonist in my get-fit story. I bet Dante would’ve included the machine in his Inferno had such a torture device existed in 13th century Italy.
For months, The Stairmaster sat in the far reaches of the gym like a bad omen. It was the gun over the fireplace in the first act of a play; eventually, someone was gonna get shot. But then again, maybe my trainer Gina would forget about it. Maybe we’d stick to the other side of the training room, along with the muscle-padded men and tiny women with tiny shorts who filled the gym at RallySport Health and Fitness in Boulder.
But then, the proverbial gun fired.
It was my last session with Gina, after four months of weekly training, when she finally led me over to The Stairmaster. Gina is smart and tough, someone I’d totally hang out with in real life—if it weren’t for her tendency to cause me extreme amounts of pain. When I first met her, I expected some Boulderite version of my elementary school gym teacher. Instead, I got a mother of two who happily says things like, “Just call me Gina” whenever I’m able to form the word “Jesus” in between wheezing pants.
“This way,” she says, walking toward the looming apparatus.
“No way,” I say, realizing her plans.
“Yep,” Gina smiles. “Hop on.”
Three minutes later, I am a puddle. I could be wiped up with a sweat towel. Just 180 seconds of climbing, one step at a time, then every other step, then faster, slower. Three minutes to mush.
Gina says I did good. But I must sit, catch my breath, make sure I’m not having a heart attack.
Slowly, I realize I am alive. My heart rate slows, and my light-headedness is short-lived. I look in the mirror: red-faced and sweat-soaked. My workout clothes fit awkwardly, like they were meant for a different person, and my muscles burn and bulge. As much as I hate Gina at this particular moment, I kind of want to hug her.
As for The Stairmaster, it must die.
Not in all of my years of yo-yo dieting and exercise obsession have I ever been thin. I once lost 70 pounds in seven months, only to gain it back over a three-year period. I’ve counted calories. I’ve done boot camps and made myself ill from spinning. I’ve measured my salad dressing by the teaspoon and treated cheese like others might consider Mad Cow-tainted meat. And it’s all resulted in nothing but heartache, back pain and a cruddy relationship with food and my image in the mirror.
Then, I guess you could say, I gave up on health and wellbeing and, instead, enjoyed the luxury of personal chaos: I ate and drank without guilt or care; I parked in the spot closest to the door; I allowed nothing but the stress and adrenaline of my job to fuel me through late nights and long hours; and on the occasional visit to the gym, I’d put the elliptical on cruise control and mosey.
This summer, I faced the ultimate reality check: I prepared to turn 30. I had goals to prime myself for this milestone. I would climb a 14er. I would do the Bolder Boulder. I would learn to fly fish.
But then again, I could barely haul my butt up a flight of stairs. How could I haul it up a mountain? So, paralyzed by the realization of my own limitations, I accomplished nothing. I wanted control. I wanted my life back.
And then in August, I sat down with Erin Carson, general manager of RallySport Health and Fitness in Boulder, a three-story gym filled with the firm bodies and athletic exteriors the city is known for. Rally would take me on as—what I like to think of—a challenge. They’d give me a trainer, Gina, and introduce me to the emerging discipline of Biosignature Modulation with a specialist named Jed, as well as access to unbelievable fitness classes and stellar supplements. They’d create a plan for fitness, for diet, for stress, for life. They’d be my team.
Carson asked me, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you for change?”
There was no doubt: 10.
For four months, I shed blood, sweat and calories in the name of health and fitness. Much like my diets in the past, I hopped on board with full commitment. This time, however, it was not about yo-yo diets or fads. It was not about obsession or unrealistic expectations. My efforts were calculated and planned. I’ve been charted, pinched and plotted. I’ve been encouraged to eat food—the right food—and to—on occasion—cheat. I’ve been pushed physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve felt alive.
From the beginning, Jed’s word was law.
He had me start a food diary, put me on a heaping regimen of supplements (which I carried around in my purse, like a sock filled with rocks) and each week, he’d weigh and “pinch” me.
BioSignature Modulation is an assessment method and fat-loss technique developed by strength coach Charles Poliquin. It helps practitioners determine which hormones are out of balance and helps patients lose weight by correcting those hormonal imbalances.
Every Thursday morning, Jed would open up a thick black case and pull out shiny, metal skin calipers to pinch 12 spots on my body: the cheek, chin, armpit, triceps, back, rib cage, love handle, belly, knee, calf, quad and hamstring. He’d enter those numbers in his laptop, and we’d examined the results.
Each measurement corresponds to hormones in your body and shows how your body is storing fat. Stress influences your Cortisol which, according to Poliquin, causes you to store fat in your belly. Alcohol and lack of sleep affect your human growth hormone, which causes inflammation in your knee. Basically, by measuring 12 points on your body, someone like Jed ends up knowing more about you than you know about you.
“How are you sleeping?” he’d ask, after pinching my knee.
“Um, six or seven hours a night, I think.”
“How much did you drink last week?”
“Um, well, I had a few glasses of wine.”
“How much is a few?” he’d ask.
Jed asked lots of questions. Questions about my childhood, about my parents, about my day to day. After three months of weekly visits, I knew every question had its intentions and every answer meant something. Years of eating processed foods as a child (from being a lazy, gluttonous latch-key kid) had wreaked havoc on my body. More years of eating out often had developed into a lust for sweets and carbs. Lack of exercise was the icing on the cake; stress was the cherry on the top.
Jed had me cut out all processed carbohydrates—sugars, flours, breads, beers—as well as all other processed foods (we later opted to cheat: high-fiber cereal and fat-free milk every morning). I cut down on alcohol intake. He wanted me to focus on eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks to speed up my metabolism. Each meal was a mix of protein, complex carbohydrates and lots and lots of veggies. The goal was to have meals and snacks that hit low on the glycemic index. Steak, Brussels sprouts and quinoa was an ideal dinner, gratifying while following all the rules. With the help of the “I” Diet by Susan Roberts, I overhauled my diet.
I began drinking 100 ounces of water a day and piled on the supplements: a multi-vitamin, zinc, magnesium, omega 3 fish oil, hydrochloric acid and a metabolism booster. He told me to get around 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night and to learn to control my stress levels through meditation, mantras and exercise.
I also met with Gina once a week, focusing on weights, resistance and core exercises. While I had purely done cardio in the past, she had me do two weight-lifting and four cardio sessions a week. A bulk of my cardio would focus on intervals—to push me and my heart to go, go, go. Basically, the less comfortable I was, the better.
At different points, the whole experience became overwhelming. Not because I missed pizza or pasta (though, I did). Not because I was physically exhausted (though, I was). Not because of the hangover feeling that comes with withdrawal from sugar and whatever else you find in deliciously processed goodies.
But because, at certain points, you realize the delicate balance of it all. One week I’d do too much cardio and not enough weights. The next week I’d eat too much red meat and not enough fish or chicken. Then I’d eat too little, then too much. One day, I did a long cardio workout and didn’t drink enough water, causing a severe migraine that ruined a night of sleep, causing me to suck wind at my training session the next morning. The dominoes of dieting!
But once I found a rhythm, refined with the help of the Poliquin pinching sessions and Gina’s expert advice, it all seemed to fit into place. I learned not to miss pizza and pasta. My body relearned the feeling of exertion and even began craving it. I became excited—I know, this is weird—to step on the scale, and I learned to appreciate small victories. If the scale showed no change, it was a temporary set back. I’d recover and spend the next couple weeks working my butt off.
Jed tells me I’ve already added years back on to my life. And I happily admit that I enjoyed the entire process: To see positive results week after week is the best motivation in the world. So are the baggy clothes and newfound confidence.
Pounds lost: 20
Percentage of fat lost: 10
I can’t help but believe this is a small victory. I’m still so far from the ideal, even a long way from “average.” After months of sore muscles, daily weighing and even a little stair-mastering, I’ve learned that this is just the beginning. It’s a process, and I still have so much more to learn, to experience and to explore.
I have mountains to climb.