I’m toning my mushy tush. I’m dropping 40 pounds. I’m working my way to a chiseled set of Michelle Obama arms.
The problem is, I’m not. I never do. I fail. Instead, I sink into the couch and binge-eat chocolate peanut butter ice cream and binge-watch Netflix. It’s just easier.
Besides, I barely have time to shower, let alone work out. I work full time. I have three kids in three different sports. I cook, I clean and I’m cooked.
Translation: I’m too busy making excuses (and getting fatter and lazier) to make time to work out. If I really want my taut bod from before I started this cerebral yet sedentary job -- back when I routinely ran and did karate and yoga while being a stay-home mom -- I have to commit. Commit to fit or whatever rah-rah perky thing fitspo types say.
Putting my money where my 'hangry' mouth is
Two weeks ago I finally did commit. I made a $200 “commitment contract” to work out four times in two weeks, for at least a half-hour each session. I blame my editor Linda Lacina, an avid runner and pilates practitioner. She put me up to this, “for JOURNALISM,” of course, and I’m glad she did.
I’d be a guinea pig, a willing, albeit rotund one. I pledged to break a sweat in my dusty garage gym on the regular. If I failed to log eight workouts in the allotted time, I’d lose the money and a thick chunk of my pride, neither of which I easily part with. I'd rather lose a thick chunk of thunder thigh.
Linda and I agreed that I’d use StickK to stick to my promise. Designed by behavioral economists at Yale University, it’s a free motivational mobile app- and web-based platform that leverages the fear of losing money to help people adhere to their life goals, fitness-related or otherwise. The idea is to give them that extra nudge to foist themselves up off their duffs and into action.
Some people wager as little as five bucks. Others as much as several thousand dollars. I went for a safe $200, reluctantly entering my credit card number into the app. Losing that relatively wimpy amount would be just enough to sting when my three kids ask for haircuts or when it’s my turn to buy a week’s worth of groceries.
Keeping me honest
Financial stakes aren’t StickK’s only motivational sticks (as opposed to carrots). Accountability factors in, too. The tool prompts users to choose an optional accountability “referee.” I chose my 11-year-old daughter, who’s quite the young stickler. I knew she’d keep me honest. Also, I wouldn’t lie to her or fudge my results for her. What kind of “adulting” example would that set? To be my referee, she had to sign up for StickK, too, and manually verify my once-a-week self-reported progress reports. To be extra sure I really worked out, she would join me in the gym, and even take turns lifting weights with me.
Going a step further, I also took StickK up on its option to select a “supporter.” I picked my husband, Adam, who’s currently whipping my butt on yet another fad diet we’re braving together, the keto craze. He’s sticking to it (and down 20-plus pounds). I just pretend to be on it.
It was Adam who stood to gain $200 if I blew off my StickK fitness commitment. I’d sheepishly put him down to receive the cash in the event of my failure. The choice, per the app, was to either pay someone I know or donate the $200 to charity. Miffed at not being able to choose a specific charity to donate the money to, should it come down to it, I opted to keep the cash in the family, through StickK’s “friend or foe” option. My other half, always in the mood to take me out on the town, would probably spend it on me on date night anyway. If choosing a spouse is sort of cheating, well, call me a cheat. At least I admit it.
When it comes to sticking to a commitment, money makes all the difference, says Jordan Goldberg, co-founder and CEO of StickK. “Attaching a financial incentive to your personal goals reinforces your resolve and willpower and increases your likelihood of success,” he tells me during a phone interview. Per StickK’s research, he points out, its users are three times more likely to succeed in achieving their goals than those who don’t use the app.
Hmmm. We’ll see if that rings true with yours truly. Here’s how sticking to StickK worked out for me:
Saturday, July 16
Getting started was the hardest part. I resisted the idea of working out so hard that I didn’t bother changing into workout clothes. In protest, I wore my usual plain Jane black T-shirt and skinny-ish mom-jeans. Gross, I know. Once on the NordicTrack treadmill to warm up barefoot for 10 minutes at a quick clip and on a steep incline, I realized that my outfit choice was a big, dumb and very jiggly mistake. Mental note made: Invest in a super supportive sports bra ASAP. Oh, and sporty sneakers. Those might be smart, too.
Treadmill-shame spiral behind me and my heart rate slightly elevated, I stepped up to the “barely used” nautilus machine my husband shelled out $1,000 for (without first warning me so I could mentally prep for the sticker shock and then scream “NO! We’re not buying that torture device!”). It’s a cold, hulking mass of pulleys, hooks, pins and heavy metal, all of which I want nothing to do with it. Then again, I don’t want to lose $200 from my personal savings account, so I climbed aboard and pumped myself up, one weak, shaky rep at at time. I repeated each set of 12 reps three times, grunting and face-scrunching all the way.
Tip: Making faces makes it look like you’re working out hard.
Thank goodness I was alone, at least at first. My husband and daughter joined me halfway through when I texted them asking how to properly connect and use the hanging pull bar thingy. I didn’t really care how. I just didn’t want to work out alone.
I focused on my legs, lifting a feathery 40 pounds with my thunder-thigh quads. No pain, so maybe no gain. Next, I moved to my upper body, crunching light curls, pulling painful flies and ripping do-able tricep extensions, all with nominal weight, nothing above 30 pounds. I didn’t want overdo it on day one and not be able to comfortably walk and talk, or worse, be unable to text and type the next day. Priorities, people.
Sunday, July 17
Sore and cranky doesn’t begin to cover how I felt upon waking. Tired, too, due to my sciatic nerve acting up all night as I tossed and turned on our new, burnt toast-firm memory foam mattress (specifically purchased to help with my bum back). Ashamed was the next feeling to follow, as I grasped just how out of shape I’d let myself become with every mildly painful step. My quads were on fire, my arms throbbed with a dull ache, and my abs -- wait, I remembered that I had abs and felt them beneath the several inches of cushioning I’d packed on. At least they were in there somewhere.
Resolved to do anything but more weights and more treadmill drudgery, I convinced my family to head for the beach for a workout. I’d read about the day-after benefits of swimming post-weight-lifting in Muscle and Fitness Hers’s July/August 2016 issue that I’d overambitiously purchased to kick off my StickK challenge. According to a blurb in the magazine, swimming kills two birds with one stone: It’s “a great way to recover after a hard strength day or to get in some fat-burning cardio.” Swimming also wrings out the post-workout lactic acid buildup in muscle fibers. It’s also a fun way to distract yourself from what you’re doing when you do it -- exercising.
An added reward, apart from the physical bennies, is that I enjoyed some rare quality time out under the sun with my husband, my eldest son, my daughter and her doppelganger best friend. Together, we battled the choppy Seal Beach, Calif., surf for two exhausting hours straight.
More winded than I’d been in a long time, I didn’t mind the stinging foot and back scrapes I picked up from being uncontrollably dragged across the shore like a bumbling fool in front of onlookers plunked on the sand, my bathing intermittently suit lifting up and exposing my love handles here and there. So what? I’d had a good time with my family and I didn’t give a rip what anyone thought. Wait a minute? I actually enjoyed working out for once and I wasn’t self-conscious of my body at the beach. Now that’s progress -- maybe even a breakthrough.
To celebrate, I undid all the calories burned in the salty drink and scarfed down gobs of artificial cake batter-flavored Cold Stone ice cream. Hey, this isn’t a diet challenge. Maybe that’s next, but, for now, one goal at a time.
Monday, July 18
I worked out with my StickK referee tonight, my very physically active daughter, a rough-and-tumble lacrosse player who is also a bit of drill sergeant, but in a good, motivating way. We took turns doing weights -- arms and legs, the usual three sets of 12 reps per exercise.
She helped me warm up and stretch before we started, using stretches she picked up at her California State University, Long Beach, sports camp this summer. I was glad for the quality one-on-one time with her. If we didn't lift together, we would have lazed about, zoning out on Netflix mind-junk and carb-loading just because. This is a more productive, fun and healthier way to make memories with her. I wish my sons would join us, but they’re too busy Pokémon Go-ing at the local park. I guess that counts as exercise, too.
Digging into her drill sergeant role, my daughter screamed my rep count in my face at close-enough-to-smell-her-breath range. I returned the favor and screamed right back in her face. We broke out in giggles at times at how silly we sounded and looked. To keep up our momentum, she insisted on pumping Adele and Jason Mraz through the gym-garage Sonos speakers, which wasn’t anywhere near as upbeat as I’d like for workout tunes. But I shut up and took one for the team.
I was still a touch sore from the first day, but pushed through. I took my former editor and avid weightlifter friend Rafe Brox’s advice and went up in weight in some exercises to test out how much strength I can muster. Just as he suspected, I found I could handle more weight indeed, even if only 10 pounds more than the day before per exercise.
Tuesday, July 19
Up to this point, working out had begun to feel like a habit, thanks to this StickK challenge schtick. But then, boom, I hit a wall. I was tempted to quit this probably too-ambitious-for-me bet. Why did I sign up for this racket in the first place? Oh, wait. That’s right. It’s an actual work assignment. There was no turning back. I was locked and loaded (and overweight and bloated).
On top of feeling like a loser who wanted to quit, there was the guilt that comes with failing to work out. Instead of lifting weights, I lifted nothing with my arms other than overpriced and quasi-healthy groceries from the new neighborhood Trader Joe’s to my car, then from my car into my house. Truth is, I carried two bags and my daughter schlepped five, all in one trip. She’s an overachiever hellbent on proving her competence and might to the world. Gee, I wonder where she learned that?
In a warped way to make up for not running, an activity that’s tantamount to chewing thumbtacks for me, I whipped up a quick keto diet dinner. Rather than head for the garage gym with my StickK accountability coach, I taught her how to properly brown organic grass-fed beef. Poor kid -- she’s a vegetarian.
Wednesday, July 20
It was my birthday. I could not work out if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to. Instead, I headed for a special dinner out with my husband and two of my kids. (My middle son was still away on a trip with friends in Oregon and I missed him something awful, obviously a reason to stress-eat.)
To celebrate, I pigged-out on a double-portion bowl of Gorgonzola gnocchi. That was after I inhaled a slice of fresh-baked rosemary focaccia bread. Later, down the hatch went a perfectly stacked pyramid of cannoli, sweet cannoli, drizzled in chocolate sauce and dolloped with heavenly mounds of fresh-whipped sweet cream. Chianti wine sure went fine with each course, right down to the big finale, Carvel ice cream cake.
Where was my young accountability coach to reign me in? She knew better than to bug me to exercise on my birthday. Smart kid. Now you know why I picked her.
Thursday, July 21
Back on the fitness horse (and a couple of pounds heavier than when I started this crazy bet), I pretty much owned the weights machine. With guilt-fueled gusto, I had a belly full of Thai boba tea and jalapeno slice-topped buttered popcorn that I gorged myself on while watching the new Ghostbusters movie earlier in the evening with my daughter and niece. Dieting on girls’ night out isn’t a thing, right?
Getting started was challenging again. Tired, stuffed and desperately seeking Friday, I was tempted once more to be a lazy schlub and skip my scheduled workout. But then I remembered the $200 I’d lose if I slacked. Oddly, I also kind of sort of felt the urge to work out. Maybe I really was forming a new habit, like StickK’s co-founder said I would. I also dug that my arms had started to look a little less like big, fat loaves of white bread. I clung to that mini-win for motivation.
There’s also the fact that if I failed to suck it up and exercise, I’d have less money to pay our air-conditioning bill with. My husband’s fears confirmed, we were up $200 in one month over what we normally pay. I have everything to do with the increase and he knows it, thus why he’s asked me to fork over the money and pay the bill out of my savings. He’d warned me to cool it with the cooled air and I ignored him.
Speaking of cooling down while the mercury rises, breaking a sweat in an already sweaty, sweltering southern California heat wave isn’t as awful as I thought it’d be. I opened both doors to the garage, big and small, to let the wind whip me while I worked out.
Once again, I upped the weight of some of my lifting exercises, feeling a twinge of pride as I hoisted the pull bar. The lesson: With a little more effort, I could handle a lot more. Progress doesn’t take long when it comes to fitness, not if you stick to it.
Keeping the momentum going, I dusted off the poster that came with our nautilus machine. Looking bewilderedly at the glut of sample exercises on it, it hit me that I was skating by doing the bare minimum. From then on, I beefed up my routine and focused more on my lower body, not just on my arms, chest and back.
Next up, the human hamster wheel, the treadmill. I half-assed it on the squeaky machine after lifting weights. I cranked up the incline to the max and walked at a brisk pace for a half-hour while my husband and daughter pumped iron in intervals. At least I was on the darn machine.
Friday, July 22
Workout? What workout?! Was I still doing this StickK deal? All of the kids and my husband were out and about and I had the house -- and garage-gym -- all to myself. So, naturally, I decided to sprawl out on my bed and stare blankly at my smartphone for hours, “exercising” my brain. More like rotting it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all of which I’d quit for good, clearly.
I was again depressed about my 13-year-old still being away in Oregon. Feeling sorry for myself, I chose the creature comfort inactivity and slovenliness over what I really needed -- the adrenaline and confidence boost working out never fails to deliver.
Saturday, July 23
Same depressing deal as yesterday. I’ll spare you the carb-loaded details. The best I could do was watch a movie about someone who exercised, jumped and sprinted his way past far bigger hurdles than I’ve ever faced on an inspiring journey to four Olympic gold medals. That someone is the late, great Jesse Owens. Me? I was apparently preparing to snap a medal for procrastinating and making excuses not to work out.
Sunday July 24
Still stubbornly avoiding the treadmill and weight machine, I forced my family into another day of “quality time” at the beach. They, too, wanted to laze about the house and watch TV or play Xbox, but I wasn’t having it. If I had to get up and active, they had to, too.
For a third Sunday in a row, we drove to nearby Seal Beach again and beat ourselves up in the angry waves, arms and legs constantly moving. Exercising at the beach was becoming a habit and I was sticking to it, and keeping my $200 StickK money in the process.
Again I squeezed my plump trunk into a bathing suit like sausage in an opaque black swimsuit casing. I was even chunkier than last summer, and I didn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit then either. My hesitancy could have something to do with the 40, yes, four-oh, pounds of excess weight I’m lugging around.
Inspired by this fitness bet, I’ve realized that my kids are getting older, I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want them to remember me being so overcome with self-imposed body shame that I wouldn’t swim with them. I didn’t even take so much as a dip during the three years we lived at our last house, which had a pool. Add to my newfound desire to model embracing body positivity that I’m extremely competitive by nature. I wasn’t about to let my own self-sabotaging habits cause me to crack and quit one more time.
So there I was again, floating in the waves on my back, my red-painted toes peeking out from the seaglass-green surf, forgetting for a blissful minute about StickK-ing to it, forgetting about work deadlines and swimming upstream in a perpetual state of catch-up. I kept my legs churning water, horizontally scissor-kicking to hopefully melt away some surplus thigh sludge, not that I hold out any hope for a thigh gap. (I’m 41, not 21, OK?) I swam out out deeper and deeper over my head, ensuring that I’d have to constantly tread. Who knows, maybe I’d even shed a pound, which I hadn’t managed to do on this fitness bet yet. All of the post-workout celebration beers and pasta and popcorn-fests canceled out my progress.
I waded out deeper and deeper, far ahead of my group. I’ve always been one of those annoying people who has to walk or apparently swim at the head of the pack. From my vantage point, I assigned myself the role of spotting swells girthy enough to body surf on. My husband, son, daughter and son’s friend body-slammed into wave after wave, throwing their shivering selves headlong into the frothy breaks. I wasn’t brave enough to get whipped around like a ragdoll. Wave spotting, I’ll take it. It’s is a much safer bet.
We grew soggy in the surf, staying submerged for about two hours total. Not bad, especially as I was perpetually in motion. So what if I blew off the gym again? This was more fun and it still counted as a workout. Plus, we’d made more good family memories and I’d learned to let go a bit and relax. The benefits of breaking a sweat were adding up and new habits were being reinforced.
Monday, July 25
Jogging was my friend. My goal was to keep moving on the treadmill, to get the blood pumping, but not at a full-run pace, and move I did. After completing my treadmill warmup, I switched to weights, churning out curls, bench presses, arm and leg extensions and more.
I came *this close* to not working out because I wanted to watch the Democratic National Convention on TV. Even if I still felt the Bern, I wasn’t about to miss a woman being nominated for president for the first time in American history. My dutiful daughter and perhaps future president, my very capable stickler of a StickK accountability coach, reminded me that I could watch history unfurl from my phone, outside in the gym “that Daddy built for you” via Facebook. Dang, she was good. Real good at guilting me.
At one point the treadmill was so loud under my pounding Nike Free RN Flyknits, combined with the din of my daughter’s rhythmic grunts as she pushed through her lifting regiment, that I switched to a Gawker Facebook Live DNC feed. It showed Bill Clinton’s teleprompter as his speech happened, revealing the parts he ad-libbed through. I noticed that being distracted by news as it happens was another great way to get through a workout, a welcome distraction that made the time fly. Visualizing spending the $200 StickK money I was saving by obeying my fitness commitment on a new outfit also helped me keep my eyes on the prize.
Wednesday, July 27
Today was workout-in-a-dress day, because why the heck not? I just happened to be wearing a casual cotton halter cover-up dress and my daughter wore a striped sailor-type dress. Neither of us felt up to changing into workout clothes. Besides, better to take advantage of not working out in a gym surrounded by sweaty strangers anyway.
I started off by taking it easy on the treadmill once again for a few-minute warmup. So geriatrically slow I strutted that I might as well have worn a leather fanny pack filled with stool softener pills. Easy like Sunday morning, but not quite.
A neighbor drove down the alley my garage opens to and did a double-take at us. Must’ve been the dresses. Meanwhile, my dog Oso stretched on the hot concrete floor, panting in the 84-degree southern California heat. Occasionally, he trotted over to the treadmill, staring at it, then at the ground and down at his paws. He probably wondered why the floor didn’t move beneath him, too. Watching him do this cute routine cracks my girl up every time. I mean, it is pretty funny. He’s not the sharpest pup in the kennel.
Now that I think of it, you can add logging quality time with my pup into the growing lists of the benefits of sticking to this StickK deal.
Friday, July 29
Today marked a milestone. My fitness commitment and resulting assimilation were complete. I’d worked out more than four times in two weeks. I also stopped giving a rip about the $200 I could’ve lost and the bragging rights I won. I achieved my goal despite my inherent physical laziness and ineptitude.
Today was also different for another reason. Something had finally clicked and the change was palpable. I genuinely wanted to work out, and in the garage, not in my lazy river ocean. I felt like I had to. I needed to. Of course it could’ve been the scary story I wrote today about a study linking time spent binge-watching TV to blood clots that can kill you, but I’d like to think it was sheer force of habit. A habit I’d built up, day after day, like a muscle.
I chugged through my routine like a machine, on both the treadmill and nautilus. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my workout had become old hat, but it had become easier, even comforting to complete. Running, which I’d avoided to the best of my procrastinating ability, was even becoming routine. I even liked it and my legs were no longer stiff and sore. They were even looking more toned and muscular. Nah, I probably just imagined that.
My last triumphant StickK commitment workout behind me, my family gathered around the kitchen table to celebrate the only way we Lachance-Shandrows know how: by eating our feelings. Yep, even the happy feels. My husband had grilled cheeseburgers (and a veggie burger for my vegetarian daughter). I’d built up an appetite for his cooking, having repeatedly huffed the savory scent of flame-seared beef teasing my nostrils as I finished a hearty run on the treadmill. Working out to justify eating, I’d gotten used to it in just a couple of weeks.
If not for my editor assigning this, I’m sure I’d still be sitting on my beanbag chair of a butt, zoning out to the drivel pouring out of Netflix or Facebook or Instagram, night after night. Now, surprisingly having stuck to my StickK fitness commitment, technically within the admittedly safely lax-ish boundaries and expectations I purposely put in place for myself, I’m stronger and healthier than before I started.
For the first time since I packed on the pounds, I’m inching toward liking the curvaceous body I see in the mirror after I emerge from the shower. At least I’m actually looking at it now instead of looking away, which I did for years. Yes, the middle-aged bonebag encasing me is still plenty doughy, and my thick thighs still involuntarily collide, but with each workout I sweat out, it gets firmer and tighter. I’m a work in progress and working out progresses me closer to my goal of losing 40 pounds.
As for the $200 I refused to lose, I’m still giving it to my husband. I more than owe him for perpetually spotting me thousands upon thousands of dollars over the past 20 years. He deserves it for building us a gym that I now regularly use. Without an accountability app such as StickK, and without my husband’s support and my daughter’s goading, I’d stand in the gym eating chocolate bars, watching my husband work out alone, like I did before this whole adventure.
Now I get in there with him and run for my life, to invest in it and hopefully lengthen it for more time with him and with my kids, now and for the long haul. I’ve gotten so into it that I’ve even surpassed my husband in my workout frequency, doubling how much he works out in a week, but he doesn’t need to know I told you. Somehow, he’s still kicking my ass at our weight loss bet anyway. The winner scores enough money to buy an entirely new wardrobe. I’d better play some catch up, starting with a five-mile run on the dreadmill. Turns out, once you get used to it, it’s not so dreadful after all.