A Tight Squeeze

The Mountain Farmgirl had a fairly sedentary winter, spending much of it sitting at her computer and at the front desk of her inn. Yes, she occasional split some wood and filled the woodbin so the guests could have a crackling fire, but somehow, despite eating her usual salads and rice cakes, she has managed to put on almost 10 pounds since the last time she checked. Yiiiikes!!!! Now those jeans are just a little too tight for comfort. Not only that, but her oldest son is getting married in (count ‘em!) 33 days and she wants to look her level best. Has anyone else accumulated a few extra pounds during that cozy season of winter hibernation? Want to do something about it? Jog along with Mountain Farmgirl Cathi Belcher on a downhome Farmgirl Workout as she sets her spring fitness goals to get permanently back into shape in time to be Mother-of –the-Groom!

. As a Farmgirl who has battled with eating issues and self-image her whole life, she wants to address how those two perceptions are often at odds with one another.

Note: This is the first of a 2-part series on getting in shape and being healthy so that others can see us at our best. Next time, Part 2, “Body Image: We’re Not Just a Number on a Scale” will deal with the much more important issue of how we see ourselves

Oh My Gosh!! How did this happen?! Not the end of the world in the grand scheme of things, of course, but I’m usually pretty thin and suddenly my blue jeans are DEFINITELY tight. This is a wake-up call to action, girls, and I don’t mean heading on down to my favorite consignment shop to buy a larger size. The snow has finally melted here in New Hampshire (except for Mount Washington and the higher peaks in the White Mountains), so there is no excuse!  It’s time to start walking again and working out. Spring cleaning isn’t just for our cupboards and closets, you know … we need to lighten ourselves up physically as well.
I’ve never belonged to a gym or health club in my life, not that I think there is anything wrong with someone else joining one. As personal discipline has never been an issue for me (I am really self-motivated and don’t procrastinate), I probably would have made a successful candidate for reaching fitness goals at a health club in the company of like-minded others.  But I am more of a loner and a homebody than that, and somehow, I just never had the extra time or money to spend ‘working out’ that way … it always felt sort of artificial and almost self-indulgent to me.  My definition of ‘working out’, has more of a farmgirl connotation: “Working” and “Out(side)”. Ordinary daily activities have always provided lots of exercise that give me a healthy workout and make me tired enough to get a good night’s sleep. ‘Never could see the reason to pay a fee for such things, and even if I did, where would I get the time? Back on my old homestead in the Catskill Mountains of New York this ‘workout’ used to mean anything from feeding the chickens to carrying water for Chloe, my pygmy goat; to chopping and stacking firewood, working in the garden, building a stone wall or vigorously grinding my own flour and then kneading dough for our daily homemade bread. And as a homeschool mother of four, just keeping up with the kids and the housework was a workout in itself! Here in New Hampshire at the inn, however, while I may still get up with the chickens, I don’t have any to tend at the moment. Instead, I bake for my guests, put in long hours at the front desk, tend the gardens, stack the firewood and many other things. These are all daily workouts that provide healthy physical activity naturally and kill two birds with one stone. I like the economy of that! But truth be told, I do spend more time on the phone than I would like, and as a writer, I have to face the fact that the writer’s life IS a rather sedentary one, passion though it may be. Now that spring is here – (dare I say it? It hasn’t snowed for at least 2 weeks!!) -- I plan to start doing more of those outdoor things again.  Still, there are times like the present -- with a wedding or a class reunion or some other event on the horizon -- when you need to kick it up a notch to put your best face forward. In that case, there is no time like the present to take control of the situation and start a weight loss regimen. And I don’t mean tomorrow, or after the weekend is over; I mean right NOW; there’s no time (but plenty of weight) to lose. So let’s get started; anybody want to join me in shedding a few pounds?
I have found that making the decision to actually start a personal program is the hardest part of all. Once you begin – and start to see some progress – it’s a piece of cake to keep up the good work. Errr … well, maybe not CAKE exactly, but you know what I mean. Inertia works both ways, whether sitting on your duff or being really active; the momentum of your activities (or lack of them) helps maintain your weight, for good or ill.
We are by and large (with the emphasis on LARGE) a sedentary culture. Ever wonder why obesity is becoming such a problem in today’s world? It’s not just the fault of the junk food that is so prevalent. Modern life has taken all the effort out of just about everything we do (except, that is, the stresses of daily living, world affairs and just plain making ends meet). And we all know that stress and worry make us want to ‘munch’ away the tension one bite at a time; it’s a vicious cycle. We feel bad so we eat; we eat and gain weight and that makes us feel bad! Self-sufficient lifestyles are few and far between. These days sadly, the closest that Computer Addicts and Couch Potatoes will ever come to “growing” their own vegetables is online on a virtual farm, or watching a gardening show on television. The majority of Americans will never come to know the joys of farming or small scale gardening, one of the most wholesome, healthy and weight regulating activities there is. We have become a sedentary culture. Our Founding FarmMothers didn’t have that problem … they were active from morning till night, getting plenty of exercise and a whole lot of chores accomplished at the same time. I’ll bet you a dozen eggs that few Farmgirls a century ago were seriously overweight (and certainly not obese by today’s standards). Yet look around anywhere you go: ‘fit’, in-shape people are few and far between these days. We eat too much of the wrong kinds of foods, get too little exercise, and have altogether too little real-world connections with what goes on in our daily lives. All in all it is a recipe for poor health, overweight and depression.
They say that you can fill an ocean one drop of water at a time, and the same is true for our bodies. We don’t become overweight overnight. With the exception of one of my heroes, Mr. Rogers, (who somehow managed to maintain his 143 pound body weight his entire life!), most of us fluctuate day to day, week to week, one bite at a time. This is fine as long as we catch ourselves before those extra bites or splurges become more than 5 pounds, because when they do, those five become ten, and the sky is the limit. I have found that the best place to begin a sensible health and exercise program is by walking. It’s a natural activity that’s not as drastic as starting with sit-ups for example, and we can almost fool ourselves into getting started without much effort. This is such a good exercise and it costs virtually nothing (except perhaps a good pair of walking shoes). There are so many benefits of walking:
·        It improves circulation
·        It stimulates the lymph system which keeps us healthy.
·        It also releases endorphins that make us feel happier and think more clearly.
·        After a good walk, I find that I am not as hungry as I was before I started. Walking reduces our appetite, helping us to eat less.
·        It increases heart rate.
·        It’s a weight bearing exercise that helps deter osteoporosis.
·        And of course, it burns calories, and consequently fat. Yea!
My old friend Thoreau, even wrote a tiny book on it, called (not surprisingly), “Walking”! After a day or two of beginning a walking regimen, I find that my whole outlook changes. I have more energy, less cravings and feel better in general. I love to walk in the woods, on the beach when I visit my sister in the sunny south, anywhere really! Here in Jackson, NH where I live, we have a 1.5 mile walking loop that goes through our covered bridge and around the town green. The town keeps it plowed in the winter, and year round, day in and day out, you will always see people walking ‘The Loop’ no matter what the weather. It’s so picturesque that people come from nearby villages and park their cars to walk The Loop. But if you don’t have a ‘loop’ or live by the woods or the sea, no problem! When my husband was in law school a lifetime ago, we temporarily lived in New York City. Believe it or not, I got more walking done there than I did growing up in the country, where things were so far apart that a car was absolutely necessary to get from one place to another. We walked MILES in the city every day without even thinking about it. I’ll bet no matter where you live you’ll find that in the course of a normal day, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to walk. When somebody beats me to that parking place I was heading for near the grocery store entrance, I don’t get mad, I just park further down and get in a few more steps toward my walking goal.  I also like to take the stairs instead of the elevator when the opportunity arises. My son currently lives on the 6th floor at Johns Hopkins University, and never takes the elevator. Last time I visited him, we took the stairs, and believe me it will give you plenty of exercise. Trying to keep up with him and his 6’ legs was a challenge! Confession time! Believe it or not, I was seriously seduced by an ad for an elliptical stair machine a few years back. I rationalized it in a hundred ways: I wouldn’t have to go to a gym (not that I ever did!!!), I could do it while listening to an educational lecture on tape, I could get my exercise no matter what the weather, year in, year out. But not only was it very expensive, it took up a whole lot of floor space I could scarcely afford to give up in my tiny house. I finally came to my senses right before I placed the order, and am forever thankful for it. I live in the mountains, and if I just veer off “The Loop” for a bit more of a walking workout, the steepness of the hills around here are every bit as effective as a stair machine, plus you get the added benefit of fresh air and sunlight to boot … not to mention the opportunity to say good morning to your neighbors as you pass them walking by as well.
In an effort to live more simply, I gave up my car exactly one year ago. Although I sometimes borrow my husband’s, I have been mostly walking and biking ever since. The mile and a half from our inn to my log cabin is an all-uphill 1.3 miles. I have not yet conquered it without walking my bike up the really steep parts, but that’s okay; I’m still getting my exercise. Coming downhill in the morning though, as you can imagine, is literally a breeze! In the simple act of getting myself from home to work and back again, I have gotten a good workout without even thinking about it, and at today’s price of gas, cumulatively I’ve saved a lot of money at the pumps, too. The wildlife I’ve noticed along the way is amazing and an extra bonus. Last summer I almost always passed baby fox triplets on my way down the hill; the other afternoon I saw a large black bear!
Other daily activities burn calories for me, too, in the process of ‘just getting my work done’. This week, I have been working on a number of projects. BIG projects. Firewood was first on the list. Recently, my husband and I took down a few trees at the inn.  I love trees, and HATE to cut ‘em down, but these were dying and had to go. I also had 7 pickup loads of logs up at my cabin from some clearing work we did last year, and with the help of my youngest son Joshua and his friend Duncan, we brought them all to the inn. Much of  the wood, once cut into lengths, I was able to split myself, but some of the logs were killers, either too big or too knotty to conquer. For those, we bartered the use of a friend’s log splitter, and even making use if this modern convenience was a farmgirl workout! As my husband put the logs on the splitter bed and pulled the handle, I picked up the pieces and put them into the wheelbarrow to take for stacking. I guess I was getting a bit punchy after awhile (maybe it was the gasoline fumes) because at one point I started laughing out loud. My mind somehow remembered the silly chick-flick called  “Legally Blonde” (not my usual genre of films by the way), but I thought of that scene in the beauty shop where the ladies learn the technique of “Bend, and SNAP!” It is so ridiculous it’s funny! You’d have to see the film to ‘get’ it, but while bending for the split pieces of wood for practically the thousandth time that day, I translated it to my task at hand: “Bend, and STACK!” Okay, sorry. I guess you had to be there … but seeing the funny side of life always helps when we get tired! All in all, I moved, split and stacked 10 cords of wood in about 2 days. I’m sore and I’m tired, but now I’m set for firewood for years to come and I’ve had heart healthy exercise that’s getting me into shape and comfortably into my mother-of-the-groom dress.

Spring came late for us in New England this year, so many of the things that were on the spring “To Do’ list that would normally get done in April or early May never got touched until last week. As a result, an enormous list of very big projects must be done before we leave for our son’s wedding, as we will be too busy at the inn after we return. Raking leaves and preparing the flower beds was one of them. It is a wonderful upper arm workout as you will know and appreciate when your arms ache at the end of the day! ( Flower planting will come just before we leave). Then there was my cabin to spruce up. I had two pallets of stones left over from a project I was working on last year, but they were right in the middle of the driveway and had to go. Using a stone boat I pulled them load by load across the lawn and built a couple of stone walls in a single afternoon. There is nothing quite so satisfying as working with stone for me. I was mighty tired at the end of the day, but hugely happy … and as a bonus, I slept really well! The last of my BIG projects got half completed this week: staining my log cabin. The rest will have to wait until the rain that’s currently stalled over New England (which is forecasted for at least 7 days out), has passed. The next sunny day though, I will be staining the rest of the logs which make up my cabin. Being about 60 years old, they are sorely dry from the sun that beats through the pines and badly weathered by the New Hampshire winds that sweep off  Mount Washington, only 10 minutes away. This project is long overdue. In two days I got half of the cabin coated, with the result of the rich wood grain and years of patina now glowing through. I also stained my deck. All this is not to impress you as to how hard I can work, but to say that in the course of a day there are many activities we all do that take energy to accomplish and burn calories. No matter how much the ad agencies try to convince us that we need the latest gadget or piece of equipment, just in the course of everyday living – as humans were intended to live – we burn plenty of calories to keep us in shape.
But exercise is just half the equation in the fitness solution. We cannot get away from the fact that no matter how much energy we expend, if we take in more calories than we use, we are going to gain weight. Simple and rational the concept may be, however, the ‘food component’ is a highly emotional issue for many of us. Next time I’ll focus on the emotions of eating, body image and eating disorders. Today I’d like to finish up by talking about some of the ‘mechanics’ of the food we eat; the “What”, “When”, “Where” and “How” of eating.
I have been a vegetarian since 1982, many of those years a vegan, but I added fish and a little dairy when I was severely anemic during my last pregnancy, and it has stuck with me and worked well for the last 15 years. For the most part I have since maintained a lean 105-110 pounds NOT by dieting, but by eating by certain principles that were outlined in a book someone gave me 15 years ago or more called Fit For Life. Yes, I know there was some controversy about it at one point, and I am not a fanatic about adhering to it. But I DO know that when I follow the ideas the Diamonds outlined in their book, I magically maintain the above weight, and when I get away from it (like this past winter), I suddenly find that I have some extra weight to lose.
Basically, the strategy is never to overeat to the point where you feel uncomfortable, bloated and sluggish. You know … that gluttonous, heavy  feeling after Thanksgiving dinner where everyone just wants to go to sleep, groaning! (My heroes Helen and Scott Nearing held such contempt for gluttony that they fasted every holiday as a personal protest). Anyway, cardinal rule #1 (Not Overeating) is what I call the “How” of eating. The “What” is up to you but “When” you eat turns out to be a big factor in the equation. Guideline #2 is “Nothing but fruit until noon, and as much of it as you like.” This works well for me most of the year even being as physically active as I sometimes am, but I find that in the north in the winter, just fruit is not enough even for me, and I eat organic whole oatmeal. Now my husband is a big guy, 6’2 and about 210 pounds. He’s a Farmhouse Breakfast kind of guy if there ever was one, and fruit until noon will not sustain him. That’s fine. But being half his size, I eat fresh fruit salad, or whole fruit, or blender drinks I make with fresh or frozen fruit. The fruit in the diet helps with the elimination cycle. For lunch I usually eat a bowl of oatmeal or rice cereal. It stays with me all afternoon until dinner without the need to snack. For dinner I eat fresh salads, steamed vegetables and sometimes a piece of fish.  I rarely count calories, and don’t think my way of eating is better than many others; it just works for me. I try to eat organic, local high-water content foods (fruits and vegetables) as much as possible. Basically, a sensible diet geared to your locale and your personal preferences is best (assuming it does not include lots of fat- and sugar- rich foods). I try never to eat after 8 pm. Hungry as I may feel later in the evening, if I substitute a cup of herbal tea instead, I’ll find that once morning comes along, I’m glad I waited, and even feel quite full when I awaken. Drinking water is another biggie for me … and not just in winter when the air is so dry. I like to drink at least 2 quarts of lemon water a day to keep myself hydrated.   I also take organic vitamin supplements as insurance against anything I might not get into my daily food diet.
So …  I have just one month to go before the wedding  now, and ideally, 10 pounds to lose in that time. Is it because I want everyone to see me looking great? Or is it because I will feel better about myself if I meet my goal – and conversely – BAD about myself if I don’t? These are very complex issues that we’ll focus on next time. But in the meantime, Farmgirls: do you have any downhome tips or recipes on what to eat to look and feel your best … or some physical workouts you can share with us that have worked for you? Until next time …
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings,
Cathi Belcher, The Mountain Farmgirl


By: TJ
On: 05/16/2011 08:08:51
I'm also a homeschooling mom and my kids are young - we're doing kindergarten curriculum. So we're in the between stage of the big double jogging stroller with about 100,000 miles we put on it in the past few years... and them being able to keep up with me walking. And I *can't* keep up with them on their bicycles if I'm walking!! :)

SO... one interesting thing I read was that while we need a good 30-45 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week of medium- to hard-exercise, we can get it in 10-15 minute intervals too with about the same level of result. I've got an exercise bike in our basement, and if I can push out 10-20 minutes at a time, 2-3 times a day, my body is still getting those nice exercise benefits but I haven't had to take off and leave all the work undone to do so. Obviously whenever possible, I shoot for extended exercise!!

It's quite helpful here in southern Montana now that Spring is here, and winter-weak muscles are getting a nice workout just getting my gardens back into production! Just say *no* to tillers, and do that shovel work by hand (unless your garden is enormous!!). Whew!!

These tips are helpful to me - hope it helps someone else too!!
By: Connie
On: 05/16/2011 08:21:33
Great post. I have put on a number of extra pounds myself...look forward to working with yu on this via blogland.
By: Pam deMarrais
On: 05/16/2011 09:44:13
Wow Cathi, your timing is perfect! I have gained 10# over the winter too, and I am lacking the discipline it takes to get it off. Your words have inspired me to "get a grip" and increase my activity and decrease my portions! I like the idea of eating only fruit before noon, and I will try that, but I confess that I would have to eat an occasional country egg for breakfast [that is, if I can't hold off until lunch]. I maintained my weight of 117# for several years, until I stopped walking 2 miles a day. I am too embarrassed to say how much weight that not walking has added over the past several years. I do hike with my dogs almost every day, but I know that I need to be more committed if I am to lose all that I have packed on. Thanks for your encouragement!
By: Angie Lavezzo
On: 05/16/2011 15:38:05
What a great article! Your advise is both practical and inspirational; I can't wait to read part 2! Thanks :)
By: Wendy Brown
On: 05/16/2011 16:56:38
Physical workouts? Lets see. You start by getting out the chalk for hopscotch, the hoola hoop, badminton raquets, and a wagon for pulling small people and a dog up and down the hill. I have grandkids and realized I was getting too out of shape to play the games I use to love. So I joined jazzercise and love it. I'm now jumping rope,oh hey! there's another kid game, and playing more with the kids. Do any of you remember the 2 poles horizontal to the ground and you stepped and moved between them without getting your ankles smacked by the two kids weilding them? That was super fun. I hope you let us all know how your doing. I have 70 to lose. Maybe we can all meet after we reach our goal weight at the beach farmgirl's cabin. woo hoo. Good luck everybody!
By: Jan
On: 05/16/2011 17:24:56
Great timing for a post. I'm a southern neighbor in CT and about the same age. This winter really put me out of shape as well, though shoveling snow helped, I found I ate and slept more. Today I went to the gym at my workplace for a long overdue workout. It's not so much the weight but the lack of conditioning that I'm feeling and my svelte sister is getting married in August so I have a goal. Funny, I like the "Body for Life for women" book, same principles and they work. Sensible healthy eating and burning more calories than you take in (sounds easy-ha!). Good luck to you all!
By: Keleen
On: 05/16/2011 17:58:08
Cathi, thanks for saying that you had rather get your workout by actually WORKING than by going to a gym! I've been thinking that I'm the only one.
By: Brenda
On: 05/18/2011 17:45:18
I have found that eating all my carbs early and none after 6:oo p.m. has helped . So that means have alot of fresh veggies to snack on at night. I have put some weight on the last few years and taking it off isn't easy.Walking is on of the best exercise and I think I will join you for the next month and see if I can loose l0 pounds too. I don't go to a gym either but I do work and have alot of other things to keep me busy. So here I go starting right now. (or maybe after these cookies) just kidding. Thanks for the extra push.
By: Linda
On: 05/30/2011 23:02:59
I started a weight loss program through a doctor in my area. For the first time in 21 years I am actually loosing weight-24 pounds so far! I still have about 30 or so pounds to go. I have learned that eating vegetarian helps a lot and my husband read a fitness article that says women loose more pounds by weight lifting,walking is an excellent way to build bone strength. I have my garden going(by hand), talk about sweat equity! I hope between my mini farm and the gym that I will be able to regain my health and full energy. It will definitely help to have blog partners.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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