Reed All About It returns. . .again

In the eight months since I left my Saturday post as a newspaper columnist for The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve floundered. I’m not a perfect candidate for structured 8-5 work, but I’m TERRIBLE at self-employment. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s brain chemicals, but within six weeks of leaving the paper, I wasn’t writing and I was in trouble.

Who knew writing (or not writing) would foster such pain. My trouble was in the mental department. See, my Saturday gig for the paper was a simple little column about whatever was going on during that week of my life. And I quit, abruptly. Mind you I have no regrets about leaving the paper. New ownership was taking it in an uncomfortable direction. My family was supportive, but I had no game plan. It was a classic case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Today's writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.
Today’s writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.

When I left the paper in February, I was in the midst of what I preferred to call rigorous “brain training,” forcing disciplining myself to put healthier foods and liquids in my body. Ignorant of the brain’s power, once I stopped writing, much of my rational, healthy thinking stopped as well.

I found myself binging, sometimes on junk food, but usually on rice cakes and crackers, then crouching over a toilet, vomiting. Too real? My apologies. I wish I could clean it up and make it sound better. I can’t. Physically my body had never felt stronger. I was training for a full summer of racing which included two half Ironman events. I was swimming and biking, running, planking and lifting weights. But I couldn’t swim, bike, run or lift enough to keep my mind quiet. And I wasn’t writing.

Without the writing, I wasn’t going inward. I wasn’t listening for that “still, small voice.” Rather, I was keeping everything on the surface, “controllable,” noting every good calorie and bad gram of fat, every good swim and every bad run. And when I’d look at myself, all I saw was failure and obesity. I couldn’t see the strength and the power. I only saw rigid food rules and an inability to work hard enough. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. No matter how far I ran, it wasn’t enough. No matter how heavy I lifted or how long I held a plank, it was never enough. But the purging? As crazy as it sounds, I’d feel so good after doing it. And yet I also knew the brief reprieve vomiting gave me was a complete and utter delusion.

I started dropping little hints about the darkness to a couple of friends, only in texts, never in person. By March I was scared I’d reached a point where I had to binge and purge. I wanted to be strong and healthy! I didn’t want to be chained to the terrible pattern of overeating and vomiting! And that’s when I found myself telling one of my sisters. It wasn’t planned. I had every intention of keeping it a secret, but I told on myself and got involved with a therapist.

Since March I haven’t made myself sick, but I’ve wanted to. When I shove awful junk food in my mouth, at the time it’s as if I go mindless and am watching myself, knowing I shouldn’t be eating, but unable to stop. And then when I’m done? When the reality of what I just ate sinks in? I want it OUT so badly. Take today, for example! My lunch? I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and a full canister of Pringles. What the hell?!!!!!! I had a great 6 mile run this morning as well as a session with my therapist and yet it’s taking everything in me not to give up and just walk to the bathroom. First world problems . . .

Obviously I’m not better and there’s so many things tangled in this knot! Just this morning I listened to the 26 October 2015 interview of Gloria Steinem by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air and how Steinem, a self-proclaimed ‘foodaholic’, at age 81 still can’t have certain foods in her house. So will I ever get better? Will I ever be cured? Doubtful. Gross quoted Steinem’s own words to her, “I’m a fat woman who’s not fat at the moment.” In the interview, Steinem admits, “I’m still a sugar junkie. I still find it very difficult. I can’t keep certain kinds of food in the house because they talk to me . . . I cannot keep ice cream or bread or anything too rewarding in the house.”

How depressing. I crave balance almost as much as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if it were just about the Reese’s or the Pringles or the bread, the solution would be simple: don’t eat it. Just like with alcoholism, right? Don’t drink and life gets better, right? Wrong. In 2001 when I quit drinking, my life got worse until I had no fight left, until I was beat up enough to start listening for that “still, small voice,” until I could hear what people were trying to teach me. I suppose my food issue is no different. Fuck.

So I guess that’s it? I’m not making myself vomit, but I’m still binging? If I can frame my food issue in the context of drinking, it’s possible for me to have hope. If I keep working at it, I’ll get better, right? Hopefully. Hopefully I’ll gain a stronger, healthier sense of self. And I guess to some degree that’s already begun. I can’t see my day-to-day growth, but when I look back at where I was in March, you bet your ass I’m in a much better place. And most importantly, I’m writing again.

. . . whew! What a heavy way to restart “Reed All About It,” eh? If prior readers know anything about me, it’s that I’ll always be real. Who knows what future posts will bring, but I will never offer fakery . . . so please come back, and thank you.

Journeying to a healthier ‘bass’


The other day I saw a video clip of a horse in his stall, bobbing his head to the Meghan Trainor song, “All About That Bass.” Aside from the humorous aspect of seeing horses, like humans, enjoy a fun, funky beat, the song lyrics speak to the weird obsession our American culture has with size.

“I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop.
We know that s*#t ain’t real, come on now, make it stop.
If you got beauty beauty just raise ‘em up ‘cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size.
She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night.
You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll.
So, if that’s what you’re into than go ahead and move along.
Because you know I’m all about that bass ‘bout that bass, no treble.”

The song was released last summer and was an instant hit. While Trainor, the singer, was lauded for its message, it’s a sad reflection on the qualities our culture holds dear.

brrry scurry 2015Our culture has an extremely weird view of body image. I have a dear friend who lives with a disease that’s ravaged her body down to a size two. At her most unhealthy, I had another friend tell me how fabulous she looked. Knowing she wasn’t even capable of taking a daily walk, I was aghast.

And then there’s the flip side, enabling obesity. Given how much goes into the obesity issue: poverty, genetics, lifestyle, healthcare, etc., it’s no surprise that a large chunk (forgive the pun) of our nation is heading toward the blubber-esque future depicted on the spaceship in the 2008 movie “WALL-E” in which humans simply sat in hover chairs and motored around.

Mixed into this psychosis is the anti-aging business: Botex, tummy tucks, neck lifts and all sorts of breast enhancements.

Just last week there was the un-retouched photo of Cindy Crawford in which she’s rocking sexy lingerie despite a wrinkly, fleshy belly.

The responses were as varied as our craziness: there were many who supported the photo for its “realness,” others said it was re-touched to amplify the flaws, while still others lambasted people for praising Crawford’s aging body in an effort to make themselves feel better about their own aging, flawed bodies.

I can’t be the only one who sees this madness for what it is!

Personally? I’m not one to obsess too much about my looks. My sisters would prefer I learn to accessorize, but really, what goes better with jeans and a race shirt than tennis shoes and a hoodie?! I’ll admit, I color my hair, but make-up? Ugh.
That’s not to say I judge others for rocking the latest infinity scarf and never leaving the house without lipstick. I’m actually quite jealous. Just last week I told a sister, “You need to take me shopping. Teach me!”

But looks are not really my thing. Performance, I guess, is what pushes me to try to eat healthy, count my calories, pump the iron and pound the pavement.

A year ago, I gave full disclosure of my physical progress toward a stronger, healthier body. Here’s a comparison, in pounds and inches between then and the last time I was weighed and measured…

Feb. 10, 2014                 vs                Jan. 28, 2015
Lbs-175.8                                          Lbs-162.2 (down 13.6)
Neck-14.75                                       Neck-13.5 (down 1.25)
Chest-41                                          Chest-40.5 (down .5)
Waist-38                                          Waist-35 (down 3)
Hips-42                                            Hips-38 (down 4)
Thighs-23                                        Thighs-22 (down 1)
Arms-12                                           Arms-No change
Body Fat-38%                                  Body Fat-29.2% (down 8.8)

With an overall loss of 13.6 pounds, 9.75 inches and 8.8 percentage points, I’m making some real progress. Especially considering my eating during much of the last year was pretty crazy. It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve refocused my efforts.

As I’ve written before, I can’t exercise my way to a healthier body, I MUST be mindful of what’s going in my mouth. I don’t pay much attention to popular fads like Atkins and Paleo because of my person needs. Given the year-round triathlon training I do, I get the majority of my calories from carbohydrates, followed by proteins with the least amount in fat.

That said, I LOVE FAT! Specifically? Movie popcorn with extra butter (mixed throughout, if you wouldn’t mind).

But seriously, I put this information out there in an effort to stop with the fat shaming, the anorexia adoration, the Barbie doll idolatry and the desire for quick fixes. Change that comes quickly rarely stays. And change without a deeply personal idea of what that change will look and feel like, unfortunately, will never happen. We have to do the work, day in and day out, repeatedly.

So what’s my change look like? For 2015, a little more rational than last year. Just one ultra, one full marathon and two 70.3 Ironman events with lots of little stuff sprinkled throughout.


Originally published 21 February 2015 in The Observer.

2015 training for heart & brain


Resolutions are such bunk. What better way to start off a new year than setting ourselves up for failure?! And yet, thanks to radio and television programs which drone on about resolutions, resolutions seem unavoidable. It’s no surprise many of us buy into the idea that we must dramatically change our life. Why do we torture ourselves so?!

Sure, a new year definitely brings with it the idea of renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation, but let’s tone it down a little, folks. Let’s reframe those resolutions.

First, pause. Take a few moments for silence. Turn off the tv or radio, step away from the computer, put down the Smart Phone or tablet, and listen to the quiet . . . then search your heart. Chances are you know what changes you need to consider. Notice I wrote “consider,” not “start.” For me, just acknowledging and thinking about a specific issue I’m struggling with is a hard enough “start.”

While I’m not a big follower of self-help gurus, I’ve learned some of their notions are pretty spot-on. Take, for instance, the idea that most changes we make in our lives do not come easily. To change, we first must want it.

Another truism gurus spout is being steady with one’s progress. While quick results definitely feed that baby within who “wants what she wants and she wants it NOW,” real results come from taking a slower, more focused and conservative approach to change.

In 2014 I identified four goals I wanted to complete: the spring Hawkeye 50k trail run in Solon, the annual Cornbelt 24-Hour-Run in May, the Racine, Wis., Ironman 70.3 in July and by year’s end, lose 30 pounds. Three out of four ain’t bad.

The 50k was awful, but I finished. The 24-Hour-Run was a joyful riot and I’m definitely doing it again. The half Ironman was amazing so I’m doing that again, too. But the weight loss? Hmmmmm.

Food, per se, is not the enemy, it’s what I eat. For the record, I love garbage. Chips, candy and pastries? Deep fried anything, heavy cream sauces and extra cheese? Bring it!

I’m 8 pounds lighter going into 2015 and while that’s far from the 30 I’d hoped to drop, it’s been a year of learning how hunger, boredom and anxiety play into how and what I eat. In the past year, I’ve really begun to experience the power food holds over me.

A year ago I embarked on a 90-day candy experiment in which I cut candy from my diet. Are there times when I’ll eat candy? Sure, but I don’t consider it a daily or even weekly component of what I put in my mouth.

I did a couple of cleanses and food challenges and through them, am gaining a better understanding of portion size, calorie count and that if I string together too many days “good” eating, I get really, super grumpy.

I’m seeing I will never achieve eating perfection and that it’s ok to have days where I “blow it” and eat anything and everything. What matters is how I follow up those junk days. When I refocus my senses, allow my body to feel hunger and provide necessary structure for my eating, I don’t feel like a failure.

I bought the book “100 Days of Real Food” by Lisa Leake and am realizing the importance of cooking, and that preparing a box of Hamburger Helper does not constitute cooking. I and my family don’t need to drown our veggies in cheese or our pasta in heavy sauces.

I guess I’m growing more mindful of the impact healthy and unhealthy food has on me and my family, and that I don’t have to be so black and white about my food choices. It’s ok to indulge so long as the Big Picture focuses on better health.

Early last month I discovered hot tea. I’ve always wanted to be a tea drinker, but coffee has been my standard go-to. Then one morning I dropped a tea bag in hot water and “Bam! I’ve been doing it every morning since. Does that mean I don’t drink coffee? Heck no! As with candy, I’m totally game for coffee, but I don’t need it.

For 2015 my goals include losing 20 pounds, shaving at least 30 minutes off my Ironman time and focusing less on racing and more on increasing strength and balance. And not just in a physical sense.

As evidenced by Linda Watson’s column last week, change is in full swing at The Observer and who knows where that change will take us. It seems prudent, at the very least, that I slow down and focus on each day. How can I make it better, not just for myself, but for my family and those around me?

I pared down my calendar of events. Instead of four marathons, I’ll just do two. Instead of a race every weekend, just one or two a month. And with both kids in middle school, include them in my training with spins in the basement and hikes at Maquoketa Caves, Scott County Park and the dirt tracks of the Paul Skeffington Memorial Trail.

My 11-year-old son and I like to joke about our 1-pack abs, but when I spin on my bike in the basement or bust out 300 crunches, I want my kids to understand it’s not about the size of my jeans or what I look like. It’s about function. I cannot run or bike or swim or anything if my body doesn’t function properly, which brings me back to food. We can exercise 8 hours a day, but if we’re not eating well, we won’t function.

At Casa Reed Murrell, we don’t diet. We train—our brains, to crave healthier food and our bodies, to live stronger. We’re far from perfect, but we’re moving forward.

If I gleaned anything from my 2014 calendar it was that more is not necessarily a good thing. So I invite you to step into some silence and meditate on what your heart and body are trying to tell you. What is it that needs altering in your life? Maybe it’s nixing Coke, maybe it’s removing a game from your Smart Phone, maybe it’s adding more Down Time to your life.

Whatever your gut is telling you, I promise you change is possible.


Originally published 3 January 2015 in The Observer.