The Virtue Rut

Two years ago, almost to this day, I put up a post over on the old blog called “The Virtue Binge.” Friends and longtime readers know that I lost a significant amount of weight in 2011. (That adventure is documented [and related issues of the cultural politics of body size are explored] in a cluster of posts you can find here.) “The Virtue Binge” focused on my transition to maintenance after I had reached my goal weight seven months after I signed up for a well-known Lifestyle Adjustment Program. Like many of my posts on body matters, “The Virtue Binge” wrestles with how to talk and think about such matters without being punitive, terroristic, or fat-shaming. At the same time, it conveys the joy, even the giddiness, of feeling happy in my body again after years of feeling out of shape and out of sorts. I even offered readers tantalizing glimpses of the results of my renewed commitments to eating less and moving more:

Photo Credit: Anon, Self-Portrait After Plank Workshop, 7/30/11. Originally published here.

Self-Portrait After Plank Workshop. Photo Credit: Anon, 7/30/11. Originally published here.

Two years later, as you might suspect from the title of this post, I find myself in a different, more anxious place. I’ve decided to blog about it for reasons not unlike those that led me to go public with my recent colonoscopy: I’ve got a body. You’ve got a body. Why should we keep quiet about that? Perhaps by talking, we can learn from each other, help each other, or at least enjoy a few commiserating laughs. Also, it’s summer. I don’t feel like blogging about MOOCs. Or Anthony’s Weiner.

So, what’s with the decidedly un-giddy sound of the sequel to “The Virtue Binge”? What is “The Virtue Rut,” and how did I end up in it? First let me say that I haven’t gone all couch potato on you. I haven’t given up exercise and gone back to a steady diet of Cheetos and dry martinis. A typical week still includes a couple of 4-4.5 mile runs and a 90-minute yoga class. We were away from home for much of June, and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that I did quite a bit of eating and drinking while we were gone, first on our Italian adventure and then visiting with family on the shores of Lake Michigan. Still, I give myself credit for not sitting on my duff the whole time we were traveling. I sought out opportunities to get my heart pumping and reveled in the pleasures of active vacationing: a sweet early morning run along the banks of the Arno in Florence, a 20-mile bike ride on southwest Michigan’s Kal-Haven Trail, a walk/jog/photo shoot through a Tuscan vineyard drenched in some of the most glorious light I have ever seen. I love to travel this way. I always feel that I haven’t really visited a place until I’ve taken a run through its streets. And stumbled across something like this:

Photo Credit: The Madwoman in Italy, 6/21/13

Photo Credit: The Madwoman in Italy, 6/21/13

Fine, Madwoman, we get the picture (haha), but we’re still waiting for you to explain what you mean by the virtue rut. Oh, right. Sorry.

What I mean is that, two years after a major weight loss, my weight recently has been trending upward, and I think it’s because I’ve gotten complacent and maybe a little bored with the routine of trying to stay more or less in the same place. This is a familiar story, of course: You lose weight. You’re proud, you’re happy, you know what you need to do to keep it off. Time passes. You skip a workout here, eat or drink too much there, weigh yourself the next morning and discover that you haven’t regained 53 pounds overnight. So you start playing little games, letting old habits (another bite of this, a couple more glasses of that) creep back in, and the next thing you know, you’re up a pound. Or three. Or seven. No wine for me tonight, you think, and maybe an extra ten minutes on the treadmill. But, shoot, we’ve got that dinner with X tonight. . . . It’s a vicious cycle. You know where it leads. Can you stop the cycle? Change the pattern?

It’s comforting to know the problem I’m having might arise, at least partly, from changes in my metabolism rather than defects in my character (as the fat-shamer’s emphasis on willpower, evident in the paragraph above, tends to imply). Recent studies suggest that weight loss triggers hormonal shifts that increase appetite and slow metabolism because biology is fighting to keep weight on. The theory is that being too thin was once an evolutionary disadvantage. Your inner cave woman, with rocks to move and bears to outrun, wants the whole damn 2-pound slab of Tuscan T-bone, not the petite filet.

Let them eat BEEF! Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 6/20/13

Let them eat BEEF! Photo Credit: The Madwoman in Italy, 6/20/13

I dig the theory, because it jibes with my sense that, even allowing for some admitted overindulgence, my body seems almost eager to put on weight. Is that what I mean? I struggled with how to complete that sentence, writing first that my body was resisting my efforts to maintain a certain weight. Perhaps I just mean that my metabolism seems to have slowed down. I’ve felt sluggish lately, even on the treadmill. I overheat easily and find it difficult to sustain my usual pace. It’s clear to me that I need to make some adjustments in order to drop the pounds I’ve put on and get back to where I’d like to be weight-wise. We’re really just talking about a few pounds, folks, but I know it will require taking in fewer calories and burning more. I figure I need to add at least one more vigorous cardio workout a week, but here’s the rub: It’s too hot to do much running outside, and I’m bored as hell on the treadmill. I need a fun new cardio alternative.

Yes, this is an open invitation to tell me what you are doing for fun and fitness these days. Zumba? Spin? Z-GoGo? Canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota? Boxing with bears in a national park? I’m open to anything that will raise both my heart rate and the corners of my mouth. I don’t mind being virtuous, but I’ve got to get out of this rut and make myself want to work out again. The more playful it feels, the more likely I am to do it, repeatedly.

I look forward to hearing from all of you sweating, happy people. And from those of you who are, like me, fighting the doldrums of summer and middle age. In the meantime, the interwebz are full of good advice on how to reach or maintain your preferred weight — such as this, for example, or this. Scott Mowbray, editor-in-chief of a little magazine I like to call Food Porn for the Conscientious, has recently gone public with his own effort to lose weight in something he’s calling the Social Diet. I disapprove of the d-word, but I like the social part and admire his openness. Check out his posts on the magazine’s blog here.

As always, kids, The Madwoman reminds you to love your body, whatever its size. It’s the only one you’ve got. Now, click on that comment button and tell me what you and your body are doing for fun.


  1. Teresa swift says:

    Are you strength training? I love Les Mills Body Pump twice a week. Fast paced weightlifting in a group class, fun dance music.


  2. Bike riding is my absolute favorite thing to do. It’s amazing to know that I’ve gone somewhere very far, that I can’t run that distance, but that my bike got me there. I regularly do 50-60 miles on the bike on Saturdays (but built up to it). I can ride from Cupertino to the mountains of Woodside and down to the coast for a very long, but satisfying day. Try that a bit more?


  3. @Teresa: I’ve sorta been using yoga as my strength training. Haven’t heard of Les Mills Body Pump, but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion!

    @triproftri: I haven’t had a bike in years, but my little ride in Michigan, on borrowed wheels, was so delightful that I’ve been thinking about getting one. We’ve got great riding options around here, even if I don’t see myself becoming a mountain biker or, ahem, a tri-athlete. Happy to hear suggestions you might have on equipment. What kind of bike does a middle-aged broad need for canal trails and urban/suburban parks? Thanks for chiming in!


    • If you’re not going to get into long rides on the rode (with all that spandex and fancy gear), go for a hybrid ( It’s a heavier bike, but the handlebars sit upright and the seat is very cushy. My newish bike weighs about 16lbs; my old bike weighed 24lbs; my old, old bike (a hybrid) weighed around 30lbs. I go uphill on the newish bike for long stints. On the hybrid, I delightfully rode 20 miles — usually riding towards dinner or some gorgeous locale. It’s not a mountain bike, but it’s got knobby wheels and minimal shocks. Go to your local bike shop to have them find the right frame size and handlebar set up for you. A good fit is important for comfort. Don’t get all tricked out with fancy pedals. Start with the basic model and add from there if you think you’ll want it. But, you won’t know until you ride!

      I LOVE riding!! It’s the best hobby I ever took up!


      • Oh, and to add, going outside to exercise is wonderful, glorious, fabulous — says the Californian. If I have to workout only in a gym or a glassed-in room, I go a little bonkers. I’ve been known to run in the pouring rain with a gaggle of other Californians — even ran in very cold Boston at a recent MLA because I needed a fix. I run by people here on the trails and give them the tell-tale smile or hand wave to acknowledge our mutual love of the outdoors and our sassiness for getting out there. Love the community. (Ok, I’m gushing….)


      • Excellent suggestions on bikes — Thanks! We’ve got a couple of great stores around here. I will visit soon, I promise. Totally with you on the superiority of exercising outdoors, which always feels a little like playing outside. We got the treadmill for those days when outdoors just isn’t an option. I’ve been using it a lot this summer because I’ve had such a tough time with heat. That’s always been a bit of an issue for me, but it’s much worse now. Don’t know if it’s a hydration problem or hormonal shift. Or both.

        Thanks again for your suggestions. AND GOOD LUCK IN VEGAS!!!! We are pulling for you from afar!


  4. I gained about 40 pounds over the last decade, and just lost 25 of them in the last six months. The key for me was a combo of modest decline in food intake (mostly by portion control) and serious strength workouts with a personal trainer. Muscle burns calories even when you are just sitting there, and building muscle mass makes a huge difference.

    That Tuscan steak looks fucken delicious!


  5. An emerging theme: Strength training.

    Yep, Physio, that Tuscan steak was 100% effing delicious. Let the record show that I shared that deliciousness with the Women Formerly Known as Goose, and it fed both of us for two meals. Still, I lie awake at night salivating at the memory.


  6. Tabatas? Interval hill sprints? Both possible on a treadmill. I hate, hate, hate to run which is why the hill sprint works for me. Short! Horrible! Efficient!


  7. Oh, and also strength training.


  8. I might join you in a bike purchase, Madwoman. And I’d also be up for planning rides in your neck of the woods.


  9. Margarita says:

    Hi – remember me? We did a few runs together along Sligo Creek once upon a time. Sometimes I can’t believe i used to run 7-8 miles – 4-5 on a regular basis. Every now and then, on a gorgeous day, the body memory gets the best of me and I find myself starting to run again. Then I remember why I stopped. But for those delicious moments, that first mile… sheer joy!

    I’ve been holding my weight constant for some time now after losing 10 lbs. What did it for me was just making permanent changes in life habits, that then became habits. Growing my own vegets and feasting on them for months each year certainly helps. And having available in my apartment only good things to eat so that if I get the craving I have nothing to reach for…including booze, also bread and its many derivatives. Bread goes, except as a treat, along with a lot of other wheat-based things.

    What doesn’t work for me is finding the latest exercise fad, because fads never last. I just go to the gym about 3 times a week for a good cardio workout, with my music or when there’s something I want to watch on TV (like a Brewers game). I take walks by the lake often, vigorous ones. I gave up red meat entirely (unless someone serves it to me, and then I always pay for it the next day) and never have scotch at home (I know, I know, hard to believe!) I allow myself a glass of wine with supper, and beer is now a very special rare treat. I do long yoga classes twice a week and do my best to practice in between.

    Most important is thinking of these things in the same way I think of eating, or getting several hours of sleep at night – just part of life, just ordinary. I feel so much better that it doesn’t occur to me to want to feel like crap anymore. I love the alertness. I love how my body feels at age 64. I love all this energy I have to engage the fucked-up world (also to retreat from it as necessary). Also watch very little TV, which is a non-exercise activity of the culture. I often read standing in a strong tadasana, or when I do watch the news on TV, practice standing poses instead of sitting.

    What happened for me is that a lot of old body habits just don’t feel ‘right’ anymore. It was a matter of changing the body memory.

    Your ol’ neighbor


  10. I’m a big believer that you should do things that make you feel good and that you enjoy. I like yoga, belly dancing, and Pilates, all of which build in being compassionate toward and accepting of your body. In another life I was a ghostwriter for a well-known doctor who advocated a high-protein way of eating. What I learned most from him is that whenever possible, try to eat fresh, unprocessed food and try not to eat heavy meals within three hours of when you plan to go to sleep. But mostly I just celebrate anyone who is also trying to be healthy while also resisting being fat-shaming. Good luck!


  11. Oh, how I heart this comment stream. As I say in the post: “Perhaps by talking, we can learn from each other, help each other, or at least enjoy a few commiserating laughs.” Amen! Thanks for all the great insights and suggestions. Keep ’em comin’!


  12. Tabata sounds somewhat interesting. My personal trainer has me do a lot of anaerobic medicine ball and battle rope exercises.

    For those who were wondering–like I was–about citations supporting the dramatic claims of efficacy compared to ordinary endurance training, here is the paper apparently being referred to:


  13. I have a hybrid bike that I adore. And exercise outside whenever I can! But I do know the rut; variation seems to help. As does my “runcoach” program, which gives me a weekly workout schedule calibrated to my fitness level: As I think I mentioned when I saw you in May, I like the software because takes the decision-making out of the equation. I more or less do what they ask me to do, and it’s almost always do-able! In the summer I add biking and rowing and gardening to the three times per week running, but the three times per week routine has made the difference. They vary the workouts enough to make it interesting. And, like the Lifestyle Adjustment Program, you enter in what you’ve done, which keeps you honest. You need a bit of gear — some kind of watch/ pace device. I use the relatively cheap Nike SportBand. But hey — it works!

    Good luck, ML — mixing it up seems to be the key!


  14. Wow–great ideas here! But since it’s summer, and because autumn is a lovely time of the year to live where you live, why NOT pretend like you’re training for a triathalon? It’s fun to ride a bike, and esp. when it’s still hot out, it’s really fun to swim, so why not? (Esp. b/c I know you have a terrific beach bod, Madwoman.)

    Bistecca Fiorentina: awesome!!!


  15. Bike riding bike riding bike riding! Also I have a major crush on Jillian Michaels because she isn’t perky and annoying.

    DISCLAIMER: Person giving you exercise advice hovers around 24.9 on the BMI scale and would rather knit than exercise any day of the week. 😦


  16. Monday morning update: I popped into a local bike store yesterday afternoon for reconnaissance work and saw many shiny adorable Giant bikes. With giant comfy-looking seats. Promising, but I will also see what the reliable old College Park store has on offer the next time I’m on campus. Am I correct in thinking that Trek is a brand worth exploring in the hybrid category?

    @Lindsey: Don’t get too hung up on BMI. (I do, but still.) It’s one among many measures and not a perfect one by any means. Also: Aerobic knitting? Why not?

    @Historiann: Oh, cowgirl, you do an old broad’s heart good, with your compliments to my beach bod. Yeah, I guess if you close one eye and knock back a few mojitos, it looks pretty okay. 😉 Actually, what I mean to say is: It takes one to know one, sweetheart! And pretending to train for a triathalon might not be a bad idea, because I suspect one of my problems is a lack of focus or goal in my fitness these days. I don’t have access to a pool, unless I rejoin the overpriced campus gym (Excellence With MY Money), but maybe pretending to train for a triathalon means a girl could focus on just running and biking.

    @Meredith: I think you are right about mixing it up. And using technology to help keep one on track. I just signed up for, which enables one to track a broad range of activities, set goals, etc.

    Thanks again, everybody, for all the wisdom. What would I do without the hive mind? And the hive body?


    • Madwoman: I’m meh on the swimming part of triathalon training myself. I only swim for fun and pleasure, not for fitness, but it’s a way of counting a beach or pool day as a day with a workout, no?

      I also have a “comfort bike,” with a comfy seat & it permits me to sit up, and three whole speeds! (Who says it’s all about speed?)

      Have fun!


  17. I love spinning. The music and the pedaling will push me into a zone every time, but don’t give up on the heat! I teach a bootcamp camp at “o’dark thirty” in Houston where heat is the norm in July and August. Sweating is a way to detox the body and lends a youthful glow to your skin! Get out here and sweat a little. The earlier the better!


  18. I have to jump on board with BodyPump, it’s a really fun way to get in some strength training. I also really like HIIT and circuit training because it’s hard to get bored in 30 second intervals, and you’re done so quickly! Honestly though, I think one of the main thing is always trying new things. I’ve always considered myself a horrible athlete, but played soccer in the park with friends the other day and had one of the best afternoons of my year – go figure!

    Thanks for sharing, it’s always nice to know we’re not all alone in these journeys!



  1. […] interesting, though not exactly anxiety-relieving, blog about maintenance, which she calls “The Virtue Rut.” Here’s a […]


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