Valuable Lessons Learned

Today is the three-year anniversary of my first CrossFit workout!

I started with bootcamp 3X a week on October 1, 2007, then “graduated” to bootcamp plus an indoor class until I finally made the leap to 100% inside the box. Throughout that time, I also evolved from 3X a week to training six days a week – occasionally even doing a double workout day just for fun – and eventually added running into the mix…

In July 2009, I transitioned from grain-free Zone to dino-chow for my diet…

Taking all that into account and using my very questionable math skills, I estimate that since 2007, I’ve completed somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 workouts and eaten approximately 2750 dino-chow meals and snacks.

With that in mind, I made the deliberate decision to throw away all my rules during my time in Prague. I gave myself permission to workout only when I wanted to and to eat whatever and whenever I desired – trusting that my body would tell me when I needed to move more and when I needed to eat less.

So how did it go?

As an experiment, it was illuminating.

As an experience in self-care, it was a mixed bag.

As a vacation, it was fantastic.

Here are some of the things I learned about myself, my body, food, indulgence, and discipline in the beautiful Czech Republic.

[The terrace café at DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague]

I still love food.
All food. Healthy food. Special treats. Exquisite, fussy food. Hearty peasant food. On a plate. Standing up. Eaten like an animal. Leisurely with good conversation. I love it all. And I especially love it in an appropriate environment: cheese and baguette on the banks of the Vltata… schnitzel and potato salad in a biergarten… coffee and candy bars looking out the window of a train… duck, dumplings, and cold Staropramen in a cozy Czech restaurace

Despite my ability to manage my cravings and appetite in my “real life” – and to mostly prefer good-for-me food that’s eaten for health and energy – I la-la-love to eat delicious food purely for pleasure. Still.

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It just needs to be an “only sometimes” thing.

Riding the sugar train can be fun. Getting off is very, very, very hard.
I’m only mildly embarrassed to admit that I ate chocolate almost every day of our trip – and I have very firm opinions about my favorite Czech candy bars. Developing a viewpoint like that requires plenty of research, and I do love the scientific method! I also indulged in baguettes and pound cake at breakfast, dessert after dinner if the spirit moved, and even a little sugar (and cream) in my coffee. Also dumplings. And schnitzel.

It was delightful – even though it required me to feed the sugar monster quite frequently. As long as I kept a slight but steady flow of sugar going throughout the day, my energy and mood were awesome. (I should also note that I wasn’t training. If workouts had been demanding, I’m sure I would have felt the ill effects. But it turns out, cake is fine fuel for viewing castles and getting lost among cobblestone alleys.)

Back here at home, it’s a different story.

Two days ago, I went cold-turkey on caffeine and sugar. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was pretty hellish… and continues to be. My energy is flat. My cravings are off the charts. And I’ve had a headache for roughly 72 hours now.

I know the only option is to ride it out, and that’s what I’m doing. While gnashing my teeth, I’m also remembering how much I enjoyed my trip and recognizing, as gently as possible, that I have only myself to blame for my current misery. It was a choice; I’m living with the consequences. Yay for adulthood.

Re-boarding the workout train is very, very, very hard. 
Dave and I went on three ridiculously fun and invigorating runs in Prague. The air was cool, the scenery was breathtaking, and our pace was recreational. That kind of running is the very best that running can be: pure celebration.

We also walked everywhere. All. day. long. As I mentioned the other day, my feet are shredded, sore, tired, calloused, blistered, and spent.

What we did not do is a ‘real’ workout… the ones with a plan and a timer and some semblance of ego on the line. I did 10 pushups after a run one day – and a perfect chest-to-floor pushup in the apartment looking for something under the couch, but it’s insulting to CrossFitters everywhere to even hint that I did – or thought of doing – a CrossFit workout on vacation.

But now it’s time. Monday morning at 6:30 a.m., my sorry butt will be at CrossFit Austin. “Dread” might describe what I’m feeling – but also “optimism.” When I started CrossFit three years ago on this very day (!), I was pretty unfit, but the challenge and routine whipped me into shape fairly quickly – with a huge emotional boost as a free-with-purchase. I’m super excited to feel that again!

So now that the grand experiment is over, I have a few conclusions:

1. The real energy of eating clean is way, way better than the faux energy provided by caffeine and sugar fuel. Ninety percent of the time, meat, vegetables, quality fats, and a little fruit are definitely the way to go (and the other 10%, make the indulgences the absolute best they can be).

2. Discipline for the sake of discipline doesn’t appeal to me much anymore. There was a time when being really hard on myself felt really good. That time has passed. It took a significant amount of mental and physical work to reverse a lifetime of bad habits. But I have good habits now, and the days of demanding that I do everything the hard way, all the time, are over. Three times a week I’m going to give it my all in my CrossFit class; the rest of the time, I’m going to be really, super-duper nice to myself.

3. The freedom to indulge is fantastic. And allowing myself that freedom – on very, very special occasions – is what makes it possible for me to choose to eat clean the rest of the time. The 2700+ dino-chow meals that lead up to 16 days of indulgence in dumplings are what made me able to enjoy the dumplings. As the Moxy-Boss told me once, “You make deposits in the good health bank so you can make withdrawals later.” I have zero problem with making deposits in my good health account throughout the year so that when a delicious opportunity arises, I can take full advantage of every bite.

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  • Erin Clare says:

    First. Welcome back! You were missed.

    Second. This is such a great post and I'm so happy to know you enjoyed your trip. The "celebration runs" sound completely amazing.

    I've been having a hard time getting back on that workout wagon for awhile now, but am inching back. Something you wrote made me realize that our rigorous approach to workouts is basically to offset all the luxury items we have. Cars keep us from walking. The AC keeps us from sweating, even though most of the time we're in protected/shaded abodes.

    If we did live lives of walking to our jobs/trades, chasing or harvesting our foods we would have more celebratory runs. 🙂

    Third. Congrats on year 3 of being CrossFit, a nutrtional inspiration, and all the things I know and love about you.

  • Catherine Hart Rebholz says:

    This post is nothing less than inspiring to me. I will be referring post quite a bit I'm sure. Thank you for your honesty always. i love you.

  • kimberlyelise says:

    Happy Crossfit Anniversary to you! Wonderfully inspiring post as always–thank you! Sounds like your vacation (and good health account withdrawal)were VERY WELL SPENT! "Have fun stormin' the castle" on Monday!

  • Angie says:

    Happy Anniversary!
    What an awesome, inspring post. I love it that other people (you) "get it" about indulging now and then while making great, healthy choices the majority of the time.

  • girlblake says:

    Brava! I love how you let us into your insightful ways. I'm so happy for you that you've reached a sense of peace and balance, that sounds like it lead to an amazing vacation and a fulfilling "regular" life. Love you!!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    You are all so awesome. And WAY too nice to me. Perhaps I wasn't totally clear about the right jeans and the cranky-pants, head-achy sugar withdrawal. HA!

    Thank you for your words of support. I feel pretty strongly that October is going to be very, VERY challenging, physically and emotionally. I'm handling the tight pants and slightly rounded belly OK for now, but I'm fighting self-recrimination — mostly by remembering how much I completely, utterly enjoyed our time in Prague.

    I'm so fortunate to have all of you on my team. Time to start building up the good health bank account so I can demolish it again sometime in the not-too-distant future.

  • Trixie says:

    EXCELLENT WORK!!!!! This post is amazing! I too agree about the eating 90% well so you can have those not so great choices. I also can relate to being really hard on myself in the past. Now, I too am going to make three Crossfit classes a week and enjoy life outside the gym a bit more. It sure is easy to get obsessive quick if left to my own

  • Lydia says:

    You look fantastic, all in black in that white chair. Fan-tas-tic.

    This photo and this photo alone made me reconsider my previous decision made against adding ankle boots to my fall wardrobe.

    Stellar. And welcome home.

  • Lydia says:

    Blargh. Although I realize now, looking closer, that is a *cuff of your jean*, not the top of a short boot. Ah, well.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Lydia! They ARE ankle boots. And yes, you should get some 😉

  • Lydia says:

    I'm already lusting after a pair of field boots, so I'm not sure what my budget can handle. But perhaps if I can't find properly-fitting field boots under $300, ankle boots can move up the list.

    Mmmm. Boots.

  • Christie says:

    Melissa – THANK YOU for this post! This is the first time I've commented on your blog, but I've been reading your posts for a while now, have tried many of your recipes, and frequently link to your dino-chow page on my own blog 🙂

    Anyway, this post sums up my feelings exactly, but also brought to light a latent fear that I've been fighting subconciously for a few weeks: My husband and I are going to Jamaica for 9 days in November to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We've been to this resort once before, and had a blast, but this was before I began following the Paleo Lifestyle. Last time, I'd sip frozen sugary drinks throughout the day, and found myself picking through my lunch and dinner, JUST so that I could get to Dessert! So needless to say, I have been a little nervous about returning to this resort and staying 100% Paleo. I had considered allowing myself a few treats each day, but each time I thought about this, I would worry about the backlash of sugar cravings that I'd be battling again once I returned home. . . It's a little reassuring to see that I'm not the ONLY person that battles these kinds of things. . .makes me feel a little less crazy!

    Good luck caging those sugar demons back up – I know you'll be successful 🙂 So glad you had a great time in Prague, and btw – Happy CF Anniversary!


  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Trixie –> I know what you mean about 'getting obsessive.' I have to remind myself WHY I eat right and CrossFit. It's to make the rest of my life more fun and enjoyable and successful. CrossFit and dino-chow are a means to an end for me… and it's important for me to remember that so I continue to enjoy them.

    Christie –> I'm always hesitant to give specific advice, which is why I'm always open to share my stories instead so y'all can draw your own conclusions but… if I WERE going to give you advice, it would be this: before you go, think about a plan for what seems comfortable for you and then also give yourself permission to change your mind when you get there. I decided before we went on our trip that I was going to indulge when I wanted to, but avoid my old habits of eating to the point of discomfort. I didn't want to fall into the mindless, habitual face-stuffing of the past… but I did want to savor the traditional Czech food, enjoy some chocolate, be lazy if I felt like it, etc. I guess my goal was to be PRESENT in everything I was doing. And it worked! I really enjoyed myself. I will admit, the re-entry to regular life has been pretty tough. So if you want a smoother return after your trip, more discipline on your trip might be the way to go. But again, it's all up to you. And really, it always is. How cool is that?! Have a WONDERFUL time in Jamaica! (For what it's worth, I drank Czech beer every day (EVERY day) at lunch, Prosecco in the evenings, and shots of Becherovka whenever I felt like it. We didn't overdo it, but I thoroughly enjoyed having casual cocktails.)

  • Mwangole says:

    Great post. love the boots!

  • Tony Young says:

    This post couldn't have come at a better time. For all the best reasons I fell off the workout wagon; ended a strength and mass program, a trip to the Garage Gym Blueprint (, all the changes we decided to make because of that taking loads of time and effort. All of a sudden a month's gone by. It's easy to fall back to doing the warm-up with clients and saying "that'll do, I'll do a real workout tomorrow".

    I'm going to sneak up on it. Sled pulls, hammer strikes, a tire flip or two. No clock, no audience, just saying "hi" for a few days until I feel it.

    Thanks for the post and welcome back.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Tony! I like your idea of 'sneaking up on it.' It seems like a good strategy to find the fun in it to help with the transition back into routine and serious "work." Or… ya know, just have fun all the time, but make it fun that hurts 😉

    Thanks for the welcome home!