Challenge Yourself Blog: Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee is 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 156 pounds. Her goal is to lose 25 pounds and regain her confidence. Michelle tells Self: "This past year has been a year of reinvention for me. I got divorced, moved to a new town and started an amazing new job. And I am loving my life! But I am, at 34, suddenly single again and feeling behind the curve physically and emotionally."

Click here to meet all three Self dieters. For daily diet and exercise tips visit

The Final Day

I can't thank Self, GMA, and my Gold's trainer Osa enough for the opportunity to live Self's motto: "You at your best."

As I was walking along the beach with my dog Rumi last week, there was a moment in which I looked out across the ocean and realized how very far I had come. And I don't mean in inches and pounds.

The last time I stood in that spot was with my ex-husband on our coastal California honeymoon several years earlier. I remember us holding hands and daydreaming about a future together. A future that I've spent the better part of the past year mourning.

How very wonderful, then, to find myself drifting toward the same spot, once again able to cast my heart and mind forward to a life that I previously though unimaginable.

A life full of health and fitness and adventure. A life where neither push-ups nor love are frightening prospects, and the only thing certain is my ability to surprise myself.

Which is to say...this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

The deepest of gratitude,

Week 12: B-A-N-A-N-A-S

I must have heard that a million times as I walked alongside Elvis, smurfs, nevernudes, and reallyshouldn'tbenudes in the annual Bay to Breakers race through the streets of San Francisco this past Sunday.

Had NO idea that this 95-year-old tribute to the city's trademark irreverence is essentially a 7.46 mile block party/masquerade complete with outlaw folk bands, "salmon" swimming upstream, and lots and lots of beer (I won't even get into the flying tortillas).

Oh, and real runners. Which I, clearly, was not.

I was contemplating lying to you all and telling you how glorious it felt to finally cross the finish line ... but you deserve better. (Plus there is photographic evidence to the contrary somewhere.)

The truth is I and the rest of the funky bunch split (ha!) at mile five for kegs and eggs.

Which was an altogether different kind of glorious.

Four bananas walk into a bar...

Week 9 Part Deux: Proof Is in the (Low-Fat) Pudding

Back from my sister's wedding where I *rocked* (and won a limbo contest in) the size 8 maid of honor gown that I couldn't even squeeze into just two months ago!

Instead of the merciless pity party I was anticipating, I am pleased to report that quite a few friends and family members made mention of how much better I look and happier I seem post-divorce. Which, to be perfectly honest, took me completely by surprise.

I guess I spent so much energy bracing myself for the worse -- I packed an emergency kit that included a Xanax, a copy of Laura Kipnis' "Against Love," and a few squares of Scharfenberger chocolate -- that it never occurred to me that I could actually experience something other than post-traumatic shock syndrome.

But when my gorgeous, glowing sister walked down the aisle on my father's arm, and when her charming groom serenaded her, I bawled like a baby! Made my peace right then and there with love, marriage, and other natural disasters.

Of course, I promptly celebrated my truce (OK, not quite, but diplomatic relations *have* improved) by downing three glasses of champagne.

(Which is only 270 calories in case you are wondering).

Week 9: Uncertainty Principle

Like many others, last week's senseless tragedy left me emotionally devastated and grasping for answers. Working on a college campus, I found myself staring at the young students who surround me, and wondering if such a thing could have happened here. To them. To us.

I know what I want to believe... but I am no longer sure it's true.

What I do know is that our time here is finite, and that every moment counts. That each act of "active" living -- showing up fully mind, body and soul -- is a victory. That I and countless other women have a tendency to postpone our happiness by putting superficial parameters around when and how we will engage with the world.

We tell ourselves that we cannot travel or date or go to the gym or to the beach or take dance lessons or have dinner out alone, until we are X. Thinner. Bigger. Less this. More that. Better.

But what if this is it? Right here, right now. What then?

This week I made a list of all the things I've put off because of how I feel about my body, and decided to pledge myself to pursuing three of them:

1. I've always had a deep yearning to learn how to surf. And the sad thing is I've had many, many opportunities but retreated in fear of wearing a bathing or wet suit in public. My vacation this year will be to a women only surf camp.

2. Through the Challenge, I've discovered I actually enjoy running. Despite my former belief that running is only for the preternaturally thin and well-oiled, I have signed up for a 1 K (Bay to Breakers on May 20). Seriously? I wasn't even this excited about the prom.

3. Dating. My post-divorce ambivalence around this was what led my to enter this program in the first place. And, truth be told, I have had this fantasy that I would drop 25 lbs. (down 10 and counting) and suddenly morph into a highly confident and irresistible creature (with thin thighs). That I'd be ready. But the truth is no one is ever really "ready."

You just have to show up -- fully. And put one (unsteady) foot in front of the other.

Day 45: Notes From the Underground

We are officially at the halfway mark, and I am feeling a bit like Alice down the hole. One moment I'm big (still 16 pounds away from my goal), the next I'm small (but I'm officially down a size!), and the next I'm being slaughtered by the Queen of Hearts (don't ask).

But, thanks in no small part to the wisdom of my fellow Challengers, Bootylicious and Calphalon (who says 50-year-old women can't hop?!), I have learned a few things along the way:

1. Find your white rabbit. Some people are motivated by fear (white dress/high school reunion/bathing suit season). Others by joy (pink bike, new lease on life). Me? I'm going to go with revenge. (Just keeping it real).

2. Get your grin on. Studies have found that people are more than twice as likely to stick with a fitness program if they have fun doing it.

OK, I totally made that up, but I'm sure its true. To up the fun factor on my workouts, I switch out my playlists, and jump rope, roller skate, hula hoop, run with my puppy, or just put on music and dance up a sweat.

I also asked my friends for a list of their favorite action heroine films. I keep the "Kill Bill" and "Charlie's Angels" movies and anything with Angelina Jolie on heavy rotation.

When my trainer pushes me, I channel my best Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2" impression. Complete with sound effects.

3. "Begin at the beginning." Take it one day at a time. There are six smiley face stickers on the Self Challenge calendar (in this month's magazine) posted above my desk. tommorrow there will be seven. I can't even tell you the joy this gives me.

>b>Day 39: The Enemy Within

Shock and awe does not work. Quick and speedy victory is not possible. And despite our intention to smoke out our cellulite where it hides, there will always be more.

Unless we address the source.

The past ten days have been bad. Real bad. Sure ,I've gotten in a few good workouts, but my eating has been all over the map. As have my emotions.

It's as if I've been under siege by some deep, repressed desire to sabotage my own success. Just as I (and my friends, family and coworkers) started to see noticeable results, I found myself almost involuntarily reverting to old habits. Skipping meals and then bingeing on sweets; convincing myself that I don't have time to hit the gym (though I do, apparently, have time to watch some weird dude with a faux-hawk screech something incoherent on "American Idol"); catching the train instead of walking or biking to work on the off chance that I'll spot this cute post-doc I'm crushing on... you get the idea.

But this morning, after a few days of beating myself up about this (and then soothing the hurt with a large mocha with extra syrup and whip cream) -- I've had an epiphany.

This is that moment. In action films/epics/mythic lore. When the heroine, a few steps away from victory, is locked up inside the Death Star. And must redouble her efforts, her strength, her faith, her store of healthy, unsaturated fats...

This is the threshhold guardian moment. When, in order to cross the gateway into a new world, the heroine must first overcome a major smackdown, thus reaffirming her conviction and desire. Allowing her to finally win a lasting victory -- which ideally includes thighs that no longer rub together ("help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!").

So I'm back. This time, I'm gonna take it one day at a time (I bought smiley-face stickers to mark the calendar for good days, 15 equals a spa pedicure, 30 a massage, and so on).

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Day 32: Wherein Our Heroine Declares Victory...

...Over Girl Scout cookies, office birthday celebrations, the Chinese food joint around the corner and other evil ruses employed by the global conspiracy to get between me and my (size 8) Calvins.

OK, truth be told, I ate 7 Samoas last week. And I have to tell you, that whole "nothing tastes as good as being thin feels" thing? Not entirely true. Those puppies were pretty durn tasty!

Still. I gave away the rest of the box, and dutifully confessed to my trainer (who made me PAY), and heading into month two, I am down a full inch off my (formidable) thighs and two inches off my waist!

I AM the Dread Pirate Roberts. Woot Woot!

Seriously though, I am a just a wee bit nervous these days. My sister's wedding is coming up in less than a month, and I made the potentially fatal error of ordering my (maid of honor) dress a full size smaller than I currently wear. Which means its time to bring my A game.

No more cookie binges. Though, in the interest of not feeling deprived and going over the edge, I have decided to allow myself an additional (small/reasonable) weekly treat.

The theory being that optimism and masochism are two sides of the same (very thin) coin.

Day 23: I'm Bringing Sexy Back

I'm down six pounds. My jeans are loose. I feel amazingly strong and energized. And the most beautiful stranger just asked me out for coffee!

It has been such a long time since a real live human being (I'm an online dating refugee, but anyone with Photoshop and a pulse can get action there), without a criminal record (here's hoping), or foot fetish (yes, really) has tried to pick me up, that I didn't actually realize I was being hit on until the window of opportunity had long passed.

Which bring me to this: I've still got it!

(Though "it" is seriously craving some New York Super Fudge Chunk).

Day 15: Trainers are the New Bartenders


My trainer (words I never imagined uttering -- thanks, Gold's!) Osa is the best thing to happen to me since Spanx.

Not only does the man make having my butt kicked feel like a good time, but he has managed to teach me the beauty and power of simply standing up straight.

My already poor posture -- a holdover from a shy childhood -- became noticeably worse during this (very difficult) year. In some ways, my neck and shoulders became the cradle for all the unexpressed pain associated with my divorce. And though I've done quite a bit of healing, the body has a memory...or so I'm told.

But now, every time I step foot in the gym, Osa gently (OK, not always so gently) admonishes me to hold my head up and shoulders back. In fact, we don't begin until I do.

And though at first it made me terribly self-conscious, I now find that I simply feel better when I straighten up. Something inside releases. I breath deeper and feel more present.

The strange thing is every time we do an exercise that strengthens that area, I find myself smiling. Even when it's HARD. Especially when it's hard. I think this unnerves him a bit. It unnerves me a bit too. But I like it.

Oh, and according to Osa I have mad potential and good musculature. Which I'm pretty sure is trainer-speak for no mercy, no surrender.

Day 11: The Biggest Loser

Despite all my chirpy self talk the other day (I ate the cake ya'll), I am having a hard time hitting my stride, finding equilibrium.

Trouble balancing my need to be OK with how I look right now (not helped by the colony of perfect women who apparently *live* at Gold's Gym, only exiting to buy hair products and get their belly buttons pierced) with my need to PUSH.

Trouble balancing my inconsistent work hours (evening and weekend performances and events) with my need for a consistent (the only way this will become a permanent change) workout schedule.

Trouble balancing my need for on-the-run meals with my need to explore food groups that don't come wrapped in cellophane.

Trouble balancing my need to get my burn on with my need to not wear spandex in public!

Which is not to say I'm not down for the cause. I'm SO down for the cause!

But I'm also... a little down.

Day 9: Objects in Mirror Closer Than They Appear

Today is my 34th birthday. As has become our tradition, my friend Toni conducted a tarot reading for me.

Laughed out loud when the first two cards pulled were burden crossed with possibility. Can't think of a better description of where I am right now. With the Challenge. With my life.

This isn't easy for me -- completely changing how I eat, making my workout time sacred when work is so demanding, sharing my very personal struggles with an audience of (mostly) strangers ... not eating cake and ice cream ...

But I am so intensely ready to morph into the woman I know myself to be inside. Strong and vital. Open to the possibilities. Ready for whatever comes next.

Day 7: Credible Threat

Yay, I made it through week one!

It wasn't perfect -- I'd give myself a B for the workouts (I know I can push harder), and a C for the diet (my generous interpretations of "120 calorie treat" did me in) -- but I did it!

Which goes to show that my friend Faith's belief in the "credible threat" theory of weight loss is pretty darn savvy. I suppose if the specter of bearing one's cellulite to millions of unsuspecting strangers doesn't motivate, nothing will.

Though, truth be told, I think I am more nervous about being the maid of honor at my sister's wedding next month. Besides, yes, wearing the dress (not too bad actually), it will be the first time since the divorce that I've seen many of the guests. And I am desperate to avoid well-intended, "So, whatever happened to you two?" queries and the "Hang in there kid" shoulder squeezes.

Mix all that in with alcohol and tulle, and toast after toast dedicated to eternal bliss, and you can see why a girl might need to do some preemptive sit-ups.

Day 4: Hotties at the Gym

Okay, so here's what I've learned so far this week:

1. Listen to the experts. Contrary to my (former) irrational belief that 400 calories of brie and crackers is no less virtuous than, say, 400 calories of vegetarian chili, couscous, cheese (!) and citrus fruit, I find myself much less hungry when I actually stick to the plan. Which means giving up my almond M & M breakfasts (hey there's protein in there), and occasionally (once I've located the stove) cooking. My mother thanks you.

2. Misery, er, joy loves company. Rather than allow my friends and colleagues the sick satisfaction of rubbernecking through my ups and downs over the next several months, I've recruited several of them into "The Program." Very happy that I am not the only one who knows that the "robo waitress" is not a bad '80s dance move!

3. The gym is a hottie buffet. Whoa! Major revelation. Why didn't anyone tell me this?!! Would have been there ages ago. Again, my mother thanks you.