Satirical Aerobics


For years I have had a dream.

It strikes me that most exercise videos are excessively earnest. Perky! Sincere! Cheerleader-esque!

There seemed to be few, if any, home workout routines for people with a healthy sense of irony, and a taste for the absurd. My people.

For too long I lacked the time, the equipment, and the chutzpah to make an ass of myself, without losing 30 lbs and an ankle brace or two.

But now–thanks to the unremitting skill and attention of Terry McHugh of NovaCare Physical Therapy, and Dawn of MotherHeart Studio–my chronic knee and ankle injuries are so well-healed that I can skip, sauté and bourreé to the satisfaction of all my kitchen appliances, and the total expense of dignity.

Because nothing hurts.

EXCEPT MY BROKEN, BROKEN HEART.

Lazy, Self-Indulgent Workaholics

I’m signed up for a lot of Inspirational Mailing Lists. My inbox is inundated with a symphony of earnest healers and coaches, all urging me to “Slow down to speed up! Take some time for reflection! Don’t be busy for the sake of it!

If they only knew.

Sometimes I think the systems I’ve created in order to structure my life as a single mother, owner of two businesses, and aspiring author threaten to overtake the work that they purport to enable. I work out, meditate, fill out my Six Big Rocks, journal, network, research, interview, write self-indulgent blog posts, host my spiritual community, and lie on my foam roller. It’s a wonder I get anything done at all, in the cracks between striving not to be busy.

So I often feel that these missives I send to you, my beloved friends and colleagues, are redundant in the extreme. “Take some time for self-care,” I urge you, over and over. Yeah, duh.

But then it occurs to me that there’s still a voice in my head telling me that I’m going to wind up a bag lady because I got a massage on my friend’s birthday, and took another friend to a Korean spa, the very next weekend. That my business is going to fail because I went to the gym after bus stop drop-off and didn’t get to the office until 11AM. That I shouldn’t start taking care of myself until my debts are paid off and I’ve got a six-month cushion in my bank account.

And that, I think, is because all the unspoken cues I’ve received since birth have been along the lines of “work harder, not smarter,” because otherwise, there’s no telling what will become of me. That’s the culture of the good ol’ US of A.  That’s how Tim Ferriss can sell you lazy as a lifestyle while living the opposite.

Lack of self-care, in other words, is the norm.

So here’s something I learned from an Inspirational Coach. When your brain tells you something like, “I shouldn’t go get a massage, because that’s lazy, self-indulgent, and I can’t afford it,” stop. Ask your brain, “Is it true? Am I absolutely sure that it’s true? What is this thought giving me? Who would I be without this thought?”

And then proceed accordingly.

 

 

 

 

Get Your Body Back!!!

I always thought that personal trainers were for trophy wives. Which would not be me.

Plus, I hate gyms. I see no reason to subject myself to an environment full of clanking torture devices, fluorescent lights, TV screens, hideous music, sweaty odors and the sound of grunting. Not when the free, beautiful outdoors–for running, hiking, biking and dancing–is right there. The only reason I can think of to join a gym would be 1) unlimited pool access and 2) unlimited sauna access. No pool, no sauna, no deal.

Then my posterior tibial tendon gave out, and I was in trouble. Running was Right Out. Biking was fine, until it snowed. Even my favorite yoga classes were off limits–too much strain on the tendons.

Out of curiosity born of desperation, I tried a personal training session with Kate, of Bodywise Wellness. She has a private, quiet, stress-free training studio in the Northern Liberties, just a few blocks from Practical Bodywork.

Kate tailored a workout specifically to my concerns, my injury and my fitness level, which was fun, challenging and burned 647 calories, according to my Cardio Trainer.

The next day, I felt the kind of sore that feels AWESOME.

I started going regularly. She gave me a completely different workout every time. After three weeks, I was trotting up stairs, instead of dragging myself along by yanking on the banister. I dusted off my dance aerobic routines. I started getting more done, having more fun, and challenging my four-year-old to race me up the stairs.

After a workout with Kate, I feel that endorphin glow you get after skiing Tahoe all afternoon, minus the price of the lift ticket. That’s something I thought my ankle injury had taken away forever.

So I am sold. So sold, in fact, that I want to buy YOU a session with Kate.

Yep, you heard me right. Kate’s training is the bee’s knees, and the perfect complement to the kind of bodywork you get from me.

Because if you’re working through an injury, struggling with chronic pain, or just aching from too much stress, you come to me. You get yourself a structural myofascial package, because that’s the series that transforms your alignment, your energy level and your outlook, all at a sweet discount per session.

And from December 16 of this year through January 6 of 2014, when you buy a structural myofascial series for yourself or for someone else, I’m throwing in a gift certificate for a one-on-one session with Kate. That’s how awesome I think she is.

So if you’ve been thinking of making some personal transformations in the new year, this is the deal for you.

It’s also transferable. You can get bodywork for yourself, and give a training session as a gift, or vice versa. You can forward this article to your loved ones with the subject heading, “hint, hint.” You can give the gift of massage, and grab your training session as a reward for being so generous. You choose.

Happy holidays! Let’s thrive together!

How To Make Your Body Disappear

Some fun new research has discovered that turning your gym into an oversized, self-propelled boom box can boost your workout performance:

…the results showed that most of the volunteers had generated significantly greater muscular force while working at the musically equipped machines than the unmodified ones. They also had used less oxygen to generate that force and reported that their exertions had felt less strenuous. Their movements were also more smooth in general, resulting in a steadier flow of music.

Directional Flow, artwork by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli Abstract Design
‘Directional Flow,’ Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli
Abstract Design

Earlier research has already demonstrated that music both inspires workouts and calms the nervous system, improving overall performance. Along with endorphins, it’s a natural pain reliever (as I can attest, having shredded my posterior tibial tendon by running with the assistance of Coldplay.)

But still, most of us treat things like music as incidental–nice to have, when we think about it, but not necessary or integral to our lives.

Music, however, can be a gateway to the state of consciousness known as ‘flow’; when we are so engaged in an activity that our sense of time and identity seems suspended. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes, in ‘Flow: The Secret to Happiness,’ our brains can only process about 110 bits of information per second. When our brains are immersed in a creative activity, there is not enough bandwidth left over for maintaining a sense of individual identity, and all that goes with it–hunger, fatigue, worry, and pain.

I don’t know how many of you experience this, but during my 20+ years as an artist, I routinely use music as a way to jump-start a state of flow. It’s like hopping on a train. The music seems to obviate doubt and paralysis by providing a clear pattern for moving and thinking. My brain is both attending and translating the sounds into a series of creative decisions which leave no room for extraneous sensations. It’s only when the album ends that I notice I’m hungry and have to pee.

How does this happen for you? Do you ever drop your body while you’re working? What about during a massage?

The Five Stages of Healing (Bodyworker Edition)

Like a lot of other practitioners, I tend to suffer from bodyworker machismo. I spend my days treating other people’s pain, and ignoring my own. Which is exactly what I advise my clients not to do.

Woman and Snake

Recently, I hurt my foot. The technical description of what I did was tearing the plantar fascia on my right heel, after changing my running gait from heel-strike to ball-strike, and then doing yoga with a calf muscle in spasm. But that wasn’t my experience. My experience was that I got out of bed one day and my foot hurt.

So, for your edification and amusement, here are the five stages of Macho Bodyworker Healing.

1) Denial.

All I need to do is warm up, give my foot a rubdown, and it will go away. Like, in ten minutes. In a day or two. In a couple of weeks. Don’t mind me, I’m walking very slowly today. I’ll just stop running until this gets better. Dammit.

2) Bargaining.

I can’t afford to get this treated. I know all about plantar fasciitis, from that two-year bout with it I had, a decade ago. It’s not THAT bad. I’ll stay off of it for a weekend, roll my feet, wear my arch supports. Do some self-treatment on my gastrocs and soleus every morning, and evening, and several times during the day. See? All better!

3) Desperation.

It’s not getting better. I can’t afford to be crippled for two years, again. I can’t afford NOT to get this treated. I’ll call that Rolfer, what was his name? Brian Stern! He’s expensive, but so what? I’m crippled! My body is my livelihood! I have to keep up with two kids in the Franklin Institute! Help!

(Brian Stern is excellent at what he does. He restored considerable articulation to a pair of malformed ankle joints which were rusted stiff. Also, he is warm, approachable and sympathetic. Don’t you hate it when you go to a doctor, in desperate pain, and you get the sense that you are a boring nuisance to said doctor, and to most of his staff? That’s one nice thing about bodyworkers–most of them genuinely like people.)

4) Resignation.

Okay, that was great. My foot still hurts, though. I’d better do the foam roller every day, twice a day, and some gentle yoga. In fact, I should not skip the yoga even when I stop hurting. Because that’s what started this problem in the first place.

5) Exhibitionism.

All better! Mostly. I can walk right-left, right-left again, instead of thump-drag, thump-drag. I’ll do the foam roller for another week before I resume running. Meanwhile, I’ll describe this process in excruciating detail on my blog, so that others may learn from my foolish suffering.

Foam Roller Therapy: Why It’s Awesome

Practical Bodywork is thrilled to bring you this guest post by Jesse James Retherford of TAO-Fit.com.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge advocate of foam roller therapy, and for a good reason: it works. In my personal and professional life I have found that foam roller therapy is an incredibly valuable practice. It is an absolutely vital component of a well designed holistic fitness and health routine.

What is Foam Roller Therapy?

Foam roller therapy is simply one of the best methods available to treat and prevent injury. If you don’t own or spend any time using a foam roller (the main tool used in foam roller therapy), then get one. Start.  A foam roller is, in my opinion, one the best investments of time and money you can make when it comes to your long term health and fitness.

Foam roller therapy is the use of a foam roller for self massage. There are many different kinds of self massage tools out on the market.  Finding the right one can be a confusing and expensive process. I prefer to keep my tools super simple, inexpensive, and effective.  The self massage tools that I most often recommend and use are a Trigger Point Grid foam roller, lacrosse ball, golf ball, and a softball.

Foam roller therapy helps break down dysfunctional tissue caused by poor movement patterns, i.e. poor form.  It increases joint function, mobility, and range of motion. It reduces acute pain, speeds up recovery and healing, and it reduces injury.

Foam roller therapy gives you access to the powerful healing of deep tissue fascial massage, all at a very low price, and at any time of day, every day. Integrating foam roller therapy into your weekly routine will help you not only prevent pain and injury, but treat and quickly recover from an injury. It speeds up the recovery process between workouts and reduces the total amount of time you spend lame from an injury.  Using a foam roller after a hard workout is like injecting pure recovery directly into your tissue.  It allows you to have a challenging workout routine, while at the same time, minimizes the pain and injury cycle.

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Rolling your back

Want to read something that goes into a bit more detail about how foam roller therapy works? Want to learn how to do it? Read this.

When is the best time for Foam Roller Therapy?

Just about anytime is a great time for foam roller therapy. You can do it in the morning. You can do it in the evening. It’s great before a workout. It’s great after a workout. An important time for foam roller therapy is when you hurt. The best time for foam roller therapy is when you don’t hurt, because it really does help prevent you from hurting in the first place.

This is what this looks like for my clients: I often have a client who comes in for a workout session complaining about some minor pain in their knee, hip, back, or shoulder. These can be very frustrating sessions for the client. Whatever kick-butt workout I had planned gets ditched, because I don’t teach or train clients to exercise through the pain. If your knee hurts, then you can’t lunge or squat. If your shoulder hurts, then you can’t push or pull. The rule is: if it hurts to do… don’t do.

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Rolling your quads: scrumptious!

What does a workout look like if we can’t work out?

These are actually my favorite sessions to teach! I love it when someone shows up in pain.  Pain time is learning time.  These sessions are an opportunity to show them where their pain is coming from.  I can teach them how to treat and heal themselves. Instead of going through their regular workout, I pull out the foam roller and show them what and how to work on themselves specific to what they are feeling. I show them where the pain pattern is originating and how to help break it down.

Then we get them back on their feet and have them do the same exercise that was causing the pain. Nine times out of ten, they can perform the exercise with no pain. In the rare case that the pain doesn’t go away, I pull out the massage table and do deep tissue fascial massage. I follow up with corrective exercises to train their body to stabilize and move without pain. These are the most valuable sessions I offer. Teaching people how to move efficiently without pain. And more importantly, empowering them with knowledge, understanding, and tools in which they can integrate into their personal routine.

Foam roller therapy is a powerful tool in your fitness, health, and wellness arsenal. With consistent practice you can perform roughly 80% of the massage work that I do… on yourself. Eighty percent! That is powerful stuff. It means feeling better, better movement, getting more out of your workouts, improved posture, less time in pain, less time on the massage table, and you get more out of a professional massage since you are doing so much of the work on your own. When combined with a holistic training program, the benefits of foam roller therapy is well worth the effort.

This is from an email I recently received:
“I am told by 2 surgeons that I need hip surgery due to bone spur on right hip. Also have tight IT band. I am trying to avoid surgery and be pain free… Since I stumbled onto your website and started to do the foam rolling on all body parts I am pain free… Last surgeon said I have a tight IT band. Physio was targeting just the IT band and after reading what people have posted about rolling everything it made sense.  I have been doing physiotherapy for close to a year and this is the first time that I have found relief.”

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Rolling your IT band: not so much!

 

Interested in learning more? Check these out:
Foam Roller Therapy For Beginners
How To Treat and Prevent Injuries
Foam Rolling The IT Band
A Common Cause Of Sciatic Pain – Self Treatment
Self Treatment For Plantar Fasciitis

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for Trigger Point Therapy. This means that if you purchase one of their products after clicking one of these links, I will get a small commission. That said, the only reason I am an affiliate for their products, primarily The Grid, is because I believe in it 100%.

Jesse James Retherford is a coach and therapist in Austin, TX. He helps his clients heal from the dysfunction of chronic pain and injury, recover and rebuild pain free posture and function, and propels them into the best condition of their lives so they can thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in all aspects of their career and life.  Find out more and sign up for his blog over at www.TAO-Fit.com

After the Fall

Recently a new client, Susie M., booked a four-session package sight unseen. “When I read about your ankle, I knew you were the one for me,” she said.

Susie sprained, and possibly broke, her right ankle four years ago. There was some confusion as to whether there was a bone chip floating around in there or not; what was certain was that she hadn’t been able to work out since. The ankle was chronically swollen and painful even after four years of treatment, including physical therapy and six months of myofascial release. Doctors had given her steroid injections to ease the swelling, but these did nothing but cause burn marks at the injection site.

As soon as I started work, I noticed that the anatomy train leading from her swollen ankle, up the right peroneal compartment, threading through her hip, and crossing the body to her left shoulder was bunched, knotted and compressed. There were so many adhesions in her right peroneals that I suspected the swelling was almost entirely a result of impaired circulation. Muscles and fascia don’t operate independently of the circulatory system; if they are compressed, they’re compressing everything around them.

After her first session, Susie declared, “I think you released more in one session than happened in six months of myofascial release.” She reported sharp pains in her left leg, hip and groin during the next few days, but on her next visit the swelling in the right ankle was 80% gone. She kept coming regularly as things unwound, and every week there was a different issue to confront, but ankle pain was not one of them. After four years, she was able to go back to the gym.

This re-confirms a long-held observation – that if one part of your body is injured, the trauma doesn’t just stay in one place. The body quickly redistributes strain to deal with it, but once the original injury heals, your body is still out of balance. This imbalance can then create a whole host of other problems unless it is addressed.

(“Confusion,” oil on linen, 36″x 48″, 2008 by Stephanie Lee Jackson, www.stephart.com

When Stress Is The Problem

How many holistic healing practitioners have you encountered who piously urge you to ‘eliminate stress’? You’re not ‘living the life’ unless you’re ‘free from stress’!

Just makes you want to smack ‘em.

Because stress happens. If your life is entirely free from stress, you’re either a sociopath or you’re dead. You can eat healthy, exercise, meditate, get counseling, get a better job, live a ‘soul-centered life,’ and you are still no more immune to death, disease, anxiety, uncertainty, and sudden traumatic upheavals than anyone else. A huge problem with New Age evangelists is that they try to use their beliefs, habits and mantras as talismans against evil–if I just chant ‘Love is Everywhere’ often enough, everyone will love me and nobody will ever die!

Recently, dear friends, I left my day job to run my business full-time. In the space of two and a half months I came down with two colds, an ear infection, and lower back spasms that lasted two weeks. Luckily, I do not believe that ‘psychosomatic’ means ‘it’s all in your head, so just Think Good Thoughts!’ I have a realistic understanding of the mind-body connection, which dictates that emotional stress can lead to a less-effective immune system and a hyperactive nervous system, and there’s not always an easy way around it. So I followed my own advice, put my daughter in the stroller and walked for miles and miles. In a little while, the colds, ear infection and spasms cleared up, and I continued evangelizing. ;-)

So I prefer to talk about ‘stress management techniques’ rather than ‘living a stress-free life.’ That way, when you smash into one of life’s brick walls, you say to yourself, “Ah! A brick wall! Let me mix myself an iced tea while consulting a map,” instead of, “OMG! This wasn’t supposed to happen! I must be a Bad Person! Commence self-flagellation, or flagellation of others!”

I could go off on many Prescriptions for Life, since I’ve been signing up for a whole lot of holistic mailing lists lately, but in order to restrict myself to my purported area of expertise, I will confine myself to a few Tips for Stress-Induced Lower Back Pain.

  • When it’s in the acute stages, try to sleep on your back with a bolster under your knees, and a rolled-up towel behind your neck. This keeps your spine in a neutral position, and allows the spasming muscles to get over their freakout with a minimum of interference.
  • Hydrate. Drink a ton of ice water, lemon water, iced tea and diluted fruit juice. You can intersperse this with strong liquor (great muscle relaxant!) as long as you adhere to the ‘rinse cycle’ principle; one virgin cranberry seltzer for every alcoholic drink you consume.
  • Take it one day at a time. Walk as much as you can. Sit on a yoga ball and bounce; this loosens your hip flexors, which are key in stabilizing your lower back.
  • Get a massage! It won’t fix the pain right away, but it will address the spasming muscles, and send your brain into a theta-wave state which will reduce your stress reactions in the longer term.
  • Go to a yoga class, once the pain is less acute. Yoga will balance your body all over, releasing restrictions far from the area of pain which may be contributing to it.
  • Tylenol won’t kill you if you take a couple. Just don’t make a long-term habit of it.

Weight Loss, Revisited

Certain Foods Can Aid Weight Loss – NYTimes.com.

Pureed vegetables in your casseroles? Seems devious and mildly depressing, but if you must.

However, Pretty Lady’s advice for joyous weight loss is still relevant, so here it is, virtually unedited.

1. Do yoga.

Yoga, by and large, will not directly help a person lose weight. It does, however, gently balance and nourish the body as a whole, thus relieving pain, toning the system, helping to release toxins, and getting you in shape to tackle a more-rigorous workout.

If you are having trouble standing up out of chairs, if your back hurts constantly, and you cannot touch your toes, it is best to start with Basic Hatha. This will involve moving slowly into mildly contorted poses, and learning how to breathe. Select a teacher who explains things clearly, is anatomically knowledgeable, and does not shame you.

If you are already able to touch your toes, or if you do not suffer from chronic pain and are in relatively competant cardiovascular shape (i.e. you do not start puffing heavily while climbing two flights of stairs), you may start with Bikram. Bikram is the fabled Hot Yoga sequence, popularized by Madonna and Gwyneth. It is a series of twenty-four poses, performed in a sauna-temperature studio, which are designed to flush the entire body of toxins, stimulate each body system in turn, and take years off your age.

Pretty Lady can attest that it works. After her first class, she experienced quite a dramatic toxic–well, this does not bear description. After her first two weeks of classes, she looked five years younger. After her first six months of classes, she was bored silly. Pretty Lady is a dancer by temperament, and repeating the same damn series of poses every day drives her bananas.

So she moved on to Vinyasa. Vinyasa Yoga is basically Hatha, but a bit more challenging, rigorous, and movement-oriented. A good Vinyasa teacher will have you puffing and doing acrobatic stunts in no time.

2. Work out.

If a person is serious about shedding spiritual poundage, however, more than yoga is required. Once you have done enough yoga so that you can stand on one foot and pull the opposite ankle up to your behind without thinking much about it, you may move on to a more cardiovascular workout.

By far the cheapest and easiest of these is running. Running merely requires a good pair of shoes and a world to run in. If you are not enlightened yet, the world is in front of you; do not skimp on the shoes. Good arch supports are a must. Buy another pair of shoes every six months, whether you think you need them or not. Pretty Lady can attest to the horrors attendant upon working out in bad shoes.

Unfortunately, running is also the sport which causes the greatest amount of wear and tear on the limbs, as Pretty Lady can also attest. If you are over thirty, have flat feet, dicey knees, chronic back pain, or wish to avoid these things, take up biking instead. It doesn’t give you either such a dependable endorphin high or quick physiological transformation, but in the long term it allows you to keep your ability to walk.

Speaking of walking: do it. Every day, at every decent opportunity. Take the stairs. Pop round to the corner store. Stroll up to the lake, or round the park. Visit the neighbors. Fie on this driveway-office-driveway-supermarket-driveway culture. Fie, I say.

It is important to discover a workout which gives you joy. If you love swimming, swim. If you love dancing, dance. If you love hiking, biking, fencing, kickboxing, tennis–well, there you go. If you love beating the shit out of people, there are innumerable martial arts studios springing up everywhere.

3. Watch what you eat.

Pretty Lady is not fond of the Denial attitude toward diet. Proscriptions are depressing and ultimately unsustainable. Surrounding your mental landscape with a forest of ‘no’s’ is not, in her opinion, the best way to cultivate a sense of spiritual freedom, joy and possibility.

Instead, concentrate on adding healthy, wonderful, fresh, nutrious, organic foods to your diet. Focus on fresh organic vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and fish. Go out of your way to use organic extra-virgin olive oil. Variety is key; get a Thai, Indian, or Chinese cookbook and start experimenting. Make French salads.

Pretty Lady must pause here and give her general guidelines for a French salad.

Take one each of: a green, a steamed or cooked or grated vegetable, a cheese, a fruit, and a nut.

Dress with a dressing made up of: extra-virgin olive oil, lemon or lime juice, balsamic, apple cider, or red-wine vinegar,herbes du provence, salt and pepper.

Suggested greens:
arugula
Boston lettuce
red or green leaf lettuce
endive
escarole
kale (use plenty of lemon in the dressing for this.)

Suggested vegetables:
steamed sugar snap peas
haricots verts (or green beans are fine, sort of)
steamed asparagus
beets, boiled or grated raw
grated carrot
tomatoes
steamed or canned yellow corn
artichoke hearts
mushrooms

Suggested fruits:
apples
pears
figs
kumquats
dried cranberries
mandarin oranges

Suggested cheeses:
bleu
goat
manchego

Suggested nuts:
pignola
toasted walnuts
pecans
sunflower seeds

Feel free to mix, match, add, and experiment to your heart’s content. If you cannot find herbes du provence, get organo, basil, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary, and mix them together.

Also, substitute solid white albacore tuna for the cheese, or add anchovies to the dressing.

Once you have got in the habit of including at least one fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and lean protein in each meal, buttressed by modest amounts of olive oil, you will find that such things as chips, doughnuts, cake, cookies, white bread, deep-fried food, greasy meat, sodas, ice cream, and generally bad-for-you things do not disappear, but lose their central importance. You cannot ingest an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies when your system is already knawing on an exquisite French salad, perhaps with a bit of homemade bread, and an espresso for dessert. You may find the room for two or three cookies. But then your system will simply say, “no, thank you. I do not require more cookies. I am Content.”

4. Love people, love what you do, love your life, love yourself.

Overeating and failing to exercise are symptoms of despair and self-hatred, in Pretty Lady’s opinion. They are an attempt to fill a deep internal void with sweet greasy fluff. This is why the sight of an obese person makes Pretty Lady want to cry, rather than sneer. She has been there herself; most of us have. If you find yourself compulsively overeating, look critically at your life, and ask yourself, ‘what do I need that I haven’t got?’ Be honest. Acknowledge the frustration, the rage, the loneliness, the misery, the humiliation. Forgive yourself for feeling these universal human emotions. Acknowledge that you are a child of the universe, and you have a right to be here.

Then get to work rectifying the real problem, and leave the doughnuts behind.