the magical maldives

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Okay, so here goes. I’ve had a few people tell me they’d love a blog post detailing the information about my vacation with my niece to the Maldives, so I’m going to capture it here and try to make it as organized as possible. Also, I’ll include links to my reviews of the resorts eventually (haven’t gotten around to do them yet. I try to review most places on Trip Advisor.

Also, I’m going to qualify this post, though, with one major disclaimer: this was a once in a lifetime trip for me, so while I was not totally “money is no object” about the trip (I’m not made of money and I’m a terrible budgeter), I was also not traveling on the cheap either. And I’d almost say if you tend to be a very frugal traveler, the Maldives is probably not for you.

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Getting there: There are airlines that fly to the Maldives, but from the west coast of the U.S. (which is where I was coming from) I recommend Cathay Pacific (even though that means LAX and I LOATHE LAX). You will fly to Male (airport code MLE) and from there, you’ll have one more leg, either by speed boat or sea plane, depending on where you’re staying. Speedboat is the cheaper option by far, but a sea plane…is a sea plane and it was amazing to see the Maldives from the air. Your resort should arrange this last leg of transportation for you, but you’ll likely pay for it separately. Also, if you’ve got time and/or budget, I’d do a stop over in Hong Kong. You can get the highlights in a couple of days and take care of jet lag at the same time.

Choosing a resort: Most resorts are their own private islands, so you need to do your research and figure out what you want. For me, I had two main criteria. 1) I wanted an over-the-water villa (like I said, once in a lifetime) and 2) it needed to have a reputable dive center. This helped narrow things down quite a bit. Then it was a matter of reading reviews and budgeting. I actually booked three different hotels to hold the rooms while I did more research.* Ultimately, I chose the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi. It used to be a Hilton, apparently. And we did four days (three nights) which was perfect for us.

While this resort required transfer by sea plane (which, as stated is PRICEY), the room itself was significantly cheaper than any other water villa I found at the time AND the resort had an awesome dive center (they actually have a few locations throughout the Maldives. More on the dive center in a bit.

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A few other pointers:

1) Due to our arrival time (10pm) in Male, I booked us at the Maldiva Inn and arranged for an airport transfer. While I could have booked something closer to the airport, I’ve learned through lots of experience that a little distance from the airport generally gets you cleaner and safer rooms for about the same price. Worth the 15-20 minute drive. The airport transfer was $10 each way. While this was necessary due to arrival time in Male, it was super helpful budget wise. We saved a ton on that night and were at the resort around 8:30 am the next morning. We wore our bathing suits on the plane as we planning on not being able to get into our room until the regular check-in time. We were pleasantly surprised as our room was ready around 10:30 am.

2) Food is EXPENSIVE. I’ve talked to other friends who’ve been to the Maldives and read 100s of resort reviews…doesn’t matter where you go, it’s pricey. My advice is to do what we did: book your room with breakfast included. There are all inclusive options and if you really want to not worry about it and you’re going all out, this could be the right option for you. For us, we had breakfast included (and it was good!) and loaded up in the morning. Then we did protein shakes for lunch (yes, I packed protein shakes for every day and two shakers), so the only meal we were paying for separate from the room rate was dinner. And that was still expensive! Just be prepared. For two of us, with a few drinks (even without the alcohol, I’m a firm believe that island vacations necessitate fun beverages) throughout the day and dinner it was around $150-$200 day (we always did dessert…this was vacation after all)! I will say that while the food definitely wasn’t worthy of the pricing had we not been on a remote atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it was quite very good.

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This lime creme brûlée was amazing!

3) Budget for your activities so there are no surprises. Nothing worse than arriving somewhere and not being prepared. My niece was doing the open water portion of her dive certification and I was accompanying her on all dives, so I priced all of that out so I knew what I’d be spending. I also knew we wouldn’t just want to lay on the beach or by the pool every second we weren’t diving. Our resort had a number of free activities, provided you had experience. I wanted to do paddle boarding (but neither of us had really done it before), so I budgeted for a 30 minute lesson and after that, it was free to use the equipment.

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4) I unintentionally chose a resort that had an adults only pool. I’m not sure if the resort we chose was especially kid friendly (wasn’t looking for that info), but there were quite a few kids. I’m not opposed to children in theory, but I mostly only have patience for the ones I’m related to when I’m on vacation, so the adults only pool was unexpectedly awesome!

5) For diving (if you’re a diver), because I knew I’d be joining my niece on her open water certification dives, I really didn’t worry too much about specific dive sites. There are probably amazing places that I could have focus our trip around, but with the limitations of a new diver, I just decided to not even research it and assumed the diving would be good wherever we went. Ignorance is bliss and we saw amazing stuff, so I feel really good about that decision.

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6) We had some extra time between our sea plane arrival back in Male and our flight from Male back to Hong Kong. Our butler (yes, we had a butler) was super helpful and arranged for a tour of Male which was actually really cool. The tour guide didn’t charge us anything, but we paid him $20 for about a 30 minute tour (it’s a small little downtown).

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*I use booking.com for almost all (like 99%) of my hotel booking. I know there are other websites out there (that may be better and or cheaper), but I love their app, I’m happy with the prices, and they have pretty true-to-point reviews. Plus, because I use them so much, I get an additional 10% off frequently and welcome drinks at most hotels. Small thing, but I love it. I also never use the non-refundable booking option. I’ve learned through experience that it’s worth it to me to pay a little more to know I’ve got some flexibility in case my plans change OR I find a different hotel that looks better.

 

what a difference six months can make

When I hit rock bottom this summer, I had no idea that my life would be so different in just six short months. So many times in my life I’ve looked back and thought to myself, “If I’d started doing [fill in the blank] six months ago (or a year ago), think of where I’d be today!” Well, this time, I did start doing something six months ago and I’m so proud of where I am today.

I’ve learned so much about myself over the past six months. It’s been about more than just losing the weight. It’s been figuring out what triggers my overeating and how to manage that. It’s been discovering how to be social without having it revolve around food. It’s been understanding how I’ve been standing in my own way in so many ways. I started this journey on July 14th and in just under six months, I’ve lost about 50 lbs and gained so much more.

When I started this, I also started (re-started, I should say, for the third or fourth time) a 100-day challenge with a couple of friends which involved taking a selfie every day. Even after the 100 days, I continued to take selfies with some regularity. And I’m so glad I did. It’s kind of amazing (at least to me) to watch my body (and spirit) change before my eyes.

And on that note, before I share the video, I just want to make a few more comments. Being someone who’s struggled with my weight for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the pressure to look a certain way my entire life. But this has not been about looking a certain way. Sure, it’s one of the benefits. It’s the benefit that everyone can see. But for me, and my daily life, it really is about so much more than that.

This transformation is about being able to sit down on a deep couch and not worry about how awkward I’m going to look as I try and get up off of it. It’s about going scuba diving and not having my mind consumed with how I’m going to get back onto the boat when there’s no ladder. It’s about buying clothes that look good on me and not just whatever fits. It’s about going on first dates and not worrying that the first thing a guy is going to think is that I’m fat (yes, blind dates…from the interwebs).

It’s about not worrying about what I look like in pictures any time someone pulls out a camera. It’s about having the energy to keep up with all of my nieces and nephews, including going down the slides at the park and knowing my butt will fit. It’s about not constantly wasting brain space thinking about my weight, or how I look, or beating myself up about what I should or shouldn’t have eaten. But most of all, it’s about feeling like I’m taking care of this amazing body God has given me.

ETA: And again, there are so many people I have to thank for their support along the way in this! You all know who you are! Thank you!!!

run, run, rudolph!

I started training for my first marathon in 2007. Running was therapy at the time. My life was a bit of a wreck and running gave me something. And I needed something.

Over the years, I’ve continued to run off and on. Last year, I decided to go for marathon #2 here in Tokyo…mostly because my friend won the lottery for it and so I kind of had to do it. I was undertrained and overweight, but I finished.

What I love about running (and I know I’ve written this before), is that no matter how I feel about the way my body looks, I can’t help but appreciate how amazing it is when I’m running. And when I complete 26.2 miles, I can’t do anything but be in awe of it.

So, with the marathon in Tokyo completed, I decided I should probably go ahead an run a marathon on every continent. Africa was meant to be done last summer, but I wasn’t able to finish. I will definitely be going back.

In the past, speed was never really my goal, but as I started to lose weight this past summer, I also decided it was time to change that. I found a great race time predictor that helped me determine how fast I should be able to run different distances based on my marathon time. Since I hadn’t tried increasing my pace ever, this was a good place to start.

So, for the past six months I’ve been working on increasing my pace. My first goal was to see how fast I could run a mile. I used the treadmill to push myself and managed to run a mile in 8m57s. This was achieved after losing about 35 lbs.

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So, based on this, I could run a 5K in under 30 minutes. I didn’t believe it, but that’s what the race predictor said, and I decided I might as well try. It took almost two months, another 10 lbs, and a few attempts, but I did it eventually. Again, on a treadmill.

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Now, if you were to look at the race predictor, you’d see that I should be able to run a half-marathon in about 2h16m55s. That pace seemed super aggressive considering my PR for a half-marathon was 2h24m22s seven years ago. And actually, until I looked it up just now, I thought it was 2h36m…not sure where I got that. Also, there’s a difference between running on a treadmill and running in a road race. In fact, given my last marathon finish time of 5h58m40s, I thought 2h30m00s would be a pretty good goal. With this goal in mind, I needed to find a half-marathon. The one I found was a little one in Arizona on Dec. 20.

I set off from my sister’s house early that morning to make the hour drive to the west valley. It was too far and too early to drag any of my family members there, so I was on my own. Because my goal was 2h30m, I knew my average mile pace needed to be 11m27s. With my Garmin strapped securely around my wrist, I was ready to go. I took my place at the very back of the pack (I prefer to kill rather than being killed) and waited for the gun to fire. (Except in this case, there was no gun, just a guy who yelled something that signaled for us to start.)

I started out at a pace that felt comfortable, doing my best to stay as comfortable as possible. Having run enough races in my life, especially half-marathons, I know to go out slow and not get caught up in the adrenaline and energy that a race can give you. To my surprise, though, when I looked down at my trusty electronic running buddy for the first time, I was averaging 10m43s. This was both a bit nerve-racking and motivating…which I think is how most people feel when they’re set to hit a goal they thought was beyond their reach.

Thinking about how good I was feeling at that pace, but also knowing that pace probably wasn’t sustainable for the full 13.1 miles, I decided to go for an average pace of under 11m00s, which would put my final race time at 2h24m05s or below, which would have been a PR..even against the PR I didn’t realize I’d actually set. I was kind of excited.

So, I ran. And ran. And ran. I took quick little breaks for water and fueling, that was it. I did slow down a little a mile here and a mile there. At one point, I started to think that maybe I could come in under 2h20m00s. But then I checked myself. Sometimes I get a little crazy in moments like this and think I can accomplish crazy things only to completely blow up and not even accomplish my original goal. So, I calmed down and stuck with the sub 11m mile goal.

And I killed it!

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Next up: sub 5h00m00s marathon…and another continent crossed off the list. If anyone wants to join me, I’d love to have a running/travel buddy. Check it out here. It’s sure to be amazing!

saipan (google it)

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So, I turned 37 on Tuesday. And, as has been my tradition recently (two years makes it a tradition, right?) I took a trip. Last year was Burma/Myanmar with Brittany. This year was a little solo trip to Saipan (google it) to go scuba diving and enjoy some warm weather, the beach, and a little taste of America.

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It was a really good trip and the diving was amazing! My dive guide, Harry, was an American who’s been in Saipan almost 20 years. In addition to great diving, I got a lot of great stories about Saipan, it’s history in WWII, and the current state of politics in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It was fascinating. And some of the best diving I’ve done. If you ever make it to Saipan, I highly recommend diving with his company. And you have to ask him the story behind the name of his company, because it’s pretty cool.

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It was also a much needed break from my crazy busy life and gave me some good time to reflect on the past year, as well as what I want for the year to come. There were a number of little personal epiphanies that took place. Some were a little painful…in the way muscles are sore after you work them hard. So, not a bad pain, but just a “wow, I haven’t worked those muscles in a while” type of pain.

IMG_4876If you’ve never taken a solo vacation, I highly recommend it. I know it sounds kind of scary to some of you. Or maybe you’re just thinking, “What’s the point?” And maybe there wouldn’t be a point for you, but I definitely need these times to just do a little personal inventorying.

And back to the part about it being Saipan. Because it’s an American commonwealth, I got to enjoy a little taste of America, including Diet Coke and Winchell’s. Happy birthday to me!

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And while the trip was over way too soon, I left feeling ready to take on this next year of my life with some good plans and goals to make some needed changes and to continue becoming the person I want to be…and more importantly, the person I think God wants me to be. And what a better reminder of how blessed I am than this little rainbow as seen from my plane when heading back to Japan.

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hitting rock bottom…and going up (or down, depending on how you look at it) from there

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heading back from diving near cape town – june 24, 2014

Whilst in South Africa, I was able to go diving. If you’ve read my blog over the past few years, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of diving and go as often as I can. So, this trip was a great opportunity and I had high hopes of seeing lots of sharks (which I did, although no great whites as the sea was too rough the day we were hoping to go see those), but not really the point of this post.

So, I did go diving and, while I do love it, since I started getting back into it, it’s been a bit of a love/hate thing. I love doing it, but there’s a lot of stress leading up to it because of my weight. I’m capable of doing it, but there’s always a question of whether they’ll have a wetsuit that fits me (my first trip in Okinawa, they did not…it was fairly depressing), how much weight I’ll need, etc, etc.

Well, Cape Town presented a new challenge: diving from a large zodiac with no ladder. Before even leaving the dock, my thoughts were already preoccupied with how I was going to get back onto the boat after diving. And those thoughts continued throughout my first dive. And I was worried with good reason. While none of the divers in the group could get themselves in without help (it requires a lot of upper body strength), I was the only diver that required two people to help me. And I looked and felt ridiculous as I got hoisted back into the boat. In fact, it was so bad that I seriously considered sitting the next dive out.

Of course I didn’t do that, but something clicked at that point. While I’ve always struggled with my weight, it had never interfered with my experiences in life the way I felt it did in that moment. It made, what should have been, an incredible dive something different. My weight was stealing my joy. This experience combined with not finishing the marathon earlier in the week was just too much for me. I sat quietly on the boat as we drove to our next dive site, closing my eyes, and doing my best to hold back the tears. I had hit rock bottom. In that moment, I determined that this would be the last time I would feel exactly like this. I didn’t know how I was going to change it, but I knew it was time.

A week later, I was in Indiana camping with my brother and his family and a bunch of our mutual MBA friends. My sister-in-law commented that one of those friends had lost a lot of weight. I had seen this friend very recently while she was visiting in Japan and she looked the same is I remembered her (prior to that, I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years), but apparently work travel had been rough on her and when I saw her, she’d already lost most of that weight, so I didn’t know any different. Anyway, we got to talking about how she’d done it and she told us she’d been using Isagenix.

Now, I’d heard of this product before because my sister-in-law had used it, but I’d never been tempted to do it (I didn’t know much about it and I’m totally leery of anything direct sales related). However, in that moment, both my sister-in-law and I decided we would do it together and we committed to starting as soon as my vacation was over.

I had another week left of traveling in the U.S. and my final stop was Arizona. While there, I went to the doctor to get some blood work done. In the process, I was officially weighed and tipped the scales at my highest weight ever. Higher than even my fattest time on my mission. While this could have been disastrous, I already had a plan, and this moment was all I needed to ensure that I stuck to it.

So, I got back to Japan on July 13th and the next day I started on Isagenix with my sister-in-law as my long-distance buddy. I started seeing results on the scale right away. Unfortunately, in the first month, I also remembered just how obsessive I can get about my weight and the reason I stopped weighing myself a few years back. Over the course of the first 17 days, I lost consistently except for one day. Yes. Only on one measly day did I see the number on the scale go up at all…but that was enough to put me in a bad mood for the entire day. I was discussing this with my sister-in-law, and she suggested that I stop weighing myself daily, so I did. I stopped on day 18 and then weighed myself again on day 30 for a total loss in my first 30 days of 18.4 lbs!

When I began month two, I was also connected with my friend, Aubrey, who’s an Isagenix distributor and coach, and I committed to myself and her and my sister-in-law that I wouldn’t weigh myself at all throughout the month, This was HARD! But it also meant that when I had a day here or there where I indulged a bit, I wasn’t beating myself up. And, rather than weighing myself, I started tracking calories.

While Isagenix is laid out really well, I had also really started back into exercising quite consistently, and for the first time in my life while trying to lose weight, I wanted to make sure I was eating enough. Such a difference from the past. You see, prior to this, I’ve never lost weight in a truly healthy way. I went through bouts of starvation and laxative abuse in high school and college, I tried Atkins in my early 20s, HCG in my early 30s. Weight Watchers was the closest I got to “healthy” in that I wasn’t starving myself, but even with Weight Watchers it was all too easy to continue eating junk (just a lot less of it…still a fan of the program if you do it in the right spirit). But this program…this lifestyle…is different. I can maintain this. It works with my life.

During my second 30-days, my body really started to feel different. And I was excited to exercise every day. I was getting ready to hike Mt. Fuji, as well, and was excited about the prospect of doing it with at least 18 lbs off of me. It’s not that I hadn’t been exercising before, but weight makes a big difference. My running times were improving. I was feeling great. When I got to day 60 (after conquering Fuji, which was incredible), I almost didn’t want to weigh myself because I knew I was still losing and I was feeling so good, but I also felt like I needed to have that number just as a point of reference for the future, so the morning of day 61, I got on the scale. Another 16.5 lbs down for a total of 34.9 lbs in 60 days!

10407731_10154608402915389_3834516360543429790_n The last three days, I’ve been in Okinawa for work and had the chance to spend Monday scuba diving. What a difference 34.9 lbs makes. This was a totally different experience than my trip in South Africa. I didn’t have to get the largest size BCD and hope that it would fit. I got a Large instead of an XL and it was actually a little big. I enjoyed every minute of the experience. I wasn’t the fat American. I was just the American.

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post diving in south africa – june 24, 2014

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post diving in okinawa – september 15, 2014

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can you see how happy i am in this moment?!

Now, I still have a long way to go to my goal…not quite halfway there…but I have confidence that I can get there. In the past, whatever I’ve been doing has been so hard that I’ve wanted to lose as much as I could as quickly as possible because I knew it wouldn’t last. This is different. This is a lifestyle change. This is me giving my body what it needs to be healthy and strong. It’s not about being skinny (although I do love how I look with the weight gone). It’s about experiencing my life the way I want to experience it. It’s about being able to be the person I am on the inside because the outside of me isn’t an obstacle.

There have been some bumps (the business trip to Okinawa has been one…still figuring out how to break old habits), but nothing has devastated me. I know the weight loss will slow down, but I don’t doubt that it will continue, or that I will continue to feel great in the process. I’m reaching new fitness goals. I’m shrinking out of my wardrobe. Really, this has changed my life and I wanted to document it. And here are some before/current photos (not all labeled, but before is always on left and now is on the right) to capture this in images because I think it’s so valuable to see not just the difference in my body, but the difference in how I feel that you can actually see through these pictures. It really is amazing.

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so, basically, this dress that required spanx and a careful consideration before wearing is now too big for me, which makes me sad because I love it…but not enough to do what I would need to in order to continue to wear it.

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please don’t judge me for the socks i’m wearing on the left…i had boots on that day, but in true japanese form, i don’t wear shoes in my apartment, thus the polkadot socks.😉

unnamed unnamed Note: While I am still not a fan of the whole MLM thing, I do get why this is sold in this way…you get great attention and coaching. I’m not trying to build a business, but I do love these products and, if you are interested, let me know.

ETA: Oh, and how could I forget my phenphen phase; best results ever…and I was a complete nightmare to live with/be around. Good times. Good times.