Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Begin to see yourself as a soul with a body rather than a body with a soul.”
Today is my "official" 1 Year SparkVersary! I had joined SparkPeople in June, 2009, but wasn't very active until last year. I started exploring the site more last summer, and then on August 21st, 2010, I signed my pledge card and vowed to do my best every day. I started with very small changes, and had a goal of simply logging in every day (unfortunately, my log-in streak was broken in November, but I am now at 250-something days). I gradually became more active on SparkPeople and started making an effort to at least track my fitness minutes. Then I started tracking my food, even though I was over my calorie range on most days. Then I started to set other goals, such as getting 7 hours of sleep each day, cleaning for at least 15 minutes every day, and journaling.
Being active on SparkPeople has gone well beyond weight loss. I did start to follow the SparkDiet in January, doing my best to stay within my calorie range every day and focus on clean eating. As I started to lose some weight, I got some relief from my knee pain, and was able to up my exercise quite a bit. I am now back to a high-intensity program, and it feels great to be able to feel more fit again. My exercise program is focused around kickboxing, cycling, and weightlifting, and also includes walking, swimming, Pilates, kettlebells, yoga, and dance (bellydance and Zumba). I am trying to use my education in kinesiology to design and follow a program to build muscle and support fat loss--so far, so good.
The improvement in my quality of life since focusing on changing my life holistically has gone beyond anything I could have hoped for. I joined hoping to lose some weight. Every area of my life has improved because of SparkPeople: fitness, nutrition, finances, attitude, the people I choose to spend time with... there isn't a part of my life that has not been improved by this journey. Since pledging to be active on SparkPeople on August 21st, 2010, I have:
Lost 37 pounds.
Lost 16.5 inches total from my body.
Gained a bunch of SparkFriends!
Gotten my home loan out of default.
Better budgeting skills.
Improved cleaning and organization in my home.
Returned to kickboxing.
Picked up my saxophone again and started taking lessons.
Kicked toxic people to the curb.
Started taking active steps towards getting into a career I really want.
All of these things are at least in part thanks to being active on SparkPeople. I really did start with baby steps and built up over several months. I am so grateful to have SparkPeople in my life and to improve both my physical and mental health thanks to the resources available.
I am also SO GLAD that I have been taken measurements and pictures since starting to lose weight. I love the concrete proof of my progress. Now I wish I had "staged" some more flattering progress pics, but they are what they are, and they show the progress I've made so far. Can't wait to reflect on these after I've lost more than 100 pounds!
"Before" (taken in February 2011)
Progress pics August 2011 (approximately 35 pounds down)--those back fat rolls are shrinking, and they should be gone soon!
I want to say a giant "Thank You!" to all of my SparkFriends--I would be nowhere without your love and support! Thank you for celebrating with me today and every day! You inspire me every single day with your successes, your humor, and overcoming adversities with grace. I can't wait to continue to watch the changes we make.
"Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well that you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
and the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless."
-Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet" (On Self-Knowledge)
Saturday, August 20, 2011
This past week has been mostly adjusting to returning to "real life" after my one week staycation. There have actually been pros and cons to returning to work. The con is...well, that I'm at work. However, when I'm at work, I'm much more likely to drink tons of water, drink the green tea I intend to drink every day, and get in all of my fruits and veggies. The structure of my work schedule makes it easy to get in those healthy habits throughout the day. I feel a lot better overall when I get in all of my daily "healthy habits," so even I'm dealing with crap at work, at least I'm doing everything else right...mostly... I was good about exercise both during my staycation and this past week, but being active is just intertwined into my life, so that will probably never be an issue.
I've been hitting the upper body weights hardcore with Cathe Friedrich's STS program. After only 6 weeks, I have lost 1.5 inches off of my upper arm and can see some nice cuts coming out. I cannot wait to see what my arms will look like when I'm finished with the entire 5-month rotation. I am not doing lower body weight workouts because of my knee, but between kettlebells, kickboxing, cycling, walking, stability ball exercises, Pilates, and yoga, I would say they get their fair share of work. I am starting to see definition from muscle hypertrophy all over my body. Hypertrophy is the increase in the size of muscles either by creation of new muscle fibers or an increase in the size of existing fibers (or a combination thereof). Resistance training that works in the 10-12 repetition range (lifting to failure) creates muscle hypertrophy. This makes the muscles look great and primes the muscles to be able to do some serious power work.
Although muscle definition is great, I am in the dreaded "bulking up" awkward phase where I am going to balloon up slightly from muscle mass. I am creating new muscle mass, but of course, there's a lot of fat covering it. It will will probably take at least 4 weeks for the fat loss to catch up. This "bulking up" is normal for anyone starting a new exercise program and usually results in the following blog or message board posts: "WTH?!?!?! I've been working out for a month and I haven't lost any weight! I mean, I feel great, and I lost a few inches, but the scale hasn't budged!" The physiology of weight loss is not actually well understood when it comes to the interaction between exercise (especially resistance training) and losing "weight." The typical convention is that one cannot build a large amount of muscle tissue and lose fat at the same time. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. It is true that one cannot lose large amounts of body weight in a short period of time without losing lean muscle tissue (think "Biggest Loser"--they are digesting their own muscle tissue for fuel with those large losses). This is because the body will end up utilizing the body's own protein (i.e. muscles) to generate glucose for energy. This is where losing slowly comes in handy. On that note, I disagree with the idea that someone can only maintain muscle mass while losing weight, an idea that is frequently circulated. I believe someone is capable of making major body composition changes while losing weight, in that lean muscle mass can be built while fat is being lost. However, they may not happen at the same time. I believe I am in that in-between phase right now.
My recent activity has been intense, and with such a focus on resistance training, the "bulking up" will make me look a little disproportionate for a while. I already see it--there is clear muscle definition showing, but my muscles feel swollen and I feel a bit puffy. I'm not going to change anything about my exercise program, though--the awkward phase is the price I will have to pay to end up having lots of lean muscle tissue to support fat loss. I do, however, need to clean up my eating act a bit. I wasn't off-the-wall horrible this week, but I had several snacky days and did eat over my calories on several days. If I want these muscles to pop out, I need to eat clean.
I am not weighing in this week. Between the unclean eating, TOM, and my lower leg swelling up again, I know the scale will be way up--the feedback would not be useful right now. My goal this week is to clean up my eating and eat within my calorie range every day. I plan on doing kickboxing workouts at least 4 times (and would like 2-3 of those to be classes). Oh, and one more tiny thing...tomorrow is my 1 year SparkVersary. No biggie, but I may blog about it.
"I make my weaknesses my strengths and my strengths stronger."
Sunday, August 14, 2011
*Boxing gloves: $70
*Monthly kickboxing gym membership: $95
*The look on smack-talking brother's face the first time he takes a punch from his sister during class, as he's flying backwards: PRICELESS
My brother John, after years of talking about going to kickboxing, finally joined me this week. He was inspired by seeing my coach fight last weekend and joined me for his first class last Tuesday. His movements were very wild and he wasn't a willing recipient of feedback from me, but luckily our coach Justin kept close watch on him on Thursday and it was a better class. With some of the catty B.S. that goes on with the women in the classes, I'm happy to have my brother there as my partner. Plus, I hope that frequent fighting brings us closer.
John and I have difficulty connecting on many levels. John often keeps people at bay because of his bone tumors and not wanting to be treated differently because of them, never mind having battled bone cancer. He normally makes every effort to avoid discussing the tumors and to mask any discomfort they cause. This is true with his own family members and with friends. But as I was warming up on Thursday, I overheard John talking to our coach Justin, and he was pointing to the tumor on his leg and telling Justin about his bone tumors. Justin commended John for his marathon training and now taking on kickboxing. I think our coaches Justin and Chris will both be very good at bringing John out of his shell. They will teach him patience and self-control, which is what I have gotten out of martial arts.
Our coach Chris (left) and my brother, after Chris's big win at a fight last week.
"To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography and the dancers hit each other."
-"Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey
This week I enjoyed being with my kickboxing coaches, as well as one of my other favorite teachers, my saxophone teacher Jeff. After my lesson with Jeff on Tuesday, I have found truly great joy in playing, the most since picking it up again. I am finding that Jeff really changes the way I think and the way I approach not just saxophone playing, but almost everything (see blog from 8/11/2011). I don't think he means to impart this wisdom, but there are few teachers we have who truly change who we are as a whole. My old Muay Thai coach Kru Mike was one of them, and I think Jeff is approaching that level of changing me on a fundamental level. I think I will end up being a better saxophonist than I ever imagined, and I will be a better person for having learned from him.
My saxophone teacher Jeff. Image from kingmusic.org.
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
Needless to say, I didn't lose any weight this week. I had several weeks of big (and 1 week of HUGE) losses, so this can be normal for me, but if I'm honest with myself, my eating wasn't the best this week. I've been on staycation, and I made the mistake of ordering from my favorite pizza place, Pizza Luce, when I was really hungry. I knew I was going to order from them, but my eyes were much bigger than my stomach when placing the order. I ordered too much food as it was, and they threw in a free lasagna. Who am I to argue with their generosity? I couldn't eat all the food in one sitting; better yet, I was physically incapable of doing so, unlike in the past. I had garlic mashed potato pizza for a couple of days, and the lasagna the next day. I had also ordered an extra Vegan Peanut Butter Bar, one of my favorite treats, and I had that the next day, too. I enjoyed every single bite of all of the food.
Pizza Luce's Garlic Mashed Potato Pizza. Yes, the trip to Minneapolis is worth it just for this. Image from pizzaluce.com.
Pizza Luce's Vegan Peanut Butter Bar. Sorry about the food porn--NOT! Image from http://www.downhomevegan.com/2010/11/no-mo
On the other hand, eating over my calories over a couple of days seems to stimulate losses in subsequent weeks. This may be because my muscles get some extra carbs and protein to recover from bad-ass workouts (to be covered in another blog about metabolic flexibility), and are more primed to burn fat. If I didn't burn 6,000+ calories a week, I would feel guilty about the overeating. Over the next couple of weeks of eating normally, it will balance out (I think in the longer long-term when it comes to calories in-calories out). Additionally, I have some clear definition showing in my abs, which is probably thanks to kickboxing.
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
Overall, I had an awesome and relaxing staycation. I did what I wanted, and that included some purposeful overeating, and also included a whole lot of exercise. I spent quite a bit of time spacing out. I didn't do much structured activity beyond my kickboxing classes, but I needed it. The weekly summer staycation is going to be a tradition from now on. I did it last year (actually, I took a whopping 2 weeks off, but my work has now made it very difficult to get any days off, let alone 2 weeks in a row), and I find it gives me something to really look forward to, even months ahead of time.
While this was not the best week for weight loss, I was very active, caught up with friends, had a good week of sax playing, and hopefully helped bring my brother closer to coming out of his shell. Tickets for "Ultimate Sibling Rivalry" go on sale later.
Friday, August 12, 2011
The past couple of weeks have had an overtone of impatience with almost everything, especially with weight loss. I'm not mad, I'm not giving up, I'm not going to do anything differently, I'm not upset with myself, I'm not even talking negatively to myself...but it just slips in my mind sometimes that I want to be THERE already, at my goal weight, looking as fit as I probably already am considering the training I can take on. I'm already pretty physically fit; I can easily perform intense exercise for 2 or more hours without being fatigued (and more importantly, I'm enjoying myself). But as much as I want to be THERE, I've had a hard time imagining being at my goal weight--not really doubt that I can do it--but just picturing my body being smaller at some point. At kickboxing, I'll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I kind of feel like I will always look like this, even though my weight loss has been fairly consistent. I've had a hard time imagining being a lot better at kickboxing again, with strong legs and better coordination. I've had a hard time hearing in my head being better at playing the saxophone. For some reason, I've had overtones of, "I guess I'll always be this way," even though my forebrain knows that is not true.
In my saxophone lessons, I've been wrestling with one of Handel's pieces (Sonata No. 3) for weeks. There are certain sections that sound okay, but other parts that I have not played correctly even once, whether on my own or with my teacher. Even if I hit all of the correct notes, my counting is off. It doesn't help that I get frustrated with myself and get impatient, giving into, "See, know you can't do it right." As confident as I can be, if I stumble too much over something too many times, I want to give up. My saxophone teacher, Jeff, is quickly becoming one of my favorite teachers I've ever had. I don't think he would have assigned me this piece if he didn't think I could do it--and do it well.
Jeff will guide me through an exercise, I will have no idea why he is having me do it, and then he will make me play a piece and it sounds amazing. There is a note (high front E) that I have great difficulty hitting. When I was playing a practice exercise and trying to hit high E, it never came out right. "All right, stop for a sec," he said. "Just stop, HEAR the note, imagine it coming out, then try it again." I did my best to hear the note, then started to play that part of the exercise piece. I stopped myself from being nervous approaching the high E, heard it in my head first, and hit it spot on. I was so excited I stopped playing and went, "YESSSS!" I don't even care that I looked like a dork.
Jeff pulled out the Handel piece and told me to start playing. I pointed to a couple of sections and told him I have never played them correctly. He thought for a second and said, "Let's try something." When playing the saxophone, there can be more than one way to play a particular note, even though the fingering may be very different from what would normally be done. Jeff fingered some of the notes on the saxophone in a way they are not normally played at all. "Now, I want you to listen, and I want you to make the same note I do." He would play the note, I would play it, too. It went on like this for about 5 minutes, and I truly did not understand what was going on.
He pointed to the part of the song that I have never played correctly. "Okay, now play that part."
I took a deep breath and played the entire part of the song without stumbling over the notes, it just came out, and it even sounded...good. I stopped playing and just kind of stared, completely flabbergasted. "Whoa," was all I could muster.
"We just played that whole section in overtones. You couldn't just go through the motions. You had to hear the notes, YOU had to make them, not the horn. I made you hear it without even realizing it. See? It was there."
I told Jeff that I do picture and hear it before I play, but I picture doing it wrong, and then sure enough, I do it wrong. He smiled and shrugged, "Well, don't do that."
Today I got ready to practice and I warmed up with a couple of Jeff's goofy exercises. I played the Handel piece through a couple of times, and sure I messed up in a couple of spots, but I decided not to be impatient with myself and just keep going. Whatever voodoo Jeff performed worked; I played the whole song better than ever today. I had a big damn grin on my face the whole time, too. Perhaps I won't stay the same.
I'm very used to the "nagging" overtones in my head being a bit negative, impatient, or doubtful. Whether it's about weight loss, playing my saxophone, kickboxing, or whatever, I feel like every positive thought has a slight counter of, "But what if you're wrong, what if you mess up?" Maybe overtones don't always have to be negative. Sometimes that mental block, those unidentifiable notes, just need to be imagined in order to be. Once imagined, they are created, and they are there. My fit body, just like a beautiful piece of music, is already there. All I have to do is picture it and it will happen, even if it takes a little bit of patience.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
When I was in my kinesiology courses, I spent hours reading journal article after journal article about why exercise (especially strength training) is important for weight loss and preventing weight gain. Then, one of my professors asked me if I had ever heard of metabolic flexibility. He is a physician and has done some research in metabolic flexibility and obesity. We had a long discussion about it and I asked him how he thought metabolic flexibility may be involved in weight loss. Metabolic flexibility is a major aspect in the physiology of weight loss and maintaining a healthy body weight because it shows how efficient the body can be when it receives proper exercise and food sources. Understanding metabolic flexibility helps explain why calorie deprivation alone is usually insufficient for weight loss--and in particular for weight maintenance. The changes (or "adaptations") brought about by exercise help reduce inflammation that leads to metabolic inflexibility. The topic of metabolic flexibility is so massive that a little tiny blog can't cover everything, but I hope I can explain the basics, as metabolic flexibility has been the basis of my weight loss (or body composition change) plan. I will also post some other blogs about metabolic flexibility and how I've set up my exercise and diet plan around it. I find I have difficulty writing about physiology stuff without being uber-technical, but it will be good practice for when I am a trainer.
"Metabolic flexibility" may sound like a sexy term, but the American Physiological Society defines metabolic flexibility as the following:
"Metabolic flexibility is the capacity for the organism to adapt fuel oxidation to fuel availability" (from ajpendo.physiology.org/content/295/5
/E1009.short ). What an eyeful! For the rest of us, this translate to how efficiently the body switches between using carbohydrates or fats for fuel. I decided to approach weight loss like any other event and developed a "training plan" with metabolic flexibility in mind. Increasing metabolic flexibility is good for everyone; even someone who has never been overweight benefits from having increased metabolic flexibility, as it makes it much less likely that the body will store fat. The body is less prone to inflammation when there is a high degree of metabolic flexibility.
Creating increased metabolic flexibility ultimately makes it more likely that the weight will stay off in the long run, because the body's energy systems become so much more efficient. I've talked about a lot of technical terms, but ultimately, what I've been talking about describes the reason why slow weight loss is better and strength training helps us lose weight (even though it is unlikely to cause major calorie burn during the workout itself).
Metabolic flexibility helps explain why calorie deprivation alone is not sufficient for sustainable weight loss. The body NEEDS the proper fuel in order to burn fat effectively. Carbohydrates are important because they cause an insulin spike that allows glucose to enter muscle cells and be efficiently utilized for fuel. The muscles also store more glycogen for future energy use. Glycogen helps provide energy during endurance-type workouts. This is the basis of why we have to make sure we are eating enough, especially with regards to exercise. In general, I try to avoid having more than a 500 calorie deficit between diet and exercise.
For example, last week I burned about 6,000 calories. Now had I eaten, say, 1,500 calories a day, I would have been exhausted. Instead, I ate at least 2,200 calories per day, more on heavier workouts days, so as not to have more than a 500 calorie deficit on most days. Common sense would say that I should have left the 6,000 calorie deficit and lost almost 2 pounds...well, I ate heartily every day and lost 3 pounds. My eating and workout routine were similar the week before and I lost 0.5 pounds (and I'm happy because that averages out to 2 pounds per week over the past 2 weeks). My body will have different adaptations from week to week, so of course my losses won't always be the same, even when I'm doing the same thing. This has been how I've been eating throughout this 40 pound loss. I've certainly had ups and downs on the scale, and I'm sure my eating plan will need tweaking from time to time, but I don't make major adjustments unless there are gains for several weeks.
In addition to the fuel from nutritious foods, the body needs the adaptations brought about by a varied exercise plan. Burning calories through aerobic activity is not the be-all and end-all of losing weight. This is where strength training comes into play. The adaptations in the body caused by strength training combined with varied aerobic activity increases the number of mitochondria (or "little powerhouses") in the muscles, which increases the rate of oxygen use. Increasing muscle mitochondria increases metabolic flexibility because the body can utilize more oxygen for energy.
Mighty Mitochondria! Image from www.ageofautism.com.
Insulin is the hormone that "chooses" whether fats or carbohydrates will be used for fuel. Consistently high insulin levels tend to cause fight storage and inefficient use of fat for fuel. Increasing lean mass (i.e. muscle mass) and increasing aerobic capacity (i.e. more muscle mitochondria from aerobic exercise and strength training) increases insulin sensitivity and keeps insulin levels lower, thus increasing fat-burning (yes!). Once this machine is set in motion through good diet, strength training with heavy weights, and aerobic exercise, weight loss tends to go more smoothly and long-term weight maintenance is much more likely.
A lack of metabolic flexibility may eventually lead to "metabolic syndrome," which may lead to diseases such as diabetes because insulin is not being utilized properly. The body responds better to insulin when there is a high degree of metabolic flexibility, and it appears the being metabolically flexible leads to decreased incidence of insulin resistance. Diabetics usually start to use insulin more efficiently with weight loss, and especially with the adaptations brought about by exercise.
This blog is the short, short version, but I will probably post some more blogs about metabolic flexibility and what I'm doing to try to increase metabolic flexibility through diet and exercise. I found it helpful to learn about metabolic flexibility since diabetes runs in my family and I have fought off diabetes in the past. I need to stay on the right track to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes, and learning ways to increase metabolic flexibility will hopefully keep diabetes at bay and lead to decreased body fat and increased lean mass.
For an ultra-Nerdrageous explanation of Metabolic flexibility, see this article: journals.cambridge.org/download.php?
Article on metabolic flexibility and insulin resistance/diabetes: ki.se/content/1/c6/07/80/41/George%2
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