Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Managing weight and fitness the SparkPeople way has some things in common with managing money. Since I've spent a few years obsessing about my budget, I find it instructive to compare and contrast the nutrition and fitness tracking with money tracking.
On a budget forum, a newbie once asked if I recorded my transactions every day. Ever the smart ass, I replied, "No. I only record transactions on days that I have them." The idea was to get the newbie to realize that if he didn't spend his money on that latte or Shiny New Toy, he wouldn't have to record it. The system was giving him an incentive to make better spending decisions.
I notice the same thing with recording food. Today is my ninth day of recording what I eat, and I've chosen not to eat stuff several times because I'd have to record it. Sometimes the element of running down the nutrition information for, say, a Milky Way Simply Caramel bar is off-putting; sometimes the simple idea of seeing that I ate *HOW MANY* servings of something that is allowable in small quantities is a deterrent, even if the food in question is already on my list of favorites.
The funny thing is that this mental game works even though I know that nobody else gets to see my food log, and the people who see me at work don't care if I walk to the vending machine to get that Simply Caramel bar.
The same psychological trick works on the other side of the calorie ledger. Today I wimped out of my lunch walk due to heat. I didn't want to arrive back at my desk dripping in sweat, so I cut it short. I told myself I'd make up the cardio in the evening. Now, I've told myself this many times in the past and not followed through . . . before recording exercise on this site.
Today, I went to the gym after work. This was the first gym visit in quite a while. It would have happened some time or other, but the impetus now was to get some strength training recorded. Since it had been quite a while, I knew I needed to limit how much I did. Because I had cut the cardio short at lunch, I deliberately limited my time with weights to allow a half hour on the treadmill. Warm up with a few Turkish getups, do some deadlifts, renegade rows, and lat pulls, and leave enough gas in the tank for a half hour of cardio.
A treadmill is the second most boring form of exercise known to mankind, behind only the exercycle. But I managed to put in a half hour, in spite of not owning an iPod and expecting the pumped in music to really suck. (Turned out the pumped in music wasn't bad. Management has improved the selection while I've been away.)
As I was walking out of the gym, I realized I could have walked on the street because the evening was cool enough. I just hadn't thought of leaving the gym to walk while still in my exercise clothing. Oh, well. Maybe next time. For today, I have my 30 minutes of cardio recorded to keep that streak alive.
The other thing I noticed, when I came home, was that I had no spending transactions to record, for the second day in a row. Hmm. Looks like the Spark system is contributing to prudent money management, as well as to health. Time was, I'd stay away from the vending machines for money but not for health; this week, the reverse is true.
Recording. Every. Day. Doing this for food has meant that I don't need to record every day for money . . . because some days I don't spend any.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
My sister, ONEKIDSMOM, tells me that she can accomplish just about anything, including losing weight, as a project. She wrestles with maintenance, when keeping the weight off becomes an ongoing process rather than a project with goals to strive for. I see her point, but it's slightly different for me. I can get my top priority done, and usually some other high priority stuff; but everything can't be on top.
There was a time in my life when I didn't need to think about managing my weight. It took care of itself. That didn't last forever, and the end of that situation happened when other stuff was topping my priority list. Weight management got onto my priority list about a decade ago.
I've tracked my weight daily, with a few missed days, since 12/31/2001. The impetus for starting this was that I was at my highest weight to date at that time, almost 220, and I reasoned that keeping track might help me lose. Well, it did . . . for a while. But while I was trying to get enough exercise, weight management and fitness weren't really top priorities. The results reflected this. Whenever Life Happened for an extended period of time, the weight crept up. And because my natural inclination is toward sedentary forms of amusement, climbing back on the fitness bandwagon after Life Happened wasn't easy and didn't happen as promptly as I might like.
So if weight management has been on and off my priority list over the past decade, how is it that I have nine and a half years of data that produce a nice graph showing whether I've been bad or good? Well, weighing myself first thing in the morning after using the restroom, before eating anything, and wearing standard sleeping underwear isn't much work. It's less work than, say, brushing my teeth. So that fits into a routine that can get done even if doing something effective about the weight gets shoved off the priority list.
The conundrum is, how do I manage my weight and fitness in spite of Life Happening? I don't have this solved, but over the past decade I've put some pieces of the puzzle together.
The first ugly truth I realized was that I need to make some time to get exercise for the sake of exercise. This goes against my natural inclination. I can handle walking somewhere that I might otherwise drive, and I like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. But doing something only to get the exercise never made sense to me. Sigh. If I gotta do it, I gotta do it. First I put in a walk on my lunch hour, which turns out to be a pretty good stress reliever in its own right. At the tender age of 49, I added weight lifting. I haven't stuck with that consistently, but learning was fun. A bit after that, I dusted off my vintage 1972 bicycle and got it functional. I really like bike rides for pleasure, but can't do this year round. Some years have been better for bike rides than others. Long term, my exercise routine has been erratic. Sometimes it's a priority, sometimes it's not. And when it's not a priority, not much of it happens.
I avoided the second ugly truth for years. As the weight lifting community says, "You can't out-train a crappy diet." Dieting in a traditional sense, meaning tracking everything I eat, appeals to me even less than exercise for the sake of exercise. I've gone the non-quantitative route of trying to control what I eat. That works okay when fitness is a top priority, and falls apart when Life Happens and other priorities dominate.
The most recent random Life Happens event was a vacation to visit family. My aforementioned sister is thin. She's thinner than I remember her being since before high school. The results are impressive, and we talked a little about how she did this, what she still struggles with, and what surprised her along the way. The striking thing is, she's found a reasonable way to measure both calories in and calories out. The calories out is a gizmo like a Body Bugg, but with a different name. The calories in is SparkPeople.
I looked at the Body Bugg. I could do that, but . . . it costs money up front, and there is a subscription cost. For it to be worthwhile, I'd need to be able to compare the calories out to the calories in, and that means tracking what I eat. Oh, @^*%. Sis has a ton of background knowledge making tracking easy for her. I don't. But Sis is also an analytical geek, and could explain to me a) How the SparkPeople site works b) How to get from needing to build *everything* to having enough stuff set up that tracking is reasonably easy, and c) How to find where other Sparkers have already entered a lot of nutritional data I'll need.
That lined up with a full week off work to learn the mechanics and get some standard foods into my favorites. Under gentle prodding (for my own good, of course) I signed up with SparkPeople and started tracking. It's not as painful as I thought it would be. Computer technology and a large community have ameliorated much of the setup work for tracking.
So . . . tomorrow I go back to work. It will be my first day Sparking on a normal schedule. I don't think I could have got through the site learning curve on a normal weekend, but I think I've done enough in the past 7 days to have a streak of recording what I eat last through the work week.
Time will tell if if will last longer than that, or if it can become so routine that it keeps being done the next time Life Happens and something not fitness related gets shoved to the top of the priority list.
Friday, July 15, 2011
It would seem an unlikely time to sign up for an unlikely web site. I'd seen SparkPeople referred to on other web sites I frequent, in connection with food tracking. I had never seriously considered looking at the site, because I don't track food. Don't want to, and the one experiment I had with it in the 1980s was not a long term success. The site is totally unlikely for me.
Then there's the moment. I was on vacation, visiting family. My sister, ONEKIDSMOM, talked me into looking at how things work. The site says I started on 7/10/2011, but I only registered that evening. Tracking started 7/11/2011 . . . the last day of my visit. A day of big meals eating out. The day before a two day road trip home, with all meals eaten from fast food. Starting a new discipline in this total break from my normal routine doesn't seem like the sort of thing that could last.
But . . . I'm between 5 and 10 pounds heavier than I was a year ago. A year ago, I was at my lowest weight in 20 years. I was as fit as I've been in my adult life, and it felt pretty good. But it didn't maintain itself automatically.
I've gone the route of exercising and just trying to eat reasonably without keeping track. It's done well for me, but hasn't worked consistently. Life happens, the exercise falls away, and the eating goes out of control. Maybe not out of control a lot, but enough to gain 10 pounds in a year. Something has to change, and the SparkPeople site got my attention.
So far, so good. The act of recording changes the decisions that are being recorded, for the better. Eventually, if I keep this up, I should have some idea of what kind of food intake I should be aiming for, and more control of myself in getting there.
The sixty four thousand dollar question is, will I keep this up? The first test will be next week when I go back to work and have commitments and pressures I don't have on vacation.
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