Saturday, July 23, 2011
Two weeks ago, I was on vacation. I spent some time outdoors in the summer, and the time I spent in air conditioning was in places that only cooled to 80 or 78 degrees. I got used to it.
This week, I felt COLD at work. It wasn't really any colder in the office, I'd just acclimatized to a warmer temperature. The last couple of days, I ended up taking breaks to walk around the block so I could warm up.
No so coincidentally, my vacation coincided with starting on the SparkPeople site and starting to track, in detail, what I eat. I was so not looking forward to this; but it's hard to argue with my sister's results, as compared to the erratic results I'd had just trying to get more exercise and not eat totally stupidly.
The first few days, there was no calorie limit. IIRC, the first day I tracked on the Spark I ate over 3900 calories. Big day eating out. The next two days I came in close to the top of my maintenance range, on the road eating fast food. After that, it was eating at home where I have more control . . . but did not have the best pantry for eating well.
Then a few days ago I actually set a weight loss goal. Bit the bullet, and blew away what I'd tracked so the goal would work with the Spark. Of course, my target calorie range went down by a couple hundred calories per day. But a funny thing happened; it wasn't all that hard to adjust to the new calorie range.
I had acclimatized to eating less, under the discipline of recording everything. Of course, this discipline also changed what I ate; I became more conscious of "expensive" foods and picked what I thought might be filling enough on the calories I had left in the day.
Yesterday, it changed a bit more. I had to go to the store for more skim milk anyway. (Who'd have thought that I'd be able to acclimatize to skim milk in a week?) I'd been having trouble getting my protein grams into the recommended range, so I wanted to look at low fat cottage cheese and chicken breasts. Aldi had decent prices on both, so I bought some. I hadn't bought cottage cheese in maybe three years, and I hadn't bought chicken in longer than that. And I only had one meal left in the day, anyway. But I did it. Bought the cottage cheese, bought the chicken, and dutifully recorded the nutrition data in my favorites. Had a bit of cottage cheese to make my protein numbers yesterday, and baked the chicken breasts yesterday evening.
Today I used the first part of that chicken. I built an experimental chicken burrito out of a flour tortilla, 40 grams of chicken, a half ounce of shredded cheese, and a tablespoon of Taco Bell hot sauce. I had chopped up 75 grams of chicken as a serving, but 40 grams was what looked right on the tortilla. You guessed it; I've acclimatized to weighing and measuring my food. I don't know whether I could have started this before I became an empty nester; but I can certainly do it NOW. (No, it wasn't the best chicken burrito in the world; but it's a starting point for learning to build a better one.)
The tools are ever so much better than they were in the late 1980s, the last time I tried to monitor food intake and follow a plan. The internet didn't exist then, everything was paper and pencil, and portion sizes were a mixture of guess and mystery. Now, I have a lot of nutritional data on SparkPeople, plus the ability to enter my own; a web program that automatically calculates the numbers for servings that don't match the standard size; and an electronic food scale that measures to the tenth of an ounce or in grams, whichever I need. Absent these tools, I would not be ready to track stuff. The fancy tools don't make easy; they make it *possible*.
I'm not yet acclimatized to the idea of buying fresh fruits and veggies. In my old world, they were a terrible idea because I wouldn't use them before they went bad. But I did buy some baby carrots today. I understand them, and I will use them. The time for fresh fruits and veggies is not yet, but the idea has move from the realm of "That Will Never Happen" to the realm of "I Need to Figure a Few Things Out First." I've got some ideas on how I could make some selected fruits and veggies work for me, but the ideas still need some development.
In the past two weeks, I've also acclimatized to more exercise per week than I had for the first half of the year; but that part was easy. I've been there, and I understand exercise. Controlling the diet is totally new, and acclimatization there is the surprise.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
When I signed up for the SparkPeople site, I knew I needed to lose some weight. I didn't have a clear idea of how much. Never mind, you can change it later. So I started without a weight goal.
10 days later, I've done my reading and thought about it. I weight 155 in high school, 165 as a young single guy, and my weight went up from there after I got married. In high school I was a totally non-athletic type with no upper body strength. At age 49, I took up weight lifting, and even after a year of no regular lifing I'm stronger than I was at any time prior to my 49th birthday. So I have some muscle mass that I didn't have when I was thinner, and I don't really know where I can go down to.
Read some more, thought some more. Top of healthy guideline for BMI would be 182 for me. I got down to 185 last year, and felt pretty good. I could also still see a small roll of fat around my waist at 185. Looked at some ideal weight pages on the internet, and found two methods that calculated my ideal weight at 170 or 177 for medium frame, which is probably what I am.
Okay. My goal is 175. I can change it later if I need to, but that gives me something to shoot for. Never mind that I bounced off 190 once, and failed to maintain 185 another time. I wasn't tracking food then. Give this a shot. From today's weight, that would be losing 19 pounds. I know I can do the first 9, because I managed that before.
Got that far, and couldn't find how to set a weight goal on SparkPeople. The FAQ pointed me at a link that didn't exist to change my weight goal. Dig further. To set a weight goal when I don't have one, I have to reset my goals. Fair enough. But this also blows away the food and exercise I've tracked to date. Dumb design, but if that's the way it is I'd rather do it before I have a long time period tracked.
So I reset my goals, accepting that it would blow away data I'd rather keep. Did it twice, because it turns out that I can't have a weight goal unless I change my focus (on the site) from "live a healthy lifestyle" to "lose weight." That's a psychological blow. The health comes first, the weight is a side effect. I could not care less how I look in a swimsuit, and I view shopping for different clothes as a disadvantage of chainging weight in either direction.
Went through that dance. Got to keep my favorites in nutrition and my food groups. Lost my favorites for exercise tracking. My Other Goals, which consisted solely of tracking steps by day, remained. At least that's something. I re-created today's food and exercise from memory, so at least I won't have the issue of the program thinking I didn't do anything the first day because I happened to sign up in the evening.
Time to stop lying to myself about how much muscle mass I gained by lifting weights. I'm not a body builder, and I didn't add 20 pounds of muscle mass. I might have added 10. I remember being 175 and thinking I was overweight; we'll see whether I still have some flab around the middle when I get there again.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
When I went on vacation, I left a pair of two liter bottles of soda in the fridge for my daughter, who was feeding the cat while I was gone. I expected it all to disappear. A couple days after I got back, I noticed that most of the last bottle remained; she had put it in the door, where I don't normally keep soda.
Today I finished eating with calories to spare, and didn't really feel a need for more food. Fair enough; I don't need to eat more if I'm not hungry. I'd had all the water I need for the day, and I decided to have a glass or two of soda to use it up.
Well. Two glasses of diet soda later, and I was craving something to eat. My sister had pointed out the relationship between soda, even diet soda, and eating more a few weeks ago. I'd confirmed it through personal observation, pre-spark. Now I had done something dumb, knowing what I already knew.
So I did something that was hard for me to do. I opened the bottle of soda, and poured what was left down the drain. I rinsed out the bottle, and I'll claim my nickel the next time I go to the store. Childhood training sticks with me. It was hard to waste more than half a bottle of perfectly good diet soda.
But I really, really don't need to artificially feel like I should eat more. Even one liter of diet soda was more than I should drink just to use it up. I ended up eating a bit more this evening, even knowing that the feeling was artificial; I don't need to do that two or three days in a row.
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.
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