Friday, July 29, 2011
The SparkPeople site is full of motivational tricks. A lot of them are dumb. You get one SparkPoint for 5 fitness minutes. The SparkPoints aren't good for anything real, just bragging rights and virtual SparkGoodies. And one SparkPoint is so small as to be insignificant even on the scale of what SparkPoints are used for.
So why do I keep walking to turn a 32 minute walk into 35 minutes? Because 35 fitness minutes are worth 7 SparkPoints, and 34 are only worth 6.
Today I found the mileage tracker. I turned it on, figuring I could always turn it back off if I didn't like it. Turns out I like it. I like measuring distance and time, and letting the site compute speed, much better than measuring time and estimating speed. And the mapping function allows for run/walk or cycling. I could get used to that, really fast.
Then there was this goal attached. It said, walk 5 miles a week. That sounded low, so I set it at 10 miles per week. Then I went out and walked at lunch. The map said, 2.62 miles. Well and good.
Got to thinking . . . I foolishly turned on mileage mapping on a Friday. If I just go along like normal, the tracker won't know I walked over 10 miles this week. It doesn't have what I did from Sunday to Thursday. So at 8:30 PM on a Friday, I decided to take another walk. I didn't know how long it was, so I stretched it a bit. In 30 minutes I covered 2.16 miles. Okay, I was pushing it.
That put my Friday total at 4.78 miles. I can do my standard 5.20 mile Saturday walk, and I can add a bit to make 10 miles in the week on the tracker. Then I won't have to continually look at a tracker that say I met the goal n-1 out of n weeks.
It's a motivational trick. It's dumb. But it works.
I guess the stupid motivational tricks aren't as stupid as they look.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Every easily available public source on losing weight says not to weigh yourself every day. They all say to weigh yourself every week. The rationale is that if you weigh yourself each day, you may get discouraged when your weight fluctuates upward. But if you only weigh weekly, you're more likely to see steady downward progress. It's a motivational thing.
Well, not all people are motivated by the same things. If they were, there would be cookie-cutter solutions for everyone to become fit and achieve a healthy weight.
I don't remember when I started weighing myself every day. I do remember that I worked out what was the most consistent time of day to weigh (first thing in the morning, after emptying my bladder) and the most consistent clothing (the underwear I sleep in, because nude wasn't a comfortable option.) And I remember that if I didn't weigh every day, I wouldn't remember to weigh every week.
In late 2001, it occurred to me that my weight measurements weren't working. I'd gain a pound, lose a pound, gain a pound, and not see a trend. I had trouble remembering where I came from. So I started recording my daily weights in an Excel spreadsheet, on 12/31/2001. That let me look back over the past week easily, and later on it let me graph the results to see trends. I learned to recognize normal peaks and valleys of fluctuations, and to see real weight gain or loss as the peaks and valleys got higher or lower, not as the difference between a peak and a valley. After some time, I conclude a couple of things. First, even if I weigh at the most consistent weight time of day, a weight change of less than 5 pounds might only be a normal fluctuation. Second, the weights to fear or celebrate were new highs or lows not seen recently.
Nine and a half years and a lot of weight fluctuations later, I started with SparkPeople. Like every other weight loss program, SparkPeople says to weigh in weekly. I haven't read very closely, but I suspect the reasons for this are pretty much the same as every other weight loss program's reasons.
It took less than two weeks for the weekly weigh-in to start bugging me. That weight on my screen isn't what I weighed this morning! So I made an executive decision: I would customize my Spark program to daily weighing. I don't care if my weight goes up on some days; I'll weigh myself again tomorrow and long term, things will take care of themselves.
Today I hit a new low, by a fraction of a pound. This one isn't a big deal, because it's only a new low since early December and it's only a fractional pound lower than the last new low since December. But I get to see it for a day, and tomorrow I'll see what I weigh tomorrow morning. I won't be surprised if I fluctuate up by a fractional pound tomorrow morning; historically, this has frequently happened after I hit a new low.
There are two things I'm looking for in my weight measurements. Like most people trying to shed pounds, I'm looking for new lows. But more importantly, I'm looking to have lower upward fluctuations. It's a thrill to realize that the current disappointing high was a former exciting new low. That's progress.
The morning before I signed up with the Spark, I weighed 196.4. The following morning I weighed 195, which lower than I'd weighed in the previous six months. Three days later, after a big day of eating out and two days of eating fast food on the road, I was up to 198. But . . . I didn't stay there. The weight graph goes up and down, but the trend line for the time since I started Sparking is downward.
I care more about that trend line than about the specific weight on any given day. I get a better trend line from weighing daily than from weighing weekly. That, and I'm not sure I'd remember to weigh weekly if I weren't weighing daily.
I understand that daily weighing won't work well for everyone. But it works well for me, and it's part of my plan. And I suspect that there are a lot of people out there weighing themselves daily, even if they only put their weight into the Spark weekly.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Buying new clothes is a traditional indication that a fitness and diet regimen is working. And thus it is, for me; but not in the way that is meant when the stereotypical dieter announces she bought new clothes.
I hate shopping for clothes, and it's worse when I have to go to the real mall instead of a big box store or a strip mall. I dislike driving into the mall parking lot even when I don't have to shop for clothes. But clothing does not last forever, and worn clothing must periodically be replaced.
This isn't so bad for something like underwear, where I can pick some up with minimal angst at Walmart, paying a price that is clearly marked. But business casual pants and shirts for work don't come from Walmart. Mostly, they require a trip to the mall. In the case of the pants, that also means a trip into a fitting room because my waist has historically fluctuated in size. And, of course, there's the issue of comparison shopping for stuff that isn't totally comparable from one store to another, and digging through the marketing and current sale nonsense to figure out what I'm really spending. Yuck. I hate the whole experience. Thank God I don't need to shop for a business suit right now!
The stereotypical dieter would tell you how pleased she was to be able to get into some size (the number wouldn't mean anything to me), and how she liked the new clothes, and perhaps what a great bargain they were or how much money she saved. This would be a victory celebration for her, because she met her goal or made significant progress toward it. It would be an indication that her program is successful.
I've been on the Spark for a bit over 2 weeks. I'm down about 4 pounds from when I started. That's better than a kick in the pants, but it's not a major success on the scale or a new wardrobe weight change.
I bought the same size belt I have been wearing, because one just wore out. I bought the same size shirts I have been wearing, because I need to replace some that are wearing out. I did buy 34" waist pants instead of the 36" I'm wearing; but this has happened before, without watching what I eat. I can still wear the existing 36" pants, but they're wearing out and it's about time to replace them. The stuff I bought looks okay, perfectly acceptable for business. If someone described what I bought as "cute" or "stunning" or any of the other adjectives women use to describe clothes they like, I'd wonder what was wrong with it.
I did maybe save some money, though it's hard to tell what's a real saving on something I buy seldom, but which is always on sale. The nice cashier found a way to turn a $133 purchase into a $91 purchase, on the same credit card that I'd intended to use anyway. But the financial stuff isn't really a Spark success. I've been managing a budget for years, and watching this type of thing is nothing new.
The Spark success is that I actually went shopping for clothes, got what I needed, and got home without a lot of stress. I picked a weekday after work, and decided I had the energy to deal with an unpleasant but necessary task. (That, and the extra steps for walking through the mall would put me very comfortably above 10K steps today.) Instead of making excuses because I just didn't feel like going anywhere near the mall, I went and got done what I needed to do.
The unpleasant but necessary task of shopping didn't have anything to do with fitness and weight loss; the clothing that I am replacing would have needed to be replaced even if I were still muddling along 4 pounds heavier and less in shape. But getting it done had everything to do with motivation and getting my act together. I run out of things to do for the Spark program, and look around for what else I can do that is productive. Today that turned out to be clothes shopping.
That's a real, if small, success of starting the Spark system.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Today my regularly scheduled blood donation rolled around. I used to do this on Saturdays, but the Red Cross center where I donate kept changing its weekend schedule, and I'd run into it being closed for major holidays. So a couple years ago I switched to Monday afternoons, because it's open every Monday and I can schedule at real 8 week intervals instead of having to hit the shifting 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th Saturday.
If I donate 6 times in a year, the Red Cross sends me a cute little pin proclaiming the fact. This is my record of how long I've been doing this. I counted six such pins just now, for 2004 through 2009 excluding 2006. I think I got sick around one donation in 2006, and that resulted in not giving 6 times. Oh, and 2010? The calendar fell just right and I have a nice pin with a 7 on it for 2010. It will be back to 6 in 2011.
The little pins are one of the things the Red Cross does to try to motivate repeat donors. Some of the other things I have from Red Cross motivation efforts include a small blanket, and very nice baseball cap, a red plush "life saving bloodhound" plush toy, and a heart shaped stress ball. Of course, none of this stuff is why I give blood. I give blood because I can, many people cannot, it's a socially responsible thing to do, and there is always need. Today there was a sign up for a blood shortage, with reminders of recent news on local tragedies where much blood was required.
There's also a promotion, give blood in the month of July and get a coupon for 1.5 quart container of Friendly's ice cream.
Today was my first blood donation since starting with SparkPeople. The preliminaries went a lot like other blood donations, very routine. Then there was this coupon. And the post-donation canteen. In the past, I would have had juice and cookies. Today, I took the bottled water and read the nutrition information on the offered snacks. It wasn't a very hard decision to stick with the raisins, easily the healthiest thing offered.
Standard advice includes drinking an extra 4 glasses of water after blood donation. I've never paid much attention to that or tracked how much I drank. But now I have the Spark. No problem, just treat my minimum water for today as 12 glasses instead of 8.
I'm new to the SparkPeople system, but I've been donating blood for quite a while. I know how my body reacts to a blood donation. It was less trouble than I expected to get in 30 fitness minutes and 10K steps on a blood donation day. In fact, I may break 14K steps before I go to bed. It was surprisingly easy to stay on track for both food and exercise while working around the blood donation. The only thing I didn't get in today was strength exercises.
Lesson of the day: I can keep up the plan and keep streaks alive even on blood donation days.
Oh, yeah, that ice cream coupon? I think I'll give it to my daughter. I don't need to eat 1.5 quarts of ice cream.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Today was my church's annual Service in the Park, preceded by Breakfast in the Park. This is a wonderful social event where long term members get together and chat before worship, and have a breakfast featuring scrambled eggs, coffee, orange juice, and of course muffins, cinnamon rolls, and sometimes bagels. There is always plenty of food. People are encouraged to eat as much as they like, and sometimes to take leftovers home.
Social eating is one of my problems. I've known this for quite a while.
I'm new to tracking food, today being my 14th day at it. The safest thing to do about Breakfast in the Park would be to not go--either skip church this morning, or don't arrive till after breakfast. That didn't work, because I had agreed to sing and needed to be there before breakfast to rehearse. So, this year's Breakfast in the Park was a test of my ability to negotiate a social eating situation with no limits on portion size.
I took a guesstimated 2 eggs worth of scrambled eggs, and a guesstimated 2 ounces of ham. I planned on having 2 mini cinnamon rolls, then broke down and ate a third. After the second 12 ounce cup of coffee (virtuously taken black, as opposed to with creamer in prior years), I switched to drinking water. Magically, the glass of water in my hand filled the social need to have something!
After the service, I got the nutrition data for the cinnamon rolls. The breakfast added up to an estimated 519 calories, out of a daily range from 1870 to 2220 suggested by the Spark. If I'd managed to skip that last mini cinnamon roll, it would have been 429, not that much higher than my typical self-prepared breakfast in the 370 to 390 calorie range.
Then I got to thinking. What would I have eaten if I weren't tracking? I would have had multiple helpings of scrambled eggs with ham, and the first helping would have been bigger than what I had today. I wouldn't have counted mini cinnamon rolls. There would have been mild or half & half in the coffee. And there would have been another muffin or two after the service. I wouldn't have come in under 1500 calories, and I might have gone as high as 3000. Of course, I would have been full enough that I wouldn't need to eat lunch . . . but "breakfast" would have been more calories than my breakfast and lunch put together were today. There's a good chance it would have been more than my actual total eating today.
If Breakfast in the Park had been the first Sunday after I started tracking, I might not have been as successful. That second week was important for getting used to tracking everything, and the natural adjustment to being more mindful of what I eat *because* I am going to track it.
And if I don't blog about it now, I might not be as successful the next time I'm in a situation like this. Writing about it helps firm up in my mind what I did that worked, so I have a better chance of repeat success, or even a modest improvement. If I remember this morning well enough, perhaps the next time I'll be able to resist that third mini cinnamon roll in favor of using those calories for a serving of yogurt later in the day.
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