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Counting Blessings

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Last night I was a bit down on the self improvement thing, and my blog yesterday reflected that. I was clever enough to realize that a good portion of that might be lack of sleep, so I went to bed at a decent hour and tried to sleep in this morning. I don't think I managed to sleep till 7, but it was a good night's sleep.

I felt more positive in the morning, and set out to read some blogs. Oh, my. One sparker has two daughters separated from husbands and moving back in. Another had a 30 year old son get serious facial injuries skateboarding, and has to let him learn for himself the hard way. Both of them are determined to control their diet and exercise, in spite of Life Happening and the stress they feel. I guess I don't have it so bad after all.

This morning was the first of my planned weekly breakfasts with my daughter, at a local McDonald's. I had in mind to blog on this subject, after seeing how I had to work around it on the SP system. Turns out that, given two weeks to prepare, it wasn't that big a deal to work around. I'll note in passing that I ate a salad beforehand to try to fill myself up, and some cottage cheese and carrots afterward because I was hungry immediately after getting home. I don't know what there is about the fast food (sausage burrito, hash browns, decaf coffee-black) that stimulates the appetite, but I dealt with it. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

The blessing part of this is, my daughter wanted to have breakfast with me. A couple weeks ago, she specifically called (okay, texted) to set this up, because her work schedule and mine don't leave much common free time. Last week she had to back out because she was sick, but this week was a go.

In my particular situation, this is a blessing indeed. I went through a stressful divorce when my daughter was 16 and 17. At that time, she was a really troubled teen, and the next few years of being a single parent with custody were, um, challenging. Yeah, that's the word. Challenging. It is a real blessing that my daughter has got her act together so that she could move out on her own last March, and that at the age of 24 she actually wants to see me regularly. Given the nature of the first 16 years of her life, it would be understandable if she wanted nothing to do with me at all.

So what did I do with my more positive attitude today? I felt like having a nice, relaxing day without doing much of anything. So after breakfast I dug out my e-reader and went for a relaxed 5.2 mile walk while reading The Life of Flavius Josephus. That kept the pace down around 3.5 MPH, which didn't feel like pushing things. Then I had a nap after lunch. I have my 10K steps in, I have my daily exercise in, and I can relax doing laundry and vacuuming and not much else. Life is good.

Much of my life I've been a glass half empty kind of guy. I can still be that way on occasion, but I'm more positive most of the time now. If I get enough rest, and do an honest assessment, my glass isn't half empty. It's three quarters full.

Life is good.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ONEKIDSMOM 8/6/2011 5:05PM

    Not much a good night's sleep doesn't make better. emoticon

Good to see you striving to join the Cratchetts, Scrooge! emoticon

One of the blessings of my life has been that innate optimism. One of the challenges has been recognizing that even those of us with that nature get "down" sometimes and it's OK. And that it's not something I can force-feed to others, but must let them find their own path.

The challenge for the "natural pessimist" may be recognizing that they *do* have periods of joy... sometimes not recognized until after the joy has departed (you know who I'm talking about, bro).

Glass three quarters full? Bah! Overflowing! emoticon emoticon

Life is indeed good, Spark on! emoticon

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4th Week Blahs

Friday, August 05, 2011

I'm nearing the end of my fourth week on SparkPeople, and it isn't exciting any more.

I'm staying within my calorie and macronutrient ranges. I'm getting more exercise than I did in my immediate pre-spark period, when I was off the exercise bandwagon. I'm tracking what I eat, and using the feedback to fine tune what I eat late in the day. I've lost around 4 pounds, allowing for the imprecision of weighing myself. I'm getting those 10,000 steps per day.

And it's turned into a routine. I can live with the food tracking routine, as that doesn't take much time. I'm concerned about the exercise routine, long term. The exercise has squeezed out most other forms of entertainment. This is okay for now, but in the fall I'll want to go back to vocal and bell choir rehearsals two evenings a week. Come winter, I'll want to spend some time preparing for volunteer work during tax season. And during tax season, my major focus will be on getting done what I need to in minimum time, because of the extra time I put into the local VITA program.

I don't think I'll hit goal weight by September. If things go really well in August, I might be back around the lowest I weighed in 2010 by Labor Day. And then, right when other routines gear up to start, further losses will be Uncharted Territory not seen in almost 20 years.

I guess it comes back to balance. The SP system is working, when it's the major thing I focus on outside of work. I have a month to figure out how to make it work when it's only one of several things I focus on outside of work.

Put another way, part of why SP is working for me right now is that I'm an empty nester with no life in the summer. Life starts up again in the fall, and I'm not yet seeing how to make the SP system work when life is happening.

Oh, well. I have a month to figure it out. Maybe I'll be able to let the exercise slide just a little, if I diligently track what I eat and control how much I eat.

I sure hope that works. It can't do worse than not paying attention to what I eat and letting the exercise go entirely. And I'll probably feel better about it after a good night's sleep.

That suggests another goal that isn't on my list yet.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ONEKIDSMOM 8/5/2011 9:57PM

    To quote your nephew: "Suck it up and drive on".

To quote me: "Cut yourself a break. Set achievable goals." The best thing I ever did was decide that "no matter what" I would hold on to those ten minute break walks, three times a day... even if I did NO OTHER EXERCISE... this got me through a Winter and a stressful work project without a regain!

And if I "happened" to get a couple of ten minute weight workouts in now and then... it was gravy. Don't plan to lose. Plan to not gain. Maintain your way to your goals.

Anyway, that's the world as I see it and my loose change for the evening! emoticon

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Building on Past Experience

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

In the early stages of one of my earlier attempts at losing weight, I read somewhere that you can't change your whole life at once. The author recommended that you create one good routine, and stick with it until it becomes a habit. Once that routine is fixed, you try changing something else. If the first thing slips, abandon the second change and go back to solidifying the first one.

I tried that, but I never got to the third good habit. What I did get was a habit of walking on my lunch hour at work. That habit stuck with me for a decade before I became inconsistent.

Later on, I noticed that walking on my lunch hour was enough to keep me from gaining weight and even lose weight very slowly; but it's no good losing 5 pounds in 10 months if I put 8 pounds back on in November and December. Walking wasn't enough, so I took up weight lifting.

Weight lifting, starting from no knowledge, was an interesting challenge. Like most newbie lifters, I made mistakes. I trained too light, and then when I added enough weight I trained too often. I pulled a shoulder and didn't recognize what was happening soon enough, and had to take several months off. Came back to the weights a little smarter, and fell off the wagon a couple more times.

In 2008, I totally fell off the fitness wagon. Life happened, in the form of significantly increased expenses and no increase in income. I had to learn budgeting, never having maintained a detailed personal budget before in my life. I got it done, and exceeded my initial budgeting goals. I also gained 16 pounds in 2008, and touched my all time high weight in late December.

2009 was the year of the Rodent Diet. I lost 24 pounds, mostly in the second half of the year. What, you may ask, was the Rodent Diet? There were reports of mice in the building where I work. Efforts to control the mice (which I never saw) included changes to the rules. No food at the desk. All food brought in must be in sealed, hard containers (not just in baggies). All food must be consumed in the cafeteria, on the ground floor. It was really eye-opening how many times I wanted to walk out into the office and grab a piece of chocolate that wasn't there any more.

After the rodent problem was solved, I tried to keep up the way of life that the Rodent Diet had enforced. That worked, for a while, and coincided with being on the wagon for fitness. In 2010 I achieved my lowest weight since 1991. Then I fell off the wagon, and gained about 10 pounds back over the course of a year from mid-2010 to mid-2011.

Enter SparkPeople. I could see that things weren't working. I knew I needed to eat less and exercise more, but I lacked motivation. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I needed to track what I ate. I'd been avoiding doing that for two decades. So, let's see how long I can follow this web site and if I can learn to put it all together.

What I've learned in the first three weeks is that success builds from past experiences. I know how to walk, I know how to ride a bike, I know how to lift weights, I know about overtraining. Add a pinch of motivation, and the fitness comes right back without needing very much attention. That's good, because weighing and measuring food is totally new to me and will need a LOT of attention.

So I learn about food tracking, and how much better food scales are now than the last time I looked twenty years ago. I learn about SparkPeople having a lot of nutrition data already there, and entering my own being easy, if a bit tedious. I learn about putting in what I really measured and letting the program calculate calories instead of having to measure to fit arbitrary serving sizes. A lot of the nuisance has gone away, handled by computing power and a large community entering nutrition data.

The more interesting thing is how much food selection resembles envelope budgeting. There are only so many calories to work with, and I can spend them pretty much as I please; but some choices will be less satisfying than others. I can have a bagel and cream cheese, but it's expensive. Eggs remain a staple. Other former staples get squeezed out, and some new staples come into my kitchen. Most importantly, this follows naturally from the choices I make to get the most satisfying meals I can within the parameters of minimum and maximum calories, carbs, fat, and protein.

I don't know whether I could have done this without the work I did in 2008 on budgets. If I could have done it, it would have taken longer to figure the food out. There were food surprises--choosing to drink less tea in order to get my water, simply not eating some of the "expensive" stuff because it never fits into the day very well, not missing some of my former treats that got squeezed out, and enjoying the treats that remain more for their being rare. These food surprises feel very much like the results of envelope budgeting, where I end up spending less on things I would have thought couldn't be cut, because there are only so many dollars and other things turned out to be more important to me.

Yeah, I know. The budget metaphor isn't perfect, and it may not work for a lot of people. But it's working for me. It's part of building on my past efforts, even where those efforts weren't in the area of nutrition or fitness.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ONEKIDSMOM 8/3/2011 7:27AM

    I knew this metaphor would work for you! My motto is "use what works for you". It is not at all surprising to me that the spin-off site for SparkPeople is a savings site. The principles are similar!

Spark on, brother... I see much success in you. To our health, as those silly commercials say! emoticon

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CEHALLA 8/3/2011 2:14AM

    When I look at the changes to my food choices over the last two years, the trends are interesting--much less cheese, few potatoes, bread, white rice & pasta, lots more vegetables and fruit. I think the budget metaphor really works, you work with the calories (dollars) and spend them where you want each day. The difference comes with the time frame of the outcome: you bounce a check, it hurts right away. You eat too many calories, it can take a long time for the pain to be felt.

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ZARAHBB 8/2/2011 10:33PM

  You might think that your budget metaphor isn't perfect but I love it. I love the idea that you can have some stuff, but it's expensive, you have your staples, you can just so much cash, and no matter how you divvy it up, when it's gone, it's gone. Your budget metaphor. Super!! Continued good luck on your journey. You're doing a great job

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Ugly Pictures

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The title should be fair enough warning. If you can't handle ugly, don't look.

My sister keeps a series of monthly pictures that show her progress. That's a cool idea. so today I set out to learn how to take a picture of myself. Turns out my relatively inexpensive digital camera can be set for a 10 second delay, and my daughter had given me a tripod for the camera. So, after a few shots to learn where the camera was pointing, I took a mug shot:

The striking thing about taking a picture of myself was that the roll of fat around my middle looks worse than it does when I look in the mirror. Hm, I wonder. Why is that? Is it all in my head, or do I suck in my belly unconsciously because I know I'm looking?

So I tried a few shots of flexing muscles. They looked really hokey, and I don't really care about bicep size anyway. I settled on trying for a front and side view of the top position from a kettlebell snatch. The first attempts showed me with my arm bent a little and not as far up as it ought to be. Here's the shots with cleaning up that form after the first feedback:

To my eye, those don't look as bad as the mug shot; but they're bad enough. There is no question about it, even stretched out with the tension of supporting a 35 lb. kettlebell, I show a lot of fat around the belly.

Here's the part that I find interesting. I weighed in today at 192.4 pounds. That's a minor fluctuation up from yesterday's low. I remember being this weight when I was trying to become fit and just trust the weight to take care of itself without having to watch what I ate. I felt pretty good, I could deadlift 225 pounds for reps, and I wondered if I'd ever consistently be under 190 again. The BMI numbers said I should get down to 182 or 183 to be at the top of healthy BMI, and I wondered whether I had too much muscle for that to be practical.

Well. I'm not feeling too shabby right now. I took most of a year off from fitness, but apparently it wasn't all the way off. I stilled played with my kettlebells a little, inconsistently went for walks and bike rides, and participated in my only road race of each year, the 3.5 mile Chase Corporate Challenge. Getting back into things after finding (read: being pushed at) SparkPeople, the fitness part is coming back pretty easily. The first test of deadlifts found me lifting 185 pounds for reps. Yeah, I've lost some strength; but not that much strength. Today's pics shouldn't be all that different from what I would have looked like when I was at my fittest around 190 pounds.

It looks like my goal of 175 isn't all that unrealistic. It looks like I used to kid myself about how much muscle weight I had added from pumping iron. I look incredibly fat for how good I feel.

I wonder how bad I would have looked if I'd taken pictures when I weighed 221?

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WATERMELLEN 7/31/2011 7:39PM

    The "stupid" motivational tricks weren't as stupid as you thought and the ugly pictures . . . ditto.

You and your sister have the same great grin!!

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ONEKIDSMOM 7/31/2011 7:11PM

    Don't think about what might have beens... just think how much *better* you're going to look a month from now. Or two months. Or a year.


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RRP546 7/31/2011 6:53PM

  you always look worse in a picture than it really is but it is close

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Weighing Every Day, Part 2

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A couple days ago I wrote a blog about weighing every day, which I do. Today I updated my weight graph for the past week or so of measurements. It now shows a definite downward trend since starting with SparkPeople, after a sideways to gentle upward trend for the first half of the year.

I occurred to me that I don't update the graph display every day. I only do that about once a week, though not on consistent days. Sometimes I go two or three weeks without updating the graph. But that graph is kind of like a weekly weigh-in. Adding one weight point doesn't tell me anything that I didn't know from just looking at the number. But adding a week's worth of daily weight points tells me what kind of week I had.

Even one week of trend isn't always significant. But two weeks in the same direction usually means something. This morning, I weighed in at my lowest weight for the year, again. It's not lowest by very much, and it will likely fluctuate up again tomorrow, but that's okay. The trend is in the right direction.


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