Monday, August 15, 2011
I was a weakling for my first 49 years of life. I took up weight lifting shortly after my 49th birthday, and started out with weights that were comically light. Six month later, I'd conditioned to the point where I thought I could try deadlifts. I started at 125 pounds.
Some time during that year, it occurred to me that it would be cool to be able to say I could lift my own weight, and the deadlift was the obvious measurement. While gradually lifting more, but still substantially less than my weight, I thought about standards. I decided that, for me, that meant lifting my weight for reps - 3 sets of 8 reps, being able to put the bar down under control.
I got up to lifting about 180, and I could see it coming. I weighed about 190 then, and it was only a couple of ticks away. (Cue the heroic laughter from offstage.)
I continued to get stronger, but my weight was a moving target. When I was lifting 190, I weighed 195. When I was lifting 195, I weighed 200. I finally caught up at 205, having gained about 15 pounds from where I first got the idea.
At that point, I wasn't tracking what I ate. I figured I was working hard, and if I was hungry I'd eat. Yeah, right. In hindsight, I think I got enough protein at the cost of getting too many calories.
Fast forward three more years. I've been on and off the fitness wagon, and in 2011 I climb back on. This time, I reluctantly admit that I need to track what I eat. SparkPeople makes this possible for me. I'm no longer tracking historical weight lifting in detail, because those detailed records made me too self-competitive. I'd want to never lift less than I did last week, when sometimes I needed to lift less to avoid injury. Better to lift what feels right and not to think about what I did last week.
Well, SP got me motivated to go back into the gym. I'd taken close to a year off, and knew I'd lost some strength. So the first time I did deadlifts, I felt around for the right weight. That turned out to be 185, when I weighed 195 in my gym clothes. Lifted a few times, tracked what I ate, lost a few pounds.
This evening I weighed 190 in my gym clothes. I walked into the weight room, did my warmups, and deadlifted 195, for three sets of eight reps. That's about a two week development period, as opposed to the two and a half years it took me to build up to lifting my weight the first time.
Okay, I'm still lifting less than I did at my peak strength. But it's a nice psychological boost to walk out of that gym knowing that I could pick up an iron bar that weighed a bit more than I did, and lift it off the ground.
I hear someone is donating a piano to my church, and that it needs to be moved from its current location to a truck and from the truck to the church. I bet I'll be able to hold up my end when I'm asked to help move it.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I lie to myself. That shouldn't be terribly surprising, as most people lie to themselves.
Part of learning to manage my weight has been to identify lies I tell myself and to first, stop believing them; then, stop telling them. There are a lot of lies like this.
"I don't need to keep track of what I eat." Yes, I do. Been the route of not tracking, and it leads to fat.
"I'll work it off." No way, for most of the stuff I say this about. Once I start looking, I see that it's pretty easy to add a gratuitous thousand calories to my diet. Enough exercise to burn a thousand calories takes an awful lot of time.
"Yeah, I'm over the BMI limit; but it's okay because I have a lot of muscle mass." The mirror aids and abets this lie. But the camera tells me the truth. There's a bunch of fat there.
"I'll burn more calories because I have more muscle mass. So I can eat more." On a weight lifting forum, the resident guru did some calculations to confirm some numbers commonly tossed around. She concluded that the muscle gains for a typical serious amateur weight lifter would amount to burning an additional 50 calories per day while resting. I don't have to tell folks on SP how little food 50 calories is.
Incidentally, the same guru argues that the reason stronger people burn more calories isn't because muscles burn more than fat while at rest, but because they actually *do more work* with those stronger muscles, but don't notice the effort because of how strong they are. The physics argument is that lifting 50 pounds by 2 feet is the same amount of work whether it's done by someone who has to strain and sweat to accomplish it, or by someone who does it without noticing. (Note that this only addresses calories burned, not cardiovascular conditioning.)
The preceding examples are all lies I've told myself in the past, but which I no longer believe or tell myself. Today I noticed that I told myself a series of lies and it worked out well.
"Today's Sunday. It's a day of rest. I should just rest." That was a doozy. But I only had 2500 steps in at 1 PM, and I've got a streak of 10K step days to maintain.
"It's raining. I don't want to walk in the rain." But I have a little-used golf umbrella, and it wasn't raining very hard.
"I have to leave the e-book at home, because I need one hand for the umbrella and the other for my water bottle." I was actually about a tenth of a mile into the walk before I realized I intended to be out less than half an hour, and I could have left the water bottle. Oh, well. Not going back at that point.
"I'm still sore from the Romainian Deadlifts last Thursday, so I don't want to walk for exercise. Maybe I'll just take the short walk around the block." Got to the first corner to turn and go the short way. Kept walking.
"I won't work very hard. Probably won't work up a sweat and then I won't need to shower or change clothes." Got to the normal corner, and turned at the usual place. Got to the next two places to turn for a shorter walk, and kept going. By this time, my pace had picked up to close to my normal walking pace. It was feeling pretty good.
"My normal walk around the neighborhood is only good for about 4000 steps. That puts me at 6500, and I don't think I'll make up the other 3500 at home." I'm not sure that one was a lie. Anyway, when I got to the next place to turn on the 2 mile walk, I turned the wrong way, deliberately. I added a chunk to the walk, not knowing how long it would be.
By now, I'm really enjoying the walk. The rain has become harder, but nothing the umbrella can't handle. There is no traffic in the residential area, and the weather is keeping the barking dogs inside. It's really quite pleasant. But I had one last lie to tell myself.
"If I'm lucky, I'll be to 7500 or 8000 steps. Then maybe I'll have a chance of making it to 10K around the house - after I take a nap." Got home, and the pedometer had 8800 steps. The total route turned out to be 3.2 miles, and I average a 15 minute mile. (How did that happen? I was moving pretty slow at first.) I also felt more like puttering around and doing stuff than like taking a nap. I felt even better after cooling down, showering, and changing to some clean clothes.
It's still a small house, and there isn't that far to walk while puttering around. As I write this, the pedometer reads a bit over 9900 steps. I'll get my 10K in today, but probably won't get 11K. But that's okay; after all, Sunday is a day of rest.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Yesterday I went to the gym. That makes two weeks in a row that I've gone to the gym twice. Twice a week lifting weights is good for me. My body complains if I try to lift on alternate days, but it's fine with a three day lag. Seven day weeks being what they are, that means the best I can expect is a Monday-Thursday, Monday-Friday, or Tuesday-Friday lifting schedule. Yesterday's agenda was Romanian deadlifts, lat pulls (because I'm too weak for pullups), dumbbell incline chest presses, and walking lunges.
The owner recognizes me, but there are many new faces in the weight room. I see a few old regulars that I recognize, and a lot of unfamiliar people who have well defined bodies and look like they know what they're doing. Of course, I still see the usual plates left on bars and bars left at abandoned stations, a mute testimony to the fact that clueless n00bs have been here.
Between sets, I sometimes peek at what other people are doing. Yes, most of them know what they're doing. Some of the young guys with well defined bodies are working on explosive moves that I could not do safely. Most of the ones doing traditional lifts are using good form. Sometimes I see a lift that I haven't done, and I think about incorporating it into my rotation. Right now I'm thinking about dropping the weight on my military press, and instead doing a hang clean and press. I like compound moves that use several major muscles; they're time efficient for me.
Yesterday while I was doing my warmups (Turkish getup/windmill combos followed by a few kettlebell snatches), I heard a couple of young, well defined body types talking. One was describing a diet theory that cut carbs to almost nothing while overloading on protein and working hard. Apparently that's part of the cutting phase to prepare for a modeling show or body building competition, designed to force the body to burn fat while rebuilding the muscle that the diet also loses. I kept a straight face and didn't say anything. I suspect that kind of diet can't be good for health, and that you need to be young to tolerate it in cycles for that kind of vanity. But if that's what those guys want to do, well, I'm not their trainer.
A bit later, an odd thing happened. I had finished one set of something and was walking toward the drinking fountain. Another guy and I dodged around each other in a perfectly normal maneuver for a crowded gym floor, and he mumbled "excuse me" in a tone that seemed to indicate he was deferring to me. A while after that, I figured it out. Saw the same guy, a younger fellow, doing DB chest presses. He was using 20 pound dumbbells, which isn't very much for a young healthy male to press. The light dawned.
This guy is a newbie, and he identified me as a regular! Now, there are two major types of newbies. One is the clueless n00b who is going to wash out and is oblivious. The other is the serious newbie who wants to make this work, and is trying to learn without getting in the way of people he sees as more experienced and knowledgeable than he is. This guy was the second kind. I used to be that guy, except I was a lot older when I was at that stage.
That was a minor ego boost. I don't see myself as a regular at the gym yet. Haven't been doing this consistently long enough. Don't have the well defined body saying I've done this consistently. But to a new lifter, I look like a regular who knows what he's doing.
Must be those Turkish getups. They do look impressive to people who have never done them.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Measurement is the fundamental problem of managing diet and exercise for weight loss. We all know that if we expend more calories than we take in, over time we should lose weight. The problem is that there isn't an easy, accurate way to measure either side of the equation.
For most of us, measuring calories expended is a lost cause. We don't know what our basal metabolism burns for sure, and we have no good way to quantify exercise in excess of basal metabolism. The SP fitness tracker is nice for motivating me to keep doing stuff, but I have no confidence in the calories burned numbers it generates. Bicycling at 13 mph is not any harder for me than walking at 4.2 mph, and in fact is a bit easier. But the fitness tracker gives me an awful lot more calories for the biking than the walking. I have no idea whether the biking is overstated, the walking understated, a bit of both, or they're both off by different amounts in the same direction. And there are no calories added for lifting weights. I know I'm buring a lot more calories doing 3 sets of 8 deadlifts at 185 lbs than I am walking down the street for the time it takes me to do those three sets.
So how do people know how many calories they're burning? Typically by seeing how many calories they're consuming and whether this is producing a weight gain or loss. Measuring calories consumed is an inexact science, but at least it's better than measuring calories expended.
I came across an interesting video about losing weight the other day:
Superficially, this is a plug for weighing instead of measuring volume. It seems a bit overblown to me, probably because the real purpose is to sell books from the web site mentioned late in the video. But I do see an element of truth in the video, even if I draw a different lesson from those facts than the folks who made it.
For those of you who didn't want to go watch the video, or quit in disgust at the overdramatic style, the premise is that the average dieter understates what she eats by using generous volume measurement, and the conclusion is that this is a reason diets can fail. The secondary conclusion is that this can be corrected by using weight measurement instead of volume measurement.
I look at the same facts, assuming they are actually facts, a bit differently. I see the problem as one of system and attitude. The systemic problem is a diet that says you must eat X servings of defined size. The attitude problem is following the diet but cheating on the serving size, whether consciously or not.
Fortunately, the SP nutrition tracker lets me set up a different system to accommodate a different attitude. The attitude is that I want to accurately record what I eat, and I don't want to be forced into predetermined serving sizes. The system is, if I use foods that are defined as grams or ounces or cups instead of servings, I can measure what I eat and put the real measurement in, then the computer will figure out the nutrition values and tell me what I used and what I have left for the day.
It's true that the scale is more accurate than volume measurement, particularly for foods that can be of varying density. A week or so ago, I bought some pre-made salad at Walmart. I found that someone had already put in the nutrition information; but they had recorded the serving size as 3 cups. I put the same information in for myself, and recorded the serving size as 85 grams. Why? I don't want to eat 3 cups of salad. I want to pour how much looks right into my bowl, and know what I have. That's a lot easier with a food scale than with a measuring cup.
And the scale is an awful lot more accurate than estimating, for example, a medium potato. I buy russet potatoes. The SP guidelines for small, medium and large russet potatoes tell me diameter in inches. My potatoes aren't even close to being spherical, and come in more than three or four different sizes. Fortunately, red potatoes are measured in grams. I think I'm closer to the real value by calling 186 grams of russet potato the same amount of red potato than I would be trying to guess whether the potato was small or medium.
So I kind of come to the same solution as the video, even if I think the video is overdramatic. I like weighing for the accuracy. I've come to like grams better than ounces, because the margin of error is smaller. The margin of error when I weigh in grams is so small that it doesn't matter.
There are still some things I measure by volume, including oatmeal. Why? Because I've been making oatmeal for years, and making it based on volume. One part oatmeal to two parts milk, and if the measuring cup is filled to the same level for the oatmeal as for the milk, it works. I'm going to do this once per day, usually 5 days per week. Oh, and my measurement is 1/3 cup, not the arbitrary 1/2 cup that is the serving size on the package of oatmeal. It's enough.
Similarly, I'm going to fill my 8 oz. glass to a consistent level and not worry about whether it's really 8.5 oz. or 7.5 oz. The difference a half ounce of milk or orange juice makes just isn't big enough to worry about, and I'm not doing this five times a day.
But stuff that's hard to measure by volume - that gets weighed. It's just easier to tell how much I'm eating when I weigh it.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
My first serious effort to deliberately lose weight was in 2004-2005. I was on a message board that discussed this, though it was pretty primitive by SP standards. Basically, a bunch of people who wanted to lose weight talked to each other.
I found some of those messages recently, and I'm struck by how naive my attitude was. I spent a lot of time moaning about how poor my dietary control was, and how evil the Snack Days at work were. My strategy was to just try to eat somewhat reasonably, and outwork what I ate. It even worked for a while. I dutifully posted weekly weigh-ins, starting at a bit over 200. Getting below 200 by 12/31/04 was a major accomplishment for me.
In 2005, I bounced off 188. The record on the message board has gains and losses, and I faded away somewhere around 195 or 196. The support from others evaporated when the numbers stopped going down.
This morning I weighed in at 190. Yesterday, the dehydrated morning after an evening at the gym, I was at 188.8. But this time, I'm quantifying what I eat instead of just trying to use will power to be reasonable. Somehow, I don't think I'm going to bounce off 188 and keep going back up in 2011.
I haven't been on SparkPeople long enough to guarantee that I won't have the same failure of motivation here, eventually, as I had in 2005. But some other stuff has changed in my life since 2004 to make the prognosis for longer term stability better. I've picked up some skills since then that are useful to the effort. While I've been on and off the fitness wagon, I haven't been back to the levels of unfitness that I had in the late 1990s; and my climbing back on the wagon deadlift in 2011 was for 10 pounds more than what I wrote about in 2005. Also, now I'm an empty nester and the major stressors in my personal life from 2002 through 2010 have pretty much been resolved favorably.
I think I can do this, but I need to be realistic. If I'm going to get to a healthy weight and stay there the rest of my life, I'm going to have to record what I eat for the rest of my life. It's just too easy for me to slip into bad habits if I don't have to record it and look at what I'm doing in near real time.
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