Monday, September 17, 2012
The importance of goal-setting!
It’s in almost every weight loss article I have read in the last couple of years. Advice on this subject is given in abundance by every fitness and nutrition expert.
“Set your goals today.”
“Keep your goals small and realistic.”
“Write down your goals.”
“Share your goals with friends or family so that they can keep you accountable.”
“Make a vision collage of your goals.”
“Be flexible with your goals.”
Advice, which, in most cases, is valuable and foolproof. But what about the nature of the goals? When it comes to weight loss what kind of goals should we set?
Most of us have started our journeys using the scale as a starting point for our goal-setting technique. “I want to lose 10 pounds/5 kg/10% of my body weight by Christmas/my birthday/summer vacation.” Or we make it even shorter: 2 pounds this week. And I can’t help but wonder: Even if we do everything right, how sure are we to reach this goal? There are hundreds of times that I’ve come across blogs from frustrated people wondering “Why didn’t the scale move? I didn’t do anything wrong!” Simply because our bodies’ chemistry is much more complicated than “calories in-calories out”. There is no diet and no program in the world that can guarantee a specific weight loss for every person that tries it. So, are we setting ourselves up for disappointment when our goals revolve around the scale?
During my journey I set a lot of fitness goals. I entered the world of fitness being utterly unfit! I could only dream of being able to do jumping jacks for two minutes. But I did. I couldn’t picture myself doing ten real push-ups. But I did. I finished three three-month DVD bootcamps. I never imagined myself running on the treadmill. And now I’m training for a 5K.
I would be a liar if I told you that I had no scale goals during this time. The number on the scale and its fluctuations were always at the back of my mind. But that’s where I kept them. I would put fitness goals in front, make them “louder” in my mind and focus on them. They were always there to help me get over the scale disappointment. They were something I was fully responsible for. My physical abilities – which could only get better – and my commitment to exercise. No metabolism rates, unwanted water retention or any other complex body chemistry mechanisms included.
As I slowly enter maintenance period – aka the rest of my life – goal-setting with no scale numbers involved becomes even more important. We can’t keep losing weight forever! But if you’ve had the gain-it-all-back experience at least once in your life, you know how important it is to stay fitness and health motivated. And the scale can’t help you here. There’s not much fun in seeing it stuck to a number, nothing to work towards. Fitness possibilities, on the other hand, seem endless. There’s always something new to try.
But the scale-free goal-setting technique doesn’t have to be about exercise only. There are many nutritional goals you can start with or try to adopt even if you have reached your weight goal. Eat a certain amount of fruit or vegetables a day for a week, try a new healthy recipe each weekend, eat a healthy breakfast every morning and make a big streak out of it, you name the change in your nutritional habits. And set a goal or more out of it. And while you focus on succeeding with your goals, a lot of other changes will be taking place within you. Changes that will get you closer to a healthy and balanced lifestyle that we’re all here for.
And the scale? Believe me, eventually it will have no other option but to follow!!!
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
As I was writing this, an old song came to mind: “There is something strange, in the neighborhood…” But don’t rush to call the Ghostbusters! The change isn’t frightening at all. On the contrary, it’s quite promising!
Our neighborhood is a typical city one. The apartment building we live in is situated right next to a busy street, so our life has a constant soundtrack of various traffic noises. A few evenings ago, the sanity-threatening symphony of car honks, roaring engines and sirens suddenly stopped. And I don’t mean it stopped for a minute or two which would be normal but it had stopped for quite a while, so that the silence could reach not only our ears but our brains, as well. We rushed to the balcony to discover the source of this newly-acquired and so ear-and-mind-soothing silence. And we stared in amazement! The cars had vanished! The road was full of bicycles!
We had seen them before. People who like bikes, get organized through Facebook and go on evening rides around the city, while having fun and motivating others to use bikes at the same time. We used to see groups of 20 or 30 people. But this time, there were hundreds of them! People of all ages, mothers with toddlers in separate seats, couples, families with children, teenagers. All those people getting fitness-conscious and environment-conscious at the same time! What a nice surprise!
My girls were thrilled! They stared with eyes wide-open to the sparkling bicycle lights and the illuminating wheels in the darkness. And when my elder daughter spoke, I couldn’t believe my ears: “Mom, I know what I want for my birthday: I want you and dad to buy bicycles, so we can do this together!...!!!
(Mom’s ear-to-ear smile glittering with pride: My children are fitness-motivated!)
Unfortunately, bikes are expensive and not affordable at the moment. But that’s probably the only bad thing I can think of. Let’s see the facts on cycling:
- On a bicycle you can have your cake and eat it. Simply because a moderate half-hour commute will burn eight calories a minute, equivalent to 11kg of fat in a year! So, cycling burns an average of 480 calories per hour! Not bad for a seated activity, is it?
- An adult cyclist typically has a level of fitness equivalent to someone 10 years younger and a life expectancy two years above the average. No wonder countries with the highest levels of cycling and walking generally have the lowest obesity rates. Feel younger, look younger and actually live longer!
- On a bicycle you use a motor and you can improve its strength and efficiency - and even its working life - the more you cycle! Which motor? Your heart, of course!
- Using a bicycle means caring for our big home, the planet! Bicycle traffic in Copenhagen prevents 90,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually!
- You can park about 15 bicycles in the same space that one car takes. No more parking tickets!
- A bicycle can really shrink your car vehicle maintenance expenses. Maintaining a bike annually costs twenty times less than maintaining and riding a car. Oh, and rising gas prices? On a bicycle you can travel up to 1037 km on the energy equivalent to a single liter of petrol! Because you simply use up fewer watts of energy than a car consumes just to power its lighting system for the same distance.
-The bicycle is the most efficient vehicle ever devised; a human on a bicycle is more efficient (in calories expended per kilo and per kilometer) than a train, truck, airplane, boat, car, motorcycle or jet pack. In simple words, it can - theoretically, of course - take you further than any other vehicle without pit-stops!
To sum up all benefits:
Unfortunately, not all cities are cyclist-friendly, and as a result, many accidents – some serious ones – increase the risks of riding a bicycle in a city. If we add the drivers’ carelessness to the lack of cycling lanes – many drivers are not properly educated on how a cyclist should be treated on the road – the dangers involved rise significantly. And that’s the second bad thing I can think of, but that’s as far as it gets.
But things are changing and that’s such a promising fact. I really hope I managed to make you think about it. Even for seconds. Toy with the idea of a change in your means of transportation. Become a kid again. And enjoy the best of both worlds at the same time. If not, if you really can’t imagine yourself without a car, it’s ok. Just think twice the next time you’ll find yourself next to a cyclist on the road. They’re going somewhere – like you do – but in a way which protects our planet, the home we all live in. They deserve their safety. And we all deserve chances to live better in a healthier planet, don’t you think so?
For more interesting facts on bicycles, check out these sites:
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
This blog is about “time”.
And it’s about time we saw this fitness factor in its real dimensions.
And cross it off the list of excuses once and for all.
And I’m talking to you, the person who claims there’s no free time in your daily schedule for exercise. You’re too busy with work, family, errands and you just can’t find the time for a quick workout. Well, I’m sorry, your excuse is about to get self-destroyed!
Every creature on this planet is given exactly 24 hours daily. So, unless you live in a parallel universe where an ugly, torturing, time-eating monster is making your life difficult, you have the same amount of time as every other businessman, businesswoman, working parent, student, the list of busy people goes on. You need 20 minutes of your day to start a workout routine. That’s 1.4% of your daily time. And you need to repeat it 4 times a week which is 0.8% of your weekly time! So, you’re so busy you actually can’t devote less than one hundredth of your week in order to improve your health and the quality of your life? Are you trying to fool everyone around here or just yourself?
I know what you’re going to say. I don’t know, I have no right to talk, I’m a stay-at-home-mom, what do I know about busy schedules? I have lots of time to kill, I’ve been “accused” of that before. And you’re probably right. I have much more free time than you. But does this mean that you don’t have any? At all?
Don’t you ever watch TV? Don’t you log in to Facebook or Sparkpeople? Don’t you read the news’ headlines? Don’t you check e-mails? Don’t you ever read a book or a magazine? Don’t you talk on the phone with a friend? Whether you do one or all of the above, you certainly can trade 20 minutes of these activities for a healthier, stronger and fitter version of yourself, can’t you?
One of two things are happening. Either you don’t like physical activity and you’re just using this answer every time the subject comes up, or you have let this false belief - that exercise needs lots of time - keep you away from all the benefits that working out has to offer. If you belong to the first category, you should research your options once again. There are unlimited ways to put exercise in your life and maybe you’ll stop wanting to use the “time-excuse” if you find something that suits you.
If you’ve been led to a misunderstanding about time and exercise, and you’ve comfortably used it to avoid any fitness activities, it’s time to reconsider.
Your excuse is not valid anymore.
You can find a new one.
Or stop needing one.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I still remember myself running in high school.
And when the pictures come back to me I feel out of breath like I felt back then. As much as no other kid in school. And I still see myself being the slowest than any other kid and crossing the finish line last after everyone else had already cooled down. When I finished high school I was particularly happy that the physical education classes were a thing of my past!
Ever since then I never tried running for exercise again. And when I had to run for a reason, it always felt awful.
Watching sports that involved running, on the other hand, has always been my absolute favorite! Track running, marathons, sprints, hurdles, relays, you name it, I love, love, love watching! But I always believed that running is only for them. For athletes!
When I joined Sparkpeople and I met some of my best Sparkfriends who were experienced runners, I realized I was wrong all this time. Running is for anyone who has legs and a healthy heart. My heart has been playing games with me ever since I was 20 years old. That’s when those sudden, fast, heart-fluttering feelings started. But there’s nothing wrong with it. At least that’s what doctors have told me after many thorough exams for years. It’s just how my heart reacts to stress, physical or mental and it’s not at all dangerous. Yet, it happens, it’s frightening and it gives me another reason to be scared to run fast.
At the start of my fitness attempts while being a Sparkpeople member, I tried running on the treadmill once. It was so weird. I felt I would trip over and fall all the time! I thought it would take seconds for me to land with my face down like those funny compilation videos we watch on the internet – I never laugh with these by the way, I always feel sorry for them.
All of the above sum up my inner fears for running – for those of my Sparkfriends who were curious what I’m scared of. But this summer I was determined. I would go for my first run outside.
I hope you all runners out there won’t think I’m stupid that I chose the oddest circumstances to do so! High altitude, mountain village (either uphill or downhill – no straight road!) and on a humid day! Well, I needed inspirational scenery and that was the only choice I had. I put on my new HRM and I set off.
I chose downhill – the other way seemed scary. The beginning of the road was a bit steep so I walked to warm up and once it got a bit smoother I started running. It was late in the afternoon, the sun had begun to set behind the mountains and you could actually “see” the humidity around the sun rays escaping through the sparse clouds. It felt great! I had no music with me and all I could hear was the sounds of nature. It was just me, the mountains and their beauty. Exactly as I wanted it to be.
I ran for about 2 km. The HRM reading reached 180 at some point but I didn’t feel as much out of breath as I expected to. On my way back I chose to walk.
The next day I could feel the downhill road taking its revenge on my shins. But I really didn’t mind. I knew that if I had gone uphill instead, I would have been disappointed and maybe too frustrated to want to go running again.
Back to the city my options are limited to say the least. My neighborhood is not runner-friendly, I have to get two different buses to go to the closest park and all the track fields around are not open to public. But, at least I’ve got a treadmill. It’s not my favorite option but, for now, it'll do - as long as I manage not to fall! I just finished my first week of the 5K training. The plan is to finish it by November when the Athens classic marathon is scheduled and I’d really like to take part in the 5K race of the day. I have so many things to learn and I keep reading all my friends’ race blogs trying to find all the required motivation. I have to thank you all for the feedback and the invaluable support you’re giving me.
I’m trying to discover the runner deep inside me.
And in case she doesn’t exist, I’m going to have to create her!
Friday, August 24, 2012
I’m sure most of you can recall the following situation from some time in your past.
You’ve just come back from summer vacation. You had a great time! You went out, you had fun with friends or your family, and your good time involved lots of food and lots of drinks maybe. You tried some new desserts that you couldn’t resist, you overindulged in your favorite ice cream flavors and of course you couldn’t say “no” to one or two or more cocktails whenever you were in that beach bar. The past few days you’ve started to feel your clothes becoming a little tight on you and you know you must have gained some weight. “Well, it’s just a couple of pounds,” you think. “I’ll get rid of them in no time.” And you approach your scale to prove that your estimates are right. But once you get on it, your smile disappears and panic sets in. And unfortunately, there’s nothing wrong with the scale…
There are many similar incidents in my adult life timeline. And not only after summer vacation. After Christmas, after Easter, after stressful periods at work. But this summer it was different. I wanted to prove to myself that I had learned my lesson. And I was determined not to relive the above experience especially after having almost reached my goal weight. A little less than three weeks was a long time away from home and I could easily get derailed. So, I made up a strategic plan that could help me enjoy my vacation but at the same time avoid a bad “reunion” with the scale!
First, I created the right mindset. Just before I leave, I joined the “At Goal & Maintaining” team. “You’re a maintainer now,” I said to myself. “You just can’t come back and have to start all over again. What will your new teammates think of you? Is this the motivation you want to share?” I kept the words in my mind and moved on.
Those were my eating strategies:
- I stopped tracking completely. This is not my idea of vacation. After all, I had no internet connection where I was and actually writing down everything would be difficult.
- Healthy breakfast was a must. No matter what had happened at dinner the night before, the day had to have a healthy start. But temptations were all around. My husband and kids would enjoy various things for breakfast, from bacon and eggs to muffins and delicious pies. So, for only two mornings I allowed myself to have a big chocolate-filled croissant. That’s the only thing I craved. No deprivation and damage kept to the minimum.
- At lunch, I followed the quarters’ rule. If my plate was divided in quarters, two of them had to be vegetables, one protein and one carbs. With my father’s organic vegetable garden, that was really easy to follow. Fresh vegetables available all the time!
- Dinner was the hardest part. We ate out with friends many times and their choices were far from healthy. But I always tried to choose the “least unhealthy”. And limit alcohol to a glass of beer or two glasses of wine.
- Snacks were always fruit, as many of them as I wanted. It helped with my sweet tooth cravings and with the occasional boredom bingeing.
- There were a few days when I just couldn’t follow any plan and would eat all the wrong things. It’s ok, it happened. I never allowed myself to do that for a second day in a row. Even if I ended up doing it every other day – which I didn’t – half the days would be healthy eating so my odds of maintaining would be 50-50. Well, better than zero, right?
- I continued tracking. I used the “Cardio Trainer” app on my phone which uses GPS and I could track my hikes in the forest.
- For cardio, I planned to use every opportunity I had. Swimming while I was close to the sea, hiking while I was in the mountains.
- For strength, I knew I wouldn’t have any equipment available. So, before I left home, I created two 45-minute schedules of strength exercises based on body resistance like squats, lunges, pushups, crunches, etc. I hadn’t imagined how difficult they would be at high altitude!
- I grabbed every opportunity I had for exercise. I took my kids horseback riding and I tried it, too. I went on hikes in the forest whenever I could and… I went for my first run (blog coming soon)!!!
Everything worked out as it should have. When I came back, my scale greeted me with the same number I had left it. Post-vacation scale crisis successfully averted!
I shared my strategies with you in order to help anyone who’s going on vacation and is nervous about ruining their weight loss journey. Some tips may work for you and some may not. But they can give you ideas for your own strategies. All these things may sound stressful to some of you, but believe me they weren’t. After having been used to a certain type of healthy living for a period of time, some things just come naturally. You just have to remind yourself all the time of how far you’ve come and of what’s more important to you. And I guess that’s a rule of maintenance in general. Priorities!
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