Wednesday, June 03, 2009
I originally posted this as a comment on SAASHA17's blog as a response(to her recommendations, then decided to post it again here (with some minor changes), if for no other reason than I would have it on record for my own use.
Thank you, SASSHA17! Definitely good food for thought, and I'm still thinking through my options, so your advice definitely helps.
I haven't been using the suggested meal plans for a number of reasons. My husband can't eat any of the dinner recommendations I've seen so far, and I don't want to cook and eat my meal separately. Eventually one of us will figure out husband-friendly adaptions to at least some of them, but it takes time and some experimenting. I also haven't had a chance to really explore the sparks recipes, though even in the short amount of time I've spent looking I've found a number that sound really good. I do periodically check the suggested meal plans to get an idea of the kinds of combinations that are recommended, though I'm still figuring out how to adapt those ideas to my own meal plans.
I also don't like a number of the recommended foods so far, despite the fact that I actually do like a lot of healthy foods (fruits and vegetables and grains--rice, bread, etc.) For example, I hate oatmeal with a passion, and at least 3 mornings out of 5 that I have looked so far, that's what it suggested. I wish I could tell it to exclude specific dishes, like oatmeal! For the healthy lifestyle to stick, I have to find healthy foods (and a balance) of foods I like so I'm not giving up all those unhealthy foods that I like and replacing them with food I dislike--especially when eating is already more of a nuisance than anything else.
That being said, I do like a lot of healthy foods and I've already found a number of sparks recipes that sound really good that I want to try now that I at least sort of have a working kitchen again. This includes both main meal entrées and snacks. I am really excited about making some homemade yogurt smoothies, for example, if I can find any good recipes that don't include bananas (bananas, once peeled, can make my DH stop breathing, so we never have them at home). If I can prepare the food in bulk in advance, like the granola snack bars I'd read about, and then have them on hand for a quick, easy, tasty and yet nutritious snack, all the better. I already have fruit, cheese, healthy crackers (sesame/whole wheat) and cheese at home for snacks, and we haven't had the chance for a serious shopping trip since we moved to the new place. Our new grocery store has a lot of new options that I'm pretty excited about as well--especially a broader selection of Asian and Middle Eastern foods--so I'm tentatively optimistic.
I do need to get better about eating more protein. We'd both assumed that we'd been getting more than the recommended amount of protein in our diet. I'd always read that Americans eat way more meat than we need. But I've been finding that actually I'm tending not to get enough protein. I'm also not getting enough iron, which a friend of mine tells me probably explains why I've been so run down lately. I've gotten some recipes and ideas from sparks that should help with the protein, though I'm still figuring out the iron.
I'm taking your advice and taking a bit longer break from working out--part of me is anxious to get back on the target, but I really don't feel good today and I'm still sore from Monday. Hopefully I'll be up to get back on target soon, though.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Yesterday, I wrote about general eating trends in an attempt to understand my eating habits in order to find problem areas so that I can fix them. And I think I've done a decent job at spotting my weaknesses, if not necessarily implementing a plan (yet) that fixes them. But another problem is that I don't have a very good grasp on how many calories etc. are in the things I'm eating. You would think that after tracking my food for about 6 weeks I'd have a better idea, but most of those 6 weeks were spent in the middle of packing/moving, with our kitchen in varying degrees in boxes (as it is still, though at least now we're unpacking, not packing! And it's all in the same location) so "normal" hasn't really been relevant. And while I may not have a good idea of how many calories a given dish may have, I knew that eating out tended to be higher in both calories and fat than what I would eat at home.
But I'm still struggling to figure out a balanced diet, one that leaves me feeling satisfied (ie, not hungry) and yet doesn't go over my recommended calorie count--predictably. Yesterday, my lunch turned out to be nearly an entire day's worth of calories (ouch!) and it wasn't that much food (mac and cheese and smoky links; fortunately not something we eat all that often because my husband is allergic to cheese, MSG, and has problems with nitrates) . Today I had my "normal" soup and found myself still hungry--which is unusual--and so ended up having cheese and crackers and (after *still* being hungry) cherries as a snack and still my calorie count for the entire day so far is less than 900 calories.
Baffled. Obviously I'm going to need to plan better--though that's hard to do with DB's food allergies (as it's hard to predict what he'll be up to eating on any given day, since he often has lunch meetings at work that affect what he can have at home) if we're going to avoid blowing a day's calorie count unexpectedly like that--or less likely but still a problem not consuming *enough* calories--or more likely specific types of calories etc. like protein--on a regular basis. At least until I have a better grasp on what we're eating.
At least the exercise portion seems to be more under control, though I took a couple of weeks off to let my body recover and then changed my work out program entirely, which meant a slower restart than I had anticipated--but that's okay. Even if I only managed 15 minutes of aerobic yesterday it was a more intense 15 minutes than what I had been doing earlier, and I'll be able to add to those minutes over time. And I did pretty well all told with the strengthening portion, despite the time off and the fact that I stepped back into it with heavier weights than I had used previously. I'm sore today--I can definitely feel it--but it's sore, not debilitating.
I had planned to get some more aerobic in today, but feeling how sore my legs are I think it's better to wait until tomorrow, even if it does throw me off for my daily goals--but I'm also feeling under the weather, and my husband is home sick from work, so that extra day to recover--and feel better--sounds like a good idea.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Not surprisingly, a lot of the articles I've been reading talk about our relationship with food and the role eating plays in our lives--not just as a source of fuel and building blocks for our body, but also as a social and psychological source of comfort and pleasure.
So, as part of this whole trying to eat a healthier diet, I've been thinking a lot lately about my own eating habits. Unfortunately, a lot of what the sparks articles talk about don't resonate with me. A lot of them, for example, talk a lot about emotional eating, eating not because you're hungry but because you are stressed, depressed, or otherwise upset and eating because it's comforting. Everyone does that to some extent, so I'm not saying I'm magically immune, but it isn't a dominant aspect of my daily eating habits. When I'm really stressed out, I tend to forget to eat--not binge.
Then I took a quiz about my eating habits and it kind of clicked. I have some bad habits--I knew that--but my main issues mostly stem from feeling pressured in terms of time. I'm under a ton of stress--I'm managing it as best as I can, but it's there and it's not going away any time soon. I am constantly running out of time to get things done that need to be done, and it's really hard when running up against deadlines to justify taking time to sleep, let alone to buy, cook, and eat healthy foods. It's so much faster--and easier--to grab some fast food, or a candy bar, or even to skip eating until "later" when I "have time."
Early on in grad school, I developed a fairly unhealthy attitude toward food that I didn't realize at the time was unhealthy. I was putting in 80 or more hour weeks at school, barely sleeping and with almost no social life, so I resented time spent on "unproductive" activities like cooking (remember the post earlier about needing to view time spent taking care of me as productive?). I also was living on a threadbare shoe string budget, and couldn't really afford food at all. I was living on very cheap foods, high in starches and low in meat and vegetables, pinching those pennies for all they were worth. My parents sent care packages of things like green peppers and ground beef just to make sure that I was getting some better foods in my diet, and occasionally I'd treat myself to something like some raspberries or strawberries, but mostly it was grains, cheese, eggs, and a little bit of meat--usually chicken because it was cheap. I came to think of food as fuel, nothing more and nothing less.
To add insult to injury, a lot of the articles stress the importance of only eating when you are "hungry" but that doesn't work for me. I am almost never hungry in the morning. If I eat breakfast, it's because I *make* myself eat breakfast, not because I want it. When I do feel hungry, it's generally very briefly. I have typically about 30 minutes when my body says "I WANT FOOD NOW!!!" It's hard to make myself wait for me to prepare something healthy when my body is screaming "NOW NOW NOW," especially if there is something else--healthy or not--that's readily on hand. If I miss that window, I no longer feel hungry.
But more often what passes for hunger with me is a feeling of being unable to concentrate, irritability, and sometimes a little light-headedness. Food doesn't particularly call my name, and unless I'm paying attention and recognize the symptoms, I don't realize that I'm hungry at all. So just as I had come to view food as little more than fuel, I tried to remember to eat at least twice a day not because I was hungry but just because people need to eat.
When I'm working or reading or otherwise occupied, I tend to be really absorbed into what I'm doing and so am oblivious to the hints that my body is giving me. I lose track of time and don't realize that it's 3 pm and I haven't had lunch yet. And that compounds the problem, because if it's hard to step away from my work to prepare a lunch, I resent even more taking 30 minutes out of my work time to prepare food that I don't even especially want--but know intellectually I should have anyway.
Things are better now. While eating a balanced diet is still very much a challenge--the more so because my husband has a very long list of foods he's allergic to that complicate dinner planning--we are not so tight on money that I can't afford to eat a wider variety of foods. Because of his allergies, our diet is more restricted than it might be, but at least we aren't desperately pinching pennies until they bleed. My husband cooks most of the dinners--he learned to cook as a survival strategy because of his food allergies, which not only eliminate most common vegetables but most pre-processed or packaged foods--and it takes some creativity to work around his allergies and get anything resembling a balanced diet. We still don't eat enough vegetables, in part because he's very limited in what he can have and they aren't always readily available or easy to cook, and while I do not have that restriction, I never learned to cook vegetables very well and so most of what I prepare are raw--things like cauliflower, celery, salads, etc. That's one of the things we're working to do better on.
Time is still a problem, however, and I have to constantly pay attention and make myself eat regularly because it's too easy to get wrapped up in what I'm doing and forget. I'm still fighting the urge to resent the time spent preparing meals--because preparing meals really takes up a lot of time. But while I'm still working on the attitude adjustment--that need to feel that it's really justifiable and important to spend time on taking care of me--sparks has given me some ideas of how to better manage my cooking time so that I can have healthy foods readily accessible--without having to spend a ton of time every day in the kitchen. Things like having healthy snacks like fruit or nuts on hand for when those "FEED ME NOW" moments hit, to ward off the beast while I have time to fix something more substantial, or preparing foods in bulk that can be frozen for later in the week. Hopefully now that I've really thought about our eating habits and figured out where some of the problems are coming from, we'll be able to actually do something about it.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
My dad brought some stuff from their house that we had temporarily stored there for the move, and while he was here we went to the community fitness center so that he could show me how to use the machines. I've never used any fitness equipment other than a stationary bike and a treadmill before, so a lot of it was new to me, and I had completely forgotten with everything else that was going on that he had offered to help me.
It was great. I hadn't realized how intimidated I was by exercise equipment--particularly the universal weight equipment (it just looks hard)--until he talked me through different exercises and proper form and so forth. But I tried it out and it's not so scary after all! Definitely something I can handle--maybe not the same weights that he can handle, but that's okay. I was pretty geeked by the time we left, which is weird because I don't like weight training--I do it because I want to be more fit, not because I enjoy it. But I was actually excited about the possibilities. Unfortunately, none of us had time to stay, and I'm still taking a break, letting my body heal from the abuse I'd put it through before I pick up the weight training again.
We didn't stay very long, so it wasn't a real work out session--more like a wine tasting than having a full glass. I did a little bit on a bunch of different pieces of equipment, enough to get a feel for how it worked and to make sure I was using it properly. They also had free weights, which I hadn't realized, and that's nice because I have some really light (i.e., wimpy) weights but I'm ready for something heavier for at least some of the exercises and this way I can experiment until I find the right weights.
I also discovered that my brother does weights, too, which is cool. I knew that he had dabbled with them when he was in high school, but apparently he started using them more seriously after he had some work-related repetitive stress injuries, and they helped a lot. When I'm not so stressed/tired/busy, I may pick his brain, because he may have some tips that can help me.
Monday, May 25, 2009
It's kind of funny, in a way. I have been reading sparks articles recently about priorities and the importance of making time for yourself--time to work out, time to rest and recharge your batteries, time to get enough sleep and time to eat properly. So why is it that it was my friend getting irritated with me earlier this weekend, telling me that I had to slow down and find at least 30 minutes a day for myself, suddenly make me wonder if maybe I am pushing myself too hard? She says that I need to stop being hung up on the need to use my time "productively," or at least to view time taking care of myself as productive.
Maybe it's because she's like I am in that way--tends to push herself really, really hard, though she is also working toward being healthier (as are a number of other of my friends--all independent of each other. It just somehow clicked for each of us at more at less the same time, though for different reasons.) So for her to say, hey, you're doing too much, you have to take time for yourself, makes me stop and think. Or maybe it's just that she knows me, personally--she can see the signs that I am pushing myself too hard.
But it's hard. If it were easy, I wouldn't have come to sparks in the first place. I wouldn't have needed to spend time on this website if I hadn't been struggling to make this healthier lifestyle I wanted work for me--without sacrificing those parts of my life that make it worth while. It's all very well for some stranger to write an article saying that we need to recognize that when we say we don't have time to exercise it's really that we are *choosing* not to make exercise a priority, so all we need to do is to choose to make time to work out, and another to try to find time to work out when trying to finish graduate school and deal with other real-life responsibilities.
Sure, I may *ch0ose* to work on my dissertation instead of going for a run, but my adviser isn't going to be sympathetic if I tell her I didn't finish the chapter she wanted because I had to work out. A grant agency isn't going to let me turn in a grant late because I needed to get a full 8 hours of sleep every night. I've put in a lot of 80+ hour weeks for school, and it's really hard when you're barely getting 4-6 hours of sleep to find time for anything you don't *have* to do. I've known people who ended up quitting grad school because their committee refused to be flexible, even when they were struggling with serious problems.
I came very, very close to quitting when my carpal tunnel and tendentious first flared up, because even though every little thing--from writing to typing to braiding my hair or opening a door--hurt, I was still expected to carry on with the same work load. And voicing any kind of concern about meeting those obligations was strongly discouraged. Doesn't matter what's going on in your life, I was told--just get it done.
So I got it done, but at the expense of my own health. I don't want to sacrifice my health any longer--but I think it's understandable, too, that I don't want to sacrifice my degree, not when I've worked so long and gotten so close. But even when--not if--I graduate, I know that the pressure won't go away. I will always be pushed to perform, to publish, to get those grants, to meet those deadlines. Failure to do so, in this job environment, will cost me my job and any chance for tenure and job security--and more important than the income, it could cost me a dream that I've been working toward since I was 13.
So it's frustrating to be told time and again I just need to "make time." Not because it's not true that I really do need to find ways to make time for myself, because I can tell that it's effecting my health in a lot of different ways. But because it's an over simplification. It feels like it demeans the challenges that I'm dealing with.
I know that I am not alone in this. The friend who told me that I had to stop and take some time isn't in grad school, but struggles with multiple pressures on her time all the same--her obligations and responsibilities are different from mine, but that makes them no less real or pressing. Another friend of mine is a single mom, which has different challenges yet. Another owns her own business and has been telling me about how hard it is to slow down when she doesn't make money if she's not working.
I sometimes feel pressured to always be positive, optimistic, whether it's about progress on my dissertation or in my sparks plan. I found the message boards particularly daunting in this regard--like admitting that I was struggling was overly negative and I should just deal with it. I felt, both in school and on the message boards, that I should be a role model, someone to inspire others, but at the same time I wish sometimes that people--friends, strangers--would acknowledge that it's *hard* rather than push me, like my adviser did, to just get it done. So it's really hard for me just to say "this is hard for me. I need to somehow make exercise a priority but I don't know how to do that without jeopardizing other things important to me." But if I don't admit that I'm struggling with this, not only am I not being honest with myself--and I'm sure that would negatively effect my ability to keep this up long term--but it handicaps me trying to find real, viable solutions that work for *me*. I'm not sure how to balance that, either.
I'm new to sparks, I've been trying to live a healthier lifestyle for, what, 4 years? I've already tried a lot of the things sparks suggests--for example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I've been trying to eat better foods, though not apparently as well as I had thought because I'm not getting enough of some of the vitamins in particular. And maybe I haven't given up junk food entirely, but I've been striving for balance and moderation because I thought that was something I could shoot for to sustain indefinitely, without completely giving up foods I enjoy for foods I don't like. I did the physical therapy for my hand and hip problems. I've been walking, swimming, dancing, trying to improve the bad hip.... And 4 years later I have absolutely nothing to show for it. My hip still hurts and I even put on more weight (and it was fat-weight, not muscle).
When I talking to my doctor about it, he told me to aim for getting at least 10 min. of aerobic exercise 10 days a month, and I felt like shouting "What do you think I've been doing?" I've been walking and swimming and taking belly dancing lessons and you tell me I should shoot for 10 minutes 10 days a month? It's almost insulting. And telling me that I just need to set aside yet more time is daunting, to say the least, when my time is already stretched beyond thin.
Sparks has helped. The short work out suggestions, the tips in how to facilitate things like eating healthy on the fly or squeeze in a bit of extra exercise help. I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work for me--this move hasn't helped at all because it's turned everything upside down. I've been really pushing my body to its limits--and past, unfortunately--but that's balanced against the fact that we've eaten out way more than normal because our kitchen is in boxes.
This summer things may well go easier, especially with so many of my friends wanting to improve their health as well--we've already discussed getting together when all of our moving is done (a great many of us have moved in the last 3 months) to walk, swim, and play tennis. I'm also really excited about our new apartment in part because the area is a lot more friendly to pedestrians and there are tennis courts and a fitness center nearby as well as a pool, which would make working out a lot more convenient. I'm sure there will still be a lot of trial and error before I get it really figured out--but I'm tentatively optimistic.
It's a work in progress. I'm a work in progress. But at least I have the support of my husband (he even plans to implement a more modest health plan after the move, though he--more wisely than me, I suppose--postponed it until the move was done), my family and my friends, and that helps, too. It will take time to figure this out, but I think my friend is right--I have to start viewing time for myself as productive.
Does anyone else here struggle with this issue, and if so do you have any advice in how to deal with it? How do you justify the time you spend working out or cooking better meals? How do you facilitate things so that you can be healthier and still meet your obligations?
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