Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Back to Basics: Three Solid Squares or Five Small…Triangles???

One of the biggest contradictions in the health and fitness field is how much you should eat and when.

In my mother’s day, the conventional wisdom was that you should eat three square meals a day (whatever that means) and minimize snacking.

In recent years, however, the experts say that it’s better to eat five half meals a day (usually between 300 and 400 calories per meal).

The former is supposed to give your digestion system a break between meals.

The latter is supposed to keep your digestion system running – burning more calories. Also, eating every couple of hours is supposed to keep your blood sugar from crashing, which helps prevent fat storage. There are a lot of really healthy, skinny, and attractive people out there who swear by this method of eating and it makes a lot of intuitive sense to me.

However, in practice, it just didn’t work. That is, it didn’t work for me.

My problem? I’m not sure, but my best guess is portion control.

See, I like to feel full. I tend to eat fast and I have never gotten the hang of stopping when I’m 80% full. If I could remember to eat slowly, I would imagine a whole host of problems would resolve themselves. But no matter how hard I try, I’m usually 75% through my meal before I remember, “Oh yeah. You were going to slow down.”

I kid you not: I’m actually considering having the worlds “breathe” and “slow down” stenciled on the wall of my office.

Of course, not eating at my desk might also help, but I digress….

Regardless, eating five meals until you’re full really meant that I was eating way too much food.

I have tried to eat less. I have tried to slow down.

Unfortunately, however, “try” is outcome equivalent of “close.” And as “they” say, “close” only counts in horse shoes.

Thus, I have gone back to three solid squares a day and, so far, it’s working for me.

It’s working in the sense that I am less hungry and, contrary to popular belief, I am actually eating less food, calorie-wise.

At first it seemed scary to eat a meal with 500 calories in it, but I’m getting used to it. And as it turns out, the key to feeling full (and not crashing your blood sugar) is protein. Lots of protein.

For the last several days, it’s looked like this:

Breakfast Smoothie (384 calories; with 54 grams of protein).

Lunch (385-450 calories; with 21-24 grams of protein)

Snack (150 calories; 14 – 27 grams of protein)

Dinner (400 – 600; 30 grams of protein)

After dinner snack: herbal tea!

And, believe it or not, so far so good.

It’s working a lot better than the 5 meals, though I suppose that could have something to do with the fact that I have completely cut out sugar (averaging about 16 – 25 grams a day)….

I haven’t been back on the scale since this has all started, but I’ll be sure to let you know. I was thinking about “weighing in” on Friday…or not. Though I probably will, because, as I will discuss in another post, I’ve also come to appreciate having tighter feedback loops.

Oh, one last thing! Since I’ve gone back to larger three meals – instead of five smaller ones – I’ve had virtually no stress eating or any other compulsive food-related behavior. That in and of itself is worth the cost of an extra meal.

Back to Basics: A little is better than nothing

Last year I got into this rut: if I didn’t have an hour (or more) to exercise, then I just wouldn’t do it. In my mind I had created this belief that if I didn’t burn at least 500 calories per exercise session than it just wasn’t worth doing.

I realize that that’s crap (for a couple of reasons).

1) there are a lot of exercises that are great for you that don’t take an hour and have nothing to do with actual calories burned – such as High Intensity Interval Training exercises, which are currently all the rage but that I hate with a purple passion and therefore will not do so it doesn’t matter how effective they are) or even just Kettle Bell Swings (ala Tim Ferris, author of the Four Hour Body). Both of these forms of exercise – and I am sure there are others – elevate heart rate (that’s why they’re called High Intensity) and build muscle, which causes you to burn more calories all day long – even while you’re sleeping. Can’t beat that.

2) and even more simple than that, 30 minutes of exercise (even if it’s just 200 calories burned the old fashion way) is better than no minutes of exercise (and 0 calories burned). That’s just simple math. And it doesn’t take into consideration the psychological benefits of exercise – the increased mood (studies show that mood is elevated for up to 12 hours after exercise!), the sense of accomplishment that keeps many people, myself included, from eating unhealthily after exercising, and the joy that comes from living up to your self-promises. It also can provide an important degree of structure to one’s day – especially if it’s done at a regularly scheduled time. And it helps you sleep better, which also helps you to stop storing fat. Again, can’t beat that.

So, this year, I’ve ditched my self-defeating belief that I have to workout for a certain length of time or burn a certain number of categories. And I’m just moving my body. Six days a week – with one day off.

So far, this is the workout, but it’s subject to change:

M. W. F.:
30 minutes cardio (the old fashion Nordic Track ski machine is my current activity of choice)
30 Kettle Bell Swings (20lb bell)
20 Butt lifts
30 Kettle Bell Swings (20lb bell)
30 Pointers (or whatever it is that you call that yoga pose where you start on your hands and knees and extend opposite arms and legs).

T. Th. Sa.:
30 minutes cardio
60 air squats
60 wall pushups
60 chest pulls
front plank 2×30 sec
left side plant 2×30 sec
right side plank 2×30 sec

Day off or yoga

I’m not burning many calories, but I am seeing some definition in my stomach again.

And on the days that I over sleep, I’ll reduce the cardio, because – as noted – 10 minutes is better than no minutes.

Back to Basics: Carving out the time to exercise

I’m thinking of starting a blog within a blog. Make sense or just plain silly? Maybe that’s what tags are for.

Regardless, these series of posts are going to detail me getting back to basics. These are the things that everyone knows about losing weight and exercise, but are the very ones that I somehow forgot to do.

Carve Out Time to Exercise.

Somehow I forgot this. Maybe it was when my thyroid was so crashed and I was in such a funk that I could barely get up or maybe it was when all of the work that I’d been putting off came due…seemingly in the same week. Regardless, I stopped exercising at the same time (that is, as soon as I got up) and then it just didn’t get done.

So perhaps I should be more specific: Carve out Time to Exercise First Thing in the Morning.

Exercising in the morning is good for a number of reasons:

1) it elevates your mood first thing
2) your body’s natural rhythms are primed to burn calories in the morning
3) it’s easier to actually get it done before the rest of your life (aka “real life”) starts rearing it’s ugly head.
4) it also encourages you to drink plenty of water straight out of the gate.

In order for me to carve out time for daily exercise, a couple of things had to change.

1) I had to start setting an alarm again (heck, I had to start setting two);
2) I had to get more efficient about the exercise I was going to do (especially now that classes are in); and
3) I had to get serious the night before and get all of my crap together (including my low fat, virtually no sugar, high protein, healthy carb lunch)!

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said basic.

Stay tuned….

Exiting the Roller Coaster (Becoming My Own Expert)

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while now. It’s definitely been a long time coming.

Exiting the Roller Coaster – appropriate, but not necessarily enlightening.

Becoming My Own Expert – probably a little more elucidating.

How about, Reclaiming the Owner’s Manual?

Last year was a year of experimentation and disappointments for me in terms of my health, my motivation, and – let’s get real – my weight.

It started with the food allergies: gluten, dairy, soy, and – as much as it pains me to admit it – nuts.

In an attempt to deal with those, I went raw and for 4 or 5 months, I felt great. In fact, in May, I felt (and looked, lest we forget that I am much more shallow and vain than I had ever given myself credit for) better than I had in my entire life. I also weight in at a slight 132.5 (a whole 100 pounds from my high weight recorded in the Weight Watchers office at 21st and Sheridan in 1986).

In June, things started to change.

My energy started flagging. I was no longer working. I could barely get out of bed and on the days that I managed it, I often spent the afternoons on the couch. I think the most worrisome thing for those closest to me was that I was no longer exercising. Not only did I not have the energy, I didn’t want to. Zero interest.

In an attempt to jumpstart my interest – in anything – I started looking to experts. I tried High Intensity Interval Training (which I hated) and, even though it worked for everyone else, it did nothing for me. I read a book where the authors suggested that counting calories was bad and that you should just eat slower and take more pleasure in your food.

Due to a strange twist of fate (numbness in my hands which resulted in a second degree burn), a neurologist did a panel of blood tests and as it turns out, I have Hashimoto’s disease, which means that my autoimmune system is attacking my thyroid. My chiropractor recommended that I start eating some cooked food. My health coach recommended that I start eating small amounts of animal protein at every meal and that I treat the underlying problem using herbal and nutritional supplements without taking the prescribed synthroid.

About this time, I also started working with a fitness coach, who convinced me to separate food from exercise. I took supplements, I cleansed. I didn’t take the medicine as prescribed. The thyroid numbers got worse and worse.

I took belly dancing, yoga. I danced in my living room.

You name it, I did it.

And I still felt like crap and still had no energy.

I cleansed again.

And still my clothes didn’t fit. In six months I had gained 16 pounds…. Ugly.

My mood swings were turning into tilt-a-whirls. I started the synthroid, while continuing the herbal treatment for the underlying adrenal exhaustion.

I have recalled my calorie tracking program and relinked calories in with calories out, even though I do know enough to know that not all calories are created equally.

This is not a New Year’s Resolution. This really is more of a state of the union. The state of the relationship between me and my body.

To date, we are stronger than we were just a few weeks ago.

Why? Because I’ve decided to stop listening to the experts and to really tune in to what I/we need to heal.

But trust us, we have a long way to go.

It’s funny, I used to know what worked for me, but in the last six months, I’ve felt completely out to sea. Not only out to sea, but out to sea without a map and, if truth be told, without a compass.

Over the next few days, I’m going to get serious about creating that map and putting it into place. I am also going to tune into the compass – that is, my intuitive knowledge about myself – that I have also been so steadfastly ignoring. I’m, importantly, I am going to use this blog as a personal and public tool for accountability as I turn this ship around and get headed in the right direction.

And over the next few weeks (and months, as I have no illusions that this can be undone as quickly as it was done), I will chronicle my fears, my frustrations, my joys, my successes, and my aspirations.

I love my body. It’s the only one I have and – barring all medical emergencies or miracles – the only one I’m likely ever to have.

If any of you would care to join me, I’d love for you to come along for the ride. Or if you’re simply willing to bear witness, I’d appreciate that too.