Archive for the ‘accountability’ Category

The little things and the unexpected shows of support

I had lunch today with two delightful young women.

One of them ordered her dessert first (so she’d have room for it), then took half of her seafood paella home! It was classic. The waitress blinked: You’re starting with the ice cream sundae?

Ah, to be in one’s twenties again! But I digress….

At the end of the meal (I skipped the sundae and stuck with my typical wood-fired vegetable spinach salad with salmon), they presented me with a small box.

Much to my delight, they had a necklace made for me, touting a message (or touchstone) that I had mentioned in a previous post: never more than today.

There’s even a four leaf clover charm for good luck, as “they couldn’t find one of a beet!”

It was a perfect gift. I absolutely loved it. But more importantly, and unbeknown to the givers, it came at a good time — a time when, for whatever reason, maintenance is becoming something of a challenge and I am having to rely more on alternative markers of success –that is, resting heart rate, the fit of my clothes, and tape measures to chart my progress.

So, thank you ladies, if you’re reading this. You couldn’t have given me a more perfect and motivating gift. I will cherish it always and do everything I can to live in accordance with its ideal.


Mixing it up and toning it (down)

Like most people, I am a creature of habit.

Over the last 30+ weeks, I realize that I have moved through 3 different phases of working out. In other words, whereas most people cross train I tend to do things in 10 week chunks.

Last summer, I was heavily ensconced in P90X. For those of you who haven’t seen the infomercials, it’s a total body program with a focus on upper body strength. I definitely lost inches, but not a lot of weight. In fact, I gained some, which was undoubtedly muscle.

In the fall, I continued on with parts of P90X (especially Yoga X) and added in really high intensity cardio — typically an hour on the tread climber or spinning, holding nothing back. I still didn’t lose weight — well, not much — but I kept the form.

In the winter, I dropped the weights and just went for the serious cardio — again, the tread climber and a spinning bike were my tools of choice. I was definitely in the more calories burned the better mindset. It was nothing for me to go work out an hour before teaching a spinning class! And more often than not, I kept my heart rate at the top of my aerobic zone or above. Indeed, around 3 days a week — at least — I was burning over a 1,000 a day in exercise. Eventually, however, I was also eating close to 2,000 calories a day in order to fuel my exercise habit. It was also easier to fool myself into believing that it was okay if I ate the chocolate croissant, because I had “worked it off”! In fact, what I was doing was starving my body of oxygen at the very times that it needed it the most!

Notably, I actually liked the hard exercise. I liked spending that much time in the gym. I liked the sweat and the stench of hard work. It made me feel like I’d actually accomplished something. What I didn’t like about it was that even with all that work, even with the consistent and often times steep calorie deficits, I still wasn’t losing weight. In fact, if felt like every time I had a glass of wine or anything at all, I’d glob on three pounds before it even got past my taste buds!

During the spring (since mid March), I switched modes. I stopped working out at a break neck speed. I started spending the bulk of my time at the low end of my aerobic training zone and I started implementing real warm ups and cool downs. Essentially, I started doing what people had been telling me for years. 10 minute warm up, 40 minutes in your training zone, and 10 minute cool down. Guess what? I started releasing weight. Not only did I start releasing weight, I did it in about half the time and with less wear and tear on the joints.

At first, when I started working out at 130-150 beats per minute (my real target zone) I thought: What a waste of time. This isn’t doing anything! But I was wrong. It did do something. I released the weight and it’s been easy to keep it from coming back. Granted, there have been minor bumps in the trend line, but nothing major. If you look at the trend line, it’s been slow and steady. In fact, I’m still releasing weight — though not nearly to the degree that I was in March and April. And that’s fine, because I don’t need to release it that fast. Indeed, I am actually at the point where I’m not sure if I need to release any more at all. Never thought I’d be in the position to say that before! (Which is probably why it never happened!)

Which brings me to my next 10 week cycle.

Despite my deep passion for cardio, my plan is to minimize its role in the next phase of my exercise career. I hope that by writing it down, I will commit to an even lower keeled routine for a while. One that includes some cardio (maybe every other day instead of five to six days a week and for maybe 30 minutes instead of an hour) and centers, instead, on a maintenance-oriented routine that includes toning, k-bells, and yoga. I’m thinking that yoga (60 to 90 minutes) and toning every other day would be a good thing.

My inner cardio-queen cries out in agony: Don’t do it!

The shift from weight loss to maintenance and overall fitness is challenging. Psychologically, it just feels wrong to exercise for an hour and a half to only burn 220 calories — my typical results after 90 minutes of flow yoga poses and balance postures. But I’m going to do it. As soon as spinning ends (June 11), it’s me, Michelle, Tony, and Jillian. Talk about changing your peer group!

Consider this my public declaration of commitment.

Men’s Health

Every year, MJ comes home with a “popular magazine” as his way of tuning into what’s going on in the world. Last year it was Cosmo (which we read together on the couch and laughed so hard we couldn’t take it anymore)! Thank God mother never let us have that in the house. Harlequin Romances, yes. Cosmo, no.

This year, it was Men’s Health, which, as it turns out, is the male version of Cosmo. Seriously, it was all about sex, nutrition, and exercise. And, more to the point, the headlines were almost identical: 125 Best Foods for Men, No-Diet Weight Loss Plan, 30 Red-Hot Sex Secrets, Strip Away Stress, 7 New Rules of Money & Women, Great Abs Made Easy, Melt Away Pounds! 15-Minute Fat Burners, Look Your Best Now! Interestingly, they also have a number of “Short Order Cook Recipes.” They’re obviously designed to impress a date, but they look pretty good. There are also a couple of other random tips in there that I may pass on later.

But the most interesting thing in there by far was an article — that looks like it be part of a series — called, It Works for Me: Master Your Domain.

This segment, or this month’s feature, was on actor Tyrese Gibson.

“Tyrese Gibson, star of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, gained weight and lost motivation. To right himself, he first had to change everything around him.”

On Maintenance:

“He lost his sense of consequence, he says. It’s easy to do: Accomplish something and your attitude can go from I’m working hard for this to This is mine. Do that and you’ve already failed. A boss doesn’t promote you because you did work hard. A woman doesn’t love you because you were devoted to her. They want you in the present and future tense. They expect you from here on in to work hard, to be devoted. Start coasting and you roll backward.”

On Modeling:

“We men have to put our pride and egos and just say, ‘You know what? I need help,'” Gibson says. “Bring something to the table. To somebody who has the keys to whatever door you’re trying to go through, say, ‘Look, man, I have five keys of my own, but I’m trying to figure out how to get these other keys.’

Think of of it this way: Every man is surrounded by better men. A man who’s more financially secure than you are can teach you something, and chances are he can learn something from you. So approach him. Collaborate. Successful men aren’t symbols of your inferiority; they’re examples worth engaging.”

On Upgrading Your Peer Group:

“The five people you spend most of your time with will dictate how far your life and career will go. Slobs will make you a slob. Gibson loved fried calamari, and he had friends who bought it for him all the time. But if you’re friends work hard and eat right, you’ll be embarrassed to eat fried anything around them.

It isn’t easy to switch friends. Gibson knows that. It took him months: less time with this person, more time with that one. Scoops of fried calamari gave way to scoops of tuna on lettuce, now his regular lunch. Guys at the gym taught him new exercises. He runs five miles a day on a treadmill. He lifts regularly.”

I liked this for a number of reasons. One, it reinforces things I already know, which is always good. But, two, this series also gives us a chance to model someone who has been there. As embarrassing at it may sound, something tells me that I may have to start spending more time at Borders lurking in the magazine section!

So far so good: Over-scheduled! Update

I got up this morning, late and feeling tired. Instead of sticking to yesterday’s plan, I immediately started working and then when I realized that I wouldn’t get in a full hour of exercise, I decided to skip the workout. I worked some more and then thought: What the heck are you doing?! You know you have a tough day ahead, get up and get to the gym. Less is better than nothing! I threw my exercise clothes on, packed a bag and was out the door in 15 minutes. I got to the gym at 7:15, got on the elliptical — my four favorite cardio machines were unavailable, which I also found irritating– at 7:20, plugged in 40 minutes.

So, I only burned 375 calories instead of 550. It was better than nothing.

I took a quick shower, grabbed my computer, and headed to the dinner.

Immediately, I was tempted by the “Healthy Option: Light Multigrain Waffle filled with Oats and Walnuts, Served with Fresh Strawberries, Real Vermont Butter and Maple Syrup.” (I’d hate to see the Unhealthy Options — oh yeah, that would be the rest of the menu). My bad. I was particularly tempted when a waitress brought one to the woman sitting less than two feet to my right. It looked — and smelled — delicious!

With much gritting of the teeth, I decided, believe it or not, to stick with the plan. I ordered (and eventually enjoyed) my bowl of fresh fruit and pot of orange spice herbal tea, not to mention the conversation with the visiting scholar.

Now, you may be wondering if was “the plan” that kept me from ordering the “Healthy Option” as opposed to the pre-planned bowl of fruit. I’m not so sure to tell you the truth. But having thought about the challenges facing me before hand and actually writing it out was a powerful exercise. Though, it may have been the pseudo-calorie calculation I did, which put the waffle at 400 calories — that is, 400 without the butter, strawberries, or syrup — versus my 100 calorie fruit bowl, which I knew from experience was comprised mostly of melon!

On to the pub.

So a few hours later, I head over the pub with my students. From a health perspective, the menu was horrifying.

I ordered a spinach salad and added salmon. Hands down: the worst lunch/dinner salad I’ve ever had.

The spinach was wilted (and not in a warm spinach salad sort of way, but rather in a I’ve been sitting in a plastic bag for a week sort of way) and the salmon was so dry and salty that it stuck to my tongue.

Now, normally I try to avoid what nutrition coach Sonni Tallent refers to as “Ick” food (or food that you’ve had in the fridge a day — or three — too long, but you eat it anyway because it’s there), but in this case, I was hungry and my students had invited me. Besides, the conversation was awesome, and sometimes that’s all that really matters. I picked through the salad and left half of the salmon on the plate.

As soon as I left, I went back to the office and downed 16 ounces of Perfect Food (as a detoxing move) and 16 ounces of herbal tea. Note to self: drink way more water than normal before going to bed!

So, to my best guess, I have consumed 850 calories, which leaves me with 650 for the banquet later this evening. Hopefully I can keep it under 500, so I can go home and have the dessert of my choice. If not, I’ll either skip dessert or have it anyway!

So, what did I learn?

On challenging days, it’s good to try to think them through the day before and do your level best to stick to the plan to the best of your ability. And, if you’re anything like me (who tends to have an all or nothing attitude) it’s also a good idea to try to stick to them as long as you can — as who knows what might have happened had I derailed myself early by either failing to go to the gym or ordering the waffle (or both).

The really important thing to note, however, is that I wasn’t “perfect,” at any point at the day. I didn’t exercise the amount I wanted to. I really had to think long and hard about not getting the waffle. And I had something for lunch that had enough salt in it to preserve a horse.

But I was close at each stage of the game.

More importantly, I was closer than I would have been if I hadn’t thought it through and had a plan to which I felt at least marginally accountable.

The good news is that I’m sure that the certainty that I have gained in my ability to navigate obstacles and to make the healthiest choices I can will see me safely – and happily — through dinner, not to mention any of the other myriad of opportunities to overeat that I have facing me in the coming weeks!

Sugar Stacks — a visualization of the amount of sugar in a variety of foods

This jewel came from Meg! Thanks!

I wonder if there is a sister site for what the 40 grams of fat in your typical Whopper really looks like? If not, there should be!

Getting Real About Calories

As I have been talking with various people about diet and weight loss, I’ve come to realize that most people have no idea how many calories that they’re eating in a meal, let alone in a day. So it seems to me that the number one thing that people need to do is get aware of what (and how much) they’re putting in their mouth and how much effort at the gym (or wherever) it’s going to take to get it off their hips!

There have been a number of studies lately about how good people are at estimating the number of calories things have in them; and guess what? It depends! But some interesting trends are apparent. Thin people tend to be more accurate when estimating the number of calories in a meal, whereas overweight people tend to underestimate them. Interesting? Well, it gets better. As it turns out, this really has nothing to do with body weight, but rather that people (regardless of weight) tend to be better at estimating small meals rather than large meals. And overweight people tend to eat larger meals than thinner people. So, hidden tip: Eat smaller meals!

So, how does one go about getting real about calories?

I recently stumbled across this website, where someone had taken photographs of everything in their kitchen that amounted to 200 calories, just to get an idea of what 200 calories actually looked like. Notice the tiny blob of my personal favorite–peanut butter–compared to the platter of kiwi!!

Another way is to simply keep a detailed food diary (meaning amounts as well as items) and to do a quick calorie count. There are a ton of calorie counting websites out there. My personal favorites are Calorie King, Calorie Count, and the Daily Plate. Though sometimes I just type in the words “beets calories” –that is, I’m eating beets–and Google will take me right where I need to be.

My personal strategy is to create an excel book with three worksheets.

The first sheet is the things that I tend to eat over and over (or things I make by recipe). I got the calorie counts for these all in one setting, because I know that I will be entering them over and over.

The second sheet is titled, Food and Exercise. This is where I do the calories in and the calories out.

On the third worksheet, Daily Totals, I add the calories burned in daily exercise to my personal BMR x 1.1 (because I have a relatively sedentary lifestyle) and subtract the calories I consume. On this page, I also keep track of my weigh-ins and my measurements.

Although I hated keeping a traditional food diary when I was in Weight Watchers, I get a tremendous amount of pleasure with my excel sheet. Maybe it’s the little kid in me that used to sit around and play with the adding machine!

Now, Michael is not a fan of the excel sheet; he’s much more techie than I am! He’s got an iPhone and he is a huge fan of the app, Lose-It. Unfortunate name, but a marvelous tracking device. Not only does it keep track of your calories, it also keeps track of your nutrients! Besides that, it’s super easy to use and it gives you an excuse to whip out your iPhone at dinner, which in most men’s worlds, is always a plus!

Now notice that I keep track of my calories burned just as I do the calories consumed. This is essential. Because there’s nothing more sobering than getting off a spinning bike after an hour of hard work and realizing, wow, all that effort and I just barely worked off that impulse scone from Panera.

Once you get real about about calories–that is, how easy it is to eat them and how much effort it takes to use them–it’s easier to make choices that support your goals instead of those that undermine them!

Defining Success

After an hour of aerobic conditioning, I stepped on the scale: 143.2! I had gained 2.2 pounds! Ouch!

“That was fast,” my little voice snarked. “I knew it wasn’t maintainable!”

Ignoring it, I quickly ran through a little checklist:

Had I put anything in my body that was not serving my goals? No.

Had I put too much of anything in my body that was not serving my goals? No.

Had I continued doing what I know works? Yes.

Had I had anything salty for dinner? No.

What date was it? Bingo!

Given the nature of bodies (especially female bodies), not to mention the inconsistencies of measuring devices, I have decided to define success–that is, successful maintenance–as staying within 3 pounds of my target weight (either way).

In other words, like any good statistician, I have given myself a margin of error. As long as I stay within that six pound spread (which is a pretty generous spread) I’m golden.

No why would I do that? Because weighing alone is not reliable. Having an acceptable range (as opposed to number) will prevent me from freaking out or defining myself as a failure and then, either tacitly or explicitly, giving myself permission to quit.

This way, when I hit that upper three pound threshold, I simply know that I need to reduce my calories again. When I go too low, I know that I need to add in more calories of the type that I had been eating when I was losing–that is, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. This does not mean that I just get to start adding in junk. And this most certainly does not mean that I get to dive head first into a jar of peanut butter!

So, I am at the upper end of the threshold; does this mean I need to stop eating or go back to the gym? Does this mean I should quit and see if I can get those 10s back from Talbots? No, it simply means I need to reduce my calories by about 300 a day and see that tomorrow brings.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Office Candy Jar

Most of us have them; they’re typically perched on a desk in the main thruway. I must walk by ours every day at least two dozen times. In the good old days, I used to grab a piece (or two, or three). Luckily, we have hard candy now (as opposed to the mini-Hershey bars that I used to delude myself about) and it’s easier to resist. But I still would pick up my requisite handful (some days one at a time, sometimes two at a time).

I started thinking about it and ran a couple of quick calculations.

The candy in our office candy bowl has approximately 24 calories per piece. Not so bad, right?

If you had one piece of hard candy every work day (252 work days a year), you’re consuming 6,048 calories of refined sugar a year; that’s 1.73 lbs.

But who just eats one? Two pieces a day is 12,096 calories a year: 3.47 lbs.

And my personal favorite (and I’ll stop here)–four pieces a day: 6.91 lbs a year! And that’s from the hard candy–butterscotch, peppermint, cinnamon disk variety that no one really likes. That’s all from stuff that you eat just because it’s there!

I cringe when I think about the years that we had mini-snickers, for example.

Again, let’s look at the numbers for those:

1 a day: 3.24 lbs a year
2 a day: 6.48 lbs a year
4 a day (because they’re really not that big, right?): 12.96 lbs a year!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat them, but just think about it before you pop one into your mouth!

A New Spin on Accountability

I’m not sure how it works, but it might be interesting for those people who need a little bit of incentive, in any area of their life: StickK.