Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Week 9: Secret

I recently had someone ask me for the secret to my fitness success.  I had to really think about that question, because I’ve reached the point where a lot of what I do is habit, so I don’t really think about it much anymore.  I’m also hesitant to answer that question because I’ve learned that what works for me may not work for another person.  At the same time, it was an honest question, and I felt I should try to give some sort of answer.  So, after some focused thought on the matter, I came up with this list:

  1. Exercise regularly.
  2. Watch what you eat and count calories
  3. Hold yourself accountable.
  4. Make changes to your internal dialogue.

Exercise regularly.  If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, you really do have to exercise, and you need to do so on a regular basis.  Even if it’s just a 20 minute walk once a day, it’s better than not exercising at all.  More importantly, if you set a regular exercise routine for yourself and stick to it, it becomes habit.  I went from thinking “Oh, God, I have to exercise today!” to “It’s an exercise day, time to hit the gym!” because at this point it’s just routine.  These days, NOT hitting the gym on my designated days feels weird!

Watch what you eat and count calories.  I touched on the calorie thing in depth last week, but I feel it bears repeating.  If you consume more calories than your body burns, you’ll gain weight.  If you’re trying to lose weight, then knowing how many calories you’re consuming is important.  At the same time, you have to eat the right kind of calories!  100 calories of vegetables is more nutritious and will satisfy your hunger much longer than 100 calories of cake will.  I’ve drastically cut down on the intake of fat, sugar, salt and overly processed foods.  I also eat more vegetable protein than animal protein.  Yes, there is a lot of controversy over whether or not we really need meat in our diets, but in my own experience I’ve found that I feel a whole lot healthier eating more plant than animal.

Be accountable.  This one is really important to me, because if I know someone is going to call me on the carpet for NOT doing what I said I was going to do, I’m much more likely to follow through!  I post both my exercise adjustments and my weight losses/gains on Facebook for all my friends to see.  If posting publicly doesn’t work for you, then find someone who is willing to hold you accountable for your goals.  I do have one friend in particular that is very good at kicking me into gear when I’m having one of those “I don’t want to do this today!” moments.

Make changes to your internal dialogue.  Internal dialogue is that ongoing conversation we have with ourselves in our heads.  It is a powerful thing and strongly affects our actions, even though we may not realize it.  A year ago my internal dialogue was downright toxic.  It was so bad that I’d start a diet and less than 24 hours later I was already throwing in the towel because my inner dialogue had convinced me that I couldn’t do it because I’d failed so many times before.  Most of the sentences in my internal conversation contained words like “can’t”, “impossible”, “failure”, and “never”.  The thing was, I didn’t even realize it until a close friend started to correct me when I’d say some of those things out loud.  I started paying attention to what I was telling myself, and had to work very, very hard to rewrite that internal dialogue.  A year ago my internal dialogue was telling me there was no way in Hell I’d ever be able to run two blocks, much less five kilometers.  I know better now, because I made a conscious effort to stop using words like “can’t” and “never” in my internal dialogue.  It made a HUGE difference.

So, there you have it, my “secret” to success.  There are other things that help me on my fitness journey, but I believe that these four items have been most important.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Week 8: Calories

Calories.  Those little units of energy-producing potential that are in everything we eat.  We need calories to function properly, but the question is, do we really need to count them? I’ve had more than one person tell me that I should stop counting calories, that it doesn’t really matter if you count them, and that I’m just stressing myself out.  My knee-jerk reaction is to get angry, but then I remind myself that they are just trying to be helpful.  So, I just smile and nod.  

Eventually I searched the internet for “reasons I should not count calories” and was rewarded with something like 17 million hits.  I read close to a dozen articles and blog posts on the topic, including this, this, and this.  There were similar themes in each of these articles, even though they were presented a little differently.  To touch on each would take me hours, but these 4 seemed to pop up the most:
  1. Counting calories and having to measure your food takes the joy out of eating and is stressful.
  2. You’re probably underestimating the calories you’re eating and overestimating the calories you’re burning.
  3. Counting calories teaches you to ignore your natural satiety cues.
  4. Caloric quality matters more than caloric quantity

Let’s start with point one.  I think today’s technology pretty much makes it obsolete.  Yes, counting calories was a chore...when I was in grade school.  Now?  Not so much.  Google the words “calorie counting apps” and I think you’ll see what I mean.  There are apps that will not only give you the calorie counts of numerous common foods, but they’ll find grocery brands and restaurant foods for you, too.  They’ll also take your age, height, weight and gender and calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) for you.  Then all you have to do is tell it how much weight you want to lose per week and it will give you your daily calorie goal.  It will also take into account any exercise you do and adjust the calories accordingly.  Does this sound hard?  Does this sound stressful?  Seriously, I enjoy playing with my calorie tracking app.  It’s fun as hell, and it will even email me weekly reports.  

Moving on to point two, again, I think technology makes it obsolete.  See the above paragraph regarding the part about underestimating the calories you’re eating.  As for overestimating the calories you’re burning, there are wonderful little bits of technology out there that can be worn on the wrist or the waistband that keep track of the steps you take, the miles you’ve walked/run, and the calories you’ve burned.  And it’s not a generic guesstimate, either.  These things take into account your weight and the level of activity.  So, while the calories burned may not be on the nose, it’s close enough to be of value if you’re keeping track.  And it’s easy.

I think that point three is meant for people that have a somewhat “normal” relationship with food.  I do not.  In an earlier blog post I established the fact that I have a food addiction.  There are certain foods and situations that are as dangerous to me as a glass of wine is to an alcoholic.  That being the case, I’ll ignore those “natural satiety cues” even when I’m not counting calories.  That’s the nature of my relationship with food.  Do alcoholics stop drinking when when they feel slightly tipsy?  Well, when I’m not counting calories and in the middle of a food binge, I can guarantee you that I’m not stopping, even when I start to feel full.   In fact, in these instances, it’s knowing how many calories I’m about to put into my mouth that often gives me enough willpower to stop before I start.

To a point, I agree with point five.  Caloric quality matters far more than quantity.  100 calories of sweet potato is FAR better for you than 100 calories of cake.  Whole grain bread is way better than Wonder White.  So, yeah, in that sense, I agree.  However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.  The bottom line is, if you eat more calories than you burn, you’re going to gain weight.   Eating “quality” calories only works if you don’t eat too many of them, and the only way I can tell if I’m eating too many is if I track them.

So, do I really need to count calories?  Others might not need to, but in my case, the answer is definitely “yes”.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Week 7: Doubt

Yesterday I hit the proverbial wall in the midst of my training routine.   My joints once again forced me to remember that I am human and that yes, I have limitations.  I’ve been working through the pain pretty well, but yesterday when I made it home from the gym the first thing I did was take four ibuprofen and then I jumped into a hot shower.  As I stood under the steaming water and let it work magic on the pain in my lower back and knees, I heard my inner voice ask “Are you sure you can do this running thing?”

And I didn’t know how to answer that doubting voice.   I’d like to do this.  I’d like to be able to run a marathon sometime in the future, as that was my goal when I started.  I want it bad enough that the little roadblocks my body keeps tossing at me more often than not bring me to frustrated tears.  I don’t want to give up on this dream.  I feel like it’s the first worthwhile goal I’ve had in years, and I don’t want to quit.  Not now, not ever.

But every time I have to work through the pain that voice of doubt comes back, and I have to argue it back into its box and tell it to shut up, that we can’t really know what the Future will bring.  I tell it that all I care about is the Now, because that is all that matters at this point.  I can run now, even if I have to work through pain to do it.   And indeed, I can run longer today than I could even three weeks ago.  Eight months ago I weighed 344 pounds and could barely walk around the block.  Since then I’ve lost close to 90 pounds and I can easily walk over three miles in less than an hour.

So after looking back and seeing my progress, I think I’ll have an answer for that doubting voice the next time it escapes the box I keep it in.  Yes, as of Now, I can do this, and that is all that really matters.  One day at a time, and as I continue to make progress, I’m pretty sure the Future will take care of itself.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Week 6: Disappointment

This past week my Tuesday afternoon trip to the gym was excruciating. My knees started to ache halfway through my training routine, and while I worked through the pain and finished my workout, I still had to come to terms with the fact that my body was trying to tell me something. Up until that point I’d been running and walking six days a week, but my knees were telling me that something needed to change. Ten minutes later I’d come to the conclusion that I needed to add another rest day to my week. And the disappointment came rushing in.

Disappointment is an emotion that I experience a lot on this journey. This past Sunday I felt it when I weighed in, only to discover that the scales hadn’t moved at all. I feel it whenever I pull my favorite pair of jeans out of the closet and discover I’m not quite small enough yet to get back into them. I feel it when I flip over that box of cookies I really, really want only to discover that the calorie count on even half a serving is far greater than what I’m willing to allow.

Sometimes I have no problem shaking it off. I shrug and think “Oh well, there’s always tomorrow”, and life goes on. Other times I allow regret to ride the disappointment’s coat-tails, and then dealing with the emotion is much more difficult. I start to second-guess my choices and wonder what I could have done differently to make things turn out the way I wanted them to, and then I feel more disappointment as I think about what could have been if only I’d done that one thing differently. It turns into a vicious cycle that can be dangerous for an emotional eater like me. In the past moments like this would have completely derailed me and I would have thrown in the proverbial towel and followed it up with a 1000 calorie bowl of ice cream.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to remind myself that I am human and that I don’t need to regret every mistake I make on this journey. I’ve learned that for every disappointment I face there are dozens of other things that turn out okay and bring joy to my life. I know it sounds cliché, but there really is something to be said for finding silver linings in every cloud. If I focus on my accomplishments rather than my disappointments I begin to understand that my victories far outweigh my failures, and I can shake that disappointment off and journey on.