Monday, February 28, 2011

Weigh-in no. 27

Ok, so I've been reluctant to write this post.  Not because it's bad, but I just haven't been feeling it this week.  My loss has slowed down to a trickle, despite the fact that I think I did pretty well last I'm wondering if I'm on a plateau or if my eating needs a shake-up again.

To be honest, I don't feel like hashing it out right now because I don't have any answers.  Yet, I made the decision to be accountable by posting every week and while I'm a couple days late on it, I can't not post just because I don't feel like it.

So, here goes....

Last week:    286.2
This week:    286.0      
Loss of          -  0.2
Total Loss     - 41 lbs

So, there it is.  .2 lbs loss.  At least it's a loss.  I know that.  And if I let myself, I'd be irritated.  But I know it doesn't do any good.  Just gotta keep on going, adjust what needs to be adjusted and the bigger losses will come back.

As for adjustments, there's a few coming down the pike that may make a difference:
  • Jim is starting a new job on Thursday as head chef of a local restaurant here in Belfast and so he'll be away for dinner-time most evenings of the in some ways, there'll be more flexibility for me to fix things he wouldn't normally eat that may help me keep going.
  • Lent begins next week and I have decided to go pescatarian (vegetarian that eats fish & seafood - but no land animals) for the 40 days of lent.  I'm actually quite excited about it!  I definitely want to "beef up" (ha!) my vegetarian recipe repertoire and while I'm comfortable cooking shellfish, I rarely cook fish, so this will push my boundaries a bit.
  • I am going to enroll in an "improvers" swimming class next week (to start the week after), so I'll be taking a swimming class once a week for the next 8 weeks and get a different kind of activity in more often.
  • The sun is shining in Northern Ireland!!  Luna and I had our first walk at the park of the season this past week and so I'm looking forward to more outside activity now that the weather is a bit more hospitable.
  • I've visited the local equestrian center (about 2 miles from our house) to get information on lessons and riding again (it's been about 15 years since I've ridden!).  It seems completely do-able, despite the fact that it's English-style, so I think that'll be something I'll try to pursue in the coming weeks provided I don't have to buy a whole load of kit.  I miss being around horses and think it'll be a nice switch-up on the physical activity front.
So that's me.  It feels like a fairly uninspiring week, but it's ok.  February wasn't much of a barn-burner as far as weight loss is concerned, but March is full of new opportunities!

Oh, and by the way, I'll be late posting the next weigh-in as well as I'm out of town to speak at a conference this coming weekend.  So look for the next weigh-in post on Monday or Tuesday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Music to sweat by

Music is so important in all aspects of life, but particularly when you need some motivation to move, keep up a particular pace and stick with it. A playlist that has a song that is too slow for what you want to be doing is the pits.

I've had a great playlist this week while running and working out so I thought I'd share it with you. It starts with a couple warm up songs, then 3-4 running-then-walking songs, then some hard stuff to make me push on the elliptical and then some other stuff for weights and generally feeling good about what I've done.

Working out is not the time for me to listen to new music. I need familiar stuff - stuff that I already have a connection with and good feelings about. So you'll probably see mostly stuff you might already know.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gym talk: exercise as punishment or pleasure?

I had an interesting experience at the gym yesterday.

As I was stretching in the locker room before starting, another woman came in and asked: 

"Are you cooling off or about to go in?"
"I'm about to go in," I said.
"Oh, good luck. Thankfully, I'm finished torturing myself."

An hour or so later after finishing, I was walking back to the locker room and another woman who had been in the gym the whole time I was there followed me in.  As we got to our lockers, she said:

"Hard work, eh? I'm done with punishing myself for the day..."
"Oh, I don't think it's punishment,"  I said.
"It's hard to keep reminding yourself you're worth it," she stated.
"I think it's amazing to see what your body can do. I couldn't run 20 seconds when I started. Now I can run 6 minutes," I said.
She didn't reply.

Medieval depictions of flagellants
(image in public domain)
I was struck by the fact that two different women in the course of a little more than an hour referred to what they were doing that morning as some form of punishment.  I thought about how I used to feel about exercise, and how my mind has changed.

That frame of mind reminds me of self-flagellation - that practice that some priests, monks and other religious individuals use whereby they beat themselves physically (as well as mentally and spiritually, I can imagine) in order to punish themselves for committing sin, to purify themselves, or to share in the suffering of martyrs and other figures in their religious history.

An equivalent: you go to the gym to sweat it out and pay physical penance for the cookie you ate yesterday, or the binge you had this morning or the pie you were tempted to eat. 

It's totally disordered thinking.  It's unhealthy and does nothing for achieving balance and sustainable transformation.  It's a form of torture. Self-inflicted, but torture nonetheless.   And if you think of exercise as punishment, there's no way in hell you're going to be able to convince yourself you're worth it.

'Cause nothing says "I'm worth it" more than being told you're "a worthless piece of sh*t"
(image appears to be in public domain)
Of course, there are some who enjoy pain.  There are some who enjoy being screamed at.  I know that, and lord knows I'm not going to try to figure all that out here.

But I think there needs to be some serious talking going on about the whole bullshit idea that suffering is redemptive. The theologian in me wants to pick that all apart here, go into the evolution of atonement theories, why people feel the need to suffer, the power issues behind the pain and punishment, etc., but I won't (because this isn't a theology blog).

Instead, I'll say this: 

Exercise should not be punishment or feel like torture. 

If it is, either your head's not right about it or you need to find something else to do that doesn't feel like torture (or maybe both).  If it feels like punishment or torture, your mind is naturally going to be reluctant to do it, you'll find excuses, and overall it will be unsustainable.  The purpose should be striving for balance, not beating yourself up.  By all means, push yourself, sweat, and increase your endurance - but get there by doing something you're proud of, not something that is linked with feelings of shame and regret.

I want to give a shout out to my friend Marnie who decided to get more active, started running, realized she hated it and has gone back to walking (which she loves).  That was an excellent decision and I'm so happy for her!  Don't do stuff you hate!  (although, I would encourage exploring why you hate it - do you hate it because of how it makes you feel (i.e., because you let it defeat you) or because you just simply don't like it?)  Find stuff to do that you love or that makes you feel good about yourself, your capabilities and where you're going. 

Question for comment:
What do you love doing?  What exercise do you do that makes you feel good about yourself?  And what feels like torture?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weigh-in no. 26, grief & working through the grammar of my fears

Welcome to another week and another weigh-in....

Weigh-in no. 26 (- .6 lbs)

Last week:    286.8
This week:    286.2      
Loss of          -  0.6
Total Loss     - 40.8

It seems like every time I cross a big milestone, I have a week or two afterwards where I flounder a bit, get a little cocky, take a couple steps back, and generally lose a little momentum.  This week is no different, but I think I've finally recognized it.  Now, figuring out what to do about it is another question.  Ride it out, I suppose, is the best thing to do.  Let it be what it is, lean into it, explore it and remember to be gentle with myself as this is a process and not something I will figure out overnight.

But it does make me wonder: why do I do flounder after a milestone?  The weird thing is that I see two conflicting things at work in my mind simultaneously as I reflect on it:
  1. I get overly confident.  I think I have this whole 'losing weight thing' licked.  I seem to have this whole "Step back, it's ok; I've got this" attitude going on that is really empowering in a lot of ways but serves to probably shoot myself in the foot.  Then I have a week like this and I get taken down a peg or two and am back in the real world where losing weight requires a lot of mental and physical hard work, and I'm forced to get real again.
  2. I begin to doubt, wonder if I really need to keep going and get fearful of the unknown of being successful.  There's a part of me that worries about that unknown - what life will be like, what will change, how people will treat me, and what expectations come along with being thinner that I wasn't aware of.  And so I slow down, unsure of the future and whether or not I really want to go down that path.  My need for control has always made the unknown much more scary than is, perhaps, expected or normal.

It's further proof that the majority of the work in this losing weight business is mental - not physical - which, I think, surprises most people and also is why folks don't keep the weight off sometimes.  It's why I haven't kept the weight off when I've lost in the past.  You gotta deal with those demons.  You can't just eat 1,200 calories and exercise 6 hours a day (and who's got time to do that anyway??) and expect that you've got it whipped, because you don't. 

And there's something else that I think is rarely talked about among those who are on this type of  journey that I've been thinking about recently.  We hardly ever talk about grief.

We're expected to be happy about these changes (and we get pep talks from folks to remind us to be happy) and to voice concern, feeling lost, not knowing who we are and what'll be there for us when we get there isn't given as much time or attention as I think it should.

You want to lose a significant amount of weight (I'm talking about more than 5-10 lbs)?  Great!  But anything lost that played any sort of role in your life has the potential to induce grief.  In short, loss = grief.  We all know you feel grief when you lose something/someone close to you, but you can feel grief when you lose a job, when you become a mother and lose that identity of being without a child or the experience of being pregnant, when you get married and lose the identity of being single... 

Weight loss isn't any different.  

My weight has been close to me, a constant companion my whole life.  It's a part of me.  It's defined who I've been for almost 30 years.  It has protected me.  It has been a part of almost every decision I've made.  It has traveled the world with me cramped into airplane seats and being hauled around like excess baggage, and people recognize me when it's accompanying me.

The grief comes when you realize that that person you were - the person you don't recognize in the pictures anymore - is gone (or going).  It comes when who you thought you were in that skin, in those sized jeans, ceases to exist to some extent.  It is a death (even if it's one you sought out and will be good for you)....and it's something I'm starting to recognize.  It's not terribly strong at the moment, but I know it's there and will accompany me as I continue to go through this process.  I know it will get stronger.  I know that without carrying around all this weight in the coming months has the potential to set me adrift.  I know I'm going to have to explore and figure out who I am without it.

And I've got to be honest: that's really scary.

But as the brilliant Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls wrote: 

I begin my studies with this paper and this pencil 
and I'm working through the grammar of my fears...

- "Language or the Kiss" from Swamp Ophelia

In an effort to do that, I think it's time I post new progress photos:

        11 Aug 2010 (327 lbs)                   3 Oct 2010 (312 lbs)               20 Feb 2011 (286.2 lbs)

        11 Aug 2010 (327 lbs)                   3 Oct 2010 (312 lbs)           20 Feb 2011 (286.2 lbs)

  11 Aug 2010 (327 lbs)             3 Oct 2010 (312 lbs)           20 Feb 2011 (286.2 lbs)

 11 Aug 2010 (327 lbs)                       3 Oct 2010 (312 lbs)                           20 Feb 2011 (286.2 lbs)

And so I decide to ride it out...

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear.
My friends and I have had a tough time,
bruising our brains, hard up against change
all the old dogs and the magician 

Now I see we're in the boat in two by twos;
only the heart that we have for a tool we could use.
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to;
love weighs the hull down with its weight.

But the wood is tired and the wood is old;
and we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds
will we have missed the point?
That's were I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
was built by other than a greater hand,
With a love that passes all our understanding
watching closely over the journey.
Yeah, but what it takes to cross the great divide
seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside.
But we get to have some answers when we reach the other side;
the prize is always worth the rocky ride.

But the wood is tired and the wood is old;
and we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds
then we'll have missed the point.
That's where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look,
skip to the final chapter of the book.
And maybe steer us clear from some of the pain that it took
to get us where we are this far.
But the question drowns in its futility,
and even I have got to laugh at me,
'Cause no one gets to miss the storm of what will be;
just holding on for the ride.

The wood is tired the wood is old;
and we'll make it fine if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds 
Then we'll have missed the point
that's where I need to go.

- "The Wood Song" from Swamp Ophelia by The Indigo Girls
written by Emily Saliers

The ride will get rockier and my fears will continue.  They'll change and evolve as I do.  But I am being watched over by love that passes all understanding as I continue along this journey.  It'll be ok.  And the lessons learned along the way will be invaluable.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Bake your own bread!

    In our effort to eat cleanly (no preservatives, no artificial flavors, all pronounceable & known ingredients, etc.), we've started baking our own bread. 

    When I tell most people that, they're immediately impressed.  Another response is, "Oh.  Well.  You live with a chef who can just whip up that sort of thing."  Yes, he can.  But seriously, folks, it's not hard.  At least not the way we do it.

    My bff Suzanne has been doing her own bread baking for a while now (a year? two years? I can't keep track).  When I saw her do it, I was intrigued and - as I said above - impressed.  Fresh homemade bread always available.  Sounds amazing and time-consuming.  But it's so not!

    And so she bought us the book for Christmas that she uses.  It's called "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" and it's amazing!  The best thing is that it doesn't require any kneading and you can make a mix (good for 3-4 loaves) and store it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, baking only what you need each time.  We've enjoyed having fresh bread these last few weeks, knowing exactly what is in it (flour, yeast, water and salt) and the smells that come from the kitchen when it's baking.   The master recipe is easy to remember and the book includes lots of variations on the master recipe, including how to make bagels, challah, cinnamon rolls, and pizza dough.  It's definitely worth getting if you're interested in baking bread, yet feel intimidated by the process.  The book is really user-friendly and easy to understand (not full of baking jargon as some books are).  It's a great introduction if you want to start down the path of baking your own bread.

    Basically, what we do is mix up the dough in a big tupperware tub (something like this) and leave it out on the counter to rise for a couple hours (or longer if your kitchen is as cold as ours is).  After that, it's ready to be baked or stored in the fridge.  When you're ready to bake, pull out a grapefruit sized ball of dough, put it on the floured counter, shape it into a ball (no more than 1 minute - you're not kneading, but merely shaping), put it on a floured baking tray, cut a couple slices in the top for it to rise, let it rise for about 30-45 minutes (or longer, again, if your kitchen is cold) and then stick it into a hot oven with a little water in the bottom to create steam to help the crust get texture.  30 minutes later, and - Voila! - you have freshly-baked, warm, yeasty bread with crunchy crust!  Put the rest of the dough back in the fridge for the next day.  And if you want a sourdough taste, simply keep mixing the new batches of dough in the container without washing it out each time, as the old dough incorporates into the new dough and gives it the sourdough flavor.

    It sounds time-consuming, but it's really not.  Literally, it does just take about 5 minutes a day once you get the steps down.  It's super-easy and tastes a helluva lot better than store-bought bread, plus it's cheaper since a bag of flour and some yeast makes about 8 loaves for the price of 1 loaf of store-bought bread.

    As far as materials go, the only thing besides flour and yeast that we needed to buy in order to start baking our own bread was the large plastic tub to mix and store the dough in.  That's it.  The book calls for a pizza peel, baking stone, and a few other things, but you don't need them.  A non-stick baking sheet and some flour or cornmeal is all you need.

    Another method for no-knead baking is found in the book called "My Bread" by Jim Lahey who is the founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York.   There's differences between these two methods despite the fact that neither require kneading.  I don't have Lahey's book yet but want to get it at some point soon (see the link below for the comparison between the different methods).  Lahey's bread uses less yeast and bakes the bread in a cast iron dutch oven.

    So, if you fancy having a go, I highly recommend trying it out.  Short of using dead yeast (check your use-by dates!) or not letting the bread be in a warm place or sit long enough to rise properly, it's pretty fool-proof.  And the best thing is that you know where your food is coming from and what's in it. 

    Some other links on the interwebs related to the No-Knead Breadmaking method:

    Questions for comment: What are some things you've always wanted to try making, but felt intimidated? 

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Weigh-in no. 25: Drum roll please.....

    So, it's week 25.  I've been at this for about 6 months now.  Today is a milestone, whether I like it or not.

    So without further ado....

    weigh-in no. 25 (-1.6)

    Last week:    288.4
    This week:    286.8      
    Loss of          -  1.6
    Total Loss     - 40.2

    I have lost 40.2 lbs!!
    (or in English measurements: 2 stone 12 lbs)

    The uncanniness (sp?) of it is not lost on me.  I'm at week 25 and I've lost 25% of the weight I want to lose.  Kinda cool, yet strange, eh?  But seriously, I am proud.  Do I have a ways to go yet?  Absolutely.  But what I've been able to do so far is pretty dang cool.  People get to do commercials for Weight Watchers for losing less than this!

    There are times when I wish I were losing faster.  A 40 lb loss is nothing to sneeze at, but I had wanted to have lost 50 lbs by the end of the year.  But as I've said before, I think I'm doing great despite that.  I think the pace I'm losing is good, healthy (physically and mentally), and sustainable.  And I'm aware that a lot of people struggle to get to that point, so I am super-happy about that.  I am NOT complaining.

    I have a few things I've realized in the last couple weeks:
    1. I have no intention of getting bony, but it's nice to start feeling the contours of my body underneath all my 'fluff'.  You can't see them yet, but I can feel my collarbones, hip bones, jaw bone and I can feel the definition of my muscles and bones around my knees and shins in ways I never remember doing before.  I find that I am touching myself in those places where bones are becoming uncovered and trying to familiarize myself with this new, different and changing body.
    2. The changes in my diet are sustainable and something I can easily do for the rest of my life.  There's been nothing drastic and nothing is off limits, but I find that I don't enjoy overeating anymore.  The misery of being too full isn't worth it.  I find that I crave fruit and vegetables (which I never thought I would).  I could easily eat a big bowl of sauteed zucchini/courgette over a plate of greasy pasta any day.  My portion sizes are smaller and I find quite a bit of satisfaction in recognizing when I'm full and able to push my plate away.  And I don't even count calories or keep a food log but just eat intuitively, with awareness in the back of my mind of what my per day caloric intake should be.
    3. I enjoy working out.  I look forward to going to the gym most days.  I enjoy getting sweaty, pushing myself, and seeing what I can do.  My body's abilities to adapt, get stronger and increase in endurance amazes me.  This past week, I was able to run 6 minutes straight (.48 mile), so this coming week, I will push myself and make sure I can run at least .5 mile if not further and maybe start working on increasing my pace from 4.8 mph as well. By the way, I'm enjoying this running regimen much more than the C25K programme!

    the obligatory sweaty-faced picture after working out earlier this week

    Another thing I've decided is that I'm going to start taking a swimming class.  It starts at my health centre in early March and it's a weekly "improvers" class to teach breathing and form, so I can finally learn how to swim properly.  I wonder if they teach the butterfly?  Plus, since I'm a member it's free!  (Have I said how much I love my gym??  I should post about it some week....)

    Without a doubt, I am celebrating these victories and feel great about where I am in this process.  

    But I want to set some new goals for myself to work toward.  It's 15 weeks until my birthday (3 June) and so by that time, I would like to:

    • have lost another 20 lbs (totaling 60 lbs)
    • be able to run 30 minutes consecutively (approx 2.5 miles)
    • be able to swim 1 mile

    Now that the weather is getting nicer (I see blue skies and sunshine!!), more physical activity outside should be easier to do in order to work toward these goals.  

    So here's to the next 25 weeks!!

    Question for comment:  What milestones have you met or are working toward?  What goals have you set for yourself?

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Are we born to run?

    Allusions to Bruce Springsteen aside, I watched this video this morning and was fascinated.  I'm not there yet and wouldn't yet call myself a runner (although, it does beg the question as to when or at what point can you call yourself that??), but what Christopher McDougall presents here was extremely thought-provoking.

    What if running is the key to a healthy, peaceful, close-knit human community? 

    Automatically, I began wondering (as is my norm) what studies had been done related to running and anger/stress levels?  How many dictators were runners, if any?  How many of the "highly effective" people in the world are runners?  What is the link between intense exercise, mental health and compassion toward others?

    I'm not sold completely that it's a 1-to-1 thing (because I've met some mean people who exercise regularly), but I am curious if there's something there.

    Have a watch and tell me what you think:

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Weigh-in no. 24

    weigh-in no. 24 (-0)

    Last week:    288.4
    This week:    288.4      
    Loss of          -    0
    Total Loss     - 38.6

    No loss.  No gain.

    I'm a little annoyed because I was hoping to have hit the 40lb mark this week.  However, for some reason, my eating was a bit out of control this week.  I didn't eat junk food, but just too much of everything.  For some reason, I was ravenous most of the week and found myself picking at food while making dinner, eating larger portions than I normally do, and still being hungry.  Not sure what's up there,  but will definitely pay more attention this coming week.

    But, I'm ok with having not lost anything this week because I have other victories.  I mentioned some earlier this week, such as being able to fit in the office chairs at work better, being able to cross my legs, and running 4.5 minutes straight.  However, by the end of the week, I was able to run  

    5.5 minutes!  

    Not huge by some people's standards, but huge for me and I'm ecstatic.  I almost cheered out loud in the gym when I did it.  So I'm going to go mark that "5 minute running non-stop" off my goals list.

    At the pace I run for now, that was .44 miles, so feasibly, this next week I should be able to run half a mile.  Plus, that same day I also walked 1.2 miles, did 15 minutes/1+ mile on the elliptical (which used to kill me in less than 3 minutes), and I can now do 60 reps of 65kg/143lbs on the leg press and 60 reps of 45kg/99lbs on the shoulder press.  I'm still getting stronger, my endurance is building, and I can feel it in my body.

    So, no loss today is annoying, but I'm alright.  I had other victories this week that I'm really happy with.

    I've also been inspired by my friend Michelle and Skinny Emmie's return to swimming and so I've committed to swimming at least once this coming week.  I love swimming, but haven't done it in so long even though I carry my swimsuit and swim cap in my gym bag all the time.  I do have some apprehensions about it though, which has kept me from swimming so far:
    • I usually forget to shave beforehand!  So I need to start carrying my razor with me just in case.
    • I've never really had proper swimming lessons, so I can swim fine but my form is terrible and I have difficulty swimming in a straight line, so I'm afraid I'm going to go into other people's lanes and start causing chaos (the pool doesn't have roped lanes, just lines painted on the bottom).  Any tips I should know to swim straight?
    So, that's been my week.  Could do better, but I'm pretty happy nonetheless.

    Question for comments:  How has your week been?  What are your goals for this coming week?

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Non-Scale Victories (NSVs) for 2011 - so far

    I wanted to share these in this past week's weigh-in, but decided that they deserved their own post, not related to the number on a scale.  This past week the scale registered 288.4.  It was "only" a .4 lb loss, but I'm ok with it.  Because I know it's not just about the number on the scale.  It's about other things too, such as:

    1.  At my new job (a new role in an organization I've worked in on an intern/consultancy basis for almost 4 years now), we have these chairs that have been my nemesis.  I've hated them for all 4 years I've been there.  They have metal arms and they've been just too narrow, so the arms cut into my hips and legs and there's just not been a lot of room for movement or even to sit comfortably in them.  As I was sitting in a meeting this past week, I made a mental note that the chairs were still a bit uncomfortable but also noticed that I had more room and was able to sit sideways and CROSS MY LEGS!!!  I had a little moment.  I had to take a picture in the middle of the meeting just to share.

    That's me.  Legs crossed.

    I'm still not able to sit and cross my legs without shifting myself to one side, but I have noticed that it's getting easier!

    2.  I have lost 28.25 inches total from my body so far.  That's 2 feet and 4.25 inches!!  Since the last time I measured in mid-November, I've lost 8.25 inches.  And look - I've lost 14.5% in my hips which is why I could fit my ass in the chairs at work!  Yee-haw!

    * click to enlarge *

    3.  And since I've been neglecting my regular gym schedule the last few weeks (since Christmas, really), I was prepared to have to go back to square one on my running schedule.  However, yesterday I went to the gym, got on the treadmill, put on Green Day and Third Eye Blind and ran 4.5 minutes consecutively.  I'm toying with the idea of ditching the Couch-to-5K training program and just pushing myself to run longer and longer each time instead.  Josie at At The Starting Line had to do the same, recognizing that she was relying too heavily on the walking intervals, and I was intrigued and recognized that I may be doing the same.  So I may try to just run until I can't run any longer for a while and see how it goes.  So I'll be making that 5 minute consecutive run goal in the near future!

    4.  The elliptical machine is no longer my nemesis.  In fact, I look forward to doing it!  When I started this journey, I could barely do 3 minutes without dying of pain.  Now, I can easily do 10 minutes and am usually doing 12-15 minutes to push myself further.

    Question:  What are some victories you have had this week that aren't scale-related?  What celebrations do you have this week?