Friday, March 23, 2012

Foody Friday: 10-Week Diet Update

About three weeks ago I changed my diet from low cal to low carb as a serious attempt to reach the weight loss goal that Trainer had set for me. I adhered very strictly to Phase I of the South Beach Diet which pretty much just allowed low starch vegetables and lean protein. The date of the Big Weigh In came and went and I decided to stick with it, however for the past week I've been allowing small quantities of "forbidden foods" back in.

On a daily basis my lunches consist of salads (spring mix, salt and pepper, olive oil, fish or chicken, and random veggies like mushrooms or peppers), snacks are almonds and cucumbers, and dinners are mostly salmon or white fish and vegetables. Bread, potatoes, rice, and sugar have been completely eliminated from this diet, and for the most part so have fattier meats. For the past week I have made a few allowances but I've done so cautiously and without overeating. I am oh-so-slowly incorporating different foods back into my diet and am mindful of how it will or won't affect my weight loss. So far so good :-D

My body and taste buds have gotten so used to eating this way that I honestly don't like a lot of things that I used to. For example, last night in class the professor passed around a basket of chocolate and I helped myself to a fun size Three Musketeers; the sugar actually burned, it was weird. There was a very unpleasant burn-like sensation that I wanted to go away. It was bizarre, let me tell you! I also no longer like processed meats and I can't eat too much fruit because I can really taste the sugar.

The only thing I still struggle with is getting enough to eat. There are many days when I don't eat anything until 1:00 or 2:00 which is not good, in part because I get dizzy and lightheaded. I do try to have at least a few bites of something before exercising though and that does help.

I'm not sure if this is the diet that I'll stick with, mostly because I may get bored with it, but for now it is working so why change? Plus, even though I rarely eat as much as I should, I do have the option of eating as much as I want from the list of approved foods.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Workout Wednesday: Mental Madness

I have found that the toughest part of changing my diet and exercise hasn't been adjusting to new food or learning new exercises--the toughest part has been overcoming the mental madness that fights these new processes. It took me weeks to see this but I am thrilled to report that I think I've beat it!

For nearly all of the last 10 weeks I'd go into a training session telling myself that I would do everything perfectly no matter what, that I could handle the "pain," but within minutes my heart rate would be flying and my muscles would be fighting. As I'd struggle to hold a plank, my mind would run a million miles each second with thoughts of how difficult it was and just pray to make it through. My eyes would clench shut and my face would tense up while one sentence permeated my thoughts: "I can't do this."

So during the past few weeks I tried to figure out how to get past this mental block. New thoughts started creeping into my brain encouraging me to embrace the challenges rather than fight my way through them. Many Biggest Loser contestants go through this too with their minds creating walls they think they can't overcome until the light goes off about what is holding them back mentally. Once they find this, they take off, and that's what I wanted.

At about this time there was the tiniest thing that Trainer did that just flipped the final switch. I was boxing, hard (I LOVE the sound the gloves make when they hit the pads--I'm a sucker for it, seriously), and this really wore out my muscles to the point that I could barely lift my arms. Rather than slow down and push through it, I stopped. I hung my head and started whining again. Trainer didn't waste one second. He immediately reached out and tapped my shoulder and demanded that I keep going. When he did that, he effectively cut off my defeatist thoughts and let me know that this time he was not letting me give up.

That just happened a couple of weeks ago and I've really stepped up my game since then. I used to tell myself to "just get through this." How terrible is that? Today I went in with the attitude that I would meet each challenge head on and give it my all, and I did! I got through every exercise and never asked for a longer break (that's a first!). I just realized that I also kept my eyes open during all the exercises and focused on my breathing whereas before I would clench up, close my eyes, and pray for daylight!

I am so much stronger mentally and I know that exercise and training sessions are always going to be hard, that's the point, but it's up to me to rise to the challenge. All I have to say now is: Bring. It. On! ;-)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Motivational Monday: What Motivates Me :-)

There are two things motivating me to work as hard as I am to lose weight: to prevent health problems and to stop limiting my activities just because of my size.

Protecting good health

Other than poor vision, there isn't a single unhealthy cell in this body. I've never even had a cavity. My vitals are perfect and there aren't any diseases that run in my family. I am grateful every day for this gift because I see the struggles people have with bad health. I also see people who suffer from type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, bad knees and backs who regret not taking care of themselves before they became unwell.

I was on the same path as those people were, and I decided that I want to be the 60-year-old woman who still jogs every morning. I want to walk on my own two feet when I'm 80 and still have the hips that I was born with. I want to be active, not tired.

In other words, if at some point my body is going to fail me, it's not going to be my fault.

A copy of this picture sits on my desk with the following description:
"This photograph depicts retired postal clerk Foofie Harlan, age 76,
of Sun City, Arizona doing stretching exercises as part of her regular
jogging. This great-grandmother of four is an avid exerciser who
attends two aerobics classes a week." I want to be her!

More options for fun activities

I was 140 lbs for a period of time during my mid-20s, the highlight of my adult life up until now. I played as hard as I worked and never sat still for either one. As a nanny, I took the kids on daily outings to the zoo, Science Center, Magic House, Art Museum and local parks. After work I'd head out with friends and go just about anywhere: friends apartments, coffee houses, local clubs, Fox Theater, movie theaters, and so on. One of our favorite things to do when a bunch of us got together was to play hide-and-seek in the dark (oh yeah, it's so much more fun as an adult!). However, as my body grew, my ability to do these things decreased. My world became smaller and my activities became severely limited.

For the past 10 years or so, I've become more home bound and the majority of my outings consisted of going to restaurants. I still had fun, but there were times when I couldn't take part in certain activities because of my size. Here are some examples:
  • The Fox Theater: A couple of years ago I told a friend I couldn't go with her to see Wicked because I didn't think I could fit into the seats.
  • I went to the Muny two summers ago with friends and asked one of them to call ahead to ask about the size of the seats. He was told that if I didn't fit in a regular seat, I could go to the handicap seats in the very last row. Guess where we all sat that night (and of course I haven't returned since then)? 
  • Flying: I LOVE to travel and I especially love flying. Two years ago I flew to Massachusetts and worried that I'd have to buy an extra seat or use a seat belt extender. Luckily this didn't happen, but I barely fit and was terribly uncomfortable. At one point the plane landed in another city to pick up more passengers; during this time those of us who were staying on the plane stood up and stretched. I'm the only one who remained seated because I didn't want anyone to see me struggling to sit back down.
  • Beaches, water parks, rivers, swimming pools: no explanation needed, right? And I LOVE the water, like really, really love it. I drifted away from a Cape Cod beach just to get the feel of being surrounded by nothing but ocean. When I spent two weeks camping in Colorado I insisted that we pick places next to bodies of water. There was a summer when I'd get together with friends for bi-weekly float trips. Me + water = pure bliss :-)

The fabulous woman on the right is a friend of mine who
is simply amazing! She is a university teacher, cat rescue
 volunteer and yoga aficionado. She also plays roller derby,
you know, that really crazy sport for only the toughest and
strongest of women? Oh yeah, and she's 45 :-)

Taking back my life

These are the things that motivate me each and every day. I am mostly gung ho about my new diet and exercise regime, but during the times when I'm not so excited about it, I stop and think of how the next choice will affect my goal; I see any choice I make that doesn't support it as actually keeping me from the life I want.

I've had the better part of two decades to sit and watch T.V. and to eat any- and everything I wanted, but now I'd rather get into a canoe with a cooler of carrot sticks and cold water than spend another day on the couch with cookies and bad Chinese food.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Foodie Friday: The Distance Between Unhealthy & Healthy Diets

A couple of friends have recently asked me for advice about what I eat and what suggestions I could share with them. There certainly is a plethora of wrong answers (water, maple syrup and lemon? I think not), but there's also more than one right answer. When deciding what diet rules to follow, my philosophy is to evaluate your current diet and then make changes based on who you are. There are people who will certainly disagree with me on this, but if the changes are too challenging then people may not stick to them (which can lead  to feelings of failure and what overweight person really needs to experience that?).

Nutritionists and trainers will say to cut out all the bad stuff asap, but changing a diet at all is tough enough, so here's what I have to say about it: push yourself, but don't make it so difficult that you risk giving it all up. For example, if you eat chocolate every day and can't imagine living without it, then don't. Try eating less or focus on changing something that is more doable for you, like replacing canned vegetables with fresh vegetables. At some point when you become more comfortable with the change and start to feel better, you might drop chocolate altogether. You may also become a person who eats perfectly but has a piece of chocolate every night after dinner. I really see nothing wrong with that.

I love truffles!
(Is it mean of me to put this picture here?)

There is a distance between unhealthy eating and healthy eating, and longer distances = greater challenges. The factors that play into these distances are time, money, knowledge and experience, and of course comfort. Let's assume that the ideal diet is to cook healthy meals at home with full control over the ingredients. Someone who eats a fast food meal on a daily basis has a much longer way to go to meet the ideal than someone who cooks unhealthy meals at home. The home cook may just have to learn new recipes, where to shop and how to budget for new possibly pricier ingredients. The fast food eater has to do all of this in addition to completely rearranging his schedule to make time for meal planning, shopping, preparation and cooking time.

Then of course there is the comfort that familiar food brings. Have you ever traveled outside of the U.S? Most people will say that the thing they missed the most was food from home. Food is far more than an aspect of biology, it's an aspect of culture and psychology as well. We are conditioned to respond to certain types of food from the time we are children. So when the decision is made to change our diets, in order to be successful we have to recondition ourselves, and like any big change it can take time.

Couldn't resist this one--found it when I did
an image search for "Happy Food!" :-)

I believe that people have the best of intentions when advising others on how to eat, but if on the first day someone is saying, "You HAVE to do it this way, no excuses," well that's just a big red flag in my book. I'm not a fan of changing things cold turkey because they often backfire, but if you want to hit the ground running and see weight loss sooner than later, you may have to do a complete overhaul of your diet right away. If the distance between your current diet is miles away from a healthy diet and you aren't ready to change everything, then be O.K. with it and realize that while the scale may not be changing much, you are taking some very important steps to improve your life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Workout Wednesday: Listening to the Body

I am a huge baby when it comes to pain and injuries. I cut my finger a year ago and almost fainted because I didn't like that my finger wasn't its normal whole self. I can't listen to other people's stories about injuries because I get light-headed and dizzy. I don't like pain and I especially don't like injuries that have to be contended with for extended periods of times, so yeah, I avoid these things like the plague!

So during the past two months I've pushed and been pushed harder than ever before and for weeks I felt it, but being sore is very different than being hurt. When I bumped up my walk/jog ratio to 8mins/2mins my knees became pretty upset with me. Taking a couple of days off helped but it would happen all over again. I experimented and listened, and decided that it was too soon and that I'd try again when I'm about halfway to my weight-loss goal. Because I wanted to increase the intensity of my cardio workouts, I've done it by increasing the speed and/or incline, using the elliptical, and adding arm movements. When I haven't felt 100%, I reduced the amount of time on the elliptical (which is far more challenging for me than the treadmill) so that I wouldn't overdo it and make myself dizzy (which could lead to fainting--seeing a pattern here yet?).

Training sessions are just as important. I have gotten dizzy and light-headed a few times (most likely due to not eating or drinking enough before a session) and I've done what I could to work through it, but I also knew when it was time to take a short break. During my last training session my thumb was tingly and numb and shortly thereafter my arm went numb too. Luckily I have a great trainer who immediately ended the session and gave me instructions on what to do. I could have ignored this and worked through it (it wasn't hampering my ability to exercise) but what might have happened if I had?

This to me is the wildest thing of all: I know what my heart rate is during any point of my workouts without even using a heart rate monitor. I started focusing on my heart rate because I want to be comfortable working out at higher heart rates for when I start jogging again (the increased heart rate was always the most difficult thing for me to contend with). I can tell by how I feel and how I'm breathing what range that I'm in (130s, 140s, etc.), and I think that is just so cool!

I love how in tune I am with my body now, especially since I've completely avoided thinking about my body for the past 10+ years. On the flip side of pains and injuries, I can tell every day when I get out of bed if I've lost more weight because I can feel the difference, and I haven't been wrong yet :-)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Motivational Monday: Redefining Failure

Sometimes changing part of your life requires an all over life change in order to be successful, but the greater the change, the more room there is for failure. It's during these tough times that we discover whether or not we are winners at heart.

We absolutely must accept that we will fail via our own mistakes or uncontrollable circumstances even though many of us unfairly define ourselves by our failures rather than our successes. Heck, most of us don't know how to even recognize when we've been successful. But success doesn't have to be the result of a clear cut win, it can be the result of moving past a temporary failure. Make no mistake--failing sucks. However, the real failure is in giving up altogether.

We may not realize it, but we are in full control because we have the choice to give up or to treat failure as temporary setbacks that simply require a bit more from us. Imagine how differently our lives would be like if we learn to move through failures. Not only will we learn some valuable lessons, we will also become stronger and better able to handle future failures, seeing them as additional challenges rather than immovable road blocks.

Best all, we may ultimately succeed.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Food-day: The Embarrassing Truth

Call it an addiction, a crutch, a lifestyle or even "your right as an American," but whatever it is, understand that breaking free of it can be one of the most difficult things a person can do. Like alcohol and smoking, food can be used to celebrate happy times, take the edge off of stress, and provide short-term comfort at the end of a rough day. When food has crossed over into some one's life in these ways, it has stopped functioning as a life-sustaining necessity and instead become a lifestyle. When this happens, it can become one of the most difficult things to break free of.

Those of us who overeat are not clueless about nutrition. We know that a well-made salad is better for us than diner food, it just doesn't have the same emotional impact (and from what I understand there is also a real physical impact, I'm just not qualified to even attempt to write about it). Going to a fitness center to exercise was nothing, there was no struggle to switch from couch potato to workout warrior, but food, that was a serious battle, and once you read some of the oh-so-embarrassing things I've done, you might understand just how deeply this problem ran.

It's understood that I ate the worst foods I could get my hands on, but it's how I did it that shines a light on the serious problem I had:

  • Eating two meals back-to-back: Eating dinner in the car on the way home knowing that I'd be having dinner with other people a short time later. Either I was too hungry to wait, or I was in need of a major food fix.  
  • Eating in secret: This happened several times a week, maybe even daily. I could go hog wild with way too much food and no one was the wiser. At work I'd get some things from the snack machine and sneak them into my office. On the way home I'd pick up some snacks and sneak them into the house, hiding them so no one would know. If I had the night to myself, well lookout, that's when I'd stock up on chips and chocolate and pick up some appetizers from a nearby restaurant. To cover this up though, I'd get creative about discarding the evidence (you see, it's not a secret if someone can see what I had eaten).
  • Eating waaaay past satisfaction: I didn't know how to stop. I'd try, but I just couldn't. Image trying to throw away some money--it would not feel right. That's how I felt. I just couldn't do it. The scary part of this is that on countless occasions I've been so overstuffed that I've aspirated in my sleep. I'd wake up coughing and choking and my lungs would be burning from the acid that had gotten into them. As frightening as this was, it didn't stop me from doing it again. I'd simply prop myself up on a bunch of pillows in the hopes it wouldn't happen again.
  • Eating food from the garbage can: I would see food in a container (e.g. mini doughnuts in a closed bag) and take it out of the trash. There were lots of times when I tried to show some self control after buying too many treats by throwing them away, but I learned that I had to open the containers and let the stuff fall into the other trash so that I wouldn't go back for it later.

Since yesterday I've been thinking about whether or not to share that last part; it's beyond embarrassing. However, this is a sign of how serious the problem was. Food was my cocaine, and like any drug addict, I'd go to great and desperate measures to get my fix. This might be a good time to remind you that I had undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for 24 years, and I used food to push down the terrible emotions that were always with me. I was in and out of counseling for almost 20 of those years (was only ever diagnosed with depression) and was often times suicidal. Taking food out of a trash can was a desperate attempt to handle a desperate situation.

In the past three years I've taken steps to take back my life. I no longer have PTSD (YAY!!) and I've removed the responsible parties from my life for good. Most recently I've learned that what I feel and want do indeed matter which led me to make one final change. After that, I felt like my life was taking off and got over my last hurdle with food.

Now I eat well because I am well. I feel great and I only want things and people in my life that are going to support that. I wrote all of this because I want to let other over eaters know that they are not the only ones, and that there is no struggle too big to overcome. I shouldn't even be alive. I don't know why I am, but I know that I'm not wasting one more day of this precious life I have, and I truly hope that others are able to find their way to this point because I've gotta tell ya, it can be downright amazing.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Workout Wednesday: Home vs. Fitness Center

I've always been a one-or-the-other-not-both type of exerciser, either making routine visits to a fitness center or working out to videos at home. I've also always had to have a routine, whatever it was, but this time around everything is different, and surprisingly I'm completely fine with working out wherever and whenever. However, even though I have been able to successfully incorporate exercise at both locations, each provides unique benefits and challenges to supporting my weight-loss goals.


NOT the fitness center I use; I don't
want to be sued ;-)


My first preference is to exercise at a fitness center. It becomes a place I look forward to visiting, a place of refuge where I am allowed to stop thinking about everything else in my life and simply focus on me. I like being with other people who are working toward similar goals of strength and good health. Cardio machines become dance floors as I crank up my favorite songs and get to moving like nobody's business (yes, it's been a while since I've been on a real dance floor). This time around it has also become a place of firsts as I am doing things I've never done before, things I thought I couldn't do for a long time, or ever, such as boxing. I've wanted to try it for years, and after just one session I'm hooked, so much so that I'm going to look for an actual boxing class to satisfy my new desire for throwing punches ;-)


I'm still not comfortable doing floor exercises on my own and I don't know if I ever will be because I don't like being watched; I prefer to hide in the background for certain things and this is definitely one of them.

Also, it's not always convenient to go to the gym. Last week I found out the hard way that to get in one hour of exercise before work, I have to arrive 2.5 hours before I have to be at work. That's no small sacrifice!


Coconut, one of my foster kitties,
takes a well deserved break after
doing some mountain climbers ;-)


This is perfect for when I just want a little something extra, particularly during the two days I take off from the fitness center. So far I've focused on small things, like sit-ups and planks (grrr, planks, I will conquer you yet). I've even learned to be a bit creative, like last night when I wanted to get my heart rate up for a while. I pulled out my dusty old step (remember step aerobics? No? Pfft, youngster) and did this sort of sideways one-foot-at-a-time hop back and forth across it for a minute at a time with a minute break in between. This raised my heart rate to the level I reach when using the elliptical, so I may have found a good at-home substitute :-D

And of course, there's privacy. I can wear what I want (don't ask) and try anything I want without any second thoughts.


I'm not proud to admit this, but I don't push myself very much with challenging exercises. I give up. I'm starting to think that there is a mental barrier I need to work on in order to get past the physical barriers, and without someone to push me (i.e. a trainer) I simply stop.

Regardless of the pros and cons, I am now able to workout at home or the fitness center because of dedication and focus. I'm dedicated in ways like never before, specifically to prevent some of the potential downfalls that can come later in life. I'm also driven to experience life to the fullest, and I mean that seriously. Hike the Grand Canyon? You betcha! Participate in crazy activities like a Spartan Race? Hell-to-the-yeah! At home or in a fitness center, exercise is key to those amazing experiences.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Motivational Monday: Demotivation

Motivation rules all of us in everything we do. Think about it. We eat becaue we're hungry, stressed, enjoying a celebration, or any host of reasons. We sleep because we're tired, depressed or sick. We dedicate ourselves to excelling at work, as parents, as students because we want to do well. Motivation is in every tiny part of each day we are blessed to be on this Earth.

However there is a counter to motivation and that is demotivation, and it too surrounds us every single day. We silently fantasize about certain things we want, like a slim body, but we hear voices telling us that we can't do what it takes to achieve that goal. These voices, although coming from inside of us, are a collective of all that we have heard over years of our lives.

Think back to when you were a child--was there anything that you thought you couldn't do? Whether set in reality or acted out fantasies, children believe that they can be and do anything they want. It is during childhood that we are taught about the limits we have. Sure, we can't put on a cape and fly like Superman, but what damaging limits were put on us?

Watch this clip from The Pursuit of Happyness when Will Smith's character catches himself in the act of demotivating his son's dream to play pro basketball:

Maybe you were told that you'd never be strong or pretty enough to find a good mate. Maybe you were always compared to someone else and told that you could never be as good as that person. Maybe the moments of demotivation took on the face of pure criticism. I was a hyper, talkative child long before those sorts of things were diagnosed and medicated, but I was super friendly and outgoing, a gift that could have been put to use if teachers had taken the time to work with it. Up until my mid-20s I had a lot of friends, but also a lot of people who didn't like me specifically because I was so outgoing and happy. Their demotivating words built up over time and I started to withdraw into myself. I stopped joking and smiling for fear that I would chase people away, but what I did was lose myself.

Last year I read "Eat, Pray Love" (which is FAR better than the movie), and during the time the writer was on a spiritual exploration in India, she was told by someone at the ashram that her outgoing, talkative, never-shy character would be perfect for helping new arrivals acclimate to all the new experiences. Up until this moment, she too had seen this part of her as a bad thing, but she took from this experience an honest appreciation for these gifts. After reading this, I have too.

What words have you heard or do you say to yourself that hold you back from what you want out of life? Are they standing in the way of pursuing your dreams? What would happen if you stop listening and start believing in yourself again, like you did when you were 5-years-old? My whole world has opened up in the past few weeks and I'm running toward things I never dreamed of doing (rock climbing, participating in athletic events, traveling solo, white water rafting, running a 5k, and so much more).

This is my life and I'm going to live it the way I want, negative people be damned. You should really do the same.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Food-day 3/2/12

Everyone has a relationship with food--it's unavoidable because we must eat in order to survive. However the relationship is very personal, serving purposes unique to each of us. An athlete approaches this relationship with deep respect as it is the fuel that supports his or her goals. A parent or spouse may view food as a catalyst to showing how much they care about those who will receive it. Then there are people like me whose relationship with food moves between best friend and a device to promote self hate.

The summer I turned 14 I was sent to live with a different family, and on a night when it was my turn to clean up after dinner I walked around the table eating everyone's McDonald's leftovers (and there were 7 people in that family, so that was a LOT of food). I couldn't stop, and I thought it was just because I hadn't eaten Mickey D's in such a long time. I now know this was a response to the worst part of my childhood, a response that would become a mechanism of comfort for the next 26 years.

As life went on, when I wasn't being comforted by food, I was using it to tear myself down. When people don't own up to what they've done to you, I think it becomes second nature to just blame yourself. I remember a moment of such deep self hatred that I forced myself to eat a box of cookies even though they were making me sick. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, mentally jumped into a black tornado and held onto it with each bite. Other times I've honestly believed that I just didn't deserve a better life so I turned against me and treated myself with as much disregard as other people were.

There have been a few times when I've been able to turn it around, and it always has happened after I've taken a stand for myself. The struggle was learning how to make taking a stand a habit and not just an occasional thing. Most people who know me well are aware that the biggest fight of my life began three years ago and then reached a crescendo again last year. These fights had to happen in order to get to a point where I could finally like myself, feel happy to be alive, and do a 180 with food. Now, having cleared out every speck of bad from my life, I am able to change my relationship with food to one of love, respect and appreciation.

No one chooses to be overweight. Every pound holds a story. Those stories have to be reckoned with in order to let go of it all so that ultimately the relationship with food can be reconciled and turned into something positive.