Monday, 30 July 2012

Another step up

Photo Courtesy William Warby, Licensed CC-BY
Sunday was the first day of yet another step up in the workout program, to 35 minutes on the elliptical machine, 6 times a week. 

I am happy that I am able to do the time on the machine, and it feels like I am working hard to do it, which is good. 

It's hard to remember that when I first started working out 27 weeks ago I could barely do 7 minutes on the recumbent bike - - it feels like so long ago now. 

So the workout program continues on track, and in force.  I still eagerly await all those endorphins people keep talking about, but for now, my sheer force of will/inertia keep me on the elliptical machine each morning.

On the nutrition side, this week has been a tough one to keep within my calorie and carb targets because we've been entertaining more than normal, having dinners with friends twice this weekend.   The Nerd is cooking healthy and delicious meals out of the Jamie Oliver Meals in Minutes cookbook, so the meals themselves are good to eat and good for me.  But with dinner parties comes appetizers (cheese and crackers), and wine, and more wine. 

Given my carb situation, I have tried to minimize the wine, and tried to avoid the crackers.  I did not realize this, but a mere 5 Triscuit crackers has 80 calories and 16g of carbs.  Gack!  I knew cheese had a lot of calories, but the carbs in crackers threw me for a loop.  I don't know what the hell I was expecting, what with them being made of deliciousness and all, but I had no idea what I was dealing with.  I distinctly remember sitting down with a plate of 12 or so Triscuits covered with melted cheese not so long ago.  I shudder to think about how many calories and carbs were on that simple plate. 

This whole pre-diabetes thing is gradually forcing me to make difficult, and increasingly disciplined choices.  A full meal, or a plate of cheese and crackers?  I can't have both.  Appetizers, or wine with dinner?  Can't have both.  Lunch, or Bailey's in my coffee?  You know how it goes. 

It's not that I am gradually whittling all the fun and good things out of my life, it's just that I am gradually being forced to make sensible, informed choices.  The simple fact is that I need to get my blood sugar down below 5.5 mmol/L, and that isn't going to happen unless I lose weight and manage the carbs to below 200g/day.  And that isn't going to happen without making some better choices, and a few sacrifices along the way. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Crying tears of carb tracking sadness...

It's day 3 of trying to diligently track my carbs, and I am already horrified. 

Photo Courtesy Raymond Gilford, Licensed CC-BY-ND

As it happens, alcohol is high in both calories and carbs, facts which I suppose I knew in the back of my mind, but which previously had little salience for me.  I tracked food diligently, but considered alcohol to be invisible, for some reason, and I never tracked it. 

I now see why.

Last night we went to the roof, as is our custom, and I had a Mike's Hard Lemonade.  As it turns out, one bottle of Mike's has 220 calories (!) and a whopping 38 carbs (!!).  I shudder to think how many calories/carbs I was ingesting over the holidays, when I could drink several Mike's at a sitting. 

Similarly, this morning, I took a look at my morning coffee.  It has been my habit to take my coffee very sweet and light, and on Sunday mornings I would have a slug of Baileys Irish Cream.  Delicious.  The Nerd took a look at the numbers for our typical coffee, and they netted out to too many calories to count, and almost 60g (!!!) of carbs.  To put those numbers in perspective, they are the equivalent of one full meal.  And we would have several of these.  Horrifying. 

I am sad to say that alcohol can no longer be invisible.  And my coffee can no longer  be sweet and light.  As a lawyer, these may be the biggest lifestyle changes required yet.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

And then there were none...

Photo by Maggie Q. Magniloquent, Some Rights Reserved
Another day, another piece of workout equipment gone... 

I posted adds on Kijiji last week offering the rowing machine and the recumbent bike for sale.  Last weekend, the rowing machine was snatched up (after generating lots of interest), and this morning, the recumbent bike was sold.  I was actually a bit surprised that the recumbent bike went given that it is more than 10 years old, and the manufacturer no longer sells replacement parts for it.  However, it's the right price and the right piece of equipment for some, and those are the people who expressed an interest in the bike. 

I'm actually a little sad to see the bike go, because it was the foundational piece of equipment in my basement when I last worked out in 1999-2000 to get in shape.  Sure, the bike wasn't the fanciest thing, nor was it the most modern, but it was a lot like me - - good at brute force. 

In other news, now that I am officially "pre-diabetic" [editorial comment: "bleh"], I need to become much more aware of how many carbs I ingest every day, because the carbs have a direct impact on my blood sugar.  I have already been tracking my food for about a week or so (albeit with a bit of a bobble with 3 missing days because MyFitnessPal deleted my account), so I was able to look back and see how my carbs have been recently. 

According to the Canadian Diabetic Association, you should eat some level of carbs every day.  How much?  The actual amount will depend on your gender, amount of exercise each day, and whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight.  Which is a complicated way of saying "it depends".  From what I can see, as a pre-diabetic woman trying to lose weight who exercises 6 times a week, I should try and ingest no more than 200g - 250g of carbs per day - - around 60g at each meal, and 5g for each snack. 

This is where preparing your own food is a real asset.  A lot of prepared foods have high levels of carbs and sodium, which are both things you should monitor and control as a pre-diabetic.  Cooking from scratch makes hitting carb targets easier.  

The MyFitnessPal app has the most user-friendly and useful food diary that I have seen thus far.  I particularly like that I can add recipes and get calorie (and carb) counts.  Entering data is quick and easy, and the snapshot view gives you a lot of data at a glance.  But it's really a fitness and health app, rather than a diabetes app, so there's no tracker for blood sugar, which is a shame. 

I have a couple of glucose tracking apps that I am trying out.  The first is the Glucose Companion, which tracks - shockingly - blood glucose.  I like that it has a very easy interface to enter blood glucose levels and weight levels, and it provides both tabular views and graphical views.  The app also has a snapshot view that provides you with minimum, maximum and average figures. 

This is, as you would think, a very diabetes-focused app, so there's nowhere to enter food.  But weight and blood sugar are two out of three important metrics for me moving forward, so I think I will keep using this app for a while.

The other app I am trying is giving me really mixed feelings.  It's the Carb Master app for iPad, and it has a lot of attractive features.  It has a food diary that tracks carbs, among other nutrients, and also has a tracker for blood sugar and a tracker for insulin.  Another diabetes-centric app, this one also has both tabular and graphical views.  On the surface it is very pretty to look at.

My hesitation about this app is that the food diary is clunky.  Very clunky.  To select foods manually, one must drill down through multiple menus (e.g. dairy, cheese, goat cheese).  I tried searching using the search window and the app had a significant lag, making searching extremely cumbersome.  Adding recipes is an available function, but it is dependent on searching to add foods (which takes what feels like forever), and when the foods are found, some of them have a serving size listed as "one serving", making it impossible to truly customize the ingredients - how much is "one serving"?  1 cup? 100g?  Who knows?  MyFitnessPal permits you to add all the ingredients and the number of people served by the recipe, so the app will automatically calculate the appropriate calories and carbs per serving.  Carb Master does not appear to have this same functionality, or if it does, I have not been able to find it (which is much the same thing, if you think about it). 

Customer Service Challenges

Those of you who read this blog may have noticed that I have a deep and abiding love of fitness apps.  I love love love tracking all the various trackable things, since each time I track something it's an opportunity to improve on at least one metric.  Because so many of my metrics are, simply put, terrible, progress on any one metric is good progress.

This week, interestingly, I had issues with two of my apps that required customer service intervention.  The first was with MyFitnessPal, which has entirely replaced LoseIt! in my affections.  I tried to log in to my MyFitnessPal account on Monday morning, and poof! my account was gone.  I tried on the mobile apps, and on the web interface, and each time saw a message that my account had been deleted.  Since I had not deleted the account, this was troubling. 

I penned a quick note to MyFitnessPal customer service, and sat back to await the inevitable 48 hour delay.  I was extremely pleasantly surprised when they got back to me the same day with a response.  As it turns out, I received the message that my account had been deleted because MyFitnessPal had upgraded its systems and ... inadvertently deleted my account.  It was entirely their fault, the customer service rep explained, and apologized profusely. 

Now I had only begun using the MyFitnessPal app the weekend prior, so there was not that much data in the account.  I had some menus and food records in there, and my weekly weight history from last November, but none of that was a huge loss, or irreplaceable.  I was most impressed with how quickly customer service responded to my inquiry, and how apologetic they were for deleting my account.  I have no problem when mistakes like this happen, since they cost me nothing, and are readily owned by the person who made the mistake.  Overall, yes, my account was gone forever, but customer service made it easy for me to set up my replacement account, and gave me all the information I needed to know how the issue happened in the first place.  I was very pleased with my experience, and even more of a fan of MyFitnessPal than before they (inadvertently) wiped out my account.

My second customer service issue was with Gym-Pact.  Gym-Pact is the app that allows the user to put a dollar value to their workouts, and to pay that money when they miss a workout, whilst earning money for making workouts.  It feels like a bit of a pyramid scheme, but it's a motivational pyramid scheme. 

Since joining Gym-Pact, I have not missed a workout.  I have to admit that on a couple of occasions, the thought of having to make up a missed workout to make my "Pact" did come into play and motivate me into getting out of bed.  Each week since joining, I have received a status email telling me that I had made my Pact, owed nothing, and earned $x (usually around $3 each week).  So far, so motivating.

Until I looked at my credit card statement and saw that Gym-Pact had billed me US$330.00 for "attendance fees", which is a charge of $50 for 6 weeks and $30 for one week.  Not good.  Not motivational. 

So I contacted customer service with a strongly worded email, demanding a refund and requesting an explanation.  After several days, I finally heard back from Gym-Pact customer service, who explained that I had apparently set up a partial account, but had never worked out under that account, which is why they billed me each week.  They deleted the duplicate account, and refunded the money.  On the face of it, they met my demands and did all they needed to do, albeit after several days' delay.

What makes me a little skeptical of Gym-Pact's explanation, however, is that the amount charged varied - - one week they billed me $30, rather than the $50 that should have been billed if the system legitimately thought I had missed my Pact.  After all, the Pact did not change, and if that partial user account had never worked out, the company should have billed me $50 each week.  So I think there was a system glitch, and one that slipped through the cracks until I brought it to Gym-Pact's attention.  But how often do these kind of "glitches" happen, and how many people do not notice?  Potentially shady. 

So I am considering leaving Gym-Pact, because my sense of trust in their accounting practices is somewhat shaken.  For now I will keep on, but I will watch 'em like a hawk. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Busy week!

Another week in the books, and another 6 days worked out.  From Sunday to Friday morning I spent 30 minutes on the elliptical each day, tracking my heart rate zones with the DigiFit app and pacing my intervals using the Lolo Beatburn app. 

Past three week weight history
The net result is another 1.1 pounds lost, for a total of 39.7 pounds lost overall, along with many inches.  I am feeling generally pretty good (more so when I lose weight, because of the positive reinforcement), and find that I am ever so slowly becoming more active.  For example, I am just as likely to walk to work as I am to take the streetcar, which is a huge step forward from a mere 27 weeks ago when even walking to the corner would have me puffing and clutching my back in agony.  Heck, even walking a block and a half was difficult, and when you are that physically limited, your world gets very small indeed.

I have been very impressed with yet another new app - TactioHealth.Yes, yes, I know I have a lot of fitness apps.  But in my defence, I am constantly whittling down the assortment to a core set of apps I use every day.  TactioHealth is one of them.

In brief, TactioHealth provides you with a snapshot of your general health, using figures you either input manually, or electronically (for example, it talks to my Withings blood pressure monitor, Withings electronic scale, and Fitbit Ultra tracker).  Its main screen is a user-friendly dashboard with a snapshot of where you stand - weight, blood pressure, body mass index, resting pulse, body fat, waist measurement, cholesterol, and fasting glucose.  Based on the numbers, it will give you colour coded warnings - red for high, orange for warning, and green for OK. The image on the left shows a sample dashboard - trust me when I say that it is not mine, because mine has a heck of a lot more red on it. 

This app is full of information in the pull down buttons, and everything can be explored for more detailed views.  I like the big picture that this app provides me, with all my info at a glance. 

On the good side, or bad side, depending on how you look at it, this app has motivated me to test my fasting glucose.  There's a convenient button for tracking it and everything, assuming, of course, that you have a glucose testing kit.  I have a history of diabetes in my family (mother, uncle, aunt), as well as a history of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.  And cancer.  Let's not forget all the cancer. 

Assuming for the moment that I cannot do anything about cancer that I am not already doing, I can be aware of some of those other red flags.  For example, I am very happy to know that I do not have high blood pressure, unlike many others in my family.  This eliminates one risk factor for heart attack and stroke.  Yes, yes, I am still morbidly obese - - a term that did not get its name because it was good for you - - but I am working on that.  If I keep working out as I am and eating healthy, I will eventually only be "obese", and then the world is my oyster!  A delicious, delicious oyster.

Back on topic, I picked up a blood sugar analyzer last year during a minor health scare.  I never used it at the time, but suddenly I felt motivated to try it this week.  I have to confess that I have always been afraid to test my sugars, because as an overweight woman with my family history, the results were likely to come back terribly high. 

I finally bit the bullet and tested myself this week.  First off, I was incredibly inept at working the testing unit and strips my first time out.  I couldn't even get a damn blood drop the first dozen or so tries.  I know I retain water, but that's a little nuts.  After adjusting the puncture depth and wasting one test strip (a costly mistake, as these things cost about a dollar a pop), I was finally able to get a number:  6.2 mmol/L.  The numbers were not good, but not as bad as they could have been. 

The normal range is 3.89 to 5.55 ish, depending on the scale you use.  A range of 5.55 to 7.0 is "pre-diabetes", which means that I am officially at an elevated risk for diabetes.  Not that I didn't really know that, what with my weight and family history, but it's a little scary seeing it spelled out so clearly.  Anything higher than 7.0 as a fasting glucose level is official, full blown diabetes.  Wilfred Brimley level diabetes.  Paula Deen level diabetes.  Delta Burke level diabetes.  You get the picture. 

The bad news is that I am at an elevated risk of the big D.  The good news is that I am already doing exactly the things I am supposed to do to reduce the risk - exercising 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week, eating healthy, and drinking lots of water.  I have already lost around 11% of my original body weight, which apparently reduces your risk of progressing to full blown diabetes significantly.  Obviously, there's still an awful lot more weight I can lose.

The next step will be to look at some diabetes cookbooks and see what other changes I need to make to my diet to really help reduce the risk of progressing into full blown diabetes. 

I have to admit that it is pretty depressing to have lost the amount of weight I have, and to have made all the positive changes in my lifestyle, to still be pre-diabetic.  Perhaps I am looking at this the wrong way, though - - I am pre-diabetic now - maybe last year my fasting glucose numbers would have qualified me to be a full blown diabetic, and these figures represent a huge improvement. 

Regardless of the view I take (the glass of diabetes is half full, or half empty), I need to be aware of the reality of these numbers and what they mean.  I need to make even more lifestyle changes to ensure that I am doing what I can to control my sugar levels, and to keep from moving into full blown diabetes. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

New App...

We had family over to the Palatial Estate last evening for dinner, and the Nerd's sister mentioned that she was loving MyFitnessPal, which had both a web interface and an app for her to track her exercise and food consumed. 

It all sounds very much like the LoseIt! app I have been enjoying so much, except that MyFitnessPal offers one massive, significant advantage - - it allows you to input the ingredients for a recipe, and then calculates the calories in a meal for you, for those meals that we create from scratch rather than buy off the shelf.

Now I don't know about you, but I have found that my consumption of pre-packaged foods has dramatically decreased in the 27 weeks since I have been actively working out.  Now, instead of eating an entire box of Kraft Dinner (still one of my all-time favourite foods), I am eating a serving from a leftover home cooked meal.  A home cooked meal from a cookbook that is not necessarily found in the standard food database. 

So far I have put 4 recipes into the program, and have been shocked and delighted by the results.  Shocked because of how many calories we are actually eating at times (I won't even tell you how many calories SPAM luncheon meat has per serving), and delighted at how simple the program has been to use.  Both the iPad app and the web-interface have been great, and I recommend them to anyone who is serious about tracking their food.

Now the problem is that both LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal both talk to my Fitbit, and provide me with summary reports etc.  That's not an issue, but each seems to want to be my "one and only" - I suspect that these two apps do not play well with each other. 

I will keep tracking on both apps during the upcoming week, to see how they stack up and which I prefer.  Details to follow.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Something is missing...

Photos courtesy Maggie Q. Magniloquent, Some Rights Reserved

Can you tell what is missing between these two photos?  It's subtle, and easy to miss...that's right - - the rowing machine is gone!  Having switched all of my workouts over to the ellipitical machine a few weeks ago, it was time to see if the recumbent bike and the rowing machine could find new homes where they would be given the attention they deserved.

To that end, last night I placed two ads on Kijiji (aka the Canadian Craigslist), offering both the bike and the rowing machine for sale for pennies on the dollar, to the first person who wanted to pick them up.

The faithful, 10 year old recumbent bike has been getting very little love, and who could blame them?  An old strap-tension system instead of magnets or air resistance?  Who even does that any more?  The answer: no one.  That's because the bike is 10 years old, long before air resistance or magnets were the cool thing to do.  But the bike still works great, and has been a faithful exercise companion for years, without complaint. 

The rowing machine, on the other hand, excited a veritable feeding frenzy of interest, with the first email coming after only minutes of the post going live.  To be fair, the rower was in fantastic condition, and I was asking around $200 for something I paid $1,000 for only last year.  But with the arrival of the elliptical, the rowing machine was surplus to requirements, so it had to go.  And go it did - - this afternoon, to a nice couple who drove down from Woodbridge.  I probably could have gotten more for the machine but I wanted it gone quickly and they had a truck (and a mittful of cash), so in the end, it was a win-win.  The nice couple left a couple of hundred dollars poorer and one rowing machine richer, and I now have more space in my workout room.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Finally, some progress!

Photo credit: Maggie Q. Magniloquent, Some Rights Reserved

It's the first full week of the new program, where I have worked out for 30 minutes on the elliptical, 6 days a week.  Technically, I did 6 days a week last week, too, but it feels like this is the first full week with the new routine, mainly because it was the first full week with the heart rate monitor and blood pressure readings. 

And the results?  Down 2.9 pounds from last week, and 1.6 pounds down from my previous lowest weight.  I weighted in at 295.3 pounds, with 48.8% body fat.  The body fat percentage varies by day, but hovers in this 48%-49% zone.  My objective is to bring it down to around 30%, eventually.  But for now, we can consider me to be "well marbled". 

For the last 3 days I have been trying out an elliptical workout app called BeatBurn Elliptical, by lolo.  The idea behind this app is that it uses your own music from your iPod to create a variety of interval based workouts, adjusting the speed of the beat to desired strides per minute, from 80 to 160.  I have been playing a little bit with the tension, but not to the extent required by the program, because I can't do the math on the fly to know when I am at 15% or 35% when my tension goes from 1-20.  For now, I have been counting each as a single unit, so when the app instructs me to put the tension at 20%, I choose '2' on the resistance scale.  Primitive, I know, but it does result in me changing up the tension from 1-5 during each workout, with the result that the heart rate goes up and down, with each interval period (as shown in the graph, above, showing my heart rate during today's workout).

I have used the BeatBurn app 3 full days, and the workout has been a little different each day.  Throughout each workout the app gives vocal instructions as well as encouragement and tips (like remembering to use good posture).  At the end of each workout the voiceover gives a little pat on the back for making the time to workout, and this is also surprisingly effective.  I would hate to be doing all of this for nothing!

So, now, 25 weeks into my exercise program, here's my thoughts on some of the machines and apps I have been using.

The Elliptical Machine
The Precor EFX 5.33 elliptical machine is a piece of work.  But a good piece of work.  I have found it consistently easier to complete a 30 minute workout on this machine than a 20 minute workout on the old recumbent bike, and the elliptical is more efficient at getting (and keeping) my heart rate in the training zone, too.  I am finding the machine easy on my knees and back, and I certainly feel like I have had a workout when I get off the machine.  This model is pricey, around CAD$4,000 - $5,000, but if you can find it in your budget, or pick one up secondhand, it is well worth it.  [whispers] I don't absolutely loathe exercising on the elliptical machine [/stops whispering]. 

The Fitbit Activity Tracker
 The Fitbit Ultra is a 3-D motion sensor that tracks your day down to details a pedometer can't catch, showing your exact steps taken, calories burned, and distance traveled. The altimeter tracks floors climbed, which encourages me to take the stairs at home or work, or walk to the office/home instead of taking the streetcar.  The Fitbit Ultra also has a sleep sensor that  lets you see how long it takes to get to sleep, and how often you are awakened.  I sleep like a log, so I do not often use this feature, but it is interesting to put it on occasionally to see what quality of sleep I am getting. 

What I love most about the Fitbit Ultra is that I can wear it all the time, and then see my activity levels on the convenient web-based dashboard.  The Fitbit Ultra works with an app for iPad and iPhone, so I can track the amount of water I drink, or the meals I eat each day, which are then compared to my fitness goals.  Fitbit Ultra also works with other apps such as LoseIt!, DigiFit, and MyFitnessPal. 

DigiFit is a multi-purpose app.  With the required upgrades (available at a nominal price), it will speak with other devices, such as a Garmin ANT+ heart rate monitor, a Fitbit Ultra tracker, a Withings blood pressure monitor and Withings scale. 

Put all that together and you have a real snapshot of your health and fitness.  Each day's workout can be tracked to show your heart rate, intensity, and duration.  Sleep cycles can be recorded, either with a partner sleep monitor (which I don't use), or manually.  I use the DigiFit app every morning during my workout, then synch the app with the Withings app for my weight and blood pressure measurements.  I find it instructive to see how the measurements change over time, permitting me to make more informed fitness decisions. 

LoseIt! is another multi-purpose tracking app, which tracks weight, exercise, and food taken in.  I particularly like it for the food tracker, and for the fact that it synchs with my Fitbit Ultra and Withings scale.  Apparently studies have shown that people who keep track of what they eat are more successful at both losing weight and keeping the weight off, I suppose because they are more aware of what they are actually putting into their body.  I have only been tracking my food intake for a few days, but I am already much more sensitive to portion size and food type.  I have found it easy to find the foods I eat in the large database of foods, and I have found it just as easy to add new foods, when required. 

The premise behind Gym-Pact is simple: commit to working out a set number of times a week, and pay money for every missed workout.  For those paying for a gym membership, there is an easy way to calculate the cost of each workout - - it's the pro-rated value of each workout, based on the number of workouts you do and the cost of your gym membership.  For example, for me, it is worth $10 for each missed workout.  I have committed to do 5 workouts a week (I am giving myself a buffer in there, since I actually have 6 workouts each week in my plan).  At the end of each week, the number of workouts I miss (and therefore the amount of money I owe) is calculated.  For every workout I make, I get a pro-rated share of the pool of funds generated by peoples' missed workouts.  So far, since joining Gym-Pact, I have not missed a single workout (and have therefore paid nothing), and I have "earned" $14.50.  The total earnings usually work out to $3/week, on average.  I remain highly skeptical that I will ever see any money from this program, which feels a lot like a pyramid scheme to me (for now, all my "earnings" are electronic), but it's an incredible motivator, which is why I keep doing it. 

Withings produces a series of wireless tools, including a blood pressure monitor and digital scale.  I purchased both, because these are all metrics that I wanted to track.  The products have each delivered to my expectations - after a brief working in period - and now form an integral part of my daily monitoring program. 

Each morning I get up and take my blood pressure, along with my resting heart rate, and then I do my 30 minute workout on the elliptical.  After the workout, and after I hose myself off, I hop onto the digital scale, and I can see each figure appear on the Withings app on my iPad, as well as the DigiFit app, and LoseIt! app.  It has made record keeping much more streamlined and simple, and it has removed a lot of the anxiety about my Friday morning weigh ins. 

So, net net, I am slightly more tracked and monitored than a space shuttle launch.  But it all helps give me little wins along the way that keep me motivated.  It's week 25 of working out, and I have lost 38.6 pounds, or a little over 1.5 pounds per week.  I can't think about how long it will take me to reach 50 pounds lost, or 100 pounds lost, so I focus on the little wins.  This week was full of little wins, which is why I will be back on the elliptical on Sunday, right on schedule.

Friday, 13 July 2012

New Toys, Lots of Sweat, and Negative Progress

Another week down, and another full week of workouts are on the books.  This week the program was 25 minutes on the elliptical at level 2, for 6 days.  I managed to hit all 6 days as planned, and although I forgot to put the tension up to 2 until half-way through the workout more days than not, it was definitely a step up.  The incremental day per week of working out is also a step up, and I am pleased to be able to do it. 

I finally got a heart rate monitor that works with the DigiFit app and tracks my heart rate throughout my workout.  I was only able to get usable results on the last workout of this week, Friday, but it is very informative:
Image by Maggie Q. Magniloquent, Some rights reserved

The red line shows my heart rate over the course of the 25 minute workout, and the pie chart shows the time spent in each of the various training zones.  For example, today I spent 3:48 min in zone 2 (fat burn) and 16:43 in zone 3 (endurance). 

The downside of this particular Garmin ANT+ heart rate monitor is that it is not automatically picked up by the elliptical like my old monitor, so if I want to see my heart rate at any given time I need to hold on to the bars on the elliptical so that the elliptical's own sensors can take a reading.  All things considered, it's not a bad trade off given the richness of the data provided by the DigiFit app, so I think I will stay with the Garmin monitor for now.

Another new toy this week is the Withings blood pressure monitor that plugs directly in to my iPad.  I am genuinely pleased with this app and device, as it is super easy to use, and tracks blood pressure as well as resting heart rate. 

The display is clear and easy to read, and the unit can sync with DigiFit, as well as be tracked on Withings own app.  I read my blood pressure yesterday when the unit arrived (normal), and it was normal this morning when I tracked upon waking.  My resting heart rate was 52 with the blood pressure cuff, which is pretty close to the measurements I was getting from my heart rate monitor, so I think the measurements are pretty accurate.  It will be very interesting to see how the numbers vary over time, and over my schedule. 

My new morning routine will be to get up, take my blood pressure and resting heart rate, work out on the elliptical, and hop on the scale.  I received the Withings wi-fi scale, but I have not yet had a chance to calibrate it and get it properly connected (it's not the kind of scale that works right out of the box, nor does it communicate with the iPad immediately, like the blood pressure cuff).

All of this is all well and good, but this week I actually gained 1.3 pounds.  Talk about utterly disheartening.  I was able to get a lower reading on the new scale (once), but on repeating it more of the subsequent readings were higher, so I went back to the old scale which consistently gave a reading of 298.2 pounds.  I generally ate healthily this week, and avoided most snacking and late night meals (my usual Achilles heel), and I worked out more than I have in years, and yet I still gained weight.  I know these things happen, and that weight loss is not a straight linear progression, but it is still extremely discouraging to put on weight when I am working so hard. 

However, I remain hopeful that it is a blip.  If I keep on the program and keep working out, I should be able to keep losing weight, eventually.  I keep reminding myself that it is a long term plan, not a quick fix, but at times like this, it feels like my objective is farther away than ever. 

Thank god I have new toys to distract me from obsessing too much about my weight.  Now, if I can only get that Withings scale up and running to see my body fat %, that might explain some things. 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Another week, another milestone...

Photo by Rickie22, Licensed CC BY NC ND
Well, another week is in the books, and I managed to work out all 5 weekdays, as planned. 

The program this week was all elliptical, all the time, now that the Mother of All Machines resides in the Workoutatorium, also known as my guest bedroom.  For this week, the first full week of using the elliptical, I simply did 25 minutes each day with the tension set at 1.  I found that I could handle the time fine, without needing to take breaks.  My heart rate averaged around 136-137 bpm during these workouts, maxing out around 147 or so.  Sweating was not a problem, as I sweat like a pig each day.

The results?  Lost another whole 0.5 pounds.  This may seem like almost nothing at all, and it certainly feels like it.  But my weight is lower than it has been in years, at 296.9 pounds, and have lost 37 pounds overall, plus numerous inches.  I am cautiously happy with my progress, and I have to confess that I enjoy working out on the elliptical more than my previous workouts of bike + rowing machine.  That fact alone warms the cockles of my mother's heart, as she is so excited that I am: a) using the elliptical machine regularly; and b) enjoying it.  I have to say, though, if I am being completely honest, the time does seem to fly faster on the elliptical, which is all kinds of a bonus in my mind, given how much I dislike the idea of working out.

And do you want to hear something nuts?  Today (Sunday) I actually added an EXTRA workout into my routine, and did a full 25 minutes, at tension level 2.  And I was happy to have done it.  I may have just experienced my first endorphin rush in 24 weeks, and it is surprising.  I wouldn't necessarily call it an "endorphin rush", actually, since it was so mild, so maybe I only experienced a single endorphin.  Who can tell?

So this week, I think I am going to keep working out for 25 minutes each day on the elliptical machine, but at tension level 2.  From now on, I will also try and work out 6 days a week instead of 5 days a week.  6 days a week was my old program (Mon-Sat) when I was working out back in 2000.  Only then, it was 30 - 45 minutes of cardio each day, so I am still far behind that.  For now, 25 minutes at level 2 is a good challenge, as my average heart rate was 137 bpm during that timeframe, maxing out at 152 bpm, which is a little too high.  This time I will work out Sunday to Friday, so that my Friday night/Saturday timeframe is off the clock.  It's too hard to be good on Fridays.

Speaking of my heart rate, my resting heart rate on Friday morning was 49 bpm, which is a new low.  It is regularly ranging from 54 bpm to 60 bpm before my workouts, which is a nice indication that all this cardio I have been doing is having an impact - - before beginning my workout plan, my "resting" heart rate was regularly over 120 bpm, which is just terrible.

Also speaking of my heart rate, I have purchased yet another heart rate monitor, which I hope will finally enable me to track my heart rate during workouts using the DigiFit app.  I had purchased a new bluetooth Polaris heart rate monitor last week, but it only works with the iPhone 4 or the iPad 3, neither of which I have (I think I am currently using the iPhone 2 and the iPad 2, and I am not about to upgrade my i-toys just to use a damn heart rate monitor).  We shall see how the new monitor works when it arrives later on this week.  Fingers crossed!

I am also, in the spirit of tracking every possible aspect of my workouts and gradually increasing fitness level, getting a wireless scale that tracks weight and body fat %.  I am also getting a blood pressure monitor - - both the scale and the blood pressure monitor should [read: damn well better] communicate with the DigiFit app as well as the new heart rate monitor, for an all-over tracking of my vital stats.  I will give a review of each when they arrive, and will let you know if/how they work. 

In a final burst of optimism, I have begun taking pictures of myself both in front view and in profile.  The first set of photos was absolutely horrifying, but the Nerd tells me that he can see a huge improvement after 24 weeks of working out.  I have to take his word for it - I just see a land whale, which I know is not very self-confident of me, but I call 'em as I see 'em.  For now.  I am hoping that week after week even I will start to see progress, and eventually I will post some of the photos, once the differences are visible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Minor Milestone

Today I was able to do 20 minutes on the elliptical on the manual setting without stopping to pause once.  This is the first time I have been able to do this, and it feels like a win, even though it's a tiny one.  It's still baby steps, but it's baby steps in the right direction.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Still a loser...

Photo Courtesy Amelia Reising, Licensed CC BY NC SA
... of weight and inches, that is.

So, another month down, more inches lost.  And I managed to lose 2.1 pounds last week, bringing me back below my previous low mark, for a total of 36.5 pounds lost. 

Since I've started working out, I've lost 4.4" on my bust, 3" off my waist, and 3.1" off my hips.  My hips are really frustrating me, because they are the part of me that is keeping me from dropping down to a size 22 - I need to cut a further 2" of those bad boys, which is not happening.  Yet.  I am confident that the elliptical will help me make big strides in that direction this month, since the butt and legs are the parts of me that feel the burn the most on that machine. 

Just for kicks I tried to do 10 minutes on the elliptical yesterday on the manual setting (because all the other settings were far too difficult to do more than 2 minutes at a time...), and it seemed to work.  I still had to take a couple of pauses in there, and my left leg was really shaky after getting off the machine, but I could do the full 10 minutes relatively comfortably, which is good.

I have so far "earned" $6.30 with the Gym-Pact app, because I have hit my 5x/week workout Pact each of the last two weeks.  Apparently one can withdraw money to one's Paypal account once there is a balance of $10 or more, which should happen in a couple of weeks, assuming I leave the target as 5 workouts per week, and assuming that I hit the target each week (and assuming, of course, that the organization behind the app does not abscond with all the funds after becoming over-leveraged, Ponzi-like). 

I have also downloaded a new app, DigiFit, which has a heart rate tracking mechanism that is intriguing to me.  I do not have a heart rate monitor that speaks to the app yet, but it is on the way, and this will hopefully give me additional metrics I can use to analyse my workouts.  The app is particularly designed for hikers, walkers, cyclists, walkers and people taking a spin class - elliptical machines are not specifically mentioned, but I suppose they fall under the general category of "cardio".  I plan on giving this app a try once the new heart rate monitor arrives, and I will let you know how I like the app then.