Friday, 31 August 2012

7 months down - an update

Another month on the books, and 14 straight weeks of working out without missing a workout, and the results are in.

This past week I lost an amazing 3.6 pounds, for a total of 49.6 pounds lost total.  That represents 15% of my starting body weight lost, and 29% of my total goal weight lost.  Even more fun, I have gone down another dress size, down to a size 22 from my starting point of a 26.

The changes are evident on my body as well.  This month I lost another inch on my bust, half an inch on my waist, an inch on my hips, 3/4 of an inch on my thighs and more than half an inch on my calves.  Overall, since starting, I have lost 19 3/4". That's a lot of inches

I am within kissing distance of losing 50 pounds, which is apparently the equivalent of a small bale of hay or a small bag of cement.  Go, me.

My resting heart rate continues to trend down as my fitness level improves, as shown in the chart below:
My blood pressure continues to be normal, too, so all this cardio (still 35 minutes on the elliptical x 6 days per week, plus incremental walks during the week) is paying dividends.

I am most pleased about the workouts.

I never would have thought, with my workout-aversion, that I would be able to go 7 months with regular workouts, and 14 weeks without missing a single workout.  I would also never have thought in a million years that I would be using the elliptical 6 times a week, and then would willingly add more exercise on top of that, in the form of incremental walks.  I only did one walk this week on my own, so I hope to do at least a couple of walks with the Nerd this weekend.

The only thing that is not a positive trend this week is my blood sugar.  I did not have a single normal value this week, and although the high values did not put me into the diabetic range, I was solidly pre-diabetic this week.  I think part of that is due to the number of calories I am eating, and the fact that I was seldom able to keep the carbs below 200g each day this week.

Speaking of eating, I tried to eat more than before, on purpose.  I was aiming for between 1800 - 2000 calories per day, which would cover my BMR plus much of my exercise.  Overall, it's generally easier for me to control my eating on the weekends when the Nerd is cooking, but this week he made a bunch of meals ahead of time that I could pack for lunches and dinners at the office.  And I could see the results: this week I was able to keep the daily calorie intake around 1800-1850, which is much more than I had previously been eating.  I am not going to say that my fantastic weight loss results this week are due to eating enough that my body does not go into starvation mode, but it is likely a contributing factor.

My short term goals are still in sight.  I would like to get down to a size 20, which only requires that I lose a couple of inches on my hips (my bust and waist measurements are already there).

I want to get my weight down to 270, which would give me a BMI of 40, which would put me into "Obese Class II" from the present "Obese Class III" (at least according to the Government of Canada).  (Obese Class I has a BMI of 30 - 35, below which is merely "Overweight".  I will be "Overweight" at 203 pounds, or thereabouts).

I would like to be able to walk 3 miles by the end of September.  In one sitting, not in individual walk-ettes like I have been doing. 

I would like to have 2 consecutive days with normal blood sugar values by the end of September.

I don't think any of these objectives are out of reach, given my present lifestyle and habits.  It is almost ingrained to drink water rather than pop now, and I walked to work and home from the office every day this week, a new first for me.  It's just easier and quicker to walk than to wait for the streetcar, which is always jam packed anyways.  Exercising on the elliptical is like second nature to me now, and the only question for me is when I will up the time again.  Walking is still not so comfortable for me, or at least not as comfortable as the elliptical, but it is easier every day that I do a longish walk.

So all in all, it was a positive month.   Here are some progress photos showing the difference between now and last year, before I began working out.  Please disregard the disastrous hair in the recent photo, but it is windy outside.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

It will take me a while to get the hang of this "walking" thing

Photo courtesy Everydaylifemodern, licensed CC-BY-SA-ND
I went for another walk last night, and it was a struggle getting out the door.  I had a whole series of good reasons why I did not need to walk - - it was getting dark, my legs hurt, I needed to get groceries ... in the end, I tricked my brain and just went out for the walk, before my brain had a chance to form a coherent objection.  Sometimes the biggest obstacles to getting healthy are all mental.

I ended up walking north all the way to Carlton Street, then over one block east, then turned south again to return home.  I walked 2.2 miles in 50 minutes, which is one of the faster paces I have ever done, and my second longest walk (likely ever, but certainly since I began working out in January).

Which is amazing considering I had the poor judgment to pick a street with multiple university buildings on it, and I kept having to walk behind, around, and through groups of freshmen who were going through frosh week.  It's times like that I am glad that I am a bitter old crone - - you could not pay me enough money to be a first year university student again.  Although it would be nice to have all my bits point up, like they did when I was 19, rather than down, as they do now.  Ah, gravity, you cruel, cruel mistress.

Coming home, however, I noticed that my calves and quads ached from the effort of walking, and I was a little wheezy after my walk.  I haven't wheezed in a long time - months, in fact.  And given that I work out 6 times a week on the elliptical machine for 35 minutes, I was surprised that I felt the walk so much in my legs.  I guess it's true what they say - - walking uses different muscles than the elliptical.  Apparently muscles I have never used before. 

And these muscles get fatigued.  I noticed last night that when I turned for home, I had to be more careful to lift my feet, because I was tired and more prone to scuffing my feet, which is an invitation to trips and falls when wearing hiking shoes.  Take it from me, you Do Not want to scuff your feet in grippy shoes.  Don't ask me how I know this, but it may involve a face plant into a doorframe at my office last year.

This walk, like all my walks, felt tougher than my elliptical workouts.  I am not a natural walker - - my stride is too bouncy and energy inefficient, kind of like a demented kangaroo. I always feel like I am very purposefully striding forward and walking at a very brisk pace, only to discover that I was walking at 2.5 - 2.8 mph - - a veritable stroll.  I am probably losing a lot of speed in my vertical bounciness. 

But I notice that each walk I am able to walk farther, faster.  Still feels like hell on my legs when I am walking, and my legs ache when I stop, but each walk is a little tiny bit better.

My objective is to be able to comfortably walk 3 miles in a single stretch, as this is what the Nerd's mother does on her grim death marches through the neighborhood.  I want to be able to say "yes" when she asks if I would like to go for a walk, without being afraid of not being able to keep up, or do the distance.

One step at a time.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My World is Getting Bigger

Photo by Ken Bosma, licensed CC-BY-SA
I've noticed over the past week that my world has been getting bigger as I have been getting smaller.

I don't know if anyone else who is or has been morbidly obese has felt this, but before I started working out my world was very small indeed.  I was reluctant to go out with people or to go places, because I could not walk more than half a block without pain, and I could never know if there was close transit or parking nearby.

I used to dread conversations that took a turn towards "let's just walk to ...".  It didn't matter where people wanted to walk, I would know that it was too far for me to handle.

Before undertaking any new task - whether it was shopping, or dinner with friends, or even going to work - my primary consideration was always "how will I get there?" or sometimes even "can I get there?".  I remember a couple of years ago that I did good work on a tedious project, and the supervising partner took the team out for lunch.  It was one of those "I booked reservations at [local restaurant]" situations, but since the restaurant was not directly across the street, it involved a walk.  At the time for me every step was painful, and my back seized up in knots before I had even walked half a block.  The next two blocks were agony, and by the time I arrived at the restaurant I was completely blown, puffing and wheezing.  That restaurant, as it happens, is on the way to my current apartment, and is a mere 5 minute walk from my office.  For me at the time, it might as well have been on the moon.

I took more $10 cab rides than I care to mention, simply because I couldn't walk the 5 blocks to court.  Or the 4 blocks to my apartment.  My life became limited by my walking radius, which was about as far as the front door of my office building.

And I stopped taking advantage of the city as a result.  Here I was, living downtown in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Canada, and I was a virtual housebound shut-in.  I was not agoraphobic, but it was such a trial to actually go anywhere that my life resembled that of an agoraphobe.

Recently, however, I've noticed something.  I am exploring my city on foot.  I am enjoying going for walks with the Nerd, and we are going walkabout every week.  We've gone to the theatre district, and the distillery district, and I have plans for other meanders around town.

We've been going for little trips to the Market, and where I would always let the Nerd go alone in the past, we have started going shopping together. I am no longer limited by what my body will do, because my body has been doing all sorts of good things since I started working out. 

Go to dinner with friends and have a 1.7 km walk back to their place in High Park?  Sure!  Make three trips to the Market in a weekend?  No problem!  Go for a 30 minute walk to enjoy exploring the neighborhood?  You betcha!. 

I feel like I am gradually coming back alive after having been hibernating for so long.  And it's a good feeling.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

My Scale and I Have a Love-Hate Relationship

Photo courtesy Amelia Stewart, licensed CC-BY-SA-ND
Every morning after my workout it's the same thing.  I stare at my scale and will it to display a lower number, even if it's only fractionally lower.  But before I get the courage to stand on the scale, I waste as much time as possible. 

Brush my teeth - I certainly will!  Plaque must be worth a tenth of a pound or so, right?  Go to the washroom - hell yes!  Water weighs a lot, and I drink a lot, so that must be worth a tenth of a pound or so.  Dry my hair - absolutely!  Wet hair must weigh more than dry hair, so that must be worth a tenth of a pound or so.  And so it goes. 

Every morning I dread getting on the scale, afraid that it will tell me that despite working out and eating healthy, I have lost no weight.  Or worse still, that I have gained weight.  My body is still a magical mystery to me, and I cannot predict from one day to the next what I will weigh, based on how I am feeling or what I consumed the day before.

I went to a gourmet restaurant last week for an amazing 4 course meal ... and lost half a pound the next morning.  I ate precisely on plan on the weekend, and the scale thought I had gone up.  This morning I was two pounds down.  The scale is a fickle mistress, that's for damn sure.

I tell myself that I am adopting a lifestyle change, not dieting, and that the overall objective is to be healthier, not just to lose weight.  I want to bring my blood sugars under control, and have the endurance to participate in everyday activities without fear that my body will let me down.  Losing weight is part of that equation, but it is not the whole part, I keep telling myself.

And yet ... weight is the one single number that can sum up where we stand.  It's a convenient shorthand to define how the overall lifestyle change is going. 

Even though I am losing weight more or less steadily, and even though I know there are ups and downs on this path I am taking, every morning is sweet anxiety for me until I get the courage to step on the scale and see the numbers. 

And I am not alone - - I am reading the autobiography of a US national champion gymnast, and her attitude towards the scale is identical to mine.  And I have heard other people mention the same thing.  I don't know if the attitude ever goes away for those of us who are or who have been heavy, or for those of us in body-conscious professions (like ballet or gymnastics or wrestling or mixed martial arts).  If we are trying to lose, it is a struggle to lose weight.  If we are trying to maintain, it is a struggle not to lose and not to gain weight.  The scale serves as a constant reminder of where we stand. 

While I may never learn to love my scale, I do appreciate it.  For telling it like it is.  For humoring me occasionally.  For not shattering into a thousand pieces when I stand on it.  And tomorrow morning we get to dance again, my scale and I.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Mondays are Always Tough...!

Photo courtesy soonerpa, licensed CC-BY-SA-ND
Mondays are difficult days. 

All of the work that I so optimistically lug home Friday evening is still there by the door, untouched, Monday morning.  The files look accusingly at me as if to say "I thought you were going to look at me this weekend".  The weekend is full of seduction and enticements like naps, and reading for fun, and dinner with family and friends.  "You can work on that file later", the weekend whispers in my ear,  "Come with me and have a nap now on the soft pillowtop bed". 

Which leaves Monday as the day when the s - - - must hit the fan.  And it does, generally with a vengeance.

On this particular Monday, my workout went as planned.  I found it a little tough, likely because of the after-effects of falling on my knees last Friday.  I am still bruised as all heck, and my knees are sore when I stand or sit, but, luckily, they feel absolutely fine on the elliptical.  My mother was right about the elliptical being low impact.  Thank god, or else my entire workout plan would have to have been rejigged.

The pile of work I brought home is now the pile of work I must tackle at the office.  But I have a plan, so that is good.  Now to chip away at the massive stack of files on and around my desk.

I worked out this morning and ate a healthy breakfast and lunch, which is a very good thing.  As long as I can keep my personal fitness plan on track, I can manage around the work stress and overwhelming number of commitments.  Hopefully.   The key things is that I do not want to break my streak of 13 straight weeks of workouts - - I have worked too hard for that.  Monday will not take that streak away from me.

What I do know is that I can control what I eat, and when and how I exercise.  Even on a Monday.   Each new week is replete with possibilities and opportunities.  It's an opportunity for me to accomplish something I have never accomplished before.  Or to try something new.  Or to discover things about my body that I had long forgotten. 

The trick with Mondays, I think, is that you can't look too far down the road.  I am on a looonnngggg term plan, and I am not going to accomplish anything overnight.  I just need to work on the plan, and get through the day, and before you know it it will be Tuesday, and Monday's regrets will be a distant memory. 




Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Visit to North 44 Restaurant (Toronto)

The other day was my mom's birthday, so my stepfather took the family out to my mom's favourite restaurant, North 44 (2537 Yonge Street, Toronto ON  M4P 2H9 (416) 487-4897).

The restaurant, named for Toronto's latitude, is conveniently located in midtown, just north of the Eglinton subway station.

Chef Mark McEwan (of Bymark, One, Fabrica and late of Top Chef Canada fame) presents a continental menu in exquisite surroundings.  This is not a party spot, but rather an elegant dining experience, best shared with good friends.

To start, we all enjoyed the soup of the day, a cold zucchini soup finished with sour cream.  Refreshing and light, the soup was a wonderful way to begin the dinner.

For the second course, I had the seared “Day boat” scallops with beluga lentils, wilted lettuce, heirloom carrots and crisp pancetta.  The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the lentil and carrot sauce was delicious.

Prior to the main course, we were served a light melon ice in a tiny dish, as a palate cleanser.

For the main course, I ordered the seared B.C black cod with truffle risotto, kohlrabi, braised onions, peas and miso sauce.  The truffle risotto was To Die For, and the black cod was cooked perfectly - moist and delicious.  It took every ounce of willpower in my body not to eat every morsel of the risotto and then lick the plate clean.  But it was a close thing.

I did not have dessert myself, but my stepfather ate my mother's cherries jubilee, and pronounced it delicious.  I was disappointed that the dessert was not finished tableside with the flambe as a spectacle, but you can't have everything.  My sister and partner and stepfather enjoyed the cheese plate, which went well with the port sampler they had after dinner.

Elaine, the front of the house manager, was there to provide customized attentive service.  It is this service that keeps my parents coming back.  Interestingly, the service ethic is something that the staff at McEwan's Fine Foods shares - - I suspect it is a corporate culture guided by McEwan himself, who I have often seen at McEwan's overseeing operations.

Overall, everyone had a wonderful time at dinner, and no one had a dud meal - - each course was delightful.

A visit to North 44 is not necessarily easy on the pocketbook, but for occasions when you want to feel special, it is well worth it. 


Saturday, 25 August 2012

That Loud Noise You Heard was my Body Hitting the Pavement

Yesterday when coming home from the office I took a major spill on the street.  I was pulling my rolling briefcase full of stuff, and had my purse (also full of stuff) as well as a bag with some birthday cards for my mom and wrapping paper for her present.

Then all at once - blammo! - I was face down, spread all over the sidewalk like some suit wearing starfish.  All of my stuff was scattered over the sidewalk, and I fell directly on my purse and bag of cards.  I don't appear to have destroyed my suit, but I did bust the heck out of my knees and hand, as shown below:
Of course, one only falls before having to go somewhere else, which in my case was my mother's birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant.  So the Nerd helped me get home, with my left knee in particular getting tighter with every step.  Then, it was time for a quick change to get into clothes that I had not been rolling around on the ground in, and then we went back out to walk to the subway for the trip up to midtown. 

Walking actually felt ok, but stairs were an absolute killer - - my left knee could barely bend when we left my place, and the scrapes on my hand were very raw.  When we got to midtown, the Nerd and I went to a bookstore to pick up the Jamie Oliver Meals in Minutes cookbook for my mom's present (ed. note: she loved it), and then walked the 4 blocks north to the restaurant. 

I was a little concerned because the left knee (middle picture, above) was getting worse with every step.  By the time that dinner was done, my knee was almost completely frozen, and excruciatingly painful to bend. 

We spent a couple of hours icing the knee last night, first with a ziplock bag full of ice cubes (until it leaked all over the bed) and then with the athlete's staple, frozen peas.  And you know what?  This morning, although my knee was still sore, I could bend it - - a huge improvement over last night when I went to bed, when I could only bend my left knee by pushing it with my other leg.

All in all, it could have been much worse.  I did not break any bones, which is surprising given the way I fell on my hand.  And I can use both knees, albeit with discomfort.  But I should be able to go for a short walk this afternoon to keep the knees moving, and tomorrow I should be able to hop back on the elliptical as per my usual schedule. 

So at this point my only real concern is that I did not stick the landing. 

Slow and Steady...

Photo Courtesy Shirl (Aunt Owwee), licensed CC-BY-SA
Another week in the books, another 1.1 pounds lost, for a total of 46 pounds down altogether.  The overall trend for the past month is very positive, with a generally negative slope, as shown below.



This week was novel because I was trying to eat more, rather than less.  In the past (most notably in 2000 when I first worked out, but also in recent months), I would eat one meal a day, usually in the mid-afternoon.  It did not matter what I ate, the calorie totals would usually be under 1,000 for the day - - sometimes significantly less.  Part of this was a misguided attempt to cut calories, but more of it was simple laziness and lack of effort on my part.  I generally did not eat breakfast (I preferred to sleep), and I never had the ingredients for a proper lunch in my house. 

Anyone who knows anything about weight loss will know that this amount of a calorie deficit puts your body into serious hoarding mode.  And let me tell you, my body was made for hoarding, what with its hip pouches [grin]. 

Since downloading the MyFitnessPal app, however, I have been exposed to a deep pool of information about healthy eating, and have surrounded myself with like-minded peers who are all walking the same path as me.  The biggest take-away thus far?  I need to eat more, rather than less in order to lose weight. 

My previous calorie intake was not even covering my basal metabolic rate, so it was no surprise that my body reacted like it was starving.  I certainly wasn't covering the calories expended by my exercise, when I should have been covering my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which takes into account my basal metabolic rate plus exercise.  

This past week I have been consciously trying to eat around 1900-2000 calories a day, roughly double what I was consuming before.  And the results are positive, as you can see - another 1.1 pounds down, but without any of the sense of deprivation that I previously experienced.  

My sugars have not been as normal as I would like them to be (only one normal reading this week), but the non-normal values have been trending lower, which is a positive result.  Whereas when I first started tracking my fasting blood sugars would be running between 6.3-6.8 mmol/L, now they are typically running between 5.7 and 6.3 mmol/L.  These figures are not normal, but they are definitely moving in the right direction.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

I Learned Two Things Yesterday...

#1. Going for a walk in my chunky work heels feels fine when I start out, but feels like I am walking on razor blades by the time I get home.  A 10 minute walk is fine in these shoes.  A 25 minute walk is stupid.  Mental note: change into walking shoes before trying that again.

#2. GPS reception in downtown Toronto is really craptacular, what with all the towers. 

The GPS track for my walk home last night looks more like a random drunk walk than a track of where I actually walked, as you can see from the trace, above.  You have my word that I did not do nearly as many loop-de-loops as is suggested here, nor did I tunnel through several buildings.  You can trust that I am lazy enough to take the most direct route places on most occasions, even when I am going out of my way to do so - - no loop-de-loops for me!

Last night, in a fit of enthusiasm (no doubt brought on by lack of chocolate), I decided that instead of doing the direct 4 block walk to my apartment (which takes all of 8 minutes), I would walk one block west and then one block north before heading back for home.  I tracked my walk with the Runkeeper app, and along the way I kept checking to make sure that I had a GPS signal. 

I had a GPS signal all right, but I work in the financial district, at King and Bay street for the locals, which is essentially a forest of skyscrapers in all directions.  If it isn't the office buildings, it's the new condos that are springing up like mushrooms wherever there is undeveloped or underdeveloped land.  There are sidewalks that are constantly in shadow from all the towers, a reality which I find a little bit sad. 

As you can see, all of those towers do a really good job of reflecting GPS signals all over the place, turning what is otherwise a fairly straightforward walk into something much more exciting looking. 

When I got home I was initially thrilled to see that I had [allegedly] walked 1.8 miles, at least according to Runkeeper.  When I looked at the map, however, I saw why the mileage was so high - - the GPS had me walking three steps back for every one step forward, making extra laps of some areas and completely skipping others.  While I trust that I did walk 25 minutes (at least according to my sore feet), the mileage is completely fictitious.  Too bad - I would have liked to see how it turned out.  But this neighborhood is brutal for GPSs, at least the commercial kind in my iPhone.

#3. [I know, I said I learned 2 things when there are really 3 things.  There are always 3 things with me, and you just need to get used to it].  Wearing a suit when going on a walk is a really stupid idea.  I sweat like a linebacker at the best of times, and doing so whilst wearing a black suit is just plain uncomfortable.

Lesson learned - - my next intentional walk will be in appropriate sweat-wicking clothing,  with comfortable walking shoes.  The hiking shoes and workout shirt I have worn on my past few walks are perfect for just this kind of thing.  Almost as if they were designed for walking.  Hmmm...





Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Please Talk to Someone

I am a very lucky person, in many ways.  Among the most important is my amazingly supportive partner, the Nerd.  He cooks delicious and nutritious meals on the weekends when we are together, and has been nothing but supportive of my quest to become more healthy, even to the point of encouraging me to go on walks with him on weekends.  Even more positive - - he is enjoying the trickle down benefits of cooking healthy meals, because he has begun to lose weight as well!

But not everyone has it so lucky, I know.  In fact, many people have it much, much worse. 

Take my mom, for example.  She is diabetic and is also working out to lose weight and become more healthy.  No matter what she can eat, however, she still makes gourmet meals for my stepfather.  When she makes extra so she can eat with my stepfather, things can happen.  Last week my mom and my stepfather were going to enjoy a dinner of black cod together, and mom got an extra big piece just for the occasion.  Being an insulin dependent diabetic, my mom needs to eat at certain times to cover her insulin, or else risk having a reaction.  7pm turned to 8pm turned to 9pm...by the time my stepfather arrived home for dinner, my mother had been forced to eat (something other than black cod) hours earlier.  So they put aside one of the pieces of black cod for her to enjoy later.  That is, until the next evening when my stepfather ate it.  And I don't think it even occurred to him that my mom may have been saving that piece of fish for her own consumption.  She had been looking forward to eating it, and he ate her dinner without even thinking.

My mother is also in the unenviable position of having to cook delicious, non-diet foods for her spouse, yet not being able to eat the same food herself.  My stepfather will order pizza or pasta on Fridays (food my mother has not been able to eat for years because of the carbs), and then eat it in front of her.  Anyone who has been in that situation knows that it is torture.

But I have also met other women on my travels who have partners who are less than supportive.  Like the man who says he is not attracted to his wife because she was heavy (and it's not only husbands who are guilty of this lack of empathy - - I had that happen to me, with a previous ex-boyfriend). 

Or the man who demands that his wife cook fattening food for him and who buys junk food and brings it into the house because "he's not fat", and can eat such food without repercussion, while knowing that his wife is struggling to keep her healthy eating habits when surrounded by junk food. 

Or the husband who does not want his wife to exercise after work because "that's his time".   

Or the husband who tells his wife that he doesn't know why she is going to all that effort to work out, since "you're not going to succeed anyway, you never do". 

Do any of these sound familiar?  If so, and if they form part of a pattern of behaviour of control, you may be experiencing a form of emotional abuse.  32% of all callers to the Assaulted Women's Helpline last year identified as experiencing some form of emotional abuse - - that's 1 in 3 callers. The examples I mentioned above can qualify as emotional abuse in some circumstances, especially when combined with a pattern of behaviour suggestive of abuse.

Many people will say "my husband is not abusive - - he never hits me".  But they are afraid to make their husband angry because it may prompt an explosive argument.  Or they are limited in their options during the day because their husband controls all the money and gives them only a small spending allowance each week.  Or they may be unable to say no to their husband when it comes to sex, whether or not they are interested.  Guess what - - those are all patterns of abuse. 

Emotional abuse in particular is insidious, and it eats away at our self esteem and ability to take ownership of our lives.  If you think that you or someone you love may be a victim of emotional abuse, or even physical abuse, sexual abuse, or economic abuse (such as having funds withheld by a partner), please talk to someone. 

In Ontario, women can access the Assaulted Women's Helpline at <awhl.org> or 1-866-863-0511.  See your local yellow pages or check the internet for resources near you if you live outside of Ontario. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Taking a Stroll with the DigiFit and Runkeeper Apps

Tonight my partner and I took a short walk this evening with an eye to comparing how the DigiFit app tracks a walk versus the Runkeeper app.

DigiFit
First, I looked at the DigiFit app.  Starting a walk was just as easy as starting a workout from home with the Quickstart feature.  The app tracked my heart rate using a Garmin ANT+ adapter and chest band, and assigned my heart rate to different workout zones, depending on the intensity of the workout over time.

As you can see from the screen shot, above, the app calculated that I had walked 1.74 miles in 40 minutes, for around 253 calories expended.  Because the app works with my heart rate monitor, it also displays my average and maximum beats per minute. 

The app will also count out the 10 minute intervals walked, but I had the sound off so that I did not hear any of the interval counts or other commentary from the app. 

Although the DigiFit app calculates my average pace and distance and time travelled, it does not calculate the pace/hour. 

Positives:  heart rate monitor integration with heart rate zone graph; quick and easy to use; straightforward; permits notes to be added to walk/run; GPS/map functionality; tracks elevation; part of an overall health tracking app that also includes ability to track blood pressure, sleep, and resting heart rate.

Negatives: does not calculate mph pace speed; DigiFit occasionally drops workouts off my list of completed workouts if the app is not synched with the server immediately after the workout; GPS has been known to drop completely in high scatter environments, like downtown Toronto in the midst of office towers.

Runkeeper
I have to admit that this was the first time that I used the Runkeeper app, and I only downloaded it at all because of its integration with my Gym-Pact app.  Officially starting next week, qualifying walks/runs/cycles tracked using the Runkeeper app will count as workouts for Gym-Pact. 

Initially, the app is much like the DigiFit app.  Runkeeper, too, calculates time, mileage, expended calories, and also has a GPS/mapping function. 

Unlike DigiFit, Runkeeper actually calculates my average speed, which I really like (given my poor math skills). 

However my Garmin ANT+ heart rate monitor does not work with the Runkeeper app, which has its own proprietary partner.  This is a pain in the butt, because I am not going on walks festooned with heart rate monitors over every exposed piece of skin just because my apps do not play well together.  Because DigiFit provides the nice chart showing the heart rate zones, I am staying with the heart monitoring functionality on the DigiFit app, rather than the Runkeeper app for now.

The Runkeeper app also has some sort of commentary, but I had to turn the sound off because the app also triggered by iPod to start playing.  The app permits you to select your playlist (which I did), but it started playing some random song from a different playlist, and I could not figure out how to shut the thing down.  Perhaps I am a Luddite who is unaccustomed to technology, but I hate when apps do things I do not specifically instruct them to do - - like turn on my music full blast. 

As you can see from the screen shot, above, the map and summary readout is very similar to the DigiFit app, although it provides the information in a slightly different format.  For some reason, even though I was taking the same walk at the same time, where the DigiFit had me walking 1.74 miles in 40 minutes, Runkeeper had me walking 1.85 miles in almost 43 minutes.  I can understand a minute's difference, since I started the apps running sequentially, but 3 minutes?  and a tenth of a mile difference?  The calorie count is also much higher (390 versus 253), but that is likely due to an estimate based on weight, rather than DigiFit's estimate which is based on weight + heart rate.

Positives: easy to use; permits heart rate tracker integration (although I did not use it); integrated with Gym-Pact; GPS/map functionality; calculates pace in mph; permits the user to set goals (e.g. miles walked or length of walk); tracks elevation.

Negatives: turned on my music unexpectedly; you can expect the GPS to drop in high scatter environments, just like the DigiFit GPS; heart rate monitor functionality requires special equipment; dedicated app only tracks walks/runs/cycles.

Overall, the DigiFit does more things, but I suspect the Runkeeper is better at the one thing that it does.  Everything in the Runkeeper app is designed around that single aspect, namely, tracking  workouts.  DigiFit tracks much more than merely workouts, but it tracks workouts well. 

I will continue to try both for now, to see if I can work out that "playing music unintentionally" thing that happened last night.  I will continue to defer to DigiFit's calorie counts (they are more accurate because of the heart rate monitor) and will use whichever mileage calculation is more conservative. 

I have been walking quite a bit lately, and am beginning to feel it in my left knee and right groin, so I am going to take a break from walking until Friday or Saturday, to give my body a chance to recover. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Let's Take it up a Notch...

Last week was the first full week of adding walks 3x/week into my workout routine, and I think it's time to increase the daily steps targets in my Fitbit.

When I first signed up for the Fitbit back in January, I was barely able to walk 2,000 steps each day.  Over time, as my endurance and energy increased with my overall fitness, that number crept up to 3,000 and then 4,000 average steps per day. 

Most recently, my target was set at 5,000 steps per day.  For the last two weeks, I have been blowing that target out of the water, because of the added walks in my routine.  I have also been walking to and from the office more regularly.  Although that walk to the office is so short (8 minutes or less) that it alone cannot account for the sudden uptick in steps taken, the 3 20-35 minute walks I have been taking in the evenings certainly can.

Last Friday my partner and I walked 2.7 miles to and from the post office.  Although that is a long walk for me right now, as time goes on this will be the norm.  Certainly it is my goal to be able to comfortably walk 3 miles in an outing, as this is what my partner's mom does on her daily walks.  If I can keep up with them, I will be doing well. 

The last time we went for one of her infamous walks (or as I like to call them, grim death marches), I spent much of the time just trying to make it to the next landmark, and praying for the walk to end.  I hindsight I don't think the walk was even that long, but it certainly felt long to me.  I barely made it, and was appalled at my lack of fitness.  And that was before I really let myself go and stopped moving almost entirely, a couple of years ago, so you can imagine what would have happened if I had tried to go on the same walk last December.  You don't have to imagine, I will tell you - - I would not have made it out of the parking lot to reach the walking path, as the lot was some distance from the entrance to the park, and in December I couldn't comfortably walk a block and a half without stopping for a break.

Now, however, after almost 8 months of working out steadily, I would be able to handle that walk.  First, I would be emotionally able to handle it, because I would be confident that I have handled similar walks at home.  The distance may be a bit more than I am used to (although it may not be once I have ramped up my walking plan), but I am not at all uncomfortable when I finish my walks now, so there's no reason to think that I could not walk further, if required.

I would also have a way of controlling uncertainty.  I know that my partner's mom likes to walk 2-3 miles on her daily walks.  I would simply turn on my DigiFit app and tell it I am going on a walk, and then it would track my heart rate, calories burned, and distance travelled.  I would even be able to see the path taken on the walk appear on a map in the app.  All of this helps me know how far we have walked, and where, which would help me gauge how long we have left to walk.  Knowing that the walk is almost over stops it from feeling like it is never going to end (which is what the last walk felt like). 

This is not to say that I would be jumping up to volunteer to take a walk, necessarily, but I would not try to avoid it.  And I would be better physically able to handle the walk, and thereby enjoy the company of my partner and his family. 

All of which is the long way of saying that I need to increase my Fitbit target steps, because I ain't going to be walking less anytime soon.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Party Time, Excellent!

Photo by Maggie Q. Magniloquent, some rights reserved
Yesterday was a difficult day for me - - I had my first "appetizer party", at which the only food would be nibblies like guacamole, chicken fingers, meatballs, fruit, and fresh vegetables.  There would be no main course per se, only grazing.

The only problem with grazing, I think you'll agree, is that one never stops eating.  It is far too easy to load up a plate with food ... and then another ... and then another ... for the entire evening. 

I tried to be pragmatic about it and plan ahead for my meal, so that I would know in advance what I could have.  For example, I planned on half a serving of Tostitos scoops to go with a set amount of guacamole, many chopped vegetables (celery and red pepper), 4 swedish meatballs, and 4 chicken fingers.

I was able to stick to the 4 meatballs and 4 chicken fingers - - with difficulty - - but then lost count of the tortilla chips and guac.  I am certain that I went over on that count.  And I completely forgot to check the fresh fruit (strawberries and grapes) until halfway through the evening. 

And I have to say, other than the problems I have in counting (also demonstrated whenever I try and calculate a tip in a restaurant, which is why I am constantly overtipping), it's very difficult to stop eating when everyone around you is eating all evening.  In addition to that, many of our guests brought desserts, and we had an entire world map made out of cookies (see photo, above).  None of which I could eat (and stay anywhere near my calorie goals for the day, that is). 

As it was, I went over on my calorie goals for the day, but only slightly.  But it took an iron will and as much discipline as I had in my body to eat what I did, and not to gorge like I wanted to. 

These kind of unstructured meal times are the most challenging for me, because there is no "recipe" for the meal, as such.  I much prefer being able to eat a specific dish or course of a meal eaten in a specific time range, rather than a buffet of food over the span of an evening. 

My next challenge will be an upcoming family meal out at North 44, a fancy restaurant operated by Mark McEwan (of Bymark, One, Fabrica, McEwan's Fine Foods and Top Chef Canada fame).  It's my mom's favourite restaurant, and we're going there for her birthday.  I am really nervous about what I will choose, because the food is so rich that it will be difficult to stay anywhere close to my diet if I clean my plate.  We'll see what happens. 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Weekly Progress Report

Another week is in the books, and I am another 1.1 pounds down, for a total of 44.9 pounds lost overall, which represents 27% of my total weight loss objective. 

My blood pressure continues to be generally good, and this morning I was pleased to see that my resting heart rate was back down to 48 bpm, after having been running between 55 and 61 this past week (likely completely unrelated to my stressful week - ha!). 


You can see the new walking element added to my routine in the chart above.  Today's numbers look a little hinky because it looks like I did two workouts this morning when in fact I did one - I had an issue with the DigiFit app dropping the heart rate sensor, and had to restart it. 


An even more important win is in my fasting blood sugar levels.  The first two weeks of tracking my fasting blood sugar I did not have a single value in the normal range - each reading was high, in the pre-diabetic range.  Last week I had a single normal reading, which was very exciting, because it showed me that exercise and attention to my diet could, in fact, reduce my blood sugar levels. 

This week was even better - - I had 3 normal values this week, including this morning.  Sure, they are all 'high normal', but the operative word there is NORMAL.  This is a fantastic trend, and I am confident that with time, I can bring all my readings into the normal range.  Even my high readings were not so high this week as when I first started looking at my blood sugars, so I can definitely see substantial and positive progress here.

I have to confess that even losing another 1.1 pounds and having a normal blood sugar reading this morning, I was frustrated with my weigh-in.  There is still a part of my dinosaur brain way in the back of my head that thinks "I worked really hard this week, and watched what I ate, made sure to eat enough, and to eat the right things, and for this iron discipline I lose a lousy pound??".

The rational part of my brain has now kicked in to remind me that 1 - 1.5 pounds lost per week is the objective, and I am perfectly within that range.  Plus, there's all the positives, what with my improving stamina on walks, and greater frequency of normal blood sugar readings - - these are all things that I need to focus on, not the fact that weight loss is not instantaneous.

The real positive thing is that no matter how heavy the scale thought I was this morning, I was clearly under the 300 pound mark (in fact, my weight was not even close to 300 pounds).  And that 300 pound mark is well under the 333.9 pound mark where I started.   I know I am particularly guilty of focusing on the weight I am not losing, when I should be focusing instead on what I have accomplished.  Even with minor fluctuations in my weight (that you can see in the first chart, above), I weigh nowhere near what I once did.  That means that my workout and eating plan is working, and working well.

I am eating delicious meals (especially on the weekend when the Nerd cooks) and I can still go out and enjoy dinner with friends, and I am still losing weight, overall.  This is a much more healthy and sustainable pattern than I had when I was first working out in 2000.  Back then I starved myself during the week only to binge on the weekends, and because I was on such a calorie restricted diet, I eventually gave in to the cravings and gained all the weight back and more.  This time, I am able to eat the things I enjoy, but in moderate portions.  

What this process has taught me is to adopt more of a lifestyle change than quick fixes.  My understanding of nutrition and portions and carbs is having a significant effect on the way I eat, and on the choices I make.  And that will serve me well, I think, for a long time to come. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Walk of Shame? No, Stride of Pride!

Photo courtesy Tushar Pokle, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA
Yesterday was a long day.  With little sleep the night before, then the morning in court, then racing to finish work before heading off to volunteer with the Assaulted Women's Help Line, I was exhausted by the time I got home from doing some grocery shopping. 

But I still went out to walk. 

I took a different path last night, walking west from my place through part of the business district and then down past one of the Fairmont hotels that always stands in for the Fairmont Chicago in movies.  There was lots of construction going on, so lots to see as I walked.

I managed to wear the heart rate monitor, but yet again forgot the dongle that plugs into the iPhone to actually track my heart rate (the dongle usually lives on the elliptical machine, for my morning workouts).  So no heart rate checking for me last night. 

I was by myself, so I listened to music, and I found that it was easy to keep up a good cadence to the music, when the song was right. The pace must have been ok.  I walked for 1.5 miles in 27 minutes, which is a better sustained pace than I did with the Nerd last weekend (although on a longer walk).

It was good to get out, although the downtown area is a little creepy at night, and I don't like walking in the dark as much as I used to - - there are predators who prey on the unwary at night in any city, and a woman walking alone with ear buds on can be a tempting target.  I trust that my aggressive stride and angry workout face will scare anyone away, and it must have worked last night, because I was not bothered.

Yet again I felt pretty good after my walk.  A little sweaty, perhaps (OK, a LOT sweaty, it's what I do), but no real foot problems or soreness.  And this time I slept fine, so no real after-effects. 

I have been noticing that my hip joints are a little sore after working out in the morning.  This has been something I have had for a while, and it makes the morning walks to work a little uncomfortable (but not impossible).  I will have to watch that to make sure I am not over-exercising. 

On a positive note, I picked up some new workout wear from Go Figure (online at <gofigurego.com>).  It's a Canadian store that stocks active wear for sizes 10 - 24+, which is good for me, being size 24 right now. 

I ordered a tank top, a short sleeve top, and some fun workout capris, and they are fantastic.  I worked out in my new top and capris this morning and I swear the new clothes made me go faster on the elliptical [grin].  Shipping took a little longer than I am used to, because the company sent my order via Canada Post rather than courier, but the clothes are lovely, and they FIT, which is amazing.  As a woman of size, I suppose I have gotten used to trying to fit into clothes that are simply not made for my size - - this is not the case with Go Figure; their clothes are designed for people just like me.  That made my morning. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Twelve Angry Men

Photo courtesy Bill Ledbetter, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA




Today was the second time in two days that I had to be in a courtroom, arguing things. 




Back in the dark times before I started working out (like early January, 2012), I was so out of shape that I had a lot of trouble with asthma and difficulty walking distances or standing for long (or even short) periods of time.  When I had to go to court I was always severely compromised - I would be out of breath if I were called upon to speak, and if I walked to the courthouse, my face would be an alarming hot-pink colour for the first 30 minutes of the hearing.  I've actually had people give me strange looks because they thought I was about to stroke out right in front of them - - not a great way to instill confidence, for sure.

Fortunately, my court robes are voluminous, and black is a flattering colour on almost anyone.  Perhaps less fortunately, they are also a wool-blend, which means that in the summer they are hot like the surface of the sun, and if I sweat (as I always do), I end up smelling like a damp sheep by the end of the day. 

Yesterday I had to gown up and argue a motion in front of a judge and a roomful of lawyers (also gowned) who were waiting their turn.  I was nervous as hell because up to now I have been more of a solicitor than a barrister in that I have done more behind the scenes in the law office than in the courtroom.  Add to that the fact that I am naturally shy, and you can imagine how nervous I was waiting my turn to speak. 

To top it off, the judge took the opportunity to lecture me before agreeing to my request - what a way to start the week!

Today was another day in court, but this time I was in front of a Master rather than a Judge, so I did not need to gown.  However this was my first contested motion, so it was the first time I had to go head to head against another lawyer, and one more senior and experienced than me to boot. 

In each case, I noticed something interesting.  I was nervous, sure.  I had shaky hands, but that is normal for me.  I was hot in my robes yesterday, but so was everyone - there were 30 of us in that room and it is high summer. 

What I did not notice was my wheezing asthma, or my bright pink face, or my uncontrollable nerves.  Sure, my heart rate was elevated a bit when I first got into the courtroom each day, but it came down to a normal resting heart rate very quickly.  And this made a huge difference when I was actually making my arguments before the Judge and Master, because I actually felt - and looked - calm.

All of this new zenlike approach to litigation is directly thanks to all of that work on the elliptical trainer.  I do 35 minutes 6 days a week - even today, when I had to race to make sure I had everything ready for court.  And do you know what?  I felt good.  I am actually looking forward to seeing how my improved fitness and cardio helps me as I do ever increasing amounts of litigation.  I never thought that cardio could have such beneficial side-effects, but there you have it.

Missed my planned walking training last night because I was in the office until 2.30 am working on this motion, and I have a volunteer meeting for the Assaulted Women's Helpline this evening, so my (slightly delayed) walk training will have to be in the romantic evening light.  I will let you know how it goes. 


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

It's All About Premeditation...

Photo courtesy improbcat, licensed CC-BY-NC
This morning the Nerd and I enjoyed a breakfast of Brand Buds, yogurt, and fruit, along with some cereal mix after my workout.  Yesterday we had a similar breakfast.

This got me thinking about the benefits of planning ahead.  We could only have enjoyed that breakfast because I got up at 5:30 am to work out (!), and because I was thinking about breakfasts this week when I went grocery shopping, so there was food in the house.

I planned ahead for lunch, too, and packed a delicious dish of beans with peanut sauce on rice.  That takes time to make, and I had that time because I made a point of getting out of bed to start my day early.

Sure, incremental snuggles are a truly wonderful thing.  I have flannel sheets on the bed this week, and with the pillowtop mattress, they make my bed an almost irresistible lure.  It's like sleeping in a fluffy warm hug.  And who doesn't like that?

The thing is, if I sleep in until 8 am, then I can't get to work until 9.30 or 10 am at the earliest - - too much time is required for my morning work out routine to stay in bed any time past 7 am, it seems.

And when I sleep in, forget about eating a healthy breakfast, or packing my lunch - - I start the day off on the wrong food and I am left to my own devices and whatever I choose to buy from one of the local food stands.

This goes for eating out or having friends over as well.  I have found that if I plan out what we will eat for the entire day, then I know how much slack I have in the diet plan for dinner.  I know beforehand that I can have a glass of wine, or a slice of cake, but not both.  This is indispensable in social situations, because I don't want to be seen as a shut in who can't go out and do anything because she is on a diet.  I am not on a diet, per se, I am just aware of what I am eating, and I am trying to keep what I am eating within reason.

And that is a heck of a lot easier when I plan ahead.  

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Walking Dead

Photo by Caitlin Christopher, Licensed CC-BY-SA
Well, the big walking experiment began with a bang last evening. 

I dug out my walking shorts, athletic socks, and hiking shoes and the Nerd and I walked briskly through the neighborhood just after sunset.  I picked a random straight line walk along a local street, and then picked an arbitrary street at which to turn and head back for home (along a different street, for variety).  Overall the walk took 35 minutes, including 5 minutes of sauntering at the end to cool down.

The night was a perfect one for walking, not too hot, not too cool (although I would have preferred more of a breeze - - it was fairly still).  It was surprisingly pleasant.  I was not weighted down my any heavy purse or bag, and we peeked into store windows and read the plaques on historical buildings as we walked along.  All in all, an enjoyable jaunt.  Even better, the Nerd has said that he loves going walking with me, so I will have a weekend walking partner, at least.

We ended up walking about 1.4 miles at an average pace of between 2.5 - 3 mph, which isn't too embarrassing.  I was pleased that I had no back pain, no blisters, and no real issues walking, even after 35 minutes.  I was sweaty (because that's what I do), and I was a little breathy on the home stretch, but that's to be expected when walking briskly. 

My objective is to walk at least 3 times per week, at gradually increasing distances, in addition to working out on the elliptical machine 6 times per week.  The first walk generally went well, so hopefully tomorrow's walk will be a similarly positive experience.

I did have a lot of trouble sleeping last night, in part because my leg was sore (I thought it was related to the groin pull I gave myself two years ago).  I hope that this nocturnal discomfort does not follow every walk!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Making Great Strides

Today began another week of workouts, which meant another opportunity to step things up. 

This week I am essentially doubling the intensity of my elliptical workouts, by actually attempting to do the resistance instructed in my BeatBurn elliptical workouts.  Up to now, when the program told me to set the resistance at 80%, I was setting the resistance at '8', when it should have been at '16' (since my elliptical's resistance is on a scale from 1-20). 

Today was the first workout at the actual resistance, and boy do I feel it in my legs and arms!  I was barely able to move the pedals when at 80% resistance, and noticed that I was breathing very heavily and working quite hard.  I was using my arms much more on the handles, too, to assist me in pushing the pedals over.  For those of you who have seen the episode of The Simpsons where Bart is working or Mr. Burns and rides his bike at night with the generator on for the lamp - -  that is what I looked like/sounded like this morning on the elliptical machine.  But I tell you, suddenly 40% resistance flies after going at 80%, and my legs feel like feathers at 10% resistance - - they practically flew! 

I was a little concerned that my heart rate was pushing into the extreme zone for 7% of my workout, but it shows that doubling the intensity is requiring more effort. 
Photo courtesy mrtruebeliever, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA
The other new thing I will be starting this week is a walking program.  A colleague of mine heard about my 2.5 kilometer walk last weekend, and suggested I participate in a charity 5 k walk this fall.  I am not at all sure that I would like to do the charity walk (although I will donate money to the cause), but it did spark in me some interest in the idea of being able to walk 5 k. 

It takes the average person between 45 minutes and 60 minutes to walk 5 kilometers, so right now I could probably expect to do it in 60 - 75 minutes, at my present fitness level.  I only work out on the elliptical for 35 minutes at a stretch right now, so I would definitely need to train to be able to walk for an hour in a single stretch without discomfort.

Fortunately for me, there are numerous walking plans available online, not to mention dozens of couch-to-5k apps out there, so it will be easy to find some structure to guide my training.  The majority of these plans suggest walking with intent 3 - 5 days a week, starting off at 15 minutes and working up to 60 minute walks, at increasingly quick paces (from a saunter at the beginning of the training to a brisk walk at the end).  To be able to walk briskly for an hour would be beneficial for many reasons, not the least of which is to be able to keep up with family members when they take their habitual grim death marches around the neighborhood. 

I am once again very lucky to have such a supportive partner.  When I broached the idea of going on walks with the Nerd this morning, he was immediately enthusiastic, and volunteered to walk with me every day on the weekends each week.  He could be my training partner and guide, as I have a habit of getting lost.  He can also motivate me to actually get my butt out the door, because if there is one thing I am not in the habit of doing, it is going for long purposeful walks.  Long naps, yes, but long walks are just time taken away from napping in my mind. 

The good thing about adding periodic purposeful walks to my week is that they are a form of exercise, and a good way to get my heart going without the monotony of the elliptical.

So we'll see if I can implement this plan, and add the walks beginning this weekend.  I will be interested to see how my stamina improves over time. 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Weekly Progress Report

Activity by Day - July 1 to August 11, 2012
It has now been 29 weeks of working out in the books - and 11 weeks since I last missed a workout.  This week's program has been to continue the elliptical machine for 35 minutes per day x 6 days a week.  And the results?  No weight lost, but no weight gained, either.  Last week I lost 4.1 pounds compared to the previous week, which is ridiculous, so I expect that this week was merely my body catching up with extra water weight lost the previous week.  Net weight loss is still favourable, so I am pretty content with how things have been going.

This week was a good one because of a few wins.  First, I have felt strong and good at doing 35 minute elliptical workouts 6 days a week.  Sure, I feel it in my legs at times, but I generally feel pretty good once the workouts are done.  Scratch that - I feel amazing when the workouts are done, but that's just because it's a whole day until I have to work out again [grin].

Resting Pulse Rate
Physically, though, my body is definitely getting stronger and more capable, which is fantastic.  I can definitely see the impact of all that cardio on my resting pulse rate, which has been trending steadily downwards.  I now regularly have readings below 50 bpm, although I suspect I will likely average out between 45 bpm and 50 bpm when I am in shape. 

Past Week's Weight Tracking
I had a couple of non-scale wins this week, among them my ability to walk 2.5 kilometers to and from our friends' house after Sunday dinner at a restaurant in town.  The other major victory was seeing my fasting blood sugar levels in the normal range twice in the past week, after having them be consistently in the pre-diabetic range. 
Fasting Blood Sugar
Having 2 isolated normal readings does not make me "normal", but it is very promising, as it suggests that as I continue to work out and watch what I eat, that the numbers can be managed down into the normal range more consistently. 

This week I will step up the challenge by actually putting the tension levels on the elliptical at the instructed levels.  I have been using the BeatBurn Elliptical app for the past couple of weeks and enjoying it.  The app tells me to set the tension at a level between 5% and 80%, while keeping my strides at a pace of between a low of 80 strides per minute to a max of 180 strides per minute.   Generally the lower tension goes with the higher stride rate, and vice-versa. 

For the past couple of weeks I have been halving the resistance, largely due to poor math skills.  For example, when I am told to put the resistance at 80%, I have been selecting "8" on the elliptical machine.  But my elliptical has resistance that goes to 20, so I really should have been putting the resistance at 16.  I have been feeling strong after my workouts, so I am going to try and set the machine at the actual requested resistance this week.  we'll see what happens, and if I can do it.  Wish me luck!




Thursday, 9 August 2012

Food Glorious Food

Photo Courtesy Masahiro Ihara, Licensed CC-BY-SA
I have been working out for some time now, and the constant ongoing struggle for me is still food. 

My struggle is not so much the junk food binges, which I haven't done in months (although I still dream about my old trigger foods of popcorn with cheese and nachos at times).  My struggle is more with eating enough of the right foods every day, at the right time of day.

My schedule is unpredictable, other than my morning routine.  Once I get to work, I could be there straight through to 9 pm, 10 pm, or even 1 am or later.  I don't often take the time for lunch, or if I do, I begrudge the time - - I work on a billable hour, after all, and each day is a challenge to hit the required targets and to manage the workload. 

And if lunch is difficult, so too is dinner.  If I wait to eat dinner until I get home at night, there's very good odds that I would be eating in bed.  Apparently this is not good form.  At least the Nerd busts me when he discovers crumbs. 

I also struggle with eating enough calories each day.  I love food, don't get me wrong, but I obsess about eating too much, or eating too little.  I am finding it very difficult to eat enough calories so that my body doesn't go into starvation mode. 

Hopefully with time I can work on more effective meal planning, and meal execution.  It's not just about eating well on the weekend when the Nerd cooks, it's about continuing that good work during the week when I am on my own.  Packing lunch and dinner requires meal planning, and it also requires the time to get up and pack said lunches and dinner. 

That's the biggest lifestyle change - getting up and adding this whole other routine on top of my morning workout routine.  We'll see if it's something that I can implement. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

It's Important to Celebrate the Little Things

Photo Courtesy Sharyn Morrow, Licensed CC-By-NC-ND
I have been working out steadily since the end of January, 2012, and without missing a workout day since May 28, 2012.  That's 10 1/2 weeks without skipping a workout, which is some kind of record for me.

So why do I feel so demotivated?  I think the answer is simple: I need to remember to celebrate the little things that have occurred since I first began working out.

Things like dropping a size in my jeans, and almost dropping two sizes.

Or being able to get up from the comfy chair easier when I am sitting with my lapboard, because my stomach is no longer getting in the way quite as much as it once did.

Or going out to dinner on Sunday night and being able to walk 2.5 kilometers to our friends' house after dinner, then back to the streetcar stop, without stopping for a break, or even feeling any particular discomfort at all (other than sore feet from standing around waiting for the streetcar).

And being able to do up my suit jackets, which was something I haven't been able to do since buying these suits.

And not being terrified of social engagements when people say "it's only a few blocks away, let's walk it", because I know I can walk that distance.

And achieving a normal fasting blood sugar level for the first time in (likely) a very long time.

And feeling stronger every day.

I need to make sure I do this more often.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Big Positive Strides - Non Scale Victory

For the last week or so I have been tracking my fasting blood sugar.  This is something that one normally does at one's annual physical.  However, since my last annual physical was in 1996, I was forced to take matters into my own hands and buy my own glucose tester so that I could check my own blood sugars.  Why?  Because of my rampant family history of diabetes, and a general feeling of guilt, of course.  The usual reasons.

As you may recall, my fasting blood glucose levels were between 6.1 and 6.8 mmol/L (roughly 110 to 123 mg/dL), which put me in the pre-diabetic range.  Not diabetic, but not normal, either.

As soon as I saw these numbers, I began taking a good hard look at my diet, and in particular, at the carbohydrates I was ingesting, as carbs are directly linked to blood sugar.  As it turns out, I (previously) had a very high carb / low vegetable diet, which likely contributed to my not-so-normal blood sugar readings.

Diet is an important component of blood sugar levels.  Last week was the first full week of food tracking that included beverages - - and in particular, alcoholic beverages (sigh) - - and the first full week of carb monitoring.  It was a tricky weekend because the Betty Crocker Diabetes Cookbook that we were using includes a lot of snacks (vital for insulin dependent diabetics, too high in aggregate carbs for me), and it was tough to keep my carb intake at 200g/day or below.  I was generally successful, but at times it was challenging.

The other component of blood sugar management is weight, and more particularly, weight loss.  The CDA and ADA both say that the risk of advancing from pre-diabetes to full-blown diabetes can be reduced by about 50% with the loss of 7% of your body weight.  I've lost more than that, and continue to lose weight, but it has to be a long term commitment now. 

This morning I checked my fasting blood sugar and saw a reading of ... 5.4  (!!) mmol/L (roughly 97 mg/dL), which is in the NORMAL range.  Normal blood sugar values are 3.9- 5.5 mmol/L (or approx. 70-100 mg/dL). This is a very big deal, not just because it is a normal result, but also because it shows that attention to diet and regular exercise can have a positive effect on my blood sugar levels.  In other words, it means that diabetes is not a pre-destined condition for me, and that I can do something to avoid it if I take steps now.

Normally blood sugar swings around a range of values, and I will likely be above 5.5 mmol/L in the days to come ... but now I can hope to have further values below 5.5 mmol/L, as well.  In time, perhaps the default result will be in the normal range, and I can stop monitoring every morning, and step it down to once a week or so.

This is not to say that "I am not pre-diabetic".  I think that with my family history of diabetes I will always be a pre-diabetic, just like an alcoholic is forever an alcoholic.  But if I can be a pre-diabetic with normal blood sugar values, that will be all right for me, even if I have to watch my diet and weight for the rest of my life. 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Visit to Barque Smokehouse (Toronto)

This evening we were invited to join some friends for dinner at Barque Smokehouse (at 299 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto, ON M6R 2M3). 

I was a little nervous about going out to a barbeque restaurant, because I have been watching what I eat and dining out can be a challenge to anyone's discipline.  As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. 

Tonight was "family night", where the restaurant prepares a set menu in two  seatings (one at 5pm and one at 8pm).  We attended the 8pm seating, and the menu was frankly not what I expected. 

I walked in to the restaurant thinking I would eat ribs, roast chicken, roast corn, potatoes, and variations on these classics.  Instead, tonight the menu included curried goat, oxtail ragout, tilapia ceviche, rice and beans, marinated red and green cabbage, and jerk pork in addition to the expected smoked chicken and baby back ribs. 

The appetizers consisted of the goat, oxtail and tilapia, in delightful small servings.  The tilapia was a mere mouthful, served on a ceramic spoon.  There were probably 4 or 5 bites of goat curry, served in a medium-small ramekin.  And the oxtail ragout filled the length of a plantain chip.  All three dishes were delicious and presented a fantastic, varied opening to the meal.  I was very pleasantly surprised, and could happily have had a full serving of both the goat curry and the oxtail ragout.

The next course was a mixed green salad that included what may have been strips of apple - - I've never been good at identifying fruits and vegetables, so my palate is not what one could call sophisticated.  All I know is that the salad was very pleasant, and a nice light interlude between two meat courses.

Finally came the main event - platters full of rice and beans, smoked chicken, jerk pork, and small portions of baby back ribs, along with small cast iron frying pans with marinated cabbage.  The jerk pork was spicy and delicious, but my favourite part of the meal was the ribs - - they were perfectly smoked and perfectly barbequed.  I could easily go back and have a full rack of those ribs, they were just that delicious. 

Dessert consisted of rum balls, which appear to have been delicious, judging by everyone's reactions.

I would very happily eat at Barque's again, and I am told that the restaurant has a very nice weekend brunch. 

As for my meal, I ate all of my appetizers (except for the plantain chip), and ate my fill of the salad.  I did not take any rice and beans, nor any of the rum balls, but I did not starve - - I picked my ribs clean and enjoyed both the jerk pork and the smoked chicken.  All in all, I was pleasantly full without being stuffed, which is something of a new feeling for me when leaving a restaurant.

All of this discipline was well timed because after dinner we had a 1.7 kilometer walk to our friends' house for after dinner drinks.  6 months ago I would not have been able to do this walk (or anything even close), but tonight I was able to easily manage it.  It was a perfect evening - just the right temperature with a slight breeze, and I enjoyed the walk with our friends.

What a lovely evening!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A delightful surprise - Zucchini Pizza

In his exploration of low carb alternatives for foods we love, the Nerd discovered a recipe for a pizza made using zucchini as a crust.  This recipe uses no flour or even 'dough' in the traditional sense, so it is low in carbs (ridiculously low compared to traditional pizza).

We made the zucchini pizza for dinner Saturday evening, and I have to tell you that the pizza was better than we expected.  The crust is not robust enough to pick up and eat with your hands, and of course it is not starchy like your typical flour-based pizza dough, but it is tasty and holds toppings well.  This recipe also has the benefit of being low in carbs, which is good for us pre-diabetic people, or for people who just want to follow a low-carb diet.

Here's the recipe we discovered:

Zucchini Pizza

Crust

Large raw zucchini, peeled and shredded (between 1.5-2 cups)
2 eggs
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Grease cookie sheet. [Note: we greased parchment paper placed on top of a pizza stone]

Peel and shred a large zucchini. Add the egg and cheese, and mix well using your hands. Spread the dough onto the pan/stone evenly (watch the middle of the crust—it can be too thick) and bake for 15-30 minutes, or until the crust is cooked. Let cool.  Makes a large crust (14")

Topping

Layer:

Pizza sauce mixed with salsa to taste
Seasoned ground beef
Shredded cheddar, mozzarella and/or colby jack
Chopped tomato
Red onion

Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes.

I was very surprised to discover that I did not taste the zucchini - - all that you could taste is the toppings.  Right at the perimeter of the pizza, at the edge which was not covered with toppings, it tasted a bit like an omelet (due to the egg content).  All in all, it did not taste as bad as a healthy pizza should taste, and it tasted a whole lot better than Pizza Pizza's gluten free pizza.

I would gladly make this recipe again.  The cheese makes it somewhat calorific, but the carbs are very low, so it's very easy to work into a menu plan. 

It's all about the preparation - musings on healthy eating

Photo courtesy Johnida Dockens, Licensed CC-BY-NC-ND
As the Nerd and I were thinking about what to eat this weekend it occurred to me (not for the first time) that eating well is something that takes forethought and preparation.

It's not just knowing vaguely that you want to "cook something healthy" - - you need to know what recipe you will be cooking and what ingredients are required so that you can make sure the right food is on hand.  It's tough to cook nutritious meals when all you have in the cupboard is SPAM and Nutella.

And for me, given my completely dysfunctional relationship with food, it's not just about having the good food in the house so I can cook - - it's also necessary to keep the bad food out of the house so that I don't binge on it.  I have the discipline of a dog when it comes to late night food cravings.  Confronted with a bag of microwave popcorn, or a bag of tortilla chips and cheese, I will gorge until I can't move and then I will feel bad about having binged.  And then the cycle repeats itself.  The only way to stop it is to make sure the trigger foods are not in the house. 

It is so much easier to eat badly than it is to eat well.  I could stock my pantry with 7 boxes of KD* and have a week's worth of meals for $14 - - and 4 weeks worth of calories, and 6 weeks worth of sodium.  KD has lots of empty calories that fill you up, and it's available in every corner store.

Today the Nerd and I spent 30 minutes planning our meals for the rest of the weekend and writing a grocery list.  I think we were buying one of everything in the produce aisle, or at least it looked like it - - broccoli; zucchini; red onion; white onion; bananas; kiwi; tomatoes; spinach; melon trio - water, honeydew and that other kind that I can never remember; strawberries; cucumber; pineapple; carrots; and red pepper.  Add to that healthy low fat yogurts, high fibre cereal, low fat cheese, and turkey breast, and you've got the makings for three days of low fat, low carb meals.  All for a mere $170.  (!)

KD is a lot cheaper, a lot lighter to carry home, and takes less thinking.  I can understand now why my single-parent mom fed me a lot of KD as a child (along with vegetables, to be sure).  As an overweight adult who needs to break bad habits, KD is a cheap food I can no longer afford.


*Kraft Dinner, for non-Canadians