Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Review - 84 pounds down (with pics)

2012 has been a very eventful year for me. 

Looking back, I could barely walk a block at the beginning of the year.  My asthma was a constant problem, and my wheezing was known to keep me up at night.  I even broke a chair in January in front of a roomful of my friends (to be fair, it was a cheap chair, poorly assembled, but it was still my gigantic butt that was in the chair at the time that it broke, so it's my bad). 
The chair in question.  Yes, the incident scarred me for life.
My back was constantly sore - I could not stand for more than a minute or walk any distance without severe pain in my back.  I skipped breakfast and lunch, then ate minimal dinners, and was not losing weight in any significant way.  I was depressed and sore and constantly exhausted, and my family feared for my health. 

Since those dark days, and since breaking that chair (!) I started exercising, started paying attention to what I was consuming, began drinking water instead of diet Pepsi, stopped drinking quite so much alcohol, and began tracking my food.  Somewhere during the summer, working out became a daily habit with me (I haven't missed a workout in 31 weeks).  Sometime around then my food cravings stopped, as well (I still enjoy food, but I no longer binge or crave the same things I used to).

I went from working out on the recumbent bike for 7 minutes a day 5 times per week in January to 50 minutes on the elliptical machine, 6 days a week, plus free weights 3 times per week by December.  I have gone from not being able to walk a block without pain to being able to walk 5 km in a stretch with ease.  On Labour Day this fall the Nerd and I even went for a 6 mile walk.  Sure, we were both exhausted by the end and we might have had sunstroke and I was burned red as a lobster, but we did it.  And we could do it again. 

And I have lost weight along the way. 

My official end of the week check has me down 84 pounds from this time last year, for a weight of 249.9 pounds.  That's 25% of my original body weight, and 50% of my weight loss target - - gone.  From this week onwards, I have officially lost more weight than I still have left to lose.  To put these numbers into perspective, Dominique Moceanu weighed less than 84 pounds when she competed at the Olympics in 1996 - - I have officially lost a person's worth of weight (sure, a tiny person, but a person nonetheless). 

My immediate short term goal now is to get down to 237 pounds, for a BMI of 35.  This would put me into Obese Class I (according to the Government of Canada), which is a huge improvement from Obese Class III where I started.  With luck, I should be able to hit this target in about a month or so.  My next major goal will be to reach the 100 pounds lost mark, which should happen in another couple of months.  If things continue to go well, my next objective would be to reach a BMI of 30 (at around 203 pounds), which puts me at merely overweight (instead of obese).  This particular milestone would be a huge one, as I have been obese for about a decade now.  From there, it is a mere hop, skip and a jump to Onederland, or 199 pounds.  This could happen as early as July or August, depending on how well I stick to my program.

So much for the short term and mid term goals.  What are my numbers so far?
I lost 4.5" off my various bits and pieces this month, despite attending 9 (!) social events.  In addition to Christmas dinner with the Nerd's family, there was my firm's festive non-denominational holiday party, lunch out with my assistant, and dinners with friends (3) as well as a wedding, a family get-together, and a Boxing Day party.  Thank god for the elliptical machine, is all I say.  So far I have lost almost 34" off my body compared to when I started, more than the bustline of the average working model.  These inches translate to 3 full dress sizes lost.

 My fasting blood sugars this month have been fantastic.  Well, fantastic for me, anyways.  Not normal, but lower than last month, with 9 normal readings, and 4 normal readings in a row at the beginning of the month:

 The above chart shows my daily fasting blood sugar readings for the past 3 months.  Yellow readings indicate slightly elevated blood sugar (5.6 - 6.9 mmol/L), while green readings are normal (below 5.5 mmol/L).  I don't know what happened in October, but you can see November had some normal readings while December was my best month yet - - my fasting blood sugar average for the month was 5.7 (only slightly elevated), down from 5.8 last month.  Not normal yet, but certainly trending in the right direction. 

I can definitely see changes in my face over time as the weight has come off, as shown in the photographs, above.  While there may not be too much to distinguish between two photos taken one month apart, I can really see changes when comparing this month to last year at this time:

 The only constant between the two photographs is the unruly hair: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  

Whatever I am doing seems to be working, so I my plan is to keep on doing it, consistently, in the coming year.  The Nerd and I are going to add some boxing to our routines, for interest and variety, and I am sure I will have a lot to say about that as I start trying it out.

In summary:

Pounds lost this month: 9.1
Total pounds lost: 84
Pounds still to lose: 82.8
Inches lost this month: 4.5" (33.9" total)
Clothing size: US/Can 20 (plus size 20)
Average fasting blood sugar: 5.7 (down 0.1)
Number of ankles: 0
Number of cankles: 2 (sigh)
Number of clavicles seen: 0 (I remain optimistic that these will appear one day ...)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Some wins this week

It has been another productive workout week in the books.  I have managed to continue my consecutive days worked out streak alive, and now stand at 29 weeks without missing a workout.  For someone as good at rationalizing things as I am, this is something of a record. 

This consistency continues to pay off in terms of weight loss.  This week I lost a further pound, for a total of 81.5 pounds lost, to 252.4 pounds total.  Here's something - - workout out regularly, and eat sensible meals in manageable portions and you will lose weight - - nah, it will never catch on...

More than the weight loss, this week also saw some wins. 

My new workout clothes arrived this week from Go Figure (online at  My original workout capris (purchased a few months ago) were literally falling off me while I was on the elliptical recently.  That had the potential of getting quite embarrassing, and necessitated regular hitching up.  Definitely not for public show- - it's a good thing that I work out at home.  My first capris were in size 5 (22-24), and my new capris are in size 3 (18-20) and they fit fine ... with the potential to be too loose in the not too distant future, I can see.  Yay!

Another win this week is something that has snuck up on me.  A little back story is in order here.  Back when I was in grade 8, our gym class was primitive at best.  Our school did not have proper gymnastic equipment other than those ubiquitous blue mats.  For balance beams they used wooden benches turned upside down.  Instead of the normal balance beam width of about 10 cm, the wooden slats on the bottom of those benches were only about 5 cm wide.  This wasn't a problem for most girls who possess both a sense of balance and binocular vision.  But for yours truly, a veritable gazelle (not) and blind in one eye to boot, it was a disaster.  I fell off the end of a bench and carved open the front of my shin. To this day I have a divot in my leg from the accident. I don't remember the accident clearly, but judging from the scar, it must have been spectacular.

When I was at my heaviest I suffered from edema in my legs.  Sometimes the pressure in my lower legs would be so severe that the skin of my legs would be tight, hot and painful and would leak lymph fluid (and for the record, yes, I know that is a very unhealthy condition).  Because the scar from my gymnastics incident was less flexible than the rest of my skin, it left a huge dent in my shin.  My scar was so deeply indented you could practically store candy in it.

With my weight loss, however, the edema has decreased to the point where it is essentially gone, in no small measure due to my increased activity levels.  It has been more than a year since I have noticed the edema being problematic, and just this past week I noted something else - - my scar was no longer a deep groove.  Rather, it was only a slight indentation, barely noticeable.  In fact, my scar had virtually disappeared.  This is a big deal, because it is not merely a superficial cosmetic change - - it reflects major improvements in my overall circulation that can only be good for me in the long run.  As a side bonus, this has made shaving my leg much easier, as I no longer have to try and shave inside a hole in my leg.  Hey - I will take the wins where I find them, thank you very much!

This week has been very social and this weekend in particular I have been enjoying baked goods provided by one of our friends.  In consequence, I think it is probably a good time to step up my workout routine, just in time for the holidays. 

So this week I am adding another 5 minutes to my elliptical routine, for 50 minutes x 6 days a week.  This is officially the most cardio I have ever done in my life, and I have to say that it was easier than I expected this morning.  I am not burning up the strides per minute, but I am able to handle the time just fine, which is very satisfying.  My fitness levels are such a long way from where I was when I started.

The other change I have made to my program is to add another set of weights to my free weight routine.  I am now doing 3 sets of 12 reps using the 6 pound weights.  I have really started to see some toning beginning to happen in my arms, and I am quite keen to continue to see progress.

For the new year I am exploring taking up some boxing routines to add yet another element into my fitness routine.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Power of Habit

I have been reading the book The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) on the elliptical machine recently.  Sometimes non-fiction can be a little dry and tedious, but this is a very enjoyable - and informative - book.

Those who know me know that I was a person who had some extremely bad habits when it came to food and exercise.

My habit when it came to exercise was to avoid it - at all costs.  My habit when it came to food was to indulge in high fat, high carb, high sugar foods, to the point of physical discomfort.  I would skip meals during the day and then binge at night when I got home from the office.

I had known that I needed to do something about my incredibly unhealthy lifestyle for a long time.  After all, you can only make excuses for not participating in life for so long before it starts to sound hollow.  I was not housebound, but I was dangerously close to it - - it was just too painful and exhausting to do many things. When my friend's chair collapsed under me at that dinner party last January, though, I knew things had to change. 

I have been working out since January, and working out without missing a workout since May.  What is interesting to me is that somewhere along the way, around July, the workouts stopped being tedious work, and started being part of my daily routine.  My workouts are not enjoyable to me, as such, but they're such an automatic part of my routine that I hardly ever seriously consider skipping.

Similarly, somewhere last spring I began to embrace vegetables.  Perhaps not with the fervour that I embrace cheese (!), but vegetables began making their presence known in meals last spring, and they're still part of my daily routine today.

My gradual lifestyle change has been a slow, incremental process, a little improvement at a time.  What I have never really understood until reading The Power of Habit is why I had the habits I did, how my behaviours reinforced these habits, and how habits can be changed.

Especially interesting to me are the author's comments regarding planning and visualization.  Apparently one very effective way to change eating habits is to keep a food diary.  The same could be said for reducing spending - - keep a spending log.  What these things do is make us aware of what we are doing, allowing us to make different, more conscious choices.  So many of our behaviours are unconscious, it is only by making a point of highlighting what we are doing that we can effectively change.

I started keeping a food diary with the MyFitnessPal app in July, and it was an eye-opening experience.  Well, initially horrifying, when I realized what I was consuming, and then eye-opening.

Putting my food in a diary made me accountable for what I was eating.  I had no excuses for making poor food choices, especially since there are so many points during each day when I can take corrective action.  If I am running high by lunch time, I can cut out snacks, or I can cut down on the dinner.  Worse case scenario, I could even add extra exercise if required.

This is not to say that I do not go over my target calories at times - - that happens to everyone.  But I am much more in control of what is going into my body than at any other point, which is a marvel.

Another interesting point in the book is the discussion about the importance of positive visualization.  Habits apparently arise in part because we anticipate a positive outcome from our actions.  Smokers are not physiologically addicted to nicotine within 10 hours of their last cigarette, but the emotional hook is terribly addictive - - the positive visualization of the pleasure of that first cigarette of the day is what keeps them lighting up.

To change habits, therefore, it is not enough to go through the motions (although that helps).  We have to visualize the positive results of our actions to really see an impact.  In my routine, I visualize entering each of my workouts into my various fitness apps and seeing progress charted out - - either lower blood sugar, or lower weight, or longer workouts, or whatever.  I also visualize how I will look when I reach my goal weight.

When my workouts are difficult, this kind of positive visualization really helps me push through.  Checking off another workout and continuing my workout streak is sometimes the only thing keeping me on that elliptical machine.

What the book also notes is that as new habits are established, they get easier over time.  Willpower is like a muscle that can be developed with practice.  In other words, each day that I avoid late night snacking makes it easier to avoid late night snacking in the future.

This book is really helping me to intellectually understand the things I am finding successful.  And knowledge is power.  Understanding why I act the way I do enables me to own my actions in a way that was not possible before.

Friday, 7 December 2012

80 pounds down ... it was a good week

For a week that started off so challengingly, it sure worked out well.  Even though I had to really push myself to work out Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, by Wednesday I was back in my stride and by this morning I was back to my old working out self - - contentedly working through my cardio without too much bother, and only occasionally clock watching.  

And the results: down a ridiculous 3.5 pounds, for a total of 80.5 pounds lost.  That is 24.1% of my pre-workout body weight, and 48% of my overall weight loss goal.  So, net, I am still not halfway to my goal, but it is tantalizingly close.  

I am not going to get ahead of myself and try and predict when I will hit the halfway mark, or when I will hit my next major goal, which is to lose 100 pounds.  Right now there are a lot of steps along the way to either of those goals - - for example, I remember being 242.5 pounds when the Nerd and I were first courting, and I am looking forward to hitting that weight again.  It is relatively unusual for me to know what I weighed on a particular date, since I took as few photos as I could as I packed on the pounds and I seldom weighed myself.  But on that day, I happened to do so, and I have a benchmark I can use to calibrate my weight loss.  It's like travelling back in time, except without the cool equipment.

This week I experienced something even more positive than my weight loss, if you can believe it.  My fasting blood sugars have been excellent this week. 

As you can see from this chart, since December 1 I have had 5 normal fasting blood sugar readings out of 7 - that is, 71.4% of my readings have been normal.  Even better, I was able to do that with a pair of consecutive normal results, and then this morning, three normal results in a row.  I have never seen three normal results in a row before, and I could barely contain myself this morning. 

I am beyond thrilled with these results.  I cannot tell you if they are (finally!) the result of all the weight I have lost, or if they are the result of taking my cardio on the elliptical up to 45 minutes 6x per week, or if it is because I have stopped having my evening nightcap of a rye and diet Pepsi.  The only way to figure out for sure which of those is the trigger to these good results is to vary each of the inputs and see what happens.  Well the weight is not going up, that's for sure (not intentionally, anyways!), and I am comfortable with the 45 minutes a day on the elliptical, so I can only really vary the amount of alcohol I consume.  What's that, you say, I need to drink more?  Finally, science can be fun!

On a related note, apparently moderate alcohol consumption is more healthy than complete abstention.  But "moderate" apparently means 8 drinks a week, which means I will need to dramatically increase my alcohol consumption to fit into this group.  It's funny how my habits have changed - - since I started logging my food (and beverages), I have really cut down on my alcohol consumption.  I am sure it is better for me in the long term, but it is interesting to see how habits can be changed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

It has been a very tough week...

This week has been an uncharacteristically difficult week for my workouts.  I have had to really push through and force myself to work out every day this week, and now my right knee is quite sore. 

Even worse, last night I forgot my iPad and iPhone at the office, thereby stripping me of all my electronic crutches and distractions for my workout this morning.  I had to go old school, trying to keep my heart rate in my target zones for the bulk of my workout using the Nerd's heart rate monitor (which talks to the elliptical).  The only thing I had to distract me was the stride counter and heart rate readout - - which were just not enough to keep me from clock watching. 

It was purely an act of will that got me through this morning's workout.  With no distraction, and no fun music to listen to, time had no meaning.  It felt like the longest workout ever.  But I suppose that will keep me from forgetting my toys at the office again.  Or, in the alternative, from being so lazy that I would not simply go back to the office to get my toys - - after all, the office is only an 8 minute walk from my apartment.  Lesson learned.

Anyhoo, I am wondering if my general malaise is due to the fact that I may be fighting off a cold or some other infection.  Apparently colds and flus are running rampant through the office, and many people are under the weather.  I got the flu shot last week, but that's not to say that I don't have something that's bringing me down somewhat, physically. 

The good news is that I have been pushing through my workouts, just like my plan demands.  I currently have a 27 week streak of consecutive workouts, and I don't want to have to break that streak because I'm a little lethargic.  This workout habit was tough enough to establish, I don't want to undo all my good work by backsliding now.  Besides, I want to keep losing weight, which requires commitment and consistency. 

This too shall pass.  I just need to make sure I keep sticking to my plan so that I am not too far behind once it passes.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Week 45 - 10 months down - I'm melting...! (with photos)

Another month is in the books.  I have been able to successfully keep eating healthy meals, thanks to the Nerd, and I have been able to keep my streak of workouts intact, thanks to my stubborn nature.  This consistency is paying off, big time.

This week I lost a further 2 pounds, for a total of 77 pounds lost overall. That means for the month of November I lost 9.9 pounds, to reach 256.9 pounds and a BMI of 37.9.

November 1 - December 1, 2012
June 30 - December 1, 2012

I am extremely happy with those numbers, as losing almost 10 pounds in a month is fantastic, especially for Miss Slow and Steady here.  Since I have started tracking my food intake and using the elliptical machine as my primary cardio tool in July, I have lost more than 40 pounds.  (!)

As for my fasting blood sugars, the last two months have been challenging.  As you recall, I am not diabetic, but I have a terrible family history of diabetes.  It is just rampant in my mom's side of the family.  With that in mind, I test my fasting blood sugars daily (except when I am travelling), hoping to see my numbers creep down from the slightly elevated pre-diabetic range to the normal range.

In the above graph the green lines indicate normal sugars, while the yellow lines indicate elevated fasting blood sugars in the pre-diabetic range (between 5.6 mmol/L and 6.9 mmol/L).  In October for some reason my sugars were consistently higher than the previous month, averaging 6.03 mmoL (rather than 5.8 mmoL in September), and I did not have a single normal reading.  The only positive I can take from October's readings is that the standard deviation of the readings remained 0.3, meaning that although the numbers were somewhat high, they were all pretty close to one another, without huge swings.

November, thankfully, was a different story.  I returned to having 5 normal readings in the month, and although I was not able to string two consecutive normal results together like I did in September, I was able to bring my average fasting blood sugar reading back down to 5.8 mmoL. I was optimistically hoping that I was getting the knack of lowering the blood sugar levels after September, but it looks like this is still a work in progress.  Hopefully December will see further average blood sugar reductions.

My measurements continue to change, as well.  This month I lost a further half inch on my bust and hips, as well as a quarter inch on my thighs.  The 1.25" I lost this month contribute to my more than 29" lost overall since January.  I am very pleased to have lost 7 inches or more on each of my bust, waist and hips, especially since the loss is pretty symmetrical.  I am also pleased with how much I have lost on my thighs.  The really nice thing is that these inches lost are all fat that is gone from my body - - and good riddance!

So what does this look like?

Here are photos from my firm's annual festive holiday party.  Last year's party, from the beginning of December, is on the left, and this year's party, from last Friday, is on the right (in the infamous purple dress).  I can definitely see that my face is leaner than last year.

But let's look even more recently.  Here is a photo from just this past summer, when I weighed 289.9 pounds, and from yesterday, when I weighed 256.9 pounds - - 33 pounds less:
I see more definition in my chin area, and just the hint of cheekbones in my most recent photo.  Definitely making progress!

In summary:

Pounds lost this month: 9.9 (!)
Total pounds lost: 77 (!)
Pounds still to lose: 91.9  (meh)
Inches lost this month: 1.25"
Clothing size: US/Can 20 (plus size 20)
Average fasting blood sugar: 5.8
Number of ankles: 0
Number of cankles: 2 (sigh)
Number of clavicles seen: 0 (but they can't hide forever...!)