Thursday, 31 January 2013

Some days are just harder than others...

Ever get the feeling that lifestyle change is an endless, Sisyphean task?  That we spend every day running ourselves ragged trying to eat well and exercise and do all that good stuff, only to have to start from scratch the next day?  And the day after that ... and the day after that ... and the day after that ... [repeat forever].

Perhaps I am feeling a little maudlin because my last two workouts have been torture.  Yesterday, I can understand, because we did not have the window open in the room where the elliptical lives, and it was uncomfortably warm while I was working out.  Toronto was experiencing an unseasonably warm day, and this, combined with the lack of air circulation, completely sapped my energy.  I could barely keep the stride rate above 122 strides per minute, let alone the 130 strides per minute that had been my recent target.

Today, the window was open and outside temperatures were low, so heat should not have been a problem.  I certainly worked out all summer when that room was much warmer without any complaint.  So why was I so low-energy today?

I'm not sure what the reason was, other than today's malaise may have been due to the fact that I was a pint low after having donated blood yesterday.  All I know is that for the last two days my workouts have been things to be endured rather than things that I do as part of my routine.

Even the Nerd was feeling it today - - he said that his workout was similarly low energy.  Strange.

Just as a precaution we're going to put a fan in front of the elliptical before tomorrow's workout, just to make sure that: i) I am not overheating; and ii) that my hair blows back all sexy-like, just like in commercials.  You can't underestimate the importance of sexy hair when you're working out.   Trust me on this.

The main thing is that I need to push through this, and get back into my happy workout routine.  If I am so weak and uncomfortable working out that I begin to dread getting on the elliptical, it will undermine my whole routine and begin to unravel all the good habits I have spent so much time building up.  I need to keep going, and stick to my workouts, but I also need them to be comfortable.

So for now, step 1 is the fan.  We'll see if sexy hair does the trick and puts kick back into my step. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Study: When you eat is as important as what you eat, apparently

A recent study has apparently shown that when you eat has consequences for weight loss, and early eaters lose more weight than late eaters.

As the Toronto Star noted:
Researchers divided participants into two groups, based on when they ate their largest meal of the day, which in Spain [the location of the study] happens to be lunch, when about 40 per cent of the day’s calories are consumed. Early eaters were those who lunched before 3 p.m., while late eaters ate after 3 p.m.
Early eaters lost about 25 per cent more weight, said Scheer, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Meanwhile, late eaters were more likely to either skip breakfast or consume fewer calories at breakfast, and they displayed lower insulin sensitivity, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
 The scientists apparently also looked at factors typically involved in weight loss such as caloric intake, energy expenditure, sleep duration and appetite hormones (leptin and ghrelin), but there was little difference between both groups. And the timing of the other smaller meals did not affect weight loss. This suggests that the timing of the main meal is itself an important factor when it comes to weight loss.

It would be interesting to see if the same pattern holds true in North America, where we typically eat our largest meal in the evening, at dinner.

Could my experience support this research?  I try and arrange my food consumption during the day so that I am eating more of my calories at lunchtime, rather than at dinner.  This is not because of any new research findings, but rather because I optimistically believe that by doing so I am giving myself more time to burn those calories over the balance of the day.  Primitive magic, I know, but I take what I can get.  If the thought that it may be helpful motivates me to eat earlier, and that has a healthy side benefit, I'm not going to fuss too much about it.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fly the friendly skies - 2 huge NSVs today

I think we would all admit that flying has changed since 9/11.  Not only are the rules as to what can be carried on board an aircraft more draconian than ever (since when does having my hair gel in a see-through plastic bag prevent terrorism??), but the whole thing is much less pleasant than it used to be.  Back when I was a kid, flying was more of an experience - - you got served real meals, with actual cutlery, and the service was attentive.

Nowadays flying is more of an ordeal to be endured.  First the ridiculous lines at security, then the pleasure of removing shoes, coats, and jackets, and separating out your computer from your briefcase and other electronics, and separating out your liquids and gels from your luggage.  Then the quick scan, and 10 minutes on the other side of the x-ray machine doing the modern shuffle dance of trying to put on shoes-jacket-coat whilst picking up purse, computer, liquids and gels, and stuffing everything haphazardly into your bag, all as quickly as possible so that you don't hold up the line of people behind you who are impatiently waiting to put on their shoes-jacket-coat.  And god forbid you have to check any luggage, because who knows how much will get stolen out of it before you get it back ... if you get your luggage back.

But it doesn't end there.  Once you're on the plane comes the eternal question of the overhead bins - - will they have room for my briefcase, or won't they?  Has some person taken up an entire overhead bin for his/her rolling zebra print suitcase and matching garment bag and winter coat?  It's like Schrödinger's cat, except with overhead bin space:  there may or may not be enough room for your briefcase, depending on some random event, but you can't know without opening the bin.

And of course, now comes the worst part of all.  The seat.


As a "person of size", with that size historically ranging from 22-26, I found fitting into chairs of any kind, and airplane seats in particular, a challenging ordeal.  My thighs each measured 35" around before I started working out, which gave each leg an approximate diameter of 11" or so ... while the standard airline seat is only 17" wide. 

I could usually fit into the seats, but the armrests would ride up my hips, and my thighs would possibly encroach on my neighbor's seat, if I had a neighbor.  Mortifying.

But not as mortifying as the seat belts.  I haven't been able to fasten an airplane seatbelt in around 8-10 years or so.  It didn't matter what type of aircraft I was flying on, the damn things were always 2 or 3 ... or 3 or 4 inches too short to get around my immense girth.

Years ago, back in the early days of our courting I was flying with the Nerd on some American airline, and as I had put on weight recently, I could not do up my seatbelt.  This was the first time that this had happened in years, and I was taken by surprise.  I spent several agonizing minutes desperately trying to shimmy back in my seat and sucking in my gut in a futile attempt to get the thing to latch.  Nothing worked.  I was sweating with exertion, stress and frustration, and my hands were shaking from my desperate attempts to bridge the gap.  Finally one of the flight attendants on her pre-flight check saw my problem and brought me a seatbelt extender. 

 She was actually very nice about the whole thing, but I was mortified and felt humiliated.  For no reason, really, because it's just a piece of safety equipment that every airplane carries.  Heck, you can even purchase your own seatbelt extender online, for your convenience.  For me, though, when the flight attendant brought me that seatbelt extender I felt like it was the end of the world.  I was no longer a normal person.  I was fat.  Not just fat - - I was big enough to require additional strapping.  I actually fought tears all the way home, I felt so embarrassed and humiliated.


For every single flight I have taken since that day, I have not worn my seatbelt.  "But it's not optional" you say, "you have to wear your seatbelt".  Not true.  You only need to make the flight attendants think that you are wearing your seatbelt.  They are busy with their departure checklists and aren't actually pulling on people's belts to ensure that they're properly fastened - - as long as the seatbelt looks like it's done up, they aren't going to bat an eye.  After all, they expect the belt to be done up, and if it looks like it is done up, they're not going to question it - - it's a simple function of human nature.

For years, every time I sit down on a plane I try the seatbelt, only to discover that it doesn't fit.  Then I tuck the clip end into my waistband, and arrange my jacket and arm so that the flight attendant can clearly see the seatbelt going around my waist.  They see only the one end, however, not the clip.  The other end of the seatbelt is usually hanging down between the seats, or is under my leg.

Sure, if there were ever to be severe turbulence, I would be badly hurt.  And in the event of an accident, I would be the first to die.  But I would die knowing that I didn't use the fat girl seatbelt extender.  Sheesh.  How stupid can we be?  That's like motorcyclists who don't wear helmets.  I freely admit that this approach is short sighted.  And stupid.  But it is an emotional response, and even though I am not proud of it, I felt (emotionally) that I had no other option to preserve the last shreds of my self esteem, because airplane seatbelts just do not fit.

Until today.  [cue the sound of trumpets and angels singing]

Today I flew into Ottawa airport on an Air Canada Airbus, and as I went to do my usual "pretend I'm doing up the seatbelt" routine, something magical happened.  The seatbelt did up.  Not only that, it was loose.  I had literally inches to spare!

I felt like asking the flight attendant if he could check my seatbelt, just to emphasize how done up it was, for real.  I did it up and undid it several times, reveling in the novelty of it all.  I know that straight size people do this all the time and never give it a thought, but you have to put yourself in my shoes - - I have not been able to do up an airline seatbelt since the end of Clinton's second term as President.  This was a truly wonderful thing.  I almost wished that there had been turbulence, so that my secured self could be safe with all the other passengers.

My second win was a graphic reminder of how many inches and how much weight I actually have lost.  I was trapped in the middle seat on the flight to Ottawa, beside the partner who will be arguing the motion, and another very nice gentleman.  In the past I would be folded in like a pretzel, desperately trying to squish my legs together so that I would not encroach on either man's space.

Today?  I fit comfortably in my seat (fastened seatbelt and all), and had no problem at all being in the middle.  Other than the fact that each man took an armrest, leaving me armrest-less, but that has nothing to do with weight.

2 significant travel wins in a day?  I'll take them. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

How to lose 20 pounds instantly [with pics]

We're bumping up against the tail end of January, 2013, and it has been a successful week. 

I discovered that striding on the elliptical 130 strides per minute is both possible and easier than I expected (!) when I put a playlist of 130+ bpm songs on my iPad.  The time passes much faster, and I am finding it easier to maintain my stride rate with music at the right tempo.  I am finding the elliptical more fun as a result, and it is certainly working.  Only a couple of weeks ago I found it difficult to hit and maintain 130 strides a minute, and now, with the right music, it's much easier.  Plus, the increased stride rate is doing wonders for my Fitbit step count ...!

But now for the fun stuff - - did I work out according to plan, and did I lose any weight?  Yes and yes. 

This week marks 35 weeks without missing a workout, and 53 weeks of working out overall.  I continued to eat well (thanks to the Nerd), and was able to hit the weights and the elliptical as planned.  I took the weights up to 4 sets of 10 reps at 6 pounds, adding another set.  It seems to be working, as the Nerd commented that my shoulders are looking more toned.  Yay for free weights!

My only regret is that the Nerd and I were not able to do boxing more than once this week.  Between me forgetting my iPad (with the combinations) at the office one evening, and me working late last night in preparation for a refusals motion in Ottawa on Monday, we just weren't able to make it work.  I have located a wall-mounted heavy bag solution that may solve our problems, though - - we can each work out individually this way, and still get to hit things.  I will let you know if I pick it up - - the big issue right now is where to hang the thing, what with the fact that most of the place is filled with bookshelves.  First world problem, I know...

This week was a fantastic one for weight loss - - I went down to 241.6, for a loss of 2.2 pounds this week (down 92.3 pounds overall).  The Nerd also had a fantastic week, losing 2.2 pounds to get down to 184.3 pounds, which is below his second goal weight.  Now he's shooting for 170, or welterweight.  I am still looking to reach light-heavy for now (grin).

I am still on track to hit my goal weight sometime in early 2014, which is very motivating:

Next week will be interesting, as it is the end of the month, and you know what that means: MEASUREMENTS!  I can't wait to see how things are shaking out. 

Last week I was feeling frumpy because I had lost so much weight that my primary suits were all 2 sizes too large, but I had not yet gone down to the next size in my clothing archive.  Many people had good suggestions for places to find affordable clothes - - consignment stores, thrift shops, the internet - - and some even suggested that I wade through the old size 18 clothing archive to see if anything fit.

As it happens, one of the suits fit perfectly, while another one of the jackets almost fit.  In all, my size 18 archive has 4 suits: 1 navy (almost fits), 1 periwinkle blue (the jacket is soooo close), 1 burgundy, and 1 green tweed.  The green tweed is cut more generously than the other suits, and actually fits fine.  Picture me doing my happy dance last night.  Nice things about this - - i) I am closer to going down a size than I thought; ii) I will shortly have "new" clothes to spice up my wardrobe, and they will fit for a while; and iii) these suits are not my usual funereal black.  There is nothing camoflagey about a green tweed or a periwinkle blue suit - - they scream "look at me!".  Not my usual style, but it's time to bust them out, I think.

For shits and giggles I tried on the green tweed suit and compared it to my old size 24 clown suit.  The difference was striking:

Clothing that fits makes you look more professional, to be sure, but I never realized how frumpy the old suit was until I looked at the photo, above.  I was astonished, and appalled, and the suit immediately went into the box for donations. 

So let that be a lesson to you, kids.  If you want to look like you suddenly lost weight, put on clothing that fits.  This old loose stuff is doing you no favours. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Side effect of fitness: more fitness

I noticed something new a few days ago.  Suddenly, out of the blue, I was logging twice as many steps on my Fitbit.  (I am going to work on the assumption that this is due to a change in my workouts, and not a software glitch!). 

A few weeks ago, I was averaging around 5,000 steps per day.  I could usually get my 5,000 daily steps badge on weekdays, but I certainly wasn't stepping up a storm, even with my hourly trips to the washroom and to the kitchen to get more water.

I've recently noticed, however, that my step count has dramatically increased over the past week.  Instead of 5,000 steps a day, I am now averaging more than 10,000 steps per day - - a target I never thought I would achieve without incremental walks.

I think the source of this is my stepped-up (no pun intended!) stride rate on the elliptical machine.  I used to run between 100 strides per minute and 120 strides per minute, and a couple of weeks ago I tried to increase my stride rate to 120 - 130 strides per minute.  This morning I was able to keep my strides per minute above 130 for almost the entire 50 minutes that I was on the elliptical - - a huge improvement. 

Thinking back to a few months ago, I could not do 130 strides a minute and keep using the handles on the elliptical - - I would have to hold onto the sissy bar for anything over 100 strides per minute, for fear of falling off the machine. I also could not sustain anything over 120 strides a minute for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  Today I was able to sustain 130 strides per minute using the moving handles, and it felt if not comfortable, then perfectly sustainable. 

I love these little incremental changes that creep up on me.  The longer I work out and incorporate healthy things into my lifestyle, the more I realize that the path to fitness is not linear.  It takes twists and turns as my body adjusts to what I am doing, and becomes stronger and fitter.  It is almost like my body gets used to a certain level of activity or food intake, and then says "OK, then, let's see how you like being able to do this!". 

The simple fact is that I can do things now that not only could I not do before, I could not even imagine doing.  It's not a smooth road, but every now and then I notice a dramatic improvement.  Stephen Jay Gould had it right with evolutionary change being more expressed by "punctuated equilibrium" - - long periods of "same old, same old", and then WHAM! something dramatically new. 

For me, the WHAM was noticing that I have been able to increase my stride rate in a way that is making a noticeable impact on my Fitbit step counter.  My cardio and endurance has improved to the point where this is not only possible, it's the new baseline. 

Now that I am able to hit 10,000 steps in my day, I want to set up a regular pattern of hitting this target  - - can I do it every workout day?  I don't know, but I'm going to try.  Then what?  12,500 steps?  More weight training?  Longer boxing workouts?  I don't know what my body will be capable of with time, but I am really looking forward to finding out.

Monday, 21 January 2013

That awkward frumpiness that comes with weight loss

Photo courtesy Gillian Chicago, licensed CC-BY-NC-ND
So it appears that I am going through an awkward phase.  I have lost 90 pounds and more than 33 inches off various parts of my body, with the result that all my "fat girl" clothes are fitting more like clown pants.  Clown pants that are dangerously close to falling off, as it happens. 

My old clothing archive (from the days when I was increasing in size) held only two skirt suits in my current size (20), which means that I have only 2 suits that actually fit me right now. 

My favourite navy flannel blazer?  2 sizes too big.  My green tweed looking blazer?  1 size too big.   My black wool suits?  2 sizes too big, with floppy shoulders that make the sleeves droop low on my hands and make me look like I am wearing my daddy's suit.   As for the suit pants, I can pull them  on and off without undoing the buttons - not a good thing.  Same problem for my favourite tulip skirt (2 sizes too large) - - one strong wind, and that thing is falling off.  Only friction is keeping it up at this point.

The reality is that as a tight ass lawyer, I need to wear suits 4 days a week (thank god for business casual on Fridays!).  With only 2 suits that actually fit, I look frumpy and unpolished the rest of the week.  Even Fridays are problematic, because I usually adopt the "lawyer casual" look - - blue jeans, a sweater, and a blazer.  Except that all my blazers are far too big.  Once again it looks like I stole my daddy's jacket.

I think it's time for me to bite the bullet and buy some new clothes.  I just don't think I can keep wearing my current line-up of clothes until I drop yet another size and can see what's in the clothing archive at size 18.  Who knows when that will happen?  I look messy and frumpy now.  I can't keep dressing like this for the additional month or two that it will take me to reach my next stash of clothes. 

Why haven't I gotten new clothes already?  The fact is that I hate clothes shopping.  I hate clothes shopping with the burning passion of a thousand white hot suns.  I am lucky in that I am a pretty typical size at whatever size I am, so I can usually buy clothes right off the rack - - no alterations required.  It's just the whole crowds, malls, pushy salespeople, poor lighting, crappy store experience - - it's all something I can do without.  I usually prefer to buy clothes on-line, but the disadvantage there is that you can't try stuff on on-line, and with my current weight loss, who really knows what size I should be wearing?

Even worse for me, I look frumpy right now in my baggy big girl clothes, and feeling frumpy is now how you want to go clothes shopping. 

Sigh.  I will need to get over myself and just buy some damn clothes already because my current wardrobe is actually making me look bigger than I am, it's so voluminous.  The effect is kind of like shaving a persian cat - - massive before, tiny thing after.  OK, so I'm not tiny, but the suits 2 sizes too big are giving people the visual impression that I am a much larger person than I really am, or that I have had some sudden and wasting illness.  

I have had a history of preferring larger clothing because it serves as camouflage, and keeps the focus off my (glaringly imperfect) body.  But I think the time is coming where I need to take a baby step and get some clothes that fit.  It's just getting too potentially embarrassing to keep wearing these droopy old things. 

This happens to everyone who loses a significant amount of weight - - at some point we have to fish or cut bait, and buy new clothes that are more size-appropriate.  I just wish the process were a bit more fun...!

Friday, 18 January 2013

I worked out for 52 weeks and all I got was...

...improved health, improved self esteem, increased fitness.  Not even a commemorative t-shirt!

Another week is in the books, and coincidentally this brings me full circle to 52 weeks of working out. 

I did my first workout on January 27, 2012.  7 minutes on the recumbent bike.  I vividly recall thinking that I was going to die.  I could barely get off the bike, my legs were so weak, and my face had adopted this alarmingly vivid pink hue that is usually only seen in Turner sunsets.  Let's just say that I was not the picture of glamour. 

But I did it.  And I did it again a couple of days later.  And the day after that.  And the day after that.  I was determined to work out 5 days a week, and I was more or less successful with this goal until May, 2012.  Sure, in March, 2012 I missed an entire week of workouts (I can't even remember why, at this point, but I am sure it wasn't a good reason).  But May was a disaster - I missed 9 workouts, and my hard-fought workout routine was in danger of falling apart.

Then I discovered the Gym-Pact app.  The premise of the app was that individuals could sign up (with a credit card), and make wagers as to how many workouts they would complete in a week.  If they completed the promised number of workouts, they would receive money for each workout made (usually around 50 or 60 cents per workout).  If they missed a workout, however, they would have to pay (a predetermined amount) for every missed workout.  So it is entirely possible that a person could wager $10 per missed workout and miss 2 workouts in a week and owe $20, but complete 3 workouts, and "earn" $1.50.  The idea was that people who missed their workouts paid into a pool of funds to be shared by people who made their workouts, split proportionately based on how many people were in the pool and how many "shares", or workout days, they had wagered. 

I am not going to lie to you, this app kept me going on my program at the end of May, when I was starting to develop some really bad habits.  It was only the thought of having to do an extra workout on the weekend in order to meet my wager than got me on the recumbent bike some mornings.  But you know what?  Eventually I had a new pattern of working out without missing a day, and I didn't need the app any more (which is a good thing, as it was somewhat buggy). Over the time that I used the app I "made" about $40, and never missed a workout.  It's a tough way to earn money, but an effective one. 

I have since developed great workout habits, and now workout 6 days a week.  I haven't missed a workout since May 25, 2012 - - that's 34 consecutive weeks of workouts, for those who are counting.  And now workouts are such an entrenched part of my lifestyle that I don't generally have to push myself onto the elliptical machine in the morning.  I may bitch and moan about it, but the workout is sort of a done deal, as I have so much momentum behind me with this string of workouts, that skipping a day is just not an option.  It really helps that I have my free weights and elliptical machine at home, so I don't need to try and fit gym time into my schedule. 

So what are the results?  Another week down, another 1.2 pounds lost, for a total of 89.6 pounds down to date.  I have 79.3 pounds left to lose in order to hit my goal weight of 165 pounds, so I am now firmly in the land of "over half-way". 

My BMI is now 36.1, down from 49.5.  It used to be that my BMI was so high that it would not even show up on charts - - they typically only go up to 40.  Now, not only am I on the charts, I am getting closer and closer to Obese Class I (at 35 BMI).  After that, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to being merely overweight (at 30 BMI).  It sounds like it's a long way away, that, but it's only about 40 pounds away, just around 200 pounds.

In the past 52 weeks I have lost more than 33 inches on various bits and pieces of me, like almost 9" off my bust, 7.5" off my waist, and 8.6" off my hips.  This has led to a drop of at least 3 clothing sizes, from a 26 down to a 20.  I am a mere 75% of the woman I used to be.

Looking back on the past year, I have learned how to eat healthier, in normal portions.  I have developed an active lifestyle.  I have become measurably healthier - - my fasting blood sugar has come down into almost the normal range, my back pain has virtually disappeared, and my asthma has stopped being noticeable. 

Where will I be next January at this time?  Hopefully close to my goal.  Weight loss through genuine lifestyle change is such a long term thing that the sheer scale of the task ahead can be overwhelming if you think about it all at once (sort of like the Total Perspective Vortex in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).  I like to keep my focus on the short term goals. 

Short term goal #1: lose 100 pounds - - I am just over 10 pounds away from this objective. 
Short term goal #2: get to 30 BMI - - this will happen at 203 pounds.

For now, in celebration of 52 weeks of working out, I will eat sensibly today and make sure to drink my water.  And perhaps do a little boxing tonight with the Nerd.  Yes, I am a wild thing. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jamie Oliver has Changed Our Lives

The title of this post is not an over-promise - - Jamie Oliver's recipes have literally changed our lives.

Let me back up.

In the dark times, before we started cooking regularly, we used to eat out.  A lot.  And you can imagine the result - - lots of high fat meals with huge portion sizes full of carbs, fat and sodium.  Add to the mix the fact that I was an inactive lump, and you have a recipe for 300+ pounds and a whole host of health issues.

Last November the Nerd picked up Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes cookbook after watching Oliver's 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network.  The Nerd liked the idea of the show, and particularly loved the idea of the cookbook - - full of complete meals, with all the ingredients (and more importantly, the instructions) together on one page.  We didn't have to guess as to what vegetables to serve with the protein, we didn't need to flip back and forth between pages in the cookbook, and we didn't need to worry about all the food coming together at the same time.  Jamie Oliver had planned all that out for us.  Oliver even planned how the ingredients would work together - - if one part of the recipe called for half a lemon, you knew that another part of the recipe would call for the other half of the lemon (no sad orphan half lemons here!).

Our first step was trying some of the meals from this cookbook.  Eventually, after a few months, we started paying attention to the intended portion sizes (ahem).  "Serves 4" had always been extraneous information, a mere suggestion.  Eventually we began to take it to heart, and actually held back 2 of the portions if we were eating 2.  It was a revelation.  Instead of gorging on healthy food, we were satisfied with normal portion sizes, and we even had leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day.  Amazing!

Over time, as the Nerd and I began to eat most of our meals out of the Jamie Oliver cookbook, we began losing weight.  Sure, I had begun adding exercise to my lifestyle last January, but as the weight came off it became easier for me to be more active.  I had more endurance for my workouts, and I could begin to do things like walking to the office or walking around the neighborhood without discomfort.  I had more energy, too, and felt less depressed.  I was eating 3 great meals a day, so I wasn't hungry and craving food like I had in the past. 

Even the Nerd was losing weight.  One day he hopped on the scale for a lark, and what he saw there blew his mind - - he had lost 20 pounds simply by eating healthy meals out of the Jamie Oliver cookbook.  The Nerd had not changed his lifestyle at all - - he was still doing the same things he had done the previous year - - but here he was, suddenly slimmer.  His eating habits were the only difference, and it was all thanks to Jamie Oliver.

And that opened up a window of opportunity for the Nerd.  Suddenly he saw the potential for something new - - he saw that he could weigh less than 200 pounds for the first time in many years.  When he started out (pre-Jamie), he weighed 246.6 pounds, and 200 pounds looked like an impossible goal.  At 220 pounds, however, it was attainable.  And with that, the Nerd began working out now and then on the elliptical machine, and joining me on walks through the neighborhood. 

Of course cooking well takes preparation.  We typically shop at least twice a week, and our fridge is full of vegetables, fruits and yogurt whereas last year my fridge was - sadly literally - full of nothing but Long Island Ice Tea mix, salted butter and shredded cheese.   Our freezer now has a variety of frozen fish fillets, scallops, fruit and vegetables, bread and bacon, for cooking.  The junk food has largely been purged from the house so it's not there to tempt us - no more nacho chips and popcorn lurking in cupboards.  And there's also the investment in time required to cook Jamie Oliver's way, to plan out the meals we intend to cook in the upcoming days, and to draw up the shopping list.  But frankly, it's time well spent.

Through this whole past year I was gradually changing my entire lifestyle.  I went from sedentary (and virtually housebound) to active, working out 6 days a week for 50 minutes a day.  I added free weights (and recently boxing) to my exercise plan, and I feel great.  I have learned, with the help of Jamie Oliver's delicious meals, to eat sensibly every day.  I drink 8+ glasses of water each day (rather than Diet Pepsi).  I bring my lunch and dinner to the office (usually leftover Jamie Oliver meals from the previous day) instead of ordering something in or grabbing take-out. 

The Nerd has changed his lifestyle, too, by working out 6 days a week.  He started tracking what he is consuming and is more attentive to portion sizes.  He went from being "Mr. I Never Measure" to understanding the importance of portions in his cooking and in the food he prepares for me. 

And we have both seen the benefits.  As of last Friday, we had together lost over 147 pounds (58.8 pounds for the Nerd, and 88.4 pounds for me).  200 pounds has come and gone and the Nerd is within a whisper of the 185 pound target that he once thought he would never see again, while I am well on my way to hitting 100 pounds lost.  We have both gone down several clothing sizes and have lost dozens of inches as well.

One of the unexpected side benefits is that we have rediscovered meals together.  The Nerd really enjoys cooking his Jamie Oliver meals, and we each enjoy eating them together and sharing some "couple time" over the meal.  It's just not the same when you're shoveling down take-out food. 

I realize that our weight loss has not been the sole result of the Nerd and I eating meals from Jamie Oliver's cookbook.  It's only one piece in the overall lifestyle change that we have undergone and are continuing to undergo.  But the food is sure a major piece of the whole plan, and without managing the food, none of the other stuff would have been as simple or effective for us. 

I also have to say that we have been personally responsible in a minor book sales boom for the Meals in Minutes cookbook amongst our family and friends who have each seen how fantastic we are looking and feeling and who want a piece of that action.

So from the bottom of my heart I say "Thank you, Jamie Oliver.  You have helped us change our lifestyles and become happier, healthier people".  The fact that we eat like kings is a nice side benefit. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Horrifying Idea of the Day - a Permanent Implant to Drain Stomach Contents

Today I read about something that sounds like it would be perfectly at home in Orwell's dystopian future - - the "AspireAssist™ Aspiration Therapy System".  

According to the manufacturer's website: "With Aspiration Therapy, patients “aspirate” (drain) a portion of their stomach contents after each meal through an endoscopically-implanted tube, reducing the number of calories absorbed by the body. The tube is implanted in the stomach, and leads to a small, low-profile port at the surface of the skin. Aspiration performed about twenty minutes after a meal will remove about a third of the calories consumed. The AspireAssist is used in conjunction with a lifestyle modification program, and requires careful and comprehensive medical monitoring."

To put this into simple terms, patients implant a tube into their stomach through their abdomen, through which they pump partially digested food after meals to prevent that food from being further metabolized by the body.   As with other gastric bypass or bariatric surgeries, the device carries risks, and the manufacturer warns that common side effects include: "abdominal discomfort and constipation/diarrhea", as well as "infection, anemia, and buried bumper syndrome [aka the overgrowth of gastric mucosa over the inner bumper of a gastrostomy tube]".   The Independent reports "Initial setbacks – and here's the really yucky part – have occurred because the pump struggles to break up large foods. One patient reported "clogging" and had to avoid eating cauliflower, broccoli, Chinese food, stir fry, snow peas, pretzels, chips [french fries] and steak".

How does it work, do you ask?

"To begin Aspiration Therapy, a specially designed tube, known as the A-Tube™, is placed in the stomach. The A-Tube is a thin silicone rubber tube that connects the inside of the stomach directly to a discreet, poker-chip sized Skin-Port on the outside of the abdomen. The Skin-Port has a valve that can be opened or closed to control the flow of stomach contents. The patient empties a portion of stomach contents after each meal through this tube by connecting a small, handheld device to the Skin-Port. The emptying process is called “aspiration”."  The manufacturer recommends that patients initially aspirate after each major meal.  Over time, as patients "learn to eat more healthfully", they can reduce the frequency of aspirations.

In its FAQ the manufacturer states: "Aspiration Therapy does not cause bulimia. Bulimia is a psychological illness characterized by excessive and uncontrolled binging episodes followed by purging. Bulimia is medically unsupervised, while Aspiration Therapy is under the control of a physician and electrolytes and metabolites are carefully monitored. One of the primary dangers of bulimia is the damage to the teeth and esophagus due to stomach acid; Aspiration Therapy poses no such risk.   Additionally, there is little overlap between people with bulimia and obesity. Patients who wish to undergo Aspiration Therapy will undergo screening for bulimia and other psychological illnesses to make sure they are eligible for therapy."

I suppose I feel an immediate and visceral reaction to this product (which is not yet approved for use in the U.S. or Canada) because it goes against the whole "there is no quick fix" reality of lifestyle change that leads to long term weight loss.  Crash diets and dramatic programs may work in the short term, but if they are not sustainable in the long term, people revert to their original habits and gain the weight back (Oprah is an example, after her liquid diet).   

I know that bariatric surgery or gastric bypass are solutions for many people, and many have experienced significant weight loss using these tools.  But ultimately, any of these devices are only that - - tools - - that can assist an individual to adopt a healthier lifestyle.  Some people can do it without the need of surgical interventions, and others obtain the medical assistance that they need.  If a person does not change their underlying habits, however, no matter how they lose weight initially, they will revert.  The literature is full of examples of people who have regained weight after bariatric surgery.  None of these interventions are magic bullets.

I suppose that another reason that I dislike this approach is that it does nothing to alter a person's relationship with food.  If you are a person prone to bingeing, you can continue to binge.   The manufacturer's website promises that you can "eat normally" - - if your definition of normal eating is to eat double and triple portions, this device will do nothing to prevent that.  What the device does is permit an individual to siphon off a portion of the food consumed, thereby mitigating the negative impacts of one's eating behaviours.  But what about the bigger issue of moderating the food that is put into the body in the first place?  This device does nothing towards this end.  

I know that some people may be reading this and saying to themselves: "hey, that sounds like a fantastic idea!  I can't wait until it gets approved here!".  For me, I will stick my boring, but tried and true lifestyle changes and keep working out and eating sensibly, every day.  It's not as dramatic, but it's safe and works for me.  Plus I don't have a smelly hatch in my stomach - - that can't look good in a bikini...!


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Trying to step it up again

Photo courtesy Rickie22, Licensed CC-BY-NC-ND
Another month or so has passed, and it's time to take up the workout intensity again. 

This week I pushed the cross-ramp to 4 (from 3), while keeping the tension at 8 (around 40%).  The big push however is taking my stride rate from 100 - 120 to 120 - 130 strides per minute on average for the 50 minutes of my daily elliptical workout.

I tried the new cross-ramp and increased stride rate yesterday with a mini workout after the dinner party, and rolled it out big time this morning with my usual Sunday workout.  I have to tell you, it was a barn burner.  I was able to do it, but hoo doggy, was it the longest 50 minutes ever! 

When I think about how tough it is to do this stride rate I think about the Nerd and his usual workout of 60 minutes at 150-160 strides per minute - - I get palpitations just watching him on the machine.  I also think about how I couldn't do 100 strides per minute back in July when I first started working out on the elliptical. 

Hey, I will take signs of progress wherever I can get them.  Another day of workouts, another day stronger. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Mini Milestone Reached...

Today I reached 246.6 pounds on my weigh-in, a loss of 2.3 versus last week (or 3.3, depending on which value you choose), for a total loss of 87.3 pounds, and a BMI of 36.4.  As you can see from the chart, below, this keeps me on track for hitting my overall weight loss goal sometime early 2014:

I have not missed a workout in 32 weeks now, out of the 50 weeks that I have been exercising, and the consistency is sure paying off.

But the weight loss in itself is not the big news.  The bigger news is that 246.6 pounds, where I stand now, is how much the Nerd weighed before he started cooking and eating healthy meals, back around this time last year. This blows my mind, because I never thought of the Nerd as obese, and yet that's what he was (and what I currently am).  In my mind he was padded, sure, but he was not obese.  Certainly not Obese Class II. 

So why do the same numbers add up to "padded" for him, and Obese Class II for me?  Is it my self-perception as a "fat girl" that causes me to see myself as heavy, while discounting others' weight?  I don't know.  The Nerd is the only person in my direct circle of friends who has ever weighed anything close to my weight, so this is the first time I have encountered this situation.  It just blows my mind. 

What I do know is that this is incredibly motivating - - this morning the Nerd weighed in at 188.9, his lowest weight in years.  He looks amazing, and feels great.  If he can do it, I can do it.  He is a living, breathing example of what success can look like, and it's very empowering.

It's empowering because the Nerd and I are basically doing the exact same things - - we generally eat the same meals, we each work out on the elliptical 6 days a week (although he goes for 60+ minutes every day, the mere thought of which makes me exhausted), and we do the little extras together, like going for walks or doing a bit of boxing. 

Because he is much closer to his weight loss target, the Nerd does not lose as much weight as I do each week.  But he is showing steady progress towards his goal, which is fantastic.  If he can do it, I can do it.  

Reaching this little mini-milestone shows me the possibilities in my weight loss adventure.  I have a glimpse into where I can be in another 7 or 8 months, with work.  Bring it on!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Muhammad Ali I Ain't, but Boxing is Still Super Fun!

One of my Christmas presents from the Nerd was a pair of these:

And he also picked up a pair of these:

... so now we can hit each other all we want (in appropriate, socially approved ways, using safe-words in case it gets too rough, of course!).

Actually, I've had my eye on boxing as the next element of my fitness plan for a while now, and I am thrilled that the Nerd is so supportive of this and is willing to play along.  He's a good sport, and seems to enjoy hitting the focus pads.  Actually, he's incredibly patient with me, but I suspect that he thinks it's fun, too, because he was not hard to convince, at all.

For now we are taking our training from a variety of boxing apps with videos of proper technique for the 4 basic punches: jab, cross, hook, and uppercut.  I can see that this will be insufficient soon enough, and we will avail ourselves of a boxing trainer that the Nerd's sister knows, to make sure we are learning the proper fundamentals.  One of my bigger problems right now is my stance - - I am left handed, but I do everything right handed when I stand.  I have started out using a southpaw stance (right foot forward), but I think given that my right hand is my power hand, that I should switch to an orthodox stance (left foot forward).  I should make up my mind and pick a stance now, so that I can work on the correct body position for each punch, because I am discovering that there's a lot of hip and leg action in boxing.

Right now the Nerd and I are just taking turns doing punching drills, but once we have the fundamentals down I would like to transition to doing some combos. 

I have to say that boxing is surprisingly fun and cathartic.  Tough day at work?  Do a little boxing!  Visualize those work problems on the focus pads, and let 'er rip! 

I am trying to start slowly and focus on getting the basics right first in order to avoid injuries.  I have such a propensity for pushing things too far, too fast, and boxing is so darn fun that it is taking an effort of will not to just jump in with both feet (or gloves, as the case may be).  My rule for now is that we can do boxing on the 4 days a week that I am not doing my free weights - - I don't want to overtrain my arms, and a lot of the same muscles are used for both.  Last night we had a fun little exchange with the gloves (jabs, crosses and hooks), but today was a weight day so no boxing tonight.

Here's a photo of me boxing last night.  I think the picture is so blurry because the Nerd was laughing so hard when he was trying to take the photo.  Better luck next time!  For now, you will have to imagine my non-blurry, intimidating ol' self in your mind.