Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pre-Diabetes is not Destiny ... Part 2

I have a frankly terrible family history of diabetes.  The Matriarch's side of the family is riddled with it, and recently the Patriarch was diagnosed as diabetic as well.  All the cases in my family involve Type II diabetes, not always weight related (but often weight related).

A couple of years ago I was worried about my eyes and paranoid that I might have been experiencing optical changes associated with uncontrolled Type II diabetes, and I purchased a portable blood sugar test kit.  In fact, I was experiencing what is known as "old glasses prescription", and as soon as my vision went back to normal I put the test away in my desk.

Coward that I am, it took me almost a year to actually crack open the kit and test my fasting blood sugar.  I knew that if the numbers were in the diabetic range, I would have to adopt some pretty severe lifestyle changes over and above all the things I was already doing.  If the numbers came back in the pre-diabetic range, that was not good either, because it would be a huge red flag telling me that my lifestyle change was no longer optional.

Of course, anyone who has read this blog knows that the test came back in the pre-diabetic range. 

As you can see, that first month I did not have any normal readings, and my highest reading at 6.8 mmol/L was only a cream-filled donut away from the 7.0 mmol/L that is the threshold of diabetes.  As it was, the average fasting blood sugar of 6.3 mmol/L was much higher than I was personally comfortable with. Cue the pouting and petulant whining on my part before I decided to suck it up and look at what I could do to reduce my fasting blood sugar numbers.

It turns out that everything I was doing - - watching calories, reducing alcohol consumption, being carb-aware, exercising and losing weight - - are all things that help reduce blood sugar.  I was already doing all the right things, I just needed to keep doing them over and over again, repeated forever.

And my hard work paid off.  Sure, there were hiccups along the way, but since last July as I have lost 81.4 pounds, I have also lost 0.9 points of blood sugar.

In fact, this month I had normal average fasting blood sugar. (!!!)  Cue the sounds of angels singing.  Yes, I still had elevated results during the month, but my highest reading this month was 5.9, a far cry from 6.8 from when I started.  More than 63% of my readings were normal, in fact, and I even had a couple of readings in the 4s. 

This is such a major, huge, massive big deal.  For one thing, it shows me that pre-diabetes is a red flag, but it does not mean that I will inevitably get Type II diabetes.  Yes, my family history is a nightmare, but I know about it and know what to watch for.  I started taking control over my diabetic destiny last January when I began working out, and I'm not going to stop any time soon.

Another thing that is a big deal is the fact that on average, my fasting sugars were normal this month, without the need for medication or draconian lifestyle changes.  By exercising regularly and being aware of what I am consuming, I have improved my lifestyle to the point where my blood sugar is naturally declining. 

I still believe that being pre-diabetic is a little bit like being an alcoholic - - you are never not an alcoholic, you are just an alcoholic who has not had a drink in a while.  In my case, no matter what my sugars are, I will always be a pre-diabetic by dint of my family history - - but I will be a pre-diabetic with normal blood sugar, so help me god. 

I will keep sticking to my plan and hopefully next month will be even better.  My objective now is to try and string along 3 consecutive months of average fasting blood sugar.  Part 1 is done - - I've got one month in the bag.  Let's hope next month is as good. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

The great platesperiment seems to be working

This weekend we went out and bought some new smaller sized plates and bowls in an attempt to take advantage of our brain's propensity to think that things surrounded by white space are smaller than things surrounded by less white space.  In our case, we bought clear glass plates, but it is the size, not the material that counts for the purpose of this experiment.

In the photos above you can see our old plates on the left, and the new plates on the right.  The same exact pieces of bread were used in each photo - - only the plates are different.  And you know what?  Although I don't think the new plates necessarily make the bread look bigger, per se, the old plates do make the same quantity of bread look somewhat smaller.  The contrast would be even greater if we were comparing white plates to white plates.  This blows my mind.  Yes, I am a very simple creature.

Our first meal with the new plates was steak dinner on Saturday, and our plates looked full to overflowing.  Similarly with Sunday's chicken dinner.  Sunday brunch is where I really noticed it - - the two pieces of toast with avocado and poached eggs filled out the new plates quite nicely and looked more substantial, somehow, compared to the same meal on the old plates. 

One immediate side effect of the new plates and bowls is that we simply cannot fit the same amount of food on the plate or in the bowl.  As a result, I have changed from having 1/3 of a cup of All Bran Buds with my morning fruit and yogurt to having 1/4 of a cup - - a savings of 20 calories and 50 mg of sodium, a not insignificant savings when you are playing with fewer calories.  I tried it this morning and literally did not notice the difference.  My bowl still looked very full, and I was satisfied when I finished wolfing through my breakfast. 

This is exactly the result that the new dishes were intended to deliver - - causing us to put less food on the plate, but without any feeling of deprivation.  Sure, I am messing with my mind, but that's fine if it keeps me from feeling deprived.

It's still early days yet, and our sample size of 2 (1 tight ass lawyer and 1 Nerd) is hardly what you could call a statistically significant sample, but if it works for us, that's all I care about. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013


Our dishes, that is...

Last month the Nutrition Action healthletter had an interesting article on portion sizes and perception.  For example, the article explained how popcorn bags increase in size in three dimensions (getting taller, wider and deeper), which makes it difficult to notice a 50% increase in portion size (compared to a bag that only increases in height).

The article also discussed the Delboeuf Illusion (below), which causes us to misjudge the size of identical circles when they are surrounded by larger circles of varying sizes. The more "white space" around the circle, the smaller it appears.
In the above picture, the black circles are both the same size, but the one on the right looks smaller, because it is surrounded by more white space.

Now think of the black circles as your food, and the white space as your plate. 

Larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead us to misjudge the same quantity of food as being significantly larger. In a study conducted at a health and fitness camp, campers who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Despite the fact that those campers were eating more, their estimates of their cereal consumption were 7% lower than the estimates of the group eating from the smaller bowls. In other words, not only could large dishes cause us to serve and eat more, it can do so without us noticing and trick us into believing we have eaten less.

How can we take advantage of this illusion?  We could serve healthy fruits and vegetables on larger plates to encourage ourselves to eat more of these foods.  On the flip side, carbs or desserts could be served from smaller plates to trick us into feeling satisfied with less food.  Similarly, when having people over for a buffet-style dinner, using smaller plates could cut down on the amount of food taken.  

The Nerd and I were intrigued by this research and so today we went to IKEA and purchased some new plates and bowls for every day use.  It helps that our everyday plates are 22 year old IKEA plates that have been gradually whittled down over time - - I am down to 4 of the original 8 plates, and 5 bowls.  It's the perfect time to pick up new dishes.

Our old plate is shown here on the left, with the new glass plate on top of it.  The new plate fits within the inner ring of the old plate.  This is not a huge difference on its face, but in fact the working area of the plate is about 1-2 cm smaller around the entire edge, which adds up quickly.

The difference in the bowls is more dramatic.  

As you can see here, the new bowls fit completely within the old bowls, and are narrower in width. 
Once again, there is about a 1cm difference in width between the old and new bowls, which adds up to less room for food.

My challenge is that each time I lose around 1.5 pounds, I get to consume 10 fewer calories the next day.  My base calorie limit right now is 1,530 calories (and dropping!), and it is difficult to meet that number with the old full-serving portions I used to eat. 

The Nerd and I have adapted to this challenge by stretching recipes that call for 4 servings to make 5-6 servings, effectively reducing the calories consumed by 20-30%.  This has been working well for us because we get all the flavour of the full recipe without all the calories.  We don't really notice the smaller portions because the meals are only fractionally smaller, but I am hoping the new dishes will make the food we have look more generous.  It is not that we have been feeling particularly deprived, but anything we can do to make this lifestyle change easier on ourselves, the better it is for us.

Plus, new dishes!  Who doesn't like that?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Dining Out Dilemmas

Tomorrow I will be attending a goodbye lunch for a dear friend at a local restaurant.  In the interests of getting us in and out quickly the restaurant has provided its menu, and is asking us to notify them in the morning about what we would each like to eat so that everything can be ready and waiting for us when we arrive. That's fantastic, really.  I get a chance to scope out the menu and pick healthier food options, and I don't have to worry about rushing or being pressured. 

The thing about this lifestyle change that I am undertaking is that I can go to restaurants, just like a normal person.  I don't need to sit in a corner and sip lemon water - - I can actually eat and enjoy the meal and the company of my friends.

But I have to confess that I am terrified, for two reasons. i) Portion sizes and ii) Sodium.

Portion Sizes
Those of you who follow my blog know that portion sizes were one of my undoings in the past.  I naively thought that if it fit on a plate, it was a portion.  It was not until I began keeping a food diary that I realized that portions are actual things, and that they exist for a reason.  It was not until I had been working out for more than half a year that I began to actually internalize portions, and try and eat appropriately.

This is easy enough to do when I am eating at home or bringing my lunch and dinner to work.  After all, the Nerd carefully puts everything in appropriate portions, so I don't have to worry about things.  And I have a better handle, now, on what a portion of food is for the times that I eat at my parents' place (usually half a cup is a portion for anything delicious).

But restaurants, ah restaurants.  Their idea of portions is, put simply, laughable.  Eat what a restaurant puts on your plate and you are consuming 2 -3 times an actual recommended serving.  Nutrition Action did an analysis of some common foods found in the U.S., and compared them to the recommended portions, and the results were eye-opening for me, to say the least.  Take a look at the images below, all from Nutrition Action:

In each example the restaurant serving is shown on the left, while the recommended portion is shown in the right. 

A bagel is two portions?  OK, I can get my head around that.  A cookie is 3?  Oof.  A plate of pasta at a typical family restaurant is 3.5 portions?  Gack.  And so it goes.  

It makes dining out something of an exercise in estimating and pre-planning.  If you know that the restaurant is serving 10 oz steaks, then it's a simple enough matter to cut your steak into 3 pieces that are each approximately one serving.  It takes discipline, but it's easy enough to bring the rest home for the next day's meal.  But you can't do it if you don't know it's an issue.

In the past, I never knew that portions in the real world did not equal restaurant servings of food, and this was a large contributor to my weight issues.  I did not know that I had to think ahead about how much I should be eating, and plan my consumption accordingly.  I would just order something that looked somewhat healthy (to my untrained eye), and I would eat the entire damn thing.  

Which brings me to issue #2.  

Even healthy food choices in restaurants can be sodium minefields.  

The restaurant I am visiting tomorrow does not put their nutritional information online, so I went to a couple of other restaurants' websites to look up the nutritionals for comparable food choices.  And I was immediately horrified.  

Let's look at East Side Marios.  In my prior life I would have ordered a caesar salad and perhaps some pasta.  Let's look at that, shall we?  East Side Mario's chicken caesar salad has 660 calories and 1,150 mg of sodium.  A bit high.  What about the pasta?  The linguini chicken tetrazini has 1,050 calories and 1,510 mg of sodium.  For just this meal, the calories and sodium exceed my daily recommended limits, and that's only one meal -- not including bread or dessert.  Keep in mind that the daily recommended sodium allowance is 1,500 mg - 2,300 per day. 
OK, so perhaps an Italian restaurant is not a good choice.  How about a grill?  Milestones has a starter caesar salad for only 340 calories and 440 mg of sodium - - not bad!   But their prime rib comes in at 990 calories and a whopping 2,070 mg of sodium -- almost an entire day's allowance just by itself!

And on and on and on.

Going out to dinner was a lot easier before I began paying attention to sodium, but it was a lot harder to lose weight, as well.  I suspect that the two things are related.  

The key is to be forewarned, and to plan ahead as much as possible.  Tomorrow I will have a starter size spinach salad with dressing on the side,  and the grilled salmon.  I will try and avoid the rice or sides, because those will be high in sodium.  And I will split the salmon if it looks like the serving is too large.  It will not be a problem - - the Nerd loves leftovers, and the restaurant is across the street from our apartment, so they could even still be warm by the time I go home to bring them to him! 
I do miss the days of simply going to a restaurant and ordering something that looks good.  Now there are calculations and trade-offs involved.  Perhaps even long division.  So challenging, especially after a glass of wine...!

Monday, 22 April 2013

64 weeks down ... 117 pounds down [with pics]

Last week was a great week, progress-wise.  I kept working on my sodium to hold it in my target zone, my sugars continued to be great, and my weight went down.  Sounds like a trifecta I can get behind.

Overall, I lost 2.5 pounds last week, to bring me to 216.9 pounds, and 117 pounds lost. 

As mentioned, my sodium and fasting blood sugar figures are on track as well, although the sugars were creeping up there by the end of the week:

I had a nice thing happen Friday afternoon.  One of our trade mark associates who is presently on maternity leave came into the office to show off her child.  I'm not 100% sure why people do this, because it's not as if we secretly harbor doubts that she had a baby and she had to show it off to prove that she was entitled to the mat leave, or anything.  Anyhow, the baby was darling, and all the cooing and giggling she did caused every woman within 10 feet to immediately ovulate.  Too bad for the lone male trade mark associate who was just down the hall - - sure, he's now more aware of his sensitive side, but on the down side, I am sure he experienced some breast tenderness with all the estrogen floating in the air.

Back to the point, which is that this female associate had not seen me since she went off on mat leave last November, and she was a little shocked at my appearance.  "Oh my god, look at you!" she exclaimed, and then asked how much weight I had lost.  Guessing, I told her that I had lost 60 pounds (actually it was only 50 pounds, but I was close enough).  She was suitably impressed. 

I don't really see a huge sifference between now and last November (see below), but I sure as heck can tell a difference from before I started working out:

It's all headed in the right direction, anyways.  Here's where I stand on the goals for the week:

I am less than 20 pounds away from onederland (!), and only one large bale of hay and a pound of butter away from my target. 

This past weekend was more social than normal, and it definitely involved rather more margaritas, enchiladas, ice cream and carrot cake than the usual weekend, so this week may be a difficult one, weight loss-wise.  In anticipation of a struggle, I have increased my free weights from 4 sets of 12 to 5 sets of 10.  Hopefully that will help. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Nutrition Action Healthletter

A few years ago back when I was still in law school, the Matriarch gave me a subscription to the Nutrition Action Healthletter as a gift. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the magazine, it is published monthly by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest ("CSPI").  CSPI presents itself as the voice of the public on nutrition, food safety, health and other issues. CSPI has long sought to educate the public, advocate government policies that are consistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industry’s powerful influence on public opinion and public policies.

Each month the magazine contains interesting articles about nutrition, the benefits of exercise, and food safety.  They also regularly have a recipe page, with healthy and delicious recipes that fit perfectly into a calorie-reduced or sodium-reduced diet.  My favourite part of the magazine, however, is the "Food Porn" on the back cover.  

Presented as a counterpoint to a healthy food choice, the Food Porn either consists of something I have previously consumed (ahem), or something that, in my unguarded moments, I look at and think to myself "wow, that looks delicious".  A quick review of Food Porn from recent issues includes food such as President's Choice Dine-In Tonight Beef Meat Lasagne, Boston Pizza's Chocolate Explosion, Quiznos' Chicken Carbonara Sub, Swiss Chalet's Rotisserie Chicken Quesadilla, and East Side Mario's Stuffed Mushroom Caps. Inevitably these mouthwatering food selections are high in calories, high in saturated fats, and, depending on whether they are sweet or savoury, high in sugar or sodium to boot. 

When the Matriarch first got me the subscription to this magazine, I never exercised and I was eating All The Bad Things (and lots of 'em).  I found CSPI's constant harping about saturated fat to be tedious and more than a bit preachy, and the Food Porn section seemed designed to take all the pleasure out of my most indulgent guilty pleasures.  I never read the magazines, and let the subscription lapse. 

Fast forward a few years to this month.  I now live in a world with daily exercise, and I actually pay attention to things like saturated fat and sodium now.  I still would love to sit down at a meal made up entirely of Food Porn (my emotional eating is never too far under the surface, after all), but now my brain understands why that would set me back.  Frankly now, I would begrudge the calories.  I have a strictly "look but don't touch" approach to the Food Porn now. 

Recently, the Matriarch mentioned an article in the magazine, and when I expressed an interest, she brought me all her back issues on hand.  The Nerd and I now have a stack of Nutrition Action Healthletters going back to 2008, full of information and recipes to be explored.  The first weekend we had the magazines the Nerd came to bed and said "this will sound strange, but I really want to try some of these salads from the magazine".  And do you know what?  They were delicious

So now we're diving into the big stack of magazines and catching up on years of missed articles.  I wasn't ready to internalize any of the information in the magazines when I first got my subscription, but I am now, and I am enjoying the magazines more than I expected.  They are a light read - - none of them are more than 20 pages or so, but they're packed with useful information. 

Thankfully, the Matriarch has been able to add the "I told you so" with respect to the Nutrition Action Healthletter to her repertoire, to accompany her "I told you so" with respect to the elliptical machine.  It gives her such pleasure. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review: Georges St. Pierre, The Way of the Fight

Yesterday I read Georges St. Pierre's new book, The Way of the Fight (Harper Collins, ISBN 9781443413466).

Not a pure autobiography in the usual sense of the word, in this book St. Pierre writes about scenes from his life and some of his formative influences.  As he describes them, these are the Mother, Mentor, Master, Maven and Conscience, which correspond to chapters about his childhood with comments from his maman (Mother), and then chapters with his first real sensei, Kristof Midoux (Mentor), his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher, John Danaher (Master), his coach, Firas Zahabi (Maven), and his friend, Rodolphe Beaulieu (Conscience). 

Ever the consummate professional, critics of St. Pierre's performance in the ring have complained that he lacks the killer instinct, saying that he plays it safe and doesn't take unnecessary risks.  He wins, to be sure, but he doesn't finish opponents, or at least, he hasn't finished opponents since his 2009 fight against BJ Penn.  After reading this book, I better understand why.

St. Pierre is a master strategist, as well as a master tactician, and he understands how his opponents will fight.  His objective is to get ahead on points so that his opponents are forced to take risks, while taking as few risks as possible himself.  It is a successful strategy, and given the personal risk he faces every time he enters the octagon, (both physically, of getting badly hurt and financially, of losing purse money and endorsement contracts), who is to say that this approach is not sound?  Not I.  I think St. Pierre is one of the more intelligent fighters out there, and it's always a pleasure to watch him at work, disassembling an opponent's game plan and crippling their resolve and will to fight.  You could see this most profoundly in the 2009 Penn fight, when Penn's corner literally threw in the towel, but you could also see it as recently as the 2013 Diaz fight, where Diaz stumbled through 5 rounds of a solid schooling in mixed martial arts at the hand of a master.

More than a pure autobiography, this is a book of philosophy, in which St. Pierre explains his life philosophy as well as his fighting philosophy.  A true polymath, St. Pierre incorporates many disparate elements from eastern teachings, history, geometry, anthropology and martial arts into his approach to life and work, and the combination is what makes him so special and so successful as a fighter.  St. Pierre takes a much more analytical approach to life and work than most people, and certainly, most fighters. 

It is his continual drive to improve that makes him so successful, and also keeps him from the normal life that others enjoy.  I got the very real sense of estrangement from St. Pierre as I read this book.  He must keep an emotional distance from many others in his line of work, both because the profession is a demanding one requiring many hours of work each day, and because anyone who has enjoyed his level of success must be careful to limit access to his inner circle.  The Japanese have a concept of masks - the public mask, that others see, and the private mask, that only few ever witness.  With St. Pierre, his public mask is on almost all the time, and the glimpses of his private mask are tantalizingly few, granted only occasionally, and only to the privileged inner sanctum.

It's a pity, really, because St. Pierre comes across as a very loyal, very intelligent, and very likable guy in this book, if tremendously driven.  Almost obsessively driven, in fact. It would be interesting to get a glimpse behind the curtain, but it's unlikely that this will ever happen, at least so long as he is competing professionally in MMA.  Too bad - he seems like the kind of person who would have some interesting things to say about history or physical anthropology.

If you are hoping to understand what makes St. Pierre successful, this book will give you a bit of information that will cause you to re-watch his fights with a fresh eye.  If you are hoping to understand what makes St. Pierre the man the way he is, this book will not give you much.  The book is, after all, written for the public mask of GSP, the fighter and the brand, not Georges St. Pierre, the man.

This book is as much about delivering on the GSP brand as all of his other very well-thought out marketing activities.  As a person, St. Pierre understands that he is the product, and this book is intended to reinforce the brand rather than illuminate the person.

Within these limitations, though, this was a surprisingly well written book, and a very enjoyable read.  I suspect that not only followers of MMA would enjoy this book, but also scholars of philosophy, and anyone who wonders what it is that makes the truly successful succeed.

A wonderful counterpoint to Sam Sheridan's The Fighter's Heart (Grove Press, ISBN 9780802143433) and The Fighter's Mind (Grove Press, ISBN 9780802145017), this book made me want to adopt some of St. Pierre's success strategies - - his visualization, and his goal setting, and his work ethic.  As St. Pierre writes in his opening, every single morning takes root the night before.  It makes me wonder what I can do tonight to make myself more successful tomorrow.

Friday, 12 April 2013

I'm not thinner, I'm just more condensed! 114.5 pounds down [with pics]

You know how some people say "I'm not fat, there's just more of me to love"?  As the Nerd says now, "there's not less of you to love now that you're losing weight, you're just more condensed". 

On that note, I am even further condensed this week.

This week was another 1.6 pound loss, bringing my weight down to 219.4 pounds, and my total pounds lost up to 114.5 pounds.  My current BMI is 32.4.  Interesting bit of trivia for you: when I have lost 167 pounds, I will weigh 167 pounds.  This must be some type of quantum singularity or something, and although it is not something I need to worry about for many months yet, it will be so damn cool when it happens.

Still on track...!

This week I upped the workouts by adding more weight to the ankle weights, adding more reps to the free weight sets, and adding more crossramp to the elliptical.  My workouts felt pretty good, and I'm happy with the changes I made for now.

On the sodium front, I was able to keep my numbers well within the recommended daily average of 1,500 - 2,300 mg sodium both this week, and month to date.  I don't have today's figures in there yet because I don't know what we will have for dinner tonight, but if recent trends are anything to go on, my numbers should be fine.

I don't know what the heck is happening with my fasting blood sugar this month, but I will take it!  So far this month 7 of my daily readings have been normal, and although I think it's a bit early yet to expect to see this trend continue all the way through the end of the month (I think I've got a lot more weight to lose to bring me fully into the normal range), so far my numbers put me just at the top end of normal range month to date - - very promising to see, and fabulously motivating.

The Patriarch has only recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and he does not test his sugars daily (the diabetes person he is working with tests his A1C numbers and fasting blood sugar levels when he sees her every quarter).  I wish he would test daily, because it's so motivating to see the numbers trend downwards with weight loss.  Sure, it takes a really long time, but it does happen, and it reinforces all the good behaviours when it does.

In clotheshorse related news, I am very happy with my new running shoes.  I have learned so much about the importance of good footwear for working out in just the last 24 hours after posting about the new shoes, and I am feeling very good about making that great leap forward.  I am also amazed that I didn't collapse in a pile of shin splints and turned ankles long before now given the appalling state of the shoes that I was wearing.  Whew!  Dodged a bullet there!

It occurred to me out of the blue this week that although I have gone down 4 full dress sizes and have worked my way through my clothing archive, I have never taken a look at my court outfit.  In Canada in the Federal Court and in front of judges of the Ontario court, counsel must gown in a black waistcoat, wing collar shirt with tabs, and gown.  I bought my robes back in 2007 just before my call to the bar (for which you also must robe), which means that my robes were custom made to fit me at whatever the heck weight I was back in 2007.  I will tell you right now, it wasn't anything close to where I am now, judging from the slack I have in my waistcoat.  The gown itself is always going to look big, so that's probably ok not to have to change.

When I got my robes the company who made them did not have any women's wing collar shirts in size 26 - - not much call for them, I expect.  So instead of a shirt I was reduced to wearing a wing collar dickie, which looked just the same under the waistcoat.  It always burned me that I didn't have a proper shirt, though.  Well this week as I looked over my robes I thought - - why not see if I can finally pick up a shirt?  The answer is "hell yes!", and the shirt arrived today.

Below for comparison is a photo of me from my call to the bar (ignore the shiny face - - it was a million degrees that day), and me trying on the new shirt this afternoon.  No, blue jeans are not approved court attire, and yes, I am missing my tabs, but otherwise, I like how my robes look now, although I will need to get a new waistcoat when I go down another size:

The comparison from year ago is also striking:

What a difference a year makes!

I am gradually whittling down the numbers until I make my next goal:

I am less than 20 pounds away from Onederland!!  And only 16.4 pounds away from being merely overweight!  My overall target still feels like a long way to go, but it's much closer than it used to be.  If I keep stringing productive weeks together as I have, I will hit my objective early in 2014, right on track. 

Achievement Unlocked - New Shoes Acquired!

This week I was discussing my workouts with a friend, and I mentioned that I was getting a new pair of Keds to wear on the elliptical.  My friend, who is a pretty serious runner (she ran the Chicago marathon last year and would have run New York but for Hurricane Sandy), was appalled.  "You can't wear Keds on the elliptical," she said, "you'll turn an ankle, and then where will you be?".

Now I am not what you call fussy about my shoes.  I never have been one of those people who has closets full of shoes for every outfit, and I loathe shoe shopping.  As long as the shoes even halfway fit, I'll wear 'em.  Case in point: my workout shoes.  I have been wearing the same sneakers since I started workout out last January, and in fact, these are the same shoes that I wore the first time I lost weight, back in 1999-2000.   They're not fancy, or even structurally sound, but they are easy to put on and off, and they fit my feet, which is something not all shoes can boast.

I will admit, the sneakers have seen better days.  To be fair, they've probably seen better decades. Words will not do them justice, so here are said sneakers, in all their glory:

Yes, that is a giant hole in the side of one of them (rest assured, there's a matching hole in its mate).  Those are also holes all along the back of both sneakers.  Arch support?  Not in these shoes.  Treads?  Heck no!  The bottom of these shoes is polished almost smooth.  For some reason, my runner friend with the wardrobe of technical clothing and super-fancy arch support shoes felt that these shoes were inappropriate for my increasing levels of fitness. 

Upon consideration, I thought perhaps she was right.  I am a mature woman who works out for at least 60 minutes a day, so why shouldn't I have shoes that assist in that endeavour?  So last night I bit the bullet and went to the new Running Room store that opened up on Yonge just north of Wellington.  The store is basically directly between my office and my apartment, so there really was no reason not to stop in. 

And...I bought some shoes.  Here they are, in all their neon glory:
I used them last night for my evening elliptical workout, and this morning for my usual Friday workout, and you know what?  They felt fine.  The shoes were springy and comfortable, and I actually felt a little bouncier on the elliptical.  I'm not saying that the 60 minutes on the elliptical went any faster, but my feet were comfortable, and my toes weren't squished like they sometimes were in the old sneakers. 

So my trusted old sneakers have now gone under the bathroom cabinet, until I can bear to throw them out, and the new sneakers - excuse me - running shoes - have a place of honour in my bedroom.

Let the new era begin!  Apparently I will need to get new shoes every 500 miles (another new fact I discovered this week), so we'll see how long these neon things will take me. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Almost entering the terrible teens ... lost, that is

Another week is in the books - - week # 62 of exercising, and the 45th consecutive week without missing a single workout. The focus this week was on proper nutrition, and in particular, managing down my sodium levels.  So far, my efforts have been pretty successful.

This week I lost another 1.6 pounds, for 112.9 pounds lost in total (almost 113 down!).  I now weigh 221 pounds, about what the Nerd weighed last July (he's now down to 177 pounds). I am still on track to hit my goal of 165 pounds sometime around Jan-Feb of next year. 

For the past couple of weeks I have been monitoring my sodium consumption and actively working to bring my levels within Health Canada's guideline of 1,500 mg - 2,300 mg per day.  As you know, my numbers in the past have been higher than the recommended amount, occasionally much higher (my highest reading was more than 6,000 mg!).  Although my recent numbers were not so far off the charts that I needed to dramatically change my lifestyle (I was running around 2,400 - 2,600 mg on average in the past few months), I need to pay attention to sodium and make smarter choices - - both in purchasing and when selecting what foods to eat.

It has been a couple of weeks now, and my work is paying off:
Both my past 7 days and month to date averages are well within the recommended range, and with time (and work), I hope to keep the numbers on the lower end of that range.  Thankfully I do not have hypertension so I do not need to maintain a super strict sodium-reduced diet, but it's still good to keep sodium from getting out of hand - - which is tough to do, since the damn stuff is in everything.  Well, everything delicious, anyways. 
Even more promising, my fasting blood sugar levels have been absolutely fantastic in recent weeks.  I finished off March with a couple of normal results, dropping my average fasting blood sugar for the month to 5.6 mmol/L (where normal is 5.5 mmol/L and under), and I had 9 normal readings in the month (just less than 1 in 3).

So far for April, however, my fasting blood sugar levels have been almost entirely normal - - 4 out of 5 normal readings, in fact, bringing my average fasting blood sugar to 5.4, or in the normal range.  (!!!)
I can't tell you how happy I am with these numbers, as I have been working very hard on nutrition and exercise to bring my numbers into the normal range.  Knowing my double-barreled family history of Type II diabetes (thanks again, Matriarch and Patriarch!), I need to keep working on my lifestyle to get my fasting blood sugar levels down, and keep them down.  I am under no illusions that I will have dramatically improved numbers from this point onwards since this is really a long term objective, but each normal reading represents a positive step in the right direction. The long term trend has been steadily downwards into the normal zone, so I am hoping that my normal readings this month are not outliers, but rather, harbingers of positive trends in the future.

After this week, I am only 16 pounds away from light heavyweight, and 18 pounds away from being merely overweight.  That will be such a huge accomplishment when I get there - - I can't wait!  And Onederland is only 21 pounds away - - - sooooooo close!

To avoid the inevitable plateau, and because my workouts have felt pretty good recently, this week I am taking my workout program up a notch, and adding another 2 pounds to my ankle weights (1 per leg to 3 pounds per leg), and putting the crossramp on the elliptical machine to 7 (or about 50%), up from 6.  I am keeping the tension the same on the elliptical for now, at 5 (or 25%), because I can comfortably do my 130-145 stride rate at that tension.  I think I will also take the reps up on my free weight routine, to do 4 sets of 12 reps (instead of 10 reps) using the 8 lb weights. 

Looking back on what I was doing this time last year, I am amazed - - I was doing 12 minutes on the recumbent bike 3 days a week along with 2 minutes on the rowing machine, and then 15 minutes on the bike plus 3 minutes on the rowing machine the other 2 days a week (I only worked out 5 days a week at that point).  That's a whopping 14 or 18 minutes of cardio, and even that small amount almost killed me.  I was completely blown after getting off the rowing machine, which is perhaps to be expected of someone who at that point weighed around 313 pounds.

I thought I was never going to be able to do much more than that, and now here I regularly do 60 minutes on the elliptical machine, and my only concern is not whether I can finish the workout, but whether I will get too bored.  It is so true that the healthier you get, the more you can do.  My body is simply more able to handle physical exertion now than it could last year, and I love that.  It's important to remember how far I have come on those mornings when the workout is a little tougher, and I have to celebrate that.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hello Cholesterolville - - just visiting!

This week I added yet another metric to my list of bodily attributes and measurements that I track on a regular basis - - my cholesterol.

I obtained a CardioChek cholesterol tester by way of the U.S. to see if I could test my cholesterol in the comfort of my home.  I realize that any home test will necessarily be less accurate than a doctor's test, but I wanted to know directionally how my cholesterol levels were, so that I could know whether to rush to the Medicenter, or stay the course.

Balancing against my generally low fat and healthy diet is the fact that the Matriarch has high cholesterol and high triglycerides, to the point where she requires medication to keep her numbers in check.  Some people just have naturally high cholesterol numbers, and this is something that I wanted to check.  I was curious to see if I inherited high cholesterol along with the pre-disposition towards diabetes.

Before I did the test I read up a bit on cholesterol.  According to the National Institutes of Health, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. We require cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest foods.

Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins, made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside.  Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).  LDL cholesterol sometimes is called “bad” cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in  arteries.  HDL cholesterol sometimes is called “good” cholesterol, because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver, which removes excess cholesterol from the body.

So much for the science lesson.  How much cholesterol should a person have?  The Mayo Clinic provides a useful guide to recommended cholesterol figures, excerpted below:

With total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, the lower the number the better.  With HDL, the higher the number the better. 

My figures this morning were as shown in the table below:

I am pleased to say that these results mean green lights across the board - - there is no sign that I have inherited the Matriarch's high triglycerides or high cholesterol issues, which is very good news. 

While I was looking at cholesterol numbers and how to reduce cholesterol, I noted some of the top foods to lower cholesterol, including:

  • Oatmeal, oat bran, and high fibre foods
  • Fish and omega-3 fatty acids 
  • Unsalted walnuts, almonds and other nuts
  • Chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and kidney beans
  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • 1 glass of alcohol per day (women) / 2 glasses of alcohol per day (men) [yipee!]
Other ways to lower cholesterol include regular physical activity and losing weight.  Fortunately, I am already doing both of those things, which may also explain why my cholesterol numbers are in a healthy range.  (I think it sucks that the solution to so many health problems is to lose weight - - what happened to health at any size??)

I think with these test results I will not need to test my cholesterol any more frequently than once a month, but it's good to get this baseline read on the books.  I am also glad to be aware of some of the foods I should be incorporating into my regular diet, like avocado, beans, and, apparently, booze.