Sunday, 25 August 2013

Off the reservation ... but coming back

The real truth about trying to lose weight is that it is what goes into your mouth that drives your results.  You can exercise all you want, but if you go crazy with food, there is not enough exercise in the world to overcome all those calories. 

Confession time.  This past week has been a bad one for snacking and for dining out or in with family and friends - lots of snacks, and lots of bigger than normal meals with wine.  The only saving grace is that I have still worked out on plan, so my "consecutive weeks worked out" streak remains intact - now up to 65 weeks and counting.  The bad side is that I have really let my eating, especially my late night snacking, go completely out of control. 

It's time to take things back in hand.  I am doing a few things this week to shake things up and break out of this negative spiral. 

First, I have stopped weighing myself every day.  Even though I only recorded my weight once a week, I was getting completely obsessed with the numbers on the scale, and when they did not decrease, I would get frustrated and binge out on chocolate.  I know, this is not exactly productive behaviour, but what can you do - - they call it "emotional eating", not "rational eating" for a reason.

I am not sure what my new weigh-in intervals will be, but I don't plan to step on the scale until the end of the month just to get a baseline, and then perhaps not until the following month-end.  We'll see if I can resist the temptation to weigh-in.  I have noticed a real tendency for my moods to follow the scale - - when I gain, for whatever reason, I feel depressed, and when I lose, I feel energized and unstoppable.  Those mood swings are taking over my days, and I need to break out of them.

I have not weighed myself for more than a week, and it's actually kind of liberating.  I did hop on the scale for a directional read this morning to see how much work I need to do to get down to my lowest weight - - a lot - - but I was expecting a bump yesterday after a gourmet dinner out at North 44 restaurant with the family last night.    

Second, the incremental chocolate dish on my desk has been banished.  I could not resist the lure of those bite sized chocolates, and they were killers to my carefully planned out days - - especially on days when the aforementioned scale is being uncooperative.  The chocolates ran out on Friday afternoon, and they are not getting replaced any time soon.  This will help me cut out the illicit snacking that has been my achilles heel the past few weeks. 

Third, I have completely changed up my free weight routine.  I have been doing the same free weight routine virtually unchanged since October, and it's time to mix things up and give my muscles a bit of a challenge.

This morning was the first morning of the new routine, and it was a killer.  Very challenging, which is good.  And yes, the new routine includes planks, as promised, which lead to all sorts of creative swearing on the part of yours truly.  I can still only do 5 planks of 30 seconds each - - barely! - - but hope that over time as I continue to work on my core I will be able to do more.

Fourth, it's time to step up the elliptical again.  I took the cross-ramp up to 8 a couple of weeks ago, so today was the time to take the tension up to 8, from 7.  It felt challenging, but good.  I felt great after finishing my workout, and I certainly had a good sweat this morning.  I released all the glows today. I may have actually experienced an endorphin. 

Finally, I need to re-integrate rest days into my program.  I had been good about taking rest days for a while there, but I let my obsession with the scale push me into working out without taking rest days for a few weeks.  One of the symptoms of overtraining is depression, which just leads to binge eating for me.  Another symptom of overtraining is lack of progress.  Just what one wants to see after pushing it as hard as I have been doing.  I know that I have a tendency to overdo things, and failing to take rest days is just one part of that.

So, this week I shake myself, dust myself off, and get back on plan.  The workout plan is on track, and has never fallen off track, so now it is time to get the eating under control.  Today was Day 1 - on track.  Tomorrow I will work on stacking another good day on top of Day 1.  Put enough good days together, and this week will take care of itself. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Planks. Invented by the Devil.

... because clearly, Satan has a great core. 

This week I tried planks for the first time as part of a challenge.  The challenge required that we do 3 planks of 30 seconds each.  "How hard can that be?" I thought.  That was clearly the voice of someone who had never performed a plank in her life.  Only a complete plank-virgin would think those things would be easy. 

Photo courtesy Suanie, CC-BY-NC-SA
The Nerd came rushing downstairs in alarm as I was halfway through my second plank - - apparently I had developed this strange porpoising type of breathing with dramatic exhalations at intervals that sounded very unsettling.  Kind of like Cheyne-Stokes breathing, actually.  The type of breathing people do right before they expire, in other words.  I wasn't even aware that I was doing it. 

After successfully completing the set of 3 planks (only one of which may have had proper form), I felt it all through my core.  I even felt slightly nauseous, actually, and I think it was due to the fact that my core muscles were not used to being the focus of my attention like that.  I guess my core is an introvert.

It was grueling.  It was awful.  And I immediately decided to add planks to my workout routine.  Now on my weights days I will add 5 x 30 second planks to the list, because anything this difficult to do must be good for me.  Yes, yes, it's the Rollins philosophy, I know, but it's true.  If you don't push yourself, how do you know how far you can go?  In my case, for now, it's 30 seconds.  Who knows where I will be a month from now.

I am assured that with practice, over time I will be able to hold a plank for more than the 30 seconds.  The helpful fellow with the YouTube video who demonstrated the exercise for me informed me - - in a perfectly conversational tone, while planking (!) - - that I could even hold a plank for 3 or 4 minutes at a time, if I wanted to.  I frankly cannot imagine such a day ever dawning, but why not?  I never thought I would be able to survive on the elliptical for more than 15 minutes either, and now I can do almost 2 hours, with the right book to take my mind off the passage of time. 

Wikipedia tells me that the world record for holding a plank is 3 hours, 7 minutes and 15 seconds.  Let's just say that this record is in no danger of being broken by me anytime soon.  Or ever. 

Next week I am going to change up my free weight routine, but the planks are staying. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

I signed up for my first 5K this week...

This week one of my co-workers posted an invitation for people in the firm to join the company team for the Run for the Cure, a race to raise funds to combat breast cancer. 

Most years I would receive this invitation and I would politely decline, but I would sponsor my friends on the team with donations.  It's always easier to pay someone else to do something than to do it yourself, after all.  Pay someone to run for me?  Perfect!

And let's face it - - most years I would not have been able to participate even if I had wanted to - - my body could not handle walking 50 metres, let alone 5,000 metres.  My office is about 550 metres from my apartment (3 short city blocks), and at my heaviest I could not walk that distance without stopping at least once to stretch out my back.  My back muscles would seize up before I had even gone a block, causing me to limp and one of my legs to drag.  Attractive, I know.

But that was before I began working out.  It has been a long time now that I have been able to handle the walk to work with ease, and walking is now part of my regular routine.  I assume that I can walk places, and so I do.  Go to the mall?  No problem.  It's faster, cheaper, and less hassle to walk (as compared to taking the subway one or two stops).  I love the fact that I no longer do frantic calculations in my head to figure out what is the closest I can take transit or a car to a particular place - - if it's nearby, I'll just walk.  No math required.

As for longer distances, I vividly recall planning for a 1.7 km walk from a restaurant to a friend's house last August.  I was easily able to handle the walk, but it was my first significant walk of any measurable distance, and I had been worried that I would not be able to keep up with the others who were walking with us.  I had to talk myself into going, and reassuring myself by telling myself that I could easily handle 550 metres, so I could certainly handle 1,700 metres.  As it happened, not only was I able to keep up, I was not the slowest, which was eye opening for me. 

From that time I have walked increasing distances, to the point where the Nerd and I have repeatedly done 6 mile walks around town.  5 km no longer scares me - - I look at it as a fun challenge.  Walk for an hour?  No problem! 

So this invitation to participate on the firm team for the Run to end Breast Cancer came at an opportune time.  I am fitter than I have been in more than a decade, I am not embarrassed to be seen out in the streets wearing my workout gear (thank you Old Navy Compression leggings!), and I even own a pair of proper running shoes for the first time in my life. 

The walk route is very pretty, too, which is a bonus.  It starts right around the legislature buildings, south around Queens Park, then back up past the University of Toronto campus which has some beautiful old buildings, then up to Bloor Street and across to St. George and down to College Street to Kings College Circle.  Interesting trivia, the course takes me past my law school, my MBA school, and Convocation Hall, where I attended the convocations for each of my graduate degrees. 

The only real question is whether I will walk the course, or whether I will run it.  I can already walk it comfortably, so no incremental training is required.  I have never run as an adult, though, so if I want to run the course I should probably do a C25K program.  I have heard so many people rave about running, but I also have the world's most terrible knees, and I have real concerns about their ability to handle the pounding of running to any significant extent.  After all, most people my age are winding down their running careers because their knees are shot - - it's hardly the time to pick up running. 

But I really want to run the course.  The main reason is that I get done faster, and to my mind, 30 minutes of exercise is better than 60 minutes, any day.  Yes, I am exactly that lazy (!)  Maybe it will be OK to do one little 5K.  I'm sure my knees could handle that, decrepit though they are. 

The other reason I want to run the course is that my friends who will be on the same team will mostly be running, and I want to keep up with them.  If I walk, I will be walking alone (yes, alone with thousands of other Torontonians), which strikes me as less fun somehow. 

I don't know which way I am going to jump yet, but I am registered, so there's no turning back now.  Wish me luck!  (well, wish me luck eventually, because the race is not until the week before Canadian Thanksgiving)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

My aging rock icon and his views on working out

Photo by: Lanahan
Henry Rollins describes himself in his spoken word performances as an "aging rock icon".  I describe him as my "rock star boyfriend" (even though he is no longer a rock star and he is in no way my boyfriend).  The Nerd understands, and approves.  Hank is no threat to the Nerd. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Rollins, he was a singer with Black Flag, and then with the Rollins Band.  He is also a gifted writer, speaker, radio host, and humanitarian.  Back in 2003 he began touring with the USO and visiting military hospitals to cheer injured - sometimes heartbreakingly injured - veterans.  His stories about some of his visits to hospitals are some of the most moving stories of the human spirit I have ever heard.  Many of Rollins' spoken word performances are available on CD or streaming on the internet.  If you haven't heard Rollins perform, I commend him to you. 

I became exposed to Henry Rollins through the Nerd, who took me to one of Rollins' spoken word shows at Convocation Hall.  Rollins came on stage in a black t-shirt and grey slacks, took a sip of water, wrapped the mic cord around his hand a few times, and he was off.  He didn't stop speaking for more than an hour or so, and I was captivated, on the edge of my seat for the entire time.  Rollins was high energy, well spoken, extremely well read and informed, and his charisma - - well, he did not inherit the "rock star boyfriend" label from nowhere, I tell you what.

I have since seen several of Rollins shows (the most memorable being the one with the Nerd and his mother at Ohio State University), and although Rollins' stories vary, the messages are usually the same.  Be interested in the world.  Be a better person.  Help people.  Be informed.  Be passionate.  Don't take yourself so seriously.  Don't be a dick. 

One of his stories that really resonated with me years ago was his story about The Iron.  I will not do it justice with my paraphrasing, trust me, so you should read it yourself at <>.  Go read it now.  I'll wait.

The Iron is Rollins' story of how he first began working out, under the not-so-gentle tutelage of his advisor, Mr. Pepperman.  Mr. Pepperman told Rollins to buy weights and what to do with them.  Rollins was to work out with his weight and get stronger, and occasionally Mr. Pepperman would punch Rollins in the solar plexus, just to see how he was progressing: "When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere."

The long and the short of it is that Rollins eventually shrugged off a punch with a laugh, and along the way learned many valuable lessons about himself, and about perseverance, and about weight lifting.  As Rollins says, much more eloquently than I: "It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can't be as bad as that workout."

In a nutshell, everything worth doing comes with a certain amount of suffering.  It takes work.  You're not going to want to do it at times.  But you should - - it will center you and keep you grounded.  And strength leads to confidence which leads to the strength to do wonderful things - - for yourself, and for other people.

I try to live up to Rollins' message.   I push myself to be stronger, to be more disciplined, to be a better person.  I try and push myself to do more each week.  When I feel like staying in bed and skipping a workout (like this morning), I think about Rollins and how he would kick my ass for even entertaining the thought of missing a workout.  There is, after all, no growth through comfort: "When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything."  I want to be taught.  I want to learn.  I want to grow, and to be strong.

"Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds."  Ain't that the truth.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Workout week 80 = 138.5 pounds down [with photos]

This week was a good week. 

I tried yoga for the first time and although I am, as it turns out, about as flexible as a piece of rebar, I really enjoy trying to do the different poses.  It makes me feel all girly and stuff.  Eventually, I hope that the yoga will help me improve my balance and flexibility, even though right now I'm mostly just a lurching fool.  And this lurchiosity, my friends, is why I do my yoga at home, without witnesses.

As for the weight loss, I was right on track this week, losing 1.5 pounds to bring me to a total of 138.5 pounds lost overall.  That's 41.5% of my original body weight lost, or 82% of my total weight loss objective.

Depending on the tool used to calculate these things, I am on track to hit my weight loss goal in early December 2013 or January 2014.  The last couple of weeks of slightly slower weight loss have pushed the goal date out slightly, but I am still trending exactly where I need to be for when I need to get there. 

Last week I upped my free weights to 12 pounds, and this week I added the yoga 3 times a week.  It finally feels like I am getting back into my routine after all the disruption with my vacation.  It feels nice to be back into my routine, too.  I like the predictability of my workouts.

My fasting blood sugars have gotten back to normal, as well.  Last week I had a couple of slightly high readings, which was disappointing considering how normal my numbers had been for so long.  How soon we forget!  It wasn't all that long ago when I would have been thrilled to string along 5 normal numbers, and now to have one high reading puts me into a bad mood. 

We looked at what was causing the elevated results, and it looks like eating dinner too late in the evening is the culprit.  Both times that I had elevated blood sugars occurred the morning after we ate dinner around 9:30 - 10:00 pm.  That appears to be too late.  Now we try and eat earlier, and at the worst, no later than 8:30 pm.  So far, this slight adjustment to my routine appears to be working, and I haven't had an elevated reading since putting this plan into place.

Last week I officially broke into size 14 (according to my end of the month measurements), and in honour of that momentous occasion I am wearing a pair of Gap Classic blue jeans, size 14.  I tried to find the jeans on Gap's website so that I could post a photo, but this style is not on the website.  Considering that these jeans came out of my clothing archive and are at least 13 years old, this is perhaps not surprising.  Oh well.  You will have to trust me that they are hugging every curve.  But they fit fine - - no muffin top!

This week I had my photo taken for the firm's website.  As you may recall, in 2011 I had the sad, puffy photo taken (months before I started working out), and ever since then if you google me you will see this bloated, depressing picture staring back at you:

I look tired and sad and defeated.  138.5 pounds later, you get this:

Same basic pose, same necklace, only now I have a neck (!) and only 1 chin and my necklace hangs lower.  I don't see the progress I make from day to day, but holy cow can I see a difference between these two photos.  I am not sure if I will chose this picture for the website, but at least whatever goes up there will be more representative of what I currently look like.   After all, one always wants one's exes to look at one's photo and say "damn, how could I let her get away", rather than "whew!  Dodged a bullet there!". 

This week's loss puts me well on track to hit my goals by the end of the year or so.  I am only 10 pounds away from Middleweight, and 30.4 pounds away from my overall goal. 

30.4 pounds - - that's like the weight of 3.6 gallons of water.  I can totally reach that.  I just need to keep walking, keep ellipticalizing, keep eating sensibly and keep working on managing my calories.  My calorie goal is down to 1,400 per day which is a challenge on rest days.  However I know I have meals that will get me there, so that's no excuse.  Onward and downward!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Yipee-ki-yoga M----- F-----! (plus bonus progress pics)

I tried yoga for the first time today.

I have to admit that I always associated yoga with skinny girls who have perfect hair and trust funds.  When I was in law school there was a group of girls who used to do yoga in the back lawn behind the library, and I would watch them occasionally while I was supposed to be studying.  Yoga looked very serene, but not like anything I would ever try or enjoy.  I am much more of a lummox who is more suited to strength sports like shot put than anything graceful. 

I know that I have issues with flexibility and balance however, and as I have become fitter, these are things that I want to work on.  At long last, it was time to try yoga. 

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I love me some apps.  They are my fitness teaching tool and motivator all in one.  When I wanted to try yoga, it was natural that I would try an app first.  Especially since I didn't know the first thing about yoga.

Today I tried the Yoga Studio app.
This paid app ($2.99 in the Apple App Store) contains detailed instructions and advice regarding how to perform more than 280 different poses, which is a must for a complete non-yoga person like me.  The app also has hours of video with classes of various types, lengths and levels, including Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced classes for Balance, Flexibility, Relaxation, Strength and combination classes in 15, 30 and 60 minute sessions.  The combinations permit quite a bit of customization so that it would be very easy to fit a routine into my schedule no matter how chaotic the week.  And because it is an app, it is perfect for when I travel, because I can do the routines anywhere.  Provided I remember my iPad, of course.

I tried a 15-minute Beginner Combination program.  In a shocking twist, the video has a skinny woman with perfect hair who demonstrates the routine to a soundtrack of relaxing new age music.  The instructions were clear (even for a barbarian like me), and I had very little difficulty following along.

That is not to say that I found it easy to do the routine - - it was actually surprisingly physically challenging, and I even caught myself sweating at points.  For one thing, it turns out that I am even less flexible than I imagined and even basic moves like sitting cross-legged were tough for me - - I had an especially difficult time with moves involving my right side, which has never been as flexible as my left.  Some of the poses I found very physically difficult due to my lack of flexibility (especially downward dog), and I will need to go back and watch how those are properly done to make sure I am not messing them up too badly. 

But I am happy that some of the things that worried me before trying yoga were no big problem - - given my flexibility issues, I was concerned about rolling around on the mat and transitioning from pose to pose, but that was not really an issue.  It only took me losing 136 pounds to be able to handle an introductory 15 minute yoga routine - - yay me.  (!)

The pace of the routine I tried was perfect - - the moves flowed from one pose to another smoothly enough that I never felt rushed, but I always felt that there was enough time in a given pose to get the benefit of the move. 

I have to tell you that at the end of the routine I felt AMAZING.  I felt energized and recharged and vital and all sorts of other positive adjectives.  Although I was checking the clock halfway through (during the downward dog marathon), I was surprised when the routine ended - - the time did fly, and I was a little disappointed when it was over.  And I was especially jazzed that I had completed my first yoga routine - - something I never thought I would ever do in a million years.  Yes, it was only 15 minutes, but I thought it was an accomplishment to be able to work through a whole routine for my first time.

I am sure I will feel the stretches in my joints tomorrow, but for now, I am very happy to have tried yoga.  I loved the Yoga Studio app and I will definitely incorporate it into my workout routine.  Even better, I can see how the different poses will help me to improve my flexibility over time, which is the point of this whole exercise.

On a completely unrelated note, I finally took progress photos for the end of the month:
 Things are definitely coming along.  Comparing to last year at this time:
I really like the way my free weight routine is helping to tone my arms, and I like how everything is tightening up overall.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to look up some cheats for downward dog for the flexibility-challenged.