Sunday, March 30, 2014

Weight Update, Now with More Data

This is coming a couple of days late, but there really isn't anything to tell. I still, somehow, weigh the same. Technically I'm up .2, but I consider that a margin of error.

This week has been pretty good. I'm going to try and keep focusing on just doing my best with sporadic whining, but I am having a hard time waiting for concrete progress.

Stats and More Data
  • Weight: 187.6
  • We have a body fat scale that I thought was broken, but it turns out it's not, so I will now be adding that to the weekly fun. Similar to the measurements, body fat/muscle tracking is a good way to mark real progress, and unlike measurements, it shouldn't take months to change
    • Pounds of Fat: 79.6
    • Pounds of Muscle: 67.2
  • Back in August/September 2013, I consistently only weighed in with 63-65 pounds of muscle, maximum, so in the last few months I've gotten 3-5 extra pounds of muscle 

  • We've gone to the gym almost every day this week, and I've finally started using the weight machines. I'm focusing on my arms for weight training, since they're more neglected during cardio. 
  •  I did personal training for about 6 months last year. I'm obviously not qualified to train anyone, but I did learn a bit about how the exercises should feel, and how to push myself. The trainers' philosophy was to use the machines to target and push individual muscles to exhaustion, and then move on to another machine/muscle, while interspersing other activities like boxing and squats. There may be other methods, but I liked this one and I got results last time 
  • The machines at our current gym all have clear instructions, and I've just started with the lowest settings for each of them since even that felt challenging. At PT, I learned that ideal weight is one in which you can do 10-12 reps before your arm or leg turns to jelly

Oh, look, the ceiling must have a leak.

  • There are some things that I just don't keep in the apartment, and I like that
  • There were some good moments where I briefly considered eating something or other that was offered, then didn't. I consider this a sign that I'm really developing some better habits
  • I'm trying to only eat foods that are worth it - why waste calories on a treat if I'm not enjoying it?

  • I tracked all the days this week, including, for the first time, the weekend. Score! I was most definitely in "maintenance" territory on Friday and Saturday. So if every weekend is like this one, then I should be at a good calorie deficit five days a week, and at a maintenance level two days a week. In short, there's no reason I wouldn't be losing, I just need to keep going

  • I brought lunch 4 out of 5 days this week. Tuesdays are somehow challenging in this area
  • I'm still trying to figure out what my calorie target should be. I don't want to fall into that trap I always read about of not eating enough so my metabolism slows down and my body fights to keep my weight the same, but I also want a steady rate of loss (or any loss, really). Most sites are telling me that my basic metabolic rate is somewhere between 1700-1900, so a goal of 1250-1350, plus more on gym days, is reasonable for steady weight loss

So onto the next week, where I look forward to seeing Google's April food's prank. The first time I heard about it was the year they announced that they would be allowing people to send emails with early time stamps. You could send a birthday e-card on Monday that appeared to have been sent on the previous Friday, and thereby claim that you had not forgotten a birthday. I somehow missed that it was April 1st, and got really annoyed that they would offer such a deceptive feature.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    No Lightbulb Moments: How I Gained, Lost, and Gained Almost 50 pounds

    My high school weight pattern was pretty straightforward.  I'd maintain or slowly creep up for a while, then start some diet or health plan (usually the latest fad) with tremendous motivation and lose 10-15 pounds. Within a couple of months, I would get sick of dieting and slowly regress back to old habits. I'd start gaining slowly again, sometimes as little as a pound a month. During high school I tried Atkins, South Beach, and calorie counting, all with some degree of success.

     Because of this gain-lose-gain cycle, I usually stayed somewhere around 160, so about 30 pounds overweight. What's funny looking back is that I hated my figure so much as a teenager and was always trying to lose weight, but 30 extra pounds doesn't seem like too much right now. I guess it's all about perspective.

    I never got to a healthy weight, but I also never got to an extremely unhealthy weight. I just wandered somewhere in the middle, too large to even consider feeling good in a bikini or buying single-digit sizes, but not big enough for any plus-sized clothing or major interventions.

    After high school graduation, my unintentional pattern stopped - so I just started gaining and gaining. I took a gap year abroad before starting college, and while I had an amazing experience, I struggled to eat well and didn’t really exercise. I was also having too much fun to realize that I was gaining weight.

    However, it was freshman year of college that took me to my highest weight ever. During this time, I was trying to figure out how to manage a schedule, and generally stressing out at the progression of life. My university was not one to stray from societal demands, so we students had easy access to lots of (often free) junk food all over campus.

    I made some good friends and spent time with them, went to class, and studied, but there was still way too much time left for ... nothing. I treated my boredom with food, as well as my desire to have something to do with my hands while I watched every episode of Friends. There were no binges or secret donut boxes under my bed; I gained weight by eating "normal" but oversized (for my height and gender) portions at meals, and 400-calorie muffins or the endless supply of free college candy as desserts.

    By the beginning of sophomore year, I had hit my highest ever weight of 200 pounds. But that wasn't a wake-up call. When I saw that number flashing up at me from the scale, my thoughts went something like, Hmm, that is a new number. Okay. Better not gain any more weight now, I think 200 is as high as I should go.

    It’s obvious now, but I managed to be blissfully unaware. In some vague part of my mind, I knew that this was bad, I knew that my size 16s were getting snug and in reality I could probably fit into 18s, but I just didn’t want to face dealing with it. I was passively avoiding it and delicately skirting around things that might make me face it, like shopping or trying an athletic class. It's the easiest trap to fall into. My parents weren't saying anything, my friends weren't expressing their concerns about my size, I didn't get comments from passing cars - it was pretty easy to live in my little world where there was no need to consider my growing size.

    It wasn’t that I didn’t care at all about the extra weight, I just had no idea where to start and was in denial of how unhealthy I’d become. I got pains in my calves from walking around too much, and somehow never connected that to the extra weight. Thirty pounds was one thing, I was used to it, but I could not expect to be seventy pounds overweight without consequences.

    Giant hipster glasses or Minnie Mouse lingerie?

    Finally, my parents sat me down one weekend during sophomore year when I was home for a holiday, and told me that they were scared for my health and for my life. That they had waited, hoping I would take some action to lose weight, but after six months it was clear that I was not dealing with this problem. So now they were talking to me because they were terrified. They, very kindly, told me that they would not let me go abroad for a semester if I didn't lose some weight. 

    So I started, just like that. Maybe I was waiting for someone to call me out on my bullshit, or a threat I could understand, or a good kick in my oversized ass. There was no revelation, I just started keeping track.

    This was during a "eat small meals throughout the day" fad, so I carefully consumed six 200-250 calories snacks/meals each day. It was a pretty good time - I didn't feel hungry or deprived, and I lost 20 pounds that semester without exercising. The calf pain disappeared, and I finally connected that the pain had had to do with my weight. 

    Part Two: How I Lost Fifty Pounds, and then Gained Most of it Back will be coming soon. 

    Saturday, March 22, 2014

    Review: Laziest Chicken Lo Mein Ever

      Last week I made One Pot Wonder Chicken Lo Mein. Since I'm trying to bring lunch to work every day, I'm always looking for simple one-pot meals. While I do enjoy cooking more time consuming or complicated recipes, most of the time I just want to have good, homemade food ready to go.

      The idea is to layer cubed chicken breast, uncooked pasta, and vegetables in a large stock pot, then pour broth, cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar, olive oil, plus other seasonings, on top, and let the whole thing simmer. It all cooks together, and the cornstarch, oil, and soy sauce soak into everything and create that addictive not-quite-sticky but perfectly salty and rich lo mein flavor.

      I altered the recipe a bit to what I had on hand - a full pound of breasts instead of half a pound, fewer carrots, and smaller chopped vegetables.

    Before, in an 8-quart pot. Buried underneath are pasta and chicken.

      Cutting everything up is the only part of this recipe that would take any real time, and I cheated by buying pre-chopped peppers and onions (the reason they're smaller than the original recipe). I buy pre-cut or frozen veggies on a regular basis because they save time and dishes. The only thing I had to actually prepare for this dish was some chicken, so the actual work in making this dish was minimal. 

      Aside from what I mentioned above, I followed the rest of the recipe exactly. When the cooking time had elapsed, there was still liquid left in the pot:

      After I let it simmer uncovered for a bit, the water evaporated and left the apartment smelling like delicious (Americanized) Chinese food.

    Finished product with my skilled smartphone photography.

      Verdict? Great. Tasted just like what I would get at a take-out place, and I'm glad I added the extra chicken. It was even better reheated because the flavors had marinated. However, next time I'll pre-season the chicken and maybe try a peanut butter version.

      The recipe made a huge amount of food - at least 8-10 generous servings with the full pound of chicken. Not counting the vegetables, this came in at 25 calories/oz, so about 200 calories/cup (very rough estimate because I go by weight). I usually ate 16 ounces for lunch, for 400 calories total.

      Recipe reviews probably won't be a weekly thing, but every once in a while when I find something great, I'll share it. 

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    Weekly Weight Update and Goals for the Month

    I'm so excited! I weigh exactly the same as I did last week!

    Seriously though, why do they put up with Sheldon?
    For the record, that means my weight is still 187.4. Frustrating numbers are the reasons I took measurements last week, so I'm glad to have those even though it's too soon to compare.

    While we're still regulars at the gym, and I'm logging my food most of the time, Fridays and Saturdays are still a struggle tracking-wise. In the end, I can't expect to lose weight if there are these days on which I'm not as careful. Even if I don't "feel" like I overate, if I'm not actually logging my meals, I can't be so sure that I didn't.

    Sometimes when I don't bother tracking on those days, it's because I've gotten lazy. However, some of that stems from the actual frustration of trying to estimate the meals cooked in part or full by other people. Our friends get together potluck style twice a week (which is awesome), but of course I can't measure anything during these gatherings, and there's no way to know exactly what's in each dish.

     However, I need to get over myself and just do it, even if it's an estimate. I'm just waiting for when they invent a device that can test a food and generate its nutrition facts.

    Give it 10 years.

    After all, quitting or even pausing is not an option. I'm less than 15 pounds below my highest ever weight, and am all too aware of how easy it would be to reach that again.

    Goals for the Next Month:

    • Keep going to the gym 3-4 times a week
      • Make sure to go on Sundays when it's empty, and Tuesdays when USA has a Law and Order: SVU marathon

    •  Keep tracking everything, work on tracking on weekends
      •  I use the free MyFitnessPal app on my phone, and love it. I'll probably write more about this at some point, but the bottom line is that this works for me
    •  Cook more dishes for lunches and to stock freezer
      •  Most weeks I bring in lunch 2-3 times, but I would like to turn that into an everyday thing since laziness is the only thing stopping me
    Almost Thursday already...The weeks get so much shorter when you're weighing in, don't they?

    Sunday, March 16, 2014

    The Million Dollar, or Seventy Pound Question: Why Did I Get Fat?

    Why did I get fat? I started gaining extra weight in kindergarten, and reached what would be a healthy weight for my current height by age twelve. If only I could have just stopped there.

    This is a topic to which I've given a lot of thought. Childhood obesity is a highly debated and heavily researched area, with sciencey people looking at factors such as my family and my environment, citing fun things like easy access to junk food, no access to healthy food, and too much television with too little exercise. And of course, my genetics. It's mostly experiments on mice and a lot of correlational studies (let's link video games to obesity!), because we can't go experimenting on children.

    I don't know how much I fit into those risk factors - I was really lucky. During my childhood, there were always fresh fruits to snack on, and vegetables with every meal. Dessert was reserved for Friday night and special occasions, and my parents only ever bought soda or white bread for guests. Most meals were homemade and eaten at home.

    Except when we had wax.

    My family was and is healthy. But I was still a chubby 10-year-old who was jealous of her friends in their cute pre-teen bikinis, but who still sneaked extra Oreos at school parties and didn't understand why she couldn't just make herself skinny by wishing hard enough.

    It was probably more emotional. I suffered from depression and had low self-esteem as a kid. My parents are wonderful, and did all they could. But I was still an unhappy child. Science says that could have contributed to weight gain.

    My current hypothesis is that the initial chubbiness was a fairly standard weight gain, the result of a few overindulgences and being so excited by the junk food that came my way at school or friends' houses that I overdid it and ignored my hunger or fullness signals. This happens to plenty of children, and they often grow into their weights (less so these days, but it used to be more common).

    But being a little overweight helped create that classic cycle. I felt badly about myself, so I ate more. My parents wanted to help me lose weight, but they didn't really know how. I didn't know how myself. Food could be both a reward and punishment. I could eat to spite their attempts and punish myself, or I could eat to feel better, or feel in control. Eating felt guilty and great. Or maybe it's a little of all of that.

    High school was much better - I slowly got out of feeling depressed and generally grew up a little.  I think time was the biggest factor. But food was still comforting, and while I seemed to be maintaining my weight, it was about 30 pounds too high.

    College is a more complicated story, for later.

    All in all, I think, I hope, that I'm at least a little more self-aware than I was as a child, and now have the tools and knowledge to get healthy.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Weekly Weight Update and My Measurements

    After weeks of working out and tracking, I stepped on the scale to see that I have lost a grand total of... half a pound.

    After cleaning up the wires and plastic bits, I decided that this number was not an accurate reflection of my efforts. I fully admit that I haven't been perfect (see the earlier chocolate incident), but for the overwhelming majority of this time I have been tracking, weighing and measuring my food, and exerting myself in consistent workouts.

    Most importantly, my body feels better, and my waist is slightly slimmer. I also don't have to twist my wedding ring around to remove it anymore; it's sliding off more easily. Therefore, despite my mistakes, I am confident that I'm on the right track and that there has been tangible progress - even if the scale is not cooperating. 

    So there.

    I'm going to start tracking my progress in a way that will not be as susceptible to water weight or hammers - the measuring tape. I intend to track these numbers every month or so. I'm still going to do weekly weigh-ins to get a progress report, but my focus will be on the measurements and longer term weight trends.

    A part of me can't believe I'm putting this on the internet. But I've always loved seeing other people's numbers, plus it would probably be good for me to not be embarrassed by my size. I can be "unfinished" with my body without being ashamed of my measurements.  Not that I'll ever announce these numbers at work with the quarterly figures (that would be something to see), but this is a step.

    Weight and Measurements as of March 10, 2014

    Starting weight: 188
    Current weight: 187.4
    Highest weight: About 200
    Waist (at narrowest): 37.5 in.
    Waist, inhaling* (same place): 34.5 in
    Just above hips, over belly button, relaxed: 43 in.
    Thigh (8 in. above back of knee): 26 in.
    Bra line: 37.5 in.
    Bicep (3 in. above elbow, relaxed): 13 in
    Calf, 6 inches below knee (start measurement at back of knee): 16.5 in.
    Knee: 16.5 in.

    * Inhaling basically means sucking in and standing up straight, so selfie mode

    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    The Most Important Weight Loss Tip I Know

    On Tuesday John (my husband) and I stopped at the drug store after the gym and got some chocolate truffles. We've bought candy a few times since we started working out, when I'd track a workout and realize I had more calories to spare than I'd anticipated.

    My favorite kind of math.  

    It all worked out well on Tuesday, but then on Friday I ate all the chocolates that were left. I'm not sure what led me to do that - maybe I was de-stressing from the week, maybe I was bored, maybe I was feeling like some self-sabotage.

    Not surprisingly, I felt guilty over it and angry at myself, and that quickly led to writing off the rest of the evening. Might as well grab a handful of chocolate chips. I knew this was the worst kind of trap to fall into, letting one non-ideal food choice lead to another.

    During these delightful times, I try to focus on the best piece of weight-loss advice I ever got. It's something that I still struggle with, but am continuously working on.

    When I eat something that isn't part of my weight-loss or general healthy eating plan, I try to forgive myself. Immediately and unequivocally. You should, too. 

    Whether you ate an extra brownie, or an entire jar of frosting, it really doesn't matter.  Assuming you didn't eat the last of an endangered species or a still-steaming and possibly animated pie you stole off somebody's windowsill, the only person you've affected is yourself. And not that much, probably. Perhaps you've made a mistake, but you're human and it happens. 

    Nobody belongs here.
    You ate it; perhaps it wasn't the best choice to make, and it may even put you over your calories for the day or make you bloated tomorrow, but feeling guilty over it will accomplish exactly nothing. 

    Guilt may seem like an unavoidable and appropriate self-punishment for eating something off your plan, but it will just make you feel badly about yourself, force you to focus on the past choice instead of moving forward. All that will make it more likely that you'll make additional negative food choices, choices you might not have even considered otherwise, which could in turn lead to more guilt and more food. 

    This tastes like shame.

    This is something with which I still struggle, but I think just acknowledging and reminding myself that I don't need to feel badly helps. On Friday I ate the chocolates and the chips, but on Saturday  I tried to get right back to it, and make and enjoy reasonable food for the rest of the day. 

    That not-feeling-guilty also means not punishing myself by eating less later, even if I technically "deserve" it. In general, even if that initial pie or whatever has already used up most of my allotted daily calories, the only adjustment I am willing to make to my eating is to skip dessert (because I've already had it). I will not skip meals or eat lettuce for dinner and go to bed hungry, even if that would allow me to "make up" for the pie and get that magical 500-750 calorie deficit, because that would be punishing myself.

     Instead, I accept that perhaps this won't be a calorie deficit day, and that's not the end of the world. My goal is to not allow any single bad decision to spiral into more, and to just wake up tomorrow and keep going.

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    Quitting Food

    I used to think life would be easier if eating were optional. Ten years old and struggling with food and self-esteem issues, I'd think about how great it would be if I didn't have to worry about what I ate, or how much I should be having.

    It would be like an old-time ad. Having trouble with your weight? No problem, just stop eating! Use the time and money you once spent on groceries and cooking and do something else. Quit food just like you would quit smoking, easy as (not eating any) pie.  

     Now though, I’m glad that I still get to eat. I accept that I can’t eat whatever I went, whenever I want it, but it's pretty lucky that I don't need to cut any foods out of my life, and I don't need to have that "last [insert delicious food] ever."