Thursday, October 30, 2014

Diet and Exercise: Musing on the Adjustment

160 lbs. (scream weight!)

Warning:  This post is a bit of a ramble about my diet.

Since I returned from vacation, I've experienced a few changes that keep me thinking about the connection between diet and exercise (and the tweaking of food intake for optimal nutrition).  I'm also thinking about the blurred line between eating optimally for fuel, and eating for other pleasurable reasons.

Over the past few weeks, with my increase in exercise, I've slowly increased my calories.  When I increased my calories a few weeks ago, I was able to maintain my weight pretty well.  This told me that my metabolism was continuing to increase and recover from almost 40 weeks of a very low calorie diet.

But things have changed both behaviorally and perhaps metabolically for me the past few days.  This week I found myself eating a couple of extra servings of cottage cheese as a snack, I've been adding to my daily lunch salad some protein, dried cranberries, avocado and sprinkles of Gorgonzola and sunflower seeds, too.  All of these little add-ons (that also make my salad a decadent treat) have lots of calories.  At first, I was eating because I was famished on the days that I have my strength training class.  Those days had me hungry and scrambling for food throughout the day.  But now I wonder if I'm overdoing it by adding these treats daily.  Am I unconsciously adding in those treats as a reward for exercise?

When does a logical eating strategy turn into a pathway for old behaviors?

Well, I guess when I start justifying daily consumption of foods that I LOVE, such as cheese and dried cranberries!  I'm probably going to have to throw in cottage cheese as well, since I have gotten into the habit of adding a little Splenda and cocoa power for a sweet treat.

Where does exercise fit into this equation?  Well, here's where I might get myself turned around sometimes.  I've done some reading, and I'm learning in my maintenance class that it is beneficial to eat very soon after lifting and also it's important to have some carbs with that snack.  I'd been avoiding grains for the most part, but for the past week or so I started having a piece or two of whole wheat bread with natural peanut butter (yummy and also high calorie!)  I'm pairing my carb with a fat or protein just like my class suggested, but I wonder if that yummy combination of a carb and peanut butter might be too much of a trigger food for me.

Maintenance is a learning experience for sure.

I have to call myself out when I see certain snacking and eating behaviors creep back into my life and when the result is an uptick in the scale.  Eating whole wheat bread and natural peanut butter (and measuring and logging the calories) may not seem like an issue to many people.  For those who subscribe to the notion that a calorie = a calorie, they would look at my diet and say "she's eating too many calories for her energy needs, so of course she's gaining weight."  They would be partially right, of course.  But I think our bodies are more complex.

What I've learned about myself in the weight loss process is that I DO experience emotional reactions to foods that make me want to eat more (perhaps those are even hormonally triggered and can be managed with food choices.)  I don't know the answers yet.  I'm just now truthfully trying to identify those foods and deciding how I'm going to handle it.  Whether it's through abstinence, mindfulness, distraction techniques, or other ways of moving away from food when I'm not hungry, I'm going to try and be honest with myself and figure out the best way to manage my "head" issues around food.

I also realize that I'm still healing from my fast, and that it may take some time for my body to adjust to the ups and downs of exercise, hormones, new foods, etc.  So I'm trying not to have too much of a knee-jerk response to all of this.  I have to look at it objectively, scientifically, and with a long-term view that this is a process that I may be wrestling with forever.  That's fine with me, as long as I can successfully switch gears and get back down to a healthy weight when it starts creeping up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Post-Vacation Run-Down and New Maintenance Class

154 lbs.

It feels like ages since I wrote a blogpost, but I've packed a lot of living into the past week!  We just returned from a 5 day vacation back east to New York and Connecticut.  It was fantastic, just my husband and myself without kiddos.  It was in part to celebrate my husband's 50th birthday, which is this weekend, and so we spent a couple of days in New York City walking around and visiting a couple of places that we have never seen before, which was wonderful.  Let me give you a little travelogue, but then I want to touch on my diet and exercise experience.

Our first stop was a visit to the Freedom Tower.  We lived in the area during 9/11 so it was an emotional time that is etched in our memories.  We visited the beautiful and poignant 9/11 Memorial Museum.  I've lived through natural disasters as well as this act of terrorism, and what has shined through very clearly and loudly is the abundance of goodness and kindness that such tragedies bring out in people.  The museum is highly focused on the humanity of the victims as well as the whole world who came to the aid of NYC and the United States at that time.  It's a must-see if ever you visit New York City.

Freedom Tower in New York City
We took in a show by buying last minute deep discount tickets at the TKTS booth.  We saw Newsical the Musical -- a very tiny and entertaining show off Broadway.

On Wednesday night, we took in Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre - an amazing historic theatre in Harlem - where many R&B artists got their start.  I don't know which came first, Amateur Night or the Gong Show, but both are somewhat similar.  It is a talent show where the audience gets to decide who stays and who goes.  You can "boo" people off the stage.  It only happened once, and I think the guy was a plant.  You also get to pick the winner for the evening who then goes on to another round for a big cash prize.  But really, you'll be up cheering, dancing and laughing throughout this show :-) Loved it!
Apollo Theatre
View from our hotel room!
 I walked my butt off in New York, even though I developed a terrible cold on the first day.  Eating wise, I tried my best to stick to mostly protein, fruits and veggies, though I had a few slices of amazing fresh Italian bread at a restaurant in Little Italy.  They were small slices, but since my eating strategy allowed for special treats, I ate them without any guilt, and enjoyed them dipped in a seasoned olive oil.  I found it easy to eat eggs for breakfast and that meal kept me satisfied.  We snacked on fruit and nuts and lunched on meat dishes.  All in all, I was able to stick to my plan, and indulge in only a half of a dark chocolate bar as a sweet treat, and a glass or two of wine along the way.

After leaving New York, we headed north to Connecticut for my husbands 20th graduate school reunion.  The Fall foliage was perfect!!!  We went on a lovely hike and picked apples.

I miss the Fall!!  Living in Southern California, we don't get to experience the changing of the seasons, so this was such a special treat for me!

As the Connecticut part of our trip was more social, I did find myself at the mercy of what was being served the the various events I attended.  I was able to find good protein choices, and then just gave myself literally "tastes" of some of the special dishes that were served.  I drank wine when it was served, and even had a couple of pieces of some special desserts.  To balance this, I woke up early and walked every morning.  The hotel had a gym, but this was Fall in New England!  I wasn't going to miss the chance to take it all in and exercise outside.

This trip taught me to maximize the choices that I CAN make, and then enjoy some treats if they are special enough to count the calories.  I kept a record of my eating on MyFitnessPal, and logged my exercise, just like at home.  It was easy to do this on my phone, and it kept me aware of my weight loss and health journey.  I could make conscious choices this way.  But I have to say that wearing cute clothes and receiving kind remarks from friends were the best incentive to stay focused on my health and seek balance.  I won't lie to you, it was a scary feeling to be in a position to eat things that wouldn't normally be my first and best diet food choices.  Circumstances weren't always perfect and I just had to accept that and do my best to keep moving and burning calories.

I didn't view exercise as a chore, though.  It was highly enjoyable and on one level reinforced my new identity as a healthy, fit person.  I can't tell you what a cool feeling that was for me.

Starting Maintenance Class

Yesterday I started my Maintenance Class at the Positive Choices Clinic.  I weighed in (had only gained a pound from the trip) and then entered another room of people who were (mostly) at the point of maintaining weight.  I didn't know what to expect from this class, but it really is off to a promising start, and I think it will be very interesting and helpful.

We will cover lots of ground about nutrition and exercise (more encouragement to do strength training).  I have to admit that I was relieved to see that my instructor has a view of nutrition that seems to be very much based on the latest research, and not just a dust-off of the food pyramid.  He stressed food-combining, which is something I haven't really been exposed to.  This involves paring foods during meals and snacks so that the insulin spikes can be optimized/minimized.  He wants us to shoot for eating 20g of protein at breakfast, and to pair up any carbohydrate food with either a protein or fat, so that the insulin spike is minimized.  It was great to hear from him that dietary fat isn't the enemy, and even causes the release of hormones in the body to signal "fullness".

In his opinion, the consumption of too many simple carbohydrates is what makes most people overweight.  I have to agree that this was the case with me, and it is this concept that is forming my new eating strategy.  We learned that when blood sugar crashes, our body secretes hormones that make us ravenous, food-seeking robots.  We are created to seek and find the most high calorie food to feed our bodies immediately and quickly.  I've felt this way before :-) and polished off many cookies and boxes of cereal during my crash moments.

According to our instructor, we are going to learn how to become "fat burning machines" by:

  • Eating enough calories (1200-1500 cals minimum for women, 1500-1700 cals for men).  Our low calorie days are over and we want to fuel our bodies for maximum performance.  No starvation mode.
  • Eat more frequently.  Every three or four hours to avoid low blood sugar and the evil "hungries"  This also maximizes the functioning of our metabolism.
  • Burn calories through cardio exercise.  It teaches our body how to burn fat as fuel and regulates blood sugar levels.
  • Build more muscle.  It builds lean body mass which maximizes daily calorie burn.
Sorry for such a long post.  I am excited about this next phase in my health education, and I'll post more later as I live my life in maintenance.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

More Happenings and A Special Trip

There are a couple of new fitness adventures I've taken part in, or will take part in soon. I feel like they are helping me build a new identity as a fit person.

First, I finally attended a strength training fitness class at the Y on Monday. Oh my goodness!  I became acquainted with muscles I've never met before, and they introduced themselves by quivering uncontrollably and hurting like heck.  I felt sore from head to toe, and for at least 2 days, I had a hard time lifting my arms or holding a phone.  I thought I was pretty strong, but boy was I wrong.  I went to the second class today, and while I'm still sore, it isn't as much of a shock to my system as Monday's class was.  Yay for progress!  I think I will easily be able to see improvement, since I'm pretty much starting from rock bottom.

I also signed up the for the Color Run taking place this Saturday in San Diego.  The Color Run aka "The happiest race on earth" is a 5K where they shower you with colored powder at various stations during the race.  Tutus and zany outfits are the norm there.  It was a last minute decision after a friend was looking to transfer two registrations when they needed to back out.  So even though I'm not ready to run the whole 5K, my younger son and I will walk it and just soak up the fun.  He's so excited, and informed me that he would be "totally up for any of the messy races" (like the color run, mud run, etc.)  Gotta love boys!  I'm stocking up on wet wipes and will bring extra clothes, towels and covers for the seats of the car.  What ev', life is for experiences, right?

In addition to the fitness stuff, I'm preparing for an awesome trip back East.  Next Tuesday my husband and I are leaving for a five night trip to New York City and Connecticut.  It is the first time we've been away, without the kids, in a number of years so I'm really, really excited!  As anyone with kids in school can imagine, I'm frantically preparing the house for my husband's sister, who will be staying with the kids while we're gone.  I've got cleaning to do, and need to write down the "where and when" of the kids' daily life.

I've also been doing some shopping for the trip, which is such a wonderful reward for losing the weight.  Never in my life have I enjoyed shopping, until this time.  I've had awesome luck at both thrift stores and regular stores.  Here are a couple of my new outfits:

I'm not naked under the coat, I'm wearing a skirt :-)  Love the sassy short boots!
Super excited that I found this dress and blazer at a thrift store!
It is probably good that I don't have unlimited resources for shopping, but having been obese for at least the last 20 years, and I can honestly say that I'm not in the market for boring clothes anymore!  I'm enjoying making an effort to dress at least a little more stylishly :-)

The first two days of our trip will be in New York City, and it will be for pure fun.  My husband is turning 50 in a couple of weeks, so this is a celebration.  We'll do lots of walking and sight seeing, and attend a couple of shows.  I should log a good number of steps on the Fitbit.

Then we head to Connecticut for his 20 year graduate school reunion.  I'll be attending more dinners and happy hours, so I'll need to dress up a bit more.  I'm really looking forward to seeing old friends and enjoying the beautiful New England Fall scenery.  We lived there for 10 years, so it will be such a wonderful time visiting some of my old favorite places and neighborhoods. We'll do a bunch of hiking, too, which will balance out the eating and drinking.  I can't wait!

This will be my first big trip where I'm completely off of Optifast products.  It will be tricky.  Recently, I have noticed myself eating more calories and have added a couple of pounds.  I'm not at the scream weight, but I'm trying to be mindful of balancing some lower calorie days with the higher calorie days. My activity has been increasing steadily, but I know that, much to my chagrin, it takes both a healthy diet and exercise to maintain a healthy life.  I just keep reminding myself to seek balance and take joy in it, since a healthy life is so much more fun.

My recent shopping excursions have further increased my motivation to keep my weight in check!  It is a hoot to be able to look at something, try it on, and have a reasonably good chance that it will look decent on me.  I might ding it for price or color or cut, but it will FIT.  That is a great feeling!

I will probably not be able to write my blog next week, but when I get back, I'll be sure to check in.

P.S.:  Some of you haven't been able to see the pictures on my blog.  I did something different this time, so if you don't see them (or if you notice them up for the first time), would you mind letting me know?  Thanks!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Transitions on the Journey

153 lbs.

This past week I finished my last regular Optifast class.  I've been attending for 40 weeks, and it feels like a graduation of sorts.  Only one of my original classmates will be continuing on.  The rest of my original classmates went on to take the 8 week maintenance class and are now freely living in the world of their own healthy choices and ways.  I won't start my next class until October 21st, so I have a couple of free weeks.  During that time I have a trip to NYC planned, and my husbands grad school reunion in Connecticut.  I'm so excited to heading out on this trip with him!  We have a couple of special shows planned, as well as lots of walking and hiking in the beautiful Fall weather.

I'm looking forward to my maintenance class, though.  I received the advice that it would be best to be completely off product for a number of weeks before attending maintenance class because I would come back with experience, and probably with lots of questions.  I think that will be the case.  According to my former leader, the person teaching my maintenance class is a personal trainer, and should also be able to give advice about my fitness goals.  This is my new focus, so the timing is perfect.

I admit that the process of reintroducing food has been very experimental for me.  Balancing my caloric intake with my activity level has been interesting.  Since I log all of my food and activity into MyFitnessPal, at first I was perplexed and worried by my eating only 900 calories, working out an hour per day, and still maintaining my weight.  I wondered if I would ever be able to eat more food.   Well, slowly, either by circumstance or intention, I've increased my calories over the last three weeks, and I'm averaging about 1500 kcals now, give or take, and I actually dropped a couple of pounds this week.  I think it's a normal fluctuation, but I'm now eating at a level that makes me happy and feels normal, so if I need to keep this caloric level, that would be great.  There is room for a nice treat every now and then, and I know I wouldn't want to feel like I have to be a good girl ALL the time!

All of this is taking my full attention though.  In fact, I feel like this whole weight loss process has required me to re-prioritize my energy (in a good way, though).  When I was obese, I didn't give a thought to what I ate or when I would exercise.  That left more time to devote to kids, work, friends and the house.  Nowadays, I would say that it's a tie between attention to my kids' needs and attention to my healthy needs.  Those two things take up a lot of space in my life.  Other things have fallen by the wayside.  I'm still making time for friends and some work, but my home is looking a little scrappy at times.  I'm sure it will sort itself out and become streamlined as I develop habits, and feel comfortable with my own personal eating philosophy.

It sounds funny to have an eating philosophy, but for me, it's helpful.  I operated very well under the structure of Optifast, so having a new structure seems like a good idea for me.  For me, it is simple and uncomplicated.  I'm trying to avoid grains and processed sugar.  This would be very difficult if my husband wasn't also eating this way, but he is still in weight loss mode, and he has chosen a low carb lifestyle that is working for him.  We plan to continue this way going forward, and I have to say that I haven't found it too difficult to maintain my weight while eating this way.  Our kids still get sandwiches, treats and rice every now and then, but we are all eating more vegetables, meat and fruit.  I can't see a downside to this way of eating in our home, but I'm also not going to freak out when it's time to have a taste of home made birthday cake or a special regional treat when we're on vacation!

I never made it to my strength class last week, since I forgot that I was teaching art to my younger son's class.  This week I get to start over and will aim to fit that in, while still keeping up with hiking and C25K (I love those two things!).  That's my goal and I know that strength training is important.  Add that to the never ending list, though!