Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Activity

This is the one that people either love or hate. I fall into the "love" category most of the time, though I definitely have my days where I would rather stay home and read blogs. This time of year is easy, with the weather and scenery cooperating to make me want to go play outside. In the middle of winter, I am less thrilled to put on my running shoes. Even if I'm working out in the gym, I still have to scrape my car and get there first!

At my last Weight Watchers meeting I saw very few hands go up when the leader asked how many people got their half hour of activity on most days, even after the leader explained that activity could include things like housework, gardening, or walking the dog. I don't think that's unusual: An activity-free life passes for normal with most people. This time of year, my suburban neighborhood is filled with ear-splitting noise from leafblowers, which, from the sounds of it, take longer than a real rake to remove leaves from a yard. When I mentioned that I had walked the two blocks from my house to my Pilates class, the other women there seemed surprised. My husband and I chose this neighborhood for its walkability, but I have to say that I don't always take advantage of it. There are days when I choose to drive to my office rather than walk the 1.5 miles, even when it's beautiful out and I have plenty of time. It's a nice walk, but it's so easy to just jump in the car.

Lately, I have been trying to include more balance in my fitness routine. For a while, it was all about hard-core triathlon training: Swimming, biking, running. Now I'm doing a little less of that to make time for things like Pilates and strength training, as well as more restorative activities like walking and yoga. One nice fall day last week, I suggested to my husband that we take the digital cameras out and go on a photo safari to get pictures of the colorful leaves. It was a lot of fun and turned an hour-long stroll in the park into an adventure. Plus, I earned enough activity points to have some popcorn later that night when watching TV!

Most of the time, I really look forward to my exercise, especially my runs. I was happy to hear that running is not necessarily bad for the knees because I'd love to be able to keep doing this well into my Medicare years. There are so many days when I see something on my run and think, "If I had stayed on the couch, I would have missed that!" Today was a really windy day, and I was almost tempted to skip, but when I got out, the park was beautiful and there were ducks and geese playing in the water. It's a rare day that I don't enjoy the workout once I'm out doing it.

But there are days that are really crummy. I'm not going to lie. Sometimes, I tough it out and just get through the workout, knowing that I will be glad to do it when I'm done. If I'm in any real pain or if I'm just feeling miserable, I bag it. Sometimes my body -- or my mind -- needs a break. I always plan at least one day a week that is either a total rest day or at least a lighter workout, like yoga or a relaxed walk.

What motivates you to get your activity in?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Vegetables and Fruits

This is the easy one: We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us. Everyone says so. There is even some talk that the "Five A Day" minimum is too low, and that we should all be getting a lot more than that.

Even before I started Weight Watchers, I was trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. The fruits were no problem for me, but I grew up as a very picky kid who never liked vegetables, other than salad, carrots, and celery. Oh, and sweet corn and tomatoes.

It seems crazy to me now, but I really thought I hated all cooked vegetables (except corn). What I figured out is that I didn't like the style of cooked vegetables I grew up with: Canned green beans, peas cooked until they were mushy. When "Cooking Thin" was on the air, I started trying some of Chef Kathleen's recipes for vegetables and became much more adventurous. Then we tried Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) one year, and I had to figure out what to do with mountains of squash and collard greens, and that got me even more used to experimentation.

And of course, on Weight Watchers, most vegetables are 0 points, and I learned that adding those free veggies to my meals meant that I wasn't ready to chew on the table leg.

I went from the girl who used to pick out just the chicken from Szechuan Chicken to someone who will order an extra plate of steamed broccoli on the side to add to my entree -- and actually I like it better that way, I don't just do it to stretch out the calories.

Now when I plan dinners, I figure out at least one and sometimes two veggie sides to add, or I find ways to put veggies into the entree. I add extra vegetables to stir-fry recipes. I love sauteed vegetables over pasta, especially with some basil and olive oil. I learned a frittata recipe that can be revised to use just about any vegetable that I have hanging around. I like to have veggie-filled sandwiches and wraps for lunch too. In the wintertime, a big pan of roasted vegetables is true comfort food for me.

I am a living example that even the most hardcore veggie hater can be reformed, it just takes some time and creativity. I didn't love every recipe I tried, but I kept trying and eventually learned what I liked.

My Good Health Guidelines update

This week I am committed to getting in all of the GHGs every day, no matter what. I'm learning as I go along. What strikes me is how much planning it takes to get these things in and not get too much other stuff that will raise your points total. The following is not intended as a good example or a cry for help, but as an example of how much juggling it takes and how easy it is for high-points stuff to creep in and raise the day's points total. I was lactose intolerant in the days when milk was a mandatory food for kids at school. This means that I developed a strong aversion to drinking milk that I have never gotten over. I can tolerate some cheese and yogurt, or even small amounts of ice cream, but that's about it. That means that getting my dairy in requires some points expenditure.

Tuesday, weigh-in day, I made this decision at my meeting at noon, which meant I had already had breakfast. At breakfast I had already had a fruit serving, some water and coffee, and a whole grain waffle. That meant I started off with a few checks. I also did what I call my "Last Chance Workout" -- a strength training class (activity) -- and then showered (and carefully dried my hair) and went to the meeting. So that meant I got the activity in. I went to a grocery store to pick up lunch, and grabbed a sushi roll and some salad from the salad bar -- lean protein and veggies. I had some cottage cheese with my salad, but of course, I did not have 2 cups, which is the ridiculous portion required to meet the dairy serving requirement. I figured it was a partial serving. I drank water throughout the day. I had a serving of Kashi pizza (more cheese, veggies, and whole grains) and a salad with fresh mozzerella and homemade olive oil dressing (healthy oils, dairy, veggies). Obviously I got my dairy from the highest-point sources on this day, plus a few extras snuck in that were not GHGs (peanut butter on my waffle, a Dove promise, pumpkin seeds on my salad). I dipped into my weekly points.

Yesterday I had planned to go out for Chinese food for dinner, which meant I was going to dip further into those points. I had an egg and whole wheat toast for breakfast with water and coffee (lean protein, whole grains, liquids). I did a Pilates/Yoga class (activity). I had a version of my lunch wrap (olive oil, veggies, dairy) and some raw veggies and hummus (more veggies) and an apple for lunch (fruit). Someone brought cookies to a meeting and I indulged, which was an unnecessary addition to my points, especially with a high-points dinner coming up. I got an extra portion of steamed broccoli with dinner and added that to my regular entree, and took less rice than usual (veggies are good, plus shrimp is lean protein). There might have been an egg roll and a fortune cookie involved (both high-points non-GHG stuff). It was an early dinner and I still had not gotten my second dairy serving and my second healthy oil. I decided to improvise a snack: I took a 100% whole wheat Arnold Sandwich Thin and drizzled my 1 teaspoon of oil on it, sprinkled it with garlic powder and added a slice of provolone (split between the two halves). I put this under the broiler for a little garlic toast snack (healthy oil, whole grain, dairy). The snack killed the remainder of my weekly points, so for the rest of the week, serious thinking ahead (and no Chinese food) will be required.

Today I decided to get my first GHGs in early by having yogurt with a peach for breakfast (dairy, fruit). I'm thinking about what kind of lunch and dinner will help me get GHGs in without taking too many points. I'm also going for a run today to earn some more activity points to help get me through the rest of the week.

The good news is that I'm feeling energized and healthy so far, maybe because I'm actually remembering to take my vitamins every day in addition to all of these healthy foods. I am not, believe it or not, doing that much worse than my usual beginning-of-the-week. Now you understand my lackluster weight loss. I'm taking this week as a learning experience to see how best to fit these things into my life. Next week the focus will be on bringing the points total down so that I'm not killing my entire weekly points allowance in the first few days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Healthy Oils

To avoid any potential conflicts with Weight Watchers, specific program details will not be discussed in this post. If you are interested in more detail about the Weight Watchers plan, you can actually attend a meeting or try it online for free. What I will be doing is discussing some of the health guidelines in terms of my own research and experiences with them in my life.

I thought I would start with the one that most Weight Watchers are skeptical about, especially those who are longtime veterans of the program. There is so much emphasis on a lowfat diet in Weight Watchers that it's built right into the Points formula -- for foods with the same calorie content, higher-fat foods have more points than lower-fat ones, just like high-fiber foods have less points than lower-fiber ones. Because fatty foods are higher in calories, this makes sense, but it might send the message that Fat is Evil. I tried the hyper-lowfat thing in the 90s with Susan Powter, and it just made me fat and cranky, because I overloaded on carbs instead. Don't fall for this insanity. Fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet, you just have to be careful to keep things in balance.

The thing about the Weight Watchers program is that it is always being revised to reflect new research on health, and it's also tweaked to correct problems introduced by clever Weight Watchers who figured out how to game the system for more points. A cap on the amount of fiber allowed per serving was introduced after people started adding Metamucil to hot fudge sundaes (or so the legends go). The healthy fat guideline may have been introduced because some Weight Watchers were going so low on their fats that they were getting sick. We need some fat in our diets for normal hair, skin, and hormone function. There is some evidence that certain fats help reduce inflammation in the body, which is tied to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. When I attended a lecture last month about brain health, I found out that our brain is made mostly of fat, and the right kinds of fats are necessary for normal brain function. If people were obsessively cutting all possible fats from their diet, they could have ended up pretty sick. I also imagine they were hungry a lot, because having a little fat in your food helps fill you up.

Most normal people probably get plenty of fat in their diets, but may not be getting the right kinds of fats. If the food you are eating is deep fried, prepackaged, and/or was purchased at a restaurant (especially one with a drive-thru), it probably has the wrong kinds of fat: Trans fats or saturated fats. Those are the ones that have the longest shelf life and are the cheapest. That's the hard part about healthy oils: It's easiest to get them if you make your meals yourself. If you microwave, order in, or drive through, it's a lot more difficult.

How to get your healthy oils

There seems to be some disagreement about which fats are the best choices, because the University of Michigan site and Weight Watchers differ on the healthiness of certain oils. It seems, though, that as long as you control the portions, you can't go wrong with olive oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil (as long as you don't cook the flaxseed oil).

Olive oil

This is my absolute favorite. I can't credit this love to my Mediterranean heritage, because my grandmother cooked with Mazola corn oil, which is not on any list I've seen lately of healthy fats.

Olive oil is great for sauteeing vegetables. You don't need much, only a teaspoon or two. You may have heard it has too low of a smoke point for cooking, but as long as you are careful and don't leave oil in an empty pan over high heat, you will be fine. I generally cook my veggies over medium-high heat: Warm the pan first, then put in the oil (be sure to measure if you're counting points or calories). When it starts to shimmer a little, add the veggies or other food. Adding a little salt at this point helps bring the water out of the veggies and helps them cook faster.

Olive oil is also great with a little cracked pepper and salt as a dip for bread. Obviously, measuring your portion and counting the calories or points is key. If you're using it in this way, make sure the oil you buy is good and that you enjoy the taste of it. I always buy extra-virgin olive oil that is marked fruttato (fruity) because that means it will add a lot of flavor. I like Mediterranean Artisans or Colavita, which cost about $8-12 a bottle. I use the same olive oil for cooking, and have always had good results. Some stores will offer samples of their olive oils (usually with small bits of bread), which is a good way to find one you enjoy.

For a quick dressing, mix 2 teaspoons of olive oil with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper with a fork until combined, then drizzle it over your salad or use it as a dip for raw veggies. This is especially great with tomatoes and basil. You can also use this as a base for a sauce for pasta or grains by adding some diced tomatoes, fresh basil, a little grated Romano and some garlic. I sometimes will cook this slightly, but other times I just add it to the hot drained pasta or grains.

If you are a frozen-dinner fan, you might try drizzling a teaspoon of olive oil on your pasta or other Mediterranean-style entrees. It might make them taste better. I don't eat frozen dinners so I haven't tried this.

Canola Oil

This is the oil I use when I don't want olive oil's flavor, but need an oil for cooking or baking. I buy Spectrum Organic most of the time. Use it like you'd use any other oil for cooking or baking. Just remember to measure and count your points or calories. If you've been used to steaming or baking all of your food, consider using your healthy oil to stir-fry or pan-fry your veggies, chicken, fish... It will almost be like you aren't on a diet, like you are living a healthy lifestyle.

Flaxseed Oil

Some people don't cook and don't like oil-and-vinegar dressings. I hear people in meetings say that they do their healthy oils as a shot or mix it into smoothies to hide the taste. I think this is sort of a sad waste when you consider all of the more interesting uses for oil. But if you are going to do this, I think you should choose the healthiest oil you can find. Flaxseed oil is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are the ones that we Westerners have a hard time working into our diets. It's also great for your skin. I take a capsule of it every day to help with my eczema.

Flaxseed oil can turn rancid very fast, so buy it from a place with good turnover and keep it refrigerated. Don't ever cook it. I tried making waffles with it once and it made them smell like fish. I don't buy flaxseed oil (other than in capsule form) anymore because I don't use it fast enough to keep it from going bad.

Other fats and oils

There are plenty of other fats and oils that don't count toward this requirement but are worth including in your diet if you enjoy them, as long as you measure your portions and count the calories or points. (Yes, I know I sound like a broken record). I love a tablespoon or two of peanut or cashew butter on my toast in the morning. Or a teaspoon of butter in my grits. These fats add a lot of flavor and satiety for just a few points. I love avocado too, and with the new Set Points values, I'm including it in my meals more often. A small handful of nuts (I actually count them out to control my portion) helps make a piece of fruit into a filling snack. If I have the bread, grits, or fruit alone, they don't keep me as satisfied for as long. Unfortunately, none of these options counts toward the healthy oils requirements, but they do make me feel happier about my life because I'm not eating pure Rabbit Chow.

What do you think about the healthy fat thing?

Are you one of the Old School Weight Watchers who ignores this requirement? Or are you, like me, happy that it has been added to help give people permission to enjoy real food? Do you have any tips I missed?

The Biggest Loser Week 7: Jillian Will Make You Cry

At the beginning of this week's episode, when the Black Team comes back from the elimination without Dina, the debriefing confirmed my suspicion that Dina got sent home in Week 6 not because she wasn't an asset to the team (she was) but because she wasn't part of the core clique in the Black Team: Daniel, Shay, Abby, and Amanda. Liz said that if they had to send one of those people home, there would be some real tears.

Tears were the theme of the week, with Jillian purposely pushing her team's buttons to get them to think about the issues that brought them to the point of desperation that is required to sign up for "The Biggest Loser" casting calls: Morbidly obese and yet willing to appear on national TV without a shirt on. There were some serious conversations which probably did help the contestants in their quest for answers, but were painful to watch on TV. Shay had to admit that she was powerless to make her mother love her or stay alive for her. Amanda revealed her unwillingness to take risks and step into a position of power because she's "always been the fat girl." Most heartbreakingly, Abby had to admit her conflicted feelings about giving herself permission to survive the loss of her husband and two children and be willing to love anyone again. It wasn't said explicitly, but I think she felt on some level that to ever remarry or have children again would be a betrayal. If there is one thing we've learned about Abby, it is that she is very giving and loving, so withdrawing from love and possible loss meant withdrawing from life for her. It was pretty clear (or was edited to show) that this was a breakthrough week for Abby.

This was Faceoff Week, and in a very mundane challenge, the Blue Team won the right to set up the pairings. They were set up to be pretty fair: People of similar size/ability weighed in against each other. They were almost all boy/boy girl/girl, except the pairing of Liz vs. Daniel and Rudy vs. Shay. This time, the whole Faceoff theme didn't come across as intense in the same way that it was last season.

I think the producers chose to emphasize the whole emotional healing aspect instead of the competition, which made this week's episode a giant downer. I am not the kind of person who likes to watch other people ugly cry on TV. I think we need to see a little bit of this to understand the contestants, but at this point, I think it would be nice to see the contestants feeling a little more powerful and sassy instead of watching them cry. The one exception might be Daniel: He is obviously either overeating or has some sort of medical issue, because he should be having better weight losses. Last week there was a minor discussion of the power struggle he felt with his mother over his weight, and maybe he has turned Jillian into Mean Mommy and is still fighting that battle.

The Black Team won a two-pound advantage in a baseball pickup challenge, which was supposedly going to feature Derek Jeter. You could tell the contestants were pretty thrilled, until they realized that Jeter's appearance was via a taped message on the Jumbotron. As a consolation, they got a little backyard barbecue with Curtis Stone, who at least appeared in person and didn't just send an episode of "Take Home Chef." After enjoying their turkey burgers on portabello buns, they could choose to use two pounds for one faceoff or split it up between two. They threw it away on Amanda, who got creamed in the weigh-in by her former partner Rebecca. Allen, who has been awesome this season in all the challenges and doesn't even look like a fat guy anymore, was the only one on Blue Team to lose the weigh-in to Danny, who is the one Black Team player I like and is, of course, will be eliminated as soon as the Black Team gets a swing at him. He saved himself this week by winning immunity.

The weigh-in this week was record-breaking. At the beginning of the episode, Rudy said he wanted to beat Dane's record last season of losing 100 pounds in 8 weeks. Dane showed up at the weigh-in (looking like he may have relapsed a little, unfortunately) to watch the weigh-in. He said that he and 12 other former contestants were doing a triathlon the next day. Bob said, "How many people can say they've done a triathlon? I can't!" Of course I yelled "I have!" at the television. Rudy beat the record, for a total of 101 pounds in 7 weeks, which is just incredible. Luckily there are doctors all over "The Biggest Loser," because a weight loss like that would probably be dangerous if it wasn't medically supervised.

The Black Team had to fulfill Liz's prophecy and choose from its core clique. Danny was safe because he was that week's Biggest Loser on Black Team. Luckily for the rest, Abby volunteered to go home. After her breakthrough moment, you could tell that she was chomping at the bit to go live a real life in the real world.

That's the thing about this season (and last): The eliminations systematically eliminate the healthiest, most normal players and leave behind the craziest gameplayers. Blue Team is pretty great (except for Tracey) this season, but Black Team is turning into a group of middle-school girls: Everyone left seems wrapped up in his or her own drama, and is willing to throw any other person under the bus and try to make it look like it was a hard thing to do. I was glad that Danny made the case that Daniel has now had two chances on the show and has not made the most of them. It needed to be said.

How many weeks until Makeover Week? I am hoping that Allen, Danny, and Rebecca are all there for it. I can't wait to see them glammed up. That's my main motivation to keep watching at this point.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dropped another 0.2

My Weight Chart:
Weight Chart


I am wearing one of my new tops today. I felt pretty good walking into the meeting. I thought I'd probably be down a little, but I didn't realize how little. Still, looking around that meeting room, I decided there was no one I'd really trade places with. Very few hands went up when the leader asked who was regularly doing half an hour of activity on a daily basis -- and this is when you include things like housework and raking leaves. I take a few days off here and there, but I don't think I'd ever want to go back to being inactive. I feel healthy and strong, I just need to work a little harder at planning meals and staying within my points and I'll be fine.

My leader said that if anyone was dealing with a plateau, they should try hitting all nine good health guidelines consistently every day. I am not the greatest at that, so I'm going to give it a try. In fact, I'm thinking I might do a little blog series on them, using my own research and not the WW information (to avoid taking anything that is not mine). We'll see...

Shopping makes it all better

I'm going to apologize right now for not providing pictures of all my loot. You will just have to imagine for yourselves how gorgeous I look in all of it.

After I wrote yesterday's post, I decided to go shopping. I had the time, I had two $20 gift certificates to Ann Taylor, and I had a bunch of coupons. I have two events coming up that I need cute outfits for, and I also felt like I needed to get out of the house and out of my mopey mood.

Despite my less-than-stellar weight loss, things are definitely fitting differently than the last time I went shopping. At Ann Taylor, I was trying on things in Large that I tried on a couple of months ago in an Extra Large (and as a bonus, they were now on clearance). I tried on a dress in a size 14 that fit perfectly on the bottom, but on top, I'm definitely now a 12. This is the way my body seems to lose. I think (hope) things will even out eventually. I think just seeing myself in a new mirror wearing different clothes was a reality check. I didn't buy a dress there, but I did get some shells to dress up my suits and a couple of sweaters. I am going to wear something new and cute to Weight Watchers today, so that I can feel good no matter how the weigh-in goes.

I got a dress at Macy's, where I had a 20% off pass. The dress fit fine in size 12 because it had a full skirt and an empire waist. I really like it and it got the thumbs-up at home when I tried it on. I also got a new bra because the one I was wearing didn't look or feel right -- I seem to be between sizes right now, but was able to buy a smaller size in one brand. Why is it, by the way, that going up one cup size seems to require so much reinforcement? I want to get out of the Land of the Matronly Undergarments once and for all.

All of this shifting around in sizes gets a little expensive. Yesterday I stumbled on a cool blog project for people who are shrinking out of their clothes. It's a fun idea, but I think it's simpler to give my unwanted clothes to charity and help boost the economy by buying new ones (on sale with coupons, of course). Maybe weight loss bloggers will be the ones who finally end the recession.

I also bought some new makeup yesterday... so yes, I am doing my part.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I need some new goals

Listening to the latest Two Fit Chicks podcast, which was all about goals, helped me to put some things in perspective. I have been feeling down since my half marathon about how disappointing the experience was. I finished, and yes, I know that is admirable, but I didn't have fun. I was miserable and in pain for most of the second half of the race. I had hoped to get a big feeling of accomplishment from doing a challenging race, thought I would enjoy a course that promised to be scenic. So far so good. But not-so-incidentally, I was also hoping to drop a lot of weight. The last time I trained for and ran a half marathon, I ended up in the best shape of my life. This time around, I look only slightly different than when I started. Let's be honest, too, my husband is a runner and running is really important to him. I hoped to pull off a great race time and impress him with my accomplishment.

So see where I went wrong? I had ulterior motives for running the race: Lose weight and impress other people. I did think about the race itself, but sort of as a tangential benefit to the other two, not as the primary goal. Impressing my husband with any running time I'm going to manage to pull off is pretty near impossible -- sure, he is supportive of me no matter what my times. But to get to the level where the time itself impresses someone like him is not something I can realistically pull off, unless I somehow manage to be bitten by a radioactive spider or get caught in a freak nuclear accident in a science lab, like an old-time superhero. And if my primary goal was to lose weight, I could have put my time to better use actually following Weight Watchers to the letter instead of doing long workouts that built up a huge appetite.

I'm not sure what a good goal for me would be. After the half marathon, I'm not anxious to think about training for more long races. I have fun with sprint triathlons, so I'm sure I will continue to train for those, but at this point, they're just for fun and not a huge, motivating goal. The first time, when just finishing was an accomplishment, I felt pretty amazing. Then I got wrapped up in the whole issue of finish times and ...yeah. All that junk. I need to have an attitude more like Alison from Now The Plan Is This..., who guest-starred on the podcast today. She said that when people say they could never do a triathlon or a marathon, she says that they say that because they "don't just want to do the race, they want to be good at it." Guilty.

I'm not sure a big, guts-or-glory goal is what I need right now. The things I'm enjoying are not goals-focused, they're more the kind of things that are a practice. Right now I'm really into my watercolor painting -- I'm at the point now that when I pull out the paints, I am just figuring out how they work and what different strokes look like, rather than thinking I'm going to make a painting I could hang on my wall. I want to get back to a regular yoga practice to help manage some nagging things I've been dealing with since the half marathon. I want to focus in on healthy eating and someday, even manage to stay within my Weight Watchers points for an entire week.

I think my biggest goal right now is to get my head on straight, and learn to stop comparing and crucifying myself (another word from the podcast) and start appreciating the things I can do. Not everyone is an aspiring painter with a Ph.D. who can swim and make a mean frittata. I will probably never be a great runner, just like I will probably never be one of those people whose houses are always clean. I need to learn to be OK with being me.

Weigh in tomorrow

As usual, I'm feeling nervous about my weigh-in this week. I haven't had much success so far and I'm feeling frustrated with myself for not sticking with the plan. This week I'm over my weekly points allowance again, though not as much as in some other weeks. I'm going to try to keep my food light and hope for the best. I'm also going to make sure to have a lot of water -- I had some salty food last night.

I was looking through some pictures from a couple of years ago, when I was almost at goal. I looked so much better. I need to get back there again. Last night in my swimsuit, I felt self-conscious until I got into the water.

One good thing is, I'm not in the slow lane anymore. I got moved to the second-fastest lane in the beginner practice. I had fun last night and the hour went by quickly, though I got some foot cramps while using the kickboard and my calves are a little sore today. The thing about swimming is that you get resistance in three dimensions. I'm sore all over, but I know that means I'm going to be getting stronger, so I like it. I always feel pumped up after a swim.

Today will be an easy day. I'm going to go out for a walk and listen to the new Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nutritional information and misinformation

With the crackdown on the "Smart Choices" program, which suggested that Froot Loops and mayonnaise were great healthy options, the FDA looks like it is actually starting to flex some muscle to protect consumers from misleading food claims. The label was meaningless, because by fortifying Froot Loops with a bunch of artificial vitamins, Kellogg was able to win the little green checkmark. Or, if tiny amounts of food were put into 100-calorie packs, Oreo cookies could become a "healthy choice." The effect was that the green checkmarks appeared on companies that had bought their way into Smart Choices, and didn't appear on much healthier products, like apples and oatmeal, that hadn't paid the entry fee.

The Smart Choices program was an attempt by the big food producers to head off a government-run labeling program, similar to one in Britain, that would help alert consumers to high levels of certain ingredients, like sugar and salt. The advantage of a program like that one is that it allows consumers to decide what is important to them. If they have high blood pressure and are trying to minimize sodium in their diet, the British-style labels could be really helpful. Of course, the disadvantage to food producers is that people might actually look at a bag of Fritos, see a bunch of red lights, and realize that it probably was a terrible idea to buy them. We have to remember that the standardized nutritional information on all packages, which has been a big help for people who are trying to watch their weight, was also fought tooth-and-nail by these same food giants. The truth is, they don't want us to have any information that might help us make decisions that were against their interests.

It doesn't have the convenience of an in-store label, but Calorie Count at about.com does provide grades for foods on their site, based on ingredients like sodium and sugar. I had some fun looking for the worst possible foods and I found bologna and pork rinds, but even notoriously sugary foods like sodas didn't earn an F -- they just didn't have a grade at all.

Other than ratings on specific nutrients, the hard part about any food label is that it's not any one item in the diet that is the problem, it's the overall balance of foods. Peanut butter is high in fat, but it can definitely fit into a healthy diet. Even pork rinds, if you really like them, could be OK in small quantities. The problem isn't that we have unhealthy individual foods in our diets, it's mostly that we have a food industry that has managed to make the unhealthiest choices the cheapest and easiest to fit into a busy life. The "Smart Choices" label only added insult to injury.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A new hobby


I just started a watercolor painting class last Tuesday, and I really think I'm going to love it. In class, we just did some simple washes and shapes, but after I bought all my supplies (which was not cheap), I came home and played for a couple of hours with the new paints. I think I did pretty well for my first try.

I started with the things I could see out my window and then started to improvise (because I didn't want to paint the apartment building across the street). Most of the things I could paint from something I could see turned out pretty good, like the sky and the red and light green tree. The ugly green bush was also from life but I didn't get the colors right. The pond looks fake because I had to make it up. Next time I'll find a picture to use as inspiration.

I think our class is geared toward super-beginners, and I have previous art experience (though not previous watercoloring experience. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

One thing I have noticed is that I am constantly looking at things in a new way. When I'm driving down the highway, I notice the way the trees look, or pay more attention to the clouds. I forgot how much I loved my art classes, and I'm really glad I decided to take a chance and try something new.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 6: You Can Go Home Again...Maybe

I've given up on the no-spoiler zone. By this time, I'm sure everyone has had a chance to watch, but if not, you might want to wait to read this one.

There was a moment of tension at the beginning of this episode, as the Black Team realized to their horror that Tracey was still there after an elimination that seemed perfectly set up as a chance to get rid of her. They didn't even try to hide their disappointment. Tracey started crying but then, when everyone seemed to ignore her and Shay walked out, she seemed to realize the crocodile tears weren't working and pulled it together. At least that's how it seemed on the edited version, but the Biggest Loser Fan Page on facebook posted bonus video of "Shay's Story" to "explain where Shay's feelings for Tracey come from."

As one commenter posted, "I don't even need to watch this - it'll be 'WAAAAAAAHHHHHH MY MOM DIDN'T LOVE ME WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH.' You're 30, Shay. Suck it up." I wouldn't have put it so harshly, but when Shay started up the waterworks during a Subway integration where she was eating sandwiches with her friends, I really started to think that being friends with Shay wouldn't be much fun at all. I think that Tracey and Shay clash because they are both used to being the center of attention.

The challenge this week had the contestants dig what looked eerily like shallow graves on the beach, to find keys to a treasure chest with a prize that was not revealed until the winning team unlocked it. It was billed as something that "would determine which players stay on the ranch and which go home." That turned out to be a trip home for one team -- the winning team got to decide whether to take the trip or pass it on.

The Black Team ended up getting to go home for the week, live their normal lives for a little while, and then come back just in time for a beating from Jillian and the weigh-in. We were able to get a little glimpse into each of the contestants' lives. A couple of them, Abby and Amanda, seem to be genuinely happy to see their family and friends again, even though they find being in an unfamiliar environment a little challenging. Not surprisingly, some seemed to have trouble re-integrating into their normal lives. Dina's husband eats a huge array of appetizers (all of which he seems to put right in front of her) and a giant burrito while she seems to be unsure if there is anything at the restaurant she can eat. Shay's stepsons seem oddly standoffish around her, but do cry when she leaves again. Danny feels guilty about having to spend so much time at the gym during his brief visit with his family, and his daughter is visibly disappointed. Daniel seems fine when he is at home, but when he gets back to the ranch, he reveals to Jillian how conflicted he feels about his mom's reaction to his weight loss, which has been a source of conflicted feelings for him for a long time. I wondered if his odd results in the weigh-in might have been related to those feelings.

I was pretty frustrated when, at the elimination, Dina was singled out as the one to go home. She made it quite clear that her husband didn't provide much support for her and that her son had to sit around for hours with her at the gym while she worked out. She also was one of the ones who had a great loss for the week. She lost as much as Shay, who weighs almost twice as much as Dina does. For some reason, though, everyone seemed to settle on her out of all the other possible choices. I really wonder if it's because she is pretty down-to-earth and probably wouldn't get involved in all the Tears-And-Drama games the other players seem to enjoy.

After the Player Update, though, I started to wonder if it was such a bad thing for her to be sent home. Watching the show, it is hard not to see being sent home as a big tragedy, but then the players seem so much more normal and well-adjusted when they are away from all the drama of the game. Dina's husband doesn't appear in any of the scenes of her life after the show. When a hunky guy appears with her in one of the scenes, the producers have helpfully given him a shirt with TRAINER spelled out in big block letters. It seems that her son has also become a bit of a personal trainer for her.

The show this week didn't have as much oomph as usual, and I really do think it's starting to wind down. This is Season 8, and I imagine they will have a total of 10 seasons, but Jillian Michaels is already starting to branch out into other projects and the show seems to be spinning out as much merchandise -- including a new video game -- as it can. The latest is a video game that lets you create a Biggest Loser fitness and food program. Too bad I don't have a Wii Fit...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flatlining

My Weight Chart:
Weight Chart


When I updated my weight chart today, it became pretty obvious that I have been in maintenance after moving through the excitement of the first two weeks of serious Weight Watching and, not coincidentally, serious weight loss.

After reading an article in Oprah last month, I really wonder if weight is my designated issue. Another blogger posted a similar thought:
But, what happens when you get there? Part of the reason that losing weight is possible for me is that it is so engaging. It feels a “void” of something to pay attention to that, when I’m doing well, makes me happy. When I wake up and I had a good day the day before, I love remembering that I’m making the right choices. It seems so easy to keep going. That good feeling takes away from the stress of daily living.
Today in my meeting, I listened to the topic of the week, which was all the health problems that following those Good Health Guidelines can help you avoid: Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol... Several people in my meeting could speak from experience about how this had been true for them. Besides, there are all the more frivolous benefits that are actually more motivataing: Fitting better into clothes, feeling less self-conscious, looking prettier. I want to take this program seriously and start taking myself seriously. I want to live my life without this stupid fat talk rattling around in my head. If that means I have to deal with some other stuff, bring it on.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Swim update

I emailed my coach after the frustrating swim practice last night and he said next week I will be in a lane that is more my pace. Now I'll have to keep up or look silly for complaining!

I am literally dealing with a pain in my butt this morning. I first noticed it after swim practice, so I really think it might be from all the kicking. My right glute feels like it is tied up in knots today. I did some yoga and took a walk to stretch it, and I am also giving some serious thought to getting a massage today. I am taking a little breather after my busy week.

My toes look very pretty after the pedicure. I got a dark metallic purply-blue -- something different and not at all summery. I am still wearing my flip flops for fear of ruining the paint job!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Swimming in the slow lane

Tonight's swim practice was frustrating. We had a substitute coach, and he didn't even have my name on his list, so I got stuck in the slowest lane. Then, as I realized that these swimmers couldn't even do more than one lap without stopping, I slipped into the second-slowest lane. It was still too slow. I sent an email to our coach tonight, asking if I could be moved up. It's hard if you're stuck behind someone, and since we had five people in this lane, it was almost impossible to pass. I am not the best swimmer in the world, but I do know how to do a (kind of crummy) flip turn and have some decent endurance. I'm sure it was no fun for the slowest swimmers to always have me breathing down their necks either. My friend was also stuck in this lane with me, and she was a competitive swimmer in high school, so she was really annoyed.

I'm too good to be bad and too bad to be good.

I didn't wear my heart rate monitor after all -- it seemed weird to wear the strap with a swimsuit. Besides, with laps and times, there are enough numbers to worry about at practice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Did you miss me?

I have had a busy week, working pretty hard to get to deadline. All that sitting (punctuated by running) has taken a toll -- I'm having some annoying pain in my ankle, I think from tightness in my legs. I don't tend to feel very good physically when I spend a lot of time sitting and working at the computer.

I'm still learning how to use my heart rate monitor. I know how to do the basics (recording heart rate during exercise), but I haven't played with some of the advanced features (like uploading data to the Polar website) yet. The feature I love most is that it gives both average and max heart rate at the end of the workout, along with calories burned.

Today was a nice, relaxing day. I got a chair massage today at a health fair. I scheduled a pedicure for Monday morning to pamper my feet a little. I bought some flip-flops (very hard to find this time of the year) for my pool workouts to protect my feet from any nasties lurking on the tile floor of the locker room. I got a couple of workout outfits and a new yoga mat at Target.

Things should settle down a little next week, so I will be back to my bloggy self.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 5: Lots of spoilers in this one.

Seriously, there is just no way to talk about this episode without giving things away. Here's your last chance to avert your eyes.

This was the week that they went from teams of two to Blue Team and Black Team. All the players had the option to try to win the chance to pick the teams. Guess who won? At this point, the players are getting really superstitious about Tracey: "She has the ability to take control of the game anytime she wants to." Coach Mo said that when Tracey stepped up to play, a strange wind kicked up and there was the sense that she was definitely going to win it.

Of course everyone was unhappy with the way Tracey picked the teams, though they looked pretty fair to me. She split up two sets of partners that were really attached to each other. She loaded up her team with players who had huge weight loss potential. Seriously, though, the drama over the teams started to seem overblown. In a way, I think that Tracey stacked the deck against herself, because the chances of her being the week's Biggest Loser consistently are really small, given all the huge people she has on her team.

Besides, Tracey must not be as bad as she seems to me on this show. If she was, would her team have let the perfect opportunity to get rid of her slip by and instead vote off a completely harmless player? It may be a case of selective editing. Still, I was furious that they chose to keep her, until I realized that Coach Mo was in serious pain day after day, and really needed the opportunity to go home and rest. He seemed to be doing well on his own and even sharing what he learned with kids in his neighborhood.

Still, in Season 6, the contestants let a similar chance to get rid of Vicky slip by, and I think they regretted it. Maybe this season's Blue Team will have the same problem, or it may be that this batch of contestants has figured out that they can either stew over Tracey's decisions, or they can take control of their own weight loss. Because, really, crying because your partner is on the other side of the gym from you seems a little silly, doesn't it?

There was a commercial on this show that really caught my attention. I have been saying for a long time that when the show was winding down, there would be a launch of "Biggest Loser" resorts. It's not that I'm psychic, it's just such an obvious next step: The show has perfected the science of big-number weight loss, and it seems only reasonable that people would be willing to pay a lot to have the chance to try it for themselves:

Like the show, the resort focuses on weight loss, albeit without all that intense competition and TV exposure. Guests can choose from a one-week package ($1,995 for a private room; $1,595 per person for a double) or a four-week stay ($7,200 and $5,600) plus tax.

An average day consists of six hours of exercise, including hiking in nearby Snow Canyon State Park; three low-fat, low-calorie meals (total daily calorie intake is limited to 1,200 per day); and access to on-site dietitians and counselors.

If you've been watching the show, you've seen contestants win trips to Fitness Ridge Resort and Spa before. Now that spa has entered into a contract with "The Biggest Loser" to offer a branded experience, though without Bob and Jillian, for fans of the show who want to kickstart their weight loss.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back up 0.8 pounds

I was thinking I'd finally get my 5-pound star this week. Instead of losing 0.8, though, I gained it. Crap. At this rate it will take me as long to lose 20 pounds as it takes some people to lose 100. Our leader does these mini-challenges that last 6 or 7 weeks. I found out today that there are people at my meeting who lost 18 pounds in the last 7 weeks. I lost 2.6. There was a woman who looked about my size who had lost 10.

I do think the biggest problem is a failure to commit fully to the process, though. If I go over my points, I think, "what the heck, it's not that bad." What I really need to do is start planning meals out in advance.

Anyway, no whining. I made my choices last week and this is how it turned out. At least I have "The Biggest Loser" tonight to look forward to.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Swimming makes me feel like a rock star!

I just got back from my first master's swim practice in years. I have been doing most of my training on my own, and I have been feeling a little down on myself and the shape I'm in since the half marathon. It was fun to get in the pool with other people and realize that I can keep up.

I opted to swim with the beginners, because I haven't been in a pool since August. I still think that was a good choice, but I have hope of being "promoted" to a faster lane. I went with my friend and triathlon training buddy, who is a former competitive swimmer. She still has that V-shaped swimmer's build and probably is faster than most of the people at the more intermediate practice, but like me she's been out of the pool for a while, so her endurance is lower.

One thing cool about all the running I did this summer is that I kept my endurance. I finished an hour practice feeling great, other than a slight twinge in my right shoulder telling me that I worked it. Hopefully by the next practice, I'll have my heart rate monitor and can see how it works in the pool.

If you're thinking about a triathlon and you have some previous swim experience, I highly recommend finding a master's swim group near you. Training on your own is OK, but it helps to have a coach and some teammates to help push you a little.

Finally did it... ordered a heart rate monitor

I tend to resist gadgetry (I was trying to find my "Running free" post, but the blog search feature doesn't seem to work well), not because I don't like technology (I do) or because I am cheap (just a little). It's mostly because I find it distracting and also think that you can have too much information.

When I was at Dr. Pushy's office the second time and mentioned running, she asked how far I went. I told her I just track my time, not distance. She said I should get this new gadget for my iPod that tracks distance. "It's only about $30." I don't care how much it costs, I don't want to know my pace on a daily basis because I know myself and know that if my pace was slow on a given day, I'd be upset about it. If every workout became a race, I'd find training a lot less enjoyable. I didn't bother to mention that to Dr. Pushy because it was pretty clear that she is not that interested in me or my problems. As soon as I resolve a Coordination of Benefits issue with my insurance companies (the one that is supposed to be my primary is trying to get my secondary insurance to pay for all these tests that she ordered), I'm finding a new doctor.

I have used a heart rate monitor before and I know that they can be both useful and distracting. The battery died in my last one, and it's expensive and difficult to get them replaced. I decided to get a newer one with a calorie counter, as Jillian recommends. My old one just had a heart rate monitor and a stopwatch. This one also has a feature to eliminate interference from other people's monitors, which should be useful in Spinning classes, where I had problems with the old one sometimes.

The problems I had at my half marathon make me wonder if I have been training too hard or the wrong way. I think that having some data could help me make that determination.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A star podcast is born

I really enjoyed Shauna and MizFit's first podcast, but it seemed like they really hit their stride with episode 2, which is a truly international and all-star-blogger edition, with guest stars The Fat Lazy Guy (who has a very sexy voice) phoning in from New Zealand, and newbie running advice from Julia Jones, an American runner giving advice to Italian women at il Corso di Corsa (I thought that meant "the run of the female runner" but Google Translate says is just "The race course." So much for my Italian skills.)

The podcast is funny, informative, and highlights a lot of great bloggers. Check it out at their new website.

I still miss Jillian's podcast, but this is definitely some consolation!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Back down a bit

I finally weighed in and was back down 1.2 pounds, down a total of 4.2 since I started. This is still 0.6 above my low three weeks ago, but going in the right direction. If I can manage to lose a pound this week, I can finally get a 5-pound star. The receptionist told me I made my 10%, and I said there was no way. I will actually hit goal before I get to 10%. She just got confused or missed a decimal point or something. I still need almost 4 pounds to get to 5%.

I was reflecting this morning on how hard this is. I get 22 points a day, plus my weekly 35 points, plus any activity points I earn. That means that most days, if I spread my weekly points evenly throughout the week, I would get between 27 and 31 points, with normal (not training for a half marathon) exercise. Last week, the week that contained a half marathon, I was still over 100 points for the week, even factoring in 22 or so points for the race. Sure, I did the typical high-carb prerace meal and didn't watch things as well as I should have, but it really boggles the mind. I'm impressed that I still lost.

To those of you who are able to consistently stay under your points, I applaud you. I made a real effort to eat good food yesterday and still used 35 points. Obviously I need to try some new meal options. Actually, our meeting topic was trying new foods and snacks, so obviously someone at WW Online is reading my food journals.

What did I eat?

Morning
2 cup(s) black coffee (0)
2 Tbsp half-and-half cream (1)
1 small banana(s) (1.5)
2 slice(s) multigrain bread (4)
2 Tbsp peanut butter (4.5)
Subtotal: 11


Midday
2 Tbsp scallion(s) (0)
1/4 medium avocado (2)
1 serving(s) Fresh mozzerella (2)
1 small tomato(es) (0)
1 whole wheat pita (2)
1 tsp olive oil (1)
1/3 serving(s) Dove Promises (1.5)
16 item(s) tortilla chips (4)
Subtotal: 12.5

Evening
1 serving Chicken Pad Thai (8)
1 small apple(s) (1)
Subtotal: 9

Snack
carrots and celery (0)
1/2 pita bread (1.5)
2 Tbsp hummus (1)

Subtotal: 2.5

Food POINTS values used: 35
Food POINTS values Balance: -13

Exercise
40 min Pilates (2)
Activity POINTS values earned: 2

I'm not going to make a habit of posting my daily food, but you can see, it wasn't like I spent the day with my head in the Cheetos bag. I could have skipped the tortilla chips and the chocolate and saved myself 4.5 points, and had a salad or some fruit instead. The Pad Thai was also a bit of a splurge, but we needed something quick, and my recipe is loaded up with veggies: Bell peppers, green onions, and broccoli. I don't want to give up my half-and-half in my coffee, and that's only 1 point anyway. If I drink it black, it upsets my stomach, and regular milk turns coffee gray.

I think it's easier for people who don't mind eating packaged diet foods, artificial sweeteners, and fat-free cheese. I want to eat real food, I just have to work on eating less of it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 4: Ordering In

There is always a twist on "The Biggest Loser." This week, the contestants entered their nice, safe kitchen with all its pre-approved food, only to find locks on all the cupboard doors. The contestants have to call in orders for takeout from menus. It wasn't clear to me whether they were dealing with a real restaurant, or if there was just an off-camera kitchen cooking their food, but either way, they had to spell out exactly what they wanted and how they wanted it prepared, and then hope that it came the way they asked for it. Several orders got botched and the contestants had to dissect their food before eating it. Bob and Jillian took them all out for Mexican food and a lesson in being assertive at restaurants.

This week's episode didn't have a lot of pizazz. Though there was a big "Karmic payback" hyped for Tracey, it's really hard to be excited that she has what seems to be a terrible injury. I don't like her, but I would feel seriously ripped off if I went to "The Biggest Loser" and never had a chance to workout with the trainers. I wish they had explained a little more what was wrong with her. The physical challenge was sort of a boring one too. And the "pop challenge" about guessing which meal had the least calories seemed very easy, until the contestants had to start guessing how many calories were in the lowest-calorie meal.

Sometimes I think they overdo the "feel sorry for Shay" routine, but she really seems to have a tough life. It was a little sad to hear her say that she worked three jobs, and if she had one the prize of a year's healthy groceries, she could quit one of them. The trainers made a point to tell all the players not to forget that all the players have reasons for being on the show, and not to get caught up in who deserves it most -- I think to counteract the idea that any player should be given a free pass because of personal hardships.

I think next week is set up to be an interesting one. Hopefully Tracey's injury will be healed and we can see if she jumps into the workouts like the "panther" she says she is or if she gets a rude awakening from Bob and Jillian. It looks, from the preview, like there is some opportunity for more gameplay and control-freakishness next time, with one person winning the right to divide the players up into blue and black teams. Still, I remember one season where all the big guys ended up on one team and Jillian got all the smaller players. Her team still pulled the better numbers.

It just goes to show -- everyone wants control over others, but the real winners are the ones who focus on themselves and their own goals.

Book Review: Born Round

I don't have a weigh-in report or a review of last night's "The Biggest Loser" episode yet. I had all kinds of work meetings yesterday, which meant I couldn't go to my regular Weight Watchers meetings. I also got a chance to visit with a friend I hadn't seen in five years or more, so last night's episode of TBL is still waiting for me on the DVR. I am studiously avoiding all blogs and websites that might reveal what happened until after I watch it tonight.

I have been waiting for a good time to post a review of Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, and after recommending it to my friend last night, I decided it was time to recommend it to my blog readers.

Note: I asked for a review copy of this book, and my request was completely ignored by the publicist. I bought it myself. Those new laws about disclosing freebies and paid reviews don't scare me. I always disclose products I've been given for review, and so far no one has paid me to do a review.

I recommended this book to my friend after he kept commenting on and apologizing for his weight gain since the last time I saw him. The first few times, I told him that he didn't need to do that and that I didn't think it was good to be so hard on himself. I am not sure how much weight he gained, but he didn't look exceptionally different -- he looked like he had put on a few pounds, but nothing really remarkable in a five-year span. Then, when he said that he had maintained his weight through some unusually strict rituals (including keeping nothing but salad in the house), I finally recommended this book because his story reminded me so much of Frank Bruni's.

Frank, like me and my friend, is the product of the American melting pot: Full-blooded Italian on one side of the family, and more conventional American on the other side. Italians in this country often bring a history of hard times with them, and they express their love and show their prosperity through an abundance of food. Frank's description of a typical holiday spread put out by his mother (who was not Italian but enthusiastically took on the challenge of cooking all the traditional dishes) reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving at my grandmother's:
...the main meal itself...always included a pasta dish on top of a gigantic turkey or an enormous ham, unless the pasta dish supplemented a gigantic turkey and an enormous ham. And the amount of each kind of food was plotted with this rule of thumb in mind: If every guest decided to eat nothing but mashed potatoes, or nothing but turkey and only white meat turkey at that, there would still be enough mashed potatoes or white meat turkey to go around.
Not surprisingly, Frank and his siblings all struggled with weight issues at different times in their lives, but Frank seems to have had both the largest appetite and the most trouble keeping his weight in check. His approach seems to have been all-out wanton gluttony followed by periods of extreme deprivation. When he was very young, he and his mother did the Atkins plan together, and through the years he tried extreme exercise, diets of all kinds, laxatives, amphetamines, and all kinds of other tricks. He also gives us some clues that the weight might have stood in for other troubling issues he didn't want to tackle in his life.

Frank is a great storyteller and makes it clear that his family was a funny. loving bunch and that he treasures his memories of his childhood even though they are wrapped up in the pain of feeling overweight and out of control. His weight issues continue into his adulthood, as he embarks on his first relationships and his career with the New York Times. Some of the details of his story, like his obsessive thoughts about his flaws and his fetishistic attachment to certain items of clothing that he thought disguised his bulk, hit me like a freight train.

He finally finds some balance after a friend writes him a check for two sessions with a personal trainer. He starts to feel empowered by his exercise sessions and gradually learns to moderate his eating habits. He carries those new habits to Italy, where he realizes that in the Old World, Italians eat small portions of really good food, not bottomless bowls of pasta doused in meat sauce.

I recommended this book to my friend (and recommend it to all of you) because Frank Bruni accomplishes what we would all like to accomplish: He stays fit and attractive while eating somewhat normally. Even when he becomes the restaurant critic for the Times and has to eat out seven nights a week at the city's best restaurants, he finds a way to indulge selectively and balance those dinners with more moderate fare and exercise. Even though he acknowledges that he still has trouble sometimes, he seems to have found a measure of peace and sanity.

And he looks amazing.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Crummy race

The title says it all this time. I started out feeling really good -- ran very well for the first 6 miles or so. Then reality started to settle in. I had trained on what few hills we have around here, but this course had real hills. There was a lot of up and down, more up, I think. I slowed down quite a bit, then I got upset because I was slowing down and it was getting harder... it turned into a vicious cycle. I did a serious amount of walking. My husband ended up running with me the whole way, so he got to listen to me whine and cry and basically throw a temper tantrum about how much I hated racing, hated myself for signing up for this... I really started swearing when it seemed like they hid the finish line as much as possible, so you ran the last half mile with almost no hope. Well, that is if you were running for the whole last half mile. I wasn't. At the end I really didn't care about anything but not running any more.

Yes, it really was that bad.

I never used to understand why I'd see people walking with less than a mile to the finish. Now I understand. They aren't sure they can do anything else.

The good news is that I finished. And, as much as I worried that it would, it didn't take me three hours to finish it. More like 2:40. I haven't looked up my time because I know it stinks. Note: I did look it up and it was even worse than I thought. 2:48:15. All that walking...

But, I finished.

It will be a long time before I sign up for another half, and I will only do a large race like this on unfamiliar terrain if I get a brain hemorrhage and forget how much this stunk.

It's funny, I think two weeks ago I could have had a really good race, on a flat course at least. I got a little cold earlier this week and I don't think I'm totally over it yet.

But I finished.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sunday is the big day

I signed up months ago for a half marathon and it's now only two days away. Tomorrow afternoon we are going to check into a hotel and go to the pre-race expo. It's not really that far away, but we are both keyed up on race days and the idea of driving up in the early morning and possibly getting stuck in traffic is too scary. So tonight I need to think about what I want to bring with me.

I had a little bit of a cold this week but it seems to be passing. I'm a little anxious about the race but objectively, I'm very well-prepared. I ran my last really long runs (2+ hours) on hot days and had no access to water until the very last mile (not out of toughness, just because of the practical issues of the practice site). The weather will be cool on Sunday and there will be aid stations with water and Gatorade.

It will be weird running with hundreds of people around. I've been doing a lot of solitary runs this summer with nothing but my iPod. The last time I trained for a half marathon, I had a great training partner and we had a lot of fun conversations. I'm looking forward to the social aspect of it, and so the iPod is not coming with me on race day. I think it's best to stay alert and aware when running in a crowd, and there's always the possibility of meeting someone and chatting for part of the race.

I'm looking forward to changing up my training when this race is over. I will still be training but the emphasis will shift a bit. I'm going to scale back the long runs and try to work on speed for a while. I am also going to do more cross-training. My Spinning classes turned out to be not very inspiring -- they were at the wrong time of day for me and the instructor seemed a bit too uptight for my taste. I want to find a better Spinning class and also work on boosting my strength -- something that's hard to do when doing mega-mileage. I know from past experience that more strength work = better weight losses for me.

I'm not sure how the race will affect my weigh-in on Tuesday, but I will at least have a good story to tell at the meeting.
"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07