Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Naturally Thin

I think that most of us who read and write weight-loss blogs really want one simple thing: To be thin without having to think about it too much, to enjoy food without becoming obsessed with it, and to feel good about ourselves and not feel like we're being punished. Naturally Thin: Unleash Your Skinnygirl and Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Dieting promises to make you "naturally thin" without dieting. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

When you actually read through the book, it has a lot of same advice given by Judith Beck in her two books, though I think the tone here is a little less "Mean Mommy" and more "Girlfriend and Guru." It's hard to imagine that you could get sane advice from someone who made a name for herself on reality television, but all the gratuitous celebrity name-dropping aside, this book has a lot of commonsense suggestions about how to have a less-fraught relationship with food and enjoy everything in balance.

None of this is particularly new, but it does give some insight on the way someone who might seem to "eat anything she wants and still stay skinny" might really accomplish that. Bethenny's 10 rules are all about balance. "Your diet is a bank account," she says in Rule One. "You can have it all, but not all at once," she says in Rule Two. And so on... My favorite rule is "Know Thyself." It says to forget about the rules that say to eat every four hours or to always eat breakfast... that those rules were created by someone else. Figure out what your own personal preferences are and listen to your body. You don't have to put someone else in charge.

The easiest way to understand this advice is to imagine you are already thin and beautiful. You love food, but it's most the only important thing in your life. You enjoy eating a a variety of healthy food and being active in your daily life. Now live like that person lives.

This all sounds great, though especially in the second part of the book, "The Naturally Thin Program," there are some more specific, diet-y recommendations and recipes (like the faux cheesecake, which will seem very familiar to South Beachers). Still, I knew that eating like a naturally thin person was going to involve changing more than just my thoughts. One tip that made me think: "If you usually have two pieces of toast for breakfast, would you be perfectly happy and satisfied with just one? What are they, bookends?" I thought about it, and I think the reason I always have two slices of toast is that there are two slots in the toaster. That's kind of a dumb reason, isn't it?

I picked up a copy of this book because I had seen an article on these rules in Health magazine and thought they made a lot of sense. After reading through this book, I'm willing to give my inner Skinnygirl a chance to run the show and see if it makes a difference. I will keep you posted on the results.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Setting the right goals

Yesterday a friend told me he is planning to do an Ironman triathlon before his 40th birthday. Up until now, I don't think he has had a regular exercise program at all, and he's about my age, so that seemed crazy. I am afraid I might have implied as much.

In retrospect, I think part of the problem was envy. I don't feel that is a goal I could (or even want to) set for myself, but I admire the spirit that it takes to set a truly outrageous goal.

When I set the goal to do my first sprint triathlon all those years ago, I really didn't know if I could do it. I had to buy a bike becuase I didn't own one. I trained like crazy for six months because I thought it was going to be really hard for me. I cried when I got to the race site and saw how many hills I was going to have to ride after training only on flat roads. When I actually did the race, I realized that I had prepared a lot better than most of the other first-timers. So maybe I have a problem with confidence -- maybe I could be doing a lot more than I have been. I have been sticking to short races for the last couple of years because work and school were keeping me so busy, plus I didn't have the money for the gear upgrades that training for longer races would require. When I finished my sprint triathlon this year, it was a bit of a letdown, because I know I hadn't trained enough. I need a more challenging goal.

I still don't see an Ironman in my future, but yesterday I made the decision to do a longer race next year. I picked this one, which is a distance I have raced before (1500 m swim, 40 k bike, 10 k run) but always with extreme difficulty. Both times, I felt like I barely finished. The course I picked is a really challenging one, with lots of hills on the bike. So next spring (or this fall if I can find a good deal) I am going to get a better bike that really fits me. I even have a friend who is interested in buying my bike if I upgrade. I'm going to need to train all winter in Spinning classes to make sure I'm ready to get serious once outdoor biking season starts. I'm going to make sure to stay in good running and swimming shape too, and actually get myself into the weight room. My goal is to finish the race feeling great, not feeling like I was hit by a bus.

Setting a goal that will stretch me a little more has already energized me to push myself a little more in training. Yesterday (before I had heard about my friend's race plans), I had gotten up early to swim some laps, plus I had a 10-mile bike ride with a friend planned. I decided (after setting a new goal for next year) to ride my bike to the place where I was meeting my friend, which added an extra 7 miles roundtrip to my ride. Not a huge deal, but I felt more like an athlete again because I was looking for ways to add distance to my workout.

I think if I stick to these plans, the extra weight issue will stop being such a big issue. I still plan to track my calories, and with a goal like this, I know I need to have good nutrition. By next August, I hope to be a lean, mean, triathloning machine.

And I'm going to train like I'm competing for $10,000.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I don't want the summer to end

I'm already starting to mourn the end of summer. I know we have a few more weeks left, but I feel like my own summer just started -- work kept me very busy up until now -- and I am feeling the pressure of all the things I wanted to do this summer and haven't done yet. Let's see: Lose the weight? Nope. Reorganize my house and figure out how to keep it that way? Nope. Repaint the living room to cover up the ugly 198s-style floral border? Nope. Dig up the two privets in my front flowerbed and replace them with something prettier? Not yet. I do think I can get at least those last two done before summer is over. I also have to prepare for fall classes, which are coming up faster than I can think about.

I am also dreading the thought of another one of our long, dark winters. Training becomes that much harder when the days are short and cold and dark. That's why I wanted to end this summer without the extra poundage. I'm considering some possible ways to make it happen but haven't really committeed to any of them. I could go back to Weight Watchers. I could try lifting weights in addition to or instead of some of the stuff I'm doing now. I could try to work up to two-a-day workouts. I could get serious about cutting calories. I'm not sure which of these or which combination of these would be most likely to work, so I've been continuing with my usual training and logging my food. I did a 9-10 mile run on Thursday on the way up to October's half marathon. I feel very happy about my progress there, at least.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chilling out

I'm back from vacation and enjoying the cool quiet on my front porch. I know we probably look like geeks out here typing on our computers.

The New York Times has an interesting article about "The Unchilled Life," describing how people are forgoing air conditioning to save money and/or energy. Some of the people said they lost weight as a result, because they were eating different food. People also reported spending more time outdoors and enjoying feeling more in tune with the seasons.

We have had our air conditioning on a little this summer, but lately the weather has been mild with almost no humidity. I've been enjoying being able to just use "Amish A/C" (opening the windows). I love the natural breeze and we're lucky enough to have a house that was built before A/C, so it has plenty of windows and wide overhangs. I have found that I'm handling the heat better this summer since I'm not used to being refrigerated indoors -- when I have gone in to work in my office, I'm finding the overairconditioned air there very unpleasant. In fact, I've been reaching for a sweater when the temperature gets below 70. Being acclimated to the heat has made outdoor activity a lot easier. I really wonder if that might account for some of the weight-loss phenomenon the people in the article reported -- if you don't get used to chilly indoor temperatures, it's easier to get outdoors and do things.

I don't think I could convince my husband to give up the A/C completely, though. We get a few days a year that are pretty miserable. I've just been trying to use restraint.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting away for a while

My family has had a big camping/rustic cabin weekend planned for months, and it's hard to believe it's finally here. I have so much to do today because, of course, I waited until the last minute as usual.

I'm not expecting to have much, if any, access to email or the internet, which is a good thing. I have become too attached to my iPod Touch -- it's almost an extra appendage. I'm always checking my email and seeing what's new on facebook. Being away from it for a while will be relaxing.

Eating healthfully will be a big challenge on this trip. Last time we did this, two years ago, it seemed like there was always food, mostly junk, in my face, and I think I felt sick a lot of the time from eating too much of it. I know there will be a lot of beer around, too. I'm bringing some healthy snacks along and keeping my expectations reasonable: All I want is to feel good while I'm away and not crummy from too much salty and greasy food. I'm not expecting to lose weight on this vacation, but I also don't want to gain much, if any.

I'm going to do my long run for the week this morning, and plan to do a couple of runs while I'm away, plus try to do other active things. We won't be going on whole-family hikes -- a couple of members of my family have physical limitations and we will also have a toddler and an insane dog with us -- but I will do what I can while still spending time with my family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lost pet excitement

My sister thought she had lost her cat for good the other day. She came home late at night after being away for 15 hours and found a window with a screen missing, and her cat was nowhere to be found. She lives just a few blocks from a very busy intersection so of course, we all thought the worst. She had to give up looking at 4 a.m. because she was exhausted and it was dark. Of course she cried herself to sleep.

Being the geek I am, the next morning I read up on websites about how to find a lost cat. I was surprised to learn that an indoor-only cat like hers is usually found pretty close to where it was lost. Their typical response is to get scared in an unfamiliar environment and hide. Things felt a little more hopeful after that, but after at least an hour of searching all the yards near her house, it started to feel hopeless again. We printed up a bunch of "Lost Cat" flyers to put up. We put food and toys out on the porch because cats supposedly can find their way home by smell.

My mom talked to some of the neighbors and one of them had seen a cat run early that morning. She had gone a different direction than the rest of us. We thought he wouldn't go that way because of the big dog next door. She was walking around, shaking a bag of treats when she heard a meow. She stopped, shook the treats again, called the cat's name, and heard a louder meow. Sure enough it was him, about a block from my sister's house, hiding in the bushes. The owner of the house said he had been there for hours, not long after the other person thought he had seen the cat. My sister rode down in my dad's car with a blanket and brought her prodigal son home.

Just thought I'd share this because I would have never expected that an overweight, sort of crazy indoor cat could be found after almost 24 hours of being lost. If you are unlucky enough to find that your cat has escaped, it pays to talk to all of the neighbors, even the weird ones, and to spread out about a block or two in each direction. We're all really glad he made it home safely.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Down to my last excuse.

My triathlon is long over, my hormones should be back to whatever is normal for me. What other excuses do I have in my bag? Oh, yeah, I just flew in to town on Friday. Whatever. I am down quite a bit since yesterday so it probably did have something to do with the flying. Essentially, I have maintained my weight this summer, though I do think I look more toned, and people have been commenting, so that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

On a happier note, my half-marathon training is well underway. I ran 80 minutes with my husband today -- that's about 7 miles, maybe a little more. I was hot and decided to loop through the parking lot at around the hour mark to pick up a bottle of water that I had in a cooler in my trunk. I drank as much as I could while running (I'm not good at this) and then handed it to my husband. He had some and handed it back to me. After another big swig, I handed it to him. He had some more and then dumped out what was left! I was mad enough to kill him with my bare hands. Sure, it was only a swallow, but I wanted that swallow! I was hot, tired, thirsty, and irrational. He apologized profusely but it took me a while to get over it. He felt bad and wouldn't take any of the remaining bottle of water in the cooler when we got back to the car. I feel a little silly now for how mad I was.

Since I have running shorts phobia, I wore some new capris that I got at Target, which is probably the most underrated source for workout gear there is. They are made of a material that wicks away moisture, so I think they were probably about as comfortable as shorts. I wish I had the kind of legs that look good in running shorts (or any shorts) but at this point, I'm happier covering up, even if it means being a little warmer. I'll just call it heat conditioning. That might explain the Saga of the Water Bottle, however.

Tomorrow I have jury duty, and I have to report at 8:45. Since I ran today, I'm not sure what kind of workout I could get in during the early morning. Swimming takes too long and so does biking. I think I'll have to play it safe and hope that I'm not there all day long.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Spa week

No, actually I'm not really at a spa, I'm away at a conference. Being on my own for a week seemed like a good time to try to get back to more healthy eating, and I've actually been doing pretty well. I have been taking every opportunity to get in some vegetables -- even tonight at a pizza place, I ordered an antipasto platter that was mostly veggies -- because I thought the conference food would be mostly junky. Though lunch today was pretty healthy, only at a conference do you have pastries for breakfast, dessert at lunch, and then more dessert-type foods at the break. Now that I'm not the one running the conference, though, I feel less temptation to recharge myself by overindulging on brownies and coffee. That's not to say I didn't have a brownie, but I kept it to one. Small victories.

It would be nice to arrive at home minus a couple of the pounds that have been hanging around since the triathlon. Something about that race combined with the usual hormonal roller coaster had me all messed up. Weird. I figure it's better to focus on getting my behavior right and believe that long-term, that will make a difference in the number on the scale.

I had planned to get up this morning and go swim, but I turned off my alarm instead of hitting snooze, and the next thing I knew, it was the time I had said I'd meet a friend at breakfast. I think I needed the sleep, though. Even Jillian Michaels says you should take at least one day off a week from exercise. I don't tend to take a day completely off but instead, do an easier day. Today's "workout" turned out to be walking a couple of miles to find dinner. We took a cab because it was dark and my feet are hurting. It's been a long day and I'm ready for bed. At least I don't seem to be having any trouble sleeping.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I remembered what I really wanted to write about

Several times lately, I have found myself in a situation where someone feels compelled to give me advice on how I should be exercising (so far, no one has started in on diet).

It's frustrating, because I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the exercise thing. I know what to do to train for my races and I feel happy with the way I'm able to perform on race day. I feel like I have the fitness thing pretty well figured out. It's the diet that isn't fully in line yet.

It's also discouraging because I know the reason I'm getting this unsolicited advice is because I'm still carrying weight I should have lost by now. Add to the list of reasons I want to lose weight: "So that my fitness level will be accurately reflected in the way I look."

It's weird because some people are complimenting me on how I look and others seem to think that I wouldn't be the size I am if I knew about exercise. I wouldn't take this personally if I wasn't also feeling a little bit frustrated already on the weight front. My weight is still on an upswing after the triathlon. I have good reason to expect a drop next week, because like one reader noted, I seem to be on a pretty reliable four-week cycle of gaining and losing. But overall, the trend is maintenance, and I'm not particularly happy about it.

Here's hoping that the half-marathon training will help a bit.

A good week

I generally take a recovery week after my races, but this week I haven't really felt the need. Monday I went for a swim. Tuesday I did a short run, which was fine but I felt a little out of gas. Wednesday was that crazy jump board class, which made me more sore than the triathlon did. Thursday I did another short run. Friday, I did a new cycle/yoga class at the Y. Yesterday was a bike ride with the woman who did the triathlon with me, plus I did a lot of walking.

I did a long run today (70 minutes), and even though I was nervous about how it would go when I started, I finished feeling strong. I had been having some trouble with sore toes and remembered that I used to lace my shoes differently to avoid that problem. I relaced my shoes before the run and that did the trick.

I was very tired afterward, but otherwise pretty great. My knees are complaining a little now when I go up and down stairs, but it doesn't seem to be anything serious. Just some tired muscles, I think. My knees didn't hurt at all during the run, so it isn't impact that was causing the problem.

We had really cool weather for most of the week, so it was nice to get back to summer today. I wore my new swimsuit (from Target) and spent most of the day in or around my parents' pool. The cool water felt great on my legs, especially my knees, and even with sunscreen (SPF 15), I think I got a little color in my cheeks. I love our summers here. They make it worth putting up with our winters.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"how much weight do you lose doing a race like that?"

Thanks for all the replies to my $10,000 post. I really would rather be fit and reach my weight goal than have $10,000, so I was really just wondering why I don't make my training more of a priority, like I would if there was a big chunk of change on the line.

One of the other times I did a triathlon, one of my aunts (who doesn't know much about exercise) asked me, "How much weight do you lose doing a race like that?" It was such a weird question that I didn't know how to answer. You could probably lose about a pound or two of water during a hot race, but of course, you don't lose real weight that way. I might lose a little in training but not always, because I have a tendency to make up any calorie deficit I create with exercise by eating more. All this to introduce a weird phenomenon: I weighed myself this Monday and my weight was way up. It was up again yesterday, and is still up a little today. I'm calling it fluid retention from sore muscles and am going to give it until Friday before I count it as real.

I'm still recovering physically, too. I forgot to sign up for my Pilates Reformer class for today. Instead, they offered me a Jump Board Interval class. It's hard to explain, but they attach a board (it looks like a headboard from a bed) to the bottom of the Reformer carriage, and you lay on the carriage and push off with your feet to "jump." The springs provide resistance. I found a video of what it looks like, since it's hard to visualize. It doesn't look very strenuous but jumping for most of an hour really tired me out. I felt better after lunch, though. I didn't feel like cooking so stopped at a nearby grocery store and picked up premade sushi. I want to keep the momentum going and not eat junk.

I'm also trying to be a little more organized with my workout tracking, hoping that it will make me more consistent. I bought a simple pocket monthly/weekly planner at Target that runs from July-July. It started Monday, right after the race. In the past I've tried to keep really detailed workout logs and it has never worked well for me, but this is small and gives me just enough room to write a little about what I did. The monthly pages are nice for planning out my workouts. My husband liked it so much he wanted one too, so I got him one with a different color cover. Mine is green, his is blue. I'm going to track my daily weight and my daily calorie count (from Lose It!) along with my workouts. I've already mapped out all my long runs (from the plan I posted) in the calendar up to the half marathon.

My summer class is finally over and I just have to finish grading. Time to get back to it.
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"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