Thursday, January 31, 2013

Recipe: Hot Chicken Pho soup

This recipe mentions Pacific Foods soup starter, not because they paid or otherwise prompted me to do so, but because I like it and it makes creating a soup like this a lot easier than starting from scratch.  If you know how to make Pho from scratch, good on ya.

When I'm sick I like spicy food and I like soup. I have been fantasizing about the Tom Yum soup at the Thai place a few miles from my house. I thought about going to buy about a quart to take home. "If anyone really loved me," I was thinking, a really bad habit of mine, "I'd have soup."

I saw the Pacific Organic Chicken Pho soup base in the natural foods section at my grocery store and decided to make my own. I adapted my recipe from the one on the box, which called for cooking the chicken and the rice noodles separately. I threw everything into one pot and made sure the chicken was fully cooked. The soup was hot, fragrant, and surprisingly filling for such a low-calorie dish..
Ingredients (4 servings)

1 box Pacific Organic Chicken Pho soup base (32 oz.)
1 1/2 tsp. chili garlic paste (for medium-hot, adjust to taste)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders (about 8 oz.)
2 oz. dried vermicelli rice noodles, broken into small pieces
2 T. dried Shiitake mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
2 green onions, chopped
4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
leaves from 5-6 sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped

Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces.  (You can use a chicken breast if you can't find raw boneless, skinless breast tenders, they are just easy to work with and sometimes cheaper.) Put into a large saucepan with the soup base, the chili garlic paste, the dried noodles, the green onions, and the mushrooms.  Drizzle the sesame oil on top.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and the noodles are done, about 10-12 minutes. Check a piece of chicken to make sure it is done all the way through with no pink inside.  Serve with the chopped herbs on top.

I liked this soup so much I had it with lunch and dinner today.  Sadly, it's all gone. I may have to buy more base, since I still have plenty of the other ingredients for a second batch.

Mythbusting and syncrhonicity

Since two blogs I follow regularly, Debbie's and Yoni Freedhoff's, were both blogging about the same article today, I had to chime in. I'm a busybody that way. I don't have the weighty credentials of the obesity researchers who wrote the article or Dr. Freedhoff, so like Debbie, I am chiming in as a veteran of the Diet Wars. I am going to borrow Dr. Freedhoff's format of posting the study authors' comments chiming in on each one individually.

I have to say that I feel that this article was less than helpful. Weight loss research doesn't have much to do with what happens in real life for most of us.  My goal is to live a lifestyle that is healthy, sustainable, enjoyable,  and compatible with a healthy weight.  

The Myths

1. "Small sustained changes in energy intake or expenditure will produce large, long-term weight changes". 

Sure, probably true. But small, sustained changes are the only way most of us can start. We start with small changes, and then make more little changes, and eventually, we have a new lifestyle.  That seems more practical for most people than a huge but unsustainable change.

2. "Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important, because otherwise patients will become frustrated and quit". 

I think it's important to match your goals to the amount of change you are willing to make.  I also think that a combination of big, inspiring goals and smaller, midrange goals, can work.  Setting goals for a realistic rate of weight loss is important, so you don't get frustrated and quit.  

3. "Large, rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight-loss outcomes as compared with slow, gradual loss". 
If you are getting large, rapid weight loss, you are probably doing something drastic to make it happen. Is that drastic change something you can sustain? If not, your results won't be sustainable either. Some people do things (the HCG diet leaps to mind) that are actually potentially dangerous to lose weight, and that seems to defeat the purpose of losing weight for medical reasons.

I feel like this one is included as a myth because the researchers think that surgery is an effective and safe way to lose weight. I suppose it can be. But if you look at the actual BMI distribution of the adult U.S. population, most of the new "obese" people are in the BMI range of 30-40, which makes surgery to permanently change the way their bodies work seem overly drastic.  We also don't know right now what the real long-term (20-30 years down the line) results of having weight loss surgery will be. I have been hovering right around that "obese" BMI of 30,  and I'm certainly not thinking about getting my guts rearranged.

4. "It is important to assess the stage of change or diet readiness in order to help patients who request weight-loss treatment" 

I don't know that "readiness" is a constant variable. I think that people who want to make a change are probably as ready as they will ever be. Making the changes less drastic (see the numbers above) makes it less important to be ready.

5. "Physical-education classes in their current form, play an important role in reducing or preventing childhood obesity

If my high-school gym experience is any measure, I would agree. Our P.E. classes consisted of giving the chance to let the jocks blow off steam playing sports while I cowered as far as possible from the missle (volleyball, dodgeball, softball) as possible to avoid getting hurt. 

I think it would be possible for P.E. classes to be valuable if they taught skills and created an accepting environment for people to learn to love activity. I just don't think that most P.E. teachers design their classes this way.  

I do think it's a bummer when I hear from a kindergarten teacher that she doesn't send her kids outside for recess, but keeps them in to watch videos. Running around on the playground was something I actually did enjoy in school, and without a chance to burn off steam during recess I think even I, a relatively nerdy kid, would have been too restless to pay attention in the afternoon.

6. "Breast-feeding is protective against obesity

I am agnostic on this one. I don't know, and I don't think it matters. I can't imagine that would be the most important reason for deciding for or against.  

7. "A bout of sexual activity burns 100 to 300 kcal for each participant" 

I would think anything you'd do in bed to burn that many calories would have all the neighbors calling the police.  It doesn't seem all that romantic to be thinking about your calorie burn during sex. 

The Presumptions 

These are subjects that as yet remain unproven one way or the other.

1. "Regularly eating breakfast is protective against obesity

I don't care if it is or isn't. I eat breakfast because I'm hungry when I wake up. I can't imagine not eating in the morning.  I lived in a household of non-breakfast-eaters, and they have just as many weight struggles as I do. Skipping breakfast seems like a bad idea if it means you will be snacking more later. I know that I do better when I sit down for a real meal than when I'm grazing. 

2. "Early childhood is the period in which we learn exercise and eating habits that influence our weight throughout life"

I am proof that diet and exercise habits can be changed. I used to hate vegetables and exercise, and now I love both. I think that believing this could be very defeatist for most people who didn't have marathon-runner, junk-food-hating parents. You can't change the past. Start from where you are now.

3. "Eating more fruits and vegetables will result in weight loss, or less weight gain, regardless of whether any other changes to one's behavior or environment are made"

I can't imagine that eating more fruits and vegetables is a bad idea. They have a lot more nutrients and a lot less calories than cookies.

4. "Weight cycling is associated with increased mortality.."

I think weight cycling is at least discouraging and demoralizing.  I don't think weight cycling is a reason to avoid starting a healthy, reasonable diet change.

5. "Snacking contributes to weight gain and obesity." 

I think it is probably about the total calories and the way you feel. For me, planning a healthy snack is better than pretending I won't want to snack and then digging around for change for the vending machine when I'm starving at 3 p.m.

6. "The built environment, in terms of sidewalk and park availability, influences obesity."

I definitely notice that people in cities are thinner. And when I visit a big city with public transit, I lose weight every time.  I chose my neighborhood partly because there are sidewalks and places to walk.

The Facts

These are the nine points the authors feel there's sufficient evidence to be true.

1. "Although genetic factors play a large role, heritability is not destiny"

I think, since we can't change our genetics, we have to do the best with what we have.

2. "Diets (reduced energy intake) very effectively reduce weight, but trying to go on a diet or recommending that someone go on a diet generally does not work well in the long term."

It's all about sustainability. Most people go on diets that they hate. And then they quit. People who are pushed to go on diets by others won't be as motivated as people who decide on their own to lose weight.

3. "Regardless of body weight or weight loss, an increased level of exercise increases health."

I can't imagine anyone arguing with this. 

4. "Physical activity or exercise in a sufficient dose aids in long term weight maintenance."

This one seems obvious. 

5. "Continuation of conditions that promote weight loss promotes maintenance of lower weight."

This is why I don't understand why the authors seem so against small, sustainable changes.

6. "For overweight children, programs that involve the parents and the home setting promote greater weight loss or maintenance."

It makes sense to address the factors that made the kids fat in the first place. Sending them off to fat camp and then bringing them home to the environment where they gained weight wouldn't seem helpful.

7. "Provision of meals and use of meal-replacement products promote greater weight loss."

Agree with Dr. Freedhoff that this doesn't make sense given #5. And it seems like a conflict of interest might be involved here.

8. "Some pharmaceutical agents can help patients achieve clinically meaningful weight loss and maintain the reduction as long as the agents continue to be used."

Ditto my response to #7. Drugs for life, with potential side effects? No thanks.

9. "In appropriate patients bariatric surgery results in long-term weight loss and reductions in the rate of incident diabetes and mortality." 

I am sure this is true, but it's not a solution for the majority of people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I hate being sick

I was just getting into a groove with my healthy habits and then -- whammo! -- I came down with one of the various bugs that has been going around. This one is a strange one: Headaches, fatigue, coughing, nasal congestion, gas -- quite the grab bag of symptoms.

Yesterday I went through alternate bouts of feeling ravenous and then having no appetite, and I was too tired to do more than go for an easy walk outside.  My food was all weird. I drank 64 ounces of water during my class last night, since I still had to teach. Then I came home and had an entire sleeve of saltines, a few at a time.  They tasted slightly stale but I was still craving them.

I am trying to do better today and to rest as much as possible before class tonight. My husband has come down with this too, and I came home early from class to find him already in bed even though it was only 8:00. He called off today. I am stuck going to class anyway, but other than class and office hours, I'm staying away from everyone.

I have one friend who keeps asking why I don't go to the doctor, but I'm pretty sure this is viral and there's nothing they could tell me other than to rest and take lots of fluids.  So that's what I'm doing for now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Biggest Loser Review: Season 14, Episode 5, Stay Focused

Warning: There are some spoilers in this one.

The supposed theme of this episode was "Healthy on a Budget," but there wasn't really a lot of information on that theme. The teams had to shop for their food with a budget of $10 per person per day. Danni got to shop with $70 but had the advantage of not having a whole team full of people to negotiate with.  Inexplicably, they also had to do it "Supermarket Sweep" style, with only 15 minutes to shop for each team.  Real healthy eating on a budget takes planning and thought. We didn't get to see an inventory of what each team bought, or how they planned to use it. I couldn't imagine why a team of 4 people bought 12 cucumbers, for example.  Does each person really eat 3 cucumbers per week?  Each of the multi-person teams seemed to have designated a "Mom" who did the math to figure out what they could afford.  We hear, here and there, that having to manage their own food caused some tension, but that wasn't really what this week's show was about.

It seemed, at least to me, that this week was about getting past all the distractions and drama and just getting the work done.  We had a kinder, gentler Jillian who didn't yell at Danni but nurtured her and made sure she was getting what she needed. Bob suddenly turned into Bad Bob, because he is getting impatient with his team's lackadaisical attitude and wants to see them work for it. All week, he ran around freaking out, "We're set up to fail this week!" This did not really seem to focus his team so much as send them into a tailspin.  The fact is that contestants can control their level of effort and their food intake but can't directly control the numbers on the scale, so there are a lot of superstitions, like "Win a Challenge, Lose the Weigh-in," and "The team that hasn't had an elimination is set up to fail." Danni, wisely, ignored Jillian's directive and did win the challenge, because it would give her a two-pound advantage in the weigh-in.

Just a side note: If you ever plan to go on The Biggest Loser, learn to swim. There are so few contestants who know how to swim that it becomes a huge advantage. Ali, the first female winner, was a former swimmer, and I can see Danni going to the finals with her big, athletic swimmer's body.  Her main rival, Joe, is also a pretty good swimmer.

Now that we're five weeks into this season, the contestants who have an athletic history seem to have a real advantage. They know how to shut up and be coached instead of yelling back.  They know how to push past discomfort but not get injured. They also have learned to roll with the punches: You win some, you lose some.  Plus, the body remembers. They do better in challenges. Joe, the former NFL player, obviously has a six-pack under his gut -- it's starting to show.

The other thing we see this week is that it does not pay, on TBL, to be a "mama" type. Danni, who normally cooks for the whole group, is freed from this duty because she is her own team and has only her own food to control.  Gina, the Blue Team's "mom," is starting to annoy her teammates, who thinks she "likes to play the victim." And Lisa, who is the ultimate mom -- four kids at home and a job as a special education teacher -- is the one her team chooses to send home when they lose the weigh-in, mainly because she is so nice that they're not afraid she will be mad at them. The good news is that she seems to have thrived at home. Maybe all the fake drama at the ranch helped her learn to stay focused on her own goals even in the midst of all the other demands on her time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weigh-in January 28: Just as predicted

Yesterday, I predicted that with my calorie intake for the week, I should lose about half a pound. That was based on my calorie balance for the week -- I was 1,360 over the intake Lose It recommended for me to lose one pound. I lost 0.4.  Pretty close to what I predicted.

I am really happy with my month's progress.  On January 4, I weighed 184.8, and 4 weeks later, I'm down 2.4 pounds -- just over half a pound a week.  That isn't huge, exciting weight loss, but it has been steady, and more importantly, it has been pretty easy. I haven't felt stressed out or pressured to be perfect.

All I have been doing is following Jillian's advice, the advice that appears on the bottom of each page in the web version of my blog:
"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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What I did this week: January 21-27

I had a good exercise week this week.  Ignoring the house cleaning and snow shoveling, I had more than 6 hours of exercise.  It was a very cold week here, so I didn't get out to run until yesterday, which meant more Spin classes.

Monday: Yoga class
Tuesday: 45 minutes of swimming on my own
Wednesday: 40-minute Spin class (didn't feel great, took it a little easier than usual)
Thursday: 40-minute Spin class (higher-intensity)
Friday: 40-minute Spin class (felt great, really pushed myself)
Saturday: Pilates Circuit class, came home and had a snack, felt good, so I decided to go out and run. 29 minutes of running and 5 minutes each of warmup/cooldown walking. My next run workout will end the Ease into 5K program for me, though I don't have plans to do a race until it warms up.
Sunday: One-hour swim workout with the Masters. I feel like I am getting stronger, though I still hate, hate, hate, hate the pull sets. I love kick sets. I must power my swim more with my legs than with my arms.

I did checklists for Monday and Tuesday, but not the rest of the week. I'm just going to summarize the whole week here: I might start doing this instead of posting a checklist every day to keep everyone from getting bored to death. 

  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: On it, 7/7 days.  Obviously, see above. The yoga class gave me an easier day, but I still did something.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Hit my target or less 4/7 days, went over 3/7. I would expect to lose about half a pound this week, according to my performance.
  • Take my supplements: Forgot them Monday but got them every other day.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: Met or exceeded 6/7 days.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: Hit it 4/7 days, missed 3/7.  This one really is hard to hit on lower-calorie days.

Review: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead on Netflix. I have seen and heard a lot of buzz on this film in the blogging community.  The documentary follows Joe Cross, an Aussie with a big personality and a bigger gut, on his 60-day juice fast and cross-country tour of the U.S.A. with his . The juicer may be the star of the show, and I'm pretty sure that Breville put up much of the money for this film. Along the way, he talks to ordinary people about what he is doing and asks them about their diets. I found the film entertaining and fun to watch, but not necessarily very informative.

Joe suffers from an autoimmune disorder called chronic uticaria, and when we first meet him, he is taking massive doses of prednisolone for it.  My cat is on this medication, and before we got the dose right, he got really big and puffed-up from it. I am sure that at least some of Joe's big gut was due to the steroids, and as he reduced his medicine throughout the movie, that swelling went down as well.  Implied, though not necessarily stated outright, is that the juices cured Joe of his condition, allowing him to decrease and eventually drop the medication. I think that he was careful not to claim this directly, because then he would be giving medical advice and could be in trouble with the FDA.

Juicing has always seemed a little faddish to me. I can see the appeal -- put in a whole bunch of healthy stuff and drink your veggies in a nutrient-packed, convenient glass instead of munching through cups and cups of vegetables. But it does seem better to eat your food instead of drinking it (Dr. Lustig backs me up on this). When I saw , I couldn't see the point of bothering with the juicer. As Joe Cross talks about his juice fast to the man-and-woman-on-the-street, they look at him like he is crazy and say, "I could never do that." He seems baffled why they wouldn't consider even giving it a try. I would think that the expense of buying a juicer, and then finding out I didn't really like or use it, would be a very good reason, personally. The main justification Joe Cross gives for suggesting the juice fast over a regular healthy diet is that it will help people change their tastes. It also is a little more interesting to suggest something dramatic and drastic than the boring old "eat your veggies."

The larger question of why people wouldn't consider making a change to their diets is more interesting to me. When Joe talks to the average people he meets about what he is doing, they wrinkle up their noses and say he's crazy.  They say that they would rather die "fat and happy" than live a few extra years of deprivation. The thing is, though, that these people are definitely fat but they don't look happy. They look awful. Their skin looks dull, their necks blend into their faces, their hair looks stringy.  He talks to one woman who looks particularly terrible, and when he asks her how old she is and she answers, I have to rewind to get another look at her. She's the same age as me, 42, and she looks like she could be my grandmother.

She's also standing in front of what is apparently her home, though, and it's obvious that she's living in extreme poverty. That is the unspoken undercurrent, to me, of the whole movie. These people are eating the way they are not because it's making them happy, but because it's what's available and affordable.  It's not easy to find healthy, affordable food in most of the U.S. Even in farm country, they are mostly growing corn and soybeans for pigs and cows, not vegetables and fruit for humans.  That's why the problem has to be addressed on a public health level, as Dr. Lustig suggests. When poor or lower-middle-class Americans try to make a big change in their diet, they are swimming upstream, and are going to get a lot of flak from friends and family who can't understand why they won't just "eat like a normal person" instead of making so much fuss.

That brings me to my favorite part of the film, when truck driver actually does take Joe up on his offer to juice fast. Phil is 429 pounds when he meets Joe and after a casual conversation about their shared skin condition, at first it seems that he will be just another person who listens to the spiel and goes back to eating his hamburger. But he calls Joe a few months later and asks if he still is willing to help him. Joe, back in Australia, jumps on a plane and sets Phil up with some medical tests, a juicer, and a little place on a lake to help him break away from his normal routine.  Phil has a lot of pain just walking, his weight is suffocating him when he tries to sleep, and he seems miserable and depressed. He has a BMI of 59 -- the chart ends at 60. His older brother, Bear, who weighs about 100 pounds less than him but is also still very obese, is worried about him. Astonishingly, Phil gets serious and really does change his life. I won't spoil it for you by detailing all the dramatic changes, but if you want, you can check an article catching up with him after the film ended. There is a dramatic scene later after brother Bear has a heart attack and reaches out to his younger brother for help. As they are sitting at Bear's dining room table, they go through his plastic ice cream bucket full of medications, more than $500 before insurance coverage.  This, I think, is supposed to counter our doubts about the cost of juicing and eating a healthy diet.

I think this movie will get a lot of people thinking, but I hope they don't think that they have to do something as dramatic as a 60-day juice fast to make big changes in their lives.  I know that dramatic changes make better movies, but those of us in real life can just start where we are, make gradual changes, and get big results too.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Favorite foods

For the curious, a list of my most-frequently-logged foods for the last 4 weeks, courtesy of Lose It:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fat Chance Review Part 2: Dr. Lustig's recommendations

, and the recommendations were pretty much the ones I predicted when I wrote my review. Much of the focus was on public-health solutions, which I agree are necessary, but I was more interested in the personal solutions, since those are the things that I have the ability to do.

The big one: "All successful diets share three precepts: Low sugar, high fiber (which means high micronutrients), and fat and carbohydrate consumed together [only] in the presence of an offsetting amount of fiber. Anything after that is window-dressing."

This explains why diets as varied as the Atkins Diet, the Ornish Diet, the vegan diet and the Paleo Diet all can result in weight loss -- they all limit sugar, and they either reduce fat (Ornish, vegan) or carbs (Atkins, Paleo) to reduce the load on the liver. But Dr. Lustig isn't a fan of going to extremes, as some of these can.  He doesn't see a need to cut out dairy (Atkins, Paleo) or all dietary fat (Ornish).

I was able to pick out a few more specific recommendations:

  • At all costs, avoid soda and other sweet drinks like VitaminWater, sports drinks, sweet tea, energy drinks. Juice is also out -- fruit and vegetables should be eaten with all their fiber intact.  He doesn't seem enthusiastic about diet drinks either. Plain, unsweetened milk is fine, even though it contains milk sugars, because of its nutritional value.
  • Keep sodas and junk food out of the house.
  • "Eat real food." Eat foods in their natural form, not pulverized, juiced, or processed.
  • Stay out of fast food restaurants.
  • Avoid trans fats. They can't be digested or metabolized properly, and they are only found in foods that are highly processed.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta.
  • Eat breakfast, preferably with plenty of protein. Eating early has a lot of benefits for hormonal balance and satiety. If you skip breakfast, you will more than make up for the "saved" calories by eating too much the rest of the day.
  • Avoid eating at night.
  • Get good sleep, again because of the importance to hormonal balance.
  • Exercise, not for its calorie burn, but because of all the other benefits: burning liver and muscle fat, increasing insulin sensitivity, and reducing stress and cortisol levels.
I think it would be hard to follow all of Dr. Lustig's recommendations, so I found it comforting to hear in an interview that he doesn't follow them all the time either. He said in an interview that he eats a half a bagel with cheese for breakfast, and sometimes he has a hard time finding food for lunch that's not processed.

For me, the easy ones are: No soda or juice, no fast food, eat breakfast, exercise.

The hard ones: Avoiding eating at night. I love to have a snack while watching TV at night, a double whammy.  And the hardest -- always eating food in its natural form. I bought a whole bunch of whole grains like amaranth, barley, etc. I like quinoa sometimes. No whole grain has the simple, comfort-food appeal of bread, pasta, white rice, mashed potatoes.  With those, I limit portions and try to have them with fiber and/or protein to try to minimize the damage. And, did I say I exercise a lot?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Eating "like a normal person"

I was listening to Jillian Michaels's latest podcast episode. The caller really got to me. She had lost 100 pounds on a low-carb diet, but as soon as she tried to eat "like a normal person," she said, the weight started coming back on.  Jillian asked her what eating like a normal person meant, and she hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that she had gone to lunch with a friend and had a bacon cheeseburger and fries.

Here's a reconstruction of the conversation from there:

"NOOOO!": screamed The Jillian

"Normal people can do that," said the caller.

"No, no they can't."

"They do!, normal people do."

"Well, half our population is obese, this is why!"

"I see people eating like that."

"Did you look at their bodies? They look like crap!"

I was a little disappointed that Jillian didn't explain that with a low-carb diet, your body dumps water, but when you eat carbs, the water comes back so that the extra carbs can be stored. But the larger point is right.  We have kind of a messed-up idea that some people can walk around, drink Coca-Cola and eat bacon cheeseburgers, and stay thin, if they're the right kind of people. This woman had gotten herself in a cycle of a very strict, boring diet to lose weight, and then going right back to her old bad habits when she got to her goal.

Sound familiar?  It does to me.

Jillian explained that if you lose weight the right way, the only difference when you get to maintenance is that you get to eat a little more. End of story.

This is why I'm so determined to do things the right way this time around.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Midweek weigh-in and daily checklists

I weighed in this morning at 182.8, back to my low from last week. Three more pounds and I will be in the 170s.  I am hoping that I can get there by the end of February. It's best to keep my expectations conservative, because I have never been a quick loser, and I want to lose fat, not lean mass.

I'm especially relieved that my weight is down because I had a couple of higher-calorie days, and was worried.  I didn't do a great job of planning Monday and Tuesday, and it showed in my calorie counts.  Today is going to be a little nuts because I will be watching my nephew this afternoon and then teaching in the evening. I haven't been eating junk, but overdoing it a bit on meals.

I've noticed a blog lull -- not as many people reading and commenting. I am hoping my daily checklists aren't getting too boring. I have been trying to include other types of posts to mix things up.

I swam yesterday. Even though the pool is indoors and well-heated, I was a little scared to go swim when it was so cold outside. I was very warm when I left, and I wore my dorky hat with earflaps, so I was fine. There were two women in the pool when I first got there, but they left fairly early and I had the pool to myself.

My swim workout was different, with more distance in the warmup. I was a little intimidated and then asked myself what the big deal was.  I did just fine.  It's interesting how many of our limitations are all in our heads. I modified the rest of the workout to finish in 45 minutes.

3 x 300 free (20 seconds of rest between each)
4 x 50 kick, IM order
200 pull
2 x 75 free drill (25 6-kick switch, 25 zipper, 25 fist)
4 x 25 fast on 40 (sprint, resting for whatever portion of the 40 seconds was left after the sprint)
50 kick free
150 easy free
(1750 total)

  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Did a 45-minute yoga class.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was 828 calories over, yikes. Bad planning.
  • Take my supplements: I forgot them.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: More than 100.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: 40+. It's easier to get the fiber on high-calorie days.

  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Was very proud of myself for getting out to swim when wind chills were in the negative numbers.   
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was 394 calories over. 
  • Take my supplements: I took them at my desk.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: I logged 126, and I know I didn't log all of the water I drank.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: 44 grams.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Biggest Loser Review: Season 14, Episode 4, Find Your Fire

I didn't notice a title on this week's Biggest Loser episode, but if I were to title it myself, I'd call it "Find Your Fire," because we see the kids and some of the adult contestants discovering their passions and drives. Other contestants seem to be lacking that energy and spark.

The adults on the ranch had to take care of themselves this week as the trainers flew off to check on the kids at home.  Each of the trainers seems to have been charged with planning a special experience for the kid on their team.

Sunny, the oldest of the three kids, confessed to Jillian that she wants to be more than a "smart Indian kid" and branch out and try new things. She is so worried about disappointing her parents and their expectation that she will attend an Ivy League school become a doctor that she stresses herself out with studying and doesn't do much else.  Her mother says that Sunny doesn't have to worry about being a disappointment, that they love and support her no matter what, which was a nice moment.  Jillian takes her to an introductory crew workshop for beginners in her hometown. Sunny seems like a natural rower, Jillian not so much.  Rowing seems like a good choice of activity for a girl who wants to go to an Ivy League college, and it might help her work off some of her stress so she's not dipping into the M&Ms.

Biingo (until this episode I didn't realize this was how he spelled his name) has a similarly cool experience practicing pitching in his local minor-league stadium with a real professional pitcher.  I was really impressed with his pitching -- granted I don't know much about baseball, but he looked like he had great form. It was obvious that he was really happy out there on the field. His home situation seemed a little bleak -- he and his parents are staying in his uncle's basement because his dad can't find construction work.  I really hope that the parents and kids are getting some compensation for being on the show, because they aren't competing for prizes and they're making big bucks for NBC.

I have to admit that my heart sunk when Dolvett chose to take Lindsay to work out with some cheerleaders in her Biggest Loser t-shirt. I know that Lindsay has a dream of being a cheerleader some day, but I think that another experience would have been more productive. I would have liked to see her build her confidence with sports or other activities that don't center so much on looking cute in a short skirt.  Dolvett's empty platitudes about "living your dreams" and "people aren't going to judge you" are not in touch with the reality of mean girls who might hug her when the cameras are on but then laugh at her when the TV crews leave. The fact that Lindsay was bullied by the cheerleaders at her middle school should have tipped Dolvett off that this wasn't a great idea. I think it would have been fine to have her visit the cheerleaders later, when she was feeling a little less fragile and more self-assured.

A couple of the adult contestants really stepped it up in their trainers' absence.  Jackson, who has been sick and a mess since the show started actually took on the role of leading his group and seemed to change overnight. When asked about it, he said, "I've always been a ripped, bald, Black man on the inside." It was a funny moment.  The white team members also seemed to be in great form, especially during the 5K, where Danni took first place and Pam took third, despite Pam's dislike of running. They got to split the $15,000 prize only two ways, so being part of a small team isn't all bad.   Pam's weird mannerisms and attention-seeking behavior really bugged me in this episode, but Danni is solid. I can see her making it all the way to the finals.

Other contestants, including the entire Blue Team, seemed to use the trainers' absence as a chance to slack off.  Joe, who was a star football player and even played in the NFL, seems to really be holding back too. When Dolvett returns and confronts him, asking how he could be doing so poorly with his athletic past, I realized that was probably what Joe says to himself every day. I think he is going to have a hard time moving forward until he forgives himself. Going from being a football player to a "senior sales executive" is enough explanation for weight gain -- it would be really hard to adjust to eating for a normal person's lifestyle.

I am really impressed with how athletic some of the contestants are starting to seem. I think we are going to start seeing some real transformation soon. Overall, I am really enjoying this season so far.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Weigh-In January 21: Woohoo! I'm overweight!

I weighed in this morning at 183.  I finally made my December goal of being merely overweight, and not obese.

Today's weight is down 2.8 from my weight last Monday, and up 0.2 from my low weight last Friday. Still, this is my lowest Monday weight in a long time, and I feel like it's proof that what I'm doing is working. My weight is dropping slowly but steadily, and my body fat is also on a slow but downward trend.

My next weight goal is to get into the 170s.

The best part is that just like those Weight Watchers commercials, I'm finding that I don't have to be perfect to lose weight. I miscalculated the calories and overdid it on sushi on Friday, had a night out at the bar with pizza and a hard cider on Saturday, and had a family dinner where I toned it down a bit but still felt like I overdid it yesterday. And my weight is still down, even if it is up a tick.

I think the daily exercise is a big part of it, but also logging my food even when I'm over, and keeping my checklist in mind when making food choices. I'm not sure if the supplements (multivitamin, fish oil, flaxseed oil, plus one of those joint supplements) make a difference, but I will keep taking them -- why mess with success?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I did this week -- January 14-20

According to Lose It!, I have done 7 hours and 20 minutes of exercise this week. Leaving out the house cleaning (which I only give myself credit for when I spend a big chunk of time doing it), I did 6 hours and 40 minutes. You can see the rest of the breakdown above. As you can see, it's not all strenuous activity. I was over my calories by a little more than 1,000 this week, so I would expect around a 0.6 loss. We will see tomorrow.

Monday: Ran 20 minutes with 5 minutes each warmup and cooldown walk. 30 minutes of a yoga class.

Tuesday: Swam 1 hour on my own.

Wednesday:  Walked 30 minutes. Felt like I needed an easy day.

Thursday: Spin class, 55 minutes.
Friday: 28 minutes of running with 5 minutes each warmup and cooldown walk.

Saturday: Pilates Circuit class.
Sunday: Walked 20 minutes. Swam 1 hour with my Masters' Swim group. I feel like I'm getting stronger.
I realize that next week I will finish the Ease Into 5K program for the bazillionth time, but I don't have any races planned.  I would rather wait until spring.

Daily checklists for this weekend:

  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Yes, see above.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was 645 calories over.
  • Take my supplements: I took them with lunch.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: Got a little extra.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I was low, about 31.


  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Pilates Circuit.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was 774 calories over.
  • Take my supplements: I took them with a snack.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: I got about 112.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I got a little extra, around 42.


  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Swam.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Will be about 100 calories under with my planned snack.
  • Take my supplements: I took them with a snack.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: 144 ounces.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: Just under, at 30.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recipe: White Chicken Chili

Adapted from "White Chili," p. 224 in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (2005), by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman.

I love my slow cooker and this cookbook is my favorite source of recipes for what to do with it. I tweaked this recipe in a few ways, by using fewer beans and less broth, and by slightly changing up the chilis and vegetables.


1 1/4 cups Great Northern Beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight or quick-soaked (what I did), and drained
2 small yellow unions, diced
1/2 cup celery with leaves, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 chicken breast halves, cut in half
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced (wear gloves so you don't get the juice on your hands)
1 4-ounce can of roasted green chilies
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper

For topping  as pictured (optional, calories are without)
green onions
fresh cilantro, chopped
shredded cheddar cheese

Put the beans into the slow cooker with the broth, the garlic, and half the onions. Cover and cook on high for 2-2 1/2 hours until tender but not mushy.

 Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the rest of the onions, the jalapeno and the chicken breasts.  Cook 5-6 minutes, turning as necessary, until the chicken is lightly browned on the outside. Add the contents of the skillet to the slow cooker along with the chilies and the spices. Make sure the chicken is covered with the liquid.  Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 6-6 1/2 hours.

Remove the chicken breasts from the slow cooker and place in a pie pan or other dish with sides.  Shred the chicken with two forks.  Using a potato masher, mash some of the beans to thicken the chili.  Stir the chicken back into the beans. Cover and let cook a few more minutes to let everything combine.  Serve topped with shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions, and salsa if desired.

This is a mild chili, so you could definitely add more spices if you like your chili hot.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Fat Chance

Normally, I don't do a book review before I have completely finished reading a book, but I really wanted to share this one, . I subscribe to the NPR "Your Health" podcast and heard an interview with the author, Dr. Robert Lustig, called "The Fallacies of Fat." I was so fascinated by the interview that I immediately bought the audiobook on Audible, and have been listening ever since. I'm as far as Part 5, when the author starts to explain what we can do about fat and excess weight. I'm finding the book really fascinating. It explains the biochemistry behind our excess weight.

Lustig places the blame for what he calls the "obesity pandemic" (pandemic because it's worldwide) squarely on the shoulders of fructose.  Not, as some gurus have, specificially on high-fructose corn syrup, but fructose itself, in every form except whole fruit. Fructose is worse than glucose because every cell in the body can metabolize glucose, but the only part of the body that can handle fructose is the liver.  I know we've all heard about the sugar-insulin-fat link before, but knowing why and how fructose is so bad is helpful -- I was at a co-worker's farewell party today and easily said no to the cake, because all I could think of was that frosting turning to toxic fat in my liver.  I've stayed away from sugar (and diet) sodas for a couple of years now, because of my family history of diabetes, and it seems like that was a good instinct. Dr. Lustig says that the big problem with high fructose corn syrup is that it's cheap, so we have more of it.  I am guessing that cheap sodas, sugary drinks, and juice are responsible for a huge percentage of the increase in obesity. I'm old enough to remember when restaurants did not offer free refills on sodas and vending machines sold 12-ounce cans instead of 20-ounce bottles.

I actually wonder if the reason I have had less trouble restricting my calories lately is that I have cut most of the added sugars out of my diet -- except when I am with my family, which is when I feel most out-of-control around food. At home, I have very few sugary foods around, and I keep my dark chocolate stash (I have a serving now and then) in an opaque jar. My parents' house has open dishes of candy everywhere and I always thoughtlessly grab some as I'm walking by. Dr. Lustig would not be surprised to know that the first piece always leads to several more.

The parts of the book destined to be controversial among the readers of this blog are his suggestion that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a person to make changes to subcutaneous fat through diet and exercise, because the body will fight the change. According to Dr. Lustig, we can do side-bends and situps, but we won't lose that butt. (OK, he doesn't quite say it like that, but he does mention Sir-Mix-A-Lot when talking about differences in attitudes about fat between ethnic groups.)

The fact that exercise won't get rid of saddlebags doesn't let us off the hook, though. The reason to exercise and "eat properly" (which requires a lot of explanation but Lustig mostly agrees Michael Pollan's advice) is to decrease the amount of visceral fat, which accounts for only 4-5 pounds of body weight but almost all of the negative health effects associated with excess weight. Exercise and proper food is also the best antidote to insulin resistance, which is the big bad guy responsible for most of our modern health problems. Even if we can't get rid of our "big-butt fat," the subcutaneous fat that causes swimsuit shame, we can be healthier. "It's better to be fat and fit than to be thin and sick," says Dr. Lustig, and skinny people can have visceral fat and metabolic problems without being aware of them.

I am still holding out hope that I can get rid of my "big-butt fat," but am also grateful for another confirmation that doing the right thing is its own reward, no matter what the scale says.  If there are any fat-busting secrets in the second half of the book, I will be sure to let you know.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ditching the drama

Vickie asked, in response to my last post, "What was the drama?" I had said I thought "removing the drama" was making it easier for me to succeed. I didn't mean any specific drama, but more my past approach to weight loss. I thought I had to do everything to extremes or just do nothing at all. I thought I had to "go big or go home" with exercise. I felt desperate to lose so that I would feel okay about myself.

I feel pretty okay about myself now. I want to lose weight, but it's not the central drama of my life. I have become convinced, in recent years, that losing weight won't make people love me more or make me a better person. It sounds ridiculous to say that but I really did feel that way.

It doesn't mean I don't sometimes have moments of body shame. I can think of two people in my life who don't seem to treat me as well as they should because they write me off as "less than" because I'm overweight. I think of this as their limitation, not mine.

My approach to weight loss right now is pretty dull, too. A moderate amount of calories, spread out throughout the day so I don't get too hungry. When possible, planning meals so that I know I'm going to get something good that fits within my plan.  I made a great chicken chili today that I think is going to be even better as leftovers.  Getting a minimum amount of exercise each day but being willing to dial back the intensity on days I don't feel up to an intense workout. Making good food choices 90% of the time but having a piece of chocolate or an order of fries now and then if that's what I really want and fitting them into my calorie budget. I'm feeling fit and strong and calm.

Daily checklists:


  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Took a 30-minute walk.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was 14 calories under my limit.
  • Take my supplements: I took them at my desk.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: I got about 112.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I was low, probably around 22.

Thursday (today):

  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Did a Spin class and got there early, so 40 minutes of intense cycling and 15 of moderate work.
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": I'm 113 calories under my limit.
  • Take my supplements: I took them with my post-workout snack.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: I'm at 116 ounces and am drinking another glass of water now.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I'm at 42.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Midweek weigh-in and daily checklists

I was down to 183 this morning, which was a relief. I didn't like seeing Monday's weigh-in going all the way back to the start, even though I knew that it was mostly water weight from too much salt. As I figured, that weird body fat reading was just a fluke -- I'm back on my normal trend line. I don't fully understand how the body fat scale works.

Overall, I feel pretty relaxed about my goals and sure that I can make them happen.

I need to catch up with my Daily Checklists for those playing along at home, so here goes. I felt good to hit every goal after my chaotic weekend. I taught my first class of the semester last night, so I was especially glad to be under calories yesterday:


  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Did a 20-minute run and 10 minutes of walking, plus a yoga class (about 30 minutes because I came in a little late)
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was under budget.
  • Take my supplements: I took them with an afternoon snack.
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: Just over.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I had 42.


  • Average 300 minutes of exercise, with at least 30 minutes per day: Did a one-hour swim
  • Log all food in Lose It! and stay in the "green zone": Was under budget.
  • Take my supplements: I took them at my desk (I have extras in my desk drawer)
  • Drink at least 90 ounces of liquids today: 108.
  • Get at least 35 grams of fiber: I had 37.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Biggest Loser Review: Season 14, Part 3, "Dump the Junk"

I think the producers must be reading my blog, because all of my complaints about the show from my last post seem to have been addressed. There was less manufactured drama and more real interaction with the contestants.  The segments were also a lot more educational.

The contestants competed in a quiz about childhood obesity. Some of the facts were pretty staggering.  I knew that more than 30 percent of kids are now obese, but I was shocked to hear that 60 percent of overweight kids already have a risk factor for heart disease, and that 75% of their parents thought they were normal weight or even underweight. The contestants must of been surprised too, because they didn't do that well on the quiz.

The penalty for the Blue Team for losing the quiz was a powerful piece of social commentary: They were locked in "The Kids' Room" for 4.5 hours (which we just learned is the average amount of time kids spend watching TV). The room was filled with video games, a big television, and a ridiculous pile of salty snacks, sodas, donuts, pizza, and other "goodies." The contestants were not allowed to work out during this time, so no pushups in front of the television or marching in place. They just had to sit.  It looked incredibly boring. The contestants got the junk out of the way and one of them ruined all the food by pouring orange juice over it, and then they just sat and slept.  They came out of the room looking lethargic and depressed. They got to work out with Bob afterward, but they didn't feel very good after spending so much time sitting and being bored. And lest we think that this is an unrealistic scenario, we learn that Bingo often spends 9 hours on the weekend playing his favorite video game, and about 4 hours on school nights, snacking while playing.

I'm not sure what the alternatives are, and The Biggest Loser doesn't tell us. Obviously, sports and other structured activities are great for kids who have the ability and the resources do them. This can't be the answer for everyone, though, because a lot of parents don't have the resources for that or the time to shuttle kids around to them, and not every kid has the interest or ability. I liked that The Biggest Loser gave each kid bikes in the first episode, so that they could ride around for transportation and fun. Unfortunately, a lot of neighborhoods aren't safe places to ride. Drivers aren't friendly to bikes and there aren't many bike lanes where I live.

The big problem, one that a show like The Biggest Loser can point to but can't really solve, is that we don't have a society that is set up well to take care of kids (or adults for that matter). Most adults are having to work more hours to make ends meet. Kids are often, by financial necessity, coming home to an empty house and left to their own devices.  Most parents don't feel that it's safe for their kids to travel around unsupervised, so that means they're usually stuck at home alone. There may or may not be other kids for them to play with, which is what most kids would want to do with free time. So when they're not in sports or activities or school, they're in front of some kind of screen. Kids in cities might have resources like the Boys' and Girls' Clubs or the YMCA, but kids in suburbs or exurbs are mostly on their own. I'm not a parent, so I'd like to hear what parents thought of this segment.

The other segment with kids was the "Dump the Junk" pantry cleanout by the nutritionist. I was happy to see sugary beverages, including Coca-Cola, called out for their part in the problem.  But again, no clear alternative was presented. Sure, the nutritionist said, "We're going to replace those with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables." Hooray. But when Froot Loops claim to be rich in whole grains and fruit gummy snacks claim to be made with real fruit, it's possible that parents might replace honest junk with other junk that claims to be good food. Real whole grains take a long time to cook, and parents often don't want to spend a lot of time making healthy meals that kids will refuse to eat.  Maybe there will be a Biggest Loser Cookbook for Kids. There are already Biggest Loser carrots. The good news is that a show like this has a lot of weight to throw around if NBC has real interest in making a difference in kids' lives. They could, for example, refuse to sell junk food ads and fast food ads during kids' shows.  And they could help fund after-school activities for kids.

Even with the adults, the segments were more substantial than they were in the last two weeks. Jillian is working out with her two contestants and one of the Red Team members decides to work out with them. She sticks around when Jillian starts talking about emotional issues and we find out that a big part of her problem is that she has guilt and mixed feelings about her father, who had a lot of big mood swings, and when he died early, it felt like more of a relief than a tragedy.  Jillian asked if he was an alcoholic, and he was.  This kind of story, and not the huge dramatic car accidents and childhood abuse, is probably the source of most contestants' food issues. It was nice to see it calmly and reasonably discussed.  We also see Pam working on her issues around inadequacy and self-sabotage.  All of this is presented in a way that is interesting but not sensationalized.  Here Jillian's yelling seems to serve a real purpose, breaking through Pam's denial  -- that's what happens when we are given the whole story and not just the screaming.  It wasn't the quantity of the yelling in the premiere that bothered me as much as its apparent pointlessness -- Jillian seemed to be attacking someone for no reason. Again, I think it was an editing problem, and it was solved in this episode.

The challenge this time was a fun and somewhat disgusting slog through a pit of liquid bubble gum, all for a year's supply of groceries for the contestants on the winning team. We saw some real athleticism in a few of the women, and the bigger guys definitely were at a disadvantage. Just after three weeks, some of the contestants are becoming real powerhouses in the challenges.  This, to me, is the most impressive aspect of the show, and the reason that I would jump at the chance to go to the Biggest Loser Resort if anyone was ever willing to pay my way.  I'd love to see what I could do with a few weeks of intensive training like that.

Finally, I really like how they changed the elimination process. Each player votes alone, and it doesn't look like players have a chance to plead their case to the team. In the past, we really saw weaker players enabled by their team members' guilt, and I thought a few of those players took advantage of it. The player eliminated this time was not the one I would have chosen, but that player did seem to feel ready to take on weight loss solo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Weird weigh-in, January 14

My weight being up today did not surprise me. Today's body-fat reading made no sense at all. On FatWatch, which calculates body fat weight from the percentage, I would appear to be down almost 8 pounds of fat.

Without getting into TMI, I am not feeling well this morning and my whole system feels off.

I had too much restaurant and prepared food, way too much salt, and too few fruits and vegetables. My sleep was off. All I can say is, I am happy to be back to normal.

I start teaching again this week, so that adds another twist. My classes are four hours long and in the evenings, with other obligations during the day. Not complaining, just acknowledging the challenge. Because class runs across the whole dinner hour, I am going to plan to have a more substantial 4:00 (teatime) snack and a smaller dinner when I get home.  I only have two evening classes, Tuesday and Wednesday, so I should be able to make it work if I plan appropriately.

I did some things right last week -- the big one is that I logged all my food even on the bad days. I was about 50% on making good choices even in bad situations.  Still, it was a little too easy to give in to bad choices because I had failed to plan to bring healthy stuff with me to get me through the hungry times when I didn't know what or when I was going to get to eat.  That chaotic feeling is a big trigger for me, and spending time around little kids is inherently chaotic.

Again, I'm so glad to be in my own environment with all my tools for success. And, I just found out that I will be going to California a couple of weeks before FitBloggin' (four cross-country flights in one month, eek), so I have even more motivation to be looking and feeling good in June.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home
"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