Achieving a goal

I haven’t quite done it yet, but I’m almost there.  I have lost a little over 11 pounds. My goal is to lose 15.  I’ve been surprised how relatively easy it’s been.  Mostly it’s taken consistency and a little willpower.  I’ve changed a lot about how I eat and live, but the changes were actually kind of minor.  I cut out soda, desserts, alcohol, and carb-loaded snacks as daily occurrences.  They became treats.  I substituted fruit and vegetables, water and Crystal Light.  I can’t remember the last time I had a dessert, but I’d have one if I wanted to.  I’ve had wine a couple of days a week.  I have not gone hungry.  If I felt hungry, I ate something.  I just made sure it was healthy.

I’ve also moved more.  When I started school this week, I made sure I carried my phone with me wherever I went.  My phone is also my pedometer.  The first two days of school, I walked over 2 miles each day.  Yesterday, I didn’t get to that point, so I went for a walk when I got home.  My plan next week is to take clothes with me and go for a walk after school.  We have our academic evenings next week (3 in a row for me on T/W/Th) so I will be stuck at school until about 9 p.m. At the end of the school day, I plan to strike out on a walk, come back, shower in our lovely gym, change into nice clothes and be all refreshed for parents.  This is going to be my biggest struggle, keeping up the exercise when life gets busy.  But, now that I’ve made it a habit, I actually look forward to it.  It feels good to be outside in the fresh air.

Achieving a long term goal like losing weight, writing a book (or a dissertation), or reaching a savings goal takes some work, but mostly it takes patience, and small changes that lead to big things.  When I was writing my dissertation, I either set a page goal or a time goal.  I aimed for a single page or two or I wrote for an hour.  Doing that every day got me to almost 200 pages.  I think people look at a big goal and don’t think about the little steps it might take to get there.  They think it has to get done now!  They underestimate the time it might take, or they don’t, and are discouraged by the time it takes.  Maybe if I was someone whose eating habits weren’t already pretty good, losing weight would have been harder.  But still, I think you could take it one step at a time.  Start by not drinking soda, for example.  Then worry about the french fries.

I’m working on a couple of other long term goals right now.  They’re a bit harder, but making this much progress on the weight loss goal has made me feel like I can achieve other goals.

Losing weight, trimming debt, and data

As I write this, I’m halfway to my goal weight, something I honestly wasn’t sure I’d accomplish. But I’ve really replaced some old habits with new ones that are healthier. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m hoping that I’ll mostly stick with these habits long term. Data has been a big part of that, at least for me. I’ve tracked every calorie in and every calorie out. Just knowing that grapes have very few calories compared to chips is huge. I mean, you could guess that. You know that intuitively, but to really see that every time I eat a handful of grapes, it’s less than half the calories as the same handful of chips. And, according to an article I read a while back (whose link is lost to the black hole that is the Internet), it’s likely my body actually burns calories to process those grapes while it doesn’t have to burn as much for the chips, netting fewer calories overall. Here are just a few things I’ve done that I’ve found helpful:

  • Eat the healthiest thing on the plate first. Salad, vegetables, etc. then you’re less hungry for the things that pack more calories or fat.
  • When going for seconds, get the healthy stuff. Again, get veggies or salad not potatoes or fries or meat.
  • For dessert, eat fruit. It’s sweet and tasty, better than chocolate cake.
  • You can have a beer or glass of wine or cocktail and still lose weight. Consider it a treat.
  • Count everything as you go. You don’t want to get to dinner and find out you’ve gone over your allotted amount of calories. If you have a big lunch, there’s still time to work off those calories before dinner.
  • Move. Every day. Just get up and do something. Walk, go up and down your stairs. Garden, wash the car, chase the dog.
  • Wear what you have. You don’t need fancy clothes to exercise in. You can walk in your street clothes even.
  • If it’s less than a mile, walk. If it’s less than two miles, walk or ride a bike.
  • Weigh yourself (or measure your waist or whatever you are concerned about). I weigh every day even though it’s very up and down. Some people prefer once a week. I just like the data I get.
  • If you’re hungry, eat, but eat healthy. Never go hungry. It’s not going to stick if you’re starving all the time. When you’re hungry, you’re more likely indulge in those chips or the cake. I keep fruit, granola bars, carrots, cheese, etc. around for snacks.

None of these things take that much time. Some days I walk longer than others. Some days I make more elaborate meals than others. When I’m pressed for time, I make something easy and I only walk for 1/2 hour.
On the debt front, things are moving more slowly because I just started and, unlike weight, I can’t track my debt reduction day by day. It’s a month by month thing. But I can track my money. The main way we got into the debt we’re in is overspending. Knowing how much we have in our bank account means we are less likely to overspend. I was never good at tracking money. I think there was one year where I actually wrote everything down. But everything’s online now and we don’t really write checks, so it’s easy to keep track of.

I check our account every day and figure out about how much we need to spend before the next paycheck: what bills are due, what food we need, and what other items we need (clothes, home items, etc.). Food and bills are non-negotiable, though I can trim the grocery budget usually. It might mean we stay in versus going out. And seeing what we have, I can better decide if we can buy school clothes or get some books we want or go out to dinner. In other words, I can plan! Right now, things are a bit tight as I try to put a little extra toward debt and savings. My hope is in a few months, it will feel less tight as the debt dwindles a bit. It’s going to be a long haul, but weirdly, having had success on the weight front makes me feel like I can succeed on the debt front, as long as I keep track of things.

Weight loss update

I’m making steady progress.  If you look at my weight today and my weight 3 weeks ago when I started this, I’ve lost 5 lbs.  I really think it’s closer to 3 as my weight bounces around a fair amount.  Basically, my daily weight bounces up and down, but has been on a downward trend.  Here’s the chart:

chart_1 (1)


While the changes aren’t that exciting (a statistician would probably deem this not significant), it definitely feels like a downward trend to me.  The dips are lower and the bump up is also lower.  I dipped below 120 for the first time in ages.  Despite its ups and downs, I like the feedback from weighing every day.  The big jump ups I can usually predict (after July 4th, after a conference), so I don’t get too discouraged.

All I’ve really done is keep track of my calories (keeping it under a certain amount) and added in activity every day.  I’ve mostly eliminated sugar (desserts and soda), substituting sugar free drinks (Crystal Light) or water and fruit.  My activities have included walking, bicycling, gardening, and swimming.  If I can move around to make something happen, that’s what I do.

I’m crossing my fingers I can lose 5 more pounds before school starts. Then, I think I’ll be in good shape to maintain my weight from there.

Activity and Empty Calories

As a techie person, I spend a lot of time in front of a screen, sitting in front of a screen.  Inertia sets in and it gets hard to get up an move.  When I’m teaching, there are plenty of times when I’m not sitting, but still, a lot of my work is very sedentary.  This summer, I’m trying to set better habits that I hope will continue once the school year starts.  As I’ve mentioned before, technology has been a help, particularly Lose It! where I track my calories and activity.  I get bored easily (it’s one reason I love working in both education and computing: never boring!!), so I have to change up my activity or I just won’t do it.  I love being outside, so I keep an eye on the weather and aim for getting outside.  So far, I’ve mostly been walking a couple of miles most days.  I got bored with that (since I generally follow the same route).  So lately, I’ve been gardening for an hour or so, which is still quite a workout.  I also washed the car and walked to the Farmer’s Market. I even transplanted a shrub yesterday!  Today, I have more gardening planned if the rain lets up.  Otherwise, I’ll walk in the rain.  Basically, if 4 o’clock rolls around and I haven’t done anything, I head out for a walk.

The other way technology has helped is to see not only how many calories I’m consuming, but what they are.  This has allowed me to really visualize the empty calories I consume: oil, mayonnaise, soda, cream, etc.  I’ve also been trying to watch the carbs.  Yesterday, we had sandwiches and mac and cheese for dinner.  I skipped the mac and cheese and opted for a salad.  It’s still hard to keep the carbs down.

I have seen some very minor progress so far, but hopefully the longer I keep at it, the more progress I’ll see.

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Let’s talk about food

summer lunch
summer lunch (Photo credit: lorda)

So I invested in a scale yesterday.  And it was not pretty.  I’ve gained close to 10 pounds since starting my job.  I had gained close to 10 pounds after quitting my previous job, which I wrote off as being at home and having ready access to food as well as sitting most of the day.  That’s 20 pounds in about 5 years.  At that rate, in 20 more years, I’d be 80 pounds heavier than I am now.  And that is truly not acceptable.

While I was away, I logged my food, but did not count my alcohol intake.  Food-wise I did pretty good, staying under my preferred calories (usually by adding in exercise). With the alcohol, though, I’m certain I was way over.  I’m not finding it difficult, really at all.  I even had a scoop of ice-cream or two.  Normally, that would be two scoops a day.  The fact that I only had two all week is a victory.  The alcohol intake is problematic.  While I do go for days without drinking, in the summer, that’s more rare.  But I’m sure that the glass of wine or two or the beer or two a night is a contributing factor to that 10 pounds.  Not to mention the chips and dip.

Exercise is what I really need to work on because I can easily eliminate problem foods, even the alcohol, but it doesn’t matter if I don’t exercise.  But I need to do both.  I don’t think I can eat and drink whatever I want every day even if I exercise and expect to even maintain my weight.  My metabolism just isn’t what it used to be.

I’ve been exercising almost every day.  I at least take a walk every day.  I walk close to 2 miles, which takes about 40 minutes, so it’s a good pace.  But, I’m realizing I need to do a bit more, maybe something more active.  Running is out of the question.  I tried and it killed my back and knee.  I want to be able to walk when I’m 60 even if I am 60 pounds overweight.  I rented a bike at the beach and that worked out well.  I only rode about 10 miles or so at a time but still, that was better exercise (and more fun) than walking.  I do think the exercise thing is becoming a habit.  And that’s a good thing.  Hopefully, I can keep that up.

Yesterday, I read this article in The Atlantic, to which I said, yes, yes, yes.  I love organic and local food, but with a busy schedule and a tight budget, it’s just not possible for me to take the “moral high road” as often as I’d like.  What I’d like to see is processed food that’s better for you and still tastes pretty good and is reasonably priced, which is what the article argues for.  On the road, we resorted to fast food, stopping at a Burger King, a Taco Bell, a Subway, and a Cracker Barrel.  There are healthy, even vegetarian, options at all those places.  Usually only one, maybe two, but still it’s possible to eat healthy fast food.  Cracker Barrel had the most options.  All their meals in the wholesome menu were around 500 calories and low in fat and carbs.  And they cost the same as other menu options. We need more of that: a less fatty burger, side items besides fries, smoothies that don’t have 4 million calories even if they do have some additives.  I cook a lot.  We have vegetables all the time, which I cut and steam, etc.  But things do get busy and I need options that don’t make me feel like I’m poisoning myself or my family.

I will gladly support a fast-food place that’s working to be more sustainable and more healthy and keep costs down. And I will gladly put pressure on them to do so, rather than banning them from my diet altogether. To me, that makes more sense, because I don’t think McDonald’s is going away any time soon and I don’t think it’s going to be replaced by some health food version of it either.  I think having quick and easy and healthy options would help me–and a whole lot of other people.

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Update on the body front

So far so good.  I’m using a fair amount of technology to keep track of my progress.  I’m using LoseIt to track food and RunKeeper to track actual exercise as well as Accupedo for tracking basic steps taken throughout the day.  Here’s what I’ve learned over the last few days:

  1. I eat a lot of carbs.  Most days over 50% of my intake is carbs.  I can’t decide if that’s bad or good.  Most of my carbs are things like whole wheat bread and brown rice and beans.  Aren’t we supposed to eat more grains?
  2. I’m pretty sedentary.  Even with a 30-40 minute walk during the day, I barely break 5,000 steps per day.  And I wish I could blame that on the fact that I don’t always carry my phone with me.
  3. The 4 p.m. time slot works pretty well, though it comes up fast on days when I don’t get started until 9/9:30.  During the school year, when I start at 7:30, 4 p.m. definitely feels like the end of the day.  Now, it feels like 2/3 of the way through.  But I’m going to stick with it.
  4. My shorts still fit!  I put on some of my non-elastic waistband shorts this morning and though one pair felt a little tight (always has really), they all fit comfortably.  I’d love for them to be just a smidge looser.  I’m talking a 1/2 inch or so off the waistline.

So that’s all pretty good feedback.  I’m actually going to invest in a scale, so I can see the weight feedback.  Next week when I’m on vacation, all bets are kind of off on the food front.  I don’t have a huge amount of control over the food, especially for dinner.  On the flip side, I’m more active, so it could work out just fine.  I’m not going to be fanatic about it, but I’m still going to try to maintain better eating and exercising habits than I might otherwise.  Another thing I’m doing is working on a minor knee injury, which is adding a little to my exercise plate.  Not burning very many calories, but certainly beefing up some muscle.

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Body image, take 45

I went swimsuit shopping yesterday.  Such a painful process.  When I’m wearing clothes, I feel pretty good about my looks and body shape.  I feel like I’m at a point where I select clothes that accentuate the good and downplay the bad.  I look pretty good most days.  But a bathing suit can’t hide as much as I’d like it to, so I’m forced to face those parts of my body that haven’t aged well, that I haven’t taken care of.  Sigh.

Mr. Geeky is always telling me I look good (he’s a smart hubby), and I know he really means it, but this is a part of my life I’ve neglected, and not just recently.  I’ve never, not since 8th grade, worked very hard to stay in shape.  I was blessed until my early 30s with a good metabolism and good eating habits.  I would sometimes binge exercise–after having kids, for example–but never established any kind of routine or fit it into my lifestyle.  When things get busy or stressful, I often resort to really bad eating habits: chips and dip, ice cream, bags of candy.  I can’t seem to stay on track.

The thing is, I do have a lot going on, and unlike family dinners or blogging, for that matter, health and exercise are at the bottom of my list. The only person I’m accountable to for eating well and moving around some is myself.  I’m not in poor enough health to be concerned for my life, and my immediate family could care less if my love handles are bigger than I’d like.  In other words, I lack good incentives.

Lately, I’ve come to believe in feedback.  I know, duh.  A few years ago, I read Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), which is a great read if you like nonfiction.  One of the big messages in that is that drivers don’t get enough feedback about how fast they’re going, so they don’t know to slow down.  I’ve used a feedback loop to help manage my finances.  Basically, I check my accounts every couple of days.  While I still have a lot of work to do on the finance front, I have a very good idea of the areas that need work.  I need something similar for my health.  The standard feedback is pounds lost, of course, but a) I don’t have a scale; and b) it’s not enough of a reward to keep me motivated.  I’m a sucker for rewards.  I use them to trick myself all the time.  When I was a waitress, I would reward myself with a CD purchase if I made more than a certain amount in tips.  I was trying to save money at the time for a big purchase, but didn’t want to deprive myself too much.  So I calculated how much I needed to make in tips each night to have enough to meet my goal and if I made $10 or so over that, I’d buy a CD.  It worked really well.  I’d sometimes work an extra hour to make that or take on an extra table.

A while back, I was sort of rewarding/punishing myself by saying I couldn’t buy any new clothes until I lost weight, but again, the slowness of that feedback didn’t really work.  I need rewards for short and long term success.  Preferably things that don’t cost anything.  I read somewhere that one should think of “getting to” exercise rather than “having to” exercise.  I don’t think that small adjustment to thinking is going to work for me.  I’ve also thought about doing activities I like, but some of the things I like are expensive.

But, I have some ideas.  I’m going to try them over the summer and see if they work.  Here they are.

1. Vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch (I actually almost already do this, so I don’t think this will be too hard).

2. Some kind of activity every day at 4:00.  – I picked 4:00 because even on work days I’m usually free.  If I get in the habit over the summer, maybe I can stick with it during the school year.

3. No sugar.  I’m a sucker for sugar, but I don’t usually miss it when I don’t have it.  I’m not including alcohol because, hey, it’s summer and I know that’s not going to happen.

And that’s it for now.  I’m going to work on the reward part.  A bath after my workout? A new piece of clothing after a week?  We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.  And if you have ideas, please let me know.  The things listed above, I’ve gotten from other places myself.  If something’s worked for you, I’d love to hear about it.

Spring Renewal

Today is the last day of spring break. Tomorrow we all head back to work and school and begin the sprint until summer vacation.  We really only have about 6 weeks left.  Exams begin before memorial day and yes, there will be frantic grading, but the daily instruction ends just before memorial day.

We travelled over break, which was a good thing, though tiring.  We visited family in various parts of the country, driving 12 hours straight to get back home on Friday, a day earlier than planned.

I spent the last couple of days cleaning a bit and thinking a bit.  Now is about the time that those New Year’s resolutions start to fade.  I had resolved to keep up with our finances better.  I did well in January and February, and then March came and it all went to hell.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I had wanted to keep tabs on spending so we could control it better. My goal is to save enough money for our vacation, so we don’t resort to credit spending, which is often what happens.  I’m trying to pay off the credit debt as well, but extra medical expenses from this year’s mental health crisis have used up any extra I might have had to do that.  We’re still paying those expenses off, as well as incurring new ones.

I’m also slightly disgusted with my body right now.  I started doing yoga again, but the 10-15 lbs I’ve put on over the years that have bumped me up a couple of sizes and made me not want to wear a bathing suit are starting to really bother me.  I read two friends’ blog posts this morning about similar frustrations (and successes!) so that inspired me to think about returning to healthier habits.  One friend said she gave up processed foods and just moved more and lost a ton of weight.  I’m sure I could lose a few pounds that way, but I don’t know about 10.  If I needed to lose 50, I think that strategy alone would work.  But I do tend to sit more than I should, and I have been eating terribly lately.  So I thought it might be easy to start with the eat less, move more strategy for a couple of weeks and see where that gets me.  I’m vowing not to sit until much later in the day.  I have a tendency to come home and flop on the couch.  Instead, I’m going to tackle some projects around the house–cleaning out things, gardening, etc.  Or I’ll walk the dog.  I’m also going to eat better.  I’ve been through far too many tubs of french onion dip this year (and the bags of chips to go with them).  So I’m going to shift to fruits and vegetables and I’m going to focus on eating only when I’m hungry.  Like many people, I eat when I’m bored, or as a side activity to watching tv or something else.  If I’m not getting anywhere still, I’ll add more activity, but for now, this is a start.

I always find it slightly disappointing when I don’t stick with something I thought I really wanted to do, but I also know there have been things in my life that I’ve slacked off on and that I’ve kept starting over again that I eventually got right.  And, I never strive for perfection.  If I did that, nothing would ever get done.

So maybe I have to renew my commitments every couple of months.  Whatever works, I say.

Self improvement

I just finished Drop Dead Healthy, thanks to the kind recommendations of my readers. It was a good read, both informative and funny, and not too preachy. Clearly, Jacobs has a penchant for self improvement as I will admit to suffering from since I was a kid. I once walked with a book on my head. I’ve tried diets and exercise plans. I’ve tried to develop hobbies that I thought might be “good for me”.

Why do we do these things? It’s a question the book asks but doesn’t answer fully. Certainly, there’s vanity. I know that’s been a factor for me as I’ve aged. There’s also the desire to extend our lives, to spend as much time here on earth as possible. That’s certainly a factor for Jacobs. He also mentions his feeling of righteousness, something I know can be motivating. You sat around and watched TV? Well, I went for a 5 mile run!. It’s not pretty, but you know it’s true. Most importantly, I think we all want to feel better, to feel the best we possibly can. Feeling good is subjective, of course, and some of those other factors feed into feeling good. Some of us feel good when we physically look better (by losing weight, by having good skin, etc.). But ultimately, that feeling becomes more internal than external.

And so, I think it’s about finding the balance. I feel good when I do some physical activity every day. But running wasn’t quite the thing for me–too hard on my back. I don’t mind, and even prefer, eating mostly vegetarian. But I don’t want to drink my meals or never have a piece of chocolate (which has benefits in small doses anyway). But there are definitely habits I’d like to change. Inertia is a strong force, though. But it can be overcome.

Food and its (Dis)Contents

First round of food
First round of food (Photo credit: lorda)
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Laura wrote today about her and her family’s struggles with food.  I feel her pain.  Mr. Geeky and I both would like to lose weight, but we are both too busy and too lazy (in many ways) to make it happen.  A while back I wrote about loving to experience my food fully.  That often involves food that’s not great for me.  Mr. Geeky is less interested in the whole food experience.  For him, food is more about fuel.  There are days he gets so involved in work, he forgets to eat.  Then some colleague will wander by, suggest they go out to eat, and next thing you know, he’s had 2000 calories.

Mr. Geeky doesn’t cook.  He finds it a foreign enterprise.  He will grill, but I have to plan the meal. We’ve compromised by having Mr. Geeky do the grocery shopping, though he’s not as picky about what he’s buying, organic or grass-fed beef, forget it.  We have tried this summer to cut back on carbs, especially sugar and increase our veggies.  It’s hard.  As Laura pointed out, it takes more time to prepare a meal made mostly of veggies.  We’re just not used to it.  I usually throw on some pasta and sauce and call it a day.

Right now, I have the luxury of time to shop, plan, and cook all I want, but once school starts, time will be short, and it’s likely I’ll be back to throwing around pasta.  I had managed to incorporate some exercise into my life before leaving for India, but haven’t gotten back to it.  So, I need to move more and eat less.  And do it in a limited amount of time.  Sigh.

And it sort of takes the joy out of it sometimes.  I love going to the farmer’s market, making meals, and, of course, eating.  But when I have to think about it so much, it makes it slightly less enjoyable.  So, I need to figure out things to do that will not detract from the enjoyment so much.