New Year, New Me (for real though)

My fitness journey has been interesting. Today I am officially 10 pounds down from my highest weight. In the grand scheme of things, and my ultimate goal, that’s not a whole lot. You can’t see it yet. But I can feel it, and given that this has been my struggle for a long time I feel that I should celebrate my progress.

Some background: My parents weren’t the best fitness role models. My dad has had a potbelly as long as I can remember, although it has shrunk a bit since he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years ago and started watching what he eats. My mom, on the other hand, is naturally slim. Her house is full of cookies and candy and she makes a pie every other weekend. But she can indulge her sweet tooth with abandon because her metabolism is super high. She’s had three kids and had a flat stomach up until her 50s (she’s 66 now and still doesn’t protrude, it’s just soft). And yet she HAS never lifted a dumbbell or done a crunch in her entire life. Guess whose genes I inherited? *eye roll* I’m figuring out what works for me, though.

  • You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it (#noNike). Turns out it’s a lot harder to half-ass something than to fully commit. Consistency wins the day. It’s not sexy, and it’s not fast but it gets results.
  • We have no idea what a serving size is. And it’s not our fault. The nutrition labels lie. According to my dietitian, a single serving of carbs is just 20 grams, which is about a half cup of anything (cereal, rice, beans, corn, etc.). I went back & reread some labels and basically, we’re screwed. We don’t know what a meat serving size is either (4oz of skin on poultry or fatty meat, 6oz of lean meat or seafood). A typical burger is 6 ounces of fatty beef but a typical salad (which costs 2x as much as the burger) comes with just 2 ounces of skinless chicken breast. It’s a recipe for failure.
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A true balanced breakfast.

  • Healthy people spend a lot of time cooking. Now of course some folks are okay with eating nothing but protein shakes, hard boiled eggs and the standard meal of chicken breast/tilapia, broccoli/green beans and brown rice/sweet potato for the rest of their lives. For those of us who require more variety in our meals…put on your favorite show and get in the kitchen. You’re gonna be in there a while. I actually enjoy cooking but I can’t cook ahead as much as I want because our fridge isn’t big enough. When we get a house I need the double wide one and a deep freezer.
  • You’ve got to move it, move it. Some people have just always loved being active. They played a sport for every season of the year, they run 3+ miles a day or else they “just can’t function”. It ain’t me. Yes, the exercise high is real but your mileage may vary. I haven’t yet had one that came anywhere close to the one I get from fresh baked brownies or some adult time with Tex (*wink*) though. I’m kinda jealous of those folks who o.rga.sm when they work out. If it was that good to me it would make getting off the couch a lot easier! My victory is that I no longer dread breaking a sweat. Most of the time.
  • Drink some water. Then drink some more. When you’re eating half the portion sizes you used to, cutting liquid calories is essential for you to not feel hungry. I try to empty a 24 oz water bottle 3 times a day at least. It feels easier than pouring a glass at a time. Is it boring? OH MY GOD YES. I’ve subbed out green tea (with a single teaspoon of honey) for my coffee, but I don’t always want a hot drink. So now I love Topo Chico sparkling water.

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Adventures in Dieting

A few months back I wrote about becoming more comfortable with my body and getting into fitness. And I’m proud to say that there have been only a few weeks this year where I haven’t worked out at all. But I haven’t met my weight loss goal. I’ve been losing and gaining the same few pounds all year. A lot of that was due to my eating habits, but stress and lack of sleep didn’t help either. The latter two are anathema to any kind of lifestyle change–you simply don’t have the willpower or energy to do better. Even after quitting my job, I didn’t get it together the way I told myself I would. My workouts got more frequent, and I ate a few more meals at home, but I didn’t make any drastic changes to my eating habits.

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Well, I promised myself that if I didn’t do it on my own I’d have to get a personal trainer or something. I really thought exercise would be the hard part for me, but now I realize why it wasn’t. Exercising means that you only have to make the right choice once a day, at most. Provided you’re doing at least moderate intensity workouts for the recommended number of hours a week, you can get results exercising 4 days a week or all 7. But you have to eat, multiple times a day. And you’re supposed to eat meals and snacks from multiple food groups. So that means your burden to get it right, and opportunity to get it wrong, multiply exponentially!

Long story short, I signed up with a virtual nutrition coach a couple weeks ago. I get personalized meal plans via Dropbox, twice weekly meetings over the phone or via Skype, and workout suggestions as well. Since I know exactly how many servings of each food group I need each day, it makes meal planning much easier. I no longer have to agonize over whether I’m supposed to have something or not. And the plan is structured in such a way that I don’t have to count calories.

Just by comparing what I normally eat to the sample menu, I saw that I was eating way too many starches, somewhat overdoing the fruits, and not eating enough protein or veggies. They put me on a 3 day cleanse (which was actually really reasonable and involved all solid foods). But the one stickler was no starches! I could add one serving of a healthy starch for each hour of exercise. Y’all, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Bread is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Bread is bae. Bread is life (ask Jesus!). I mean, “give us this day, our daily bread” comes BEFORE “forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s prayer.

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And truthfully, on the first day I was hurt. Looking yearningly at the husband’s breakfast bagels in the pantry. Nibbling sadly on (literal!) nuts and berries, thinking:

got-carbs

And of course there was no sugar either. I was limited to 3 fruits (and not the candy tasting ones like pineapples and mangoes) and 3 TEASPOONS of honey per day. Y’all. That is ONE cup of green tea. I started to have an orange midafternoon and then told myself, “Better save that for dessert.” DESSERT, Y’ALL! On the second day, I went searching through Pinterest to see how I could make grapefruit more appetizing. I cheated (slightly) because sniffing a bag of dried semi-sweet coconut turned into eating one glorious, 1/2-inch piece of sugary goodness. But I got myself together and had an oven broiled grapefruit topped with cinnamon and a precious 1.5 teaspoons of honey (I just sucked it up and had some dry ass green tea). It wasn’t cake or cookies or anything like it. But I gutted that thang! The third and final day was much better, and I realized that my sweets craving is much more emotional than anything else. I don’t need it, and surprisingly, the fruit satisfied me enough that I didn’t go looking for more sweets. I got tired of tea and wanted some coffee, but that usually involves significant amounts of cream and sugar. So I went to Starbucks and got a skinny french vanilla latte instead (it’s made with skim milk and sugar free syrup). The last time I had one, I was disgusted. This time though? It. was. hitting! And for under 150 calories too.

This is what my life has come to. *weeps silently, yearning for a biscuit*

January Goals Report

STATS:

24 workouts,

+ 2.5lbs

222,293 steps/97.34 miles walked

Average ~40 oz of water per day

This month was a success overall. I definitely committed to moving my body more and it while it isn’t second nature, it doesn’t feel like such an ordeal either. I realized  that I don’t necessarily need 64 oz of water a day to feel hydrated. I don’t sweat a whole lot in general, and very little right now outside of workouts since it’s still winter. On most of the days where I drank that much water, I felt like I was literally sloshing around inside and had to get up in the middle of the night to pee.

As you can see, I actually gained a little bit of weight this month. I was feeling bad but had to adjust my thinking. I’ve been tracking my calories and while I was not a paragon of healthy eating, my intake wasn’t noticeably different than it has been the past couple of months. The actual numbers don’t support that weight gain from eating, so I was forced to conclude that I had actually gained muscle weight. I’ve been doing a lot of strength training this month, especially weighted lunges, squats and leg presses. My measurements haven’t changed yet (it has only been 4 weeks after all), but my pants are fitting a little better and my tush is looking a little higher. This month I plan to incorporate a diet-based goal so I’m sure that will make a difference in my results.

Still, I’m trying to focus on the journey and not the end goal. I’m sleeping better and feeling stronger. I’m proving to myself day by day that I can be a fit, athletic person. I’m working my life around exercise instead of vice versa. Slow and steady wins the race!

Goal Stacking

For the past few years I’ve wanted to eat healthier, lose weight, tone up, etc. but I’ve always managed to get set back. This time, I’m doing it differently. My most lasting behavior changes come when I focus on one thing and have structure- this year I accomplished a 17 day exercise streak. For a recovering couch potato, that’s a big deal! I’ve also done a lot of research on fitness and nutrition. I’ve found the following takeaways:

1. Goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based (SMART), or else they’re just wishes.

2. It takes a MINIMUM of 21 days to form a habit. On average it takes 66 days.

3. Weight loss isn’t just about the quantity of calories consumed, but the quality (i.e., 100 calories of cake =/= 100 calories of broccoli).

4. Body type determines how easily you’ll lose weight, where you deposit fat, and what type of workout is most effective. Cardio alone doesn’t work for everyone, but strength training helps almost all female body types shed pounds.

5. Macronutrient ratios are important because everyone metabolizes food differently. For instance, I know that for weight loss I need to get more of my carbs from fruit and vegetables, and less from grains and starches.

6.  It’s okay to be a little bit over or under your calorie limit as long  as it balances it out long term. It’s okay to indulge occasionally, but make it to the gym and eat lighter the next day to cancel out the indulgence. The key is to stay mindful.

7.  The timing of your meals isn’t crucial, but it has an effect. Intermittent fasting is just what it sound like and you can do it a lot of ways: A traditional 24 hour fast 1-2 days per week. Eating all your meals within a 4, 6 or 8 hour window. Skipping one meal a day. In studies it has been shown to improve life expectancy, reduce bad cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and much more. For a detailed regimen, click here. My takeaway:  Close the kitchen after dinner. It’s rare that I’m truly starving late at night, and I’m never actually done squats while brushing my teeth to burn off a snack.

8. Accountability is key. Find someone who will encourage you in your goals without being overly critical when you have a setback.

 

So that’s the background. I’m giving myself two or three measurable goals for each month.  My tools are my new Fitbit Flex tracker and associated food/water log, the Gym PocketGuide app (a strength training reference guide), a gym membership, and a YouTube playlist of workouts I can do at home. This is how it works: I have two overarching goals. I have broken them down into smaller, incremental goals that I will tackle each month. Ultimately, I want exercise and healthful eating to be as automatic as showering or brushing my teeth. That’s why I’m building them. Instead of committing to hourlong workouts six days a week, I’ll commit to 15 minutes, 5 days a week. Then 20. Then 30. I made my goals reasonable enough that I could meet them, but ambitious enough so that when I occasionally fall short (because nobody is perfect), I’ll probably still be doing better than I am currently. My hope is that by adding goals on gradually, the process won’t seem so overwhelming and I’ll be less likely to quit due to a sense of deprivation.

Overall Goal: Move towards optimal health and fitness by eating cleaner and exercising consistently.

First Quarter: Foundation

January

– Workout 5 days a week (at least 15 minutes)

-Drink 64 oz of water a day

February

-Continue January goals

– Limit 4 servings a day of grains/starchy carbs (1 slice bread or 1/2 cup grains equals a serving)

March

– Repeat February goals

 

Second Quarter: Acceleration

April

– Continue January thru March goals

– Limit 4 meals out per week

May

– Continue goals thru April

– Clean Eating Challenge: 2 weeks without bread, and two weeks without sweets or added sugars

June

– Repeat May goals (minus Clean Eating Challenge)

– Booty Challenge: By the end of the month hold a 3 minute squat,  at least 45 squats in one minute, and at least 60 leg lift pulses in one minute (back and side) on each leg.

Third Quarter: Maintenance

July

– Continue goals thru June (minus Booty Challenge)

–  Abs Challenge: By the end of the month be able to hold a 60-90 second plank, 50 crunches in one minute, and 40 sit-ups in one minute.

August

– Repeat January thru July goals (minus Challenges)

– All workouts at least 20 minutes

September

– Repeat August goals

Fourth Quarter: Finish Strong

October, November, December

– 10,000 steps a day

– Limit 4 meals out per week

– Limit 4 servings a day of grains/starches

– 64 oz water a day

– 5 workouts per week (at least 30 minutes)

– Repeat Clean Eating Challenge in October, Abs Challenge in November, Booty Challenge in December

 

Some thoughts on healthy living, pt. 2: healthy eating challenges

Eating Clean- what does that mean???

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research into clean eating. The headlines surrounding plastics, food additives, hormones and toxins have been rather alarming lately and it’s becoming increasingly impossible to ignore that Big Agra doesn’t wish us well. But “real” clean eating seems so daunting. No preservatives, period means you can’t even have rolled oats with storebought raisins because the oats aren’t in their rawest form, and the raisins have a preservative to keep them fresh. Clearly fast food is out, but did you know that you also have to replace your entire spice cabinet because even your precious Mrs. Dash has some artificial colors & flavors??? -_- Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for eating less processed foods. But the fact of the matter is, I’m not now (and may not ever be) the person who goes hard on All Homemade Everything. I’d rather buy a jar of spaghetti sauce or pesto than make it myself- so sue me. Organic meat I can definitely get behind, but not until I get a job because, $6 per pound for chicken breasts on an internship stipend? NAWL.

The Challenge

Of course, you can eat clean on a budget. You can find a fairly good selection of natural and organic foods at Walmart, Kroger, and even some Targets now. And even if you can’t afford organic, buying fresh ingredients to cook at home with will help you control calorie counts and guarantee your taco meat is 100% ground beef, and your chicken tenders are made of actual chicken parts and not pink slime. However, if you have any type of food allergies some of the commonly suggested swaps for junk food may be a problem. Nuts are a great source of protein with a saltiness and crunch that can replace your potato chip craving but guess what? I’m allergic. So no peanut butter, no almonds, no coconut milk because even though these didn’t show up on my allergy test, they make my throat itch in a dangerous way. Most granola bars are out too, because they are processed in facilities that produce nut products. Greek yogurt? Not so fast; lactose intolerance is a mother which also rules out cheese and most protein powders (whey is a milk byproduct).

In trying to work around my dietary limitations I would like to share some of my discoveries for eating healthily, and cheaply, with food allergies. I cobbled together this list of substitutes from bits and pieces of articles from all over the web. If it doesn’t apply to you, feel free to share with a friend and P.S.: I’m not a nutritionist so if you have questions or concerns, ask a professional!

Dairy/Dairy Substitutes

  • Lactaid milk– Lactose free milk. Good stuff, but it costs more than regular so I recommend buying the store brand. Still, I’m so lactose sensitive that even the small amount in this can upset my stomach if I eat it on an everyday basis without taking a probiotic.
  • Goat, feta & gorgonzola cheese– these cheeses have low levels of lactose and can often be digested in small amounts by people with lactose intolerance. It just depends on how bad you have it. Since these are so flavorful you don’t have to use a huge amount of them. However, if I ever make a goat cheese pizza I would definitely pop a lactase enzyme tablet just in case. Better safe than sorry.
  • Goat milk yogurt– See above. The plain flavor is a good substitute for sour cream, or Greek yogurt in smoothies and other recipes.
  • Siggi’s skyr yogurt– Pricier than regular yogurt, this Icelandic product is super concentrated to provide 22g protein and only 6g of sugar, so the lactose content is much lower than your typical Yoplait. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ve read that many lactose intolerants do well eating this.
  • Soymilk– This saved my morning bowl of cereal and milk for me! I usually eat Multigrain Cheerios, Quaker Oatmeal Squares or Frosted Shredded What and the vanilla flavor complements those cereals well. I don’t think it would go as well with something like Apple Jacks though. Plain soymilk was just way too bland in taste for me on top of the watery texture, but you may be all right with that so give it a try.
  • Kroger CARBmaster milk– Absolutely love this stuff. It’s cheaper than Lactaid, and I can put it in everything. because it contains lactase enzyme (the stuff you need to ingest lactose). The plain kind has the same taste & texture as regular milk, but with only 3g of carbs.
  • Flaxmilk– If you’re worried about the estrogen in soy products, vanilla flaxmilk goes pretty well with cereal as well. You can also use it smoothies; I didn’t much like the taste of the plain kind in mine but vanilla might be better. It is kind of thin though, so you probably need to use frozen fruit or add in a banana to get a thicker texture.

Protein Sources

  • Brown rice protein powder– Perfect Fit (sold online only)  and Rainbow Light brand (check your local Whole Foods or health food store) are vegan certified, meaning it’s completely soy and lactose free. It’s also manufactured in a tree nut free facility so no worries about cross-contamination! Rainbow Light’s vanilla flavor is…an acquired taste, but I can work with it. I would recommend using 1/2 scoop, instead of the full 1 scoop serving at first to get your taste buds acquainted. It’s still a little chalky, but not nearly as much so as whey protein in my experience.
  • Sunflower seed butter– Not the same as peanut butter but pretty darn close. You can get it smooth or chunky.
  • Pumpkin seeds & sunflower seeds are a great nut substitute for snacking, as an oatmeal topping, or for making your own trail mix.
  • I’ve heard great things about quinoa (a protein rich rice substitute) but have yet to try it because it looks funny :-/ If you’ve had it, shoot me a recipe!
  • Chia seeds are another good source of protein and fiber. When combined with water, they produce a kind of gel that is said to help cling to and flush out stuff in your gut. You can also boil the seeds to make your own hair gel!

Healthier Fast Food Options

  • Chick-fil-A offers delicious salads, grilled chicken sandwiches and nuggets, and also offers fruit as a combo side option instead of fries.
  • Panera Bread has a ton of great salad offerings. Most of the sandwiches are rather rich, but if you get the combo with a half sandwich and a half salad or cup of soup, you can keep the calories down and still be satisfied. Best of all, they have a free rewards card where you can get coupons and free treats. Plus they rotate their menu seasonally so there’s always something new to try.
  • At Chipotle, order the salad and hold the guac, cheese & sour cream and you’ve got a great 400 calorie meal. If you need a little more food, do the same thing with the burrito bowl which comes with rice and beans.
  • At Jersey Mike’s you can get a sub in a tub, which is all your fave sandwich toppings in a bowl without the bread. If you’re not ready to go that far, just get your regular sandwich and take off the bottom half of the sub roll since they put all the condiments on the top. You’re welcome!

Helpful Links

23 Ways to Eat Cleaner: http://www.prevention.com/print/27203

Calorie Shifting: http://myfitstation.com/2012/01/31/calorie-shifting-perfecting-your-figure-tricking-your-metabolism-diet/

7 Fast Food Meals under 350 Calories: http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slideshow/print-list/185939

Healthy Fast Food and Takeout: http://www.realsimple.com/health/nutrition-diet/healthy-eating/healthy-fast-food-takeout-10000001544890/index.html

Wellness Mama Blog- Wellness 101: http://wellnessmama.com/wellness-101/

 

Note: I purposely left out tofu because it looks and tastes gross. It’s also technically a processed food, FYI.

Some thoughts on healthy living, pt. 1: getting started

Big Girl in a Skinny World

Fat prejudice is real. I’m not one to play Oppression Olympics, but it can’t be denied that making fun of fat people is okay in a way that making fun of people because of race, physical disability or mental illness is not. And that’s weird to me. Sure you can “control” your weight, but only up to a point (which is why I put that in quotes). It’s so much more than calories out > calories in. Many factors influence, what, how much and how often we eat. They range from the obvious- cooking ability, income, access to grocery stores, to the subtle- our mood, and whether or not we pass our favorite fast food joint on the way home from work. Fashion caters to the slimmest among us, and fatness is always treated as a temporary stop on the way back to Skinnytown. At the same time, weight loss is almost never presented in a loving way, i.e., exercise and proper nutrition are important in and of themselves regardless of whether you lose weight. Negative feedback is never effective for lasting change and that’s true with weight loss too–fat shaming actually causes people to overeat more.

Working Out is Actually Work

When you first start exercising, it’s usually not fun. If you’re going from a completely sedentary lifestyle to trying to work out 7 days a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’ll be sore and stiff and feel like quitting on day three. You’ve got to ease yourself into it, and take rest days. The popular knowledge is “no pain, no gain” and “listen to your body” but how does one reconcile the two? How do you know the limits of those if you’ve never been athletic and active? I’ve gotten into my groove through trial and error. I do a mix of cardio, toning and circuit routines on YouTube at home because the gym just isn’t me. It doesn’t offer enough variety to keep me coming back day after day. And even though I have started looking forward to my workouts–they stabilize my mood, give me a sense of accomplishment and make me feel strong–it’s a tossup as to whether I actually enjoy it on any given day.

To see results you have to push yourself and get uncomfortable. You don’t get that exercise high from 20 minutes of casual walking. You’ve got to be out of breath, muscles burning, eking out those last few reps…and then the endorphins kick in on the other side. Of course, for the first month you may be collapsing on the floor or staggering off for a water break before you get to that point, just because you’re not used to pushing yourself. Very few people are brutally honest about how much it takes to condition yourself, and for those like me who have more than 15 but less than 50lbs to lose and are still somewhat active (you do an easy workout a couple times a week) it’s even harder. You fluctuate within the same 5-10lb range. You eat well enough to keep from steadily gaining, but not well enough to change your body. When you’re very overweight with poor eating habits, you could potentially lose 5lbs in one week just from cutting out soda and juices, or eating out only twice a day instead of for all three meals. In that in between zone, it gets really difficult. You’ve got to be much more vigilant and it’s hard to keep going because sometimes you just get tired of thinking about it. Still, you will see results…even if they’re not the ones you want. Which brings me to the last part of this post.

Your Ideal Body

Everyone has a natural body type and body shape. I have an apple shape and hold weight in my stomach and upper body. I don’t have the skinny legs characteristic of an apple shape, but in terms of fat distribution when I gain 10lbs, only 2-3 of them go to my legs and hips. In addition, I gain muscle more easily than I lose fat. I’ve been doing a lot of arm, back and shoulder exercises to tone up for my strapless wedding gown. The result? Sure I have some muscle tone, but I actually gained an inch of muscle around my back, so I had to size up a corset that fit perfectly a mere six weeks ago. *sigh* On the other hand, I added about 2 inches to my butt from doing lower body exercises 😉 I lose fat on a low starch diet, but it’s extremely hard because a) I love bread and b) grains are the biggest part of the food pyramid and the most convenient thing to eat. Salad just doesn’t travel as well as crackers.  Nevertheless, I’m working on reducing my portions of rice, bread and cereal and doing more protein, fruits and veggies.

A couple of things to wrap up. You can change your body shape (an apple can get a six pack; a pear can get lean legs & hips) but you’ll have to make drastic changes that may not be viable for you in the long term. I’m definitely an advocate of health, and body acceptance. I know that I can’t get below a certain size without limiting myself to one or two cheat meals a week, very small portions (we’re talking 1400-1500 calories a day) and/or doing a lot of high impact exercise like running. But I love chocolate chip cookies and Chinese food, and hate running (I have a tendency to roll my ankles because I overpronate, not to mention my DDs cannot be contained) so I will remain thick. But I can definitely lose a noticeable amount of weight without going to those extremes. The key is to find the happy middle ground between being health conscious, satisfying your vanity and learning to love yourself.

 

Links/Resources

Video: How To Lose Weight According to Body Shape

Blogs: http://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/

http://fitbottomedgirls.com/

Food Trackers: www.sparkpeople.com  and www.myfitnesspal.com