Saturday, June 29, 2013

The First 100 Pounds (51 - 60)

I'm not a doctor. You're all clear on that, right? Get medical advice from a professional, um, medicine person. Not from a poet. Also, there's more swearing. Because I can.

I also want to remind you (and myself) that some of these realizations/developments/changes were 16 months or more in the making. Process, process, process.

If you want to start from the beginning, you can do so here. Here are 51 – 60:

If I can't smile when I'm working out, I am working too hard. It's not that I always want to smile, don't get me wrong, but if my face is locked in a grimace and my hands are so tightly fisted that I'm leaving fingernail dents in my palms, I'm taking energy that could be going to my workout (usually my run) and putting it into the wrong places. I slow it down if I have to, but often, just smiling is enough to get me to relax. Just because it's work doesn't mean it has to be agonizing. If nothing else, I smile during the last tenth of a mile or so of every run—fast runs, medium runs, long runs. I smile at the end of hard runs because they're almost over. I smile at the end of easier runs because I feel good. It sounds stupid, but it makes a difference, truly.

I am mighty. My runs reinforce my mightiness—and not just the easier runs. It was the difficult runs that made me first declare my mightiness. I finished them despite their difficulty—that's what made me mighty. I don't have to be mighty to do the easy stuff, right? So when I say I swear, I don't mean that I swear in anger or frustration, although I suppose I probably do. I do, however, almost invariably swear in satisfaction at being the conquering heroine. When I finish a run at a higher speed than I've managed before, I swear. When I add a mile to my long run and get through it, I swear. When I have a tough run and muscle my way through it by sheer force of will, I swear. And that swear is almost inevitably the same every time: That's right, motherfucker. That's right. Don't question the swear. Don't ask who the motherfucker is. I don't know. But I have showed that motherfucker who is boss, and that boss is me.

This is part of cutting myself a break, and it's how I'm starting to learn what my body needs: I listen. I know, for example, that an egg over root vegetable hash with some toast makes a good pre-run meal, as long as I give myself time to digest it. Hot sauce? Bring it on. I know that I can eat huevos rancheros the night before a 5K and be just fine. I also know that I never, ever want to eat tuna fish before a run, even several hours before. I know that I need to pour a little Gatorade into my water for long runs (or when it's really hot) and that coconut water and I don't get along well. You live, you learn. If I listen, I can avoid injury—I know when my shoes are losing their shape, when I need to invest in a couple of new running bras (and trust me, they're an investment, but totally worthwhile), when I'm fighting off a cold. It's experience, yes, but it's also paying attention to that experience. One isn't much good without the other.

If I'm inside, that means Netflix. Instant Netflix is the savior of my treadmill workouts. I put my iPad on the treadmill and go. If I'm outside, it means music (kept at a volume low enough that I'm aware of my surroundings) or talking to Jed or having something specific to think about. But really, the outside world is distracting enough for me; it's the treadmill workouts that require entertainment. I recommend finding something with enough action (however you define it) to keep you occupied and enough of a story to keep you wanting more. This is not the time for Masterpiece Theater (not for me, anyway). It's the time for Alias. Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Extra points if it's funny. Double-extra points if it's funny and has a good soundtrack. When I was watching Alias, I waited for the fight scenes (I never had to wait long). The soundtrack would pump me up, and I could get through a rough patch and come out the other side.

Speaking of rough patches, they used to be enough to get me to quit for the day. If my head wasn't in the run, I could use a rough patch to stop. But I read somewhere (who knows where) of a runner who said she (he? The research for this post is pathetic. Why are you reading this?) talked herself through rough patches by taking inventory. Mine goes something like this: "Legs? Okay. Breath? Okay. Shoulders? Okay. So quit whining, you're fine." The first two items are self-explanatory: if I'm not in pain and not having trouble regulating my breathing, I'm good to go. I've also learned (by listening…see what I did there?) that I slump a little when I get tired, and I can feel that slump in between my shoulder blades. So I check to make sure that my shoulders are okay. If my spine is in place and my shoulders are relaxed down (not forward, just not bunched up at my ears), I'm not slumping. And if I am slumping, I can tell myself to knock it off. During some runs, I don't take any inventory at all. During others, it seems like I never stop.

I have found, strangely enough, that some of the days when I'm just not feeling it are the perfect days to take the difficulty up a notch. I don't know why this works, but I suspect it's a matter of focus: I'm not feeling the run because I'm not paying enough attention. One day, I decided to use my "bad" run for speed work, and ran intervals—periods of hard running followed by periods of jogging for recovery—instead of jogging the steady pace of what I think of as my "regular" runs and damned if it didn't work. When I can't bear the thought of running five miles, I can often handle running a quarter of a mile (about 400 meters, if you measure that way), and if I set the pace to something challenging, I force myself to pay attention. Who knew? I'd say this works maybe three-quarters of the time—it's the first thing I try when I'm having a tough time, and if it's going to work, it usually starts showing signs right away. If it doesn't work?

Yes, it takes me longer to get the miles in, but really. The difference is minimal, and it's better to run five slow miles than to quit during the first. I should add that five miles is pretty much the shortest distance I run these days—and if none of my tricks get my head in the game, I make it my five-miler day and save the mid-length or long run for another day. The world isn't going to explode if I do 7 miles on Thursday instead of Wednesday, or if I shift my long run (right now between 10 and 12 miles) from Saturday to Sunday. This is, for reasons that should be obvious, my last resort—slowing down is better than quitting, and running a short distance is better than running no distance.  And it doesn't matter if you're running the same distances that I am (or if you're walking, or rowing, or elliptical…ling). The theory's the same. If you're scheduled to walk two miles and you can't seem to get into it no matter what you try, maybe you just need to slow it down. Or walk a mile (or whatever your light workout is). The road will still be there tomorrow.

I listen to my body before, during, and after a workout and before, during, and after a meal. I pay attention to what I ate before a really good run, to what schedule of light and heavy days works best for me, to what time of day I'm more comfortable working out. If it seems to to work, I do it again. If it keeps working, I keep doing it. Am I setting up false corollaries? Probably. If so, they'll work themselves out in time. Or they won't—am I setting myself back at all by believing that a day off before my long run feels better than a day off after my long run? I seriously doubt it.

Because fuck them. I've lost 100 pounds. I've done it without injury, in a way that feels sustainable to me, and in real-world conditions. Could I have lost 130 pounds by now if I'd used someone else's methods? Maybe. But so what? I've. Lost. 100. Pounds. If someone is that desperate to tell me I've done it wrong, I think that probably says more about their insecurities than my process.

Not only that, but I keep it on vibrate. As much as I talk about how helpful it is to keep myself distracted, outside distractions can derail me. I will take a workout-ending distraction if I can get it, so I make it so that I can't get it. Simple as that.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Visitors from Far-Off Lands Edition

1. seeing much-loved, geographically distant relatives
2. having much-loved relatives, no matter where they live
3. getting the long run in early
4. cookies
5. whoever made the cookies

Friday, June 28, 2013

The First 100 Pounds (41 - 50)

The standard warnings still apply: I'm still not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.

I also want to remind you (and myself) that some of these realizations/developments/changes were 16 months or more in the making. Process, process, process.

If you want to start from the beginning, you can do so here. Here are 41 – 50:

Remember yesterday's post when I said that sometimes I have to count off quarter miles to keep myself going? I do that kind of thing all the time to keep my brain occupied. I check my math and figure out how long it will take me to finish (or get halfway, or get through the mile…whatever it takes). If I have to, I count down the minutes. Much like I know I can run five miles, I also know I can run for a very long time. Sometimes, I have to tell myself that I'll be all right if I can make it to a certain point—an hour from the finish, half an hour from the finish, five minutes from the finish.  Most days, it's not an issue.

I don't do a lot with this, although I'm thinking about buying myself a running journal. I just have a small notebook, and I jot down the date, the approximate calorie burn, the duration of my workout, the distance, whether it was walking or running, and, for treadmill workouts, my highest speed and incline. If I also did some yoga, strength training, or a significant amount of other activity (like a day of yard work or hauling a ton of pellet fuel into the shed, for example), I'll note that, too. It takes way longer to explain than to do. Each week gets its own page, and at the bottom of the page I add up the calories and the miles run and walked (I track running and walking numbers separately). At the top of the next page, I write the year and the total miles run and walked since January 1. I also note how far ahead of my yearlong running goal I am, a figure that started as a negative number. The day my yearlong goal number went positive was a very happy day. I'll also put little happy faces or some other notation if I exceed expectations in some way—faster than usual, farther than usual, etc.

I want to make it clear that calorie counts are almost totally arbitrary—no two calorie counters online figure the burn in the same way, and the burn is affected by all sorts of different things, like weight and muscle-to-fat ratio. When I was at my top weight, I was burning more calories than the readout on the treadmill claimed. Right now it's pretty close to accurate, but twenty pounds from now it will be too high. It doesn't matter. I use the calorie count as a guideline—it's an obvious, clear indicator of progress. If the weekly number was 3,500 a couple of months ago and it's 6,000 this week, that's one more piece of data I can use when I need to give myself a pep talk.

This is not unrelated to being patient, and similarly not unrelated to how much I count. My weight loss goals are five-pound increments (and are not tied into a specific time frame—I just like numbers that end in five and zero, and it's easy for me to keep track of them). My mileage goals, for a long time, consisted of increasing my weekly mileage by a mile at a time. That's right—one mile per week, and not every week. I increase my medium-run speed by maybe twenty or thirty seconds per mile at a time, and then I'll stick to that speed until it starts to feel too comfortable (often  months). My long runs are slower, and the speed on those increases even more slowly. It can feel tedious at the time, but when I look back, I can see that I've cut almost 2 ½ minutes off my medium-run mile and a minute and forty-five seconds (or thereabouts) off my long-run mile. Over the course of a single year—especially when I remember that at the beginning of that year, I could only run for a minute at a time—that's pretty impressive.

The thing is, if I started this process by saying that my goal was to increase my speed by as much as I have, or to lose 140 pounds, or even this first hundred, I would never—not in a million years—have made it even this far. I mean seriously. One hundred and forty pounds was close to half my weight. It's an entire person. I can't think about that sort of thing all the time. That is, I can, but I try not to allow myself to. It's self-defeating. But there's another thing I do.

I do know where I want to be. I know what I want to weigh, how I want my clothes to fit. But mostly, I know how strong I have become, and that I want to hold onto that strength. I want to keep improving on that strength. I want to find new challenges and beat my goals into the ground. It's fun, and it makes me feel mighty, and I like to feel mighty. RAAAAAAR!

You know how just now I was saying that I made both big and small goals? The other part of that is evaluating those goals, and then evaluating them again. For example, my big goal for 2013 is to run 750 miles and walk 250 during the year. The walking goal is a piece of cake, and I knew it when I set it—I deliberately set a goal that I knew I could blow out of the water, and I attached it to the bigger, more meaningful running goal by making the total miles come out to a nice, even number: 1,000 miles on my feet sounds pretty, right? But the running goal is tougher: it requires fifteen miles a week from me (with a couple of weeks off for injury/illness/scheduling built in as a buffer), and when I set that goal, I was only running about ten or twelve miles a week. Ambitious, but do-able, I thought.

And here it is the end of June, and for the past two weeks, I've run thirty miles. I'm more than 100 miles above where I should be to hit my goal of 750, and I passed 250 walking miles last week, and we're not quite halfway through the year. Also, I'm running twice as much weekly mileage as I need to, so I'll surpass the running goal as well—barring injury—sometime in late summer/early fall. In my head, I've set new goals (1,000 miles running and 500 miles walking), both of which are totally manageable. I haven't made them official, even to myself, but they're there, so much so that I realized while editing this post that my discussion of the original goals was all in past tense. Whoops. Yes, I've done the math and know how many miles I need to run and walk every week to make the new goals. But my original stated goals stand. It would be easy for me to keep increasing my goals until I get to ones that are unrealistic, and that would allow me to quit. So the original goals stay.

I've added new ones, though: goals for increasing speed, for doing more speed work and other directed workouts, for increasing my upper body strength. Even though we're only halfway through the year, I'm starting to think about goals for 2014—what a reasonable mileage goal is, what other goals I might have.

I try not to make goals that are out of my control. I don't have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain time, because while there are some things I can control, like my diet and exercise, my weight is also affected by factors like hormonal shifts, muscle-to-fat ratio, and salt intake. Similarly, I don't have a goal to be a certain size within a certain amount of time. My goals are health-related, not size-related. If I knew how I learned to be satisfied with goals like that, I would tell you. But I don't.

Finally, I'll reevaluate my goals should my current goals no longer be realistic. If, say, I'm in some sort of accident and break my leg, my goals are going to have to shift to ones that support my healing and regaining strength during recovery. If I break my leg the day before the run that was going to put me over the 750 mile mark, it's not going to do anybody any good if I beat myself up over my inability to meet that goal. I'll mourn, I'm sure, and be really pissed off, and then I'll regroup and move on.

I started with this C25K plan, then, when it became clear that I wasn't doing a very good job of setting my own goals, this half-marathon plan. Now that I've been at this a while, I feel comfortable adapting a plan to fit my own needs, but I always have something to strive for. It's usually a series of smaller goals inside a larger, more long-term goal (like increasing my long run weekly while I train for a half-marathon), but there's always something going on. At the moment, I'm pretty happy with a long run between ten and twelve miles, so I'm adding a mile here and there to my medium runs and working on speed—I alternate weeks between adding miles and adding speed work. I probably need to register for a race to keep myself focused.

I have to be careful about this, because I tend toward the obsessive as it is. But I find it helpful to run through my game plan for the week as I'm getting ready to fall asleep—what's worked for me so far? What does the rest of my week hold? What new little goals might I want to set? I make Jed (and too many other people) feel how strong my quads are. I'm making this list. I'M BORING AS HELL ABOUT IT. It keeps me on track.

I think about where I want to be in a month or six months. I think about how I'll feel when I hit a goal (like these 100 pounds). If I'm on the treadmill, I do the mental math to see how far along I'll be at the end of an episode of whatever I'm watching. I play games with myself to pass the time on the long runs. I try not to get hung up on whether I make these—temporary, pointless—goals or not. I just make them and see if they come to fruition. Am I right about how far along I'll be after 20 minutes? No? Okay, then, where will I be after the next 20 minutes? Maybe it's practice for adjusting my real goals as my body strengthens. Maybe it's just a distraction. It doesn't much matter. It keeps me entertained.

Or last month. Or last week. Whatever it takes. I have weeks where I'm at a specific weight, often a couple of pounds higher than the lowest I've managed, and I just hang out there. Once, I stayed there for more than two weeks. It didn't matter if I ate nothing or everything. It didn't matter if I worked harder or eased off. For whatever reason, my weight was just where it was. And I got through those two weeks by reminding myself how far I've come. Sometimes I can calm my emotions down with intellectual knowledge. Look, I can say. Look at this evidence of how much you don't suck. Understanding something intellectually and understanding it emotionally are often two very different animals—if I can use facts to make the animals talk to each other, I usually end up in better shape all around.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Nice Tangent Edition

1. cinnamon
2. checklists and the checking-off of items thereupon
3. the word "thereupon"
4. the word "forthwith"
5. blueberries

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The First 100 Pounds (31 - 40)

More swearing today! Yay, swearing!

The standard warnings still apply: I'm still not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.

I also want to remind you (and myself) that some of these realizations/developments/changes were 16 months or more in the making. Process, process, process.

If you want to start from the beginning, you can do so here. Here are 31 – 40:

I am still obese. I am, right now, three pounds away from being simply "overweight," depending on if I want to believe the BMI calculators or not. Based on those same calculators, I'm about 35 pounds away from being "normal weight," whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. I'd like to be the equivalent of 40 or 50 pounds lighter than I am, but I try not to put too much emphasis on the scale. How far did I run? How fast? How did I feel on my hill workouts? How many pushups can I do (not a lot)? I try, but I am not always successful. And even if I manage, I can still veer off into darkness: why aren't I faster? Why is it so hard to tone the insides of my thighs? Will I ever find running shorts comfortable?

It is tempting to focus on what I am not. It would be easy for me to complain about the rolls I still have in my midsection or the skirt I love that is still too tight in the waist. It would also be easy for me to beat myself up when I don't meet whatever bar I'm setting for myself at the moment (and in those moments, I am often not at all interested in setting a bar I can reach). But when I catch myself doing that, I try to shut myself up. I try to speak to myself as kindly and encouragingly as I would to someone else. It's more difficult than it should be. I'm getting better at it.

The other day, I did not want to run. I just didn't. My schedule said I should run seven miles. Granted, I have some flexibility—I can mix up the order of my Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday runs, or switch one of them out for one of my cross-training days—but I don't like to do that unless I have to. I did all the things I should have done to get and stay on track (I'll talk about some of them in a later post). And somewhere before mile four, I found myself thinking about how I could just stop at five miles and I'd be fine. I thought about the different mileage I could run on Wednesday and Thursday (and even during my long run on the weekend) to make up for it. I asked myself if my legs were tired from their first 30-mile week last week, and convinced myself they were (they weren't).

And when I figured out that my thinking had been headed down that path for a while without me really noticing, I made some changes. Get to five miles, I said, and see how you feel. Because at five miles, you'll only have two miles left. I knew what I was doing. There was no way I was going to give up with only two miles to go. I can run two miles on my worst day. And while it was the ugliest run I've had in a long time in terms of my thinking, it was a perfectly fine run—seven miles, 20 seconds per mile faster than I'd ever run that distance. It was, by most measures, an excellent run. By changing my thoughts from get to five miles and quit to get to five miles and you'll be able to finish, I was able to stop the negative talk. I finished that run mighty. Those are not the fun runs, but they are often the most satisfying.

This is, I should state up front, not very patient. And sometimes I end up using all the patience I have for the day by being patient with myself. It took me years to put on this weight, and a lifetime to be as out of shape as I was when I started working out. I needed to start at what felt like a glacial pace. I needed to give myself time to improve. And even now there are days where I don't feel like running, where I have to count off the quarter miles to keep myself going, where five miles feels harder than twelve. But I know—I know for a certainty—that I can run five miles, even on a bad day. So I do it, as patiently as I can. If I get sick or injured (which, thankfully, hasn't happened yet), I'll try to give myself the patience to take the recovery time I need. Fingers crossed.

If you listen to me talk, I can make it sound like I'm a one-woman health-improving machine. I present myself that way on purpose, because I need to hear myself talking that way. I try to focus on the good runs, or the strength of getting through a tough run, or the smaller clothes—the positive, specific, affirming aspects of this process. Do not let this fool you into thinking I don't screw up, or even that I believe I don't screw up. I screw up in spectacular fashion at times. It's how I learn, if I'm lucky. I ate a Greek salad wrap with chicken and sweet potato fries for lunch and then ran 6 miles a couple of hours later. BAD idea. I tried to get my second pair of running shoes to last a few more weeks. BAD idea. I've overscheduled myself to the point that I've had to miss workouts. I've found myself unable to talk myself through a tough run and given up and felt crappy for doing so. And you know what? I survived. I didn't puke, I didn't do myself irreparable knee damage (although I could have), I got back to the workouts the next day, I've started to learn how to talk myself through AND how to recognize when I just need a day off. Any of those things used to be enough to derail me for good. Now they're just what they are: mistakes that I can learn from.

You are doing great. Feel the muscles around your waist. FEEL THEM. You have strengthened your obliques just by running, because you are a fucking machine. Look in the mirror when you're done. You look like a fucking Gatorade commercial, with all that sweat beading up on you. LOOK AT YOU, you athletic wonder, you. This is why you do this.

It's not why I do this, although I do enjoy the swearing. But it's okay to lie a little bit when I'm busy convincing myself that my frizzy ponytail and sopping wet clothes are evidence of my mightiness rather than simply evidence that I need to hit the shower. Because they are. I do need to hit the shower (and probably do some laundry), but I will do so mightily. Because I am a fucking machine and an athletic wonder.

36. I ROAR
Try it. RAAAAAAAR! Try it while bending your arms a little bit at the waist and pointing your fists at your belly button, like you're Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1975. In fact, I just did so simply for being able to spell Schwarzenegger correctly on my first try. Go ahead, try it. RAAAAAAAAAAR! You are mighty. (Please note, you are not a baby dinosaur: the calls of baby dinosaurs include a "w" and are much less determined and thus, less mighty. So no RAAAAAWR unless you are a baby dinosaur. Which you are not. Unless you are.)

Look, I know how it goes. You're gung-ho for the first week or two of a fitness program, be it exercise or diet, and then you start making excuses. I get it. I've done it. One bad workout—can't get my breath, my heart's not in it, my legs feel like lead—and I'm done. Well, I used to be done. As I've mentioned before, I needed to build. I'm not sure how I understood that this time around—I wish I knew, because I would totally market that plan and then take all of you out to dinner with a fraction of the first royalty check, but I don't. So I'm just going to tell you so that you hear it again, and maybe if you're in the place that I was in, this will be the time that you really hear it: you have to build. That means that sometimes you're just not feeling it. Maybe your nutrition is off. Maybe you didn't get enough sleep. Maybe you haven't given yourself enough time to recover. I don't know. But I do know that just because I tank one workout, it doesn't mean that I get to quit. I give myself a break, and then get back to it the next day.

Another time when it's okay to lie to myself a little bit. It's not always a lie—it's not, in actuality, difficult for me to run a few miles at this point, for example—but sometimes it is. I say, for instance, that when I gave up Diet Coke, I didn't miss it at all. I conveniently ignore the fact that I went from a habit of drinking more than a liter a day to drinking a single Diet Coke at lunch to skipping a couple of them a week, and after THAT, I didn't miss it at all when I gave it up. Still don't. I find myself saying things like, "If I can manage seven miles today, I'll only have to run five tomorrow," as if the concept of "only" running five miles is one that makes any sort of sense whatsoever. And when tomorrow comes, I'll be all, "Phew! So glad it's an easy day!" It boils down to equal parts determinedly Pollyannaish looking-at-the-bright-side and flat-out self-deception. But it works.

When I'm having trouble with feeling tired during a run, it helps to think of myself as being hinged in the middle like a pair of scissors—my right arm is attached to my left leg, and my left arm is attached to my right leg. The pairs move forward and back at the same time. They hit the most forward point in their swing at the same time and they end their backward movement at the same time. Other people think about other things—being pulled forward by a balloon attached to the top of their head, for example, to keep them upright and moving forward. I think I'm a pair of scissors. Laugh if you want, but I will cut you, bro.

If he's around. Otherwise, I just choose a random neighbor or passerby. Okay, so maybe not that last part. I don't know that it's advice, exactly—and for the record, you're not allowed to kiss my husband (you'll have to find your own smooch-ee). But it's a positive way to start and end a workout session, so why not?

Five Things that Don't Suck, Surprising Turn of Events Edition

1. being able to be grateful for some rain this month (as opposed to a week or so ago, when I was just wishing it would STOP already)
2. waking up chilly
3. not having "Hungry Like the Wolf" stuck in your head (this hasn't actually happened to me, but isn't that nice?)
4. fruit salad
5. watching the dogs scare the crap out of the squirrel that was breakfasting on our compost bin this morning

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The First 100 Pounds (21 - 30)

There's a little more swearing in this post than usual. If that sort of thing bothers you, you probably want to skip this post. And, you know. The rest of this blog.

The standard warnings still apply: I'm still not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.

I also want to remind you (and myself) that some of these realizations/developments/changes were 16 months or more in the making. Process, process, process.

If you want to start from the beginning, you can do so here. Here are 21 – 30:

Not huge ones, not all at once. I dropped down from 1% milk to skim. A chip fiend, I started looking at what was in chips, and choosing ones made with ingredients I could pronounce. I also started getting the individual bags, which goes against everything I believe in from a packaging standpoint, but is a necessary step in teaching me about portions. Once those portions are ingrained, I'll go back to bigger bags and divvy them up myself (please note that in no way am I promising to give them up), but at the moment, I don't trust myself with big bags of anything but pretzels which, for some reason, don't trigger the kind of mindless eating that potato chips or tortilla chips do. Basically, I identified troubling parts of my diet—that is, parts that troubled me, that I was unhappy about—and I changed them, one at a time. I'll talk about more of them later in some detail, but the point here is just that I made them and, more importantly, that they were SMALL.

Well, a lot of it, anyway. I know this sounds like the exact opposite of a "small dietary adjustment," but it came in stages. My big shift in thinking started with bread. I'm not sure why I wanted to learn to make bread. Part of it was that I found it intimidating, and I'm sometimes contrary that way. Part of it was that I was following a food blog written by a woman who was making a lot of bread at the time. I started making most of our bread products (loaves, English muffins, pizza dough, bagels…you name it), and I was feeling proud of myself for eliminating much of the high fructose corn syrup from our diet. I don't think I'll immediately get diabetes if I ingest a milliliter of HFCS—I just think that if I'm buying whole wheat bread and using it to make sandwiches with locally-sourced cheeses and organic vegetables, maybe it shouldn't be full of preservatives and sugars of…let's call them questionable origins. I switched out the Miracle Whip (which I grew up on—no need to go hating the Whip) for mayonnaise. I started reading labels. And at some point, I realized that continuing to buy, say, a bag of jelly beans and eating myself into a diabetic coma might not be congruent with worrying about how much HFCS was in my bread. It took longer than that, and it went through several stages, and I still eat some processed food (not a lot, as it appeals to me less and less), but that's the gist of it.

I didn't make it a black-and-white issue—I already have too many rules like that in my life, and the problem with them is that when I fall off the wagon, I've got a built-in excuse for staying there. If it's an all-or-nothing situation, it's easier to go with "all." But if I make it a priority to make our food, then it doesn't matter if my schedule gets busy and I have to buy a loaf of bread. It's okay when we lose power for a week (like we did after Hurricane Irene) and we actually (gasp!) order out for pizza. The world doesn't end, and neither do I. Making this change in my thinking is, I'm starting to believe, the most important step I took in this process. And I did it by accident.

There will always be someone telling you that some kind of food is unhealthy (and I'll tell you that, later, too). I like egg yolks. I like them solid, I like them runny. Yes, they have cholesterol. Yes, they have fat. They also have Vitamin A, calcium, and iron. And both B-6 and B-12. A little fat can help keep me satisfied longer. And they're fucking delicious. I don't eat 27 eggs a day (I eat maybe 2 a week), but when I do? I eat the damn yolks. There are plenty of other foods like this, but you get the picture.

I try to eat mindfully these days. That means thinking about why I want what I want. It means shopping well and keeping healthy food in the house, but it also means considering a menu when I go out to eat. Do I want sweet potato fries today? Do I really want them? When was the last time I had them? Do I want them enough to make them worth the calories? What has the rest of my diet looked like lately—plenty of veggies, lean protein, the right amount of carbs? If I'm in doubt about the answers to any of those questions, it can make for a tough decision, but one that gets easier.

Sometimes. Because sometimes I just want food because it's appealing at the time. What I think of as "normal people"—people who have a healthy relationship with food—sometimes eat things just because they taste good to them. They don't try to mentally calculate the calories of every meal they eat, and they don't debate the nutritional value of feta cheese over bleu cheese or skip the cheese they really want because it's going to add calories. Normal people sometimes eat sweet potato fries two days in a row. Normal people eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full, and normal people do not always eat all of their servings of vegetables. My diet is already tons better than it was two years ago, which was better than it was five years ago. Balance, people. I'm talking about balance. But if you're going to eat it, make sure you enjoy it.

Damn straight I do. I live in the land of Bliss Brothers Dairy, which makes some of the best ice cream I've ever had, in a part of the country where we do not toil under the misguided notion that ice cream is a seasonal food. I love ice cream. I don't eat it every day, or even every week. But when I do eat it, I enjoy the hell out of it. I don't add up its calories or skip a meal to make up for it (although having a sundae for dinner one night in the summer is a long-standing tradition that I refuse to abandon, it's got nothing to do with limiting calories) or think about how long it will be before I can have the next one. I have two rules about eating ice cream: first, I need to really want it, which means I need to have been craving it for a while (often more than a week). I don't respond to my first craving for ice cream, pretty much ever. Second, I need to really enjoy it. If I want sorbet, that's fine, and that's what I'll get. But if I want a full-fat peanut butter cup ice cream cone or a sundae with whipped cream and walnuts? Then that's what I'm going to get. And I'm going to appreciate it, because when it's gone, it's gone. It's not a mistake, it's not "bad" food or "bad" behavior. It's fucking dessert and it's awesome and if I try to tell myself that I'm never having it again, I've set up another all-or-nothing scenario, knowing full well that after enough time of nothing, I'm going to revert, no-holds-barred, to all.

It's one of the dietary adjustments I made. It wasn't difficult for me, as I was already eating more vegetables than most people I know—I love vegetables. Raw, steamed, roasted, sautéed. I'm in. I'm not a huge fan of fruit, but I do what I can. At least two days a week, I keep vegetarian. That started accidentally, and it's not a rule by any stretch of the imagination, but it works for me. And rarely a day goes by that I don't get my full five servings or more of vegetables. Fruit…sigh. Fruit is a challenge.

I get hungry a lot. If you're running 25 or 30 miles a week and climbing hills for another ten or fifteen, plus going about your regular activities, you're going to get hungry. My body is working hard, with the workouts and the building of muscle and all. I make sure to get three full meals a day, and usually two snacks. If I get hungry on top of that, and I know it's actual hunger, not thirst, I eat—I just try to choose my snacks well.

Thirst can masquerade as hunger. I drink a lot of water—it's easier when you don't drink soda—and probably half the time, having enough water in my system makes the hunger pangs go away. (If it doesn't, I revert to number 28). I know you probably hear it a lot, but water makes everything function in your body: your organs, your digestion, everything. Yes, I have to pee a lot. If that's my biggest problem in life, I'm doing just fine.

Every couple of nights, I have a glass. There are reports that it's good for you, but I don't care. I like a glass of red with dinner, and I seldom have two, or even one glass two nights in a row. Relaxing is a good thing, and if people tell you that alcohol is liquid fat, tell them to shut up. Wine is liquid awesome. (So is sweat, but don't drink that, because it's gross.)

Five Things that Don't Suck, Stuff I Got Weirdly Excited About as a Kid Edition

1. helicopters
2. alligators
3. cabooses, especially in unusual colors
4. Bigfoot
5. the word "luncheon"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The First 100 Pounds (11 - 20)

The standard warnings still apply: I'm still not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.

I also want to remind you (and myself) that some of these realizations/developments/changes were 16 months or more in the making. Process, process, process.

If you want to start from the beginning, you can do so here. Or you can move on to 11 – 20:

If I take a day off, I take it OFF. I don't take a lot of them (usually one every two or three weeks, although sometimes as often as once a week), but when I do, I don't decide that I'm going to take a little walk that turns into a long walk or an easy jog. This doesn’t mean that I'm a giant slug all day, but if I'm taking the day off, I'm doing so because I need the rest. I could say the same thing for cross-training: I don't sneak running into my cross-training days because the muscles I use for running need a chance to rebuild and strengthen (which happens during rest, not during the workout). Oh, by the way

Yoga, hill walking, swimming, crunches, push-ups. I don't do all of these on the same day, but one or more of them are usually involved, and I'm okay with making it up as I go along.

Because it's nice to just get the hell outside once in a while. I work at a lovely campus, and I sometimes unexpectedly have 15 or 20 free minutes in my schedule—just long enough to put on a pair of sneakers and  pop outside for a quick mile. I don't try to build a sweat or raise my heart rate, and it's fine with me if I'm so busy that I can't get outside that day. But if I can, it's lovely. It's more reviving than a cup of coffee, and it will actually help me sleep better rather than screwing up my sleep cycle with caffeine.

(But not too much of it.) It's easy to get into outfit-buying mode. Or gadget-buying mode. I find I'm happier with a basic amount of gear, but I can still see myself going crazy—and I expect to have to fight the urge a little more once my sizes are consistent. At this point, I usually still shrink out of clothes before I can wear them out, so spending a lot of money on clothes—even for running—feels extremely wasteful to me. At the beginning, I picked up a couple of pairs of wicking capris (EVERYTHING I wear on a run—except shoes—is made of moisture-wicking materials. I'm generally an all-natural-fibers kind of girl, but trust me on this one: when it comes to running, cotton is Of The Devil. You can thank me later) and a couple of wicking t-shirts. I got 2 running bras and a 6-pack of wicking socks. I've added to the collection since then, because things wear out or get too big, and because I live in New England with its challenging climate, and also because I stepped up my workouts from three days a week to six or seven as I got stronger and I just didn't want to do laundry that often. But to start? I stuck with the basics.

That meant going to a running store, talking about what I'm doing, and getting fitted. Good shoes changed my running life. And if you think the people there won't take you seriously, you're wrong—or you need a different store. I weighed over 250 pounds when I got my first pair of real running shoes (Brooks Defyance—stupid spelling, but the right shoe for me). I wish I hadn't waited so long, but I just wasn't confident enough that I'd be seen as a runner. The woman there asked, "For running or walking?" and that was it. I volunteered some information: I have very wide feet; my long run at the time was 6 miles; I hadn't had any knee problems or anything else from the running (which surprised me, since I had knee problems in high school, never mind as a morbidly obese woman in her 40s). She watched my feet as I walked away from her and then back to her in the store, and we tried on some shoes. Then she watched me run in them, and I bought the Brooks. The cool thing about it? She treated me like a runner. When she asked questions, they weren't born of disbelief but of a desire to help me get the best shoes I could for my gait, my feet, my routine, and my weight.

The salesperson might toss around words like "over-pronation" or "supination" or whatever. Don't worry about that. If you answer their questions, they'll get you the right shoe. And if I don't like it, or it doesn't work for me, my store will take the shoes back (not all stores will). At this point, I could order my shoes online, but I'm not going to. That one woman at that one store earned herself a customer for life, and you should expect the same experience. If you don't get it, go to another store.

I read a lot of different opinions about when I could/should replace my shoes. Every 300 miles. Every six months at the outside. No, that's ridiculous—I should be able to get twice as much mileage out of my shoes as what the companies want me to believe. Blah, blah, blah. Everyone has a different opinion. My first pair of shoes lasted pretty much exactly six months. I wasn't keeping a running total of my mileage at that point, and I'm too lazy to go add it up now, but my mileage was pretty low. I also, as I mentioned, weighed 250 pounds. What I weighed, how often I ran, the way I ran—all of these things affected, and continue to affect, how long a pair of shoes will last. My second pair of shoes didn't last anywhere near as long. I'd bumped up my running to four days a week instead of three, and three of those days were consecutive, so the shoes didn't have much time to rest in between uses. I'd bumped my mileage way up, too, and my long run was sometimes twice as long as it was when I bought my first pair. So when I went for my third pair of shoes, I bought two—both neutral, from different manufacturers. I'm sticking with my Brooks, but I added a pair of Asics while I was at it. My hope is that having two pairs in rotation will help them last longer, but we'll see.

The thing is, I knew I needed new shoes because I developed a pain in my right knee. It started as discomfort at the ball of my foot while I was running, and showed up in my daily life as pain in my knee. When I got new shoes, the pain went away. Is it expensive? Kind of. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Now I keep track of when I buy my shoes, and I track my mileage. I also keep in mind that the outside of the shoe might look perfectly fine—it can still be breaking down on the inside.

In other news, I don't put my running clothes in the dryer. Some runners hand-wash their gear, but I've learned that I sweat enough that a hand-washing just ain't gonna do it. I bought some mesh lingerie bags and I put my running clothes in them and toss them in the wash on hot with the towels. The bags protect the clothes from getting worn down and drying them on a rack helps keep the elastic intact.

I don't know what to call it. Balm? A common brand is Body Glide, but my supermarket carries the Gold Bond brand, so I use that. It goes on like stick deodorant, and you can put it wherever you're worried about friction. Runners use it on their toes, their thighs, places where the seams of their clothing might rub, stuff like that. I generally use it where my bra band hits my ribs, and I only need it for long runs. Sweat + friction + time = ouch. If you've got friction issues, you'll know it as soon as you get in the shower, if not during the run itself. It's easily solved. Balm is not expensive, but I would pay twice as much for it if I had to (don't tell the Gold Bond people).

Most of the time. My rule of thumb is five flights down or three flights up. If it's more than that, I'm 100% pro-elevator, but most of the stairs I encounter fall under those guidelines. There are other exceptions—if I'm wearing shoes that make stairs dangerous, or if it's a million degrees and I'm trying to get somewhere important without looking like I drowned, or if I'm carrying so much weight in my briefcase that I risk dislocating a shoulder even on a flat surface, then fine. I'll elevate. Generally, though, stairs. It's not about the exercise—I don't expect that taking the stairs is going to allow me to drop five extra pounds this year, and even if it does, five pounds a year is not exactly motivational. It's about having a different attitude toward moving my body. Movement is not a chore. It's what I was designed to do, and I'm happier if I do it.

Sometimes, I have to schedule my life around my workout. It's a pain, but it's how I keep myself on track. If I don't prioritize it, it won't get done. Something else is bound to come up. There are days where I get up early to get a walk in. Other days, I just need to know what the schedule is. My husband's out of the house two nights a week, so on those days, I tend to run in the early evening, while he's gone—but if someone wants to meet me for dinner, I get the run in earlier. I'm flexible, but the workout—especially on a running day—needs to happen. Running complicates things further by requiring a certain amount of fuel. I need to be well-fed, but not so recently that I risk nausea (or worse). A long run can take several hours, between eating, changing, running, cooling down, refueling, cleaning up. I can accomplish other things during some of that time (it's not like I have to sit in my living room, staring into space, while I wait for my breakfast to digest), but it takes organization and scheduling. If I were a more casual runner—three miles, say, three times a week—it wouldn't be as big a deal. But the longer my runs get, the more I have to think things through. So that's what I do.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Get Out of the Kitchen Edition

1. ice cream
2. swimming
3. condensation running down the side of a glass
4. not having to wear 17 layers
5. cool showers

Monday, June 24, 2013

The First 100 Pounds: 100 Ways I Got on Track and Stay There (1 - 10)

I started this list because I'd been wondering what I'd do once I'd managed to lose one hundred pounds. Yesterday was that day—and I know that in all likelihood, I'll be back over that mark sometime in the next few days (because progression is not always linear, as I'll discuss later), but I wanted to commemorate the day in some way. It's been more than a year in the making. Friends and family often ask me how this happened, and how I keep myself motivated. I still don't know. But I decided, in honor of this hundred pounds, I'd come up with one hundred things I've done (or still do) to keep myself getting healthier. I was originally going to just keep the list in the order in which I'd thought of items, but screw that. Let's see if we can come up with themes.

I shouldn't have to mention that I'm not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.

Without further ado, here are the first ten:

I didn't talk about starting on the couch-to-5K program. Some people knew I'd been walking on our new treadmill for the previous three months. And Jed knew, because he lives with me. But I kept it off Facebook, and I didn't mention it, except to a very select group of friends. I didn't take any "before" pictures because I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I don't regret it.

Well, yeah. Actually, I took it public earlier than I had expected to. I'm not sure why or even when it happened, but I mentioned it one day on Facebook (in a FTTDS list, probably), and the floodgates opened. I don't regret that, either.

I didn't want to know. And knowing came with the risk of getting so discouraged that I'd give up. So I stayed off the scale for months. So how, you ask, do I know that I've lost a hundred pounds? I don't, not exactly. But, having gone down through several sizes, I've learned how many pounds I take up between sizes, and I know how my clothes fit throughout the process. If I'm off by 5 pounds in either direction, I don't really care (but if I'm off, I'm convinced I'm off because I'm underestimating, not overestimating my weight loss). The other part of that, of course, is:

And I continue to get on it, just about every day. It keeps me on track, and it's helped me figure out the way my own body reacts—to water weight, to hormonal changes, to hot or cold weather, to what I ate the night before. I waited until I was steadily involved in working out before I weighed myself, because I was afraid of what I would see. It was pretty terrible, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Then I made it a habit.

"You trot," a friend of mine said to me once, not unkindly, because she didn't think I was running fast enough to call it "running." Call it jogging, call it shuffling, call it anything but running, and you're doing yourself a disservice. After all, when does it become running? An 11-minute mile (5.5 mph)? A 10-minute mile (6 mph)? There is always someone faster than me, and there always will be. So when, exactly, should I be allowed to call it a run? At my weight, 4.5 mph was running—or at least, it was if I wanted to avoid burning my knees out or getting a stress fracture before I was able to run a continuous mile. At this point, my regular maintenance, bread-and-butter runs are 11-minute miles or a little faster. My long runs are closer to 12-minute miles. My speed work is barely faster than a 10-minute mile, in quarter-mile bursts or thereabouts. The thing is, I didn't become a runner when I started to run faster. I became a runner the second I took the first step of the first running interval of the first day of my couch-to-5K program. Let other people call it whatever they want. I call it running, and always have.

This one was tough, and it's one of many times where I'm going to say that I do not know how it happened. Countless times, I have started exercise programs by looking at the end result. That's just insane. If I start at the end, then I am giving myself the ammunition to constantly badger myself about whether I'm getting there fast enough, and every time I backslide (miss a workout, eat a cookie) I can further badger myself about that and now not only am I not getting there fast enough, but I don't deserve to get there at all. Because I am bad.

I have planned out where I'm supposed to be on any given day for the next six months, and then ignored the plan after three days, meaning that the next five months and 27 days become more evidence of my failures. I have planned out where I'm supposed to be and then gotten angry with myself for not exceeding it (because I'm better than the average person, so I should perform better, right?). It's bullshit. This time, for whatever reason—maybe because the whole idea of it seemed ludicrous to me—I just did what I was supposed to do when I was supposed to do it. I was in total disbelief of ever becoming a runner. I might as well have started a 9-week plan to become an astronaut. I tricked myself into thinking I had already set myself up to fail, and so I succeeded. Because I am sneaky. This wasn't a deliberate act, but I'm beginning to think it's what happened. I had no reason to sabotage myself, because the goal was insane, and by the time the saboteur in me caught on to what was happening, I'd begun to build the mental strength I needed to continue.

Trying to do both is an invitation to injury. I'll add a mile or I'll shave some seconds off my mile time, but trying to add a mile while simultaneously trying to run all of the miles faster? That way lies madness, my friend. Yes, it's not exactly thrilling to know that adding a mile is going to increase my workout by 11 minutes, but tough. Better that than not being able to work out at all because I've pulled a muscle or damaged a tendon or worse. I need to let my body catch up and build itself. As I get stronger, I get faster. As I add miles to my long runs, the short runs get easier and I find I can do them faster. As I lose weight, I get faster. When my husband and I drove to Florida last winter to visit my parents, I didn't start asking why we weren't there yet before we'd hit the Rhode Island border, or the North Carolina border, or even the Florida border. We got there when we'd put in the miles. (I did ask why people felt compelled to drive the exact same speed across three lanes of highway, but that's a different post.)

And by this, I don't mean my running speed, although as I've mentioned, that was basically glacial. I mean that I gave my muscles and tendons time to build. I read that if I could run slower, I was running too fast—not forever, just until I got stronger. I took the rest days that were in the schedule. I didn't push myself to go beyond what the couch-to-5K schedule required of me. People on the C25K discussion boards often talked about having to repeat workouts or even entire weeks, sometimes multiple times, so I gave myself permission to do that. I never had to do it, but I hope I would have followed through on that permission. Someone on one of the boards said that he realized that when the experts said things like, "Your body needs time to recover from a strenuous workout. If you don't give it the time it needs, you'll injure yourself," there wasn't actually an unwritten sentence that said, "Except YOU, of course—we all know that you're better than that." When I read that, I realized that I'd been adding that sentence to the end of every piece of diet or exercise advice I'd ever read, and it was idiotic.

I walk the dogs and, if I can get Jed to agree, I want to take them hiking and camping. I haul firewood and pellet fuel in the winter. I do yard work (not enough of it). I swim at pretty much every opportunity. In short, I don't use my workout as an excuse to hang out on my butt for the rest of the day. Sometimes—many times—that happens anyway. I'm a poet and a professor, and a lot of the work involved in both of those professions involves sitting. But I don't let the workout keep me from spending an afternoon hauling brush, and I don't let the afternoon hauling brush keep me from the workout. Being active in different ways keeps me interested—and keeps me on top of the improvements I'm making. This past winter, I ran 10 miles and then went outside and shoveled snow for 90 minutes, and I could feel how strong I was: my arms were strong, my back and abs were strong, I didn't have to catch my breath while I was shoveling, and I wasn't the least bit sore the next day. I did NOT use the work as an excuse to punish myself (if I'd had trouble shoveling, I would have let Jed do the rest of it), but I did use it as an excuse to praise myself for how far I'd come.

I don't change everything at once—not in my diet, not in my workouts. Figuring out how to fuel for long runs took me a couple of months (I'll talk about that later). It's a trial-and-error deal, this running, and it's individualized. I switch out one thing at a time until I see an improvement, and then I go from there. Patience, Grasshopper.

Five Things that Don't Suck, 100 Pounds Down Edition

1. feeling so good that I forget to post a list (whoops)
2. how the world doesn't end when that happens
3. tossing catalogs for plus-sized women in the recycling
4. having serious muscles
5. moving on to the next goal