Resuming the writing, but moving the blog

It’s been several years since I’ve written anything on this blog. I began the process of writing some updates, and I’ll explain elsewhere how I’m going to go about doing that. But I’ve also decided to merge this with another blog that I have also been working on for a few years. I’m doing this in order to simplify my own life, since trying to run and keep up two different blogs is just too complicated.

I did want to address the fact that I haven’t written anything here for some time. I think it’s relevant, although a bit embarrassing. The fact is that partly, like many people who have struggled with weight issues, I’ve tended to go through periods of being very energized and feeling like I’m making great progress, followed by periods in which the weight bounces back. During the latter periods, of course, one tends to put the writing side for a while. It was also a period during which I moved and began to ramp up my work as a psychologist. That resulted in a drop-off in all my writing work, as the day to day demands of a clinical practice took over most of my schedule.

I’ve had better success in recent years in making good progress on the weight issue. Looking back, I think that putting my main emphasis on exercise for weight control was in retrospect misplaced. This makes a lot of sense given things we have learned over the past decade or so about weight loss. In a nutshell, so to speak, diet and nutrition are probably 90% of the battle.

I been very interested in learning more about what I think is probably the best approach we currently have to weight control, involving dietary changes (especially cutting back on fast-acting carbs). I’ll talk more about this in the other blog, focusing on my own view as both a guy with weight issues, and one who is a practicing psychologist. (Don’t assume that psychologists don’t struggle with the same issues in life as everyone else! After all, why do you think we got into the field in the first place?)

For now, I invite you to join me at my other blog, High Performance Self-Help. It is a more general blog dealing with everything from weight and fitness to managing depression and anxiety, to general “high performance” related topics. Click the link.

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“Guys like you don’t live to be very old”

wild_turkeys

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Saturday now and so the body feels clearly over the slight (heh heh) “lapses” in diet control that occurred with the family on Thursday afternoon. Though I didn’t do too badly, actually.

One of the shifts that’s been occurring is that of course the whole family seems more interested in eating closer to a plant-based, lower fat diet. While we had the usual turkey (of course, a nice Vermont free-range non-injected non-pen raised bird who no doubt died self-actualized and content), even the in-laws basically don’t eat meat, fat or much by way of carbs as a rule.

So it’s not like I have to go it alone and haul a bag of my own sad little salad off to feasts. There were a lot of healthy veggie dishes at the dinner.

Though I did have a bit of the traditional fare, I couldn’t really eat as much as I would have a year ago. And that was fine with me. I thought it was actually a good thing that by the end of the “pre-meal snacks” of olives, deviled eggs, nice cheeses and so on, I felt stuffed. I’m happy to have finally hit the 20 pound weight loss mark, which I did on Thanksgiving and the scale shows me is still where I am two days afterward. My goal is to get down to 200 by the end of the year — thirteen more pounds to go.

Psychological impact of the weight changes

This brings lots of nice changes. It’s not just being off insulin (which happened fast, and I’ll discuss later.) It’s not just the physical measurements. There is a set of psychological changes that have been occurring, and one of these in particular that I want to talk about in this post.

For instance, the sense of my body, how it moves through space, seems to be different. It seems to me that my body moves more easily. Likely true — stick 20 or 30 pounds into a backpack on your shoulder, and see how different it feels just to get out of a chair and walk across the room — that’s the literal difference between myself a couple of months, and two years, ago, and now. I seem to walk faster, and there is a sense of a lighter, smaller upper body which is of course true. It takes a large weight loss in a short amount of time to notice this difference. I have noted more energy which seems to be a function of both exercise and blood sugar control, though the latter is still very much a work in progress. My face is different in the mirror.

Clothing is looser, which has a definite impact on my sense of self. I find things in the bottom of my dresser that I bought when I was a bit lighter, some things like rain jackets I’ve owned for ten or twenty years, and I’m realizing that I’d stopped wearing them because they’d gotten too tight. So while I’m holding off on buying new clothes, I’m actually finding some “preserves” tucked away that may tide me over, and that I can enjoy for the first time in years.

I also feel like people are reacting a bit differently to me. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think I’m getting flirted with a bit. Which may seem to be kind of juvenile for a 60 year old guy to even think about. Except that having been heavy since childhood, I know for a fact that this was a big developmental deal. Decades of being the “invisible fat person” (or even, I think, the repulsive fat person) leave marks in the psyche. And because I’ve had a couple of brief periods of temporary thinness, where I had those reactions in the past, I know very well that I was not imagining it.

During my brief weight loss in my early twenties in grad school, women who were previously “way out of my league” started hitting on me. Okay, not like thousands of them, but enough that I could definitely tell that despite all the well-meaning “it’s not your looks, it’s your personality that matters” talk fat people all hear, bottom line is, it’s your looks.

Thanksgiving thoughts of childhood

On Thanksgiving, middle-aged people think back to childhood. I thought with some longing about people who were my whole world back then, who are now long gone. Grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Even my once “baby” brother, who died relatively young a few years ago, a casualty of decades of extremely heavy drinking, heavy smoking, obesity and finally, of a horrible, fast-killing cancer.

During my childhood, one of the “facts about the world” I learned was that 60 was old. I mean, really old. As a child growing up in the 1960s, though adults never talked about it, I gradually concluded that when adults hit the age–60 milestone — if they made it that far at all — they didn’t have long to live. Whether it was relatives (my grandfather died in his early sixties when I was about eight), or famous people I’d seen on TV who I heard had suddenly died, the message was clear. We all have about sixty years to live. That is why, for instance, when the Social Security Administration was founded and set a retirement age at which people could get government benefits, they set the retirement age in the early sixties. Because frankly, by that age, more people were already dead than alive.

Of course, nowadays, dying at 70 is considered premature by many people in this country. One of the reasons we are more used to hearing of people passing at 85 or 90 nowadays is that people have in the main stopped smoking. Cigarettes were the primary reason, it turns out, that adults were dropping so young.

The lethal threat of diabetes

But weight, particularly weight that causes diabetes and similar problems, is still the big threat. In fact, diabetes is likely to replace smoking as the thing that will kill you in your middle-aged years. And even little kids are getting it. I did not know any children who were diabetic when I was small. And aside from just me and a very few peers, I didn’t know kids who were overweight, either.

I’ve certainly known that the heavy, razor sharp sword of a searingly painful premature death by diabetes has been dangling by a thin thread over my head for years now.

A few years and thirty pounds ago, my usually very pleasant and optimistic doctor — the kind of guy who I’m convinced would tell you that you have “just a little bit of Black Plague — nothing to be too concerned about” — made an uncharacteristicly blunt comment to me: “Guys like you don’t live to be very old.” He was referring to the obesity and diabetes, of course. And it’s true.

On Thanksgiving, I thought about that. About how the difference between my very likely developing — in the next couple of years — a host of crippling and terminal medical problems, and living perhaps thirty or even forty more years, is this weight loss project. Because that is the very real difference in probable futures for me. I can be statistically pretty sure of developing some horrible conditions relatively soon…or I can look forward to probably decades of… well, something better than I’ve perhaps known before. Like getting hit on by ladies in nursing homes, maybe.

So these changes, and hopefully, the gift of decades of life to come, are truly something nice to give thanks for on Thanksgiving.

How to involve your doctor

I feel a bit like an “evangelist” here (a term used by people not just in the religious sphere but also people who really think something is cool and useful – a role made more famous by Guy Kawasaki, who was the “chief evangelist” for the Macintosh at one point)… and a bit like I have to state that I am only a “civilian”who happened to find that the EndDiabetesFuhrman’s “End of Diabetes” has been the best and most effective program I’ve personally tried for weight control and diabetes control/elimination. But no, I’m not getting any kind of rewards and am not on staff… and so on. Just in case anyone wonders. Still: 214 today. Again, best low weight I’ve had in decades and I am reliably dropping a few pounds a week. I’ve been chatting this stuff up with my docs. Basically, at this point I’m convinced that it’s important to get your doctor on board with such plans. For one thing, if you are being treated for a number of health conditions, the combination of diet and and exercise changes are very likely the most powerful “medicine” you can use. Yes, more powerful than pills, shots, horrors such as stomach banding (something my endo seriously brought up a year or two ago…) and so on. You’ll need to work with your doctor because if you go full bore into one of these good programs, the odds are very high that you will need to start cutting back on your medications. Possibly much sooner than you expect. Fuhrman said in his book that diabetics can often dramatically reduce their insulin requirements literally within a few days to weeks (not months, or “somedays”) of starting his program. (I cut my Lantus in half 2 years ago on Tim Ferriss’s program, but have eliminated it entirely on the current program, and I went down to no insulin literally within two weeks of starting it. With an A1C most recently that was quite a bit bit lower than it had been previously.) Yesterday I emailed Dr. Fuhrman and asked if he had specific guidelines or other written material to recommend to one’s physician in order to enlist their help in transitioning to this program. His response:

Hi Greg,  I think The End of Diabetes has the most information and guidance for physicians on the medication reduction, so I think that is the best thing to start with.  My book, Eat For Health is also good for physicians so they can see how the program can be modified to be less extreme for patients who are not as ill or motivated.  We will be having a physician referral list that we will be developing for physicians familiar with my work who fill out a questionnaire demonstrating competency with these guidelines too, in the near future.

My suggestion: read the books (and those of other programs you find convincing.) If you are going to make this kind of healthy change to diet, just assume you may need to be talking with your doc about monitoring the need for medication changes.

Sinking your weight loss plan

Benjamin Franklin once said that “little leaks sink great ships.” He was talking about how you don’t end up saving money by spending a little at a time on things you don’t need. But this also happens with weight loss efforts.

sinker

The advantage of doing a “most of the time” nutritarian (Fuhrman) diet is that you get more of the nutrients you need — you get a lot of the vitamins and other healthy things by adding all that veggie and fruit and so on.

But I’ve found it’s very easy to plateau, or even to start gaining weight again,  if you keep adding small “cheats” daily — an extra glass of wine, two or three  “small” things like bits of bread, say a piece of “healthy” whole grain toast with “just a bit of butter..” and so on.

Doesn’t sound like much. But the thing is, you don’t do it “just a little” as a rule. You just forget about the four other times that day that you cheated “just a little.” The one “little” cookie at noon after the one small extra bit of buttery toast in the morning, and maybe four other things. Research has even shown that people who log their food intake “from memory” won’t even think to add the “cheats” to their food lists! Which can make for a lot of frustration.

The good news is that I have learned that when I do NOT do this, when I do NOT let myself have any little cheats during the day, and when I get even a bit of exercise, the weight does seem to come off in a pretty reliable way.

Meaning that for the first time in my life, I can actually predict that tomorrow, or the next day at worse, I”ll hit 214#. And then 213#. And eventually, “one day at a time,” I should get there.

That’s why I think it’s been so important to have a bit of outside help. Just chatting once a week with the counselor from the motivational program, doing a bit of review, and making plans for how to manage the impulse to veer “just a bit” off track the next time it happens (and it will happen…and no, I’m not doing perfectly well but don’t need to)… helps a lot.

I hit 215 this morning.

Two Ways to Think of Weight Loss Progress

Picking up on yesterday, I have a few comments on “progress” in this program.

Current weight loss progress

One part of that is “results,” of course. So here is my current graph, starting from several weeks ago when I joined the motivational program and so let my period of “pre-program sloth” end and went as best as I could, full bore, on the Fuhrman program. (Keep in mind that the original weight when I started this diet was creeping up on 250#.)  I have a long way to go to my target weight of about 165-170 (which I weighted after I started gras school decades ago).  But eighteen pounds in two months — the best weight loss I’ve ever had in 40+ years of weight loss efforts — is still a hefty (heh heh) start.

141110 weight

Another kind of progress

Progress can be measured by weight loss. But I am starting to think there is another, equally important measure. It has to do with “internal” or perhaps, psychological changes.  Which involve some real shifts in things going on in one’s brain, I think. (I’ll talk about some of the research on this topic later.)

I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that even when I have “slips” and eat “off-plan” things, I still have less trouble on the Fuhrman diet holding to a pretty good weight. There isn’t the bouncing up and down of five pounds I’d get after the “cheat days” on the Ferris “slow carb” diet.

I attribute this to a few things, including the fact that even when in a restaurant and I go “off plan,” it involves things like ordering the salad bar but maybe adding just a bit of a pasta salad to it. Or adding “just a bit” of high cal dressing. Even so, the outcome is still good compared to what I’ve done in the past because I end up having mostly a healthy salad as the main meal, instead of something huge and unhealthy.

Another thing that has been happening is that I think my tastes and my capacity for eating too much food, are changing.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at one of my favorite Vermont diners on my way to work. Had not much in the house to eat that morning (my first mistake) or maybe I was just tired of it. So I ordered a “not healthy” breakfast. But it included an egg white omelette with spinach and onions and mushrooms (so getting animal protein and fat but also three veggies that are key things in Fuhrman’s plan), and had coffee. I added creamer and sweetener to the coffee.

It turned out that I could only eat half the omelette, and that felt like too much. I also noticed that I didn’t really enjoy the coffee with the sweetener and the cream. Felt too rich, and it also felt way too sweet. Considering that I used to drink about a half gallon of sweetened creamed-up coffee a day, and considering that my favorite meal there previously was more like pancakes or eggs benedict with home fries and so on, this is I think an indication that my interests in the “unhealthy” stuff is starting to turn.

I’m not yet at the point that I think like the people in Fuhrman’s diet videos in terms of eating preferences. (His kid saying “I’d never even consider eating a cookie!” Really?)

But it’s encouraging. Because if I don’t feel like eating the junk, then it means my life will not consist from here on out of a constant process of psychological grieving over my lost pizzas. Gradually, the idea of a bowl of veggie soup and some fruit and nuts for dinner doesn’t see at all unpleasant.

Which is more like the imaginary, “ideal self” that I’ve wanted to get to for many years.

Revivals and progress

Wow. It’s been like five years since I posted here. But I’ve had some nice developments in my personal weight loss journey since that time and I have been thinking that since this blog still gets occasional readers, I should catch it up.

When I started the blog in about ’09, I listed my weight at about 250#. Good news is that through some experiments and learning, it has gone down about thirty pounds. The better news is that half of this weight loss has occurred through making one key strategy change, following one program, in the past few weeks. I’m finally feeling on track to getting down to my target weight.

Reading my old posts, the big mistake I made was the same one many people make: focusing more on exercise than diet. A lot of books have come out since I last posted which challenge that old doctrine, and there are three key ones I’ve found helpful. (Not that exercise isn’t important… it’s just not the main thing.)

taubesThe first was Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. It was published a year after my last posting and made for me the key point that diet, not exercise, is the key to controlling weight. Because research is clear: if all you do is exercise to manage weight, you will just tend to overcompensate by taking in more calories to restore equilibrium. You cannot not do that in the long run…unless you want to just trigger a clinical depression.

And much has been published and discovered about the reason food is the main thing to change, focusing mostly on the role of carbohydrates in causing obesity. Sugar, flour (even “healthy” whole grain flours, breads, and so on. The “food pyramids” of earlier years, the so called keys to healthy eating, proved to be part of our problem, with their focus on eating high numbers of grain foods every day.

If you are reading this, you’ve probably heard all that before. So I won’t go into the theory here.

Unknown-1My second worthwhile experiment came as a result of reading Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body. He had a “slow carb diet” plan that I did find to be helpful. I lost about ten pounds in a few months a few summers ago on this plan. Ultimately, I plateaued, though, and that may have been for a few reasons. One might be his “cheat days” idea, I don’t know. Another was just that plans done that way may tend to deteriorate for some of us…you start “cheating” more? But I think really, the issue may be that the plan, which allows both the option of one day of eating all the bad old high carb foods (my wife and I would fill up on pancakes on Saturdays and all sorts of horrors, then not shake the weight the rest of the week), and the diet itself, tended for me to maintain my food addictions.

I don’t use the word “addiction” to evoke the classic “skid row alcoholic” but do think that what we know now about how the brain tends to pull us very powerfully back to “old favorites” (whether in food, alcohol, music, or whatever we get used to) makes plans like Ferriss’s not sometimes as effective. Plus, there is some controversy about whether eating a diet heavy in animal protein is all that healthy. Partly for matters of personal preference, and partly due to my reading of the research, I prefer not to go that route.

My final entry, and the thing I’ve found most helpful now, is Fuhrman’s work on diet and health. A nurse friend introduced me to Joel Fuhrman’s The End of Diabetes about a year ago. It was the most life changing book I’ve come across.

EndDiabetes Fuhrman has written a great deal about diet and health in general. In this book he makes a powerful case that most of what we have been doing to treat obesity and particularly diabetes for many years is misguided. His program (very similar to other popular programs including Ornish and Atkins, but with some key differences) focuses on the importance of changing one’s lifestyle and diet.  He uses the acronym “G-BOMBS” to remind one to base one’s diet on the combination of Greens (and other veggies), Beans (for protein — minimal to no animal products such as meats, dairy, fish, cheese, etc.), Onions, Mushrooms (anti cancer properties), Berries and other fruits, Seeds and nuts.

I did the diet for a time a summer ago and lost a bunch of weight on it. Drifted. Decided  to go at it 100% recently and even signed up with Fuhrman’s “motivational outreach program” which I do find helpful – having someone to check in with  weekly, such as that or in weight loss groups, helps you keep at it.

So far, so good. I have had a huge drop in my A1C and even discontinued my insulin. (Of course, working with docs to monitor stuff but face it, 95% of “monitoring” you have to do yourself.)  I’ve lost fifteen pounds in the past two months. Most important, I am finding that gradually, tastes and cravings are changing. I still can “reactivate” a craving for carbs, but mostly manage to structure my diet so that in the average week I do pretty well. I hit the two-teens recently for the first time probably in a couple of decades. My clothes are deliciously baggy.

Still lots to go. But this is excellent.

I’ll keep you posted.

Weight loss and the bonsai

Bonsai Tree

I am busily visualizing a nicely shaped, mature bonsai tree  as part of my process of just hanging on to this project.  Because, as is probably typical for most of us, progress is occurring, but slowly.

Here’s the rundown: my weight seems plateaued. Meaning I’m about the same as a week ago, roughly six or so pounds lower than at the start of the project, but far from the dramatic 12 or 15 pounds I wish I had lost by now.  So on one level, it could seem like nothing much is happening, certainly nowhere near as much as the many “weight loss stars” seem to accomplish.  (You know, the ones who promise to make you lose 2 or 3 pounds a week, or who report such dramatic results themselves.)

And it’s possible I could be doing much better.  I know I need to cut back some on carbs (meaning “white food”).  My diet isn’t really super heavy in, well, anything, and I almost never (except on those weekend splurges) eat stuff like big burgers on big white buns and pizza and dessert.  But I have generally been eating a few hundred calories a day more than I absolutely have to, nutritionally speaking.  (Example: I am determined to avoid high fructose corn poison and fake sweeteners that turn to formaldehyde in my system, so instead I toss some unnecessary plain old white sugar in my coffee.  Another example: higher fat varieties of cottage cheese and such than I perhaps need.)  So even though I almost always come in within my allowances on my CalorieKing software, the pounds aren’t dropping.

And of course, that’s frustrating!  Not horrible one week, but if it’s the third week and it’s still stuck, especially if that weight is 3 pounds higher than my best-so-far weight… well, that sucks.

Of course, there is a big, big “on the other hand” argument here.  For one thing, my measurements.  Blood sugar is generally great.  My blood pressure is much improved and holding — not dropped enough that I could consider dropping a medication yet, but it’s in a good range and that’s consistent.  Resting pulse continues to be much better than when I started the project.  (Not yet Lance Armstrong, but in a really good range.)

More important: measurements and muscle strength are good.  I lost another half-inch on my waist this week; still not perfect and I still look a little bit pregnant, but the tape measure doesn’t lie.  Chest is same, but then I’ve been doubling and even tripling my upper bod reps on my chest/pecs, just because I have felt I need more upper body strength.

And my capabilities in the gym are improving steadily, as well.  Big muscle groups in particular, going up at best in the double – digit percent improved range in a few areas.  I can lift more weight  more comfortably, and this gets better constantly.  Aerobic conditioning is also clearly improved; at least on good days (when I’ve gotten good sleep and not messed up my blood sugar), I can do more, go faster, sustain intense bursts with better comfort and respiration than in the past.  It’s all good.

Which brings me back to the bonsai tree.  I love the art of bonsai, mostly as a spectator.  (Used to go to the Minnesota State Fair bonsai club exhibit  and man! they are spectacular!)

The thing about a bonsai is that it’s something you tend, change, shape very gradually.  Over time you make consistent, tiny, almost invisible little changes.  You may snip a small bit of a branch or a few leaves or needles from the tree.  You may shape a branch with a piece of wire ever… so… slowly, making teensy little adjustments very patiently.  It generally is a project of many years.

But then you have this amazing thing.  This beautiful tree that seems to have brought all the latent potential of the original tree out, and made it perfect.

I think that’s what this project really is about.  Make little tiny changes.  Go to the gym and maybe the only thing I do on a particular day is push myself just a bit longer, get my heart rate up into my aerobic zone just a half-minute longer than yesterday.  Or drink maybe just the first cup of coffee in the morning without sugar, even if I “cave” after that.  Just don’t replace small improvements with small bad habits in other areas!

And look for little evidences of change.  Because if my weight is the same on the scale but my waist is smaller, even a little, and I’ve added five more pounds to what I can do on the leg press and that’s more than I could do a week ago… something important is happening.

What do you think?

Weight loss: The pros and cons of “splurge days”

bigmeal

 

Yesterday I ate too much, and today I can still feel it.  I don’t think I really enjoyed what I felt after we had our large pizza and the cheesecake dessert we brought back from our “foraging” trip later in the afternoon.  And this brings up an interesting topic — the idea of giving yourself a “splurge day” every week as part of your weight loss plan.  There are pros and cons to doing this.

Pros of having a splurge day

The basic idea is that if you are working on a diet plan as part of a weight loss effort, that you may sometimes find it easier to maintain your plan if it doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up your favorite foods for the rest of your life.  You like chocolate cake, you miss chocolate cake, you don’t think you can possibly do without chocolate cake forever… so you tell yourself that you’ll have it, if you can only hold out until Sunday.

There are some good scientific theories behind “splurge days.”  

  • Limits of self-control.  Some psychological researchers suggest that there are limits to our abilities to deprive ourselves.  Their research suggests that self-control seems to operate like the batteries in your laptop or cell phone: eventually you need to recharge them.  The thinking is that if we try too hard to deprive ourselves or control our behavior in too many areas, or sacrifice for too long, we may actually weaken our ability to control ourselves.  So the theory goes that if once a week you splurge, it’s like a much-needed rest period. 
  • Avoids “starvation mode.” This is based on the medical research suggesting that our bodies have built-in “famine detector” systems that react to prolonged caloric reduction by going into an energy-saving mode. In other words, if you cut back your calories constantly, you find that you’re less able to burn off fat.  The bod says “no.  Un uh.  I need this fat.”  So a day of splurging is a way of keeping the body’s famine detection system off guard…. so you can keep losing weight.  You eat a few extra cookies on Sunday and on Wednesday you may find you’ve lost more weight than you would have if you’d skipped the cookies.  (This only works occasionally, of course — cookies every day doesn’t have the same effect.)

Cons of having a splurge day

  • How it feels.  Sometimes your splurges may just not feel all that good.  When you generally eat a lot of heavy foods, sugary foods or whatnot, you may feel less good than you might feel if you ate healthier instead of splurging.  And the more you are used to healthier eating, the more you’ll notice the effects of your once-weekly splurge.  I think this was part of my feeling yesterday: despite looking forward to a pig-out meal and a great dessert, the fact is I didn’t feel all that great after I ate.  I used to eat like that daily; now I seldom do.  So I felt stuffed and frankly, got kind of sick of eating the pizza and dessert we’d bought.  Ick.  
  • Health effects.  Being diabetic, I have to plan carefully and adjust my meds if I am to eat a lot of carbs or sweet desserts or the like.  High blood sugar means having that “sleepy stupid” feeling that other folks mainly associate with the after-Thanksgiving feast.  It’s not healthy, though.  And even if your health is generally great, a pig-out meal stresses your bod anyway.
  • Psychology.  I mean, here we are, working not just to “get thin” for a few weeks, but trying to modify our general sense of ourselves.  Part of your sense of “self” is the stuff you do, the stuff you say, the stuff you think.  As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “you are who you pretend to be.”  So if I want to be a thin, healthy, athletic guy (my mantra), what is that guy doing eating like that?  

What to do?

I think the upshot of this is that like most weight-related issues, there are complex, one-size-fits-one answers here. My current thinking, for me, works like this:

  • Having a splurge day is fine, but I’ll try to have a balanced, more reasonable approach to it.  It’s fine, for instance, to make that a “splurge meal” instead of a whole day.  A big brunch or nice dinner should suffice, instead of following an “anything goes and eat like you’ll never see food again” strategy. 
  • Even at that, using some portion control and picking healthier treats is generally better, though I won’t lose sleep over it if I am not “perfect.”
  • Trying to get some exercise on splurge day is probably a good idea.  It happened that I also was on my “no gym” day (which is usually Sunday).  But a walk in the woods would have been good to have had.
  • Getting single-servings of things would be better than buying larger quantities.  Neither my wife nor I really want big slabs of pizza and slices of cheesecake during the week, but we bought a large pizza and a couple of cheesecake desserts that are now sitting in the fridge.  (Actually, we didn’t realize we’d have as much left over as we do.)  It’s hard not to eat that stuff later in the week, ya know?

Weight loss projects: getting back in the saddle

Cowboy

I’ve been lazy about blogging for about a week, which sort of matches how I’ve been feeling about the Project.  This is fairly normal, actually, though I wish it weren’t so.  

Some psychologists speculate that we have a sort of natural limit or quota in terms of how much “self-control” we may be able to maintain over our behavior. The idea is that if you spend a period of time resisting a temptation or sticking to a hard task, you sort of run the self-control batteries down.  So the thing you have to do is give yourself a bit of time and some outlets for not being so perfect, while your self-control battery “recharges.”  Then you may be ready to get back to whatever you’ve been working on.  

For instance, if you’ve ever known anyone going through treatment for substance abuse problems, you know two things: 1. just about everyone, it seems, in CD treatment seem to be smokers (though less now than years ago), and 2. the general rule of thumb in most treatment programs is don’t try to quit smoking while you’re busy trying to quit drinking or using drugs or whatever.  It just seems to be too hard to start controlling everything in your life at once.

This past week I’ve had actually a great week in maintaining my workouts, and their quality (and my strength on the weights, aerobic conditioning, etc.) is improving.  Fell down over the weekend on the food diary, but was partly derailed by reading some articles and suggestions dealing with changing diets to a less carb-based, more plant/protein/legume diet.  Have to look at that some more, but part of the many suggestions were to give yourself one day a week to cut loose, eat whatever.  Not sure how much I agree with that, though we sort of let ourselves do it over the weekend.  And somewhere in there (along with the weight gain last week) I think my energy for food recording and blogging flagged a bit.

But that happens.  The real key, of course, is to get back in the saddle.  You fall off the horse, get back on.  You have days you don’t want to do it, get back to it the next day.  Breaks aren’t all that bad, as long as they aren’t permanent.  I find it helps to keep the “big picture” in mind — if I imagine looking back, maybe in a year or two, after getting to my target weight goals, I’ll very probably have a bunch of lapses, periods when I cut back, vacations where there was no gym, parties and dinners out and days when everything will have gone to hell.  

But the general, overall trend should be that every time, I got back to the plan, and that most of the time, I did an adequate job of sticking to the program.

Analyzing Weight Loss Reversals

Weighing In

Today is my weekly weigh-in day, and I have mixed news to report.  My scale says I’ve gained back five of the 12 pounds I’d lost since beginning the project.  Rats.

Of course, this is a fairly common situation in any weight loss project.  Since we generally place a lot of stock in our scale weight, a bounce up can feel like a total failure and even a disaster.  At this point, many people just stop trying to lose weight.  That isn’t always done as a “big decision,” but rather you just “kind of start to forget” to keep track.  Motivation sags and pretty soon a year has gone by since you’ve been back to the gym or written down what you’ve eaten.

Clearly, the mental game of weight loss is key at times like this.  So I am thinking, what to do?  And I realize, the real key is to analyze the gain as best I can.

First of all, not to panic.  Five pound variations in weight are actually within the normal range for anyone.  I’ve had readers tell me that normal monthly hormonal shifts could account for even more weight gain than that — one person commented that she had a regular seven pound gain once a month.

So my five pounds might be partly just random fluctuation.

Second, I should look at other measures.  For instance, my blood pressure is slowly dropping again, after a brief tendency to rise a few weeks back (never to the pre-program level).  And my resting pulse is generally running ten beats per minute lower, and is steadily improving.  This says something important about my overall conditioning — that it is improving significantly, and continuing to improve. Likewise, my blood sugars are generally or always in a good range.

Then there is the tape measure.  While my pounds are up a bit, my waist and hips have shrunk about an inch this week.  Chest is the same, but therein may be part of the explanation for some new weight.

About 2 weeks ago I decided that my legs don’t need much more by way of weight training.  Partly due to genetics and partly due to hauling a lot of weight around, I have always had strong legs.  My calf muscles are huge and bulging and it’s pretty much all muscle down there.  The recent program gave me a leaner, less puffy lower leg look, and so I felt all I needed was maintenance.

But my upper body has never been super strong.  I lift a laptop and books most days, not tools and lumber and cinder blocks.  So I decided to add 10 minutes to my upper body workouts, which amounts to 20 more minutes a week of upper body strength building (a full additional weight workout a week), along with pushing myself a bit more to increase my strength.

I doubt I’ve actually added five pounds of muscle all of a sudden, but I probably added some.  I know I’m stronger, more able to do more in the gym with less sense of effort.  Muscle is heavy.  The fact that my weight is up but my body is slightly thinner does suggest some new muscle.

In terms of diet, I’ve been under my calorie limits most days, but was away on the weekend at relatives’.  So it’s restaurants, both on the visit and during the trips to and from.  Plus generally I’ve felt I’ve been a bit slack a couple of days, and did have two or three days of being over my calorie allowance (like last night,  when all the extra working out and the fact that it was “free cone day” at Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont, led me to a bit of overindulgence.  Guilty as charged.)

In general, then, I can break this extra poundage into a couple of causes: some is probably new muscle, some is last night’s heavy meal (I’ll verify that tomorrow), and some is a need to tweak the diet a bit.  I need more veggies anyway.

The main thing is: if you keep records, you can make sense of seemingly “random” weight fluctuations.  This is never 100% — our faith in having total control over nature is never completely justified.  But some of it is.  And the more sense things make, the less likely we are to just give up in despair.

Because we just can’t.  Ever.