Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do You Have A Fitness Resolution? I'd Like To Help. I Really Would.

Many years ago, around this time of the year between Christmas and New Year's Day, I was regularly attending a yoga class at my gym.  Several of the members of the class were complaining about how crowded the gym was going to be in the coming weeks as new members would be signing on for their new year's resolutions.

My teacher piped in, "The gym is going to be filled with obnoxious fat people."  This teacher usually came across as your typical new-agey spiritual yoga guru who encouraged a non-judgmental attitude in class.  She continued with even more ire.  "I just want to tell them, 'Just give up.  Give up. It's not going to work.'"  This yoga teacher would talk the talk, but she couldn't walk the walk.  How different was she from the rest of us?  How many of us long-time gym rats complain about how crowded the gym becomes in January due to the number of people making exercise resolutions they probably won't keep?

I admit the annoyance sometimes, but I also wish I could help.  I want everyone to be fit and healthy.  I want the world the know the benefits of a good exercise program.  I know what it's like to not be happy with my weight.  I would love for people to know that they don't have to be unhappy. If you don't want to judge other people, the rule is "Eyes on your own workout."  Yet when I see someone struggling in the gym, I want to reach out to him or her.  I want to give encouragement.  I want to improve those routines.  I want that person to succeed.

 It is possible to get in shape.  It's just that too many people go into an exercise program too uniformed.  They make two very big mistakes.

1.  The wrong workout
2.  The wrong expectations

I saw the perfect example of this in the gym this morning.  Some folks are already getting a jump on their resolutions as I am seeing some very overweight new members showing up at the gym.  I ignored the "eyes on your own workout" rule and observed them a bit.  A pair of heavy men were in the weight room doing endless abdominal exercises.  They were doing endless ball crunches and whatever silly ab machines they could sit on.  Later on I saw them on the ellipticals, slowly sleepwalking through a cardio workout.

I imagine what will likely happen to these guys over the coming weeks if they don't improve their routines.  They will see some results initially because they were likely inactive in the past.  The body responds pretty well to training so they will lose a few pounds.  Then as time goes by and their bodies adapt to the exercises, the results will be even less.  Since the exercises they are doing are not very functional, they won't really see much improvement in their day-to-day chores.

In a month or two these guys will give up.  They had hoped going to the gym would transform their bodies.  They no longer see anything happening.  Exercise doesn't work.  What's the point?

These two guys weren't the only ones I saw working out ineffectively.  I saw men on the weight machines pumping out a hundred reps on the lowest settings.  I saw women with free weights who used hundreds of small movements with tiny dumbbells.  I wondered how long they had been working at this type of workout.  

What would I tell them if they came to me for advice?  What would I tell you if you came to me for advice?

First I would tell them to ignore the machines.  Imagine yellow police tape wrapped around them.  This goes double for the leg press, the pec deck, and most especially the Smith machine.  Machines encourage unnatural movement along one plane. They have no real-world function.  Besides most machines have you sitting or even lying down.  How much real world activity do you do sitting or lying down?  You need to work out in three-dimensional space.  Machines are fine for rehab if you need to work around an injured muscle, but that type of machine use is best done under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Once the exercisers are off the machines and standing up, I'd tell them to stop doing small movements.  Endless rounds of biceps curls are not necessary.  Triceps kickbacks are a joke.  You don't need to do endless leg lefts.  The key exercises to do are large compound movements.  Start with squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups, pullups, and dips (if your shoulders can handle them).  Learn the principles of push-pull.  There are all kinds of variations on these exercises, so you shouldn't ever be bored.  If you can't do pushups, start small with wall puhsups, bench pushups, and knee pushups and work your way up to doing just one from your toes.  (Once you do one pushup from your toes, you will find the sky is the limit for how many you will eventually add.)  It's the same thing for pullups.  Do reverse rows.  Use a jump assist.  Use a pullup assist band.  I still can't do a pullup unassisted, but I work often with reverse rows and assistance bands.  Presses, pull-downs, and rows can work your total arm much better than concentrating on just one muscle group.  By concentrating on doing just a few quality movements, you are out of the gym faster.  You can get a good weight workout in just 30 minutes (not including warm-up and cool down).

I would teach new exercises to stop working out like a girl.  Do you know what I'm talking about?  There is a old wives' tale that never dies that women need to work at high reps with very low weights so they will "tone" instead of "bulk up".  Even though is sometimes seem like this myth is finally dying, some trendy new exercise program will pop up and try to convince audiences that high rep work is the wave of the future.  Working endless reps at high speeds will never be as effective at building the kind of muscle needed to burn fat as lifting heavy.  It's also puts you at higher risk for injury.  The speed puts you at risk for a pull or tear.  The repetition puts you at risk for repetitive stress injury.  The endless small movements could also cause you to die of boredom.  If you're a beginner it's good to work lighter weight at higher reps until you feel comfortable, but when I say higher reps, I mean 15 and not 30.  You need to choose a weight that challenges you.  It's up to you to decide what is a challenge.  Five pounds might be a challenge.  Fifty pounds might be a challenge.  The key is that your last three reps should be difficult.  If you're sailing through your reps, your weight is too light.

Next I would have them stop making cardio the be-all and end-all of working out.  Gym newbies like to concentrate on cardio under the misguided belief that it burns the most calories.  Weight loss and fitness are about so much more than calorie burn.  Cardio is filled with diminishing returns.  The more you do, the more you will need to do to keep with the results, particularly if you are not doing some quality muscle building work.  I would have loved to tell those guys who were phoning in all of that time on the elliptical (a very non-functional piece of cardio equipment) to get off the elliptical and get on the treadmill, rowing machine or bike.  The workout wouldn't be long, slow, and boring.  I would have them go a minute or two at a comfortable pace or resistance level, and then crank up the pace or resistance level for as much as they can handle and as long as they can handle it.  Once they were at their limit, I'd have them recover at a comfortable pace and then go back to going hard once they have recovered.  I pass no judgments as to how hard or how long the intervals should be.  That would be up to the exercisers.  I would also not make these people do this for long periods of time.  I would start them with just 10 or 15 minutes.  I would have them concentrate more on the weight room.

Most importantly, I would encourage these exercise newbies to find something outside of the gym to do.  They should hike in the woods sometime instead of a walk on the treadmill.  They should sign up for a class in something active that interests them.  Instead of Zumba or the gym's "cardio kick" class (which tend to be repetitive and based on a set pattern of movements with no real skill building), the should head to a dojo, a boxing gym, or a dance studio to learn boxing, dance, or martial arts (I had a great time studying capoeria for a couple of years and still love tap and jazz dancing).  They could go to the local rink or frozen pond and skate.  They can hit the beach and ride a boogie board or surfboard, or learn to paddle board or paddle a kayak.  I encourage everyone to take some yoga classes so you can tune into your body and move it in ways you don't often make it go.

We all need to do something that truly takes us out of our comfort zone of movement. We should do our best  to build a skill set.  Work your mind as well as your body.  Understand what real world movement truly is.  Are you embarrassed to try something new because you're not athletic?  Welcome to the human race.  Most of us don't have many natural, innate abilities.  You have to work at at them.  The work is part of the journey and also what makes this type of activity so good for you.

The second part of losing weight is patience.  You can't rush results.  If you're not losing 10 pounds in two weeks, that doesn't mean it's because you're doing something wrong.  Your body will change in its own time and at its own pace.  Sure you can help it along, but often the harder you push yourself, the more likely you are to burn out.  Strike a balance.  Wait for your results.  They will come.

You also need to pay attention to your diet.  Exercise can only take you so far.  I will happily address diet in another post if anyone is interested.

I can't guarantee to any of these exercise newbies that my tips will work.  But if your "plan" is to hit the gym, do some ab work, take a few pilates classes, and spend a lot of time on cardio machines, I don't think you will be all that happy with your results.  I can only tell you that by lifting intelligently, doing smarter cardio, and having some fun non-gym activities in my life, I have lost 18 pounds, 16 inches, and 9% bodyfat this year. 

If you're on the journey, I hope to pay forward what I learned and help you have the kind of success I did on the journey.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The End and The Beginning

I apologize for the lack of progress posts in the past few weeks.  I haven't had much reason to post.  Things are pretty much on an even keel and the program ends this week.

Over the past year many of my friends who have been following this journey have thanked me for my honesty.  That had me doing a lot of thinking about the importance of honesty in a weight loss program.

Accountability is one of the most important pieces of any weight loss program.  Weight Watchers has built an empire on it (although many members suffer a bit of embarrassment at weigh-ins).  In Lean Eating my coach looks at my photos, measurements, weight, and bodyfat percentages and it gets recorded when I finish a daily assignment or say if I did a workout or performed a habit.  I have given myself even more accountability outside the program by telling everyone I know about it and making it a part of this blog.  If I fail, everyone knows about it.

What good would it have done me if I hadn't been honest?  I could have lied on all of my assignments, digitally altered the photos (I could have even digitally altered my "before" shots to look even bigger so my digitally altered final shots would have been even more impressive), and lied about the weights and measurements.  What would have happened then?  Imagine the coaching team coming all the way to my house to deliver the$25,000 prize and they see the same dumpy woman I always was waiting to claim it?  That would have been more embarrassing than being honest about not doing the program.

I did do the program though.  Maybe I didn't do it as well as I should have, but I did it.  I rocked the workouts.  I rarely ever missed one.  I adopted the habits.  It doesn't always seem like my way of eating has changed, but it has in small ways.  Those were enough to make some difference in my body.

When you want to lose fat, the person you have to be the most honest with is yourself.  If you're not seeing results, then you have to take a long look at what you're doing and not doing.  Are you really eating as healthfully as you think you are?  I hate keeping food journals and rarely do it (I have a crazy good memory anyway) but I know they can be helpful for many.  Are you giving your all at the gym?  Could you be making better choices?  Could you be happier with a little less food on your plate?

I promised I would share my results in the end, and so I will.  What you will see is not terribly impressive.  I don't have a super-cut, smokin' hot body.  I still have a belly and some jiggly and squishy bits.  I only managed to go just a little over halfway to my weight goal.  Still, I did something.  I stuck to the program, made something happen, and I never gave up.  I never gained the weight back.  I kept going.  Here I am.

I'll start with the fluffy bunny photo for the Facebook feed.

Here is my Before picture taken January 19, 2013

Weight: 141 Pounds
Waist: 33"
Hips: 42"
Chest: 39"
Thigh: 25"
Arm: 14.5"
Bodyfat*: 29%

And now for the after....

You think I'm going to make it easy on you?

Come on.  Keep scrolling.  I dare you!

I hope I'm not hyping you up for disappointment here.

Okay.  One more scroll and I'll show you...

Weight: 123 Pounds
Waist: 28.5"
Hips: 38"
Chest: 36"
Thigh: 23"
Arm: 13"
Bodyfat*: 20%

Am I happy with this?  Yes and no.  I know I could have done better.  That's why I do hope to keep going with my habits.  I would like to lose another 13 pounds and knock another inch or three off my waist, hips, and thighs. I'd like to go down another bodyfat percentage point.  I would like to keep working on eliminating the squishiness in my midsection (which is still quite evident in the side view photo).

On the other hand, I have spent so many years losing and gaining the same 5-10 pounds and only gaining more weight in the end.  This is the first time in my life I have managed to consistently push my weight down and keep it down.  Part of me says that if I could just maintain this for the rest of my life and never gain the weight back again, I should be happy with that.  All I would have to do is keep doing what I'm doing.  

When I was first considering this program I participated in an open forum with the coaches.  I asked them up front what they thought would make this program any different from all of the others.  I said I had lost weight on other programs and never got very far and ended up gaining it back.  What were they offering me that no one else was?

Do you know what the coaches said?  They said, "You had success on other programs.  Every time you went on a new program you accomplished something.  That's great."

Whenever I look back on other attempts to lose weight, I always see the failures.  I don't look back on the ways in which I did, at least for a short time, succeed.  I hope if anything ever does go wrong and I get off track, I can remember just how capable of success I am.

I am now making my plans for what I'll be doing going forward.  I'm using all of my LE literature to create the kind of butt-kicking workouts I did during the program.  I really do need to make sure I don't slack off in the gym.  I keep a list of nutrition habits on my refrigerator so I know to follow them every day.  I might buy the Precision Nutrition do-it-yourself program.  I also have the possibility of some one-on-one nutrition counseling if my current project is successful (I will address that project in another post to keep this one from being too long).  I'm even thinking that starting in January I will go back and do my nutrition habits every two weeks as if I were doing the program all over again.  I don't have to shell out another 1200 bucks and join the program all over again in order to keep at this.

Would I recommend Lean Eating to everyone?  I would say yes with some conditions.  You do get out of it what you put into it.  The program is designed so you don't feel as if you're putting in too much at once, but the more you pay attention to the habits, the better you will do.  I had imagined Lean Eating to be like a virtual Weight Watchers meeting where a leader and a small number of group members are in constant communication with each other.  I didn't realize there would be over 200 women on my team.  My coach did make herself available and would email every couple weeks to check in on me and give me encouragement, but it lacked a certain intimacy.  I felt that my coach and I never really got to know each other.  I never felt all that much connection with my teammates either.  There were about 10 who were regulars on the boards, but I didn't always have time to sit down at the boards and communicate with everyone.  I had teamed up early in the year with an accountability partner who had a lot in common with me, but she dropped off the face of the earth.  While there were two members of my team who were openly dissatisfied with the program, I don't know how many other teammates were also ceasing to continue.  It's not for everyone.  If you're thinking about it, you just have make the decision to do it.  If it's really not working out for you, they will refund your money. 

The program worked for me.  If it didn't work as well as I had hoped then I think much of it had to do with me.  I was not as consistent with nutrition habits as I could have been.  What I couldn't accomplish on the program is not something I can blame on the program.  The program did its job.  I didn't always do mine.  Going forward I know what I need to do.  I just have to do it.

While I won't be centering this blog around Lean Eating so much anymore, I do hope to continue to talk about nutrition and fitness topics and I do plan to give updates on my own fitness journey now and then.  I have become very passionate on these topics and I want to join that debate.

Onward to 2014.

*Please note these measurements include caliper margin of error.  Rather than have my bodyfat professionally tested, I decided to buy calipers and do it myself and make all of the calculations.  I'm not sure how good I was at doing it.  My thought was as long as I did it consistently each time the final numbers wouldn't matter as long as they're going down and not up.  According to what I measured I started at 29% and ended at around 20.4%.  In more skillful hands, the numbers might be different.  The key is that they went down.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week 47 - Always Learning

Sorry I have missed a week of updates.  Honestly, there isn't much I can say about the past two weeks that can't be consolidated nicely into one post.

The dreaded family celebration of gluttony known as Thanksgiving is over.  I don't want this post to be any sort of confessional about what I ate.  As the coaching team at LE has said, "What happened last week stays in last week."  What I should remember most is how grateful I was that the weather cooperated and that I was able to make it to Chicago to see Kevin's family and what a great time I had with everyone.  If I'm going to remember the food, I'm going to remember how much I enjoyed everything and not obsess over every calorie I ate.

I did make a few observations while I was away though.  My trip was a learning experience in so many ways.

The observation I made is that old habits die hard and I should never automatically assume a new habit is in place.  I have spent a lifetime wolfing down large amounts of food.  Pacing myself, eating slowly, and putting down the fork when I'm just at the level of satisfaction, are definitely becoming a part of me, but they are not totally ingrained in me yet.  I had a few moments where I know I should have stopped, but I kept going because food was there and the food was delicious.  To my credit, I have at least learned how to stop before I'm painfully stuffed.  I can't remember the last time I ate until it hurt. 

That total damage for the week was about four pounds, but it came off easily enough, so let's just move on from that.

The weekend was a nice break from the usual routines in the gym.  I did my normal weight workouts (as best I could with the lame gym provided) but kept my cardio just to swimming.

Swimming, like many other exercises I do, is something I enjoy but am not terribly good at.  I don't have to be good at something to enjoy it.  After all, I have been horseback riding and dancing for years and still pursue those activities with pleasure.  I have always loved being in the water, but swimming as an athlete will never happen. 

I remember the first summer I had to take swim lessons at day camp.   It was a disaster.  Even though I would get in the water, even in the deep end, without any complaint, I spent the entire summer in the lowest beginner group.  I just could not summon the coordination to properly execute a front crawl.  I remember the lifeguard pulling me out of the pool and making me practice the stroke over and over again on land.  If I got the arms, my kick would be critiqued and then it was more work practicing with the kickboard. 

I spent years working on it on my own, supplemented with instructions in middle school gym class.  I thought by the time I was in college and had to take swimming lessons again (I attended what was probably the only college in the US that not only required four credits of gym, but also required one of those credits be swimming) I was doing fine.  I ended up with a B- in that class.  In that class I had to learn to execute four strokes perfectly.  The coach said everyone in the class had an A in elementary backstroke and side stroke and at least a B in the breast stroke, so you can imagine what my grade in the front crawl must have been!

I still work on my lame front crawl when I have a chance.  On a Florida vacation several years ago I made friends with one of the hotel employees who ran the recreational programs and who had spent most of her life as a swim instructor.  She noted I tend to drag my right arm when I swim, so she gave me that to work on.  I play around a bit with arm, body, and head positions as well as timing my strokes (breathe every stroke or breath every other stroke). 

I had a really fun time playing with my strokes in Chicago this year.  I used the pool for my interval cardio.  I would do two lengths at a vigorous crawl (and sometimes not such a vigorous crawl) and two lengths at a more restful stroke like the breast stroke or elementary backstroke.  When working on my resting stroke I would sometimes play with paying strict attention to form, making each muscle movement count.  I would pretend I was in dance class and work on full leg extensions and keeping my toes pointed.  I treated frog kicks as if they were develope`s .   It was a great workout.  I wish I could swim more.  Unfortunately my gym doesn't have a pool.  In the summer I have my mother's pool when I can get to it or else I just have to wait until I'm in Chincoteague, in which case, swimming means spending hours with my boogie board.  That's a great workout, but not quite the same as playing with pool laps.

Then there came the moment of truth.  How do I look in a bathing suit now? 

I would definitely say there is an improvement.  My favorite suit from last summer fit me much better that Thanksgiving weekend.  It's not such a struggle to get into it.  I saw more definition in my waist.  I was still disappointed by the amount of armpit chub around the straps and bust area.  I saw the most improvement in my legs.  I always hated the way my legs looked so tree-trunk-like in a bathing suit.  The tree trunks are gone.  The 2" I lost in my thighs have made all the difference.  I can even see a bit of muscle defintion.

I'm still not ready for a bikini yet.  I doubt I ever will be. 

This week, post Thanksgiving, I still had some "Old Habits Die Hard" moments.  My body may be learning how much food I need to eat, but my brain and appetite are still learning.  Twice this week I had to deal with intense post-lunch food cravings.  On Monday I had a reasonable amount of leftover chili for lunch.  I was afraid it wasn't enough lunch and that I would be hungry later.  I became convinced of it.  I ate my lunch slowly and mindfully and when I was finished, I felt perfectly satisfied.  I was still convinced I needed more food.  I was sure I would be hungry again at any moment.  I was on the brink of going out and buying a snack and I was pretty sure that snack would not be something nutritious.

I really had to work to talk myself off the ledge.  I reminded myself over and over again that I wasn't truly hungry at that moment.  I did my best to distract myself from the intense desire to eat.  I promised myself that if I really felt hungry later on, I could get a snack.  There was no reason to eat if I wasn't actually hungry just as there would have been no reason not to eat if I did feel hungry.  I felt the same way two days later.  I used the previous situation as a reminder that I could get past the craving and carry on.

I can't believe there are only 3 weeks left in the program.  I want to get to the 20 pound mark.  That would be 2.8 pounds right now.  Can I do it even though I have a party to attend tonight and I know the food there will be plentiful and delicious?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rant: I Don't Care What Greeting You Use (Irksome FB Post of the Week)

I have been seeing this one all too often now that Christmas is approaching.

My original reaction to this was to post a "Happy Holidays" status every time I saw one of these memes.  I decided to do something slightly more mature and make a somewhat rational blog post about it.

I'll start by asking a simple question.  Why do you feel a need to say this?

It's Merry Christmas to you.  Let me repeat that.  It's Merry Christmas to you.

To you.

That's just fine with me.  You can say whatever you want to say.  If Christmas is your holiday and it's the only holiday you want to celebrate, there is nothing wrong with you celebrating it.

My question is why do you feel the need to enforce your holiday on everyone else?

I have made posts in the pasts about why it can be uncomfortable and not always feel like a greeting of good cheer when someone gives you a greeting about a holiday you don't celebrate.   It sometimes seems to be that some Christians want to be deliberately provocative.  They want to offend.  This constant in-your-face enforcement of Christmas almost seems like a form of bullying.  You're screaming it from the soapbox.  "Look at me!  I only say Merry Christmas and you had better do the same."

Why do you care so much?  No one is taking away your right to celebrate Christmas whenever they say Happy Holidays to you.  The truth is that when you start making it about Christmas and only about Christmas, it makes it seems as if you are the ones trying to enforce Christmas on others whether they want it or not.  You think your religion is better than anyone else's - and it's perfectly fine if you feel that way- but you need to accept that not everyone agrees with you.  It is really funny that you believe that everyone else should never be offended if you say "Merry Christmas", but you have every right to be offended if someone says "Happy Holidays".

I have to wonder what the whole point is of making a big deal over saying, "Merry Christmas."  Do you think it makes you a better Christian?  Do you think it makes you a better person?

Sometimes I see these "I only say Merry Christmas" posts and what I read into it is, "Look at me!  I say 'Merry Christmas'.  I'm such a good Christian.  I am so much better than you are.  I am awesome.  I am superior.  I am amazing because I don't cave to political correctness.  I am amazing because I'm standing up for my beliefs.  Woo hoo!  Look at me.  I'm holy.  I'M BETTER THAN YOU."

Sorry.  It doesn't work that way.  Posting Christmas memes doesn't make you a better person, a better Christian, or somehow intellectually superior because you're not caving to political correctness  It just makes you a braggart about something that really is no one's business but your own.

It seems to me that this constant bragging about saying "Merry Christmas" goes against everything Jesus taught about love, respect, and humility.  Christmas is, after all, just a Christianizing of pagan solstice celebrations by giving Jesus a fake birthday.  The Jesus of the Bible probably wouldn't be all that keen on the whole celebration.

I really do wonder if fear is a part of the whole equation.  I suppose in a world where diversity is becoming more common and an increasing number of Americans are claiming no religious affiliation, it must feel scary to be a Christian.  You are afraid your religion is going to disappear.  You don't want to be surrounded by people who don't agree with you religiously.  Besides, Christians have not always been kind to non-Christians.  What would happen if Christianity becomes a minority religion?  Perhaps it' time to stop worrying about others' religion and worry about your own faith. Most non-Christians whether they are "Nones" or simply a different religion, would just like to be left alone and not feel pressured to celebrate the Christmas spirit, or be ridiculed for celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday.

Is part of this crazy hoopla have to do with conversion?  Do Christians believe that by enforcing a Merry Christmas standard that it will somehow draw more people to the faith?  I say to anyone who thinks that will happen, that nothing turns off "Nones" and non-Christians more than stuff like this. 

 Let me say this one more time.  (I know I pulled this off a previous blog post) 

When others wish you "Happy Holidays", they are not doing so because they hate you.

When others wish you "Happy Holidays", they are not deliberately disrespecting your religion.

When others wish you "Happy Holidays", they are not telling you that you personally can't celebrate Christmas.

When others wish you "Happy Holidays", they are not trying to outlaw your religion.

Chances are saying, "Happy Holidays" is just their way of showing respect.  If they don't know someone's religious observances, they aren't going to assume what those beliefs are and thus give you a generic wish of good will. 

If a business hangs a "Happy Holidays" sign in the window, it's likely because the owners want to be inclusive and make money off of all customers.  It's also more cost effective to hang a single sign that says, "Happy Holidays" than it is to hang a sign that says, "Happy Thanksgiving," a sign that says, "Merry Christmas," a sign that says, "Happy Hanukkah," and a sign that says, "Happy New Year." 

Why is this so hard to understand?  "Happy Holidays" isn't hate speech.  It's a way to be inclusive. 

Now please if your religion truly means that much to you, please stop following the gospel of Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh and actually follow the gospel of Jesus.