Weight loss

Weight gain is *not* actually the end of the world? Weird.

Me and my bestie Erica after rocking our St. Patrick’s Day races.
She ran the Lucky Leprechaun with ease and I finished 2nd AG at the Luck O’ The Irish.

Well, Spring is here, in spirit if not in temperature. We’ve survived quite an *interesting* winter…and interesting is a euphemism for a bunch of words that I would only use if I swore like a sailor (which, let’s face it, I do, but not here). It’s been interesting from a fitness training standpoint, too. I’ve learned a LOT working with my new triathlon coach, Jenny. It hasn’t always been pretty; in fact, it mostly hasn’t been pretty (she’s a strong, tolerant woman). But now that I’ve gone through it and had my little “a-ha moment” it seems worth passing on.

If you know me, you know that I think about my weight occasionally (*cough. cough*). I struggled with being overweight for most of my life. Over the course of the past almost-two-years during which I’ve lost 35-ish pounds and gotten in rather good shape, I’ve generally counted every. little. calorie. And…it worked for me. Until it didn’t.

When I started working with Jenny in December, she pointed out that I was always putting in my daily workout logs how tired I was, how I didn’t feel energetic during my workouts. It’s so obvious in hindsight, but it hadn’t occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t fueling adequately. She questioned whether I was eating enough (how could this be possible?! I am not the kind of girl to undereat) and strongly recommended that I stop obsessing about calories and just…eat.

*incredulous pause*

Talk about having your safety net pulled away…that loss of tight control was a scary, scary place to go. But I went. My workouts IMMEDIATELY felt better. Go figure.

Very gradually, I started gaining weight, and FREAKING. THE HELL. OUT.

I can laugh about it now. At the time I was not amused…I was a mess. Even though I’ve read repeatedly in my Racing Weight “bible” that it is perfectly normal, even HEALTHY, for athletes to gain up to 8% over their “ideal” racing weight during the off season…”healthy weight gain” was such a foreign concept to me personally that I just could NOT get my head around it. But I was determined to give this crazy concept a chance.

I did solid, consistent base training all winter – mostly biking and running (and rehabbing a pulled tricep, so no swimming). I added new leg/core strength workouts and weekly Pilates. I feel more “solid” in my “powerhouse” (a Pilates term for basically everything between your mid-thighs and your midsection) by far than I ever have before.

I ate before workouts and drank protein shakes after workouts. I ate good food, and, yes, a *few* too many baked goods (a weakness of mine…I do love me a good ginger cookie.) I was very far from perfect. As of March, I’ve gained – *GASP* – FIVE WHOLE POUNDS. Maybe even seven, if I go by the low end of my “normal” range.

Shameful, right? Mortifying. Hideous. I’m Jabba the Hutt over here.

Except yesterday, I ran my first race of the year, a hilly 5K. I had NO idea what to expect. It seemed possible that, since I’ve been doing base training, not speedwork, and since I’ve gained FIVE WHOLE POUNDS that my performance would be…abysmal. Yet, somehow, it seemed equally possible that, since I’ve been training very consistently, and have thighs like freaking tree trunks and a firmer core, that my performance would be fine. Maybe even better than fine.

Well guess what? I ran my my ass off and finished SECOND in my age group (out of 33) whereas in my 5Ks before this uncomfortable experiment I was sixth and seventh.

So, I gained five pounds. AND IT IS FINE. *mind completely blown* I’d still like to see them go, and they will over the course of Spring training. But right now, today, I am completely 100% OK with them. They DON’T MATTER. Not a whit.

Thank you, Jenny. You were right. All that time I spent being pissed because you told me to stop counting calories was wasted. :)

I frequently see people recommend ‘throwing away the scale.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that, at least not for everyone; research does support that ongoing tracking creates accountability that helps those who lose weight to regain less than those who don’t weigh themselves regularly. Not all of us are skilled at holding ourselves accountable without the numbers. Instead, I think it should be about learning to create a healthier relationship with the scale. And sometimes it takes trying something wild and crazy like this to learn.

What do you think?

Digging for discipline, because regret sucks more.

Photo Credit: Frederic Mancosu, Flickr Creative Commons

This tweet from @Tri_Psychology yesterday got me thinking:
“Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.”

So true, isn’t it? As a goal-oriented person, especially, it’s an either/or proposition. There is inevitably some amount of regret that comes along with letting time pass without sticking to your goals, plans, guides, intentions. I see friends set goals all the time and then let them go, instead of finding the discipline to stick with them, and then I see the pain of their regret. Personally, and from observations of others, I think the regret is much, MUCH more painful.

Not that I, myself, am perfect by any wild stretch of the imagination. Quite the contrary. While I have found a wealth of discipline and met many goals over the past year and a half, it is sometimes a two-steps-forward-one-step-back proposition. The hardest thing for me is finishing a hard training cycle…and then finishing those events and having to adjust to greatly reduced calorie intake. Or, put more simply: it’s hard to stop eating! To turn on a dime from hard training mode to maintenance or weight loss mode. Which is why I’m digging for discipline right now, to avoid taking that step back.

It’s been three weeks since my last event (Door County Century) and still I’ve been eating like a defensive lineman. Last fall after my first half marathon, I ended up gaining back about 8 “holiday” pounds before I managed to put the brakes on, turn myself around, and lose 20. Now, it’s a year later…I see myself falling into the same it’s-fall-let’s-eat pattern, and, NO. Just no. I will not let it happen this time. Even for three weeks, I loathe the feeling of being regretful about my choices. I know I’ll never be perfect, and everyone slips, and some splurges are OK and all that. But NO. I can do better than I am doing. And that kind of regret is treacherous, to self-esteem, among other things.

So I’m going on public record with my next goal, because that usually helps. It’s WEEK 40 of 2013 right now. Which means there are 12 WEEKS of 2013 LEFT to make more progress before the new year, instead of backsliding. And there are 16 WEEKS until the IceBreaker Indoor Marathon Relay. My goal is to lose my LAST 8 POUNDS by that race, and reach my ultimate goal weight of 135…starting 2014 in by far the best shape of my life, at the age of 45.

Holy shit, did that just happen? Did I *publicly* state my weight? THIS is a huge moment for me, y’all. After being fat on and off for most of my life, I am 100% cool with telling the world my weight. WOW. *pauses to soak this in*

I’ve got big goals for 2014 and 2015, so I need to head into the new year in a good place. Assuming that the swim training goes well this fall, I plan to do a sprint or olympic tri in Spring 2014, a half iron distance tri in Fall 2014, a full marathon in 2015 and IronMan Wisconsin in Fall 2015. There. I said it. Out loud. Those goals may change, if, say, I end up hating the swim, but as of today that is the PLAN.

So. Now. How about YOU? Any regrets that you’re tired of living with? Goals you set this year and didn’t meet? Goals for the rest of the year or next year that you’re digging for the discipline to meet? Is there anything I can do to help?

Plateaus, poor choices, screw “skinny” and The Runner’s Diet

Mom runs a marathon, weeks 5-6…

Plateaus suck. Patience is hard.
It happens to everyone. After a few weeks of satisfying, steady progress at weight loss or better nutrition…nothing. (OK, 4/5 of a pound in week 5, in my case, and nothing in week 6. Which is roughly equivalent to…nothing.) Frustrating? Sure. But sometimes your body just has to slow down and adapt, and there’s nothing you can do but stay the course and find your patience.

This time (yes, I’ve lost weight once or twice or twelve times before), while I certainly have my moments of great impatience/frustration, I’m surprisingly OK with losing slowly, because I feel like it’s SUSTAINABLE. Hallelujah! I just plain refuse to starve myself and put myself on less than 1,600 calories a day while training for a marathon.

So, some days I say screw it, I’m super hungry today, and I’m going to eat at a maintenance level instead of below. And that’s OK. Listen to your body (unless it’s telling you to eat ALL of the Girl Scout cookies).

 Slips. Will. Happen. It’s all about how fast and how well you get back on the road. 
Other days, I let myself get too ravenous, especially when I fail to eat enough protein early in the day. And then I make poor choices.

"Let's drink and made bad choices" t-shirt

Such as this week, when I went to Subway. And in spite of having just watched Jillian Michaels on my obsession Biggest Loser NBC pimping the FreshFit menu at Subway, chose very, very poorly. 6″ honey oat with egg and veggies. But I chose the full egg patties instead of the egg white. They put two of those suckers on there and it adds up. I said “yes!” to the cheese…not necessary. A “little bit” of oil which is never a little bit. And of course, a bag of baked Doritos (gross, but YUM) for a rare chip treat. Add it all up, after inhaling it…800 FREAKING CALORIES. Half a day’s worth. Ouch.

After the Subway incident, I was religious for about a day and a half. And then I slipped again, and got right back up.

I’ve learned it’s important to eat ahead of the hunger. When you get to that “over hungry” place, biological mayhem happens and it’s pretty tough to not make poor choices. You can kick yourself, or you can just deal with the fact that you are human and get back up.

Screw “skinny.”
Successes…there have been a few wins these past two weeks. Or at least one significant victory of growing self-confidence. For a while, I was trying to really restrict my carbs at dinner because Bob Harper, another trainer on my obsession Biggest Loser NBC said in his book Skinny Rules that it would make me skinny. Note to Bob: Bob, I love you man, but here’s the thing: I’m NEVER going to be “skinny.” Nor is it what I aspire to be. I’m going to be healthy, and strong, and BADASS, and powerful, with great endurance, and someday, maybe, more speed. And that means that sometimes, I’m going to eat sweet potato oven fries for dinner the night before a run and not let you make me feel crappy about that.

The Runner’s Diet. Unfortunately, not made of pasta and bacon.
I’m doing more reading about nutrition for runners because, with 12 weeks until the race, I still don’t feel like I’m “doing it right”. So I just read Runner’s World‘s “The Runner’s Diet.”

I really can’t recommend the book…it’s way too basic compared to how it was sold, and written mainly towards people who “used to” run, which is not AT ALL how it was sold.

I am going to give the 50% carb/25% protein/25% fat approach that they recommend a shot and see how that goes, and if it improves my energy level. The book asserts, “What runners need to do is flip the food pyramid and make fruits and vegetables the base. This provides fiber-rich carbohydrates, with quick energy but far fewer calories than the starchy items.” It claims that 50-25-25 is the best combination for sustained weight loss, keeping your appetite satisfied, and avoiding post-running fatigue. This eating plan is about the “mutual long-term goals of weight loss and energy for fitness.” AMEN. Sign me up.

The bonus of that is I have something new to obsess about daily (or hourly) - the nifty graph of these macronutrients in my MyFitnessPal app. Fun stuff!

My new favorite MyFitnessPal feature

How about YOU, what helps you through a plateau or to recover from a setback? Nutrition tips you’d like to share?

Hey, if you like this blog, are you SUBSCRIBED? Just enter your email address in the box at the top of the right sidebar and you’ll get the blog in your email box every time a new post publishes. Many thanks. -Spaight

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Meet your fitness goals faster with these sites, apps and gadgets

Meeting a fitness goal

Recently, a study reported in Wired Magazine found that tweeting and retweeting may help you lose weight. But, really, what they found is that the *support and accountability* provided by the social networking site made a difference in how much people lost.

Speaking from personal experience, there are a plethora (or two) of great web tools, apps, devices, gadgets, etcetera that can provide ways for you to hold yourself accountable and get support from (and give support to!) friends – or even like-minded strangers. They range from general social media posting to a whole crop of fancy schmancy tracking gadgets.

General Social Media Posting

Some people may just post on their Facebook page or their Twitter feed about their fitness progress (a great workout, a weight loss, a healthy meal), and in doing so, reinforce the behavior, and maybe even get positive feedback from their friends and followers. True, some people find this *annoying* if it’s done excessively; other find it motivational and inspiring. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to balance it out with other types of posts. Ultimately, of course, it’s your choice, and if you’re fine with the fact that some people may choose to unfriend or unfollow you, then go nuts. More often than not, people use one of the other tools discussed below, and then share that entry to their Facebook, Twitter, etcetera; these tools generally make it very easy to do so.

The “Check In”

Foursquare is a ‘geolocation’-based social loyalty platform (app, mainly) on which people check in, earn points, get special offers, and are named “Mayor” of a place if they check in more often than anyone else. I was surprised how many people I talked to about what tools they use for fitness support said that they feel Foursquare check-ins – and sometimes, mayorships – at the gym keep them on track. There’s a strong element of personal accountability and commitment with that, as well as sometimes encouragement in comments on the check ins.

Exercise Tracking Tools

There are numerous websites/apps that enable you track your exercise – what workout you did, miles run/walked/biked, how you felt, even how many doughnuts and cheeseburgers you burned off (Daily Mile)!

Many people use the Nike + app, which works with GPS to track your distance, posts easily to your Facebook or other social networks, and lets you compare your efforts to your friends.

Other sites/apps have developed strong sport-specific communities (not sport-exclusive; they cover multiple activities), such as Daily Mile, Runkeeper and Runtastic with runners and Strava with cyclists.

I absolutely LOVE Daily Mile, as a runner…there is always inspiration to be found in the amazing community there. And I adore seeing the data – it’s so satisfying and encouraging to know that I’ve run 515 miles, burned 19 pounds off (exactly how much I have actually lost) and burned 363 doughnuts. And there’s more to it than that; users give each other encouragement via comments and attached “motivations.” They see how they stack up on the leaderboard, share routes, discuss questions in forums and create specific fitness challenges.

Fitocracy (called “Fito” by its users) is another such online support community. User Maddie Grant (author of Humanize, my favorite social media book of all time) tells me that this site was conceived for “geeks who like fitness.” So it relies even more on gamification techniques like giving “props” to other users, or even using the “prop bomb” to like everything they’ve ever done. Unlike Daily Mile, here members get points for workouts and level up when they reach point milestones. There are tons of group-specific (such as swimming) challenges and quests, and the site is constantly figuring out new ways to encourage competition against yourself and others. Maddie says, “Fitocracy has connected me to so many people who don’t even know how much they encourage me, especially on those days when a workout is the last thing you want to do and at those times when the plateau hits. It’s an integral and essential part of my quest to get ripped.” :]

Another great option here is to motivate yourself by running or biking for a cause. Charity Miles lets you easily earn funds for your chosen cause; walkers and runners earn 25¢ a mile, and bikers earn 10¢ a mile, up to the initial $1,000,000 sponsorship pool.

Nutrition Tracking Tools

Since some of us, unfortunately, can’t just eat whatever we want no matter how much we exercise (*heavy sigh*), there are also great tools for tracking your diet, calorie intake and nutrition.

Some people I spoke with swear by the Weight Watchers app; I haven’t used that one in a while but found the content in the nutrition database to be lacking, meaning I often couldn’t easily find the healthy, whole foods I was looking to track.

My favorite app/site in this category is MyFitnessPal. Though the interface is lacking visually (someone, please design a nutrition tracking app that looks fun and friendly!), the food database is extremely complete, including even the most obscure healthy foods. This tool has been absolutely integral to my weight loss progress, and I highly recommend it. I put it in the nutrition tracking category because that’s what it’s best at, though it does also allow you to enter your exercise. It then adds the calories burned in exercise to your budgeted calories for the day. The benefit of this is that it helps focus you on thinking of the food you eat relative to the exercise it will take to burn it off, or vice versa, thinking of what you can eat IF you go for that run, walk or bike ride.

Fancy Shmancy Wearable Tracking Gadgets

This is the hottest category of them all…things you wear on various body parts that track your movement, your calories burned, even your sleep patterns.

Nike kicked off the craze with its launch of FuelBand this time last year. It’s a sexy beast, indeed, using an accelerometer to measure your movement in NikeFuel, a “universal metric of activity” (copywriter speak for “we own this category.”). You wear it on your wrist and can sync it with the FuelBand app to track your progress and connect with your friends.

My friend Shelly Kramer (named one of the 200 most fearless women online, how cool is that?!) is a FuelBand devotee, and eloquently says “I use my FuelBand and work hard to reach my Fuel goal daily; I am often doing jumping jacks at 11pm so I can get to that goal because I’m so competitive (even against myself) that I can’t stand it when I don’t. I also like that Facebook lets you “compete” against other friends you’re connected to. I love seeing my friends who use the running app and it shows me that they just did a 7.1 mile run or something like that, because then if I had slacking in mind I’ll feel like a loser and get off my butt and go for a walk.”

An alternative that’s getting some traction of late is Jawbone’s UP wristband, pulled from shelves in late 2011 due to functionality issues (as in, it didn’t work) and relaunched in 2012. An Engadget review describes it as “downright subtle, compared to the LED-riddled and overpriced Nike + FuelBand” and details issues with the lack of wireless syncing.

FitBit, on the other hand (pun intended) can go on your pants, in your pocket, on your bra, wherever, if you’re not into wearing a band on your wrist, and syncs wirelessly and easily. It even has a WiFi smart scale that syncs with your online profile and wireless gadget to keep you honest. The scale is quite cool and tempting (though not wholly necessary I must admit…it’s not really *that* much work to just enter your weight).

Linda Neff (another fearless friend, and a chapter author of the Women on Fire Book 2 being published this fall) is in love with her new FitBit, and says “It’s like a pedometer, only better…a quirky little friend who cheers on your healthy lifestyle with badges and messages reminiscent of your favorite grade school teacher.”

Biggest Loser NBC (with which I am obsessed, as is my 7 year old) has been using Body Media tracking armbands for years now. The difference here is BodyMedia uses multiple sensors – an accelerometer plus skin temperature, heat flux and galvanic skin response  - which is supposed to make it the most accurate. As tempting as the increased accuracy is, I just can’t quite bring myself to wear an armband on my bicep all day.

I’ve been considering buying one of these gadgets for the past year, and it’s a tough decision as there are elements I like of each. I have a “thing” for Nike, so the FuelBand appeals from a brand standpoint. I want accuracy, so BodyMedia appeals from a geeking-out-on-data standpoint. After doing more research for this story, I think FitBit is a good combination of form and function; it also integrates with MyFitnessPal so I can still track my nutrition in MyFitnessPal and FitBit will use that data…huge bonus. Maybe the best solution is to get one of each. ;]

The Bet

Some folks use these tools just for personal tracking and some use them for a little friendly competition. Now there’s a popular site called DietBet where you can set up that friendly wager. DietBet is a four-week social dieting game, in which you create your game or join one and watch the pot grow as new players join. At the end of the game, everyone who loses 4% of their body weight splits the pot. If you’re the kind of person that needs a lot of external motivation, this might be a good solution for you in the short term…then use some of the other tools to maintain your loss.

Social Music Sharing

Just for fun, you might want to check out a social music sharing app/site like Spotify. This is a great way to keep your workout playlists fresh and motivating. People build and share their playlists for others to check out and use. Here is my current one-hour run playlist.

So, whether you are self-motivated and need something to help you hold yourself accountable or externally motivated and want to share encouragement with your communities and maybe even set up a little healthy competition…there’s a tool or three out there for you.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments on what tools you’ve tried, and how they have (or haven’t) helped you meet your goals!

photo credit: Vethod via photopin cc

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