Category Archives: Fitness

Feeling The Benefits

There are so many benefits to losing weight.  You’re less likely to suffer diseases like cancer and diabetes, your joints feel better, you look better, and you have more energy.  When gaining weight slowly, I didn’t seem to notice the negative effects as they piled up.  When losing weight quickly, though, the benefits are soon evident.

I lost about 20 pounds my first month back on the UAMS weight loss program, and the way I feel has completely transformed.  I seek out opportunities to walk.  I take the stairs.  I’m actually tan from being outside so much.  I’ve been looking on CraigsList for a used weight bench.  I got my FitBit out and charged it up for the first time in a year.

When you feel too tired to go out and walk, you might be too tired not to.

Where do you exercise?

Resuming this journey requires I resume exercise.  I’m doing it now the same way I did it the first time — by committing to walking at least 30 minutes per day.  When I started in 2011 I couldn’t make it across the Two Rivers Bridge without stopping to rest my ankles.  I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I first crossed the Big Dam Bridge.  This was the gorgeous sunset I saw the other night as I crossed the Big Dam Bridge.

BDB Sunset

Where do you exercise?

I’m a Hornet? I’m a Hornet!

I’ve been a Dolphin, a Reddie, a Red Wolf, a Dolphin again, an Eagle, and now I’m a Hornet.  I’m not sure if I mentioned this on Facebook or in a previous post, but I was offered a position at a new school district teaching a course that I helped them develop.  How could I turn that down!?  Right?  So, I’m now a new teacher at a new school about to start a new year.  Life.  Is.  Hectic.

hornet-logo-medium

 

In addition to teaching students in grades 9-12 how to create mobile apps, I’ll also be teaching business management and accounting.  Although the students don’t return until August 19, I’ve already been busy (as a hornet?) readying my new classroom and developing lesson plans.  Tomorrow will be my official orientation to the district.  I’m so fortunate to have a swarm of very helpful colleagues who have already made life wonderful.  

Getting back into a routine is a very welcome thing.  Although I’ve had success maintaining my weight this summer, I haven’t really gotten back into the swing of things at the gym like I should have since my doctor pronounced me ready several weeks ago.  “I’ll start back on Monday.”  “I’ll start back when it’s cooler.”  “I’ll start back after weigh-in.”  I turned into one of “those” people.

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Fear not!  I’m back in a “good rut,” as you can see my gym activity.  July wasn’t a smashing success, but I’ve gotten things together in August.  In addition to gym exercises, I’ve also recommitted to working on those push-ups I wrote about a few months ago.

Too weak to do more than two or three “big boy” push-ups, I decided that I wanted to eventually be able to do 100 of them.  I downloaded a mobile app, set up an area just for push-ups, and then promptly avoided that app and that area… for months.

The approach that I’m using now, which I saw somewhere on YouTube (but I’m unable to find again), works with a series of levels.  You start out by doing 3 sets of 15 wall push-ups.  Once you can do all of those, you do as many knee push-ups as you can, filling out the rest of the set with wall push-ups.  Once you can do 3 sets of 15 knee push-ups, you start doing full push-ups.  Any push-ups that you can’t complete fully you supplement with knee push-ups, always doing 45 of “something.”  Between sets, I found myself getting bored, so I added 30 second wall sits.

To summarize this rambling mess, I’m teaching at a new school which presents a number of great opportunities and challenges.  I’ll figure them all out.  I already know I’m going to love it.  Being back on a regular schedule has also bolstered my dedication to physical fitness in terms of regular gym attendance and exercise at home.

Gotta go do some push-ups!

 

An Hour with Dorothy

I spent an hour on a plane with Dorothy, a self-described “senior,” who has lost 25 pounds.  She and I have one thing in common — we struggle with our midsections.

Dorothy and I started talking when I saw her cup of yogurt.  I asked her if she had ever tried making her own yogurt at home. She had not.  I walked her through the process I use, and she said she’d try it.  She was curious why I knew how to make yogurt, so I explained that it was part of my lifestyle change.  We discussed diet, exercise, and our midsections.

My midsection solution, surgery, is generally only necessary for folks who have lost a dramatic amount of weight in a relatively short period of time.  Dorothy has lost her weight more slowly.  Her solution involves, in her words, “a ton of ab workouts.”

In addition to exercise and recipes, Dorothy listened intently as I shared the basic high points of my story.  I told her about being obese in elementary school, losing weight in college, gaining weight after my mother’s death, and ignoring warning sign after warning sign until that day a couple of summers ago when I was too large to fit behind the steering wheel of a full size van.  Dorothy said, “You should write a book.  People need to hear your story for inspiration.”  I gave Dorothy the address of my blog.  If you’re out there reading Dorothy, let me know if you’ve tried that yogurt recipe.  I hope your mother’s condition has improved.

My visit with Dorothy was so pleasant that we were putting our seat backs and tray tables up and preparing for landing before I even took out my iPod and untangled my headphones.  It was so comforting to find a person on a parallel path and spend time with them.

Who have you met on your journey?

North Carolina: The Exercise

My trip to North Carolina was booked.  My hotel advertised all the amenities I needed, and I couldn’t wait to get there after a day full of sitting — on airplanes, in airport terminals, and in the rental car — I was ready for some exercise.  My room was nearest the pool and the fitness center.  Between me and a good workout lay only a change of clothes and the ice machine.

Baymont Fitness Center

As this photo from the property’s website shows, the fitness center includes a television, a treadmill, a weight machine, an exercise bike, and some sort of climbing apparatus.  The center’s proximity to the pool can be seen through the reflection of the window.  Also in the room was a rack of fresh towels and a hamper.

I typically start my workout on the elliptical machine at home, so I investigated the climber.  It’s essentially 2 steps on pivots with their movement restricted by hydraulic cylinders — like the ones that keep your office chair aloft.  The digital display was very faint, but functional.  It would count steps and time in both directions, but there was no way of adjusting the resistance level.  I’m accustomed to running the elliptical machine at a pretty high setting.

I climbed the stairs to nowhere until I ran the little bit of battery power the unit had in it out, and I went to the exercise bike.  I got on and started pedaling, but there was absolutely no resistance.  I pressed several buttons on the control pad, but nothing happened.  Walking around to the other side, I easily saw why.  There was a Medusa-style wad of wires protruding from the back of the control pad.  It was as if someone had grabbed all of the cables and yanked as hard as they could.  It wasn’t something I could repair.

The treadmill was plugged in and ready to go.  I got it up to 4 mph pretty quickly, and was “mall walking” at a brisk pace.  I tried jogging, but I thought the bang-bang-banging might break the unit or arouse suspicion from others within earshot.  Back to brisk walking speed, I tried to increase the incline.  While there was a button for that, and the numbers on the panel changed when it was depressed, no actual change in incline was achieved.  If I wanted to walk up hill, I’d have to actually go find a hill.

My last hope was the weight machine.  While I had used a variety of weight machines at my gym, I had never seen an all-in-one unit like this.  Hanging on the wall nearby was a set of suggested exercises.  I did some wide grip pulldowns, some shoulder presses, and some leg curls.  I spent the better part of 5 minutes trying to figure out how to do a leg extension with the thing until I finally went back to my room and called it a day.

So much for a hotel with a fitness center.  It was like the island of misfit exercise equipment.  The next day I tried the 7 minute workout which I had read about on Life Hacker.

7 Minute Workout

For the most part, this exercise was actually superior to my efforts to make the fitness equipment function.  I enjoyed doing the step-up on to the luggage table.  I found doing the plank somewhat gross in a hotel room, so I laid out towels so I wouldn’t have to get any closer to the carpet than necessary.  The wall sit was actually quite a workout on the quads — much more so than I had imagined, although I was able to hold the position the entire time without losing my footing.

How many times did I work out during my week in North Carolina?  I’d round up and say 4.  In addition to my ill-fated trip to the fitness center and my 7 minute workout, I also did a solid hour of “mall walking” in and around the mall in Hickory.  I say “round up” because I also count the trek between terminals at ATL, which I do without the assistance of the trains when time permits, as a bit of a workout.  Okay.  I’ll settle for 3.

I tried to include exercise in my travel plans, but it just didn’t happen.  It’s not completely the fault of the equipment, but I can blame it on that, right?

On the Importance of Breathing

I’m a systems thinker, or so I’m told by the folks at work who value the way I look at often-confusing things and quickly identify patterns. I see the body as a bunch of systems, just like we were taught in middle school. The cardiovascular system moves blood. The respiratory system moves oxygen and carbon dioxide. Together, they make sure your cells “work.” When you’re out of breath, it’s because your cells either need more oxygen or have produced too much carbon dioxide, which your body is trying to get out. Usually, both.

gym face sweating

When I’m on the elliptical machine going full-tilt, I try to pay attention to my heart rate so it stays within a zone that’s optimal for burning calories. Too slow, and nothing of much benefit happens. Too fast, and the body goes into panic mode. Within the zone of 65-85 percent of your maximum heart rate is the goal.

I’ve found that I can lower my heart rate by as many as 10-15 beats per minute by focusing on breathing more regularly and deeply. This works by helping the lungs more effectively transfer oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. The more regular and deep your breaths, the less your heart has to work to get its job done.

Just keep breathing.

Push-Up Goal (an Ongoing Struggle)

I’m not sure how many of you noticed, but I set a personal goal of being able to do 100 push-ups.  You know how much I like arbitrary, numeric goals.  I had no idea at the time what a chore I was committing to, but I stand by my word.  I could take the easy way out and say, “I did 100 push-ups…  this year.  Two each week.”  That would be disingenuous, though.

Poolee Pushups
Creative Commons License Nick Royer via Compfight

This post isn’t about how amazing I am at doing push-ups.  It’s not about some fancy tool I bought (or want to buy) to help me do push-ups, and it isn’t about the amazing health benefits of doing push-ups (are there any?).  This post is a confession of sorts that this goal is one that I’m struggling with.

I write a lot about setting goals, taking baby steps toward those goals, and taking time each day to reflect on your work toward those goals.  I know how do to this stuff very well.  I’ve shown through weight loss, balancing my books, and in my education that I am more than capable of setting and reaching goals.  Why, then, am I failing at this one?

Play with food
Marco Bernardini via Compfight

Could it be because I have no “carrot” on the end of my “stick”?  No “game” to “win” or “lose”?  I know that by working on push-ups I’ll have stronger triceps, development of a variety of muscles in my chest, and I’ll be able to “drop and give twenty” at a moment’s notice.  I know that this is an exercise that has lasting benefits in working off my “bat wings,” too.  As an added bonus, the more lean muscle I have in my arms, the more calories I burn at rest.  I know these facts.  There are plenty of “carrots.”

Could it be because there are few consequences for not taking action?  I know that if I don’t do my regular gym workouts that I’ll burn fewer calories and have poorer performance at the weight loss clinic on weigh-in days.  I know that if I don’t stick to my meal plans, I’ll not eat the right proportions of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and calories, and I’ll also have poorer performance on weigh-in days.  If I don’t do my push-ups, what’s my disincentive?  Batwings?  I’m already there.

Could it be because I don’t have the resources to learn how to do push-ups?  I have the Internet.  Could it be because I don’t have the resources necessary to do push-ups?  I have arms and a floor.  Could it be because I don’t have a suitable workout plan?  There are plenty of push-up training schedules available online, and I’ve even purchased an iPhone app that can be used to track progress.  The resources are in place.

What’s missing here?  Time?  One of the websites I consulted recommended doing as many push-ups as possible, resting two minutes, and repeating this five times.  That’s an investment of at most 15 minutes.

What’s missing here?  Why can’t (or won’t) I follow-up by taking action on this goal?  I’ve set reminders for myself by moving my dumbbells into the hallway to remind me of my goal.  I step over them at least twice a day, usually much more than that.

I know what I have to do to reach my goal.  I have the resources necessary to reach my goal.  I am the only thing stopping me from reaching my goal.

What’s wrong with me?

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It’s Hard.

They say that losing weight is the easy part, and that keeping it off is the harder challenge. I’m not sure who “they” are, but what “they” say is true. I’ve been struggling in the past days, and I feel it’s my duty to share honestly with you what’s up. Rather than analyze this, let me just state the facts and see, in the end, if some clarity comes from me relaying the facts to you.

    • I’ve lost a lot of weight — over 250 pounds. Much of it came off through the use of meal replacements, but I’ve shown continued weight loss success with “real” food.
    • I’m a huge planner. I keep spreadsheets that I use to plan and guide my food selection and eating patterns.
    • I have a deep-seated need to have accurate records of my caloric intake, my exercise, and my weight. Knowing what I’ve done, what works, and what I can expect is a big part of what keeps me going.  Some people have to have their checkbook balanced to the penny to sleep at night.  I have to have my caloric books balanced.
    • My home was broken into recently.  In addition to the usual items (television, blu-ray player, computer, and cash), items essential to my record keeping were also taken — my bathroom scale and my food scale. For several days, I had no feedback in terms of morning weights.  I have been unable to accurately portion “tricky” foods like peanut butter, yogurt, and berries.  I’ve been a wreck.
    • Not knowing that I’m eating “just right” drives me crazy, and it makes me feel like giving up.
    • There has been considerable feedback from those around me to stop losing weight.  “You’re done.”  “Stop.”  “You’re losing too much.”  “People are asking if you’re ill.”  “Be careful and don’t go too far with this.”  I hear it every day.
    • I chose my goal weight of 180 pounds arbitrarily back when I was closer to 280.  I’ve been shifting my focus from goal weight to goal body composition.
    • As I get closer to 180 pounds, I find that I am not in the shape that I want to be in. My body doesn’t look the way I would like it to. I have a gut. I have skinny shoulders. Some people say I’m too thin.
    • My exercise routine has long consisted of 3 days of cardio (60 minutes) and 3 days of resistance + cardio (60-75 minutes total).  I’ve been in this workout cycle since reducing from cardio+resistance (2 hours per day), which was unsustainable.
    • I’ve cut back on cardio days with the goal of slowing my weight loss while still building muscle.
    • I’ve become “addicted” to hot cocoa, which I believe to be around 25 calories per 8-12 oz cup. I limit myself to 4 of these per day, 2 at work, 2 at home.
    • I’ve consumed a very low sodium diet for quite a while.
    • I have lower than typical blood pressure; I have since losing my first 50-75 pounds.
    • I’ve been getting dizzy more and more lately, especially when I stand up. This happened last summer, too. I upped my sodium then, which upped my blood pressure, and the symptoms disappeared.
    • I had my gallbladder removed recently, which has altered my digestive system somewhat. My bowel movements have slowed in frequency.
    • I find myself getting bored at the gym. I’ve been trying different cardio machines. I like the Arc trainer.
    • My pantry is pretty “safe,” in that there aren’t a lot of foods I could eat that could do serious caloric/metabolic damage.
    • I am traveling for work this week, eating foods that I buy on the road.  The plan is to buy healthy foods at a local grocery store and limit my meals out. I have access to a car, a refrigerator, and a microwave.
    • Since I’m away from home, I’m not going to be back to the weigh-in clinic for a couple of weeks. There’s less accountability here.
    • After finding that I had gained nearly a pound at the last clinic weigh-in before my departure on this trip, I wasn’t in the best of spirits. Knowing this was probably mainly water weight from my increased sodium intake to help counteract my dizziness made me feel a little better. Very little.
    • The stress of having my home broken into, my things pilfered, and then having to be away for an extended period has caused me considerable anxiety.

Putting it all together, here’s one possible narrative that may explain this. After what seems to be an eternity of making good choices and eating right, I’ve lost pounds.  My body, as I perceive it, isn’t what I had hoped it would look and feel like at my goal. I’m almost to the end of the weight loss portion of my journey, and the way my body looks doesn’t make me feel good at all. I’ve decided that if I lose much more weight, I will look emaciated. My gut is going to have to come off through surgery, and that’s going to have to come as the funds become available. There’s nothing that can be done other than waiting. I’ve been good about saving, and I’m over a third of the way there. It is just going to take patience.

In terms of “systems thinking,” I usually change a single variable at a time. Maybe I’ll see what happens if I add in a different kind of protein. Maybe I’ll tweak my gym schedule and see how my weight responds. This week, multiple variables have shifted all at once — number of hours of workout per week, types of foods consumed, uncertain portion sizes, and amount of sodium consumed.  Without being able to keep up with my progress at home, it’s a gamble walking into the weight loss clinic.  I can typically predict within a half a pound how much I will weigh on the clinic scale.  It’s uncomfortable not knowing how my actions are working or not working.

While the multi-variable weight situation would normally be manageable, the stress of the break-in took me from being on the verge of losing control, pushing me to the breaking point.  I don’t feel that I’ve broken down.  I feel that I’ve been on the edge of the cliff with my arms flailing and my footing slipping.  At no time have I laid down face first in a cheesecake.  Many times this week, however, I’ve reached the end of my food budget and said, “I don’t care.  I’m going to eat that banana anyway,” or, “I know how much a portion of peanut butter is.  I can’t know for sure how much I’m putting on this piece of toast, but I know for dang sure it’s more than one portion.”

Because there are so many variables all mixing and mingling to make my weight what it is, it’s impossible for me to say, “It’ll be OK.  You kept your calorie expenditure and intake steady, so this is all water weight from the increased sodium intake.”  I can’t say, “Stopping cardio one additional day a week is too much — see how much it affected your weekly weight change?”  I’m just going to have to do the best I can do and hope my body cooperates.

Where I Stand Today

I’m in a hotel in Hickory, North Carolina.  I did a bit of shopping after checking in, and I’ve set up a little healthy pantry in my room with the goal of continuing my exchange-based meal planning, preparation, and consumption while on the road.  I hope to stick to my existing 1500-1600 Calorie level.  I chose this hotel specifically because it was the only one in my budget with a fitness center.  I intend to resume cardio and resistance training tomorrow.

I.  Am.  On.  The.  Wagon.

I never fell off the wagon, exactly, but my weight is trending in the wrong direction for a number of possible reasons, none of which I can point a finger to as the definite cause.  I am dedicated to reaching a healthy weight, whatever number that turns out to be on the scale, and working to exercise my body until it looks and feels more like what I want it to.

It’s Hard.

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