Friday, May 21, 2010

Living Low-Carb, One Year Later

It was one year ago today that I decided to try a low-carb diet. I'd begun yet another diet (and this blog!) on February 1st, 2009, and I hadn't made much progress on the low-fat, restricted-calorie system I'd always previously used to take off excess weight (though, obviously, not with long-term success!). But after reading a lot about the low-carb approach online and buying the original Atkins diet book, I decided to give it a shot.

And here I am, one year later and 65 pounds lighter - from 273 lbs. on May 20, 2009 to 208 lbs. on May 20, 2010. Am I pleased? Oh yes. It hasn't always been easy, and there was one period between my birthday in late October and New Year's where my sugar cravings got out of control and I got lazy about exercising; on the other hand, as I've commented before, that might have been good for me, because I learned that I could stop that kind of slide before it got too far out of hand, instead of feeling powerless like I had in the past.

More important, I'm nearing the best weight I achieved on my last low-fat, calorie-counting diet: 202 lbs., in the early summer of 2007. (In fact, that's the best weight I have recorded for myself going back to 2004, when I was in the 250's; I don't have records from prior to that.) But then I got an injury that put a stop to my running and my will power evaporated, and I quickly started gaining weight back. Worse, I stopped weighing myself out of avoidance, and by November of that year I found myself over 250 lbs. again, well on my way to passing the 280-pound mark yet one more time.

Looking back, though, I think at least part of the problem in 2007 was that even before I got injured and couldn't run, I was already nearing the end of my "diet rope" with the low-fat system. I was bone-tired of never feeling full, never eating any rich foods, and practicing the various other kinds of daily, even hourly self-denial that kind of lifestyle requires. (And I'm sure all the low-calorie carbs were not helping my glucose and insulin situation, either.) Right now, though, I'm not feeling that way about living low-carb. I'm still enjoying what I'm allowed to eat, the occasional sugar cravings are manageable, and I'm seeing my best weight in 3 years and perhaps my best fitness level ever. I definitely feel that I can maintain this for some time to come, though it's impossible to know for sure.

In the meantime, though, I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Wish me luck as we head into summer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Tortoise and the Hares

This morning I ran a 5k for the third time since last fall: the cleverly-named See Spot Run in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a race to benefit the no-kill Free to Live animal sanctuary north of Edmond. It's a good cause and a good motivation to keep pushing myself while working out, so I figured, why not?

My time was also okay - a 31:33, only 2 minutes and 17 seconds faster than today's winning time for the 10k, which certainly keeps my speed in perspective. On the other hand, that's a minute faster than the two 10k times I logged last September and October, so obviously I'm improving, however slowly. And I was not the slowest guy in the 45-49 age group, either, which I believe is a first for me!

Of course, whatever time I post, I can never let myself forget that running a 5k represents a personal victory for me. It's a fitness victory, since I would never have done this when I weighed 285 pounds and had a hard enough time just hauling my body off the sofa, much less moving it faster than a slow walk for 3 miles.

Even more important, though, it's a self-esteem victory. I know I'm no longer enormous, but I'm also well-aware that I don't exactly cut an athletic figure out there, weighing as much as I still do. There was a time when I would not have wanted to expose either my out-of-shape body or my less-than-graceful running style in front of race spectators, but I'm much better with that now. They might not know how much weight I've lost and what running a 5k represents for me, but I know it, and that's enough.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Love Marcella Hazan!

I was so pleased with how tonight's dinner turned out that I took a picture of it! The chicken is Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken with Lemons from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - an utterly simple, totally rewarding recipe. On the side was fresh asparagus from the local farmer's market, roasted in the oven with some olive oil. Very healthful and very yummy!

Marcella Hazan's recipe (Essentials, pp. 327-328):

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, both inside and out. Remove all the bits of fat hanging loose. Let the bird sit for about 10 minutes on a slightly tilted plate to let all the water drain out of it. Pat it thoroughly dry all over with cloth or paper towels.

3. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and black pepper on the chicken, rubbing it with your fingers over all its body and into its cavity.

4. Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a towel. Soften each lemon by placing it on a counter and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture the lemons in at least 20 places each, using a sturdy round toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar implement.

5. Place both lemons in the bird's cavity. Close up the opening with toothpicks or with trussing needle and string. Close it well, but don't make an absolutely airtight job of it because the chicken may burst. Run kitchen string from one leg to the other, tying it at both knuckle ends. Leave the legs in their natural position without pulling them tight. If the skin is unbroken, the chicken will puff up as it cooks, and the string serves only to keep the thighs from spreading apart and splitting the skin.

6. Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast facing down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so you need not fear it will stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over to have the breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later. Do not worry too much about it, however, because even if it fails to swell, the flavor will not be affected.

7. Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes, then turn the oven thermostat up to 400 degrees, and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time for each pound. [If your chicken is bigger than the recipe suggests, increase the time spent cooking the bird on both sides at 350. Don't add to the 20 minutes at 400 or else you might dry out the meat. - Sancho.] There is no need to turn the chicken again.

8. Whether your bird has puffed up or not, bring it to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. Be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shriveled up, but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze them, they may squirt.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Other Kind of Exercise

Modern exercise is a funny thing, you have to admit: it's an imitation of and a substitute for the actual exercise that people in earlier generations did as part of daily life. To burn calories and improve our cardiovascular fitness, we go to the gym, where we have machines that allow us to pretend we're climbing real stairs or running actual distances or biking up and down genuine mountains. This is synthetic exercise, a simulacrum of true exertion invented and very profitably marketed by the fitness industry to compensate for the one-two punch of the Standard American Diet and a convenience-based, efficiency-oriented, and technology-driven national lifestyle.

Of course, I'm as guilty as many people of buying into synthetic exercise, since I have an elliptical trainer which allows me to stay indoors in bad weather rather than venture outside, and which I use to compensate for a college professor's very sedentary daily routine, where the big exertion comes when I have to carry books to the library and back. I'm in no position to scold, but at least I'm aware of the modern irony of fitness: if people didn't insist on driving everywhere and parking within 20 feet of their destination, for example, they might not need to spend so much time on the treadmill in the first place.

I was especially aware of that irony today, when I skipped the elliptical but spent two hours in my back yard, using a shovel and a pitchfork (hence today's picture!) to turn the soil for this year's vegetable garden - in this part of the country, we need to get the cool weather veggies in the ground by now if we want them to grow before the hot weather rolls in. I don't have a huge garden, but digging even a small one for two hours means a fair amount of genuine exercise, one sort of real manual labor that existed long before elliptical machines and stairmasters. And better still, that work I did had an actual purpose beyond burning calories: in a couple months I will be eating healthful, home-grown food from that garden, which will make me healthier still and save me money besides. Nowadays this might be the "other kind" of exercise, but there's definitely something to be said for it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Just Can't Hold My Yogurt!

A big part of losing weight for me is avoiding foods that make me hungrier - the dreaded "high glycemic index" foods that cause havoc with insulin levels and trigger binges. Based on that concept and on my other "rules", I recently decided I might be able to add some Greek yogurt to my diet - no added sugars, classified as low-GI, and a carb count per serving that I could make work. Since I like my yogurt tart, I'm not tempted to mix fruit or jam into it, either. A few tablespoons should have made a great dessert or snack.

The results? I found out I just can't hold my yogurt - or at least, I can't hold the line on how much I eat! It was amazing how quickly every new (and expensive!) container of Greek yogurt ended up empty in the sink. Worse, not only did one serving of yogurt make me hungry for more, it also gave me cravings for other sweet foods and made me hungrier in general. I don't keep sweet stuff in the house and I always summoned up enough will power not to grab the car keys and head out in search of my biggest vices: chocolate, dried fruit, or worst of all, a combination of those like chocolate-covered raisins. However, I couldn't stop myself from doing a few late-night "mini-binges" of the meat, cheese, and other low-carb foods which I do keep in the house. And as everyone who's ever tried to lose weight knows, that sense of weakening control over your appetite is a terrifying feeling. If I'd been in a 12-step program, I think I would have had to call my sponsor!

There's some disagreement online about yogurt consumption when a person is trying to lose weight (those probiotics are very trendy right now), but it does seem that yogurt has a very high insulin index, in spite of its acceptable glycemic index. Apparently some foods which are not high-GI nevertheless elicit a major insulin response - and of course that elevation in insulin production can trigger the usual cycle of hunger pangs and fat storage in someone like me, bringing weight loss to a dead stop.

So, I guess I will be giving up the Greek yogurt for now. Maybe I'll add it to my "Someday in Moderation" list. And in the meantime, I can at least feel better about saving money and not adding more plastic containers to my recycling bin.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Shout-Out to Sheryl at *Bitch Cakes*

This is a great entry on rebounding from missteps and lapses by one of my favorite weight-loss bloggers, Sheryl at *Bitch Cakes*. Check it out!

Bitch Cakes: How Do You Recover from Tough Times?

Lost Territory Regained

Lake Mileage: 9k
MP3 Player: Madonna, The Immaculate Collection
Currently Reading: Satyr Square: A Year, A Life in Rome (Leonard Barkan)

I was pleased with the number on the scale this morning: 226 lbs. Not only is this figure comfortably past the 50-pound mark, but it's also the weight I'd achieved late last September, before I started to backslide through early January.

Obviously, I wish I'd spent the months between late September and now losing additional weight rather than re-gaining and re-losing some poundage, but at least now I'm back on track. In fact, I'm once again on track in the overall "100 pounds in 2 years" plan, as shown by the graph on the right-hand side of this page. I'd like to start putting up some numbers below the tracking line, but at least I'm no longer sitting above it.

And who knows? Maybe this recent delay allowed my body to get accustomed to weighing less than 280+ pounds, and that will help in the long run. Only time will tell about that. Right now, though, I'll happily settle for being on track again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Year, 43 Pounds Later (and Lighter!)

Unbelievably enough, it was a year ago today when I decided to add weight loss blogging to my list of ways to motivate myself. It's definitely been an up-and-down year in terms of success, but here's how I would sum it up the key points.

-I began with yet another effort at low-fat and restricted-calorie eating, which wasn't nearly as effective as it had been in the past, and then in May 2009 I tried the low-carb Atkins approach, which was definitely more effective and did take some weight off. I really appreciate an eating plan where I'm not feeling food-deprived all the time, which I'm sure was part of the reason that the restricted-calorie diets didn't work in the long term for me - that, and the fact that carbs messed up my blood sugar and made me even hungrier.

-I had periods of solid weight loss, but I also hit some plateaus and had one dangerous backslide in the fall, when I regained 15-20 pounds after reaching a good low at the end of the summer. Unlike a few other times in my life, though, I didn't stop weighing myself and gradually give up when I saw things heading in reverse. (A definite benefit of blogging: if I hadn't committed myself to posting my weight here every 10 days, the scale might be gathering dust by now while I played the Denial Game!)

-I made a lot of progress in terms of exercise. Last year I was satisfied with 25 minutes on the elliptical machine; now I do at least an hour every time I climb onto it.

So here I am, one year later, with a lower resting pulse and a net weight loss of 43 pounds. How do I feel about that? Honestly, I was aiming for at least 50: my goal was - and to some extent still is - to take off 100 pounds in 2 years, so I fell a little short this past year. On the other hand, I got most of those 50, and 43 pounds is still a substantial amount of weight; the calculator tells me that's over 15% of the 280.5 pounds I started with.

So overall, it was a good year. I guess I should celebrate by starting Year Two off with an hour or so on the elliptical!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Speaking Too Soon

I'm starting to suspect that blogging about weight loss awakens mysterious unseen forces which keep us from getting too confident: that is, no sooner do I write a confident post than whatever positive trends I'd noticed will change. It's enough to make a person superstitious, in a "don't tempt fate" or "don't get the gods angry" kind of way.

Clearly, my most recent post was overconfident to some degree. I expected to have dropped at least a couple more pounds in the 10 days between that post and this one, especially since I've remained steady in my commitment to working out and I've actually increased the length of my sessions on the elliptical; I never do anything less than an hour now. Annoyingly enough, though, the scale this morning didn't say what I wanted it to. I'm not ecstatic about the single, solitary pound it says I've shed: at my size, 1 pound can be a totally normal daily variation based on water retention, how much food is in my system, etc. But it does at least mean that I haven't gained any net weight over the last 10 days, which is reassuring to someone like me who can easily acquire poundage with no effort. Also, it goes to show how unpredictable the whole process with all its countless variables can be.

So what to do now? Get changed and climb back on the elliptical! Whatever the scale says, today's workout will bring me to a total of 24 days during January. That's a good number for me - it means I spent an entire day this month working out!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gaining Traction

Over Christmas, we had a blizzard here. Driving in the snow and ice for the next few days took me back to growing up near Syracuse, where bad roads and blocked driveways were a fact of life from December through April. My car even got stuck once, which meant I had to to-and-fro a lot, alternating forward and reverse while trying the steering wheel at different angles, until my faithful Toyota found enough traction to get me off the patch of ice and snow and out of the ruts my tires had spun themselves into.

Obviously, there's a diet metaphor here. For the last few months of 2009, my weight-loss tires couldn't find much traction at all, and I wasn't going in the direction I wanted; I was even sliding backwards into higher numbers on the scale. In the last ten days, though, I've been more rigorous about cutting carbs and doing hard workouts, and today the scale showed definite progress: I got myself off the icy patch of the 240's, where I've been spinning my wheels, and at least for the time being, I feel back in control. Let's hope it lasts ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Diet and Exercise, Exercise and Diet

If there's one thing on which there's pretty much a consensus in the world of weight loss, it's that effective and sustained slimming-down requires both diet and exercise. This isn't exactly news, despite the fact that every couple weeks another magazine or newspaper or website treats it as if no one had ever suggested the idea before:

For Fitness, Cutting Calories May Not Be Enough - US News and World Report

In addition, the authors of autobiographical weight-loss books and blogs can't sing this same chorus enough, constantly proclaiming the joyful synergy of the two sides of the process - how their athletic endeavors make them eat better and how their healthful eating fuels their workouts.

But me? I have to admit that I have a really hard time doing both at the same time. Right now, for instance, I'm exercising regularly, and that is a rare change from my usual winter lethargy. I'm doing an hour on the elliptical 5-6 days/week, and even going out running occasionally when the sun comes out.

But does this uncharacteristic motivation spill over into my eating? Am I able to euphorically control my appetite and thus maximize my weight loss? Nope. Of course, this is partly because the exercise makes me hungry. Very hungry. Worse still, it makes me hungry for sugar, which is a very bad thing.

Similarly, there are periods of time when I have no trouble following my diet plans, resisting the temptation to snack, ignoring the siren songs of the vending machine at work, the bakery counter at Panera, and the ease of obtaining drive-through McDonald's french fries on my way home from work. During those times, I have my appetite under control - but am I usually exercising regularly, too? Nope, almost never. Why? Because I don't have the extra energy!

Even beyond this interplay of appetite versus energy, I often feel like I only have a certain amount of will power in reserve - and it's enough will power to control my eating or my exercise, but not both at the same time. I can will myself to exercise, but if I do that several times a week, there's not enough left in the tank to also will myself not to eat candy at the movies. And I can will myself to count carbs and stop eating when I reach my daily allotted maximum, but most of the time I can't also force myself into my shorts and Nikes.

I do know one solution to the problem: being a different person, an athletic, fit guy with a cooperative metabolism who naturally lives the right way. But I'm me. I like rich foods, and I don't like exercise. Given my druthers, I'd just as soon eat lots of unhealthful foods and sell the elliptical on Ebay - but then I'd get fat to the point of having to buy two seats on the plane, and that's also not acceptable.

There are never any easy answers, are there?!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Envelope, Please?

Well, it's January 1, 2010, the first New Year's Day of a new decade (at least as popularly measured), and this morning I hopped on the scale to see where I stand. The envelope, please? I'm starting the Tens (or whatever we'll end up calling it) at 241 lbs.

This number is not spectacular, I'll be the first to admit, and I'd actually hoped to kick off the year in the 230's rather than the 240's, just because it would feel like more of an accomplishment. There's also been a bit of backsliding beginning with my birthday in late October and extending through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's - I'd gotten down into the mid-220's but hit a plateau and then lost some ground.

But on the other hand, 241 still shows real progress. A year ago, on January 1, 2009, I weighed in at 276, so I'm exactly 35 pounds lighter today. A month after that, on the day I started my latest diet campaign as well as this blog, I weighed 280.5, so I'm nearly 40 lbs. thinner than that now. And my heaviest weight in 2009 was 284, so I've lost 43 pounds from that worst point last year: 15% of that peak weight. All of these numbers are good.

Also, a look at my exercise logs - okay, that's a fancy way of saying my kitchen calendar, which is where I scribble down how far I run or how long I do the elliptical machine - tells me that I've doubled my workout duration in the past year. Last January I was doing around 25 minutes on the elliptical, but now I'm doing 50-60 minutes every time I use it. That suggests I'm significantly more fit in the cardiovascular area than I was a year ago, and that's probably even more important in terms of my overall health, given that I'm at the age when guys start having their first heart attacks. Not only that, this fall I ran two charity 5k races - I wasn't fast, but I finished them both and wasn't either the oldest or the slowest guy running. They provided me with good motivation (and t-shirts!), so I'd like to do a few more of those this year.

So where do I go from here? What are my plans for 2010? Obviously, I need to start moving the number on the scale downward again, so I want to go back to the Atkins Induction Phase for a jump-start. I have to cut the carbs way back again to try for measurable results. I want to keep upping my workout length and/or intensity, and this may require a visit to a sports medicine specialist, to find out why I still sometimes get leg pains and cramps when I run. And by this time next year, I'd like to be able to fit into some clothes hanging in my closet that I'm close, but not close enough, to wearing again!

Happy 2010 to all!