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.