This Year, Resolve To Keep Your Resolutions!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Then it’s just like your New Years Goals,
You just won’t make the time.

So, yeah. It’s New Year’s Eve! The traditional time of year for making resolutions that we won’t bother to keep. Seriously, a study on the subject of New Year’s resolutions from 1989 found that 23% of people studied had abandoned their resolutions within one week of making them, and 81% had abandoned them within two years. A second study in 2002 found that 54% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will have failed or given up within six months. The good news is, of course, that 96% of people who didn’t make a New Year’s resolution but who had the same goal failed within that same six month period.

Here’s the better news. You don’t have to fail.  I mean, look at those numbers. If you have a New Year’s resolution, you’re already ahead of the game. You’ve got a much better chance of success, simply because you have committed yourself to doing something. And you’ve got a 77% chance of continuing that goal for at least a week, a 46% chance of still working on it in six months, and a 19% chance of still doing it within two years. In other words, you can do this. And there are things you can do to increase your odds of success.

First, have a concrete goal. This is essential. You need to be able to articulate exactly what your goal is, and it needs to be measurable. “I want to lose weight” is a bad goal. “I want to lose two hundred pounds” is a better goal, because you have a concrete target in mind. If you can put a deadline on it, so much the better: “I want to lose two hundred pounds in two years” is really good.

Second, create an action plan. Take that goal, and figure out what you need to do (or at least what you think you need to do) to achieve it. I recommend breaking it down until you have measurable daily goals, and progress benchmarks. That way, you know exactly what you need to do each day to meet that goal, and you have signs that indicate progress.

Third, recognize that the action plan may need to change. If you are working towards a goal, it is almost by definition something that you aren’t already doing. So you probably don’t know quite how to do it. Your action plan represents your best idea(s) of how to achieve your goal, but you’re going to learn a lot as you work on your goal. So be ready to update, modify, or even rewrite your action plan as needed to make sure you are achieving your goal.

Fourth, find some accountability. You will need some way to keep yourself responsible for your action plan. Use a journal to keep track of your progress. Use a phone app (I like Habitica, because I’m a nerd). Find a friend or loved one who will be your accountability partner. It doesn’t matter exactly what you use, but you will need something or someone to remind you that you have a goal – especially early on, when you’re still getting in the habit of working on the goal.

Fifth, find a cheerleader. Sure, you need help keeping on task. But you also need help remembering that you’re actually making progress. It’s really easy to miss the improvements you’re making, because you’re with yourself all day and you don’t see the little changes. So find someone who is willing to (realistically) help you see the positive changes and the progress you’re making. If that someone is also your accountability, so much the better!

Sixth, memento mori. Remember, you are mortal. You will make a mistake. You will slack off. You’re human. But remember that it isn’t the end of the world. You’ve got a goal of running a marathon, and you just can’t drag yourself out of bed one morning to go run five miles? It happens. But don’t let that one moment of failure wreck your goal. Take advice from a child learning to walk: when you fall, scream and cry for a minute or two. Then pull yourself back up, and toddle along some more while holding onto something for balance. Sure, you’ll fall down again. But soon, you’ll be toddling along without holding on to anything. And then you’ll be walking, and even running.

And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill drink
For auld lang syne!

Man, I Wish I Had Something Profound To Say…

But, I don’t. Seriously. I mean, I had a good day yesterday. I stayed within my calorie budget for the first time since the 21st, and I hit my 5.3 miles walking, and I got a good night’s sleep. But, no earth-shaking insights. No words of wisdom. Nothing like that. It was just a good, solid day of working on my goals and making a little more progress.

Maybe that’s the lesson from yesterday. That meeting your goals isn’t a matter of going from profound event to spectacular revelation. It’s simply a matter of having a goal, and of determining the steps that will get you to your goal. And then working on those steps each day. Slow and steady wins the race, and all that.

Nope, still not profound. Shucks.

Eating Well: Chicken Rice Soup

In the part of the world where I live, it’s chilly and rainy and that makes for weather that demands soup. I made this soup recently, and it turned out pretty good:

1 lb chicken breast: 780 calories
5 oz chopped carrots (about 1 cup): 58 calories
3 oz chopped onion (about 1 cup): 34 calories
1 oz chopped celery (about 1 cup): 5 calories
6 oz frozen corn (about 2 cups): 621 calories
4 cups chicken broth: 60 calories
2 cups water
1/3 cup uncooked brown rice (about 2 1/3 ounces, 7 ounces once cooked): 227 calories

  1. Add frozen chicken breast to crock pot. Cover with other ingredients.
  2. Cook in a crock pot on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours.
  3. Remove chicken breast. Shred or chop meat, return to crock pot. Cook on low for another hour or high for 30 minutes.
  4. If you are cooking the soup on high, cook the rice seperately and add when the shredded chicken meat is returned to the crock pot.

Notes:

  •  The total calorie count for this recipe is 1,785, assuming you eat the whole thing. The whole thing weighs about 81 1/3 ounces, so that gets an average calorie count of 22 calories per ounce (54 an ounce if you don’t factor in the water weight). When I served it out, I ended up with about 12 ounces – about 3/4 solids and 1/4 water. So, call it 9 ounces at 54 calories an ounce, or 486 calories a serving. (Next time I should probably eat the soup, and then see how much liquid is left when I’m finished. But that seems a good estimate.)
  • I measured the weights of the various ingredients with a food scale, so I know they’re correct. The cup size measurements came from adding the ingredients to a measuring cup, and may not be exact.

Pants!

Well, the holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work. I let myself slide a little last week – nothing too bad, but I didn’t even bother tracking my calorie intake on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – and now I need to get back on task. Fortunatly, I didn’t hurt myself badly by slacking off for the week. I weighed in at 337.4 lbs, after all, which represents a 3.6 pound weight loss. Not too shabby.

Equally exciting was the fact that I finally went clothes shopping on Saturday. Which is generally not an exciting thing for me. But I discovered that I wear a size 52 waist, which is down at least six inches. Probably more, since I was kind of stuffing myself into the 58s. Even better, I was able to button a 50 inch waist, although that was just a little uncomfortable. So, distinct progress there.

Anyway, here’s the plan for the week: I’m back on my 2,300 calorie per day budget, I’ll be walking 5.3 miles each day (no excuses), and I’ll be doing my exercise cards on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Should be easily done, since I’ll be leaving the Holiday Office Party season behind.

Sunlight and Hibernation

Recently, I’ve pretty much wanted to sleep all the time. I’m getting enough sleep, but all I want to do is roll over in the morning and turn my alarm off and go back to sleep. And then, by five in the evening, I want to go to bed. Needless to say, this is playing hob with my efforts to exercise – it’s hard to do some push-ups, or go walk a mile, when all you want to do is curl up and sleep. So I did a little internet research, and it turns out I’m not alone. There is a phenomena that the UK National Health Service calls “winter tiredness“. And, according to them, it’s caused by lack of sunlight.

As you all know, we just passed the solstice. Which means that, up here in the northern hemisphere, the days are just now starting to get longer. Longer is a relative term, however – locally, sunrise is at 7:54 am and sunset is at 5:19 pm, meaning the sun is up for only 9 hours and 25 minutes. According to the NHS, sunlight makes your brain produce less of a hormone called melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, if you want to get technical). And melatonin does a few interesting things in your body, like help regulate your blood pressure and your circadian rhythms. A build-up of melatonin makes you sleepy. Their advice is to try to spend more time outdoors, even if it’s just a few minutes at lunch.

Which makes sense, based on my own anecdotal evidence. I know that when I get out in the sunshine and the fresh air, I certaily feel a lot less sleepy. So if you’re feeling tired during the winter, open the curtains. Get outside. And exercise regularly, because that helps you wake up as well.

It’s important to remember that “winter tiredness” isn’t the same thing as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Both winter tiredness and winter SAD are triggered by reduced levels of sunlight, but winter SAD is far more severe and can result in actual clinical depression. If you find yourself experiencing more than one of the following symptoms, the Mayo Clinic recommends you consult with your doctor:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

And if you are experiencing these symptoms, regardless of whether you have any of the ones on the above list, really consult with your doctor:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

It’s natural to be a little tired during the winter. But, if you have it, you don’t have to suffer with depression. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Talk to your doctor. Let them help you.

Eating Well: Yule Log Cake

IMG_1898I don’t make a living as a photographer for a reason…

Technically, this is just a two egg yellow cake baked in a pan shaped like a log. The recipe is pretty much my go-to recipe for making cake, and has been since I was… twelve? I don’t remember, exactly. I do remember it was the foundation of the cakes my mom would make when I was little, though, so it’s flavored by butter and sugar and vanilla and happy memories.

The “yule log” aspect of the cake comes from the fact that we have the log-shaped cake pan. So, every year on the solstice, I like to bake the cake. Let’s find out together just how bad it is for us.

Two-Egg Yellow Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour, 910 calories
1 1/2 cups sugar, 1161 calories
3 tsp baking powder 15 calories
1 tsp salt, 0 calories
1 cup milk, 105 calories (assuming 1% milk)
1/2 cup shortening, 906 calories
1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 calories
2 eggs, 160 calories

  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add Milk, shortening, and vanilla extract, mix at medium speed for two minutes.
  3. Add eggs, mix at medium speed for two minutes.
  4. Pour into greased and floured baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes (until a fork or skewer inserted comes out clean).
  5. Cool, frost if desired, and serve.
  6. The cake as written comes out to a whopping 3,259 calories for the whole thing. I’ll note that I generally substitute a stick of butter for the shortening, which is “only” 814 calories. This exotic situation, one in which butter reduces the calorie count, takes the cake down to 3,167 calories. You can also pretty much substitute in any other flavorless cooking oil (I strongly recommend against olive oil, though), which is about the only way I can think of to significantly modify the calorie count of the recipe.  I’m up for suggestions, though, if anyone has them.
  7. Because I’m lazy, I use canned frosting – one of these days, I really need to take a stab at making my own. The cake in the picture above used 1 1/2 cans of Duncan Hines Home-Style Milk Chocolate Frosting, adding another 2,730 calories to the total (making it 5,897 calories in total, since I used the “healthy” butter option). Growing up, though, we’d often either split a slice in half and butter it, or we’d put jelly on it. Calorie counts vary for that option, depending on the topping.
  8. Serving sizes vary, of course. I brought this one to work to share out with my team, so the serving size runs about 1/15 of the cake. That’s… hang on, doing math… 393 calories for the frosted cake I made. Hefty, but not a deal breaker as long as you don’t go back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths).

So, that wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. Not for, you know, cake. The calorie count is higher than the cake-from-a-box I had for my birthday, but I also think it’s a better tasting cake. And most of the time, I’d rather eat a smaller piece of a better tasting food.

There’s no way the leftovers – if any – are coming home with me, though. I don’t need that level of temptation in the house.