So, about yesterday…

I ended up staying home from work yesterday, and not exercising or walking much or anything.  Why?  Well, it turns out that the sinus drainage I’ve been suffering from for the past week or so is caused by an upper respiratory infection.  Meaning that, rather than being upset with myself for not having done a whole lot of exercise (beyond struggling to hit my walking goal), I should be quite proud that I managed to do what I did.

Does it make me feel any better?  No, not really.  I’m still dripping and coughing and choking and all that.  But at least I know why, now.

So, here’s hoping I’ve got decent weigh-in results this weekend.  I’m not going to beat myself up over it, though.  Not until I recover, at least.

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The hardest thing…

You know what the hardest part about an exercise and weight loss program is?  Getting started.  Or… wait.  No, I think it’s continuing the program after the first week or so, when the thrill of starting has worn off and you’re staring at the long, difficult trail ahead.  Wait, wait.  That’s not right.  The hardest part is when you’ve lost enough weight that you really start to notice, because then you start feeling like you’ve really accomplished something and you start letting yourself cheat because surely it won’t hurt just this one time.  Actually, hang on.  That’s not the hardest part.  The hardest part is when you’re just feeling worn out from the constant discipline of counting calories and exercising and you just want a cheeseburger and fries and a milkshake and a day off.  No, no, that’s not the hardest part either.  The hardest part is…

Well, let’s be honest here.  The hardest part of any diet and exercise program is the part that you’re in right now.  Because things may get physically easier as you get into better shape and lose some of the weight, and they may get psychologically easier because you built up good habits, but it never gets easy.  There are always a million things that can distract you, and a million reasons to slack off ‘just this once’ (which can easily turn into falling off the wagon entirely), and it takes constant effort and attention to keep up the program.

People always seem to forget that.  I certainly do.  Although I remember having to work hard over the last 14 months, I never really think about just how hard it was.  Instead, I look back and see the success, and make the mistake of thinking it was easy then, and get down on myself for not having it as ‘easy’ now.  I forget that it took time and effort, and that I struggled constantly, and that I got demoralized and discouraged.  And that makes it easy to look at my current struggles and discouragement, and think that it’s different.  That somehow, because it was clearly easy back then and it isn’t now, something’s gone wrong and I’m failing.

I’m here to tell you that this is not true.  Not for me, and not for you.  Failure only happens when you quit.  Did you gain a couple of pounds?  Did you forget to do your exercises for the last two weeks?  Did you deliberately eat a thousand calories worth of cookies and ice cream?  (No, no, that’s not me judging you – that’s all things I’ve done.  Recently.)  None of that means you’ve failed.  None of that means that I’ve failed.  It just means that you (or I) are human.  We struggle.  We backslide.  But we don’t have to give up, just because of that.  We can stand up, dust the cookie crumbs off our shirts, lace up our shoes, and go for a walk.

Don’t give up!  That’s the secret.  Don’t give up.  It gets… well, no.  It doesn’t actually get easier, because you’ll probably push yourself harder as you start to succeed.  But it certainly feels good when you stop and realize that things seem hard right now because you’re pushing yourself to do far more than you ever could before.  And when you realize that?

Well.  You’ll feel a whole lot better.  About everything.

I’m clearly in better shape than I realize

I went running yesterday.

For reasons I won’t go into here, I had a terrible need to burn off some adrenaline last night.  It was so obvious that my wife – who is as wise as she is beautiful – pretty much pushed me out the door to go walking.  And I was keyed up enough that I actually started jogging when I hit the outside stairs.  How far did I get?  About a quarter mile before my sinuses started punishing me for my temerity and I started coughing.  The next half mile was speed walking, and then I walked at my normal pace home.

It’s just now, hours later, that this fact is really kicking in.  I ran a quarter mile, and I possibly could have managed another quarter mile if my sinuses hadn’t rebelled.  I was breathing hard, yes, but I wasn’t gasping for breath and ready to pass out.  That may not sound like a lot, but in the face of where I was last July?  Heck, in the face of how I’ve been feeling about my progress the past few months?  That was amazing.

Still, I think I’ll wait until this sinus thing I’ve got clears up before I try it again.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…

I’m now ‘celebrating’ twelve weeks of no significant progress.  It was July 9 when I first cracked 300 pounds, and I’ve been oscillating between about 294 and 300 since that time.  And frankly, I’m getting really tired of it.  This should be a simple process:  stay within my calorie budget no matter what, and exercise.  And yet, somehow, I haven’t managed to do those simple things.

So, here’s my plan.  It’s a simple plan, and one that gets back to the roots of what I was doing when I got started on my weight loss efforts.  I’m going to stick to my calorie budget.  No more snacking between meals.  No more making excuses.  2,200 calories is sufficient for my daily needs right now, and – when I do it right – it still lets me eat well.

I’m tired of being stalled out.  It’s time to get moving once more.

So, I’ve finally realized part of why I’m struggling with my goals right now.  I’ve got bad seasonal allergies going on right now.  Or maybe a mild cold.  I’m not sure which, but my sinuses have declared war on me, which has made it difficult to get a good night’s sleep and to do a lot of exercise.  So, yeah.  No wonder I’ve been struggling with this.  Because, when I’m tired, I am far more likely to eat a lot of high calorie foods in an effort to get more energy.  And I struggle a whole lot more with getting my exercises done, because I feel like I’m accomplishing something simply by staying awake.

Really, it’s probably a wonder that I’ve managed to maintain my weight as well as I have.

Obviously, this part is not a simple matter of “willpower” or anything like that.  It’s a matter of trying to feel better, so that I can actually follow through on my goals.  But things should get a little easier, now that I’ve realized (or admitted) what’s going on – now I can watch out for myself, realize that I’m eating because I’m tired and lethargic, and try to deal with it in a more productive fashion.

Hopefully, though, I’ll be feeling better soon.

Chicken of the Woods

Exercise leads to education!  Who knew?

Your question right now is probably “what are you talking about?”, and it’s a fair question. So here’s what’s going on:  yesterday morning, I was out on the nature trails at work doing my morning walk. I’d just hit the end of the Overlook Trail and was heading back, when I saw this:


The picture doesn’t quite do it justice. It was this spectacular fan of yellow-red shelf fungus growing on a fallen log, and it got me wondering what it was. So I took a couple of pictures and headed back to my desk to consult Google.

Assuming that my Google-fu is strong, that fungus is Laetiporus cincinnatus, an edible bracket fungus that is commonly known as crab-of-the-woods, sulphur shelf, or chicken-of-the-woods. Why?  Because people report that it tastes like chicken (or crab, or lobster) and that it can be cooked and then substituted for chicken in many recipes.

Of course, I could be wrong. It could be something poisonous. And even if it isn’t, approximately 10% if people have “adverse reactions@ to eating it – vomiting and fever, most commonly. Plus, being honest, I’m not prepared to risk eating wild fungus based on five minutes of Internet research. I think I’ll just admire it and otherwise leave it alone.

Still, how cool was that?

Fitness Trackers Don’t Work?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I own a FitBit and that I use it quite a bit.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw headlines like this in my news feed this morning:

New Study Says Fitness Trackers Don’t Help Dieters

Fitness Trackers Don’t Foster Weight Loss, Study Finds

Weight Loss On Your Wrist? Fitness Trackers May Not Help

Needless to say, I was curious.  After all, it seems to work well for me.  So I tracked down the study to see what it had to say.  You can read it yourself – look for Effect of  Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial on the Journal of the American Medical Association website.  From the abstract, here’s how the study worked:

Participants were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and had group counseling sessions. At 6 months, the interventions added telephone counseling sessions, text message prompts, and access to study materials on a website. At 6 months, participants randomized to the standard intervention group initiated self-monitoring of diet and physical activity using a website, and those randomized to the enhanced intervention group were provided with a wearable device and accompanying web interface to monitor diet and physical activity.

The conclusion of the study?

Among young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months. Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.

When looking at something like this, the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s just one study.  The study itself states that

Additional investigation is also needed to examine for whom wearable devices and other technologies may be effective within the context of weight loss efforts and how these technologies influence other components of weight loss, namely, eating behavior and dietary intake.

In other words, the study isn’t saying that fitness trackers are worthless garbage that should be discarded.  It’s saying that more research needs to be done to determine the most effective way to integrate them into a weight loss program.  But here’s something else that’s interesting.  Assuming I’m interpreting the charts right (and I think I am), the “enhanced” group (the group with the trackers) consumed fewer calories than the standard group, once they passed the six month mark and started using the trackers, but also did less exercise.

Here’s where I speculate, based on my own experience.  Fitness trackers can provide an illusion of exercise, simply by tracking your movements.  If you’re having to manually track your exercise, you probably aren’t counting in things like “I walked from my bed to the bathroom” as exercise.  You’re tracking times you actively went out and walked or ran, or the times you spend working out.  The tracker can make you lazy, if you rely on it and don’t have a back-up plan to make sure you exercise.

Again, I’m not a research physician.  But I think this explains the evidence from the study.  Both groups lost weight, after all.  The tracker wasn’t worthless.  But the group that had to manually track things lost more weight.

So, what does this mean for my weight loss efforts?  Well, in a word, nothing.  I’m not in the age range from the study, and the study authors state that “the study sample was restricted to young adults, so results cannot be generalized to other ages”.  More importantly, though, my weight loss program isn’t the same sort of structured group program that the study utilized – it’s more of a hybrid between the two groups described in the study.  I use the FitBit, yes, but I don’t depend on it for all of my data about my exercise and weight loss.  I also make use of self-reported tracking that is manually input into a different system.

Ultimately – and this is my personal experience talking again – I think that further study will indicate that fitness trackers have benefits.  But I think that further study will also show us the optimal way to use them as part of a fitness program.  They’re just a tool, after all.  And no single tool will change your life all by itself.