Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dropping Some Pounds

January in Cedar Park tends to mean one thing and one thing only for me: utter misery. The cedar pollen is out in full force, and as usual it is completely destroying me. The last couple of years it hasn't been so bad, so I was operating under the (clearly misguided) assumption that I had grown through my issues with Cedar Fever. Not so much.

Anyway, it was so bad about a month ago that I went to the urgent care nearby and got a cortisone injection to alleviate the symptoms a bit. While I was there the nurse checked the usual stuff -- weight, blood pressure, heart rate. And all of my numbers were higher than I like them to be. Weight well above 230, blood pressure uncomfortably in the "borderline hypertensive" region, heart rate in the low 70's. Just 3-4 years ago those numbers were much more comfortable for me -- weight significantly lower (though I haven't been what anyone would consider skinny for a long time, I had less flab and more muscle mass), heart rate around 58, and BP at the low end of normal/good. Clearly, I've let things slide a bit too much when it comes to my physical health, and it's time to turn that trend around.

One thing I've really learned about Tang Soo Do is that while it's terrific for building strength and power (especially in your legs), it doesn't do much to address full body fitness, and it alone is not enough to really address cardio fitness and weight control. I train a lot, but I also used to work out at the gym regularly as well, lifting weights and getting an additional couple of hours of prolonged cardio in each week. We quit our gym when we moved to our new house a few years back, and the majority of my supplemental activity went out the window.

The results are clear. Sigh.

Now, sometimes opportunities in life seem to line up nicely. At the beginning of the year I'd already made a decision to start cooking with more veggies. I love veggies, I love cooking, and now that my E Dan test prep classes were completed I had my Sunday afternoons free again and could focus on more cooking for fun. So, I decided to expand my veggie cooking skills. So I found a fantastic local organic farm (Johnson's Backyard Garden -- if you're local to the Austin area, you should really check them out) and enrolled in their weekly fresh veg box program. Every Saturday I stop by their stand at the local farmer's market and get a box of assorted seasonal organic veggies, all freshly picked that morning. And then on Sunday I try to come up with ways to use them. Sometimes this is a challenge -- I'm still kind of perplexed by collard greens and chard, for example -- but even before I began focusing on my weight issues we had begun eating lots more veggies, which is great step in the right direction.

So, once I decided to start dropping some pounds, the first thing I did was adjust my carb intake. Now, let's be clear: I LOVE CARBS. I'm not going to do an Atkins thing, and I'm not going to completely eschew all breads, pastas, dressings, sauces, or (heaven forbid!) booze in a quest to look like someone from the cover of Muscle and Fitness. But the simple fact is that I was building my entire diet primarily around carbs -- pasta dishes, pizza, sandwiches, bread with dinner, breakfast tacos with potatoes, and so forth. Delicious, sure, but waaaay too heavy on the carb content.

So first thing I did was just institute some simple rules for myself that address these problems. Eat breakfast, but avoid "heavy on the carb" breakfast foods like tacos, potatoes, etc. and instead go with fruits, veggies, or better carb sources like eggs, greek yogurt, etc. When it comes to lunch, no french fries and no pasta side dishes (including - sigh! - my beloved macaroni and cheese). And if I want a sandwich that's OK, but I allow myself a half-sandwich and have soup or a small salad as well. As for evening, one simple rule -- no bread or pasta after dark. I eat whatever I want, but I keep the big starchy carb sources off the plate. And snacking on veggies, hummus, quinoa salads, or fruit between meals.

And I've upped my exercise again as well. I signed up for a fitness challenge through the dojang that provides me with some suggested workouts every week and helps me to stay accountable. It's essentially a self-guided CrossFit-style workout, and I've been picking and choosing a couple of workouts a week from that. Some days I just do a CrossFit warmup (which is a pretty solid workout in itself) and then run 2-3 miles. The main goal is to do a solid workout every day. Some days it's by training in tang soo do. Other days it's by kicking my own ass with killer functional exercises like burpees, squats, lunges, pushups, crunches, and so forth. Other times I just run and listen to music. Or I take it easy (gotta have a recovery day once or twice a week) and just make sure I do some walking to keep my body moving.

The result? I'm down almost 15 pounds in 3 weeks. And I feel fantastic. I eat plenty of food and I'm never hungry. After just a week or so of reducing my carb intake (and basically detoxing myself -- not eating prepared foods and when I eat lunch I'm sticking with really good quality foods instead of fried junk - aka spending a lot of $$$ at Whole Foods ...) I find I crave them much less and my energy levels are more consistent (not having that post-lunch carb crash I got so used to). After the first week of pain my body has gotten used to the strains of full body workouts again and it feels good and sore.

Now, I'm not a zealot. I cheat now and then. Christine makes incredibly good chocolate chip cookies from scratch, and I am powerless before a serving of really good ice cream. But what I've found is that where I used to want to eat 6 or 7 cookies or 3-4 scoops of ice cream to treat myself, now 2-3 cookies or 1 scoop of ice cream is plenty enough to satisfy a craving or give myself a treat. I keep the treats to a minimum -- maybe twice a week -- and I just don't sweat it.

So yeah -- it's about lifestyle changes. Small ones, really, but they add up.

Now, since I'm a gigantic nerd I've found some terrific web sites and applications to help me stay accountable. I've been tracking my workouts, doing challenges and quests, and leveling up while networking with my friends about our fitness goals using Fitocracy and I've also just started checking out SlimKicker which is similar to Fitocracy but which also adds diet/lifestyle tracking to the mix. (Note that both of these sites are in Beta -- Fitocracy is by invite only, and SlimKicker is open sign up but based on my experience so far it is still very early Beta and has a ways to go, particularly in the exercises and foods databases -- they have a bunch, but are still missing lots of things there).

I've also tried to be very focused on maintaing an honest, detailed dietary log and sharing it via Google Docs with my instructor and coach so I keep myself accountable for my dietary choices. I don't respond well to "drill sergeants," but I am very self-motivated and respond well to peer pressure, so the social networking aspect of these sites and being open about my eating habits helps keep me on target there.

And when I run or walk I use CardioTrainer on my Android phone to measure distance and time while working out -- having a voice tell me how fast I'm going, how much of my workout I've completed, etc. really helps keep me focused and motivated while running. All good stuff.

So that's my story right now. Feeling good, losing weight, starting to see results (hello chin line!). My short term goal is to be sub-220 within the next week. Medium term goal is 200 pounds (or less) when we head to Italy for our 20th anniversary in June.

Long term goal is, of course, to have as long a term as I can. Wish me luck!

And if you're currently embarking on your own fitness or wellness plan, let me know what's working for you.

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