Thursday, May 29, 2008


At my heaviest I had completely given up on ever being able to lose weight. And of course, rewards for any success in other parts of my life revolved around food. Going out for dinner, dessert, etc. We all do it. It's important to take pride in the things you're good at and make sure you acknowledge them in some way.

So when I changed my eating habits, I had to change the way I thought about rewarding myself for successes. At one time, many years ago, I had promised myself if I ever lost all the weight I'd get another motorcycle (knowing full well it would probably never happen). With that being said, I present you with my new best friend:

I have over 25,000 miles of riding experience and this is the biggest bike I've ever ridden. It weighs in at 945 lbs. The reason I mention this is that without all the weightlifting I've been doing, along with the eating changes and weight loss, I would not be strong enough or healthy enough to handle this bike. And it's a reward that keeps on giving, because when I get the munchies, or feel overly stressed out, I can go for a ride instead of eating. It's the kind of driving that requires all four limbs and has no built-in cupholders.

Granted, this is on the extreme end of rewards. Most of the time, just feeling good in my own skin is reward enough. But occasionally you have to splurge, right?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Didn't Mean to be Gone So Long

Sorry about the big gap between posts. Warning: This post is a little more personal than I normally get.

The Personal Stuff
Something I've discovered over the last year or so is that having a good support system for dealing with chronic illness and big dietary and health changes is important. This can come from family, friends, spouse, etc. But you also have to be ready to stick to your guns when you feel like you're not getting the support you need in order to do what you need to do to get and stay healthy.

I've learned a lot about just how important it is to keep eating good food and exercising when the shit hits the fan. I think the reason I've survived the last two weeks is because I take care of my body now. Which controls the depression. Which enables me to get out of bed in the morning and face another day. In the past, emotional trauma would have put me face down in a gallon of ice cream or worse. But eating whole, healthy foods is so part of my life now that it never occurred to me to go there.

I've also discovered how truly lucky I am to have such great friends and family (and I already knew they were pretty cool). I'm so thankful and grateful for the thoughtfulness, caring and time they've shown me over the last couple of weeks.

Eating Out
One of the big challenges in following the new eating plan is eating at restaurants. I like going out for dinner once in a while, but it's a learning process. The first couple of times I went out, I would order a steak, but I was uncomfortable asking for substitutions, so I'd end up leaving all the potatoes, rice, etc. on the plate. I don't like waste and this made me as uncomfortable as asking for substitutions did. But as I've gotten more confident about what I can eat and what I absolutely won't eat, it's gotten a lot easier to ask them to leave the carbs off the plate and double-up on the veggies instead.

I can even find stuff to eat at the local Mexican restaurant where I'm a regular. I got a few funny looks at first, since these guys were used to seeing me eat a lot of food. First thing, push the basket of chips as far away from you as you can. (Eventually, you don't see it anymore.) The trick is to just order the fajita filling, or carne asada, etc. without the tortillas, rice, beans, etc. And frankly, it's plenty of food--just meat and vegetables.

I've only had one incident where my eating plan was a problem. I went to a business function at a small restaurant where the owner was involved in the meeting and had provided free food for everyone. He got very offended when I wouldn't eat anything even after I had explained why. So I've decided that when these meetings are held at the restaurant, I'll decline to participate.

Overall, you can eat out and eat well. Most of the larger chain restaurants post their nutritional information online and it's pretty easy to find. And if you stick to basic fare that doesn't have a lot of sauces and hidden ingredients it's usually pretty easy to gauge what you're eating. Just be aware that the nutritional information that the restaurants provide can be off by quite a bit. There was a just an article about this somewhere this week. I don't remember where I saw it. If I find it, I'll post the link here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Push-ups Are For Girls, Too.

I'm one of the first generation of lucky girls who got to have full, required PE classes and sports programs from elementary school on thanks to Title IX. And I took full advantage of the opportunities, so I've never been afraid of the gym or the weightlifting room or playing sports.

The thing I hear a lot from older friends is that the gym is too intimidating, or they need to lose weight before they start exercising, or that people will look at them funny because a fat (or old, or out-of-shape, etc.) person is in the gym. But how else are you going to start the process if you don't get moving and using your body?

Outfitting For Your Workout
One of the biggest challenges is finding clothes to work out in because clothing manufacturers seem to think fat women don't exercise—and they're wrong! The Title Nine store is just as guilty of this as other clothiers—and they should know better! (Okay, sorry, small rant. It drives me a little nuts that the store that's supposed to embody all women participating in sports doesn't make anything over a size 14—a small 14 to boot. If this has changed, please let me know.)

Unfortunately, I don't have a good solution. When I was at my heaviest I got a lot of my t-shirts and sweats from Landsend or JMS. Now that I'm coming down in size I can shop at Lucy (they go up to about a size 18).

Recently there has been a lot of press about push-ups and their use as a measure of your overall fitness level. (I know some of you have probably just had a bad flashback to the President's Fitness Test we all had to endure every year in junior high and high school.) There are some good, practical things that you can get out of being able to do full push-ups.

There's muscle memory. If you fall, you're instinct is to throw your arms out in front of you. Wouldn't it be nice if you were actually strong enough to stop the fall before your head hit the sidewalk?

And then the ability to get up off the sidewalk once you've broken your fall. The good news is you probably won't be bleeding from anywhere important because you managed to avoid a face plant.

Core strength. Guess what? You don't need to buy an ab coaster or some other ridiculous piece of equipment that eventually becomes a clothes rack. Being able to do 2 or 3 sets of good form push-ups will help tighten up your stomach and back muscles.

Getting started. Kristn started me out with planks, which are basically the "up" position of a full push-up. And she didn't wait until I'd lost weight either. She had me doing these by my 4th training session with her, when I weighed 240 pounds. I could barely hold myself up for 10 seconds at a time. And the planks stayed in the workout—only now it's 90 second holds (and I fear 120 second holds are in my near future). It took a few months before I could do the basic push-up with knees on the ground (instead of toes). Gradually, I added 2 or 3 full push-ups before I dropped to my knees to finish the set. It was really cool the day I did my first full set of 10 "real" push-ups.

You don't have to drop and do 20 on the first day. Start by just training your body to hold you up for 10 seconds at a time. Rest for 30 seconds to a minute. Do it again. Keep your back straight (don't let it sag) and stomach muscles tight. When you feel like you can, lower your body slowly to the floor at the end of your plank. That will start giving you the idea of what a push-up feels like.

Just a reminder that getting your nose to the floor by moving your neck is not a push-up. You need to keep your body in a straight line from your toes to the top of your head and lower your whole body as a unit.

Krista over at stumptuous has a really great step-by-step on how to get to a full push-up.

Goals. I found out a couple weeks ago that Condoleezza can allegedly do 40 push-ups at a time—that lit a fire under me. I tend to lean towards the liberal and it bothers me that this woman can do more push-ups than I can. (I'm not competitive. Nope. Or rational, apparently.) So the goal is to be able to pump out 41 push-ups without stopping by the end of the year. Halfway to goal so far.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Speaking of Quiche…Cholesterol

The sun finally came out, so I spent most of the day Sunday weeding my garden and looking for the plants that I'd actually planted. I did manage to find most of them. I discovered that being able to squat rather than crawling around in the dirt is a very useful (and fairly new) skill. I also discovered that six hours of squatting while weeding makes one very sore the next day. Especially when the next day is deadlift day at the gym.

There was a bit of discussion about cholesterol, and how to treat it, in the comments of the last post. I thought I'd talk a little bit about it. Keep in mind that I'm not a physician and you need to decide for yourself what will work for your situation.

When you read the history of all the studies that have been done regarding heart disease, cholesterol, etc., it becomes obvious that a lot of the stuff that the medical profession and the USDA tell us is the “right” way to eat is based more on politics and who was the “popular” researcher at the time than on good science. It can really piss you off when you start thinking about it. Especially if you have a disease that can’t be controlled as a direct result of these accepted studies. Go read chapter one of Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes for a really thorough discussion about this.

Jenny over at Diabetes Update has some interesting things to say about this today. Cholesterol must be the hot topic this week. She talks about lowering your LDL and the affect, or lack of, that statins have on reducing clogged arteries. It's worth a read. Also, check out what she had to say a few posts ago about the link between statins and how they affect insulin sensitivity.

As I've mentioned, when I started all of this back in October, I had fairly high blood sugar readings and high cholesterol. Past doctors have been very pushy about having me take statins and I've always refused to take them. It just never felt like the right thing for me since I've always had an acceptable ratio of LDL to HDL.

And frankly, I don't put much stock in the whole "cholesterol bad" movement. I never really have. I tend to be a little suspicious of all these studies that come out and end up on the evening news as sensationalistic "preliminary findings." This is not where we should be getting our health advice.

That being said, fast forward to my most recent set of labs compared over the last 7 years:

Basically, what you're looking at is the relationship between exercise and cholesterol numbers from 2002 until the last test in November where my diet had radically changed. The two items that are flagged high are barely high.

Now here's the catch: The only thing I stopped eating between 2006 and 2007 were grains, processed foods and sugar. I still eat butter, I've switched to whole milk from 2%, I eat easily a dozen eggs a week, beef or pork almost every day for lunch and/or dinner—and my numbers are going down. I suspect that my next round of bloodwork will prove this out. (I'm as bad as the evening news with the preliminary findings!) Not only did my numbers go down, but so did my weight.

You can take what you want from this. It's strictly anecdotal. But the more I talk to others that have gone this route, and read studies, etc., the more I'm convinced that we need to go back to eating what we were designed to eat—meat, poultry, vegetables, nuts, fruits.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Prepare to Cook…

When I started eating more whole foods and less carbs and almost no grains, I realized there were things I would have to give up eating. One of the foods I thought I wouldn't be able to eat again was quiche since it's in a pie crust. Then blogger Norma mentioned crustless quiche (this had never occurred to me). She was kind enough to share her trick with me, so there's a crustless quiche in the oven as I'm typing. And just to make it even better, reader Ginger gave me a 1/2 dozen fresh eggs from her backyard chickens. Yum!

Well. The quiche was a success! Recipe below.

1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
(pepper jack might be good, too, for a little more kick)
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled or 1 cup or so of diced ham
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream or half-n-half
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix the cheese, bacon and scallions in a pie plate. Throw everything else in a blender and process until smooth. Pour over the ingredients in the pie plate. Bake for 45 minutes. A knife stuck in the center should come out clean. Remove from the oven and let it sit for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. (If you're vegetarian, you can leave the meat out and put in some veggies that will stand up to the baking—asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, caramelized onions, etc.) You can adjust your favorite quiche recipe to go crustless by adding an extra egg and a little extra cheese. Add a salad full of veggies and you've got a great dinner.

Another challenge I've been having is what to eat for breakfast when the weather turns warm since I don't eat cereal anymore and eating oatmeal in the summer is just not an option. And as much as I like eggs, I can't eat them first thing in the morning. So this weekend I experimented with protein powder, fruit and milk. I came up with something that tastes pretty good and has 24g of protein to offset the carbs in it. You can use any type of frozen fruit and syrup flavor. The sugar-free syrup I used is made by DaVinci. Torani also makes a similar product. I use Designer Whey for the protein powder. I honestly haven't tried any other brands since this one tastes so good and it only has 2g of carbs per serving.

Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup milk
1.5 scoops Designer Whey protein powder, French Vanilla
3/4 cup frozen peaches
Sugar-free Peach Syrup, to taste

Throw it all in a blender and blend until slightly lumpy or smooth—whichever you prefer. Since the fruit is frozen, you don't need ice cubes, so the smoothie doesn't get watery. (Next on the list to try will be strawberries with chocolate protein powder.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Get Moving!

Sorry everyone. I meant to post yesterday, but life and work got in the way. The trip home to see Mom went well. She just kept patting my face and telling me my face looked so thin (in a good way). I did fear that she was going to channel her mother any minute and pinch my cheeks, but she resisted.

Ryan Update: As far as poor Ryan and her discovery about frozen dinner ingredients—she very carefully purchased new meals that showed whole meat shapes on the package face only to discover that the meat (chicken this time) had been treated pretty much like the beef we discussed a few days ago. Now, keep in mind that this girl cannot cook. (And, no, I won't get in trouble for this statement. She'll be the first to tell you she has no culinary skills.) She's convinced now that the only thing she'll be able to eat for lunch is canned soup. (Let's hope she doesn't look at the label. Otherwise, I'll be making lunches for her for the rest of my life.)

Working Out
Today's topic—exercise. (I realize that to some of you this is actually a 4-letter word disguised as an 8-letter word.) Eating changes aside for a minute, the other half of the success I've had over the last seven months is because of the amount of exercise I get every week. The trick is to find something that you like to do that involves moving your body in a way that will make you get warm and maybe a little sweaty. (Okay. That last sentence didn't quite come out right.)

I may be a little weird. I really like working out. The harder it gets the more I smile and crack jokes (although 90 second planks apparently make me start whining halfway through.) This morning a trainer I don't know came up to talk to me. He thought I needed dumbbells to push my arms more. Of course, what he tried to hand me were tiny things that weigh less than my hands. I started laughing and told him that I'd need a lot bigger dumbbells if he wanted me to take him seriously. I'm not sure he believed me. He did note that I seemed to be having an awfully good time for someone who was breathing so hard. Another trainer I know had watched all of this and came up to me laughing and said it was obvious this guy had never seen me train.

The point is I've found the type of exercise that I think is fun and makes me happy. For me it's lifting free weights (the heavier the better) and body weight circuit training with a little cardio on the resting days. For you it might be playing soccer, rowing, riding a bike, or just a brisk walk in your neighborhood. The goal is to just get moving. The more you move, the better you feel, and the more you move. See a pattern here? The bonus: it brings your blood sugar down.

You can turn anything into circuit training. Take 3-5 exercises you like that move you in different directions: up and down (i.e., squats), side to side (i.e., side step on a raised step), forward and backwards (lunges), push and pull (bench press or pushups), add a set of crunches or v-ups; do 8-10 reps of each exercise, string them together without stopping and you've got a circuit. Rest for a minute or two between sets. Then do it again. As it gets easier (and you get smaller and stronger), add some weight.

This is really simplified but there are a lot of good books and blogs out there. I like New Rules of Lifting for Women in the book category. It's a really easy read and it has workouts that you can follow with pictures and descriptions of all the exercises in the book. Both me and my trainer/training partner are seeing improvements in strength and endurance after four months of using the book as a loose guide. It started out as an experiment to see how two women, one who was already very fit and one who was somewhat fit but overweight, could benefit from this type of training. Neither one of us could do a full set of "man" pushups when we started in January, now we're both knocking off 3 sets. And six months ago I couldn't do even one pushup. For workout information online, visit Stumptuous. Krista has a lot of good information on her site—and she's funny to boot.

And don't be intimidated by the meatheads at the gym. You have every right to be there regardless of your size or fitness level.