Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Beaches and bikinis

I've been in a body image rut for a while now so it's time for a happy post.

This summer I spent a month on an island off the coast of Panama. While this is not that much out of the ordinary for me (I gravitate towards palm trees and warm water when money and time allow), the fact that I only wore bikinis and short shorts surely is. I didn't even pack a one-piece!


A little background to this accomplishment is warranted:
Even after I lost nearly 80 pounds, I was still lamenting the fact that I would probably never wear a bikini. It's not that I was unhappy with my body. I looked pretty damn good...in clothes. It was the bare stomach I had an issue with.

I'd always had a bit of a gut, even when I was younger. But now that my skin has been stretched out by years of obesity, it's even more pronounced to the point that it looks like a butt handing down from my stomach.

Now, I don't need a flat stomach to feel comfortable showing it at the beach. I know I will always have some padding there, which is completely normal. I just wish it didn't stick out at such sharp angles to make it so pronounced.

Enter the high/mid-waisted bikini bottom. It's actually in style and "cute"! And a lifesaver for people like me.

I present to you, my first time ever wearing a bikini...at age 30. It's something I never thought would actually happen. Really. But it did, and it was awesome!



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Maintainers keeping it off

This is the first in a series of posts that summarize threads on 3 Fat Chicks. They all relate to maintaining and the struggle of maintaining, which has been on my mind a lot lately.

The title of this thread is "How many Maintainers have NOT regained?" It focuses on the mindsets and habits of maintainers who have kept their weight off. I will be continuously updating this as more things get posted in the thread.

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I've stayed between 155 to 165 throughout the deaths, funerals and now the estate process. One of these days I'll kick it into gear and get back to a comfortable size 6 but until then I just refuse to give up. I will never become obese again.

---

The perspective of that entire pregnancy gaining/losing experience was good, I think. I am 100% certain that I never, EVER want to be obese again, and I will do everything I can to keep that from happening. A regain of 20 lbs from where I am today? Not at all desirable, but I could live with it. Obesity, that awful discomfort in my own skin - no. Not happening ever again.

---

I have not gone the route that I've frequently gone in the past of saying "to heck with it" and just eating anything and everything in sight. Could my eating be better? Definitely. But in evaluating my choices---more stringent eating/lower weight vs. looser eating/a bit higher weight---I chose the latter. The point is, though, that it was a conscious decision, and I do not feel as if I let go of the reins and was out of control. I think mindset defines maintenance success almost as much as the number on the scale.

---

Maintenance for me is about narrowing the weight range. I used to lose 40 pounds over 6 months then gain it all back over two years. Pretty unhealthy. Now I gain and lose in closer to a 10-pound range. Feeling a little bad that I'm out of that range today, but on January 2 we will get back on track, and by the summer I'll be back in the 190s I'm confident.

---

To me, maintenance is all about the new long-term habits I mastered on my fat loss journey and the knowledge and discipline that goes with it. As I am working on improving my body composition gradually, I go up during some periods by max 10 pounds from my true maintenance weight of 165 pounds (trying to gain some new muscle mass) but the beauty now is that I have all the necessary tools and know-how to go back down whenever I please. I have actually done a couple of experiments where I went up 10 pounds and then lost them again without much hassle.

Once you realize how simple it is to lose weight (simple, NOT easy) once you have the know-how and new, better habits and mindset, you will not fear gaining the weight and fat back.

It is hard work and it goes on every single day but if you learn to enjoy the process, you're golden.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Changing to minimal training

I haven't really been training for the 70.3 nearly as much as I would like. In fact, I don't think you could call what I've been doing "training" by any means. When it's warm enough outside, I ride. When it's cold or I'm tired, I sit on the couch.

As a result, I've been getting a bit scared about how this is going to turn out for me in the next three months. I know I can finish the thing, but I want to do so with a smile on my face rather than cursing the course under my breath.

On the other hand, I'm reminded of the last triathlon I did, an Olympic distance event over five years ago. I was 80 pounds heavier, had no fitness base, and had to bike over a mountain pass as part of the course. I hated the tri, barely even set out on the run, and didn't get back on my bike for months afterward because I was so mad about the whole experience. But I did finish, which is really my goal for this thing in April.

Since I'm clearly off track for the 20-week training plan, and the 16-week one is a bit overwhelming, I've been looking around the interwebs to see what other people have done.

Here is a sampling of posts I found on the subject that give me some hope, from a forum on slowtwitch.com:
N=1: I did my first half at Singapore last month on a little bit of run base (20-25 mpw for a few months but no running in the 8 weeks prior to the race due to an injury), about 3 weeks of bike training at 6-7 hours a week, and maybe 10k yards of swimming on a good week. I was definitely not racing, but I completed it faster than I projected that I would due to a flat bike course.
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So how long did I train for the 70.3? About 9 weeks. Only the last 5 weeks did I actually follow a plan (which I wrote on the back of an envelope. Really!) My weekly training hours peaked at about 10. The only reason it happened without problems is that I had a pretty good cycling base.

That plan isn't recommended. My swim was fun, but not super fast. My bike leg would've been fine, but I had to stop twice with a flat. The run started well but the lack of adequate running base, combined with the >90 temps left me melting down in the middle of the run. I pulled it back together, but it was a lesson in doing the training and having a good hydration/nutrition plan. I got a decent MOP finish out of that.
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I was overweight and smoking half a pack a day and managed to get by with a couple months of minimal training. Then again, my only real goal at the time was to finish.

And some more from a forum on beginnertriathlete.com:
If you can do the swim in 40 minutes, the bike in 3 hours, and the run in 2:10, plus transitions you will break 6 hours. Can't really tell from your log if you're capable of holding these paces for that distance.

FWIW, I finished my first HIM and only did 6-8 swims total, and a relative handful of longer rides, plus I did almost no running in the month preceding the race - and I finished under 6 hours. But I had also completed 6 marathons and a bunch of century rides in past years so I had more of an endurance base than you seem to have.

Can you ride 56 miles in 3 hours easily? Can you hold a 10 minute pace on tired legs easily? Have you figured out your nutrition plan that will allow you to have enough energy to go the distance?
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I did my first HIM last September, a flat course. Went back and looked at my graphs, and my average weekly training time was 6 hours and 30 minutes. My three biggest weeks were 11 hours or so, all were over 2 months out. Had life stuff going on that interfered with training. I finished the race in 5:55. A friend who did the race with me, her first HIM, finished in something like 6:30, and did even less training, with less base than I did.
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If I were shooting for a sub 6 HIM (and I pretended to in 2006) and only had 6-9 hours per week I'd work towards 5(ish) hours biking, 3(ish) hours running, and a generous hour swimming each week. 
Swim twice a week for 40 minutes/2000 yards each expecting to finish the swim in 35 minutes.
Run three times a week, 40 min, 60 min, and 90-120 min and shoot for a 2:15 run split.
Bike three times a week for 60, 60-90, and 150-180 minutes and shoot for a 3:00 bike split.
This gives you 0:10 (total) for transitions.

You can work out the math to see what pace you'd need for each and how close you are. For my IM the plan (BT Intermediate) called for alternating long-run and long-ride weeks.
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Really depends on your endurance starting point, as everyone said, but I made it through on an average of about 6 hours a week of focused activity: 2 days of biking: one long (2+ hours), one sprint/interval/climbing workout (1 hour); one good swim (45 mins); 2 runs, one long (1-2 hours) and one sprint/interval workout (45 mins.) Really had to focus to make the shorter rides and runs count.
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Depends what phase of training you're talking about. I went 5:36 in my first HIM and peaked at about 10 hr/wk...but only went just over 10 hrs twice. In general, I was around 7 - 7.5 hrs/wk. I definitely think you can get by on less, but maybe not get to sub-6 (I had a strong running base, including a recent sub-4 mary, going in, so that made things a bit easier). My attitude about most racing, btw (and fwiw) is that you need to build your minimum weekly workload to equal the approximate time and distances you'll be covering in the race. So--by that strategy--you should build to no less than 6 hours a week (big weeks obviously more): Minimum 2K swimming, 50 mi. riding, 14 mi. running every week by the time you're at peak phase (which for most people would mean at least 6 hours). Some people are going to consider those too minimal, but I'd stand by them as weekly minimums.

In summary, I can totally still finish this "strong" if I up my exercise a bit in the next three months. I'm not willing to put in 10 - 15 hours per week, but I can definitely do 6 - 10 without being grumpy.

In fact, the second to last comment speaks the best to what I'm willing/happy to do for the time being:

Swim - 45 minutes once a week
Bike - one long (2+ hrs) and one sprint/interval workout (1 hr)
Run - one long (1 - 2 hrs) and one sprint/interval workout (45 mins)

I'm already swimming once a week (I'd like to increase that to twice), and do a running track workout on Sundays, with another long run thrown in on the weekends. Now that the weather is warming up, I just need to add biking back into my schedule and I'll be set.

As I've said before, I just want to have fun during this triathlon. I don't want the training to be stressful, either. I want to enjoy the whole process without being miserable. I know I can finish the race if I had to run it tomorrow. But I still have three months to increase my paces and get even faster. With a tolerable amount of effort, I can totally make this happen. At least that's what the internet tells me :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life changes

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote. Among other things, I have:
  • Kept my weight off for 6 months
  • Moved to New Orleans
  • Started medical school
  • Turned 30!!!
  • Signed up for a half-Ironman triathlon
That last point is the main reason I'm back. A few classmates and I were talking about doing the half-Ironman here in April and I kind of got suckered into it.

By "suckered into it" I mean that I talked them into signing up and then couldn't talk my way out of signing up myself. Also, I was getting tired of running and biking with no purpose, so this kills two birds with one stone.


If all goes well on April 19, 2015, I will...
  1. Swim farther than ever in my life,
  2. Bike farther than ever in my life, and
  3. Run farther than ever in my life.
All of this back-to-back-to-back.

Stay tuned for actual posts about how everything has been going because I do intend on writing about this. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm actually very excited!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Breaking the habit of nibbling and snacking to prevent weight gain

Prior to my vacation trip I had gained three pounds when I increased my calories to slowly transition to maintenance. That was incredibly frustrating because I was eating ~1800 calories and burning on average ~2200 daily so I shouldn't have gained anything. But I was. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. It just didn't make any sense.

Now that I've lost everything I had gained on vacation while doing pretty much the same thing as when I gained those three pounds pre-vacation, I still don't know what caused that initial gain. My calorie intake is generally about the same (at least what I've counted). I exercise just as much, except that I've switched to biking over running because I like it better. I have added body-weight exercises in the last week or so because I want to tone up.

Maybe those slight changes have been the key to losing/maintaining weight? I really don't know.

The one major difference I did notice, though, was that I was snacking on things a lot beforehand. Maybe that increased my calorie intake by 100-200 calories and thus led to weight-gain? I'm not convinced because even if it did, the gain shouldn't have been so drastic (3 pounds in 10 days), which makes me think my scale was off, I had water weight, or my hormones were messing with the numbers.

Regardless of the reasons behind the gain, I decided I needed to break my snacking and nibbling habit because it will eventually lead to legitimate, long-term weight gain. To do that, I've been making it a point to eat only when sitting down. This not only slows down my eating so I'm not wolfing everything down, but it also prevents me from "trying" my meal excessively during its preparation.

Now, when I go into the kitchen to prepare a meal, I no longer "try" my food multiple times. Usually all the trials are completely unnecessary for the quality of the food and I end up full before the meal is even fully prepared. Making this change to only eat while sitting down has prevented me from tasting my food excessively and has left room in my stomach to enjoy the meal I just spent 30 minutes making.

Additionally, a big part of feeling full is mental for me. If I feel like my meal is a diet food or if I'm simply scavenging for food, I will feel hungry regardless of how many calories (good or bad) I consume. I need to have a meal in order to feel satiated, and part of the thing that makes something a meal in my mind is the need to sit down to eat it.

Since it's become clear to me that my body is very efficient at running itself (stupid slow metabolism) and I'm not willing nor will I have the time to exercise excessively to burn lots of calories, I need to learn to be happy with a lower daily calorie intake. Feeling happy is synonymous with not feeling deprived/hungry. So this new habit of sitting down for a meal instead of eating in a hurry or while standing up will definitely help with that.

Overall, I'm trying to transition from calorie restriction to developing good lifelong habits. Since I made sure to make my weight-loss sustainable by learning to eat better and all that, I've picked up a bunch of good habits along the way. But there are still a few more I need to incorporate to make my weight-loss more permanent and make maintenance a bit easier. Sitting down to eat is one step towards that very lofty goal.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lessons from gaining and losing vacation weight

Three weeks after returning from a gluttonous week with my family in Poland, I'm back down to my pre-vacation weight!

It was an incredibly frustrating time because even though I stuffed myself to the point of extreme discomfort several times, I didn't expect two weeks of vacation (and really only one week of gluttony) to cause that much damage weight-wise. When I got back, my pants no longer fit, I felt flabby, and I was generally grumpy about the state of my body. But in less than a month, I am back to where I started, and it feels awesome!

All in all, it was a big learning experience for me. The fantastic thing is that I know (and am willing to) lose weight when I have a brief relapse. This is even true when I am so mentally done with restricting my calories to ~1500 a day and feeling guilty for indulging in things. I can still go back to that mindset for as long as it takes me to lose those 1 or 2 or 5 pounds, because it's important to me.

Having that skill and will-power is amazing because I'm not so worried about regaining everything I've lost, which was the case for a while. I still haven't figured out the whole maintenance thing (see the next post), so my weight will continue to fluctuate. But as long as I know that I can buckle down when I need to, I'll be okay.

After-all, the fear of gaining back everything that I worked so hard to lose is more overpowering than the desire to eat an ice cream cone every day. That's motivation enough, at least for right now.

Now some wedding reception photos from my trip to Poland:

My cousin, the groom.

I caught the veil, so I won a bottle of vodka. Naturally.

A Polish wedding wouldn't be complete without a self-service kielbasa bar.

The appetizer spread. This does not depict the courses served every couple of hours.

This is why I gained so much weight while in Poland. Meals from 6:45 pm until 3 am.
It set the tone for the rest of my week there.

Pyrotechnics during wedding-cake cutting. The bride and groom look beautiful.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Old posts popping up

Pardon the old posts that have been published recently. They have been sitting in my drafts folder for a while, waiting for that last perfect sentence to make them whole. Kidding. I just started writing and got distracted before finishing them.

Instead of further adding to those posts, I'm publishing them as they are, on the date that they were originally written. That means they are backdated and don't necessarily go with the flow of what's currently going on in my life.

Enjoy them regardless. They are not any less than the ones that have been published already.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Exercise "fail" on vacation

I had every intention of going for a run today before my cousin's wedding this afternoon. This is not to offset the bingefest of Thursday, as I said I wasn't going to do, but to make myself feel less flabby before another evening of indulgence.

Unfortunately, the run didn't happen. I decided sleep was more important and took the extra hour to snooze. Also, my legs are tired from yesterday's run, so today wouldn't have been very productive, fitness-wise.

I had planned on running hard enough to make my lungs hurt, which has been my goal lately at least once a week. The two previous runs I've done this week were kind of bullshit in that I ran to be outside and make use of the running things I schlepped all the way to Europe. My pace was awful.

I wasn't feeling it on Tuesday, so I ended up cutting the run short. Yesterday, my goal was to simply survive without puking since I was so hungover. Even though that run hurt my digestive system, it was well worth it because the day was uncharacteristically beautiful for Belfast. But, my lungs felt just fine so clearly I didn't push myself hard enough.

Today was going to be the lung-busting day to make up for the lackluster running of the week. But my quads are sore, I'm sleepy, and I don't have enough time to explore the parks around my aunt's house before we have to go get our hair did.

Instead, I'm relaxing on the couch, enjoying my kielbasa breakfast with my favorite milk, and preparing my body for the hurt that will be a Polish wedding.

Ideally, I'll do that run tomorrow. Depending on how this evening goes, it may have to be postponed until Monday. Either way, I'm totally cool with that. I'm on vacation after-all!

The cousin that's getting hitched.
Picture is from the window of our parents' childhood home in the Polish countryside (his dad, my mom).

Friday, May 23, 2014

I'm on vacation, dammit!

I've been traipsing through Europe for the past week and have 10 more days left of this trip. It's been incredibly fun but also really stressful for me food-wise.

With the exception of last night when I had at least 8 beers and lots of delicious food (I'm not exaggerating on the booze...I'm feeling it today), I've been fairly good about sticking to my "diet". I generally eat when I'm hungry, limit snacking, and eat normal-sized portions. All in all, I've been rather successful. Not perfect, by any means, but good enough, which should be enough to put my mind at ease.

Even with watching what I eat, I'm still paranoid that I'm gaining weight and getting fat again, which is my biggest fear now that I've somewhat loosened my calorie restrictions to closer resemble maintenance. When I weighed myself before I left, I was consistently at 150 pounds, having gained 3 lbs when I should've lost a pound or two per my calculations. Clearly I'm doing something wrong and I can't figure out what it is. All of this is not helping my mind relax.

I want to enjoy this vacation instead of constantly worrying about what I'm eating and how it'll affect my weight. I just can't let go of the diet mindset and the fear of gaining it all back, as well as the confusion of trying to figure out maintenance. It's stressing me out! On my vacation!

So although yesterday's binge-fest caused me to gain 0.5 pound (for real), I'm going to forget that night ever happened and not try to make up for it by depriving myself for the rest of my time here. It'll be business as usual; nothing less, nothing more.

Part of this decision is due to the fact that I'm currently in Poland visiting my family, where the refrigerator is stocked with kielbasa, my favorite milk brand of all time, and pierogi. I would be very grumpy if I had to restrict myself during this part of my trip.

I've already been feeling like I'm depriving myself excessively, and have been bummed that it's going to be like this forever. I don't want that feeling to dominate the rest of my time in delicious Poland so I'm not going to stress about what goes in my body.

This does not mean that I'm going to disregard all of my current eating habits. If I want kielbasa, I will eat kielbasa. Same goes for milk, cake, chocolate, etc. However, I'm not going to eat or drink myself to the point of being uncomfortably full so there will be some moderation. And if something decadent isn't melt-in-my-mouth delicious, then I will set it down and not finish it. There's no need to eat out of obligation. The empty calories just aren't worth.

Since I always need a goal, I will work on limiting my grazing, eating only when I'm sitting down. That seems much more manageable than being under a particular calorie limit or abstaining from biscuits in Ireland or kielbasa in Poland. I will also ask myself if the thing I'm eating is worth it. Often the answer will be no. If it is worth eating, then I will enjoy it, slowly, and guilt-free.

When I get back to Colorado, I will hop right back onto the bandwagon and work to lose these vacation pounds, along with the five lbs I wanted to lose before I went abroad.

I just have to keep telling myself that gaining a pound or two on vacation is not the end of the world. In fact, it's just a week or two of dedicated eating when I get home. If only my mind could accept that, then I'd be golden.

Now onto some vacation pictures.

Exploring Dublin by Viking ship. I now know where Colin Farrell lives. Roar!

By Viking ship, I mean re-painted WWII amphibious tank.

The dry dock where Titanic was built. It's HUGE.

Classic Belfast craic. "She was just fine when she left us!"

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Breakfast success!

I finally found something that works for me! It's the wonderfully creamy, delicious, protein-rich cottage cheese. Who would've thought that a "diet food" would be great for someone on a diet? Duh.

I've always loved cottage cheese and often eat it at my parents' house as a treat of sorts. I don't know why it took me so long to think to have it as a staple of my diet.

The standard breakfast has been the following:
  • 1/4 cut steel cut oats
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1.5 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
Click to enlarge.

I mix the oats and frozen berries the night before, stick them in the fridge to defrost, then add peanut butter and microwave it all for 2 minutes in the morning. Lastly, I add the cottage cheese and ground flax seed. This satisfies nearly all of the requirements I set out in my original mission: high fiber, low calorie, warm, and dairy.

I've had this breakfast every day for the past two weeks and it's more than held me over until lunch. I'm full for the entire morning! It's awesome. I'm convinced the peanut butter has a lot to do with this feeling of satiety. Whenever I used to eat bananas covered in peanut butter as a quick breakfast I always stayed full for hours. So peanut butter, in addition to protein-rich cottage cheese, is the Holy Grail of breakfast for me.

All this being said, I'm slowly tiring of this combination, in that I'm not excited to eat breakfast in the morning. I noticed this change when I switched over to a new brand of frozen berries that aren't as sweet so that may have something to do with that. I'm still super full, but breakfast isn't as delicious as it used to be. So now is a good time to mix things up by adding different fruit and nut combinations.

I'll keep the first three ingredients (cottage cheese, oats, and flax seed) as the core recipe because they contain a lot of protein and fiber with relatively few calories (~200), leaving me lots of leeway to add other goodies.

Tomorrow I'll add sliced pineapple and cashews to the mix. The nutritional values will essentially stay the same so we'll see if I still find it filling. If not, then I'll know that the key to my fullness is peanut butter in the morning.