Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Hidden Danger of Exercising with Earphones

Yes, it's true; I exercise with earphones. When biking or running, for the record, I use earphones which don't block external sounds, so I'm not living as dangerously as some others might with earbuds.

So, yes, on the bike I'm taking risks by not hearing as well as I could otherwise. And, yes, when running I'm taking risks by not hearing as well as I might otherwise. I've accepted those risks, and I try to be alert to my surroundings.

Little did I know that the true danger lay elsewhere.

You see, I also wear headphones when I swim. I thought I was safe. I mean, many swimmers wear ear plugs to keep water out of their ears. They can't hear much either, right? It's not like a car would come barreling through my swim lane, right? Whatever urgent information while swimming could wait until I hit the wall, right? So, I thought, I could tune out my surroundings at little risk.

Little did I know that the true danger lay within.

I don't always listen to music. I frequently listen to audiobooks or podcasts. I am particularly fond of NPR podcasts like This American Life. Yesterday, as I had done many times before, I listened an episode of that very show. One of the stories was read by essayist David Sedaris.

If you haven't read (or heard) anything by David Sedaris, I entreat you to delay no longer: Rush out and buy a book or, better yet, buy an audiobook read by David Sedaris himself. He will make you laugh. He will make you cry. He will make you do both at the same time.

And this, my dear friends, is where my near-fatal mistake lay.

For, really, how can one every be trained well enough to counter a laughing fit in the middle of the pool?

One can't.

There I was, mid-length, laughing like a maniac. Not only did I have quickly cease swimming to make sure to get my head above water, lest I drown in four feet of water, but I then had to do my best to ensure that my erratic behavior didn't alarm any fellow swimmers. They, surely, are not used to finding themselves in the pool with a deliriously hysterical woman.

Despite the fact that, at this time, we all had the luxury of our own lane, I do believe that they each quietly inched to one side of their lanes, attempting to place as much water as possible between them and me, and hoping desperately that my madness was not somehow contagious.

They could not understand.

But now, at least, you understand. You know where the hidden danger lies.

Swim safe, and choose your podcasts with care.

Photo credit: _Morrissey_, Creative Commons usage

Monday, August 24, 2009

Follow the Yellow Brick Road...

All right. I feel like if I don't post, people are going to wonder if I've curled up into a ball of self-loathing. For the record: I haven't, and I don't plan to. I have run for the past few days (including today), I biked yesterday, and I'm about to go to the gym for a swim.

OK, you want real honesty? I may have realized another "trigger" for my little "relapse" last week. Ssshhhhh.... It's a secret. I'll let you in on it if you promise not to tell anyone.

You ready? OK, here goes. One of the things my therapist and I discussed right beforehand: Putting myself out there into the world of dating or at least meeting people. We discussed a dating site possibility, and maybe even getting it together enough to go to a meetup.com event. I agreed that I would take a picture of myself with my cute new haircut, in one of my cute new tops, and post a picture online and see what happens.

Do you hear the panic in my typing?

Part of me is ready. It is, really. I look in the mirror, like what I see, and think, "Why not? What could it hurt? It could even be fun."

The other part screams, "What the hell are you thinking?!? This is rejection on a huge scale, lady! It's not just one guy rejecting you at a time, it's the whole friggin' internet world! We're not ready for that!"

And then both parts agree that a chocolate cake from Jack in the Box sounds delicious.

But that's not productive. Even if it does distract both sides of the internet dating battle, it's not productive. I get that. Well, I'm getting that. The past few days have been good. Not perfect, but good.

More importantly, I've had some time to refocus on what's really important. I've said it before that exercise/fitness is my highest priority. I mean, come on, the blog is called "Fat Athlete" not "Fat Dieter", right? Right.

So, that's what I'll focus on. If I feel like I need to eat a little heavier, I'll listen and not berate myself for eating a little more than normal. But the exercise will be my top priority. Six days out of seven I will do something more than walking the dog around a few blocks. It can be a run, a swim, a ride, a hike, a weight training session, a jaunt on the elliptical gathering dust in the spare room, or anything else I think of. I've got plenty of options.

And, yeah, when I exercise, I tend to eat better. Not always, but most of the time. I feel better, so I eat better. They just seem to go hand in hand.

So, yeah. One more confession and a plan. Good enough for today.

(Oh, and, no. In case you're left wondering, my title doesn't have anything to do with today's post. Well, perhaps it does have a bit to do with persistence to a set goal even when one doesn't know what obstacles and detours life may throw. So, yeah. That could be a connection. If you really need one.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Step Forward

OK, I'll admit it: I'm a bit nervous. I thought about yesterday's post and it's somewhat reminiscent of the posts I made leading up to my departure years ago. Not identical, but reminiscent. A key difference is that I'm much more resolved right now, whereas I was a bit more whiny back then.

So, I started to look at some differences between then and now. First, I've hit a lower weight, so I've technically broken through my previous wall (technically). Next, I have more upcoming events than I did back then, so I need to keep up the training. Most importantly, perhaps, I have a therapist. I did that on purpose, remember? I knew that I had always hit a wall in the past, so I "hired"(?) a therapist quite some time ago so she could help me break through that wall.

So, really, no excuses. Staying at this weight: OK. Losing more weight: Great. Gaining weight back: Not an option.

The same for sport/exercise. Staying at this level: OK. Relaxing just a teeny bit: Fine. Picking it up: Superb. Returning to couch-potatohood: Not an option.

For today, I've been eating OK. Not fantastic, no deficit, but also no junk/fast food to kick me way over maintenance.

I also went for a hard run. They say that the hardest part of a workout is lacing up the shoes. Definitely true. Once I got out there, I wondered why I hadn't been running the past few days. It's a blast! No, it's not easy by any means, but it feels good. Why deprive myself of the joys of sport?

Tomorrow: A bike ride. Maybe even a swim in the evening.

(For those paying extraordinary attention (even a bit too much attention, perhaps, but I won't judge): Since I skipped my weight training session on Thursday, I've decided that that will be my deload week leading up to beginning The New Rules of Lifting. So I'll start that soon.)

So, is everything roses? Not yet. But at least I can still see the flowers for the thorns.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Another Look at Motivation... and Something Else

Well, wasn't that fast? Just a few days ago I declare that I am done futzing around with my weight loss and am renewed in maintaining a daily deficit of 500-1000 calories.

And that lasted... Should I count in hours or minutes?

Either way, I crashed and burned. Quickly.


Likely suspects: PMS, oppressively hot weather, general burn-out, stress (the new school year starts very soon), a certain part of my psyche saying "enough" and rebelling against the healthful lifestyle...

I'll tell you which one I believe is guilty, but, in any case, I've been hitting fast food and junk food.

Worse yet: I haven't been exercising.

It's an ugly cycle. I eat Jack in the Box and feel stuffed so I don't want to exercise. I didn't exercise, so I'm missing the endorphins so I eat bad food looking for whatever that provides. Continue in circular fashion for... 48 hours now?

I'm not sure I ever mentioned this before, but I smoked marijuana for a short period about a decade ago. (Bear with me; I'm going somewhere with this.) For the most part, it was part of my "unwind" routine after work. I would smoke out the way some people would have a drink at the end of the day.

Now, you might think that pot would have made me gain weight, but I lost weight. (I was already losing weight, so the MJ just didn't disrupt the process.) But what about munchies? I never got them. I have a pet hypothesis that, just as stimulants have the opposite effect in children with ADHD (they calm them down), pot had the opposite effect in me.

The bigger issue is that, as was discovered years ago, eating "mass quantities" of food triggers a particular neurochemical reaction in the brain. This reaction is, believe it or not, similar to the effects of marijuana.

When I learned this, I was not surprised. You see, when I stopped smoking out every night... I started binging. I continued to do that for over a month. It was the only time in my life in which I binged. I didn't know why at the time, but after I learned about the connection between consuming a lot of food and THC (the active chemical in marijuana), I realized that I was basically seeking out that same semi-euphoric relaxation.

Does it make sense that now, as I'm beginning to feel some anxiety about the beginning of a new school year, I'm seeking that same relaxation? Bottom line: I think I'm self-medicating.

Funny thing: When I relayed all this to my therapist recently, she asked whether I had ever looked into medical marijuana. I quickly chuckled it off because I was afraid it would affect my motivation and my exercise.

On the other hand, if my current behavior is affecting my motivation and my exercise... would it be any worse? Would it actually be better?

In any case, I need to get a grip. I am absolutely not willing to undo my hard work. If I stay at 190-195, I can begrudgingly accept that. (Though I would still prefer to lose more weight. It's hard to bike this extra weight up the hills.) But I am completely resolute that I will not go above 200.

I will not. Period.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Help Me Lose Weight."

We had just finished lunch when that sentence was thrown at me by a friend. Wow, I take that as a huge compliment. At the same time, I was flummoxed. I think I was looking at him as if I were waiting for a punchline, so he followed up with, "I want to lose weight. Tell me what to do."

Um, OK. Still flummoxed. First, there was the whole issue that I didn't think that he needs to lose weight, but I figured there was no point in saying that. I hated it when people would say it to me when I had already made it clear that I was "ok" with wanting to lose some weight. He didn't ask me whether he should lose weight; he wanted to know how to lose weight.

I had to ponder. After what seems like thousands of internet discussions and even a couple of long-winded posts on how to lose weight here, I now needed to boil it down to the absolute essence of weight loss. The magic keys to the kingdom, as it were.

I pondered.

I then responded, and many readers will be completely unsurprised by this response.

I have to count calories.

I can exercise or not exercise, but I have to count calories. I prefer to exercise because it allows me to eat more.

I can eat crap or I can eat healthfully, but it comes down to calories. I prefer to eat healthful foods because it makes me feel better and more satisfied. Within reason, of course. If I ate 90% carbs and fat, I really wouldn't do well, but you know what I mean.

It all comes down to counting calories.

He looked a little disappointed. There was no magic bullet. It was nothing he hadn't tried before. It was a hard job that he'd have to work at. Ultimately, it was an answer he already knew.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the crux of the matter: Motivation. That, he knew without asking, was all on him. Only one person can motivate you, and that's you.

I guess I'm not much of a sage, but at least I say it as I see it. That's something.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Ran this morning. Worked at the school a bit, unpacking for my new room. Hit the weight room hard this evening and finished up with a medium-length swim. Came home and made some grilled boneless chicken thighs with buttered toast and veggies. I must have tasted it at some point because I know it was all fantastic. But I'm not sure I chewed very much, instead choosing to inhale deeply in a near-continuous fashion. Very unladylike, I must admit. I was absolutely ravenous.

So, just a warning: After a hard day, don't dare get between me and my dinner, particularly if it involves chicken thighs. At least not if you value your fingers.

I do feel much better now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Seven Day Challenge Conclusion

Side note: I first typed the title in as "Seven Dan Challenge". Boy would that have taken this blog in a completely different direction! OK, sorry, back to family friendly blogging.

How did you do? Did you make it seven days? I did, but only because I cheated. (For those who don't know, my challenge was to get out of bed nearly immediately after waking naturally.) So, how did I cheat? I started using my alarm clock. It was the only way I could do it. Otherwise I'd just keep going back to sleep and waste precious daylight. Some habits, like chewing one's nails, are simply so ingrained that it takes a very concerted effort... more effort than I could gather when half asleep.

So, did I meet the challenge? Well, technically perhaps. But not really. Sadly, school duties are beginning, so I can't reset my challenge. I'll consider redoing it next break.

I hope you all had better success than me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Jolt to Reality... and a Moment of Pure Joy

Let's get this out first: Yes, I weigh myself twice a day. Shame on me. Only the morning counts (and even that doesn't really count because it only gets calculated into the average weight), but I also step on every night before bed just as a "preview" of the next day.

Last night I hit 195. That's it. Too high. No berating, no anger, no kicking myself. Just a renewed determination. I've been way too lax for way too long. Maybe it was a break I and/or my body needed. But I'm done now. Back to a 500-1000 calorie deficit per day with one "refuel" day per week. Period.

Now, after that jolt back to reality, I have the happy coincidence of having coupons for Lane Bryant (LB), a store which specializes in plus sizes. Well, it's not that happy. I had actually hoped to be shopping somewhere other than Lane Bryant for my back-to-work wardrobe, but the unlikelihood of that became clear quite some time ago. So, whatev. I have a LB credit card, coupons, and closets way too empty for the start of school. Off I go.

I buy some blouses that fit perfectly and one pair of pants that fits a bit tight. (Something to work for, right?) I chuckle a couple of times as I realize, in the fitting room, that I had pulled some tops off the shelf at the wrong (old) size just out of habit. And then I put on the knit tops I had picked out. I am astounded. They are the smallest size LB sells... and they are grotesquely baggy. Yay!

But... What now? I need some knit tops to complete certain outfits and... well, what now?

So I peruse the mall.

Yes, the mall.

You may not understand, but this is huge.

The first "normal people" clothes store (no offense, please; that's just how these things are said in my brain) I walk into doesn't quite have what I'm looking for, so I just cruise around the store and duck back out. No one looks at me funny and I don't have to decide whether or not to actually try on some "normal people" clothes. Good.

The second store has just the style of top I'm looking for. The clerk behind the counter notices my LB bags and asks about the store, whether they have some particular sales and/or good deals. She then slyly mentions that they carry womens' clothing in the back of the store.

Uh, oh... I wonder, Is she trying to tell me something?

I shake that off and remember that I'm carrying a bag of clothes from a plus-size store. Either it was just a natural flow of conversation, or she made a logical conclusion from my bags. No biggie.

After chatting briefly, I dare to take a single "regular person" XL top (which you may know is often different from a plus-size XL size) and ask about trying it on.

I slip into the fitting room and slip into the top. I look in the mirror. Not only does it fit, but I look good! I fit into a shirt at a regular store. And, don't take this as bragging, but it looks damn good on me!

I jump up and down for joy. Literally. I'm in the stall in the fitting room, jumping up and down with glee. I swear to myself that I will not cry, blink away some moisture from my eyes, and go out to pick out some more items.

Today I bought three shirts from the regular section of a regular clothing store. It sounds so small, so menial, but let me tell you: It is not small; it is not menial. It may be just what I needed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Random Rinky-Dink Review #1: Purple Cauliflower

This may be old news to some of you, but they now have purple cauliflower. I knew about the orange cauliflower, and the green, but I was particularly excited to see purple at the market today. I don't get enough purple veggies in my diet. I figured I like cauliflower, I like purple potatoes. I even love the color purple. What's not to love with purple cauliflower?

Everything, apparently. The bitterness could not be overcome. Just bleh. I had never met a cauliflower I didn't like. Until now.

I still have half a head to use, so I'll see if it holds up any better to roasting (mmmmmm.... roasted garlic cauliflower...), but I don't have high hopes. Bummer.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sensationalistic Journalism Needs to be Exorcised (not a typo)

"Exercise won't make you lose weight," claims the blurb on the cover. The title: "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin". A few paragraphs in, the author provides this quote: "In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless." In the last paragraph, the author himself boldly proclaims, "[B]e warned: fiery spurts of viorous exercise could lead to weight gain."

Deep breaths.

If you haven't already figured it out, I'm talking about an article in the recent issue of Time, sold with the scandalous phrase "The Myth About Exercise" as the cover headline. I don't subscribe, and I'm happy to report that I didn't spend money on this issue (I stole my roommate's issue). The bad news is that this cover certainly did get peoples' attention; chances are that they sold a ton of issues at the newsstands. People all over the internet are talking about the article. The worst news is that the article is, ultimately, garbage.

There are so many problems with this article that I don't know where to start, and I'm certainly not going to have time (or patience) to address it all. Is the science correct? Surely, but that's not where the problems lie. What frustrates me are the implied conclusions of the article and what misconceptions a great deal of the readership will walk away with.

Minor detour: I'm absolutely flummoxed with paragraph two, where the author claims that he has never been overweight (other than a particular two-year exception) but then confesses that he has gut fat that hangs over his belt when he sits. (Huh?)

Moving on. Apparently we need a six-page article to tell us that we need to watch what we eat whether or not we exercise. True, some people do need to be told that; however, the article never really says that in plain language. Where would be the story in that? Instead, it attacks exercise as a tool for weight loss right and left, speckling in a "but exercise is good for you" here and there, and, ultimately, never gives a solution beyond the general recommendation to watch what you eat.

Again, I can't resist reminding you of that parting shot: "[F]iery spurts of viorous exercise could lead to weight gain." Are you kidding me?

Part of the article addresses "compensatory eating", which is a fancy way of saying that we get hungry after exercise and that leads some people to eat more than they burned. Could the author be bothered to mention little details like how one can, if one is paying attention, refuel from a 2,000 calorie ride or hike with a mere 500 calorie meal or even a 300 calorie run with a 100 calorie snack? Might the author mention how a person who would figuratively die on a 1300 calorie per day diet just might be more able to sustain an 1800 calorie per day diet with exercise? (No, not everyone does better this way, but many of us do.)

Possibly the most egregious tidbit follows: "[S]elf-control is like a muscle: it weakens each day after you use it." Um. Funny. A muscle may weaken the day after it is used, but won't it strengthen after that? Nah, let's not mess with a perfectly awful analogy by bringing reality into the picture.

The article mentions that people are simply not designed to easily avoid eating enough calories to make up for those burned in exercise. Funny how it doesn't mention that people are simply not designed to easily avoid eating enough calories to live. Cutting calories goes against what our bodies demand. Period. It doesn't matter whether or not we exercise; the body wants to maintain equilibrium - or, better yet - save some extra fat for a rainy day. No matter what we do, we have to fight our against our body's survival messages if we want to lose weight. Period.

Here's what angers me most about this article: Imagine the couch potato whose heaviest exercise is climbing a flight of stairs when the elevator is broken. He or she picks up the article and gets what out of it? Yep. He thinks to himself, "Well, that settles it. There's no reason to exercise! Pass me the remote control."

Ten, nine, eight..... Deep breath.

Look, you want to hear why people should turn to exercise for weight loss before cutting calories alone? Because exercise can become a lifestyle. It's healthful and has benefits beyond weight change. We all know about the dangers of yo-yo dieting, but no one has ever warned against the dangers of yo-yo exercising. I don't need to explain why, do I?

Bottom line: Why do doctors want us to lose weight? To be healthier. What would they rather have: An active and healthier moderately overweight person or an inactive and unhealthy person at any weight?

Ah, forget what doctors want. What do you want?
ADDENDUM: Runner's World has an excellent response to the Time article here. (Though it doesn't have nearly enough facepalm.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009


I have something interesting to say coming up. I promise. Well, I guess it depends on your definition of "interesting". Mine tends to be a bit broader than some, but I digress.

For now, all I have is a confession: I slept in this morning. It started with a sinister lie. I woke up at 6:03 and decided to pretend that I didn't really wake up. (Huh?!?) Anyway, 6:15 rolled around, then 6:45... then 7:00... then... Well, you get the idea.

I then complained all day long that the day disappeared out from under me. Um, no. I slept an extra three and a half hours away. Clearly I didn't need that extra sleep, or I wouldn't have woken up around six, right? Right.

OK, so it's day number one tomorrow. I will get through seven days. I mean, seriously.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Seven Day Challenge

Quick: What habit do you want to develop (or break) but feels a little overwhelming to do "forever"? You know it takes a month to develop (or break) a new habit, but even that feels like a little too much. Do you think you can do it for a measly seven days? Sure you can! It's only seven days. A mere week. Get a taste for the cost, feel the benefits, and decide whether you can (or even want to) do it for another seven days (or more). And if not? Well, it was only seven days. You can do anything for seven days, right?

Yes, those of you who read my blog a whopping, um, two days ago know exactly where I'm going with this. And, yes, that speech above is a pep talk for myself at least as much as for any of you. So it's official: I'm going to work on my "getting out of bed" habit.

For seven days I will get out of bed within ten minutes of naturally waking. (And not turn around and lay back down.) The one exception I will make is if I wake for some bizarre reason before 6:00 a.m. (I mean, come on. I'm on vacation, right? No need to go totally insane.) The plan is to also get in the habit of checking my morning resting heart rate before getting out of bed. But that's the most painless part of the whole thing.

My seven days will start Wednesday. Why Wednesday? Why not?

Your seven days can start whenever you want. You like the way I pulled you into this? Slick, eh? C'mon, you know you want to join in (even if you're reading this long in the future). Pick your target and pick your start date. What do you want to change for the next week? Use your treadmill (coughCidtalkcough)? Eat breakfast every day? Try a new veggie every day? Cut off the tv for a week?

I'd love to hear about it in the comments, but feel free to do it secretly if you'd rather. Either way, pick a tough goal and join me. I dare you.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Checking In (and Babbling, Apparently)

Nothing interesting to say. I swam yesterday, I biked and ran today. All this despite a general desire to just go back to bed and sleep. I won't chalk it up to depression (though that's a possibility), and I don't think I should blame it on overtraining. I'm certainly not undereating (judging from the recent slight upward swing of the scale, though my fat monitor assures me that I'm building muscle and losing a tiny bit of fat). I'm preparing a nice juicy steak for dinner tonight on the off chance that I'm slightly low on iron. If the steak doesn't do it, then maybe it's time to get a solid blood workup just to make sure that eight and a half months of dieting down isn't leaving me with an unexpected deficiency.

I'm seriously considering taking a solid month off any targeted weight loss, intentionally eating as close to maintenance as possible. (The only difference from the past few months would be that I'm targeting maintenance calories, not just landing there most of the time.)

On the other hand, I wonder about my sleep. Am I sleeping too little? Not very likely. Too much? Possible. I've never been a morning person. I typically get up only when I have to, or when it's so late in the morning that I'd be embarrassed to be caught in bed. I have no qualms about napping (or, ahem, polyphasic sleep) so, again, a lack of sleep is probably not the problem.

I'm seriously considering making the toughest commitment to a challenge I've ever made. For a week, just a week, I hop out of bed the instant I wake up naturally. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, um, not for me. I wonder what effect this would have. Certainly no negative effects. If I could do it. You just don't know how reluctant I've been - my entire life - to ever climb out of bed. (The only exception to this is the delicious joy of climbing out of a sleeping bag and exiting a tent to inhale crisp mountain air at dawn. That's the only exception.)

Just one week. I wonder if I could do it. Rather, I wonder if I would do it.