Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pitfalls and Slippery Slopes

Years ago when our older kids were small, I think we had been running errands around Boulder and we got hungry, as a family might, and were near a Good Times drive-through. From that day on, it seemed like anytime we were near the place someone in the car would suggest we stop at Good Times and we often would. It then seemed that if we were even remotely near Good Times or just somewhere in Boulder someone would suggest we go there.

My wife and I had been doing fairly well on our efforts of controlling our calorie intake. A stressful workweek can evoke the same type of conditioned response that we experienced with Good Times. We often go out on a Friday evening for some kind of meal outside of the house as is so common with many people. It seems that anywhere we choose to go on a Friday evening is packed. When I suggested to Ruth that we go out for dinner she broached the issue of our diet. I responded that it could be our break from it for the week and that we didn't have to gorge ourselves.

We didn't gorge ourselves, although we did break from our usual vegetarian fare. Being St. Patrick's Day weekend, the restaurant had a couple of Irish specials and I decided I'd have the lamb shepherd's pie and Ruth chose a non-Irish plate of penne bolognese. We didn't overeat, but somehow it seems that outing led us onto the slippery slope. We allowed food to be an indulgence and we seemed to be in a state, at least for dinner, of wanting to indulge. One night I made falafel and we ate it with homemade coleslaw held in a whole wheat tortillas. Three was way too many. Another evening we decided to combine all the leftovers into one meal. The charge seemed to be to finish them and not waste any food. Leftovers of leftovers for lunch would have been a better idea. Yesterday was Friday and even before I left work Ruth had texted me suggesting dinner out. I responded with "ok", knowing the kitchen had remained rather a mess from the night before.And although she had cleaned up the kitchen and keeping it that way by going out was a good idea, the interest in going out had waned by the time I arrived home. Our oldest son was home so I figured I'd make pizza and use up some random items in the refrigerator that go well on pizza. I'd like to think we didn't do too much damage with a week of dinner digression; we were diet diligent for breakfast and lunch although nothing was recorded this week.

Fortunately we start our spring break this morning and it is easier to avoid eating pitfalls without the work routine. Mangoes and Mexican papaya are in season now, a reasonably-price granola cereal is on sale, and there are two tubs of non-fat yogurt in the refrigerator. A combination of those items will make a good pre-run breakfast. Getting myself out the door for ten miles on a blustery sub-freezing late March day is the next challenge.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dodging the Work Week Food Traps

This is the third in a series on weight loss effort.

Today marks the third day of working to adjust downward my weight. The past two days were easy to come out ahead because it was the weekend and I was able to run 15 miles between the two days; I had plenty of room to spare and still be under my calorie target. The routine of the workday provides different challenges. To counter the main challenge of ending up hungry at noon and having to seek out the healthiest of nearby bad choices, I brought food from home. I brought a small plastic container of pinto beans and a falafel patty. I ate one pumpkin pancake at home before I left for work and augmented this with a mid-morning snack of nuts, raisins, pistachios, dried fruit, and chocolate morsels which total about 200 calories. The falafel was rather dry and a little hard to get down and I couldn't eat any more before even finishing the beans. I teach high school and I walked three laps on the track with another teacher after eating.

There is a cake shop across the street from the school and it was a bit of a challenge to break the routine of going for a large oatmeal raisin cookie after lunch. The walking helped. The school store is directly across from my room and I had to resist buying a 1 3/4 ounce bag of Ruffles Queso Potato Chips. They are quite addictive. I avoided the traps at work. At least it wasn't Friday when there are often trays of doughnuts for the taking.

Arriving home seems to trigger a desire to eat. My wife wouldn't be home from work until a little late so I decided to make something to eat that would count as dinner. The danger would be to eat twice. I made a chopped veggie-laden tuna salad and ate it as a sandwich and with some wheat thins. My wife just wanted a bowl of cereal when she got home, but I was hungry again so I opted for the vegetable soup that we still had from the weekend. Even with two Indian Pale Ales I was able to end the day at a net loss of 530 calories.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Eat Before You're Hungry

This is the second post in a series documenting weight loss.

It is the morning of day two of my weight loss effort. I don't like to use the word "diet"; it has acquired such a negative feel to it. Typically, it is a drastic action a person takes until he or she can go back to the behavior that led to the need to diet in the first place. Depending on what a person's eating behaviors were, a diet may or may not be drastic. I don't think it should be so drastic that it couldn't establish a pattern for a new sustainable behavior.

One behavior that many people have, especially if they are feeling bad about their weight, is to weight until they are rather hungry to eat. I awoke not long ago and could probably make it most of the morning without eating, but then my hunger might push me to either eat more than I should or eat something I shouldn't or worse: both. Knowing this, I make having breakfast something I always do before starting my day. Yesterday I had an omelet, but I try not to eat too many eggs, so today I had berries, yogurt, and granola. Cereals portions and their associated calories are typically low. When trying to lose weight, it is important to measure your cereal portion. Granola has even more calories than regular cereal. I measured out 2/3 of a cup which gave me 230 calories. Frozen berries are rather low in calories and are high in antioxidants so you can be generous with them. I dumped close to a cup in my bowl and then microwaved them. Non-fat yogurt is not a low calorie food; sugar is the second ingredient listed on the label. It takes a lot of yogurt to moisten granola. I added close to a cup to the granola and berries.

Granola, Yogurt, and Berries Breakfast

2/3 cup granola             230
1 cup non-fat yogurt     170
1 cup berries                   70

Total                              470

The total is probably somewhat lower than 470 because neither the yogurt nor the berries were a full cup. Imagine though, if my estimates or measurements were low on every item; I could easily be off by three or four hundred calories by the end of the day. 440 calories is probably more accurate for this meal. I've been drinking coffee this morning as well; fortunately, I like black coffee; I don't even bother to count the 15 or so calories that are in black coffee. My wife drinks her coffee with 2% milk and sugar; that adds up. Each teaspoon of sugar has 15 calories and the milk may add close to 15 as well. For her, each cup of coffee is rounded to 50 calories.

I was rather pleased with my first day of weight loss effort yesterday. Because I ran 7.2 miles yesterday, I was able to add 860 calories to my base of 2245 for a total of 3105 calories that I could have eaten and not gained weight. To meet my daily goal, I would have to consume 445 calories less than that. I took in 750 calories less. That is about 1/5 of a pound. I somewhat regret having three beers over the course of the evening. I would have lost 1/3 of a pound without them.

I weigh myself daily when I am trying to lose a few pounds. The readings on the scale on a day to day basis should not be given much value from day to day. For example, Yesterday morning I weighed 183.4. This morning, I weighed 181.2. I did not lose over two pounds in 24 hours. There are many factors that can create significant variations in a person's weight over the course of the day. I may have been well-hydrated yesterday morning. I may have had to go to the bathroom. This morning I may have been slightly dehydrated from yesterday's exercise. I may have eliminated more waste yesterday. Oh, and I lost 0.2 pounds. So, 2.0 of the 2.2 pounds differences between yesterday and today had nothing to do with actual weight loss. Eventually the readings will even out. I will have a consistent pattern of eating, hydration, elimination, and exercise and by weighing myself at the same time each day relative to those variable I will begin to see more consistent readings; from day to day there may be very little drop, no drop, or the scale may read higher. If you find yourself anxious about the variations you'll want to weigh yourself less often.

I will probably run a few more miles this afternoon. I know that it takes energy to do that. It will take more than 100 calories for each mile that I run. Energy will already be stored in my muscles, but psychologically I will feel better about running for an hour or two if I don't have an empty stomach. I will also have fuel in the tank once the stores in my muscles are depleted. I will also not be so hungry when I'm done running. In fact, I find that if I run long enough my appetite seems suppressed for quite a while after the work out.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Weight Weight Don't Tell Me

Daylight Savings Time begins tomorrow and the residual cough from the persistent cold I've had for the past three weeks is waning. There is no better time to begin to tune up the body. People think I'm nuts when I express that I'd like to drop 10 or 15 pounds. Entering my weight into the Center for Disease Control's Body Mass Index calculator I am told that my BMI is 25.5 and hence I am "overweight". Normal body weight for my height is between 133 and 179 pounds. This morning, stepping on the scale for the first time in a while, I weighed 183.2.

Six months ago I weighed 173 pounds; I was able to do training runs of up to 25 miles and I was content with that weight and conditioning level. After the deluge in Colorado last fall I spent several weekends putting new shingles on the house and my running dropped off. Also, many of my favorite trails were washed out and closed. I became rather careless about what I ate and have was given to having an extra beer quite regularly. I have found in the past that running helps me regulate my weight but doesn't do much for making me lose it because I typically eat more to fuel the running. I have had good success with limiting calories and documenting everything I eat on a spreadsheet.

To calculate how much I should eat to lose my target loss per week I entered my height, weight, and age in an online Basal Metabolic Rate calculator to find how many calories I burn just living and breathing. Mine was 1,727 calories. I multiplied this by a factor of 1.3 to adjust for a lightly active lifestyle, which results in 2,245 calories I can consume daily without gaining or losing weight. I have always heard that 3500 calories of fat was roughly equivalent to one pound. I just did a little online research to confirm this and although the figure is arguable, it close enough when taking into consideration that there will be some other imprecisions along the way. For example, I am active; my lifestyle isn't exactly sedentary so I could probably eat a bit more and not gain weight. I would like to lose about a pound a week, so to do that I need to eat about 500 calories less than the 2,245 given above. I see that it is typically recommended that men not consume less than 1800 calories per day. Certainly, there would be variations based on the man's weight and other considerations. I will set the 1800 calories as my target and make adjustments to eat more based on how much I run. I usually add between 100 and 130 calories per mile that I run. So if I run 5 miles later on I will be able to add 500 to 650 calories to my intake.

I plan to chronicle my efforts to lose about a dozen pounds here to share how I've done it before, to share some of what goes through my mind in the process, and to help keep myself accountable. I weighed myself, so I have a starting point. It is important to eat before getting hungry because once a person is hungry, judgement about eating tends to be impaired. Looking at what there is to eat in the house, I would be inclined to have some bread products, but I want to make my calorie intake as nutritious and satisfying as is practical. My wife and I try to eat a vegan, or at least vegetarian diet as much as possible, but we are not strict about it. I had eaten strictly vegan for about a year, but I allowed eggs and nonfat yogurt back into the mix. This past winter I even ate meat somewhat regularly and had some pizza a handful of times. For my current weight adjustment effort I will eliminate all the animal products except the eggs, yogurt, and occasionally some fish. This morning I think I will start with an omelet. For the cheese, I like Lisanatti Foods' almond-based jalapeño jack cheese alternative. Since I plan to run a little later I will need some carbohydrates so I will eat some toast with it.

Last night I knew my wife and I were going to begin this diet so I made a vegetable soup from the fresh vegetables that happened to be in the refrigerator. Soup is very easy to make; you put stuff in water and heat. I used some wilting celery, carrots, three mushrooms past their prime, onion, garlic, what was left of a red pepper, the chopped up trunks of two broccoli crowns, the last two leaves of some purple kale, and a big handful of Black Japonica rice for heartiness. When we had it last night I tossed in some fresh jalapeño rounds and chopped cilantro.

Breakfast ingredients and calories

2 large eggs                            140
1 tspn olive oil in pan                35
1 oz. almond cheeze                 50
1/4 avocado                             65
diced veggies                           30
2 slices dry wheat toast           160

Total                                       480

There are some general sensible guidelines that I follow to make it easier to stick to the plan. I eat before I am hungry. Vegetables of color can almost be eaten without accounting for their calories. Juices, soft drinks, and alcohol add on calories quickly. I limit these and measure them carefully. It is wise to avoid any kind of restaurant during weight loss efforts. I keep track of everything I consume. I look at the labels or look up the item on a website such as for calorie amounts. I allow myself rewards. I may allow one meal on Sunday in which I indulge within reason. If a person finds it difficult to put off a reward for an entire week, a small piece of dark chocolate, or in my case a beer, on a daily basis is within reason.

Before posting this I would like to note that I took the dog out for a sloppy early March trail run. We covered 7.2 miles after eating a couple of pumpkin pancakes for lunch that I had made for the little guy's breakfast. I should have somewhere between 720 and 940 calories to play with today, which makes dieting a lot easier. If you're not up for running, getting out for a walk of for a half hour to an hour could build in a cushion of 100 to 300 calories.

I've just finished a bowl of the above-mentioned vegetable soup and will probably have a multi-vegetable salad for dinner along with something more substantial and of protein content such as a bowl of pinto beans and a couple of heated soft corn tortillas.