Monday, February 03, 2014
Yesterday I spent the day cleaning out my closet. I had a couple of reasons for doing this. The most important one is that my husband and I want to remodel the master bedroom/bathroom/closet, so step 1 is to prepare the area. Because it's a large master suite with a huge (100ish square foot?) walk-in closet over the garage (I love it!), it has become a dumping ground of things we want to hide/store. We haven't gone through it since we moved in 14 years ago.
The second reason I want to weed through my closet is that I'm wearing a lot of clothes that are just too big. I've lost 50-60 pounds (depending on the day you weigh me), and since that has been lost over such a long period of time, I'm still wearing some favorite clothes. Those Old Navy fleeces that I bought 5 years ago, in size XL? Yep, still wearing them. My kids bought me some mediums this year, but when they are in the wash, I still wear those XLs. My son noted that my favorite gray one looks rather much like a garbage bag in the way it hangs and drapes on me.
But those old fleeces weren't the largest thing that I had. Those were bought when I weighed around 180. I had weighed as much as 208, and those clothes were still in my closet, buried in the back.
As I went through the closet, I found I was getting rid of a lot of my clothes. A small stack of clothes to donate started merging with the pile of clothes too worn to donate and were destined for the recycling center (thank you, Wake County, for providing a facility to recycle old clothes and shoes!). I used the garden tub for the donate pile and used kitchen trash bags for the recycle to keep them separate.
As the tub filled up and became difficult to get to through all the bags, I started finding all the really old, really large clothes. I can't believe HOW LARGE I was. When I was a Girl Scout leader in Tennessee, my troop made sweatshirts. I wore that sweatshirt everywhere! It was a men's XL. Wow. It wraps almost all the way around me! The pants I wore to my Dad's funeral over a decade ago? I can almost fit in one leg (they are stretchy...).
I lose weight SO slowly, that I still feel very fat (there are still rolls that need to go!). Losing weight at the rate of 3/4 of a pound per month, there aren't many dramatic moments. So, nearly four years after I started changing my lifestyle, I'm finally able to see a dramatic difference!
Not only have I shed weight, but I also will donate a heaping garden tub full of clothes (tub included...that will go to ReStore as we renovate the bathroom!). I'll also take six bags of clothes to be recycled. I've kept the Girl Scout sweatshirt and the pants I wore to Dad's funeral. They're in a box to be opened the next time we clean out the closet.
Now I'm staring at a relatively empty closet. Now I have to shop for clothes. I just wish I liked shopping for clothes!
Sunday, October 06, 2013
This is a corollary to my other blog entry today, called "42 Months and Counting," which is a positive spin on my very long journey to very slow weight loss. It has some revelations that I learned along the way.
This blog entry covers the lessons learned from a spreadsheet I've been keeping in addition to my SP tracking. It's uncovered a very unusual piece of data. Before I tell you that data, let me describe the spreadsheet and the lessons Iíve learned. Itís long, and perhaps it will help cure your insomnia. However, if you think youíre being diligent in tracking and arenít seeing the results you think you should, you might find some tidbits here to help motivate you to continue or some tips to make your tracking a bit more accurate.
Iíve been tracking my daily calories eaten and exercised for 1,250 days, or 42 months. Iíve taken reams of printouts to doctors, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and personal trainers and flummoxed them all. I started this journey by tracking my food. Being a data geek, I wanted a few different reports than SP offers, so I started a spreadsheet, too. Specifically, I wanted a running average of the last 7 and last 20 days. This helps me help knock off the highs and lows and get a picture of where Iíve been instead of deluding myself with nice graphs that ďseemĒ to always be in range. There are only ďa fewĒ points that are over the limit each week so Iím doing just fine, right? Lesson #1: Sometimes you can delude yourself into how many is ďa few.Ē
For the first many months of tracking I diligently measured my food, then became good at estimating portion sizes after seeing Ĺ cup of this, 1 cup of that, 2 tbsp of the other in the various plates and bowls in my kitchen. Every now and then, when weight loss slowed to ďnone,Ē Iíd randomly spot check myself. Early on, I fell prey to the usual underestimating portion size, so Iíd go back to measuring to correct this. After a few years, I found that I started to anticipate underestimating and was now overestimating most portions (with a few I underestimated). About a year ago, I was so frustrated with my plateau that I went to measuring on a scale to ensure accuracy. While this has my family thinking I'm beyond obsessed with food, I found that I can track much more efficiently and need to was FAR fewer measuring utensils! I've changed the way I cook, too: 120 grams of flour is one cup, so I plop that mixing bowl on the scale, zero it out, then pour in the flour until I get 360 grams for the 3 cups. Or take out the bowl, find out what one serving size is for yogurt, use the spoon I will eventually it with to measure out 125 grams, then sit down and eat. Much easier Ė and far fewer dishes -- than measuring cups! Lesson #2: The only way to accurately track food is to measure it. You eventually will begin to think that 1 cup plus 2-4 tablespoons still looks like 1 cup. Lesson #3: The scale is actually easier than measuring utensils!
I didnít start exercising until several months into this tracking adventure. At first, I was using only SP's values for running, mostly using the mileage tracker (and being VERY disappointed that my intense but slow runs that left me red, sweaty, and completely drained were considered merely ďwalking.Ē) Disappointed with my progress and wanting to keep up with my athletic husband and son, I purchased a chest-strap heart rate monitor (HRM) to accurately track my exercise. I found that my HRM is usually 50-75% higher than SP's values! From what I understand, usually SPís values are usually a bit higher than HRMs, but HRMs are considered the most accurate. To figure out which was closer to accurate for me, I borrowed some other brands of HRMs and found that Garmin, Polar, and my Zephyr all gave similar results. For a while, I tracked only the larger of the SP and HRM values, which made me feel pretty good about myself. But I wasnít seeing the results my doctorsí promised me Iíd see, so I added another column to my spreadsheet so I can track SPís values separately from the HRM values. Using the lower of the two values for my net calories per day, I challenged myself to increase my exercise to equal the old, much higher, calorie count. Lesson #4: The probability of two methods of estimating calorie expenditure giving you two dramatically different numbers is directly proportional to how crazy it will drive you. Lesson #5: For best results, use the smallest number. Worst case, youíll still weigh the same, but youíll derive better fitness gains if you challenge yourself to do more exercise.
Another value I wanted to see was a monthly look at what my net calories are. I have another page in my spreadsheet that is a running monthly summary. It show me my daily average calories eaten, daily average calories exercised, and my net calories. I then set up another series of columns to show me the deficit between my net calories and a 2000 calorie/day ďnormalĒ diet. Another column calculates the expected weight loss for the month (deficit calories/3500 calories per pound). This deficit was saying that I could expect to lose 6-10 pounds per month. But I was seeing only a 1-2 pound loss, and sometimes a 3 pound GAIN! After only three months, I showed this to my doctor. I just was NOT seeing weight loss results that I ďshould.Ē After a few more months of tracking, he believed me and my mountain of data and thatís when we did more testing to find out that I am hypothyroid. Iíve also tracked my thyroid lab values in this spreadsheet. This spreadsheet has been invaluable to my treatment. Now, 3 years after diagnosis, I can find out if my thyroid values are off based on weight loss trends (or lack thereof) in this spreadsheet. Lesson #6: OCD data tracking can pay off to cross-check your work. Most of the time, no results is due to underestimating how many calories you eat and overestimating calories you expend. But SOMETIMES, it can be a health reason.
Last year I started cycling. The same HRMs can double as a speedometer for a bike, so I used that to track my workouts. Again, there is a huge discrepancy between what SP says and what my HRM said Ė the HRM was always higher by about 50%. So, another couple of columns got added to my spreadsheet: Cycling HRM Calories and Miles Ridden. The latter is helpful for bicycle maintenance, but also to help me determine how many miles per week/month I ride which helps quantify my effort to my health team. My daily averages are now topping 300 calories burned per day, with all the running and cycling Iím doing. But Iím still not seeing results that corresponded to the increased exercise! Lesson #7: As long as weíre OCD in tracking, we might as well turn this project into tracking bike maintenance, too.
Last January, after ASSURING my family that I will NEVER swim and NEVER run a triathlon, I found myself in the pool taking private swimming lessons. Lesson #8: Never say never. My instructor is THE MOST AWESOME instructor, and after the first 30 minutes, made me feel like I had a shot at the US Olympic team! OK, exaggeration aside, she had me actually SWIMMING and enjoying it in only 30 minutes! Lesson #9: You never know what youíll like until you try it. I got back home and went to add this to the tracker. I started tracking my swimming with "Swimming: crawl," which is good for a whopping 726 calories per hour! After several weeks of seeing a huge bump in average calories per day and no corresponding increase in weight loss, I was disappointed (again). My weight loss is STILL slightly less than 1 pound per month! One night I was entering my workout and selected "Swimming: general.Ē That was good for ďonlyĒ 326 calories per hour. Hmmm...not as nice. In my handy-dandy spreadsheet, yet another column: SP swimming crawl and SP swimming general. My daily average dropped again, but I started training for a triathlon, the workouts are more frequent. Lesson #10: Just when you think there are finite ways to estimate caloric burn, youíll find another one to lower it even more. Especially if it increases your frustration factor.
To summarize, at first I was looking at the highest values because it made me feel good about the 30 minutes workouts three times a week. As I added more and more exercise, I wasnít seeing results and found ways to track the many different values, but used the lowest value to calculate my net calories. Iím now at around 8-10 hours of exercise per week to the tune of just over 400 calories burned per day. Lesson #11: Intensive tracking can help motivate you to keep increasing your exercise when results are stalling. Lesson #12: Lesson #11 works best when you find something you really like to do.
So, youíd think I was fit and trim and at my goal weight, right? Nope. I started at 184 (and kept gaining until 190), and am now hovering around 150, with a goal of about 135 (an adult weight I had after the birth of my last child and set by my doctor). My weight loss is STILL an excruciatingly slow 3/4 pound per month, more or less. If I can lose 2 pounds a month, thatís an OUTSTANDING month! So far, Iíve lost a total of 37 pounds.
I mentioned that series of columns that tracked my ďexpectedĒ weight loss based on a 2000 calorie diet. Once I had my BMR measured at a seriously low 1010 calories per day, I stopped paying attention to that column that told me how much to expect. But I kept the calculations because I was too lazy to change the spreadsheet. Lesson #13: Laziness can lead to some interesting discoveries.
So hereís that unusual piece of data that I talked about in the first paragraph (thanks for reading this far!). This morning it told me that I could have expected to lose 300 pounds by now based on my caloric deficit. Yes, THREE HUNDRED POUNDS. Yet Iíve lost only 37. With such a low BMR, and adjusted for a sedentary life style, I only need 1212 calories per day plus what I exercise. Most people my age get at least 400 more, and with what I exercise, it should be about 800 more. Itís very difficult to keep on a healthy low calorie diet for very long, particularly when I exercise so much. But itís what I have to do to prevent weight gain. Losing weight like a normal person just isnít going to happen. Less than a pound a month from here on out is the best I can hope for. Lesson #14: Iím special. Doctors tell me that an extra-low metabolism means that I extraordinarily suited to survive a famine. Unfortunately, famines arenít exactly something I encounter on a regular basis.
At the rate I lose weight, I will likely hit my goal weight in another 2 or so years, accounting for how difficult it is to shed the last few pounds, and that my metabolism slows with each passing year (10 calories a day each year). Iíve waited 42 monthsÖwhatís another 24?
So, for the average person who is reading along, perhaps thereís something in those 14 lessons Iíve learned along the way that will help you out. (Or, if youíve made it this far, perhaps thereís nothing I can do for your insomnia. I apologize for that!) At the very least, you can now say that youíve heard of a person who created such a calorie deficit over 42 months that she should have lost 300 pounds, but lost only 37. That, and about $5 will get you a cup of coffee.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
Today is exactly 42 months since I changed my lifestyle. That's 1025 days of meticulous tracking my diet and exercise. Who knew what a dramatic change Iíd make! There are a number of factors that have influenced, accelerated, or helped change my life. Some of these are:
* Wanting to change.
When I began, I was gaining weight at the rate of several pounds each month. I knew it was my relatively sedentary lifestyle and my less-than-perfect, fast-food laden diet. I was tired of being fat and not being able to climb stairs without being out of breath. You have to want to make a change before you can make a change.
* Finding out that it wasnít exactly all my fault.
Despite cutting calories pretty dramatically to 1400 calories, I was still gaining weight. Turns out, this was a symptom that uncovered my hypothyroidism. Once we got the hypothyroidism treated, weight loss was possible. After years of working with a team of doctors, I know that I have a significantly lower metabolism than normal. My measured BMR is only 1010, making my calorie needs for a sedentary life style only 1212 -- my maintenance is the very bottom of the low end of weight loss! No wonder why I wasn't losing! Now, cutting calories from there...extremely difficult.
* Subscribing to a CSA.
CSA, or consumer supported agriculture, is a weekly allotment of produce from farms. I found one that is very flexible: it allows members to select from a variety of weekly boxes and allows members to swap out an item and purchase more items. Not only that, they deliver instead of me picking up the box. Getting a box of produce every week is like my own personal episode of Chopped: the creativity needed to use ALL that produce was taxingÖat first. This lead to the next factor:
* My family and I really like produce!
One of my early CSA boxes had 7 eggplant. SEVEN! WTF?! Google helped me find some great recipes for eggplant and we found we really like it! I wish Iíd have known that years ago! Likewise, Iíve found that my family and I like field peas, purple peppers, tatsoi, collards, and okra. We found out that the corn, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, peaches, blueberries, strawberries Ė heck, most everything they deliver Ė is so much fresher and more flavorful than whatís in the store. Weíve tried many new recipes to use either the unusual vegetable we werenít familiar with or to use the overabundance of an old favorite (zucchini cobbler is pretty awesome!). Instead of trying to figure out how to use up one box of vegetables, we now order two and still need to purchase more before the week is up.
Fresh produce is really very, very tasty, and works well to lower calories and increase all those micronutrients that arenít found in processed food. Make no mistake: we still eat out at our favorite places, but my family would now prefer to eat in! Iíve found LOTS of yummy, nutritious, filling, healthy, and low calorie dinners that meat-and-potato lovers adore. Many of them are able to be made in about 30 minutes, too.
Yes, itís expensive to buy all that produce. BUT, we buy so little processed food now, and that includes expensive snacks. We eat many fewer cookies, preferring veggies dipped in hummus, yogurt, corn relish, and freshly made salsa (OK, weíll get tortilla chips and pita chips to dip, too). Two cookies will satisfy now, instead of a whole sleeve. A fresh, juicy peach or a small apple makes a sweet treat. These farm-fresh fruits taste so much more flavorful and sweeter than their grocery store counterparts. Even the grocery store ones will do, if we run out, because weíve retrained our taste buds now.
* My children are studying in the health care profession
One child majored in psychology and biology and is in her last year of grad school studying speech language pathology. The other child is a Health and Exercise Science major and is applying to med school. Both have studied the effects of diet and exercise on health, and both are using their education to help all of us make better life choices. The HES/pre-med child is a triathlete and applies his education to his life. Heís at home with us this year in a gap year as he trains for Ironman races, and itís very, very difficult to sit on the sofa when he spends so much time exercising! In fact, that leads me to the next factor:
* I like exercising and Iím now an ďathlete.Ē
A triathlete, to be exact. I have to laugh, as anyone who has known me would NEVER describe me as athletic! But I am now! I started running as a means to burn calories to lose weight. My husband ran races, and he got me to run a few 5Ks and even an 8K. My son was a runner, too, but overuse injuries caused him to want to cross-train. He got a bike, and that looked like fun, so my husband and I got a bike. MUCH more enjoyable than running, IMHO!
A few years ago, my husband began using the neighborhood pool for lap swimming. My son started swimming last year, too, and thatís when he switched from training for running races to triathlons. I swore Iíd never swim, though. Last Christmas, they gave me swim lessons, and I found out that I really like it! Iíve raced one triathlon, and have another scheduled for next week. Now, Iím in absolutely no danger of winning my age group. Iím slow, but Iím making steady progress. My son and husband have encouraged me, and with my son as my live-in coach, Iím getting better. My son says itís OK to call myself an ďathlete.Ē ďAthleteĒ is not about being the best, itís about training and the level of effort put forth while training. He doesnít want me to sell myself short. Iím an athlete! Iím burning 3000-4000 calories per week in 8-10 hours a week of exercise, all tracked with HRMs, swim watches, and other fancy gadgets. These gadgets almost always tell me that there is SOME part of my workout that is good Ė I need positive reinforcement! They also track and tell me that I'm making slow but steady improvement over the long haul.
It hasnít been an easy journey. Iíve had to drop down to as few as 600 calories (medically supervised) to figure this out, and Iíve found that even when burning 3000-4000 calories per week, I canít really eat more than 1500 calories per day to maintain my weight, 1200-1400 is much better. Weight loss (and I still have 15 pounds or so to go) requires less than 1000 net calories per day to lose MAYBE a pound each month. This is extremely limiting. Iíve gone from measuring by volume to measuring on a scale (a peanut butter sandwich: put the bread on the scale and zero it out; add peanut butter and weigh the grams of peanut butter; zero it out, weigh the jelly/honey/whatever else is topping it). Eating out for special occasions Ė birthdays, anniversaries, or even the post-race finish line spread Ė has to be carefully orchestrated so I can still still have food during the rest of the day. I had to get very creative to be able to eat cake at my daughterís wedding. Having a beer while watching the game or a glass of wine with dinner really eats into the calories. Things that most people take for granted are very, very stressful for me.
But, the important thing is that I've been diligently tracking for 1025 days and it has helped me uncover health and metabolism issues. Had I not done this, I wouldn't have the data to take to the doctor to find them! I would have dropped my calories for a while, then felt like a failure, given up, and probably be morbidly obese (there's a strong family history). Instead, I tracked and found out that I've been dealt a terrible metabolic hand, and I just have to eat a lot less and exercise a lot more than the average human.
Diligent tracking and examining the data, finding a love of produce, having some knowledgeable help (both doctors and coaching), and finding exercise I love doing with people who will do it with me are the keys to my success. I've lost 37 pounds in 42 months...not exactly "instant gratification," but it's MY pace. The best I can do is losing a pound a month, so maybe in another 2 years or so I'll loose the last 15ish that my doctors said I can/should lose. But I can get there! Slowly. :)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I need to vent. I'm so frustrated. I'm just not losing weight or inches! I am getting more fit, which is great, but when do I get to change the physical appearance of my body?
Almost 11 months ago, I reluctantly joined a gym with my husband. Before joining, I "ran" (well, I'm so slow, SparkPeople's mileage tracker always tracks it as a "walk"). I competed in several races, from 5K to 8K to ensure I trained for them...at least keeping my ample behind moving for 6-8 miles a week. We had recently gotten bikes, too. I loved riding, but it was hard to keep up with my husband and college age son. Hills absolutely destroyed me. We rode maybe once or twice a week for 10 or so miles.
I joined the gym and started strength training 3x a week. It started out *great!* The machines add weight by numbered plates (the correlation to actual weight is posted on the machine, but it differs for every machine). I started on plate 2 or 3 on each machine and made my way up to 5/6 in just two months! Then something happened...I needed to drop weights on all machines. One machine at a time, I dropped the weights until I'm basically back where I started. And still struggling. How can I be getting weaker?
At the same time I joined the gym, I also started core classes. They use dumbbells, resistance bands, and balls in addition to body weight. I love those 30 minute classes twice a week. I still can't do a plank for more than 15 seconds, but I can do more of most exercises and I can actually feel a six pack forming (underneath this rather ample soft-sided cooler...*sigh*).
I also started cycling classes. During the winter, I did three 45 minute classes a week. I've made substantial progress. My first class nearly killed me! I couldn't stand and pedal, I huffed and puffed, and I couldn't put much resistance on the bike at all. Now I can do the class with plenty of resistance, I can do the standing climbs, and I don't huff, puff, and turn so red anymore so I've ceased to panic the instructors and other students. It's helped me riding my bike outside, too.
Once the weather started getting nice, we started riding bikes outside (my husband, me, and our son). I joined a Wednesday night women-only ride in the spring, and I've traded the slow 14 mile ride for a faster 22 mile ride. On Sunday mornings, my family does a group ride of 35 miles. For all rides, I'm now averaging 16-17 mph. Hills don't terrify me anymore! I still have trouble keeping up with the guys, but generally, I'm in the front of the women in the group.
And I started swimming. After saying I'd never swim, I got lessons for Christmas. I started in January with the most WONDERFUL instructor and found I didn't hate it! In fact, I kinda liked it because I didn't get hot and sweaty. It was a struggle to complete a 25 yard length, though. After working hard, I can now swim 2,000 yards in about an hour, taking a quick break every 200 yards (and I'm working to eliminate that, too!). I do 2-3 hour long workouts per week now.
I even raced a triathlon at the end of April, just 3.5 months after learning to swim and 8 months after buying a bike! I'm doing another one next month.
So, after adding strength training 3x week (including core work 2x week), and significantly increasing my cardio by adding swimming and cycling, I have a question:
WHY AM I NOT LOSING WEIGHT OR INCHES?
OK, I lost 7 pounds in 11 months, and an inch off my thighs. That's it. My doctors would like me to lose at least another 15, and if I did, it wouldn't jiggle so much that it hurts.
My eating is fairly consistent at about 1350-1400 calories. Sure, there are days that are over and many that are 1100-1200. If I expend 1216 calories (measured via chest-strap HRM on a 2.5 hour ride), it doesn't seem safe to eat only 1300 calories for the day! I consistently average around 375 calories expended per day (per SparkPeople's calculations -- my HRM says about 475 or more).
Lest one thinks that I'm not eating enough...I had my RMR tested. It's only 1010 calories per day. That's about 400 calories less than someone my age/weight (equivalent to a 127 year old woman 10 pounds less than me!). So:
1010 RMR + 200 for sedentary lifestyle + 375 exercise = 1585 calories needed/day
I have a deficit of about 200 calories per day. That should be about an 18 pound deficit over 11 months.
I guess I should be happy with losing 7 pounds and gaining quite a bit of fitness. But seriously, when can I drop a dress size?
Thursday, June 06, 2013
Over the last month or so, I've bought four shirts from three different stores -- the tri-top a month ago and the other three were purchased four days apart. My weight/size has not changed in that timeframe. Check out the sizes:
- A triathlon top, size XL (that is still awfully snug, even for a compression garment, but it is the largest size in that brand)
- A fitted t-shirt from Old Navy, size L (fits great)
- A fitted henley t-shirt from Old Navy, size M (fits no differently than the L)
- A fitted t-shirt from Belk (department store), size S, which is supposed to fit the same as the Old Navy t-shirt, but is much baggier
Why is the S too large and the XL too small? How is it even possible for one person to wear a S, M, L, and XL?
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