challenges, fitness and nutrition, health

The Verdict

I’ve shared a bit about a recent health challenge I participated in. It was multifaceted, but I mainly focused on cleaning up my nutrition.

After 4 weeks of retooling and refocusing, here’s the verdict.

Balancing my plate:

There were a lot of different choices in this challenge. You decide for yourself what goals and approaches would be worthwhile. For nutrition, I chose what was called the “balanced plate” approach. Every time I ate, I had a protein, a carb, a fat, and a vegetable. And yes, there was a detailed list for each category.

What was different: no more grabbing a handful of almonds over and over again throughout the day. Same with beef jerky. And cheese. All meals were actually meals. This took planning, but I am used to meal prep. Just shopping a bit differently and making sure I had all four components ready to mix and match. I didn’t really attempt recipes combining them. Bags of rice, boiled eggs, cooked chicken or ground turkey with seasoning, lots of veggies both raw and roasted, fruits, bags of nuts or avocado. All pretty simple stuff.

There was a “leveled up” approach where you weigh and measure food but I just didn’t want to get bogged down with that. Making sure I had all four and tipping the balance toward veggies and proteins seemed manageable for this transition. I ate rice or certain kinds of bread almost every day which felt strange as these were carbs I hardly ever chose in my macro-counting heyday (I’d rather have Pringles or Captain Crunch.) I usually only had rice or bread once a day but technically I could have them at every meal.

Honestly, this was a really satisfying way to eat. It was a busy month so I did end up eating while working which in some ways is bad, but on the other hand it meant I was eating more slowly. By the time I was done eating, I often felt full and fine. Plus, three boiled eggs with cucumbers, almonds, and blueberries is a lot more than a 90-calorie low fat yogurt. It felt like I had the fuel I needed so I wasn’t grabbing for snacks in between.

Sometimes this 4-element eating made for some strange bedfellows. I generally ate three meals and a smaller Greek yogurt bowl at night. I learned from the community that frozen riced cauliflower mixed with plain Greek yogurt was largely unnoticeable except for a little crunch. Add some fresh fruit and almond butter and that was maybe the strangest thing I ate on this challenge, but I enjoyed it every day.

Bye bye, friends:

There were some things in this challenge that I knew were going to be hard to give up. First, all added sugar and artificial sugar. When I first read this rule about sugars, I was really unsure how much I could do. And, like the plate approach above, I could be as serious as I chose to be about it. Some people just reduced one or two sweetened items from their diets. I decided to go big on this one and see how much I could get rid of.

Telescoping back and getting a sense of the sugars in my diet was eye-opening. From that 90-calorie yogurt in the morning to my dark chocolate chips each night, both regular and artificial sweeteners were a staple in my daily habits. Diet Cokes had crept in a couple of times a week, or coffees with sugar free creamer. I had a pretty ridiculous (and kind of nasty) sugar-free gum habit, chomping on piece after piece every day. Of course now I had to read labels in the grocery store and cabinet and realized that even my flavored almonds and Greek chicken seasoning had sweeteners hidden inside. I knew sugar was everywhere but seeing new places where it was hiding was eye-opening. Going from the macro breakdown to the ingredient list made a big difference. This month, most of what I ate didn’t have an ingredient list at all.

Dairy was going to be another hard thing to give up. The only dairy items permitted were heavy cream and fat free Greek yogurt.

I’m taking a moment to just honor my love of cheese. Cheese is a way of life for me. It’s almost like a hobby or a lifelong friend. An entire food group. I eat cheese all the time! But life went on without it. In a big salad, avocado and egg gave me the creaminess I needed. Seasonings took the place of a pinch of parmesan (ok, I usually had many pinches, often eclipsing the vegetables it was supposed to add flavor to.) While many in this challenge enjoyed a few drinks the day before saying a temporary farewell to alcohol, I went out of my way to eat a lot of cheese. At the other side of the challenge, there were several times I missed it. But, life went on without it.

And how did it all turn out?

In my workouts, I honestly didn’t have some of the power I feel I often do. My energy was different. I noticed I felt tired or had to take breaks. But like an engine that is switching to a new kind of fuel, I don’t think it’s uncommon to have some sputters. I also dropped quite a bit of weight this month, (over 13 pounds) so I had to remind myself that I was at a calorie deficit. It shouldn’t surprise me to be a little tired. Overall, though, I felt better throughout the day. My gut was a lot happier.

I am pleased with the changes I can see in the mirror. I am definitely fitting better in my clothes. Less bloating and fluff. I didn’t take pictures but of course I wish I had. (This is a broken record story). A friend told me she could tell the difference. I wonder if others notice, but as I was reminded recently, it may not be good to comment on other people’s body changes unless you know what they are up to. Maybe it’s illness or something else going on that isn’t necessarily needing a compliment. In the end it only really matters what I think, anyway.

I think I will retain a lot of what I have learned. I can do without things that seem hard to give up. I can pick and choose what to indulge in. I need to eat vegetables a LOT. And carbs aren’t the enemy, but I do better when I am focusing on less processed, less sweetened stuff. I have a lot of travel in the coming weeks, so that will present some challenges and opportunities to eat some amazing things that I don’t want to miss. With that in mind, I don’t plan to be strict with this way of eating going forward, but an 80/20 balance would be good. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of most of my meals. Now the challenge is to learn how to prepare differently and on the go.

All in all, a successful challenge. Lots of learning and a step forward.

challenges, fitness and nutrition

Running Uphill

“There’s never a good reason to run uphill.”

I said this to a running buddy as we were rolling through the early miles of a half marathon. During the many miles of training and training, I realized that I burn so much more energy going uphill. Instead, now I use it as a break. A chance to catch my breath. I just keep on walking and walking uphill, then run again once it flattens out.

Well, I stand corrected.

The other day I ran uphill in the parking lot outside my gym. It was a part of the annual Murph workout, the traditional way CrossFitters honor Memorial Day. There’s a mile run at the beginning and a mile run at the end and a whole bunch of other stuff in between.

Originally, I planned to pull out my AirPods so I had a distraction during those miles. I hate running without music. Whenever I run, I put on my favorite running playlist to tune out the pain. But then I thought about the reason we are doing Murph, to remember the fallen who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and I decided instead of tuning out the pain, I would tune into it. Tune in to the purpose. Tune in to the discomfort. Tune in to the labor and even the heartbreak of it all.

So I did. I thought about the soldiers. The meaning. What I have because of what they gave up. I thought about their families, their buddies, brothers, mourning, suffering, toiling but continuing on.

So I continued. I loved that one of my gal pals came up and ran the last lap with me. She gave me a pep talk about her grandfather who was an Army Ranger and using his memory and mantra to keep going.

Once I was done, one of the women who completed it with me brought me a fancy champagne glass of water to toast the moment and refresh. Then, I turned around and cheered for my friends who were doing it after. Noticing their efforts. Hoping to give them a lift.

Then I think of the many with PTSD, with depression, substance abuse, lingering effects of the time and service they gave. There are many who are running uphill every day without us even knowing it. Burning out their energies just to keep going. If you are someone who is running uphill, I hope you can find a way to pause and walk for a while to catch your breath. And that a good friend joins you on the path for the journey to keep you inspired, positive, and moving forward. I hope someone thinks enough to offer you cool refreshment.

There are very few good reasons to run uphill. Once in a while, it happens that we have to. If you are running uphill each day in any way, I am cheering for you, hoping to give you a lift.

challenges, fitness and nutrition, health

A Million Little Pieces

I wrote recently about being part of a challenge where I’m cleaning out the clutter in my diet. In addition, there are many other little daily requirements in this challenge that aim to improve healthy habits. Every one had points associated with it. Here are some of the little things that I had to attend to throughout this month.

-Complete at least 4 workouts a week. This included a tester workout at the beginning and end of the challenge. I workout pretty much daily so this was not a big deal to achieve. I improved my score by quite a bit from beginning to end.

-Drink 80 ounces of water per day. Only 12 ounces can be unsweetened seltzer water.

This required more effort than the workouts. Filling up insulated cups daily, cutting fruits into the water to infuse them, it all helped. It’s paying attention and planning, just like the food part. I also set up a water reminder app but I don’t think that part encouraged me much. Just a buzz saying “it’s time to drink water” was too easy to ignore. I need to look into something with different sayings.

-Stretch / do yoga for 20 minutes per week

I embrace working out but stretching is something I do wayyyy too little of. And as a “woman of a certain age” I know stretching would help me in multiple ways. I usually broke this into 2 sessions after morning home workouts.

-Follow a sleep routine every night

There were many of these to choose from – drink herbal tea, meditate, turn off your screens an hour before bed, etc. You just had to pick one and do it daily. I chose reading before bed. I generally read something pretty mindless like a magazine. This was a switch from my usual scrolling of social media. I don’t have trouble falling asleep. Staying asleep doesn’t always happen.

-Limit or eliminate alcohol

As I discussed recently, this was already a part of my life. I will admit there were a few temptations with the stressful end of school chaos as well as more celebrations than usual with a lot of friends drinking. I still just refrained.

-Monitor and log progress

Logging points every week was a task to manage. With a bunch of little checkoffs, I wasn’t always diligent daily. But, I kept up. And I still weigh myself every day. The thing I still stumble over is photos. Why do I hate before and after shots so much? I always wish I took the time to do it but still don’t.

-Work on mindfulness

We had little exercises to think about our goals and our why. I knew cleaning up my act was a big motivator.

-Participate in other goofy activities along the way that keep the mood light and community connected

In the few challenges I’ve done before these are often things I ignore. But I did a couple this time just to stay in the game. One was to bite down on a wedge of lime while doing a farmer’s carry for two minutes to practice breathing through my nose. I’m not quite sure what this taught me but I know for sure that proper breathing is something I need to give more attention to.

Health isn’t just eating or just working out. It’s a whole collection of habits, practices, and choices. There were a million little pieces to this challenge. Many of them are things I know I should be doing but I just don’t. The water and stretching were probably what I needed to work on most aside from the nutrition piece.

So, how did it all turn out? Results to follow soon.

fitness and nutrition, health

Road to 5-0 and beyond

The road to fifty isn’t always so nifty. When you approach the big 5-0, many shifts take place. Your body. Your mind. Sometimes your zip code. Maybe even your friend circle.

Maybe it’s mood swings that hit today. Maybe it’s body changes next week. Maybe it’s aches and pains ongoing. Maybe it’s stress in life. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it hits all at once.

Maybe you become forgetful. Maybe you just seem over emotional on days. Maybe you are bloated. Maybe you move slower. Just maybe you are getting old. Gender doesn’t matter when it comes to aging.

There really isn’t a guide book for a mid life crisis. There isn’t an age point either. There isn’t a how to manual for menopause or grumpy man syndrome. There isn’t a road map to feeling old. For me I just want to age gracefully and keep up with what I still want to do each day.

It seems many in their fifties are starting to see signs of aging. Maybe the fast food is catching up with one pal while melanoma is rearing its ugly head with another. This is the time to do the breast checks. The annual physicals. The colonoscopy. The dirty list nobody really wants to pay attention to.

The next ten years will be the shoulder surgeries. The knee replacements. The second laundry list nobody wants to contend with. Getting old. Make sure you are treating your body like the temple it is. You only have one. Pay attention to any warning signs that rear their ugly heads.

I take each day as it comes. I try to live life to the fullest. I try to seek out adventures. I like to stimulate my mind. I like to tire myself out with fitness at some point in the day so I can sleep well at night.

I try to tune out negative people in my life. I have no room to waste mental energy on negatives. It will never help me make it through my road to 50-60-70 and beyond. 

fitness and nutrition

Decluttering

It’s Spring cleaning time.  But maybe not in the way you think.

I definitely need to spend some time cleaning out my house, but that will be a summer project.  Right now I am focused on cleaning out my nutritional clutter.

A little history…

A few years ago I chronicled my weight loss following a macro-counting program called Stronger U.  I did two sessions and lost a good amount of weight.  Since then, over two years ago, I’ve been kind of winging it, adapting the principles I learned from Stronger U without measuring or counting.  For the most part, it means keeping protein the priority at most / all meals.  I fill in with carbs and fat but try to stick with familiar ingredients and products. I meal prep each week, although it’s not as elaborate as it used to be. I still weigh myself every day and follow the active online Stronger U community.

I was doing pretty good for a long time.  In fact, I lost more than 10 pounds after my last session was complete.  I stayed in the weight range I wanted for the most part, and was able to eat and go about my days and activities feeling pretty good.

Over time, the number on the scale started to creep up, especially over the last 3 months. The first thing I noticed was that my clothes don’t fit as well anymore. Tight in the waist. I have extra flab around my middle. Now the scale is up 15 pounds from where I was a year ago and almost 25 from the lowest number I saw post-Stronger U. I’ve hit what I call my “emergency number,” meaning the number on the scale that means I am out of control. I could blame COVID, but I won’t. I’ve been active and have kept my routines up. Instead, I think it’s from the “nutritional clutter” I’ve let pile up.

I haven’t abandoned what I know, but I’ve gotten in the habit of letting things slide. I’m not eating pancakes for breakfast, but I am gobbling three handfuls of almonds instead of one with those hard boiled eggs. I still eat dark chocolate chips on low-carb vanilla yogurt each night, but it’s more like even amounts of chips and yogurt than just a sprinkle. I overdo it on the cheese and crackers at times. I have half a can of low-fat pringles with my bunless hamburger and sugar free pickles instead of just a stack.

Stronger U called it Bites, Licks, and Tastes (BLTs.) Little things add up to a lot of extra calories. I’ve known a change was necessary for about a month now, and I’ve just tried to dial back my portions. That hasn’t worked, so something more structured is necessary. Change isn’t always fun, but I’m ready for a reset. More on how that’s coming in future posts.

Is there anything you’ve let slide recently that needs a reset? Let us know in the comments.