Sunday, January 16, 2011

Food for thought

After I posted my weight loss photos, a commenter asked me to write a post about what I eat. The answer is pretty simple and probably pretty boring: Mostly whole foods that I cook myself. I've found through trial and error and error and error over the years that I'm very sensitive to sugar and other simple carbs, and that they cause my blood sugar to whipsaw all over the place. I simply function better on a moderately low-carb eating plan.

There's a little more background to my eating habits that I should explain. Because my mom experienced dangerously high cholesterol in the late 1980's, my entire family adopted what was then called the New American Diet plan and eliminated egg yolks, oils and fats, and any kind of meat other than poultry and fish (and I rarely eat fish myself). In grad school, I was too broke to afford chicken or turkey on a regular basis, so I started following Dean Ornish's vegetarian plan. This turned out to be a mistake, as I was hungry all the time and became severely anemic. After a year and a half of mostly miserable struggling and weight fluctuation, I went back, more or less, to the still carb-rich New American Diet plan.

You know, that one just never worked for me that well, either. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who function great on high carb intake, but I'm not one of them.

After coming to the conclusion a few years ago that I feel better with more protein and fat in my diet, I relaxed my categories of food intake considerably. I like eggs, nuts, and avocados, so I eat them in moderation. (Unlike the Dean Ornish days, there's medical evidence to suggest that the heart-healthy benefits of these kinds of fats overwhelmingly outweigh any dangers.) I like lean ham and the occasional slice of bacon, although I only cook the turkey kind. I've never cooked red meat, but I'll eat it at someone's house. Similarly, although I only ever ate whole grain bread, I've cut my bread intake way down. I used to bake bread every week and I love the taste of it, but I have a good friend who convinced me that I have an undiagnosed food allergy to something in it, because more than a couple of slices per day makes me puffy all over for several days. Since cutting way back on bread, I can't deny that I'm much less puffy all the time.

My real food bugaboo, however, is sweets. I gave up sweets for a full year in 2009, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The first time I had refined sugar after that, it was like I had never stopped. I've found, however, that the cravings are manageable with a higher protein intake (and if I don't indulge, they drop to non-existent within a day or two) unless I have PMS. PMS results in much worse sugar cravings and usually one to two bad days of indulgence, so the only answer for that is to make it as difficult as possible to give into them by not keeping any sweets at home.

So, back to what I eat. Here's a typical day for me:

Breakfast: 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oatmeal (which *can* be cooked in the microwave) with either 1 cup of blueberries or 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds

Snack: One hard-boiled egg with salt

Snack: One peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, using one tablespoon of peanut butter. (This is my entire bread consumption for the day.)

Lunch: Four to five ounces of grilled chicken (or ham, or one chicken sausage, or several small turkey meatballs - whatever adds up to about 200 calories), with raw carrot sticks and raw red, green, orange, or yellow bell pepper - preferably a mix since the colors are so appealing

Snack: One large apple, or three clementines, or one banana, or one other similarly-sized portion of in-season fruit

Snack: 1/4 cup of almonds, pecans, walnuts, or mixed nuts. (I try to skip this one, but I always have it with me at work in case I need it.)

Dinner: It varies, but usually something like spicy vegetarian or chicken chili, pot pie, whole wheat pasta with green vegetables and sauce, turkey burgers and vegetables, turkey meat loaf and vegetables, or something else that I've cooked and frozen in advance so I can just grab it out of the freezer the morning I need it.

When I was losing weight, I stuck to 1500-1700 calories per day, bumping it up to 2500 once every week and a half to two weeks to accommodate dinners out with friends, bad PMS days, or days when I was just absolutely starving for no apparent reason. I also worked out a LOT, primarily running and weightlifting (thank you to the commenter who mentioned my arms, by the way. I was so gratified to see my guns come back so quickly!), with a little yoga thrown in when I had time.

Since then, nothing has changed other than the fact that I'm eating around 2000 to 2400 calories most days. Some days I go overboard, especially since I've been eating more sweets than I should over the past couple of weeks. (More on that in my next post.) When that happens, I usually pull back the next day to balance out my intake. My weight has been hovering between 138 and 142 but I'm spending more time at 142 than I'd like, so I'm actually going back to lower calories for the next couple of weeks to bring my average down to my original target, 140.

That's my food life. There are some other things I did to lose weight that made a major impact on my progress, and those are worth sharing as well. They were:

Stop hitting the candy bowls at work
There are many of them, and they are always full. When I start indulging, I can't stop. One of my best friends at work is a guy who perennially has ten pounds to lose, so we made a deal: No candy at work for either of us, and we each get to keep the other person honest. Believe it or not, it worked and is continuing to work.

Stop hitting the vending machine at work
I got into the habit of grabbing a 3:00 snack when I got tired, and it was always something nasty like chips or a candy bar. Like the candy bowl situation, I had to go cold turkey. I started bringing a hard-boiled egg to work every day and eating it relatively early, and my blood sugar and energy levels are much more stable now than they were before I started doing that.

Bring lunch to work every day
I've done this my whole adult life anyway. It's something I started because eating out is expensive and not that healthy relative to what I can make myself, so this was no hardship. Bringing breakfast and lunch from home and cooking dinner at home most of the time are healthy (the way I do it, anyway) and save a ton of money, both of which are so very good for my frugal heart.

I plan my food intake (including calories) in a spreadsheet one day in advance. Sometimes I need to make adjustments, but seeing the big picture helps me know where I have room to modify. Doing this even though I'm not officially losing weight anymore helps keep me on track.

Weigh in daily
I weigh myself every day, and I graph the results. It's a crazy-ass line, sometimes shooting up or down four pounds in a day. Seeing the fluctuations helps me not get discouraged because I know it'll change a day or two later. Several days of sustained increase also serve as an early-warning system, telling me that I need to pull back for a few days or risk gaining again.

It was hard to acknowledge that exercise alone wasn't enough to keep my weight where it should be, but for me weight maintenance falls into the realm of Failing to plan is planning to fail. I'm really enjoying looking and feeling better all the time, and it's not something I want to let go south again. Just for fun, here's a shot of where I am today, featuring really awful hair and a dress I bought on clearance for $34 to wear at an upcoming formal event:

What tips and techniques do you rely on to manage your weight?


Sunday, January 9, 2011


You know that January goals post I usually put together? Haven't done it yet. Still thinking about what I really want my goals to be as opposed to what I feel they should be. I think that's part of why they fell apart last year, aside from the major unexpected events that happened.

In other news, we have a stopgap solution of sorts cobbled together for my mom. Thank you so very, very much to everyone who responded with suggestions and concern. While I was out West, we got a booster for the toilet seat and had platforms built to go under the sofa and recliner so that my mom can get up more easily. I was so embarrassed: The workmen who custom-built the platforms refused to accept a cent of payment for either labor or materials. All we could do was send a thank-you card to their place of employment, and we did that right away.

We also worked very hard on the other piece of the puzzle, buy-in from my mom on making changes to help maintain independence. To that end, we got her to use a walker inside the house (which is a townhouse in a retirement community) instead of a cane when she's unsteady. She was in the habit of asking my sibling and I for an arm when her balance was off because she hated the walker, but we decided that instead of lending her an arm, we would bring her the walker instead. She didn't like that at first, but after realizing how much easier it is to get around, especially when she's alone, she got on board with the idea. She still won't use the walker outside the house, which is when she needs it the most, but we're working on it.

Similarly, we got my mom to wear the support stockings she's supposed to be wearing to keep her ankles from swelling, and the improvement was drastic. She doesn't like them, but she grudgingly acknowledges that they make a huge difference in lessening her ankle swelling, so she's putting them on most days even though it's a struggle. We also got her in the habit of putting her feet up in the recliner, although I'm not sure whether she's still doing that consistently or not.

Finally, my mom is supposed to be doing strengthening exercises for mobility, and she hadn't been doing them for quite a while. We got her in the habit of doing them while we were there by doing them with her, and now we follow up with her daily to make sure she still does them. She hates them because she feels they're too elementary, but they are appropriate given her age and physical condition.

Things we haven't succeeded in getting my mom to adopt thus far include Kegel exercises for bladder strengthening (she has no interest in these at all, despite her bladder weakness - which she's determined to ignore altogether at the moment), and an alert necklace in case she needs assistance and can't get to the phone. Since my mom had a couple of weeks of not having to use the phone to call either me or my sibling, she's suddenly having much more difficulty using it. As a result, we're hoping to get her to bend on the necklace next weekend.

It's not a great situation, but it's better - for now. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping nothing bad happens.

Going back to the goals part for just a second: Any suggestions from you on what goals I should have for 2011? I have a few in mind, but I'd like to hear what you think I should aim for. Thanks a bunch in advance.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

So long, 2010

2010 wasn't the greatest of years by a long shot, but it wasn't the worst it could have been, either. Since my goals for 2010 stopped being relevant a long time ago, I'll just do a quick summary of the major events that made up my 2010 story:

The one goal from 2010 that remained relevant all the way through was my savings goal of $63,000 in total. I managed to exceed this one, finishing out the year at $67,000. This includes my 401(k) and IRA contributions, as well as taxable investing. I probably could have come close to $70,000 had I not done some major crazypants, self-indulgent personal spending in November and December, but I'm really pleased to have beaten my target.

Net worth
Thanks to nearly 20% return in most of my investments this year, I achieved my secret net worth target of half a million dollars excluding real estate in November. A buoyant last six weeks in the stock market added just shy of of $25,000 to that figure, which is a great way to start my 2011 financial goals. I also felt confident enough to up my charitable giving and move some of my three years of cash reserves into bond funds. I still have fourteen months' worth of expenses stashed away in cash just in case, though.

I gained twelve pounds relatively early in the year, but I managed to lose it by the end of December. I know I'm up a little bit at the moment after overindulging this past week, so it's time to get back on the wagon and stay there.

I still have a job, and after foregoing raises due to the economy last year, this year it came with a 4.5% raise.

2011 Boston Marathon entry
Despite a disappointing fall marathon, my qualification from 2009 is still good. The Boston Marathon sold out in a record eight hours this year, so I feel pretty darn fortunate to have gotten my entry in.

2010 wasn't all good. Here's where things didn't go so well:

My mom's stroke
I really can't articulate how bad this was. She was lucky that it happened when and where it did, because she had the best possible shot at full recovery. While it looked like she did achieve full recovery early on, over time it became obvious that there is some permanent impairment. Add that to her existing health problems, and you have a situation where she is rapidly declining and not willing to make many changes to accommodate the new normal. (I'll cover this topic in a little more depth in a follow-up post.) She reminds me of my dad at the beginning of his last decline, and it's scary. All I can do is continue to do the best I can for her and hope it'll be enough.

Relationship tanked
I actually had to debate about whether this belongs in the highlight category or the lowlight one. It's a highlight in the sense that ending it was the right thing to do, and my friends were amazingly gentle and supportive when I needed it most. I don't think the ebbing of love and final extinction is anything other than a lowlight, though, so here it is.

Crappy marathon
It wasn't the race I trained for, but the photographic evidence sure shocked me into making some positive changes. I'm looking to redeem myself in Boston this year.

I mentioned a while ago that I want to take this blog in new directions, but I'm stalled on a plan. I also seem to have less and less time to write these days, to the point where I feel out of balance. I have a feeling that this is going to end up in my (late) 2011 goals somehow, but I haven't quite figured out how to make that happen.

On the whole, there was much more that was good about 2010 than not. I don't know what to expect for 2011, but I believe in creating our own luck. Let's make it a good one.

What were your highlights and lowlights for 2010?


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