Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: Choose to Lose

After all my thinky thoughts on figuring out what to do about weight loss, I knew I had to come up with a plan of some sort that was different from what I've been doing for the last few years. I realize that every diet in some way does the same thing:  cuts back on intake.  In my opinion, the real trick is finding a way to do that, that is livable, i.e. the stereotypical "lifestyle" change.

I had wanted to read Chris Powell’s book for some time and at one time tried the Kindle version, but didn’t like how the various charts would not re-size so I returned it for a refund.  It has steadfastly remained as a hard cover, which I have no problem with except for its hard cover price.  Even when he released his second book last year, this one was not released in soft cover.  I’d been waiting for that, until one day I came across the opportunity to buy the hard cover book for $7.99 – which is less than what the soft cover will be when it finally comes out in December.

This book intrigued me in the first place because it is all about calorie AND carbohydrate cycling, both of which have been suggested to me as possibilities for getting my metabolism going.

The basic premise is this:  your week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday.  One day you eat high carb/1500 calories (for women), the next day you eat low carb/1200 calories and you get a choice of one free day per week/2400 calories (he suggests Sunday) or 3 free meals per week on your high carb days.

He also has exercises to do on low carb days (3x per week) called Shapers.  They are basically sets of situps, pushups and squats that are done in various formations and sets and only take about 10-15 minutes a day.  He also says at least 30 minutes of cardio should be done 6 days a week with one full rest day (he suggests Sunday).

The minute I began to read the book and see his food lists, I knew I was going to try it.  The  way he categorizes foods are really similar to how I think of them:  for example, fruits, root vegetables, beans, starchy vegetables like peas, bread, and grains such as quinoa, rice, pasta, couscous, oatmeal, etc. are carbohydrates – green and other vegetables are not!  Green vegetables are “free” in that if you find yourself hungry and want to munch on a green pepper, go right ahead.  Some dairy, like cottage cheese and non-fat Greek yogurt are protein, while other, like low-fat cheeses, are considered a fat.  It just made sense to me and I think it all goes back to the Weight Watchers plan I did years ago where you chose selections out of food groups.

High carb days are defined as eating a protein, a carbohydrate, and a couple handfuls of vegetables for each meal.  Low carb days are defined as eating a protein, a fat, and a couple handfuls of vegetables for each meal.  On both types of days, breakfast is supposed to be a protein and a carbohydrate and all meals are eaten 5 times a day – every 3 hours.  So if you eat your first meal at 7 you’d eat again at 10, 1, 4, and 7. 

My biggest adjustment was probably trying to take the 1500 or 1200 calories and break it down into five 300 or 250 calorie meals and eating them rather than eating 3 larger meals and 1-2 small snacks. My second biggest adjustment was the couple handfuls of vegetables which didn’t seem to work sometimes. After a couple of days I really started getting the hang of  it and it was fun challenging myself on how to come up with various combinations so I wasn’t just sitting and eating chicken breasts with rice or chicken breast with a piece of cheese melted on it.

There are a few recipes and ideas included in the book - but not very many and that is probably the one criticism I have of it. A lot of people just like to be told what to eat though so I think it would have helped to have a few more recipes included. I like to cook and work with food so I found it easy (once I got the hang of the plan) to start coming up with new ideas and combinations as well as figuring out how the things I currently eat - like Lori's Banana Bread Breakfast Casserole - would fit into this plan.  

Chris suggests that you follow this plan as closely as possible for three weeks and then take what he calls a slingshot week where you eat High Carb every day for the full week.  He says it resets your metabolism again and gets it ready for the next round.

What I love:
  • The 10 minute shapers in the morning.  I hate strength training so this was perfect to get me to do a little something at least 3 times a week, which supplemented the couple of other routines I was doing perfectly.
  • The free day, which I preferred over three free meals.  Whenever I am in weight loss mode, I always take one free eating day per week.  It was nice not to think about whether I should be eating what combination and just eat anything I wanted in any combination!  Plus I got to have a cocktail!
  • The rest day from exercise.  I am a firm believer in a rest day and find them good for me as I don't want to get into obsessive exercise mode "because I will lose weight faster."
  • The food lists and how food is categorized, which made complete sense to me.
  • The fact that the food plan emphasizes whole foods, not processed crap.
  • The fact that what you eat can be as simple or as fancy as you want.
  • The calorie guidelines which are perfectly reasonable.
What I would change:
  • Chris uses hand measurements to note portion sizes:  a fat portion is the size of your thumb.  Since he wants people to also sort of keep track of how many calories they are taking in, I think it would have been better to say that a fat was a Tablespoon or an ounce for example.  He does have some 100 calorie charts in another chapter but I still feel it could have been more definitive
  • More recipes/meal idea/food combinations in the book.
  • I’m so not a fan of artificial sweeteners, not even Truvia, which is the one he suggests. 
  • Better clarification on what he expects for "cardio."  For example, with someone who hasn’t exercised, a walk could qualify.  For a runner like me, a walk is more like active recovery.
 What I’ve done different:
  • I was already doing a bit more cardio than he suggests so I kept that up. Why go backward?
  • Due to my wakeup time (4am), having to take thyroid meds prior to eating, and morning exercise, I did not start eating within 30 minutes of waking up.  I pretty much did the 7-10-1-4-7 cycle most days.
  • If I wanted to, I ate a fat with breakfast even though it’s not called for in the plan. It didn’t seem to hurt my calorie totals for the most part and it made my breakfast more enjoyable.
  • I didn’t always eat the two handfuls of vegetables.  I’m sorry but if I’m eating yogurt and fruit, I don’t want a veggie!
  • Sometimes I cheated and bought the pre-blended Greek yogurt and fruit.  It was just easier.
  • I also cheated by using a very lean, low sodium ham for some of my salad days.  (Ham isn’t included on the protein list.)  There were a couple of other food "cheats" too but I feel like I'm knowledgeable enough to know where to hold 'em and know where to fold 'em.
  • Added sugars are a no-no (see artificial sweeteners, above) but I don’t use a lot of sugar in the first place, so if I had a little bit (say in my pre-blended Greek yogurt/fruit), I didn’t care.
  • Sometimes, I just couldn’t make the calories; other times I ate a little too many.  (I’m talking 100 calories or less.)
  • I ran my week so that Saturday was my free day.  That’s the best day for me as it’s the day Mr. Helen and I have off together and when we tend to indulge with a dessert or go out to eat with friends.  
In summary, I would highly recommend this book and plan.  To me, it takes the common sense of exercise and reduction of calories but makes it doable. When I was craving some rice for dinner on a low carb day, I knew I could have it the very next day so it make it easy to stick to. Believe me I did not do this perfectly but I didn’t beat myself up about that either!

Plus, of course the results I'm getting.  While I had an exciting six pound weight loss in the very first week - which astonished me since my overall calories were about the same as what I'd been doing - what I've been looking for is small but steady and sustainable weight loss and that seems to be what is happening for me with this plan.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving It the Old College Try

The Old College Try (from Wiktionary)

1.    (idiomatic) A vigorouscommitted attempt or effort . [quotations ▼]

Usage notes
  • Often used in the expression give it the old college try.
See also
For a few months now I have been doing a lot of thinking about where to go from here.  I'm not sure I can even give a good explanation as to how conflicted I have felt about weight loss, health, and fitness over the last 18 months. Last year's foot fractures set me so far back, I wasn't sure I'd ever see the forest for the trees again.  But then we had our spectacular Grand Canyon vacation which gave me a bit of a reset, especially mentally. 
By the end of May, I was able to run a bit without constant foot pain and told many friends and family that I finally felt like I was going to get it together once and for all.  But as the saying goes, “Announcing your plans is a good way to hear god laugh.”  On Memorial Day on my third run, I pulled my hamstring right where it connects all the way at the top (red arrow):
I wasn't even running hard or fast but was pushing up a hill when I felt it pull. At first it was sort of uncomfortable but within hours I was miserable. The pain was so deep, it was near impossible to treat it. I  tried to roll it and stretch it too but that made it hurt more.  Then I tried sitting on ice packs but that just made my butt cold. Finally, I did some research and basically everything I read said go to physical therapy and leave it alone - i.e., rest.  It should take about 4-6 weeks to heal, unless you've torn it.

NOOOOOOOOOO!  is what was screaming through my head.  So I was faced with a choice to just quit running - AGAIN - or try to work through it.  I didn't have the money to spend on PT because Mr. Helen was sequestered (forced to take off 1 unpaid day a week) and I really didn't want to stop running when I was just getting my groove back.  In the end, my solution was to run easy and walk every single hill from June to October. It took so long to heal I figured it probably was slightly torn.  I had a chance to ask our orthopedist about it and he said pulls there are almost always tears - and he couldn't believe I was self-treating.  It started feeling better around the beginning of October at which time I began to stretch it very lightly at the end of each run.  As of today I'd say I'm about 98% healed - I only feel it very occasionally and it's not super sore.

In June, having decided that I could exercise, even if it wasn't as hard as I wanted to, it was time to once again tackle weight loss.  I gained 25 pounds with my broken foot because, not only was I nearly sedentary, I felt sorry for myself and I chose not to control my food.  I heard about DietBet and decided to solicit a group of close friends to see if anyone would do it with me.  We did and I got 10 pounds off during that first bet.  I did another and lost another 8 pounds.... so close.  I joined a third bet (that I didn't run and in fact didn't know a soul in it) and my weight loss just stopped.  It seemed no matter what I did, the lbs. just wouldn't budge, until they started creeping upwards a bit.  Guess what that does to me, knowing that I'm overweight and have several more pounds to lose?  Make me want to try harder?  NOPE. It made me give up and question why I even keep trying.  So, for about 6 weeks, I did nothing other than my exercise.   I just ate and drank and yep, felt my pants getting tighter.  I was completely stressed out too:  Mr. Helen's unpaid day off turned into him being completely furloughed when the government shut down.  In the midst of that, he tore his meniscus and had to have surgery.  

All the while this was going on I had many thoughts going through my head about health and fitness and weight loss, including just stopping:
  • I don't want to be my mother - i.e., 75 years old and STILL dieting.
  • I don't want to be obsessed/consumed with every bite of food that goes in my mouth.
  • I've spent so much time and energy trying to prove wrong the doctor who told me I'd never get back to my pre-thyroid weight, that I'm exhausted from it all.
  • I'm sick and tired of counting, counting, counting.
  • I'm tired of agonizing over my body and the shape that it is or isn't in.
  • I don't want to be defined by a scale.
  • I do want to live a full and happy life and can't do that if I'm so consumed all the time
  • I do want to be an active and more social participant in life:  i.e., I want to accept invitations to go for lunch and not be worried about what I might have to eat
  • I do want to be my best healthy self - and maybe that isn't the number on the scale that I've thought for years
  • I do want to be happy and content because if I am then my life, in general, is peaceful no matter what else is swirling around me
The first decision I made was to give weight loss one more try.  I owe that to myself, mostly because if I'm about 25 pounds less than I weigh right now, I feel a lot better.  So it's more about health and feeling better than the damn number. The second decision I made was to change my goal weight.  The goal weight I am aiming for is seriously 20 pounds more than it was even just a couple years ago.  But here's the thing, if I lose these 25 pounds, I know that I am pretty happy at that size (not weight, but size).  I am able to easily maintain it (uh, well, less a broken foot I guess) and I'm also able to partipate in social events that might have food involved without obsessing. (Disclaimer: that's not to say that if I get there I might not try to lose a bit more - but for now I'm taking the pressure off.) The third decision I made was to take a broader look at how I eat - not what I eat - and work on finding a plan that would incorporate that and help me get started with some real and steady weight loss.  

I've been working on these things for a few weeks now and am having some success.  I find it ironic that all of this seems to be falling into place for me just as the holidays come into play, but I guess that's life isn't it?  It's just always something.  It seems there's no time like the present to give it the old college try!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Ten

10.  Much to my surprise, several of the recipes I've shared have ended up on Pinterest.  Which makes me wonder if anyone ever actually makes them? Believe it or not, I often come to my own Recipe tab at the top of the page to find a recipe!

9.  Life feels peaceful and hopeful right now and this is quite unusual for me this time of year.  I think it might have something to do with the longer than normal and warmer fall season we've had.  I mean, I literally just cleared the flowers and herbs off the patio on November 1st!  But then it got cold.

8. We had two full on days of winter last week:  20-ish with wind chills in the teens overnight and not even hitting 40 during the day.  I dragged out my winter running gear but I wasn't cheerful about it.

7.  Speaking of running gear, I have a secret/trick I'll share.  In the winter, my shirts are covered up by a jacket or vest when I run, so I don't care that much about them being super cute. I also like them to be long enough so that the bottom of the vest or jacket doesn't grab the shirt and pull it up. So, I often check in the men's section at TJ Maxx or Marshall's because I have found that the men's technical wicking stuff is anywhere from $5-$10 less than womens!  I can buy a men's medium and they fit exactly the way I like - the length being almost to the bottom of my hips.  Last week I got 2 new shirts for $9.99 each!

6.  I also got a new running vest from LL Bean.  Man do I love this thing.  It's a woman's cut but it's long enough (lol!), it's just the right weight for the 40-50 degree temps I usually wear it in, and it has pockets which are big enough to hold the water bottle from my Fuel Belt. That means on cooler days when I don't need as much water during a run I don't have to wear my whole belt and can just throw one bottle in the pocket.  I love it so much, I've put the jacket version on my Christmas wish list.

5.  I read this in an article last week and thought it was really interesting as I've always known that the calories burned number on machines are quite inflated.  If you want to calculate your actual calories burned on a treadmill use these formulas: For running (5 mph and higher): Total calories burned per mile = .75 x body weight (in pounds); net calories burned per mile = .63 x weight. For walking (3 to 4 mph): Total calories burned per mile = .53 x body weight; net calories burned per mile = .30 x weight.

4. Did you see this video?  This woman lost hundreds of pounds in her 60's!  And conquered her demons to boot.

3.  I've recently read a couple of books with eating plans for losing weight (diet books? - I hate that term) and will be reviewing one of them Friday.  Not because I've been paid to do so, just because I want to :)

2. I am going to run a $25 DietBet from November 30th to December 27th.  If you haven't heard of DietBet, check it out. Basically how it works is that you weigh in and bet a dollar amount that you can lose 4% of your starting weight in 28 days. You can use any plan you want, as this is more social and for accountability - with the added motivation of not losing your money. It will be a closed bet, meaning you have to have an invitation to join.  If you'd like to join me, email me at doing a 180 at gmail dot com (put that all together in the usual way) and I'll send you the invite link once I have it set up.

1.  Maybe because Thanksgiving is falling a little bit later this year I'm not minding the occasional Christmas song I've been hearing the last few days.  I bid you adieu with a little laugh out loud holiday cheer!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fall Comfort Food: Braciole!

We are in full swing fall/winter eating.  In the past couple of weeks as the days have shortened and the temperatures have dropped I've made Chicken Cordon Bleu, Beef Pot Roast and other similar hearty dishes.

Mr. Helen loves Italian food and I also tend to make a lot of spaghetti and meatballs but once in a while I change it up and make Braciole.  Braciole (pronounced bra-zhole) can be done several ways but ultimately, it's always a stuffed beef roll simmered in red sauce (i.e. Italian gravy) and served with a starch: usually polenta, pasta or potato.

What you'll need to make it is either thin cut top round steak (my grocery store does one specifically for braciole) or some people do a whole flank steak.  You fill that with cheese and seasoned breadcrumbs and then cook it in your favorite marinara sauce.  It really is an easy and delicious meal.

I apologize in advance that I never got a photo of a piece of the cooked braciole plated.  I guess I'll have to edit this post next time I make it.


24 oz. thin sliced top round (6 pieces)
3 oz. extra sharp provolone cheese
1/2 cup dried seasoned bread crumbs (I use these)
1 clove garlic, pressed
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 T olive oil
3-4 cups marinara sauce (use your favorite, I make my own)

In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, grated Romano cheese and the garlic clove, set aside.

Cut the provolone into 6 "sticks."

Lay out one piece of the meat and sprinkle 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the bread crumbs over the top. Lay one of the cheese sticks at the end and roll up.  Secure the roll with toothpicks.  Repeat until all rolls are done.

Heat 1 T olive oil in a large non-stick skillet.  Add rolls and brown them.  This is not to cook them, just to brown them.

Put the browned rolls in a casserole dish and cover with the Marinara sauce.  Cook covered for 1 1/2 hours in a 350 degree oven.  Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes.

Serve with your favorite starch and a vegetable.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Spot On.

I saw one of those silly "which character are you like" quizzes and took it.  This one was based on Peanuts characters.  I have to say, I was pretty stunned at the results... this is exactly how those who know me best describe me.  Pretty crazy.  Mr. Helen laughed his head off when I showed it to him... but he loves me anyway.

It's a tie!

You are part Lucy van Pelt. You know what you want and you know how to get it, even if it means pulling the football away. Your forwardness sometimes comes off as aggression, and you have some work to do in the sensitivity department.
You are part Schroeder. You are brilliant, ambitious, and brooding; you tackle tasks with extreme focus. People don't always interest you as much as other pursuits, though, so you can come off as aloof.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Not the Usual Tuesday Ten

Nobody is harder on me than me.  I know this and those really close to me know it as well.  As regular readers know I've been doing some thinking lately about changing some things and accepting some things.  My sister sent me a link to a Tumblr... this one really hit home:


Visit this link to see the other 9.  There's one (or more) there for you too, I just know it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Soul Food: Sometimes It's Not About Eating

Sunday morning came bright and clear with evidence that it had rained a bit overnight.  At this point we need some rain but I wouldn't mind if it only rained overnight.

I wanted to visit the Arboretum which I haven't been to in years.  Just one of those situations where you take for granted the very things that are right where you live.  Located in the midst of my city, it is owned and maintained by the Connecticut College, but more importantly it's 750 protected acres of woodlands, trails, and natural habitat.

I decided that I would walk there as I knew it was only about a mile from my house.  This walk, while definitely burning some calories, was not being taken for speed and calorie burn, but rather to get some sun on my face and enjoy the beauty of the day. It was gorgeous!

I fueled up for my walk with some Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal: 1/3 cup dry oats cooked in 2/3 cups water (I do mine in the microwave at 50% power for 5 mins.)  Stir in 1/2 cup pumpkin, 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. vanilla.  Warm up for about 1 minute in the microwave then sprinkle on 2 tsp. brown sugar and add a splash of milk!

Remember the highway entrance with the pretty trees from other day?  This is just past that.  I often run and walk along here simply because the sidewalk is in really great shape!

See the two types of berries here?  So many berries, it's like the trees are making bird food for the winter.

I have no idea what this is but I thought it was really cool looking.

I turned the corner and saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was a group of wild turkeys - gobble gobble!

This giant tree was fascinating.  You know why...?

 It's actually a holly bush! Here's a closeup.

Almost there.  This is Harkness Chapel on the college campus.  This is the same college that did the Oreo cookie study.

Here we are!  It was exactly 1.15 miles from the end of my street to the entrance of the Arboretum.

Lots of folks had the same idea as I did.  And it turned out there was actually a formal walking tour being given by the Arboretum director.

When you go in there are several signs with rules and also a stand with a brochure that has a self-guided tour.  The reason you can't jog or bike is because it packs the dirt down in such a way that it changes the conditions of the soil and therefore what will and will not grow.

When you get in, this is the main path that leads down to the beautiful pond.  Isn't it gorgeous?  Of course students come here for peace and quiet and sometimes even to study.

I started walking this way straight to the pond first as I really had no idea where I was going.

These grapevine stands are on either side of a small platform.  This area is considered the outdoor theater area and we have a local group who usually does a limited run of a Shakespeare play here in the summer.

Once in this area there are a half dozen choices of paths and trails to follow so I just picked one and went with it.  The terrain changed from gravel trail to a leaf covered path in the midst of the forest.

Occasionally you see a tree or bush with markings and there are lots of places with small benches where you can stop and take in the beauty.

I came upon this building as I was walking and when I got home did some research to find out it's Buck Lodge. In 1932, the parents of Frances Buck gave her a $2,000 graduation gift as a reward for not smoking. She donated the money to the College to create the first Outdoor Theater, and her father was so pleased that he gave more funds to build and maintain the lodge for future students. It is used for college events.

As I walked back towards the entrance, I saw a path that looked interesting so I decided to see where it went.  Suddenly I came upon this!

It was a door to the Wildflower Garden!  I couldn't resist going in though I knew there wouldn't be anything in there now (note to self: MUST return in spring/summer).  The area itself was very neat and by staying on the path I came to a door on the other side, with a wooden walkway.  I felt like I was on such an adventure.

I followed the walkway and came upon a clearing with a display of plants and seating in the round right close to the pond!

Amongst some of the plants I found this really cool looking cactus thing.  I didn't even know we could grow cactus in Connecticut.

I walked back by the pond and back out to the road and home.  When I got to the bottom of my street, I'd managed to walk 4 miles total.  But so much more than the walk, sometimes these types of things are meant to feed the mind and soul and the exercise is just a bonus.