You’ve been on a diet before, right?  And maybe it worked?  Or maybe it didn’t?  Or maybe it did, and then it didn’t?  Or perhaps – like me – you’ve had so many false starts that starting again elicits sniggers of “Funny one!” from your co-workers.

I had been half-heartedly trying to lose 10 pounds for about all of 2008.  I’d set the goal, post it, talk about it, and then apparently celebrate by eating something sweet and fattening.  And then having seconds.  And remarkably enough, that didn’t really work out for me.  Go figure.  The whole process never really got started on the right foot, and certainly never really stuck around at all.  If anything, I was gaining weight during this time, not even just maintaining.  Frustrating, but understandable – hard to lose weight when you eat everything in sight!

When I started this up again (always with renewed vigor for it!), deep down I didn’t really think it was going to be any different.  But this time, amazingly enough, it IS different.  Not only am I making progress, but it feels different, if that makes any sense.  I’m more motivated, depending less on will-power, and just know, somehow, that I’m going to meet (and exceed!) my goals.

So, what’s changed this time around?

  1. Timing
    Timing is everything, right?  That’s the saying, right?  In this case, I think it’s probably pretty on the mark.  First, it’s the off-season.  And not only the off-season, but an off-season where I’m not going to be seriously racing in the summer so I don’t have to worry about getting the swim/bike/run volume in that I’m used to.  Which means I’m able to focus on strength training and other things that are keeping me interested and motivated.  Ironically, being allowed less structured training has given me the opportunity to become MORE structured… just in a structure of my own whims and choosing.
     
  2. Attitude
    For whatever reason, ever since last fall, my attitude/mood/outlook, whatever you want to call it, has been really good.  I’m better able to let go of things that are outside my control and conversely actively influence the situations where I do exert some control.  And this serves to help me really concentrate on the positive and focus on what I want to become.  So many times, diets and weight loss attempts are negatively-based — you beat yourself up for not meeting goals or for being that undisciplined person who never eats healthy.  Instead I’m working to make it a positive thing … see how GOOD I feel when I eat healthy and exercise?
     
  3. The right information
    This has been a significant piece of the puzzle for me.  In the past month, I’ve been exposed to a lot of written and audio material that has changed the way I look at nutrition, building muscle, goal-setting and self-image.  More than that, it’s providing a framework – a process, really – for me to go about enacting this change that I desire.   Probably the most critical piece of information?  The one that’s so apparent it’s like, well, DUH… that getting healthy is almost entirely a mental task.  It’s all about visualization, positive affirmations, changing the way you think about yourself and react to situations so that healthy choices become automatic instead of a matter of willpower.  Sure, you have to put in the time and the sweat, but understanding the power of the mind in the process reveals the essence of how to succeed.
      
  4. Making peace with my commute
    This one probably sounds a little strange, but it was a big step for me.  In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy railing against my long commute — the long commute that I took on willingly by moving almost 3 years ago.  Blamed everything from lack of time to lack of sleep to my weight gain on it.  But, knowing that I’m not going to move and the commute isn’t changing, I’ve decided to knowingly change my attitude about it.  Commute time now is productive in one way or another. Either I’ve got an educational/motivational CD in, or I’m listening to music to pump me up for my workout or I’m actively visualizing my goals and mentally going over my game plan for the day.  
     
  5. Strength Training
    And not only hitting the weights (which I haven’t done consistently in years now), but hiring a personal trainer.  When I do strength training on my own, I get bored, de-motivated and don’t push myself all that hard.  I love – absolutely LOVE – when I’ve got someone forcing me to push beyond what I think is possible.  And I’m now really starting to see the fruits of this labor – whodda thunk I actually had MUSCLES hiding in those arms of mine??  There’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning, barely able to push myself out of bed because body parts are refusing to work, with a very attitude-y “ain’t no WAY, girlfriend…”.
     
  6. Food logging
    All of this wouldn’t be possible without me being a little anal about logging every bit of food that goes into my mouth.  I’ve always been a victim of “a bite here, a smidge there” until it adds up to some serious calories.  Now, I will usually – though, still not always! – THINK about what I’m going to eat and how it affects my daily nutritional bottom line instead of just mindlessly shoving it in my mouth. So much eating occurred without me even being hungry – just a thoughtless habit that wasn’t serving any purpose except to give me the satisfaction of feeling over-full.  Food logging also helped me to identify some links between what’s going on in my life and over-eating or unhealthy eating.  Turns out when I have a headache, I overeat.  Good to know!
     
  7. Written goals
    Huge.  HUGE.  I mentioned this in another point, but it deserved it’s own.  Not only thinking about where I wanted to be in the abstract, but spending time writing it out — both the long-term-pie-in-the-sky goal and the short term goals that would get me there.  I’ve become such a big fan of goal-making that I’ve put together my Master Goal List — I’ve got ground work laid for where I want to be in all aspects of my life.  Just writing it out and commiting to it is such a powerful motivational tool. And specifically with my getting lean project, I’ve done things like take some “before” photos and then taken the time to write out how those pictures make me feel, and then create a list of how I’m going to feel when I DO reach my goals.  Along with that, I’ll take pictures and measurements once a month to gauge my progress.  Sounds a little hokey, but I’m finding it rather empowering.

So, there’s my Big Seven list of why things seem to be working out for me this time around.  It’s not an inclusive list, nor is it applicable to everyone, but I think it’s been good for me to identify what’s working so far and what’s just getting in the way of me reaching my goals.  Even though things seem to be falling into place, I still struggle with the ups and downs and have to deal with not only life, but hormones and other fun things like that getting in the way.  Having this list grounds me and gives me something to fall back on when it seems more difficult than usual.

In the end, what I want is for making healthy choices to be my automatic response.  When the waitress asks, “Do you want fries with that?”, I want to respond “nah, don’t need ’em” without even thinking about it.  No negotiating, no feeling like I’m being deprived.  I want it to come to a point where I don’t even want it anymore and it holds no power over me.  Because, if you think about it, it’s silly to give food that kind of power, isn’t it?  

I spent the first week of January lusting after a beautiful bike in my local bike shop.  It truly was a work of art, fit me perfectly, and was like a belated Christmas gift, all wrapped up in carbon just for me.  With a big bow on top.  Well, I assume that if I asked really nicely, they’d put a bow on it for me.

I wanted it.  Really really REALLY wanted it.  Dream-about-it wanted it.  And had essentially made up my mind to get it.  Sure, it wasn’t the best time — I was originally going to wait for either my tax return or my yearly bonus to come through — but it was such a Great Deal.  And the lure of the Great Deal, especially when associated with this thing of carbon beauty, was irresistible.

I had one last thing to do before bringing her home — the test ride.  The day had warmed up beautifully, just for me (a balmy 35 degrees!), and I was packed and ready to go out to the bike shop to take care of this last detail.   And then, my world as I had known it, imploded.

I decided – for no reason that made any sense to me – not to get the bike.  In fact, not to even go to the store to test ride it.  In a sudden burst of practicality, I decided that I didn’t NEED a new bike.

Without any warning whatsoever, I had turned into… into…  my parents.  *gasp*  How could this have happened?

Perhaps the price tag passed a certain threshold.  Maybe it was knowing that it wouldn’t be just the bike – it’d be the bike and pedals and shoes and cool gear and possibly some race wheels… once I got started, I wasn’t sure where it would end.  

Maybe – somewhere along the line – I became an adult?

In the end, I opted to just kind of roll with this sudden onslaught of frugality.  Not analyze it too much, just move on (plus, it doesn’t look cool to be crying over a bike you never even owned).  And then I got another idea: maybe I would spend the month of January not buying even one thing that I didn’t need? 

Of course, with that said, I know that all I’m doing is pushing off all these things until February (lord help me!). But, it’s still an interesting experiment for me.  Being single and child-free, I’m lucky enough to have a certain amount of income left over every month after paying the mortgage, keeping utilities turned on, funding my retirement and paying off exorbinant library late fees (there are times when I really do think the librarians are going to come and repossess my car because I’m so delinquint!).  Which means that I can be a little frivolous in my spending habits. 

So – from frivolous to frugal in the snap of a fingers.  Easy schmeasy.  

The month is about halfway through, and I’ve learned a few things about myself.  Not only am I impulsive (actually, this part I already knew), but a lot of my disposable income is spent trying out new stuff, or buying items that have piqued my curiousity.  Case in point:  my massage place has recently begun offering hypnosis sessions.  They bill them as kind of a cross between a serious stress-reliever, and using them to implant positive affirmations in your subconscious.  Sounds totally cool to me, and I’d really like to try it out… but I suppose that’ll have to wait until February.  

Another want that’s been in the back of my head for awhile (excuse me for a moment while I blashpheme): I’d love to try out a MacBook.  Yes, I know – I’m a staunch PC user – always have been, possibly always will be – but I’ve got to admit that I’d love to get my hands on one and take it for a spin, see if the commercials with the cool, hip Mac dude are right.  But this want falls into the category of “it can wait”.  I’ve held back for awhile, and figure I can probably be good until the urge passes.

I guess what I’m trying to figure out with this experiment is how much of my buying is nothing but impulsive – that if I wait awhile, I’ll see how silly it would have been to get it (you know, like the MacBook.  Heehee!). Since I don’t always have to rein in my spending, I’m finding that having a self-imposed waiting period to buy something could be very useful – save me money in the long run.  Like – the hypnosis sessions?  The more I think about it, the more I really want to try it.  The MacBook?  Not as enthused about spending all that money just to try something out, especially when Windows 7 is now in beta and I can play with that instead.

I’m going to try and keep the Waiting Period theory around even past January.  Seems a reasonable, practical thing to do.  Maybe implement other measures:  for every piece of clothing/gear bought, something old has to go.  Or even refuse to buy anything new for awhile… if there’s something I need, see if I can find it on eBay or Craigslist instead.  I mean, if I’ve gone through the hassle of refinancing my mortgage (did you know you can get a 30 year loan at around 5% these days?) and going to a cheaper gym to save money (who needs towel service?), why not take it further?  Make it a game, see how much money I can save.  

You know, I’ve always wanted to retire by the time I was 50.  I want to travel and do all sorts of things that I don’t really have time for now.  It’s the same with being able to reach so many worthwhile goals — it all involves sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term happiness.  Especially when the short-term pleasure turns out to be something I can live without anyway.  Quite a concept.

 

 

Like a good chunk of America, I watch The Biggest Loser.  To me it’s this fascinating mix of not-quite-reality reality TV.  It’s also my guilty pleasure – I suppose it’s human nature to a certain extent, but there’s a part of me that likes seeing people who just by their existence, make me feel better about myself.  Does that make me an awful person?  In a lot of ways it’s like a car wreck – you can’t help but cringe, but you also can’t seem to look away.  On a side note, does anyone else eat ice cream or cookies while watching this show?  Shouldn’t we all be doing sit-ups or squats or something like that? 

Despite the fact that I religiously watch the show (even last season, with that nasty, vindictive cast they had going… booo Vicky….), there are a lot of things that totally annoy me.  First – the product placements.  How many times do we need to be reminded that it’s good to use a reusable water bottle?  Or chew gum instead of eating Big Macs?  Second – do we REALLY need a commercial break before every other weigh-in? And not only that, but when we come back from commercial, do we need to replay the last 3 minutes that happened before we left for the commercial?  I feel like it’s TiVo gone bad.  Or the movie Groundhog Day.  And does anyone think that the challenges just get weirder and weirder with every season?

I understand the message that the show is trying to get across: that no matter how bad it is, no matter how out of control your weight or life is, that you can change.  That with a little intelligence and a lot of hard work that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  And this is a great message – and inspiration, undoubtedly, to a large cross-section of America.

What I don’t appreciate are some of the myths perpetuated by the show.  These people certainly have a ton of weight to lose (almost literally!), but the numbers they present from week to week aren’t even close to being healthy after the first batch of water weight is gone.  Having gone through a weight loss process myself, I know most of the experts call for a gradual 1%-2% of weight loss per week, so you can’t convince me that what these people are doing is healthy.  Or if it isn’t unhealthy, I just don’t understand how that’s going to be sustainable long term. And what kind of message does that send to the rest of America who just might be inspired enough by this show to stop eating and get off their butts and do something?  That if they’re not losing 10 pounds a week that they’re somehow failing?

I mean, I get that the weight loss you see on the show isn’t typical.  Sometimes I assume that everyone must get that.  But, maybe there are some people who don’t?  Of course, I’m also the type of person who doesn’t believe that weight will come off unless you implement a practical diet and exercise routine, either.  Maybe I’m in the minority in a country that is always looking for the quick-fix. 

Oops.  Sorry, somehow I ended up here on my soapbox.  Not sure how that happened… <stepping down>

Anyway – this season should be interesting:  we’ve got the oldest and youngest ever, the heaviest man and the heaviest woman ever, and more health problems than we’ve ever seen.  I’m curious how they’re going to deal with all the different variables that’ll be going on.  I mean, how does Jillian be Jillian with a guy who had to be hospitalized even BEFORE she started administering beatings to him?

And this season maybe I’ll snack on lettuce or air and run in place while watching instead of downing ice cream and lounging on my couch.

Maybe.

 

You know how the old saying goes… the view only changes if you’re the lead dog.

I’m not actually sure what that has to do with anything that’s on my mind, but that’s what I was thinking about the other day.  The idea that no matter what you’re talking about or who you’re talking to, perspective is the key.

When I started this post, I was going to write about how a jog around the block seems impossible to the person still sitting on their couch, while a 3 mile run to me is usually just a warm-up to something longer. But that it certainly wasn’t always that way; I started out as that person eating snacks while watching TV. That I got to the point of being able to run a half marathon by starting out barely being able to run a quarter mile. That as I kept working, and kept pushing my boundaries beyond my comfort zone, my perspective changed. One mile became easy, then 3, then 6 and 10.  It’s all about perspective.  We’re all in different places, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t CHANGE your perspective.

And then, the other day, I found myself at a wake for a relative of mine.  She had died of pancreatic cancer.   Had been diagnosed a little over a year ago and had exceeded by months her doctor’s predictions of how long she had left.  She fought, fought hard.  She left behind a husband and two boys.

She was 46.

46.

She won’t see her sons graduate from high school or college, see them get married, see what they make of their lives.  She won’t grow old with her husband or be able to spoil her grandchildren.  

Talk about perspective.  Suddenly talking about running didn’t seem too important.

There are so many things that I think that I’ve got forever to accomplish.  And some of those things are important to me.  The lesson to be learned from all this?  Like the Nike ads, Just Do It.  I mean, if it was something you were intending on doing anyway, why not now?  Right now.  This minute, this second.  Make the decision, make the committment.  Make your life what you want it to be.

All the cliche things are so true:  tell the people in your life that are important to you that you love and appreciate them. Mend fences where possible.  Let go otherwise.  Take the time to enjoy each moment.  Fill your life with the things you love.  Set goals, reach your dreams.  Laugh.  Lots.  Realize that everything you do impacts the world, so make sure your energy is positive and uplifting.  Forgive others.  More importantly, forgive yourself. Be accountable.  Be amazed with all the wonders that surround you.

Love life.

And appreciate all the time you’re given and live with a sense of urgency, because you never know what moment might be your last.

Perspective.

Welcome to 2009!  Time for starting new things, resolutions and all that jazz, right?

But before plunging headlong into the new year, a quick training look back on 2008…

135hr 38m 36s on my bike, whizzing through 2,045 miles
123hr 46m 31s stomping the pavement in my running shoes, covering 758 miles
53hr 54m 45s flailing in the water, not drowning through 119,186 meters (which is over 74 miles!)

That’s what I spent my free time on.  Plus almost 23 hours of softball, 31 hours of bowling and 21 hours of strength training.  Whew.  Makes me tired just thinking about it!  More than 387 hours of activity.  Averaged a little over an hour of something or other every day of the year, no holidays or vacation days, thankyouverymuch.

The funny thing is, I’m friends with so many type-A, really competitive and awesome triathletes, that my numbers don’t even compare to theirs.  I’m the group slacker, if you can believe it.

On a tangent, college was much the same way.  I was always a good student – mostly A’s without having to work TOO awfully hard at it.  So, who did I hang out with?  Friends who had ONE non-A tarnish their 4 years. Friends who had perfect 4.0 GPAs.  Friends who didn’t always seem to understand that it was WAY more important to go out and shoot pool and hang out than it was to do homework or study.

So, I guess I have a history of surrounding myself with people who enjoy the kind of success that I admire and am completely impressed with, but not success to which I aspire  (well, I guess I would love the kind of success if I didn’t have to do the whole “earn it” part… you know, like winning a Success Lottery…!)

Anyway.. back to me being a slacker… it’s always bothered me a little that I never seemed to want to do that extra work, or make that extra sacrifice to accomplish these kinds of successes.  Made me feel lazy.  And I spent a lot of time jokingly telling people that I was a lazy person trapped in the body of an athelete and just needed to figure a way out.

And then – my AHA! moment – I’m not lazy!  Huh?  See, I’m being 100% honest when I say that it really was a bit of a revelation when I figured out that I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing to be happy. Hmm. So – different things make different people satisfied and content?  Shocker.  But – to me it was. There was a part of me that thought that if I were friends with people who all wanted to run fast or do Ironmans or anything like that, that I was just lazy for not wanting to put in the work to get there myself.

Instead, I can be happy with doing enough training to keep me in shape (because that makes me happy) so I have time in my life for other things (activities that make me happy) without feeling stressed or overwhelmed by thinking that I’m not living up to expectations (which, in turn – let’s say it together! – makes me happy!).

This shift in mindset has been remarkable for me.  It’s not that I was lazy, it was just that I didn’t want to put energy into things that I didn’t really want to attain.  Big difference!  Certainly, I achieved many things over the last several years that prove that I’m not lazy — lazy people don’t run marathons or do half ironmans.  For that matter, my guess is that most lazy people don’t have 387 hours of activity in 2008 under their belt.  Proof positive, right there.  The “lazy” was my belief, but not reality.

I feel like I’ve been wandering a little in this post, but back to the point:  fresh starts and resolutions.  As a newly reinvented focused and motivated and not at all lazy person, this year, I have one over-riding goal:  to have FUN.  Lots of it.  In all forms.  As often as possible.  I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time doing things that were rewarding and satisfying to a degree, but somewhere along the line it all became something less than the fun it started out as.  So yea, on the 2009 agenda – FUN (you know, in all capital letters like that, too).

Whatever I do, it needs to satisfy one criteria:  is it something I WANT to do, or something I feel I ought to do?  As long as it’s the former, we’re good to go.  So, what’s my idea of fun?

Fun to me is going to be recreating both the outside and inside me.  The outside me?  Ripped and lean and strong.  In shape, confident in my abilites, not letting the physical pounds weigh me down.  The inside me? Positive, forward-thinking, organized and focused on making these changes permanent.  Easy enough, right? I have a very clear vision of the destination, all that’s left is the journey there.

And now, excuse me while I get my focused and motivated butt off my couch, and take the first step towards my goal.