Saturday, April 30, 2011

String theory redux

On the four-month anniversary of my first Program meeting, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out the extra-large workout shorts I’d bought a couple of years before. They would fit, of course. They’re elastic. Stretchy from non-binding waistband to knee-kissing hem.

Yeah, but will my iPod weigh them down? the innocent angel voice in my head wondered.

In your dreams, sweetheart. The Lucifer voice was scathing.

I was getting ready to truffle to the gym for a resistance workout. My favourite bra, my no-longer-skin-tight technical t-shirt, the shorts, the double-layer socks to protect my blister-prone feet.

I clipped my iPod Nano to the waistband of my shorts and snugged up my trail runners. It was just after four, a good half-hour before sunset even in the depth of a Pacific Northwest winter, and still full daylight outside. That was my first mistake.

No, my second.

The first error was thinking like 165-pound Rachel. Or even 150-pound Rachel. 

I started with my usual slower-than-slow jog to get my knees and lungs acquainted with the concept of motion and before I’d gone a block, my shorts were sliding down my hips like Britt Janyk on hard-packed snow. My breasts were wandering around inside my bra like Indiana Jones in the cave.

I had to drop to a walk while I unhooked the iPod and clutched both it and my waistband in one hand while with the other I stuffed my shirts inside my shorts, trying to halt the fall while avoiding the eyes of the people behind the wheels of passing pickups.

When I released my grip on my clothes and tentatively began to trot again, part of my brain monitored the position of my shorts while my whole frontal lobe dedicated itself to figuring out how I was going to do dumbbell presses on the ball without sliding sideways out of my now-cavernous bra. 

Remember Kim Basinger’s speech when she won the Oscar? “Dreams do come true,” she said.

And I say, “Be careful what you wish for,” because I had yet another decision to make.

Would I suck it up and spring for new shorts? Or just ask Fodder for the loan of his string?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cupcakes for Earth

I know I’ve said that I’m not interested in counting anything, but I broke my own rule lately. I wasn’t calculating calories (heavens no!) but out of curiosity I totted up how many kilometers I walked or cycled for meetings or errands in the month leading up to Earth Day.

Then I did a little Googlesearch, hauled out my solar-powered calculator and waited for a sunny day.

Counting only trips that had a specific destination, I discovered that me, my muscles, and Miss Jean Brodie (my bike, also in her prime) kept 40 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. In a month.

If I keep it up all year, that could add up (if I’ve done the math right) to almost half a metric tonne of greenhouse gases that me and my car didn’t send skyward.

I mean, I’m not saving the world but I’m also not making things worse, and that feels good.
And the fact that all that activity – which I enjoy, by the way – keeps a cupcake or three off my tail? 

Well, I call that travel bonus points.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 10

Hello! Happy Spring to all of us!

It feels so good to have more hours of daylight, and more sunshine (which is sadly lacking through most Wet Coast winters), and the flowers – oh, the colours and scents of spring!

I went on a bike ride around some Skagit Valley tulip fields in Washington State the weekend before last – the vivid hues, fresh air, and blizzard of migrating snow geese were a tonic for my spirit.

What have you done that gave you a boost lately?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Of trufflers

A week or two after we got home from France, the Saint and I set out for our local recreation centre where I have a gym membership and he swims laps once in a while. We turned from our little lane onto the street, which is quite a main artery in our part of town, and I confessed that I was still thinking about those Adidas-clad Parisians and their Sunday trot.

“I could totally do that,” I decided.

I was remarkably confident for someone who has always hated running. It burns my lungs, not to mention my quads, and I was always the slowest of the slow, even in my slimmer teenage years when a nice half-mile run was the warm-up of choice for every PE teacher.

In spite of that unhappy running-baggage, I broke out of my walk with the Saint that day, and it felt good. I generated slightly more forward momentum than a stroll without the awkward lumbering jolt that is my usual gait when I try to go faster than a walk. It was only a shuffly version of a trot, really, and so much easier than trying to emulate, say, Denise McHale.

The Saint was still walking and he was keeping up with me just fine. He had, however, started to laugh.

“It’s oddly entertaining,” he said, eyeing me. “And yet embarrassing.”

Shuffle-trotting beside him, I grinned.

I’m still surprised that I was amused rather than daunted. I honestly didn’t care that the SUV drivers zooming past might think I’m a dork.

The Saint couldn’t stop laughing so he resorted to begging. “Please,” he pleaded. “Stop.”

I did and we walked the rest of the way together.

But the next time I started for the gym, I was by myself. Feeling adventurous, I broke out of a walk and into the Parisian shuffle, and kept it up the whole way. All of…well, I assume it took me less than the 20 minutes it takes to walk the distance. I hope.

But the time isn’t really the point. Nor is the fact that I’m quite certain I looked goofy. The fact is, I was doing something I had never been able to do before – I was moving faster than a walk, on my own two feet, and it felt great. No searing lungs, no burning thighs.

I was stoked.

At the gym, I did my usual workout: 20 minutes on the arc trainer, which looks like a 21st-century version of some Hieronymus Bosch poorhouse machine, then lifted and pressed various weights while perched on a ball or poised on one foot, then trotted ever so slowly home again.

When the Saint came in from work, I  poured him a glass of wine and as I handed it over, told him, “I did the French trot to the gym!”

He raised the Cab-Merlot in a toast to my determination and nerve. “Good for you!”

“And,” I clinked my glass against his, “I figured out what it’s called.”

He sipped, waiting.

“It’s not really a trot,” I explained.

He agreed.

“It’s actually quite shuffly.”


“And it is French.”


“It’s truffling.”

And he toasted me again for being brilliant. Probably, if the truth were known, he was also silently praying that I never make him witness it again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Take it off and keep it off!

I tried – goodness, how I tried – to burn off my muffin top by exercising more and harder and longer, but no matter how many times I climbed the virtual Matterhorn at the gym, the muffin stayed with me.

It was only when I combined activity with a change in my eating habits that the pounds began to disappear.

So I was already a convert when Dr David Docherty, professor emeritus of the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education at the University of Victoria, said in a recent public lecture that combining activity with changes in diet is more effective for weight loss than exercise alone.

Dr Docherty’s source was a recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. DJ Macfarlane and GN Thomas surveyed a jumbo pack of recent weight-loss studies that yielded, among many other great tidbits, this morsel: While there’s conflicting evidence on the early weight-loss benefits of combining exercise with reduced calories, the longer-term benefits for losing weight and keeping it off are clearer.

You see, only 30 percent of participants in weight-management programs successfully maintain their losses for more than five years and that’s not good enough for me. I don’t want to have to shake off the same ten or 20 or 30 pounds again and again. That’s way too much work.

So here’s the good news.

“Over longer periods (>1 year),” write Macfarlane and Thomas, “the benefits of adding exercise to dietary restrictions seems unequivocal.”

This is good news for several reasons. For one thing, exercise adds health benefits far beyond those gained by only ditching the pounds. And for another, it’s so very heartening to only have to lose the weight once.

I mean, who wants to keep losing those same ten pounds over and over? Not me!

If it means I can keep buttoning my comfy old jeans, I’ll happily skip a muffin or two and add a few brisk walks to my week!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 9

Physical inactivity is as dangerous to your health as smoking.

You read that right. According to David Docherty, professor emeritus of the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education at the University of Victoria, sitting on our duffs is a high risk factor and one of the strongest predictors of mortality.

The upshot? Burn 1000 calories a week through activity and you’ll improve your triglyceride level by 85%. You’ll decrease cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Prevent or delay high blood pressure. Decrease your risk of macular degeneration. And even retain your brain power.

“It doesn’t have to be sweaty and intense [exercise],” Docherty says. “A moderate activity like walking is very beneficial.”

The 1,000-calorie guideline is based on the more-scientific recommendation that we burn 3 to 4 calories per kilogram of body weight per day.

So at 62 kilograms, I can work off 186 calories a day to help keep my arteries clear and my bones and muscles strong enough to support me. That’s perhaps a walk to the library a couple of kilometers away.
Or a vigorous bike ride to a meeting across town one day, and to the farm market another, with a few strolls in between. Or, if you prefer, add up how much and how vigorously you move when you vacuum or rake leaves.

The thousand-calories-a-week guideline is the basis for all the other suggestions out there: 20 minutes three times a week (if your activity is vigorous), 30 minutes five or six times a week (if your activity is gentler), 10,000 steps…. They all come from the same foundation.

Fodder exceeds his 1000-calorie minimum on the rowing machine and treadmill at the gym, and on his recreational walks along leafy paths or the waterfront. The Saint gets his basic grand running up and down the stairs to and from the laundry room, washing the car, and so on.

This is not counting calories to lose weight, mind you. This is simply the basic amount of activity we humans need in order to stay above ground.

Coming on Thursday: is exercise alone enough to lose weight?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The day Fodder, the Saint and I were to leave our haven in the southwest of France, Fodder was up early.

He packed the last-minute stuff that can’t be done ahead of time – toothbrush and so on – and he also had to add the string belt to his traveling ensemble.

The drive to Bordeaux was beautiful. During our week in the Dordogne River valley, the oaks and chestnuts on the hills had gradually turned more gold and orange, and here and there Virginia creeper had blazed into red on creamy limestone walls.

The trip was also exciting because the Saint was having a lot of fun driving our rented BMW. From the backseat, I called out the speed limits – 130 km/hour, but please slow to 110 if it’s raining. We laughed, because our cautious Canadian highways max out at 110 in ideal conditions.

However, I was also a little anxious. I wanted Fodder to have a good trip and what if the string didn’t work? What if it snapped? What if the knot unraveled while he was standing in the middle of the metal detector?

This was not healthy anxiety – there was nothing I could do about any of it, and Fodder is a grown man who is more than capable of managing his own life. And his own string belt.

I hoped.

When we checked in at the airport, I was careful not to watch Fodder, not to hover or fuss. I breezed through security with my pants flapping around me like luffing sails. The Saint showed up next, backpack and jacket only slightly askew, as usual. We looked at each other, then carefully turned around.

And there came Fodder, striding forward with the handle of his rolling suitcase in one hand, his walking stick in the other.

He beamed at us. “It worked!”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My latest trick

All fall and winter I’ve been buying carrots and apples in five-pound sacks. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and bulk beans come home in smaller, flimsier plastic bags. These and other bits of plastic wrap are almost the only things that make it into my garbage bucket (recycling and compost take the rest), and it occurred to me that most of those bags don’t have to go into the dark alone.

So on Saturday night, after I finished grating the last carrot for my salad, I set the empty bag by the front door. The next morning, I folded it up and stuck it in my pocket as I left the house.

On my walk, I picked up a cassette’s worth of video tape that was gleaming dark and unspooled in the park, and shoved it into the bag. Half a dozen plastic cup lids joined it, along with a small assortment of paper cups and a few other odds and ends.

I only retrieved about half of what lay directly along the path and I feel a mild regret that I didn’t grab more, but I was with a friend who had come out for a nice walk and I didn’t want to change our very pleasant stroll into something else.

When I walked to the library the next day I forgot to take a bag. Sigh.

So my  next goal is to remember to take an empty, otherwise unusable sack every time I walk out of the house, and fill it up with trash.

And the day I can’t find any crap to put in my bag…I’ll celebrate.

Okay, it’s not the cleverest new hobby ever, but I’m excited. Now I have to turn it into a habit.

Thinking ahead for me – do you have any suggestions for how I can celebrate the garbage-less walk when it happens? Besides chocolate, I mean? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 8

Vicki Waters's Program has a graduated series of dietary changes. As you know if you've been reading Calorie Neutral since the beginning, we started by going back to basics – three meals a day, no snacks, no processed foods, no starches.

Every week, Vicki adds something else back into the plan so we have a balanced, varied, healthy diet with loads of nutrients but no extra calories that'll just sit around on our butts.

So bit by bit I've added steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast a few times a week, peanut-only peanut butter on a Granny Smith or celery (Fodder likes rye crisp and they're another Yes! on Vicki's list), quinoa (the Saint suggests having this as often as three times a year, but our friend J loves it several times a week)…. You get the picture.

Variety within and between all the food groups – but no loitering with the stuff I know is bad for me. Fresh unprocessed foods, only whole grains, fruit every morning and vegetables at every meal and snack…and it's remarkably easy to resist the siren song of a bag of Salt 'n Vinegar.

How are y'all doing out there? How's your energy?

Remember Einstein: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Also remember Vicki: your body needs fuel. Feed it good stuff!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fodder and String Theory

We spent the second week of our vacation in a 14th-century farmhouse in the Dordogne Valley of southwestern France.

The house, the hamlet and the view of river and tree-gilded hillsides were enchanting.

Fodder almost literally could not tear himself away.

Most days he strolled along the one-lane road with his Moleskine sketchbook and a selection of pens, recording the graveyard, a wedge of lichen-covered slate roof, the chateau….

He alternated his perambulations with hours in the copper beech-shaded courtyard in front of the farmhouse, sipping coffee and adding watercolour washes to the day’s work.

He wandered with us through some magnificent medieval villages, of course, followed by riverside picnics and sketching sessions, but when the Saint and I headed for prehistoric painted caves, the claustrophobe stayed home. Or rather, he wandered on the hillsides instead of under them.

Then one day Fodder made a request.

“Next time you go shopping,” he said, “can you pick up some string for me?”

Curious, I agreed.

“I’ve figured out how to get through airport security on the way home,” he explained cheerfully.

So that’s what he’s been mulling over on his treks, I thought.

“What kind of string do you want?” I asked.

He shrugged kind of Gallically, as if to say that the fibrous detail was unimportant, but to help me out he described his plan.

“I’m going to tie string around my waistband, underneath my belt,” he said. “That way, when I take off the belt to go through security, the pants will still stay up.”

Ooookay. I reminded myself that he grew up on Li’l Abner comics. And he planned to wear the belt over the string. And it was, in fact, a pretty clever solution.

Plus, nobody would ever know.

On our next foray to Carrefour, the Saint and I found the string section. There was white plastic cord, quite thick and very sturdy looking. Beside it was sisal, rough, hairy and natural. Just beneath that was slender brown kitchen twine.

“Definitely not the white plastic,” I said. For one thing it wasn’t eco-friendly and for another it just looked bad. Even worse than the other, more natural-looking choices.

“The sisal, then.” The Saint’s eyes were bright as he reached for it.

I could see the visions of Dogpatch dancing in his head.

“Not the sisal.”

“But it’s so strong,” he wheedled.

“It’s hairy.”

“It’s earthy,” he tried.

“It’s scratchy.”

He had to admit I was right but he wasn’t ready to give up.

We argued amicably in the housewares aisle for a bit longer although we both knew what the outcome was going to be. The Saint didn’t get his name by being mean to his Fodder-in-law.

The next question was: would Fodder’s strategy work? Tune in next week to find out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why slow and steady wins

“It’s important to realize,” writes Lance Armstrong's coach Chris Carmichael in Food for Fitness, “that you burn carbohydrate, protein, and fat simultaneously whenever you exercise, regardless of the intensity of the workout.”

In fact, we need all of those elements in our diets at all times.

However, Carmichael and his co-authors go on to explain that during low-intensity workouts, most of our energy comes from fat – that’s fat from the food we’ve eaten and fat that’s been released from our body stores. We still need the carbohydrate, they reiterate, it’s just that at that level of energy output, we can efficiently burn fat to keep our muscles and brains going.

This is why Fodder and I lost weight in Paris: even though we wandered along the Boulevard St-Michel slowly, we did it for hours at a time and continually topped up with nutritious foods, so our little fat-burning engines could chug along until the last soprano sang.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 7

“If you’re going through hell,” said Winston Churchill, "keep going."

I suspect he wasn’t talking about raising teenagers or dropping a few pounds. Something a little weightier perhaps, like invading an enemy-occupied country.

Still, I like to think this quotation applies to all sorts of arenas. If I feel like I’m stuck in Dante’s third circle, I do my damnedest to trudge onward, one sticky step at a time.

When I link Churchill’s “keep going” to Einstein’s definition of insanity, they give me a nudge to do something – anything! – to break free of the clutching mud in the bottom of my rut.

Maybe I need to eat a little more to reassure my body that I’m not going to starve it, so it can safely burn off some of the excess on my flanks. Maybe I need to march a new route to the library in order to refresh my spirit, or dig some weeds instead and use a different set of muscles.

Lately I’ve been walking and cycling without my iPod. I think I started so as to give my subconscious a chance to chew on work-related questions without interference from Dire Straits; it might even be helping.

Are you doing something different? Eating more or less? Dancing instead of swimming?

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Undoing at Charles de Gaulle, Part Two

To catch our flight from Paris to Bordeaux, we had to pass through the security check, of course. Together, the three of us shuffled through the labyrinth of posts and straps until staff steered us into various lines for the next stage, where we automatically removed all metal objects, including coins, keys and tongue studs (no, not me or the Saint. Or Fodder either, as far as I know). I lost sight of the men as I sent my baggage piecemeal through the scanners, so when I’d cleared the metal detector and collected my stuff, I loitered by the nearest shopfront to wait for them. 

The Saint showed up first, none the worse for wear although his backpack and jacket were a little askew from being reassembled on his body in a hurry. But when Fodder arrived, his multi-pocketed Tilley vest was hanging off one shoulder. With one hand he was dragging his wheeled carry-on bag and his walking stick, and his other hand was clutching his pants. He was visibly upset.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as I grabbed his cane and the Saint took the luggage.

Fodder, tugging his trousers up, didn’t answer for a moment.

“Did your pants fall down?” I was partly horrified, although another section of my brain was thinking Cool!

“Not quite,” he snapped as he threaded his belt through the buckle.

I avoided the Saint’s eye and managed to smother my smile.

And yes, I know I’m going to Daughter Hell.

“I took off my belt as I always do.” He worked the tongue of the buckle into a hole it clearly hadn’t seen for a while. Like, years. “And they just started to fall.”

“Well I think that’s great,” I said honestly, and faced a glare I hadn’t seen since I was 17. “Seriously, isn’t this about the best possible sign for someone who’s trying to lose weight?”

By this time, Fodder’s Dockers were cinched safely into position so the Saint handed him his rolling baggage and I passed him his stick.

“Well Dad.” I  grabbed the flaps of fabric over my own hips and hitched up my trousers. “I guess now we’re both members of the Flat Arse Society.”