Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 15

A while ago, I found myself hauling Grandma’s old scale out from beneath the bathroom sink fairly often – like once a week. And the news gets worse: one day, I took my glasses off and set them on the counter first – and it wasn’t so I could read the numbers.

What, I wondered, is going on?

My unwanted pounds were gone, off doing their part for global warming. My clothes fit. I’m in Calorie Neutral mode.

I have a glass of wine most nights and eat what I want, which is mostly lean protein and lots of vegetables and fruit with the occasional yummy gluten-free muffin or a couple of slices of toast. I even devoured a marvelous big piece of carrot cake last week.

“Are you still losing weight?” the Saint asked.

“Not according to the scale.”

“Well you just bought these pants, didn’t you?” He grabbed a handful of fabric hanging off my butt. “They’re too big already.”

Maybe they stretched, I thought.

Then a friend I see every two weeks or so asked, “Have you lost more weight?”

“Not according to the scale,” I said.

“You’re definitely thinner,” she said, indicating the space where my jowls and extra chin used to be.

Possibly my resistance workouts are responsible. I’ve changed my exercise routine and increased the weights so I’m building more muscle. That does three things.
1.   Muscle is heavier than fat so I can be getting leaner and the poundage can stay the same
2.   More muscle burns more energy
3.   Changing the exercises regularly (every couple of months or so) keeps the body from getting so good at one particular movement that it needs less energy to perform it. Challenging the muscles means they have to use more energy (that is, calories) to perform the new tasks. 

However, I was curious, so I started keeping a food-and-activity journal again, just to see what's up. Do I need to weigh myself or not? Do I have a clear view of my diet or am I seeing it through a very cloudy lens? Should I fret or can I relax?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


A little warily back in February, I weighed myself. I’d lost about 27 pounds by Dec 31 and was comfy in my size eight jeans, so I counted that as success. There was still a layer – softer, I must admit – around my waist and over my belly but at its thickest – just beneath my belly button – it’s only an inch between my fingers. On my flanks and upper arms it’s about half that. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But I was curious about my weight because I was enjoying a glass of wine most evenings, having a couple of pieces of toast or a muffin a couple of times a week, and on a mini-holiday to Point No Point, I had eaten cookies. Quite a lot of cookies.

Let me put that in perspective.

In the past, the Saint and I could work through a dozen cookies in a sitting. To be honest, we could work through two dozen, pretty evenly shared out between us although he eats faster so he might snag a few more than me just on the basis of speed.

On our little vacation, we got through a couple of dozen cookies – but we did it in three or four sessions, not one.

Does that matter? I mean, I still ate the cookies. They’re still empty calories. Does spacing them out over two days make them less likely to go straight into storage? I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s the kind of thing that bugged me as I debated whether to weigh or not.

Eventually I decided it would be better to know than to continue torturing myself with speculation, so I hauled the scale out from beneath the bathroom sink. I set it on the floor and let the needle settle. (Yes, it’s that old. I calibrated it against the guru’s brand-new battery-operated digital model after our last meeting, so I knew it was accurate.)

I stepped up to the plate, planting my feet firmly as if I had nothing to fear. If the poundage was up, I knew it could only be by a kilogram or two because my jeans still fit and my bras were still loose. It wouldn’t be a big deal to skip the wine for a couple of weeks and as long as I bypassed the cookie aisle at the grocery store I wouldn’t be tempted by them, either.

I looked down. The needle’s swing slowed, slowed, stopped.


Hadn’t gained an ounce.

How about that? How great is that? And you know what’s just as cool?

My first thought was not to head for the bakery. In fact, I didn’t celebrate with food at all.

That is cool. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

food and beauty

GardenWise magazine often has lots of tempting ideas for foodie gardeners. Carolyn Herriot's column this month is on edibles that are also ornamental. Or ornamentals that are edible. Whichever way you want to look at it, who can resist those fluffy purple chive flowers and a billow of bright nasturtiums?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 14

Hello there!

How are you? Feeling the joys of spring or…what?

I have a temporary office job that not only gives me an excuse to ride the trusty Miss Jean Brodie downtown every day, but also changes up what, when and how I consume.

I'm drinking more water because I keep a mugful on my desk.
I'm drinking less caffeine.
My break times are more scheduled so I'm less likely to slide too many snacks into the day.

These are all good things.

And as a bonus, I don't feel too guilty when I let myself have one of those Florentines every so often!

Any spring changes in your life?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fodder's water test

“It’s the simplest part of the whole program,” Fodder said, “and I have more trouble with the water than anything else.”

Three months after we finished the official part of the program, we were both more or less living the plan. The behaviour modification had, in fact, modified our behaviour.
Except for the water….

It’s not like it was hard to come by. We didn’t have to order a stock and keep it on hand. All we had to do was hoist a glass eight times a day. Eight. In a sixteen-hour day.

Why was that difficult?

One of my friends fills a two-litre jug in the morning and sips from it all day. I have a three-cup bottle that can stand on my desk, in my backpack or in the cage on my bike. Ah, but does it? Too often, it sits on the kitchen counter all alone.


Because I forget. It’s only water, after all.

In a long-distance walking clinic I took a couple of years ago, one of the guest speakers said it’s not enough to start drinking water the day of a big walk or  other event. The time to start is three days ahead, so your body is fully hydrated at the beginning and then all you have to do is keep up the flow.

I absorbed that advice.

For several days before I did long training rides, I tanked up and at age 48 I rode my first century – that’s 100 miles in a day.

I’m not going to give water all the credit – I put in the time in the saddle, I cranked the pedals. But the combination of practice, calories and water meant that not only did I cycle 160 kilometres in, I think, about eight hours…I felt fine afterward and even rode across town (and back) the next day.

I also tank up before a long flight. It helps me avoid some of the hangover-y jet lag effects, and it drives me out of my seat and up the aisle to the bathroom on the plane, which keeps my blood moving and avoids the whole issue of deep vein thrombosis.

So why will I drink a couple of litres a day sometimes and not others?

I suspect it’s nothing more than habit. I simply have not established a routine of filling the bottle, carting it with me and refilling it.

Obviously I need more discipline.


For me, something like this has to be mindless. Best if it’s a reflex, but for some reason we humans have become removed from our bodily signals – we eat when we’re not hungry but we don’t always recognize thirst as a need for water. Some people sip soda or a beer. I go for tea.

But meanwhile my tongue is trying to tell me something.

If only it could talk….

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stages of Change

On a bike trip around BC years ago, I stopped for a latte in a little café/gift store and saw one of those small tiles with a motivational saying that has stuck with me ever since.

“Nobody can pedal the bike for you,” it said, and it was as true on Highway 20 as it has been on my journey to a healthy weight.

However, by understanding what we and our loved ones are facing, we can help ourselves and them.

Psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente identified several stages that people go through as they try to make a change in their behaviour. According to a tutorial created by the Canadian organization Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, this is how it goes:
1.   Pre-contemplation: not even thinking about making a change
2.   Contemplation: thinking about changing, but not ready to act
3.   Preparation: planning what to do
4.   Action: doing it
5.   Maintenance: keeping it up

Relapse, going back to a previous stage, can happen at any point as well, and is simply part of the change process.

We can do the work for ourselves, but we can’t do it for a friend who’s trying to quit smoking or a sister who wants to lose 50 pounds.

However, we can help and here are a few suggestions from CAMH:

While your friend’s in the Contemplation stage:
• help her review the pros and cons of continuing with the behaviour, and of changing it.
• encourage her to talk about making the change
• show your confidence in her

• ask for permission to suggest options
• encourage small, initial steps
• help to identify and remove barriers

• offer practical advice
• follow up regularly
• talk about her strengths and successes

• help identify what worked
• remind her of the positive changes she’s made
• help plan for situations that might lead to relapse

I didn’t buy that inspirational tile because, hey, I was pedaling a bike. I didn’t want to haul even a few extra ounces in my saddlebags (and there’s a metaphor for you).

The words and the meaning have stayed with me, though, and helped me take responsibility for my own changes.

However, even though I have to pedal my own bike, I appreciate it when my friends and family pump up my tires, hand me my helmet, and send up their wishes for a following wind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 13

It's a happy Tuesday here on the West Coast – still raining pretty often, but it's warmer!

I have a new temporary job downtown so I've been riding back and forth. Luckily, I have a bunch of low-wrinkle clothes I can roll up in my bag and I wear my bike shorts for the trip if the weather looks iffy.

I've also been prepping a couple of days' worth of snacks and lunches at a time and toting them along and that's gone well.

However…there's a coffee shop across the street and when I went for my lunchtime stroll the other day I had to try the florentine. At $3.50, I figure it cost me a cent a calorie, but it was worth it!

How are y'all doing?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Runner's high. Huh?

Have I mentioned that I’m a little addictive? A junkie waiting to happen, that’s me.

These days my addictions tend to the healthy end of the spectrum. I mean, I smoked for decades before I managed to kick the habit. I carb-loaded for even more decades before I finally put that pink elephant in the ground. Now, and I hesitate to even think this, let alone say it publicly – I’m getting off on exercise. I have routines: I ride my bike to the pub, I walk to the library, and I go to the gym regularly. Not as in “three times a year, like clockwork,” but actually several times a week.

I need to do resistance work (and so do many of you, if you but knew it) to strengthen my bones. Walking is good, but I’m not convinced it’s enough. Also, it doesn’t do anything for my arms and as I know too well, wrists are a prime spot for fractures due to osteoporosis.

But back to my junkie tendencies. The idea of taking a few days or a couple of weeks away from the gym, or at least serious exercise, makes me pause.

Would I not take a holiday because it would mean a break from the dumbbells and weight machines at the gym?

I’m not that crazy. But I do think about missing the workouts.

It’s not enough that my vacations rarely entail just sitting. When I’m lucky enough to get an autumn break in Hawaii, the Saint and I regularly schlep along the Koloa Heritage Trail near Po’ipu or walk to pick up groceries in Hale’iwa. A trip to France incorporates daily hours-long strolls along the Left Bank of the Seine or through the Tuileries Gardens and up the Champs Elysées, not to mention pounding the marble pavements in the Musée D’Orsay or the gravel paths at the Musée Rodin.

But the obsessive gremlin in my head tells me it’s not enough. Or it might not be enough.

I can blow off the gremlin for a while. Shove it into a closet in the back room somewhere. I can hear it, and its constant scratching at the door is kind of irritating, but I can mostly ignore it. I override the noise by telling myself that I’m exercising, that the point of the hard, sweaty gym stuff is so I can do the real-world stuff like walks on the beach and hikes in the woods.

But the gremlin knows better. Once it’s scraped a hole in the door, it whispers, “You like the endorphins.”

And it’s right. Not that I get that famed runner’s high; I spend less time in the zone and a lot more hitting the wall. 

But there must be something in what the beast says.

Whether my brain is releasing endorphins, those natural chemicals that bind to opiate receptors to create a nice buzz, or whether I get off on the pleasure of becoming stronger and fitter…well, I can’t say for sure. Maybe both. Doesn’t really matter anyway, because the end result is that I exercise more, I feel better, and I can do more. I have a bigger, better life.

And with one sweaty session on the arc machine, I can burn off a Mars bar.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Addiction tutorial – no, it's not a how-to

The Canadian organization Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has some pretty good tutorials. I checked out the Introduction to Addiction and, while it didn’t specifically include food, it did have some helpful tips.

For example:

“Addiction is a habit that is often hard to stop and that increasingly interferes with a person’s life…”

For some of us, eating too much or consuming unhealthy things (I’m not going to call my licorice allsorts “food” because that gives them too much credit) fits in there.

“People often think that psychological dependence is not as serious as physical dependence. This is not necessarily true. Cocaine, for example, does not cause physical dependence, but it is considered one of the easiest drugs to get hooked on and one of the hardest to give up.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d put potato chips and bridge mix right up there, as well. I’m not being facetious, either.

The tutorial also offers suggestions for helping someone who is recovering from an addiction – that is, a person who is changing her or his life.
• express confidence in her or him
• help with practical problems
• listen and don’t judge
• help plan for situations in which the person might relapse
• celebrate small successes

In my humble opinion, I believe we can do these things for ourselves, too. We can certainly try!

Some of my friends find affirmations and visualization really helpful in showing themselves they can achieve their goals.
All my efforts to turn down the volume on the mean little gremlin in my head are paying off. It’s not nearly as noisy as it used to be.
I’ve made my plans for when I binge out: I enjoy it, and then I get on with my life. Easier said than done sometimes, but better for my body and spirit than wallowing.  
I mercilessly squash the gremlin that hisses “Nice girls don’t brag” so I can celebrate my successes by telling my friends about them, and by feeling good about their heartfelt congratulations.

And Fodder, the Saint and I toast each other with glasses of cheap red, too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 12

It feels like we're out of the Winter Woods, doesn't it?

My produce stand now has veggies grown north of the 49th parallel and my bike ride to go get them is drier than it was a month ago. Farmers' markets are sprouting in town, too, so my friends who want to do their shopping closer to home can zip over on a Saturday and revel in the fresh breads, herbs and even rhubarb!

I'm in a bit of a quandary about rhubarb. I love it. My mom's (actually, Betty Crocker's) rhubarb custard pie recipe is wonderful – but even though I skip the pastry part, there's all that sugar.

Do I go for it or not?

Oh, of course I do. Rhubarb has a short season, and it gives me immense pleasure, and it's not like I'll be eating it every day. It's a treat.

And that's the whole point of Calorie Neutral, if I remember correctly.

Eat, exercise and enjoy!

Thanks for the reminder :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On addiction

There are those of us, and we know who we are, who are easily addicted. For some, the addiction is texting on our cell phones or obsessively checking email. It might be cocaine or heroin.

I’ll cop to the email fixation and salty snacks.

I quit smoking 21 years ago but I know I can never have another puff. Not that I want to, but my point is that if I lit up just once, I’d be right back at the corner store every day.

The drug that I struggled with most recently is the gluten monster. It’s permeated my favourite society: cookies, sourdough bread, pumpkin pie…. Gluten isn’t evil in itself – it does wonderful things for waffles – but many people have a hellish reaction that translates a turnover into a gut-wrenching experience.

That’s never been my problem, thank goodness. No, my relationship with gluten is less painful but more insidious.

Medical studies over the last few years have found that for a certain segment of the gluten-intolerant population, it’s our brains rather than our bowels that react.

Within a couple of days of biting a bun I feel lethargic, can’t find the right words, have trouble making decisions because the gluten has made its way into my head, where the protein molecules lock on to opiate receptors.

That’s right, I get stoned on bread.

So couple that with the short-term endorphin rush that most of us get when easy-access carbs like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes trigger a release of insulin which kick-starts a short-term rise in feel-good endorphins  in the brain…. Well, you can see how easy it is for me to get hooked on whole wheat.

Fodder is also an addictive type. He butted out his last cigarette almost twenty years ago, but he held onto the peanut butter habit. Until recently.

When he went cold turkey on Kraft Crunchy at the beginning of our weight-loss program, he turned a corner but kept his eye on the goal: ditch the weight without dumping favourites – and peanut butter was definitely a favourite.

He’s a determined guy, though, and left the lid firmly screwed on the jar which stayed in the fridge next to the unlamented jam.

When Vicki announced, at the beginning of Week Six, that we could add nut butters back into the regime, Fodder’s eyes once again glowed. Or was that glistened?

So four months after we started the program, when our new lifestyle was basically entrenched, I was surprised when he said, “I’m not eating peanut butter any more.”

My head whipped around.

“I haven’t had it in the house for months.”

“But–“ I felt like the Earth was tilting the wrong way on its axis. “Who are you and what have you done with my Fodder?” I demanded.

He simply shrugged. 

“If it’s around, I’ll eat it,” he explained.

Vicki had warned us of this when she’d announced we could have a slice of sprouted bread three times a week.

If you can’t stick to that limit, she warned, don’t even have it in the house.

Unlike my relationship with cookies, I don’t think Fodder gets high on peanut butter, but I know that without its tempting presence he has managed to keep tightening his belt.

He had to make a choice: feed the yammering addict-voice in his head, or starve it until it had no choice but to retreat into a deep cave and shut up.

Fodder misses the nuts but they’re not worth the trade-off: now that he’s packing fewer pounds and putting less strain on his heart, he can run up the stairs to the rowing machine at the gym. 

And that gives him more of a thrill than he ever got from peanut butter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


One of my friends recently said that, after she began reading Calorie Neutral, she decided to add some fruit to her days.

What a great decision! I thought.

She told me that within a week of cooking up some compote, someone asked her what she was doing because she looked different.

How cool is that? I thought.

And then my friend had a houseguest for a few days. And then she went away for a weekend. And there's the full-time job and volunteer work and, alas, laundry and dusting….

How do we make time to make compote? Or peel carrots for snacks, or any of the other tasks that take more minutes than slapping some cheese between a couple of slices of bread, or pulling a muffin from the bag?

I referred once to Sunday Set-up as explained by Kathy Kaehler, a lifestyle celebrity in the US.

I'm revisiting it again, because I still find the principle a huge help.

I don't do a whole week's worth of veg in one go.

Instead, a few times a week, while I'm waiting for my teakettle to boil, I wash and chop a head of broccoli; peel and grate maybe three carrots; rinse, tear and spin a couple of salads' worth of greens.

The next time I put the kettle on, I'll peel and chop a few carrots, wash and slice a pepper or two.

I throw it all in bowls in the fridge and it is SO MUCH EASIER to resist peanut butter toast when all I have to do is grab a handful of broccoli and toss it in a pot to steam while I toss the grated carrots with a handful of walnuts and a drizzle of some basil-infused olive oil.

The food is ready to eat just as fast as toast – and it gives me time to rummage up some protein, too.

The beauty of it is, I'm not taking time away from anything else.

Okay, maybe the dusting…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 11

I'm curious: How are you doing? Have you found your food-fun balance point or have you teetered too far to one side or the other?

Confession time – I've been enjoying treats. Quite a lot of them. I bought the Saint chocolate-covered almonds for Easter and he returned the favour with bridge mix. And there have been cookies…

I've also been having a great time on my bicycle – riding around my hometown both for meetings and for pleasure, and I went to Washington State to gawk at tulip fields a couple of weeks ago. I've also been walking when the weather's nice – which around here means it's not pouring rain.
I walk to my library, to the gym, the grocery store, and when I have a reason to go, I march downtown and back – about an hour each way.

This morning I was thinking how lucky I am that I can afford the time to do that. And then I realized that I have to afford the time.

If I don't, my bones and muscles will get weaker, as will my heart and lungs. I definitely can't afford that. For me, it's a trade I'm glad to make – more walking, less TV. More riding, less housework.

Having said that, I have stuff to do, like everyone else. So I often have a destination – walk to the bank, ride to the farm market…that sort of thing. I've got a few loops: the library, gym and grocery store are close together so I can cover them in one afternoon; the bank and wine store are on the route to or from the egg stand.

Anybody have other strategies for managing the time/life crunch?