Sunday, September 30, 2012

Progress pic at 269 pounds - back on track after year off

Every now and then I post progress pics, and the time has come again. On the day this pic was taken (two days ago to be exact) I weighed in at 269 pounds.

This is me at 269 pounds working out at the gym in the complex where I live
One month ago, I weighed 286.  Those who follow my blog may remember that I reached 255 pounds in July of 2011 after having lost 165 pounds in just a year and a half. I took a year off from mindful eating to let my body adjust to the rapid weight loss. I was still exercising and eating healthy, but I often splurged on desserts of frozen yogurt, cake, cookies and the occasional candy bar. As a result, I gained 31 pounds. 

I'm back on track now, and I've lost 17 pounds by focusing once again on mindful eating. I still have 42 pounds to go to beat obesity by being under 30 BMI. Currently, I'm just at about 35 BMI. When I started I was at 56 BMI.

To find out what I'm doing to lose the weight, you can check out previous posts here on my blog. In short, I'm eating healthy and getting lots of exercise - hiking, swimming, medicine ball and resistance training at the gym.

Thanks as always for reading. Please follow me on Twitter @MyFitLife2Day. Also, check out my hiking blog  HikeyHikey and my goals blog Man of Merit.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cardio à la swimming and hiking power my fit-life routine

First of all, let me just say that swimming is amazing! I know, I've heard that said a million times before. And having been an avid recreational swimmer in my youth is probably what kept me from becoming obese back in the day despite my regular afternoon diet of chocolate donuts, Oreos and pudding.

I just recently started doing a regular swimming workout - I call it my "everyday cardrio" - and I have been working up from one set, to two, and finally today, three. Two weeks ago I could barely do five laps of the crawl stroke. Now, I'm doing 16.5 laps (or 33 lengths of the pool here in my complex) with ease! I mean really, it was nothing. Tomorrow I might do a fourth set or add a lap to each of the five strokes I do within each set.

Plus, I'm still hiking. And today I realized that doing my swim workout followed by an hour or so hike in some hilly terrain - a great local trail that's just two miles from my doorstep - was like adding steroids to my everyday cardio routine.

LOL - It makes me laugh thinking that I'm actually doing cardio on a regular basis and loving it. Hiking was my sneaky way of getting into cardio. I would hike for the views, I would tell myself. I knew it was cardio but I would have NEVER called it that. Now, I'm quite happy to admit. I hike. I swim. I do cardio. And I love it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Swimming - my new "everyday cardio"

Recently I've begun swimming about 10 laps or more in the pool at my complex here in the desert cities area of Southern California. I have been taking breaks at the end of every couple of laps, as needed, but I've been looking to kick it up a notch. Today, I came across an excellent routine I can do in sets. I can complete one full set without taking a break. So I'll plan on doing three sets per day as part of my new "everyday cardio" routine. Here it is:
  1. Front crawl - two lengths
  2. Back crawl - two lengths
  3. Sidestroke - two lengths
  4. Breaststroke - two lengths
  5. Elementary backstroke - three lengths
Two lengths in the pool I'm using is 33 yards; Three lengths is 50 yards. Doing one set of these today I felt like my lungs got an amazing workout. I would have stayed to do the full three sets, but it was the middle of the day and I was worried about overexposure to the sun. Tomorrow I will begin doing the three sets of this great swimming workout in the morning. I may also opt to do the workout in the evening from time to time, perhaps doing as many six sets per day.

PS - My current weight is 276 pounds. Let's check in with my weight a week from now to see what kind of impact this new addition to my daily exercise routine. I'm also walking three miles per day and trying to get into a regular habit again with my medicine ball and plank routine.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Decisions, choices and the lifelong journey of change

People are always impressed when I tell I have lost more than 150 pounds to overcome super obesity. I'm proud of what I have accomplished. The funny thing is, though, I always feel like I'm taking credit for something that's not that big of a deal. My story really boils down to this: a decision, fueled by choices, which are mere elements of my lifelong journey of change.

Losing the weight wasn't actually as hard as you may think. It's certainly not as hard as I thought it would be before I finally made the decision to get my weight in check. Overcoming super obesity, for me, was just a series of good choices. The hard part actually was deciding to start making them in the first place.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with (the decision to take) a single step!
I think the mistake a lot of folks make when then try to lose weight is they focus only on those choices - the day to day of what to eat and what not to eat, which activity burns more calories, who to share my successes with because they will support me and who to refrain from talking to about my weight loss because it might breed envy and jealousy, or simply make them feel bad. But what about the decision?

The decision to lose weight is the absolute most important factor in permanent weight loss. It is not a matter of what choices you make along the way, because none of us is perfect, and we will each make a series of good choices and bad ones every day of our lives. If we focus on the choices we will celebrate good ones and beat ourselves up for bad ones. When we focus on the decision, however, we are able to see our choices as a complex tapestry and we can focus on the bigger picture - why we are choosing to lose weight in the first place.

This question of "why" is at the root of the decision. The choices I make along the way - the question of "how" - will work themselves out as I remain focused on my lifelong journey of change and as I move forward, resolving those "why" questions that made my decision finally click in the first place.

What was behind my decision to lose weight? Part of the answer can be found here, on a post called My Weight Loss Motivation from January 2010. In that post I talk about the things I want to do and be and a bit of my purpose. But the real "why" is that I wanted to begin treating myself - my body and my mind - with the respect I deserve. Before I made the decision I had tried unsuccessfully to lose weight and keep it off many times before. I finally realized that these failed attempts at weight loss were the result of me focusing on my choices and not on my decision.

When I wake up every morning, the first thing I do is remind myself of why I'm on this fit life journey. In other words, I am mindful of my journey. I give it the respect it deserves so I am sure to give myself the respect I deserve. This mindfulness ensures I will make choices that fuel my decision.

It's really that simple. Even so, I do want to thank you so much for your encouragement, and please continue to be thoroughly impressed by the fact that I have lost more than 150 pounds. But please, also, save some of that enthusiasm for later, when I have reached my weight loss goal of overcoming obesity once and for all.

PS - As of today, I have lost 10 pounds in the past two weeks. Current weight - 276. I have 21 pounds to lose to reach my low weight mark from June of last year (2011) and a total of 49 pounds to go until I am no longer considered obese. Thanks so much for reading and sharing my story with others on your social networks, Your participation inspires me! MyFitLife2Day is on Facebook. And please, follow me on Twitter @MyFitLife2Day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kefir Fruit Freezy - healthy snack that satisfies ice cream craving

Are you looking for a healthy snack that satisfies your craving for ice cream and is tastier than any frozen yogurt? Well look no further. Here is a healthy snack recipe that you will crave from now on!

This easy-to-make snack is healthy and satisfies your ice cream craving!

1/4 cup lowfat kefir
1/4 cup lowfat milk
1 raw walnut (crushed, unsalted)
2 raw almonds (whole, unsalted)
1 tsp. pumpkin seeds (shelled, unsalted)
1 tsp. sunflower seeds (shelled, unsalted)
1/2 cup frozen cherries and/or blueberries (or peaches, or strawberries, or whatever fruit you love!)

How to make

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Stir until the milk/kefir mix freezes onto the frozen fruit. Eat and enjoy!

By the way, I know you might be thinking - oh, that sounds good, but maybe I'll use fresh fruit instead. That's fine, but for the ice cream effect the freeze your fresh fruit first. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hike to overcome obesity - getting started is half the battle

Followers of this blog know that just three years ago I weighed 420 pounds. I hated the idea of doing cardio, especially on a treadmill at the gym, so I adopted two dogs to motivate me to get out of the house and walk. At first, it was a challenge to make even a tenth-of-a-mile loop in the dog park without losing steam. In time, I worked up to a dog-park mile. But short loop walks in the park soon became as tedious as the dreaded treadmill. So a little more than a year ago, I decided I would venture beyond the dog park to trails unknown.

The rescue dogs that rescued me; Remington and Diego in Cat Rock Park
Once I finally decided I wanted to try hiking, fear and anxiety set in. As much as I knew I wanted to hike, simply considering the actual hike got me nervous. My mind raced with doubt. Was I in good enough shape to handle a hike in the woods? What if I fell or simply was unable to handle the trail? How much water would I need? Would I need food? And if so, would eating extra food on the trail put the breaks on my weight loss? There were so many things to consider that apprehension almost stopped me in my tracks before I had even made any!

You won't know if you don't try

I had to weigh the pros and cons. What would I be missing out on if I didn't give it a go? What was I losing all this weight for if I wasn't going to get out and live life the way I'd always dreamed? This worry is ridiculous, I remember thinking. I had to stop being crippled by the fear that still surrounded me as a blanket even as I was shedding all those pounds!

I'd hiked when I was in high school and college, but 15 years and a 200 pound weight gain did a lot to change me. Part of the reason I moved to suburban Massachusetts was to get back into hiking. The week I arrived in the town of Weston, I learned there was a conservation area nearby called Cat Rock Park. The park had several trails and featured a beautiful pond as well as an abandoned ski slope with a meadow that ran the length of its 300-foot elevation gain. As if it couldn't get any better, the payoff of the hike would be the bald granite cap, the so-called Cat Rock, where one could see out over the park all the way to Cambridge Reservoir.

Miss out on this? No way! (Hobbs Pond, Cat Rock Park, Weston, MA)
It sounded like a dream - exactly what I was looking for. Still, without doing some due diligence it also sounded to me as if it were beyond my current capabilities. I decided to start by calling the local parks and recreation department to find out more. When I called, I learned that a local writer had painstakingly described each of the trails within the town's conservation lands. The hike I was considering was included in his book, Walks on Weston Conservation Land, published by the Weston Forest & Trail Association, and there was a map available, too.

I read the description of the trail and pored over the map to find out exactly how long the trail was and the exact elevation of Cat Rock. Once I knew what to expect I felt much more confident. I found that there were several loop trails, varying in length from less than a mile to up to five miles, so I planned my route accordingly. I also learned that the elevation gain was much gentler coming up the back side of Cat Rock hill, so I planned to take that route my first time round.

The hike I chose to start out on was perfect for me - it was what guide books call "easy". And while I didn't see it that way at the time, I soon found it to be true. I made that first hike. Then I did it again. Soon, after just a week walking Cat Rock Park I was seeking out more difficult routes in the nearby Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills. Two months later I was climbing Mount Monadnock, a mountain in southern New Hampshire featuring a 4-mile out-and-back hike with a 1,300 foot elevation gain. Knowledge melted my fears and, before I knew it, I was a hiker!

Thinking "I can do this, I can do this!" as I hike Mount Monadnock
If you're reading this thinking, "Wow, I wish I could overcome my fears and get out there and hike, too". Then follow these tips to get you started:

1. Know where you're getting into

The lesson here is, do your research. There are lots of free resources online, but the best information on your local trails can be found locally. Go online and find a detailed guide book for trails in your area. Or better yet, go to a local small bookstore to look for a guide book that might not be available online. Check with the local business, like outdoor outfitters, or the chamber of commerce. Call local government offices, like the parks and recreation or conservation management office, to see if they can provide you with detailed trail maps. If you are lucky enough to live near wilderness areas, check with your local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S Forest Service office. Look for resources that include mileage as well as elevation gain. And seek out trail descriptions, too. Once you know the name of the trail just Google it. You'll find many resources, like my blog HikeyHikey!, that include stories and helpful hints from hikers who have already trod the same trail you're planning to take.

2. Assess your physical condition

Another thing to do before setting out on the trail is to consider your physical condition. Obese people can - and do - hike. So you don't have to reach a certain weight before you head out on the trail. More than anything, a strong core will help you no matter what your current weight. Strong legs are important, but the core helps you maintain balance and footing over rocky paths. Personally, I had been working out with a medicine ball for more than a year before I started hiking, so I was confident that I had the physical wherewithal to handle a two-mile hike with only moderate elevation gain. The key is to work your way up to the hike by walking progressively distant routes - and doing some strength training wouldn't hurt. For tips on getting started using the medicine ball, check out this MyFitLife2Day post on my basic medicine ball workout.

Before that first hike, I was also concerned I might not have the respiratory endurance to handle the hike I was planning. If you are worried that you haven't been doing lots of cardio, remember you can take frequent breaks when you're on the trail, and don't be afraid to do so. If the guide book tells you it's a one-hour hike, you might want to tag on an extra hour if you plan on taking your time. That's what I did - and I still do. Just plan accordingly and don't get caught out on the trail after dark. It's best to go early in the day when you're just getting started.

3. Get the gear you need

Knowing you have the right gear is just as important as knowledge of what you're getting into and what you're capable of. For most hikes of less than five miles, low-top trail shoes are sufficient. You don't want to use your regular running shoes or cross trainers - you need something with grip, especially if you live in an area where trails are rock-strewn, which most of the good trails are. And if you're more 75 pounds overweight, I would recommend a hiking boot with more ankle support and stiff soles. You'll also want a backpack that distributes the weight of what you're carrying well. It should ride with most of the weight on your hips and fit snugly to your back. This will help you maintain balance and reduce the risk of back injury.

4. Hydrate!

Before you hike you should chug some water even if you're not thirsty. And no matter how far you're planning to hike, you definitely need to carry water with you. For a two-mile hike one liter of water should be enough, unless you live in a desert region, in which case you should carry two. For longer hikes you might want to invest in a backpack that holds a water bladder with a sipping tube. This way you don't have to stop every time you need a drink - which is often on the trail. Dehydration can lead to dizziness and exhaustion, and it can diminish your capacity to think clearly and make good decisions. I typically carry three liters of water for any hike of five miles. I will carry a fourth liter if I do a ten mile hike. Water is heavy to carry, but in my opinion it's better to be safe than sorry. Plus, I figure the more weight I carry the more calories I burn!

5. Fuel your body

Speaking of burning calories - you would be surprised by how many calories you burn while hiking. For more information on that, click here. This being the case, it is important to up your caloric intake before, during and after the hike to ensure your body remains fueled. I usually take along a banana and an apple, two carrots and a stalk of celery as well as a granola bar.

I don't always eat all of the food on the trail, but I know it's important to have it in case I need it. I usually have my next meal pre-cooked and waiting for me in the fridge at home, too, so I don't go into binge mode when I get back to the house. This happens especially if I'm being frugal with my food intake before and after a hike. Remember, food is fuel, so eat before you need it, not once your body is starved for nutrition.

6. Believe in yourself, but be cautious

The hardest part about hiking is believing that you have the ability to climb mountains, to reach the summit. Believe it or not, anyone in moderate physical condition can handle hikes classified as "easy" to "moderate" in most guide books. Start slowly to test out your abilities and to help you build confidence. Then, as your confidence increases, it will become easier to believe in yourself, and that will in turn take you farther on the trail than you thought or could have imagined. But unless you get out there and do it, how will you ever know what you're capable of?

Be optimistic, and also be prepared for contingencies. Don't hike alone. Make sure you leave your trip plan with someone - tell them where you're going and how long you plan to be. This way, if you don't come back in the time expected they can contact someone who can help find you in case of an emergency.

I don't say this to scare you. In fact, my goal in writing up this post is to convince you that you can do it. But it is important to understand that even the fittest hiker can encounter the unexpected while out on the trail. As such, you should know the weather conditions in the area where you will be hiking. Oh, and prepare for any sudden changes changes in weather, like rain or thunderstorms, drops in temperature and the like. Also, pack a change of socks if you think your shoes may get wet and a long-sleeve shirt if you're hiking on a crisp, cool autumn day, for example.

Now, get out there and do it!

By the way, I'm not the only person on a journey to overcoming obesity who is hiking to overcome obesity. Check out the amazing In It To Win It blog by my fit-life friend, Laina Harris. And for more information on setting goals to increase your level of conditioning for longer and more intense hikes, check out my blog Man of Merit.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poor man's fancy bean dish - curried black beans over arugula

Poor man's fancy black bean dish - curried black beans over arugula

Short on money and/or time? Try this poor man's fancy black bean dish. It's my go-to meal these days: Curried black beans over arugula. It's as easy as one, two three! And it's healthy as all get out!

1. Prime pan with a little oil or cooking spray, throw in 1/2 large yellow onion chopped to sizzle, add 2 tbsp curry powder, 2 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder of your choice (I like sweet paprika), then swoosh that around for a few minutes until the spices are a bit toasted.

2. Add 1 can no-salt-added chopped tomatoes (or two chopped fresh roma tomatoes, juice, seeds and all), and let bubble for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, throw in the black beans and a smidge of honey to cut the acidity and cook on low heat for another five minutes or so.

3. Finally, serve over a bed of arugula, spinach or spring mix for a yummy, cheap and quick taste adventure!

BONUS: Sprinkle on a couple of tablespoons of cooked quinoa for an added protein boost.

Try it and let me know how it works out for you. I love this dish and it really does fuel my fit life journey! And thanks to the Ashraf family for introducing me to this easy cooking style!

Oh, and I should mention that the leftovers are great cold the next day. Pack them up just like the picture in a 4 cup to-go container and throw it in your backpack for a weekend hike...and check out my blog HikeyHikey! for great places to go (now serving New England, New Mexico and Southern California).

"Walking School Bus" concept to combat childhood obesity

In recognition of September being Childhood Obesity Awareness Month I have decided to dedicate a little time each morning searching the web for current childhood obesity research and news. This morning, I stumbled upon the best site I've found so far addressing the childhood obesity epidemic: Child Obesity News.

I came across this site when I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine, Christie Forbes Rutledge, was commenting about the fact that the town where she's raising her kids - which happens to be the town where we went to high school together - still does not offer busing for kids to and from school. I recall moving to Hanover in the late 1980s from another school district that did have busing and thinking, "Wow, this place is behind the times!"

In fact, more than one person commented on this friend's post with similar astonishment. "I can't believe that they still don't have a bus system. That's crazy," one person said. "That's just nuts," said another. Another still recalled her experience growing up in that school district, "I hated that walk".

It's the law in Pennsylvania, and as Christie pointed out, "you have to live more than three miles from the school for [the district] to have busing." It may sound crazy, and it is certainly more of a law to protect small school districts from financial hardship than anything else, but encouraging active transport to school is probably a good idea when considering the current state of obesity among America's school-children.

Walking three miles, though, shouldn't sound unreasonable, but to most people it does. Three miles? Think about it: When was the last time you walked three miles? I would hasten to bet that the extent of most Americans' daily walk is however far it is from the closest parking space they can find to the front door of the supermarket. I don't say this as insult but from experience. I certainly fit into that category a few years ago, but then I had a BMI of 56 at the time.

While the question of whether making kids walk to and from school is an undue hardship remains up for debate, many people come down on the side of safety. Sure, some say, walking is a good idea. But in the current age we live in is walking to and from school really a good idea?

Taking safety concerns into consideration, the website Child Obesity News published an article on its blog in August talking about a concept called the "walking school bus". Endorsed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the walking school bus concept is describes like this:
A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. If that sounds simple, it is, and that’s part of the beauty of the walking school bus. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school to as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers.
After directing my friend to the website, she pointed out that Hanover indeed does have something in place that is like the walking school bus concept, which is good to hear. But this whole discussion makes me wonder, what kind of impact does walking to and from school actually have on childhood obesity? 

Not a matter of mere walking to school, my friend points out, "Kids are obese because they eat fast food, watching TV and playing video games.  Plus they don't let the kids on the playground in the morning before school starts and they don't get to go outside until right after lunch time for 10-15 minutes. They get one more recess in the afternoon for 10-15 minutes."

Furthermore, my friend reports that her daughter "says she is bored and hates sitting at her desk all day. I think if they let them outside for a little in the morning like they used to she and the other children would benefit."

I wholeheartedly agree! For more information on Childhood Obesity and ideas on what you can do to help combat the epidemic, check out Child Obesity News. There is a brief, informative and research-driven presentation on the site that addresses factors that lead to childhood obesity: Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food and Childhood Obesity. Also, you can follow them on Twitter @obesityblog. And of course you can follow me on Twitter @myfitlife2day.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Will Biggest Loser Season 14 "confront" or "exploit" childhood obesity?

Biggest Loser gym on set at the Gillette Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains
My friend Angela Ashley just told me that Season 14 of The Biggest Loser will premiere in January with Jillian, Dolvett, and Bob as trainers. She said:
The series will have some surprises along with the introduction of childhood obesity into the show. 
Each of the three trainers will have one teen (13-17 years old) on their group who will train and be followed by a special medical team with expertise in childhood/adolescent nutrition. These teens will not be eliminated as the other contestants. They will be followed throughout the show by the medical team and also after they return home for long term weight/healthy lifestyle management. I read that they would not be weighing on camera as the other contestants. 
Personally, I think that this is an excellent idea. In light of the fact that September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, this is one example of how more must be done to help children and teens become healthier and live happier and more productive lives.

I couldn't agree more, Angela! By the way, I was at the Gillette Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of Malibu recently and I stumbled upon the Biggest Loser set. They prop people were busy getting the gym ready, and I chatted with someone from production who said filming was going to start sometime next week! Casting is still being finalized.

There's a spot called Inspiration Point that I plan to hike to during the filming to see if I can glimpse a bit of what's going on. I'll post pics if I get some, for sure.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mindful eating, swimming and hiking in Palm Springs

I recently re-located to Palm Springs, CA, from Albuquerque, NM, in large part to jump-start my fit-life journey, which had become a bit stalled. I mean, I've been getting lots of exercise, so that's good. But I've been lax in my food mindfulness and my weight has gone up a bit since my low of 255 pounds last year. In fact, recently I weighed in at nearly 285. I quickly pulled in the reigns on my eating habits and am once again below 280. But I need to be more pro-active, and that's what I'm doing here in the low desert at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Sitting on top of the world - San Jacinto Peak at 10,388 ft.
Obviously I love hiking. Yesterday I went on an 11-mile out-and-back hike from the upper tram terminal here in Palm Springs to the peak of San Jacinto. It was a wonderful excursion, and my body is thanking me for such a strenuous workout. But I need to do more than just hiking if I want to reach my goal of losing more than 60 pounds over the next 6 months. Once I hit that goal, I will have lost the 200 pounds I set out to lose when I first began this blog under the name The Fitness 400 Project in 2008.

So this means big changes to my routine. I'm back on a restricted calorie diet of no more than 2,000 calories (except on big hiking days when my body needs the calories for mere survival). And I'm also back to doing my medicine ball workouts and plank exercises daily. On top of this, just today I have added freestyle swimming to the mix. I did five laps (125 meters) in the pool in the community where I live. I will do another five laps tonight. For this week, I will continue to do 125 meters both in the morning and evening until I'm ready to increase the amount to seven or eight next week and then 10 within two week's time.

How can I NOT take up swimming with this practically in my back yard?

The hard part of swimming for me is that my lungs are not used to the staggered breathing required when freestyle swimming. This morning I had to rest and catch my breath after each lap. I wasn't bothered by this, but my goal is to improve so I can do all of my laps without resting between them.

Well, that's about it for now. I will post my new diet soon, so stay tuned for that. And don't forget to check out my other blogs - Man of Merit and HikeyHikey! - for more on hiking and other outdoors fitness activities. Fifteen pictures from the San Jacinto Peak hike can be found here.