Five months with the Fitbit

I bought a Fitbit in July of this year. I know it was July, not because I keep up with dates very well, but because I was teaching summer school at the time. My first day with the Fitbit at work I put in 16,000 steps in a day, and I was really happy because I thought that was the way it was going to work out all the time. Easy, I thought. Piece of cake.

I was just a little off in that assumption. I started out setting a daily goal of 12,000 steps and dropped down the 10,000 steps because I got tired of feeling like a failure all the time. The app tells you when you’ve met your goal, and I like to meet my daily goals a little more often than once a week.

I have three friends on the Fitbit network. The app lists us in order of the number of steps taken for the week. I am almost always at the bottom of the list. I’ve been busy. Life in general has been hard to keep up with. Steps are not as easy to take as one might hope.

This week, however, I reached a sort of milestone. I got an email notification from Fitbit saying that I had lost ten pounds. This was news to me. I didn’t notice losing them. This might be the first time in my life anything like that has happened. Even when I have the stomach bug, I’m pretty much trying my best to get all of the weight loss out of it I can. Pounds gained, on the other hand, tend to sneak up on me unawares on a fairly regular basis.

The reason Fitbit knows that I lost ten pounds is that a week or so after I bought the Fitbit Flex to wear on my wrist, I went back and bought the Fitbit Aria scale. Aria and I have an agreement. I don’t speak to her more than once every two or three weeks. I use another scale for more regular checkins, but Aria logs all sorts of information about me on my phone app, and I’d rather not see her graphs bouncing up and down day after day. I just want to see trends over time. More specifically, I want Aria to assure me that I am not gaining weight without realizing it.

It turns out I’m not at the moment. Instead I was losing weight without realizing it.

During these five months in which Flex and Aria have been tracking my progress, I have basically done nothing right. I have broken my own “no junk food” rule so many times I’m just grateful I don’t have the data on this. I have broken my “no snacking at work” rule. I have eaten the donuts in the break room. I have been busy and overwhelmed and eating without paying attention to myself just like all of the other times when I accidentally packed on a few extra.

I have also been a bad girl about my exercise goals. I was doing Couch-to-5k for part of this time, but I quit. I was going to an exercise class at the school fitness center, but I quit. I paid for ten weeks of yoga classes and went to about four sessions. No matter how good my intentions I just couldn’t seem to keep on track with anything.

The only thing I managed to stick with was wearing that Fitbit Flex every day. I have worn it around the clock day after day. The only time I ever take it off is when I am in the shower. That’s when I put it on the charger. That few minutes a day of charging is all it takes to keep the Flex fully powered. And that’s a good thing because I can barely remember to charge my phone at night. If I had to remember something else, I’d probably forget the phone.

Like I said, I have not excelled at this 10,000 steps per day thing. I have only moderately stuck to the plan, which is to say “inconsistently at best.” The difference it has made is just to keep me aware of the need for more movement in my day. It has made me see that even a few steps at a time will add up. Because I am wearing the Fitbit, and I can see how many steps I have so far on my phone each day, I do get up and walk around more often at work. I also go out to walk around the neighborhood even when I know I don’t have the time or energy to do more than just a few short laps up and down and around the street. I know for a fact that I go out walking more days than I otherwise would because I have a goal I am trying to meet, and I want to get as close to it as I can even if I know I might not make it to the finish line.

The biggest difference the Fitbit has made in my daily habits, though, is that I pace more. I don’t have a treadmill at home, and I haven’t been able to talk myself into using the gym at school very much. In the past, those circumstances would have meant that I just gave up. With the Fitbit app reminding me that I still need 6,000 steps for the day after I get home from work, though, sometimes I get all 6,000 just pacing around. I will turn on the TV and walk in place or jog in place while watching a show. I will walk back and forth across the living room while listening to an audiobook or while talking on the phone. These days I almost always pace while talking on the phone.

These might be small differences, and ten pounds over five months might not seem like much weight loss. I would think it was awfully slow and frustrating if I had been actively dieting. I wasn’t dieting, though. I was just pacing. And slow though it might be, if this rate of weight loss continued for a year, that would be 24 pounds lost in a year. That might seem slow to a dieter, but 24 pounds in one year would be considered rapid weight gain to someone who got surprised by a newsflash from the bathroom scales. I’d like to lose 20 pounds in the next five months, but if I lose half that, I’ll take it. If I just don’t start gaining again, I’ll take it.

I’m calling my first five months with the Fitbit a big success. All it has done is to give me some numbers to track throughout the day and to keep me mindful of what I already know about what I need to do for myself–keep in motion. As it turns out, that’s all I need it to do. Simple, but effective.

I’m not always good at following up, but I will try to let you know how the next five months go. If I’m buying new clothes in a size smaller than I’ve seen in quite a few years, I will most certainly let you know. I might even call you to go shopping with me.

Coming Soon to a Diet Near You

If I remember correctly, I’ve been a vegetarian since 1994, though to be honest, it’s been long enough that I may not have the exact year straight in my head.  Suffice it to say that for the better part of two decades I have eschewed the carnivorous lifestyle.  I have done this as a matter of personal choice.

That’s the part I think almost no one understands.  Everyone wants to know the reason, and if you read enough student essays on vegetarians, you will know that there are always three possibilities for the reason — health concerns, animal welfare activism, and religious beliefs.  I can’t say that I have taken much of a stand for any of the three, nor have I ever really cared that I did.  I am a vegetarian out of personal choice.

I don’t have an argument to make here.  I don’t eat meat.  I just don’t.  This isn’t about what you eat or what anyone else eats.  I just don’t eat meat.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love animals, and I am squeamish about eating them.  I also believe in the health benefits of a plant-based diet.  I’m not opposed to the reasons commonly given for vegetarianism.  I’m just not committed enough to any one of them to claim one as the reason I don’t eat meat.  I have a brother who doesn’t eat spinach, and I don’t eat meat.  These are our personal preferences.  And the one thing you can’t argue someone down on is personal preference.   If you like blue and I like green, we can argue all day, and you will still like blue, and I will still like green.  Preferences are not positions supported with evidence, and thus they are not convictions people can be persuaded to or away from.  They just are.

This is why it doesn’t tempt me when you hold a steak up in front of me and say, “Don’t you just want one bite?”  I use this example because something like it happens every day of my life that I am around other people.  I am not tempted because I truly never wanted the steak.  I wasn’t sitting there depriving myself out of some misguided principle that you will be the one person to lure me away from with your clever ploys.  If I wanted to eat the steak I would.

But I don’t.

And despite the fact that I haven’t said anything about you eating it and haven’t even thought about what I think of you eating it — because seeing people eat things I don’t eat is no different from seeing people wear shoes I don’t wear —  my not eating it seems to bother you.  That’s why when you can’t tempt me, you take up arguing with me and/or ridiculing me.    And yes, I know this is what you are going to do because it happens at every meal, and has been happening at every meal for nearly twenty years.  My favorite line, by the way, is the one about the bugs in the rice.  You know you can’t really be a vegetarian if you eat plants because plants always have some bugs cooked in with them, and bugs are creatures too.  Yes, yes, I’ve heard that.

I say all of this to say that despite the fact that I have been a vegetarian all these years, I have never even attempted to become a vegan.  The very thought of social interaction as a vegan exhausts me.  The thought of the number of people who would try to feed me salad with ranch dressing on it, thinking that is what vegans eat, exhausts me.  The thought of trying to explain in restaurants in Mississippi what can and cannot be included on a vegan plate exhausts me.

I know it can’t be easy.  The social aspects of being a vegetarian have never been easy.  Almost no one can resist harassing the vegetarian.  The vegetarian in the room at any event involving food is always the kid whose mother dresses her funny.  Always.

Still, I can’t resist a challenge, and I have decided that I am going to go vegan for the month of September just to see what happens.  Last September, Robert St. John, a self-described devout carnivore did this.  If he can do it, I can do it.

Already my question is not “what will I eat?”  I expect I’ll learn a good bit about what is available for vegans, but I do have a pretty good idea of how to go about it, and I don’t think that what I eat will be the hard part.  I just dread dealing with what people will say.  I dread the renewed vigor with which people will try to sway me in my eating preferences.  I dread going to events at which the only thing vegan available is the iced tea.  I dread what other people will do to try to feed me at these events.

I dread it, but I’m going to deal with it.  The thirty days of September will be egg and dairy free for me because I want to find out what it is like to be a vegan for a month.

Details to follow…

Foods of a Certain Sound #dieting

Dieting Again: Day 7

In Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, there’s a baboon named Khufu who only eats food that end with the letter O — Doritos, Cheerios, and I am sorry to say an occasional Flamingo. This idiosyncrasy made me laugh. I’ve thought about going on a letter diet before as well. For me, it’s not so much a letter as a sound, though. I like things that start with an ssss sound — cereal, sandwiches, salads, soups, spaghetti, salsa, and so forth.

In fact, I think if I limited myself to cereal, sandwiches, and salads, I could go for months on end without even noticing I was on a diet. I’m considering it.

My main issue with eating is that I eat while my mind is on something else. I don’t pay enough attention to how much I’m eating or how fattening my food is. Cereal and sandwiches work well for me because they are easy to portion size even when I’m not paying attention. They’re also easy to prepare when I don’t have time to deal with anything else. They are a great way to keep on track with limiting calories.

This is why the low carb diet did not work for me. I know I could come up with some things that go sss without indulging in carbs. Squash comes to mind. Maybe sweet potatoes if you aren’t too terribly strict on the carbs. Spinach and celery would do it without a doubt. Cereal and sandwiches are out the door, though. There isn’t a low carb diet book out there that suggests a steady diet of them.

That’s a pity.

People talk a lot about lifestyle changes when they talk about dieting, but I’m sort of over that. I’ve got to figure out a way to make my diet fit my life, not the other way around. If I haven’t become a person who pays attention to what I’m eating while I’m eating it in the past four decades, I’m not going to now.

I do need to change my eating patterns, but I need the changes to fit my life patterns. Basically, I need to allow myself convenience foods.

Diet books tend to generate lots of guilt over taking the easy way out. Probably, that’s why people rarely manage to stay on diets long term.

Today I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a Subway sandwich for lunch, and a bowl of cereal for supper. I was busy. This was the best I could do.

You won’t find this plan in Atkin’s, but it worked for me today. I wasn’t hungry between meals, and I kept my total calories under 1400. If I need to feel guilty about this, I’ll have to do it later. Right now I’m just going to revel in the fact that I’ve made it through Day 7 of a diet without giving up. So there.

Giving Myself a Break #dieting

Dieting Again: Day 6

Here’s the good news. This morning — Day 6 of my new diet — I was down 3 lbs from where I started out on Day 1. Yay for me. Nothing is more motivating than success, right?

Yeah, but…here’s the rest of the story. I can’t really be down 3 lbs because I haven’t been that good. On Day 2, I ate an almond croissant at C’est La Vie. This is a place that doesn’t bother to post calorie info because they have an actual French guy in the back making pastries. If you’re watching calories, you’ve got no business walking in the door. The pastries are to die for, though, and the almond croissant is among my favorites. I like mine with a friendly visit and a cup of tea, and that’s exactly how I had it this week.

That’s not so bad, you say? Just one croissant? Yeah, but…the garden vegetables are coming in, and I am a real Southerner. I’m the fifth generation of my family to be born in Mississippi on the side that actually kept track. I am a product of generations of genetic programming that says you’re supposed to fry that squash. Honestly, I like my veggies just fine when they aren’t fried, but there is a ritual here that must be honored. In the past few days I’ve had fried potatoes, fried okra, and fried squash all straight from the garden.

Next week I’ll think about boiling and baking. This week I had the family honor to defend.

So how can I be that bad and still down 3 lbs? I, for one, would love to know. I’d love to be able to claim that almond croissants and fried okra are the secret to success and write a book that would sell a few million copies on the subject. That would be nice. In the real world, I suspect that I’m just down some water weight because I’ve been working in the yard and sweating.

That said, I do believe there is something to the idea of giving yourself a break. An almond croissant thrown into the middle of a good strict diet shocks the system and revs up the metabolism. I would think it also goes a fair piece toward combating the stress hormones that contribute to weight gain.

I’ve decided that on this diet I’m going to give myself at least one day off a week. I hope I don’t use that day to absolutely gorge myself, but I do plan to let myself eat whatever I want. If I want cake, I’ll have cake. If I want deep fried macaroni and cheese, I probably won’t have that. Too much time to prepare. I might have some cheese fries, though, which sounds a lot more normal than deep fried mac & cheese but is in reality no less fatty and no less carby.

My theory is that I’ll last longer on the diet and feel better if I don’t perpetually deprive myself. I got depressed on the last diet and had a hard time bouncing back. I don’t want to do that again. If my efforts to improve my health lead to taking pills just to function, I can’t possibly have done it right.

This time I’m all about giving myself a break. I know I have to keep up with calories and be more mindful of my food choices, but I also know that I have to live my life, and I just don’t see how anyone is meant to live a life all the way through without some fried potatoes in it. As long as I can restrain myself to one day a week on that, I think I’ll be okay.

And I know what I’m talking about. I’ve already lost 3 lbs this way.

Dieting Again: Day 4

I’ve come up with a plan for this phase of my dieting that I think is pretty much guaranteed to work if I stick with it long enough. It’s simple too. Just stay busy.

I don’t mean mentally busy either. I can work like a race horse all day sitting in front of the computer and eat 10,000 calories without ever remembering I’ve taken a bite. That’s what gets me into situations where I have to go on diets. I eat when my mind is doing something else, and I don’t keep up with how much is going down.

Staying physically busy is a whole different ballgame. I’m sure I could manage to eat and vacuum at the same time, but I probably won’t. I probably won’t eat and weed the flower beds at the same time either. That’s just a little too messy even for me.

I admit I didn’t come up with this plan so much as it came up with me. I’ve been busy the past couple of days, and it suddenly just struck me that I had also not been snacking or even missing snacking.

I know from my experience with dieting last summer that the first couple of weeks on a diet are the hardest. That’s when you think about food all the time, and you feel unbearably hungry all the time. That’s when you have dreams about things you ate at Dairy Queen twenty years ago.

This time, though, I’ve managed to avoid feeling distressed by my diet simply by staying too busy to think about it. I highly recommend this approach.

Yesterday, I helped my parents put up the corn from their garden. Today, I cleaned out an overgrown flower bed and filled it in with mulch. Now, not only am I not particularly hungry, I’m also too tired to care whether I eat anything or not. Plus, caloriecount.about.com tells me that weeding burns up to 367 calories per hour. This is a win, win, win for me, and the yard looks better too.

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to follow a particular diet plan this time. Today I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch. I plan to eat a plate of garden vegetables for supper. That’s not necessarily a plan. I’m not telling myself there are foods I can’t have. I’m not feeling deprived. I’m just eating things that are easy to portion size and things I happen to already have on hand.

Soon enough the mental jobs I have to do will take over again from the physical jobs, and I’ll have to come up with a way to discipline myself into exercise, but for now tackling home projects works. Ask me about this again in a few weeks, and I hope I’ll tell you that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Dieting Again: Day 1

I’ve been saying I was about to go on a diet for the past several weeks. Well, here it is. Today is the day. This is the first day of the rest of my diet.

I read that diets are only effective for up to 12 weeks at a time. I decided I would just go for that much time and see what happened. If I start today and end 12 weeks from today, that puts me at a goal of completing the diet on August 31. I’m liking the clear designation of this as a summer diet. Up through August, garden vegetables will be available in abundance, and the days will be long, leaving no excuses for not eating right and exercising.

Aside from setting goals to eat more green beans and exercise more, I haven’t made up my mind yet about following a particular diet plan. I did South Beach last year, and it worked, but I’m not sure that’s for me again. I got very depressed trying to reduce carbs so much. The brain needs sugar to produce mood elevating chemicals. I can’t really afford to do without those.

I am going to try to limit my sweets to Sunday dinner with the family, which should assure that I show up for Sunday dinner pretty regularly. It should also keep me from feeling absolutely deprived.

I’m also going to make sure I get my main carbs in the form of high fiber products. Beyond that, I’m just going to try to live on summer produce. I happen to enjoy butter beans and sliced tomatoes, so this should work.

I keep hearing Mario in head saying “here we go,” so here I go. I’ve never actually made it to the last level to defeat Bowser before in the Mario games, but you never know. Aim for the top, they say, and at least maybe you’ll make it through the first round alive.

I have not yet eaten breakfast today, so today’s food plan is to eat a sandwich for brunch and then cook some veggies later in the afternoon for an early dinner. If I can manage in between not to run to the store for Oreos, I’ll be doing okay.

Wish me luck.

On a Diet Deferred

I had big plans for this week.  This was going to be my time to go on my super-charged, vegan, raw foods, organic, locally grown, vegged out and vegged up diet extravaganza.  Turns out diet extravaganzas are expensive, though, and I am in a state of post-Christmas personal financial recession.

I’ve come to the conclusion that January is a bad time to try to go locavore anyway.  Last January, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and got all excited about becoming a locavore, but even Barabara Kingsolver said January is a bad time to start.  I am going to try to score some local greens when I visit my parents, and I am going to check the fruit stand near my office for some decent veggies, but beyond that I’m adopting a whole different set of rules for January dieting than I originally intended.  My vegetable extravaganza will have to wait for May.  I have other priorities right now.

I am back on my diet, and for a time at least I will probably try to do a more relaxed version of South Beach than the one I was on last fall.  I want to work on more than just carbs, though.  I really want to focus on healthier eating all the way around.  The reason I wanted to do my vegetable extravaganza was so that I would quit eating things from cans and boxes.  I don’t want the preservatives in my food, and I don’t want the extra packaging that comes with it.  I want to be more earth-friendly and more health conscious at the same time.

However.  However.  I don’t think it is precisely earth-friendly to refuse to eat the food items already in the pantry just because they don’t fit my current diet program.  It certainly isn’t checkbook friendly.  Therefore, my January and February rules are to eat as balanced and low cal and low carb as I can while eating my way through the food I already have.

My cabinet is full of cans of soup and corn and green peas and boxes of couscous.  My freezer is full of cartons of leftover casseroles and bags of frozen snow peas and broccoli.  I’m going to just start there.

I’ll allow myself a small grocery store budget for purchasing salad fixings and fruit.  I do want some fresh items.  I’m just not going on a “no canned foods” diet until I’ve eaten what’s here.  That should help me save on grocery costs through the lean post-holiday times in addition to helping me empty out my kitchen in preparation for changing my diet more significantly later in the spring when the “clean foods” I want to eat are more readily available.

Pictured above:  Black-eyed pea salad

I used about a cup and a half of leftover black-eyed peas, a can of corn, some green salsa, a can of sliced black olives, and chopped green onions.  I think I added a little garlic as well.  That’s it.  This doesn’t fit the diet I wanted to be on, but it was made entirely from ingredients I already had on hand.  It’s also tasty and nutritious.

Don’t knock cheap and easy.  Sometimes that is the best laid plan.

Diet Hack: Box It Up

This is what half my dinner from last night looked like when I got it out to warm it up today. I ate this half for lunch after skipping breakfast. I felt too full even so. That makes it extra embarrassing to admit that I ordered the same meal a couple of weeks ago and finished the whole thing in one sitting.

This brings us today’s diet version of the life hack. Box that extra food up before you start eating. It’s too easy to start talking and fail to notice when you’ve eaten too much. It might be a little embarrassing to ask for a to go box before you’ve ever lifted your fork, but that’s nothing compared to eating four cups of pasta at once.

*photo from my iPhone. No processing.

Salad for Breakfast, or Born to Run

From South Beach Diet Pics

Last summer I read Born to Run. It’s great. Lots of running. You should do like I did and read it through your iPod ear buds while running. Okay, the running part was more like meandering for me, but you get the point. The audio book is well done, and it makes for good exercise listening.

Someone in the book suggested to one these extreme marathon runners that he eat salad for breakfast. Salad is energy food. Salad is light enough that you won’t puke it up if go out and run up a mountain right after breakfast.

I thought salad for breakfast was a great idea even for those who are only going to follow breakfast with a marathon of sitting. Unfortunately, salad requires assembling parts, and who has time for that on a typical working morning?

Today is neither a typical morning nor a working morning for me. I’m on break. I made the salad pictured above for breakfast. Those are garlic roasted beets on the side. The crumbled up stuff is leftover falafel. This is a salad that would seem to call for a nice cucumber yogurt dressing. I didn’t have that on hand, so I used comeback sauce instead. That’s a Mississippi thing.

It was surprisingly tasty, and thanks to the comeback sauce I now require no further fat grams for the rest of the week.