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…

Unhappy People Need Blogs Too

Even Unhappy Hipsters need blogs. Certainly people need to blog about them. Unhappy Hipsters is one of my favorite photo blogs. But unlike the hipsters themselves, that blog is not unhappy. That blog is hilarious.

I am going into my 11th month now of posting something every day to this blog. I haven’t missed a day yet since January 1 of this year. I almost called this post “Moon Over Identity Crisis,” though, because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just stumbling along. In that regard, I am not a witch. I am you.

That said, here’s the moon I would have put at the top of this post if I had decided to make it about something else.

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It was a breakfast moon. I took a picture of it when I was hunting a spider one morning. I put the pictures of the spider on the blog, but this is the first appearance of the moon, I think.

I’m not really sure, though. I’m just posting stuff at random to say I’ve done it.

I don’t have any deeply held regrets. I’ll probably even write later on about what I think I’ve learned or gained from blogging all year. Goodness knows I’ll need all the topics I can get to see me through these next two months as it now seems very unlikely I will quit before the end of December despite the fact that I’ve been threatening to quit every day all along.

What I do have instead of blog regret is blog guilt. Hence the identity crisis. Blogs (I think we think) should be some certain thing. They should be meaningful or they should be entertaining or they should be inspiring. Maybe they can be a little sad sometimes but only to illustrate some greater purpose. What they can’t be (I think we think) is just a gratuitous chronicle of normal ups and downs and upsets and misadventures and goals gone awry and real human experiences of serotonin deprivation.

In other words, this hasn’t been an easy year. My blog has been a whole lot sadder and crankier than I might have imagined when I started out. I feel bad about that. I’m not writing this blog to pull moods down as mine go down. I’m just doing this like brushing teeth. It’s something I take care of before I go to bed.

On the upside, people have been sending presents to my backache. My back got a new pillow and a new book out its appearances on the blog. I’m not the first person to write in exchange for Amazon boxes. I know that, but I’m not quite sure what to think of it. Regardless, my back is very much appreciative.

Still, the fact that I have had more frequent down periods this year than I normally do, and the fact that I have stubbornly and perhaps injudiciously blogged straight through them, makes me wonder a few things, among them, what’s wrong with that anyway? Don’t unhappy people need blogs too?

We have this social narrative that teaches us it is something approaching a sacred duty to be as upbeat and encouraging as possible at all times. Along with that is the social narrative that teaches us a failure to be happy is a failure of character. Or maybe it is a failure of loyalty to the people around you that you don’t appreciate them any better than to be sad in front of them. Or maybe it is a spiritual failure. You must not be praying enough if you are sad, some might say.

We tend to value stoicism and look down on solipsism and aren’t terribly good at distinguishing the fine lines of things that fall in between. That’s just part of what it means to live in the country that produced the happiest place on earth, which, by the way, is something of a trendy spot to commit suicide.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe it is a little too creepily ironic to imagine Disney suicides. Maybe it will make people feel bad. Maybe I will have to worry again that I am not doing my job of making people feel better by writing this blog.

I don’t quite know how to recover that. Maybe I could just point out that as creepy as Disney suicides are, they probably don’t apply to you since you are reading this, and they probably don’t apply to me, since I am writing this.

And so I forge on. I don’t know what I want my blog to be. I don’t know what I’m doing here. But I guess I can’t apologize for the fact that the blog isn’t quite happy. There’s a recession on. Have you noticed? The world isn’t quite happy these days. It’s okay. We can say that out loud.

I can even say it on my blog if I want.

Clean Up the Air in Your House

Interesting. You need 6-8 healthy, waist high plants in your house per person to keep the air clean and healthy? I suppose those plants should all be currently alive. I’m going to have to get to work.

Also, you need to take your plants outside for a while every few months. I’m not sure what that does. Is this to purify the plants so they can keep purifying the indoor air?

Anyway, I found this video via Life Hacker. They have links recommending other types of plants for the same purpose.

Anybody priced a ficus tree lately. It sounds like I need a ficus forest in my house.

Rules, Regarding Food and Similar Substances

I said I was going to blog my way through Michael Pollan’s Food Rules this summer, and so far I have only written about Rule #1: “Eat food.” This is because I haven’t mastered Rule 1 yet. I figure I should have some success with the first step before taking the second.

Eat food, he says, not processed substances. I thought that sounded like a fine idea. I gave myself one task. Quit Diet Cokes. I failed.

I did give them up for about four days. I was at home mostly during those days. I had a pitcher of tea in the refrigerator. I was fine. I didn’t miss the Diet Cokes at all.

Then I had to leave town for a meeting where I got thirsty on the drive and thirsty in the meeting. I caved to the call of the Diet Coke. Of course I did.

I thought I might easily get back on track to drink tea instead when I came home, but I’ve barely been home, and when I did come home it was to stressful circumstances. Circumstances happen. They aren’t really an excuse. If I’ve made promises, even to no one in particular, I ought to keep them regardless.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I’ve decided not to bother beating myself up with that lousy line of logic. If I consider the whole array of substances I might have turned to in times of stress, Diet Coke is not so bad. Drink up, I say, and enjoy.

But try again to follow at least one rule tomorrow. Sometimes that’s just the best you can do.

1. Eat Food

I’ve decided to blog my way through Michael Pollan’s food rules. There are sixty-something of them, and I only plan to do two or three a week, so this could take some time. That’s okay.

I believe that the biggest problem with my own diet is that I don’t pay enough attention to what I’m eating. I get busy, and I eat while I’m thinking about something else. I eat junk. I eat processed foods. I cafeteria pizza and what passes for cheese sauce at Taco Bell.

And so it seems appropriate that Pollan’s first rule is Eat Food. Eat food as opposed to processed junk. Eat cheese instead of what passes for cheese sauce in a fast food drive-through. Eat rice instead of processed rice cakes that look more like cork board than anything you might be pleased to scoop up with chopsticks.

Eat food, not chemically designed substances. That sounds simple enough, and I believe anyone who starts there is bound to become a little healthier.

In that spirit, the most obvious rule I could make for myself to start my path to better health is no more Diet Cokes. Assuming we include drinks with food, Diet Cokes aren’t food. They provide no nutritional value. They fill the body with added chemicals. They aren’t good for you even if to you they’re so good.

Coffee and tea are much healthier sources of caffeine, or at least much less damaging sources. Their labels are free of a whole bunch of chemical additives. Plus, used coffee grounds and tea leaves can be spread around in the garden to nourish plants. I haven’t found a gardening book yet that recommends giving your tomatoes a Diet Coke, but even my great-grandmother fed tea leaves to her garden.

So there you have Michael’s rule 1 and Sharon’s rule 1. I’m not sure how I’ll get through all sixty-something. I’m starting huge. Huge, I tell you. If I really give up Diet Cokes, we’ll know the world is changing for sure.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Meanwhile, today I plan to make sweet potato chili. I don’t know if this will satisfy all of the food rules or not since I’m going to take them on one at a time, but at least it counts as food. Delicious food at that.

The Fruit Stand

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It’s called Carol’s. It’s a few blocks and a pleasant walk from my office, and it has the best local produce in three counties. Okay, let’s make that ten counties. I’m feeling pretty good about Carol’s today.

I went through on a scouting mission this morning. They have peanuts and king cakes in abundance right now, which tells me they have their priorities straight. They also have potatoes, cabbages, and turnip roots. The freezers are loaded with pink-eyed peas and such that look like they were put there by someone’s Granny. I love it. Anyone on a mission to eat locally should seriously shop Carol’s.

I bought a couple of oranges and a hunk of hoop cheese today. Sorry, my friends, but this was only a scouting mission. I was on my way back to my office where I lacked freezer space to load up on garden peas. Even at home, I’ll have to eat a few Lean Cuisines and frozen pizzas before I can make way for many healthy, environmentally friendly options. But the trip to the fruit stand tells me it can be done.

Yet another point gleaned from Barbara Kingsolver is that local eating doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You can do some good by only changing part of your eating habits. So what if you or I go to the fruit stand once a week before going to the grocery store? One small fruit basket of seasonal produce grown locally could become the basis for several meals through the week.

This means healthier, better thought out meals. It means supporting local farmers and a local business that goodness knows we would all suffer without. And it means reducing the number of food items we’re consuming that have to be shipped long distances to reach us. It’s a winning proposition all the way around.

If enough of us shifted even part of our shopping and eating habits to a local orientation, we could shift real economic leverage back to the small family farm and reduce our dependence on petroleum products by what Kingsolver claims is a stunning amount.

Something to ponder…

Plus, you should go to Carol’s anyway because Wal-Mart has nothing on their decor.

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To say nothing of the fact that somebody’s Mama right here in town made those chess bars.

Breakfast and the Art of Ethical Eating

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Yes, this is one of those annoying “eat this, not that” posts. I’m on a quest to reduce the chemicals in my diet, to reduce the amount of fuel used to bring my food to me, and to support the local farmer in my food purchases. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite figured out how to do all three at once yet, but we all have to begin to begin somewhere if we want to improve our lives and lessen our own impact on the world around us.

Today, I tackle the issue of breakfast. I like granola cereals and yogurt for breakfast. Yet, in reading the Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve been going on about for days, I was forced to think about the fact that not only do those cereals contain added chemicals, they also consist of multiple ingredients all shipped to a factory where they are processed, packaged, and shipped again to come to a grocery store near me.

Stephen Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband, recommends oatmeal instead. It may not be locally grown. It may have also been processed in a factory and shipped. But it consists of a single ingredient. Only one product had to be shipped to a processing center and shipped out again. Plus, the single ingredient on the nutrition label means no added chemicals. That has to be a good thing.

The picture above is of my breakfast this morning. Only one part of it came from a local farm. It is sweetened with honey from Smith’s Farm in Petal, Mississippi. Local honey is easy to find in stores here, and it is much healthier than sugar substitutes.

The strawberries are from Los Angeles. The sign outside the store said “Louisiana strawberries,” which was a big surprise to me in January. The packages said Los Angeles, California, which was not so much of a surprise. I bought them anyway, though they are bruised and battered from their travels. I love oatmeal, but I don’t want to eat it without fruit if I can help it.

For most of the year, I’ve eaten blueberries picked from my parent’s yard on my oatmeal and cereal. My freezer is now out of berries, but in the planning ahead next time category….More Berries!

Photography and Wellness

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A friend asked me why I was suddenly so camera-happy, going around taking a crazy amount of pictures. Or maybe she didn’t actually ask. I could just feel her wondering. Either way, I answered, “I’m taking back part of my life.” I’ve been working way too hard for way too long, and it is taking its toll. I am physically, emotionally, and mentally burned out. I have to do something to turn that around, or I will not be able to keep doing my job.

I bought the camera hoping to learn to use it well enough to embark on a few artistic projects. For one, I wanted to take my own photos to use as my own writing prompts. For another, I wanted to explore some of the small towns and historic sites around my state–almost as homage to Eudora Welty who took incredible photographs of Depression Era Mississippi.

What I didn’t know until I had the camera in my hands was that I would be inspired to undertake photography as a daily ritual, immediately jumping into photo-blogging and Flickr-sharing. What I didn’t know was that I would approach photography not as a matter of art but as a matter of health.

It is a time of exercise and meditation for me. I find myself in quiet places looking at the world outside the problems and responsibilities churning around in my head. I walk. I squat. I stretch. I bend. I twist. All in an effort to see more clearly. It is as good as yoga to me.

Sometimes I don’t have much time, but even ten minutes of looking around for pictures usually yields something interesting, and even ten minutes of not thinking about work clears the head and relieves the stress.

This has me wondering if others practice photography in the same way. A Google search for “photography and wellness” yields a bunch of stock photos on subjects related to wellness but not so much articles on the topic. Google is, unfortunately, as far as I’ve gone thus far in my research. I did find a kporterfield.com discussing photography as a healing practice, but kp seems a little out of date as the advice is all about film. How retro.

K Porterfield aside, I have my own ideas about the types of photography I’ve done in just two short weeks and their health benefits.

(1) Food. I started out with the tangerines. Those shots were my first real experiment with the new camera, and they made me more aware of the appearance of my food purchases. That day I just happened to have tangerines and cherries on hand. The next time I went to the store I bought pears and grapes because I wondered how they would look in pictures. That’s when it occurred to me that I had put myself on a pretty food diet for the sake of the camera and that this was also a healthy food diet. There’s nothing whatsoever attractive about a cheesy tot. If you take the time to actually look at your food, you’ll probably buy it the way God and all of Italy always intended, for its healthy color.

(2) Nature. Nature photos mean nature walks. Relaxation + exercise = nothing healthier. Plus, sometimes you make friends with a new dog along the way.

(3) Yard art. I adore yard art. It makes me laugh. It makes me smile. Add that to relaxation and exercise, and it just keeps getting better and better.

(4) Historic sites. I haven’t done much of this yet, but I did go to Cedar Hills Cemetery in Vicksburg to take pictures of the angels there. This I would qualify as a spiritual experience. I walked a lot that day but I didn’t notice because I was entranced with the place. This was walking and watching as meditation. I also learned a few things and remembered a few things I’d once known about the town and its history.

I know there are books about art and wellness and writing and wellness. There are even books about blogging and wellness. I’m going to be on the lookout for books about photography and wellness. If there isn’t more about it out there, someone needs to write it. Photography has something of a unique capacity to hit multiple wellness needs at once. I’m certainly finding that to be true.