I felt like going for a ride today, so I rode up to Ess-a-Bagel on 1st Avenue, near Stuyvesant Town, picked up a dozen bagels and some cream cheese and salmon salad, and rode back. It’s 5 miles there and back (about 200 calories), and I’m about to eat a thousand calories worth of what I brought back, so there’s a lesson there, but I’d rather not think about it.
Posts Tagged ‘health’
Lifehacker comes news of the FitDesk, a jiggly-looking folding exercise bike with a lapdesk of sorts attached to the top of it. The sales video shows a bunch of pretty people exercising none too strenuously while fake-typing on laptops that aren’t turned on, so I’m not convinced it won’t fly apart if you try to exercise on it for real (not to mention that it might not hold my weight).
But the idea is intriguing. Even if you can’t get a full workout with this thing, all things being equal it’s better to be moving your legs around than not, so how can it hurt?
I’m not going to buy this thing. (But maybe I should get myself a trainer…)
One of the things I learned last year when I lost about 30 pounds successfully through diet and exercise was non-intuitive, but important: there’s no point in punishing yourself in order to lose weight. That doesn’t mean you need to make long-term, significant nutritional changes that are often annoying and at times maddening. You do. But if you want to be able to sustain your changes, you need to keep things in perspective. So know your boundaries. Being respectful of how far you’re willing to go helps ensure that you don’t get discouraged for no good reason.
For me, two of the boundaries I live by are real sugar in my coffee and real butter on my toast. No exceptions. I’m sensitive to how much sugar and butter (and toast) I eat, and how often; but I don’t replace something I find delicious with something I find foul and unpleasant in order to save 10 or 20 calories. Even over a full year of perfect adherence to a no-butter, no-sugar regimen (no cheating, no exceptions), the most I could conceivably lose as a direct result of that year of torture is about 8 pounds. No thanks; I’ll lose my 8 pounds another way, like (say) biking, on average, 2 additional miles a day for a year. (Come to think of it, I’ll get on that right away; that’s just one extra round trip to the Upper West Side per week, which I should be able to handle without any serious disruption.)
Another of my rules: no diet soda. I make the occasional exception for a can of Diet Dr. Pepper, but on the whole, I find diet soda to have no point; it’s not delicious or refreshing, and it tastes like it was made in a chemistry set (which, essentially it was). So why not just drink some water (or plain soda) and bypass the whole issue of empty calories entirely?
This guy lost 320 pounds riding a bike, which is kind of amazing. The whole story is worth reading. It wasn’t just the bike that did it, of course — he committed himself to serious diet changes, and the bike riding led to a healthier lifestyle overall, in a virtuous circle. But, Jesus, last year he rode 20,000 miles! (I ride about a tenth of that, and I feel like I ride a lot.)
The thing that makes the story, though, was that he started a little at a time and built up naturally. In fact, he started by spending months thinking about getting a bike made that could support his weight (but not doing it), and then by spending months letting his new extra-strong bike gather dust in the hallway. He was afraid to ride. Then he did. And he did more. And he did more. And in the end, he was healthier and happier. It started, though, with one ride.
The thing about both salad and soup is that they help you feel full faster, compared to other things you might eat instead. And if you attune yourself to this (rather than reflexively eating on and on even if you’re not hungry), you’ll end up consuming fewer calories. So I’m trying to keep both on hand — and enforce a new cultural norm in my house, so that I’m allowed to eat something different from what others are eating.
The Simpson family (excluding Lisa) may believe that you don’t win friends with salad, but if your goal is to lose weight, you could do worse than making it easier to get in the habit of healthier eating. This weekend I invested in some salad fixins, redeployed my wooden salad bowl for its original purpose (it had been doing a stint as a collector of computer adapters, cables, and dongles), and made a pledge to eat salad as a meal more often — at least as often as I can stand, and perhaps more often than that. If tonight’s salad was any indication (romaine, celery, red onion, garbanzo beans, a bit of parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper), this won’t be completely horrible.
And what better to eat with salad than homemade soup, which has the additional virtue of using up whatever odds and ends you have on hand. Right now on the stove I have a large pot of Impromptu Soup cooling, and it wasn’t hard to make. I sautéed some onions, garlic, and tarragon in a tiny bit of olive oil, deglazed with red wine and with a leftover roasted tomato, added a quart or two of water and the last of my Better than Bouillon stock concentrate, and brought it back to a boil. Then I threw in a large handful of barley, two large handfuls of lentils, the very end of a bag of mixed dried beans, a few ounces of leftover roast beef chopped up small, the last of the New Year’s Eve chicken pulled off the bone, and about 8 almost-rotten tomatoes that I’d tossed into the freezer months ago waiting for a soup. Salt and pepper, and that was it; just let that simmer for two or three hours and you have a rich, healthful, delicious thick soup, which will be even better on reheating.
This aside, I realized this week that given that I’m biking 10 or 15 miles three times a week, I might as well do a little portion control to go along with it — if I do, I can probably bring my weight down by the 10 or 15 pounds I’m hoping for.
So I’m back on the “less carbs, more protein and fruit, no desserts unless I really feel like it” diet that’s worked for me. It’s not highly restrictive — it’s mostly a matter of getting in the habit of not eating junk, keeping fruit in the house, and not feeling compelled to eat a whole big dinner if I’m not hungry for one. Lots of little marginal choices, for me, end up adding up to change.
There are 2 simple changes I’ve already made. One is to have a simple salad for lunch, more often than not, which I’ve started doing again. This was part of my routine last year, and I think it helped. The other is to drink a lot more water, because first of all, why not, and second, it’s better for me than munching dry raisin bran out of the bowl, no?
I’ve heard increasing noise in the press over the past year about the emerging consensus that there isn’t necessarily the strong causal link between weight loss and longevity that everyone thought, except possibly for people with dire obesity problems. Most people, even most “fat people,” don’t have dire obesity problems; they (we) are somewhere in the BMI range between about 27 and 33, making us “overweight” and “obese” but not ginormous.
Speaking for myself, I could do to lose up to about 35 or 40 pounds (i.e., up to about a sixth of my current size) without looking unhealthy or radically changing my body shape. And I did lose about 30 pounds a year ago, but (just as Parker-Pope suggests) I gained it all back once I lost the will to micromanage what, when, and how much I was eating.
However, that year-long experiment has left me permanently healthier. I’ve permanently lost at least 10 pounds of fat around my middle (the most dangerous kind to carry), replacing it with a roughly equal weight of muscle on my thighs. I’ve made incremental but apparently permanent changes to the way I eat: on balance, more vegetables and fruits, proportionally more protein, less carbs (especially in the morning). And, most importantly, I’ve discovered bicycling, a type of moderate exercise I’m not just willing but eager to engage in almost every day for almost an hour; on average, I’m now biking 50 miles a week.
Now, biking 50 miles a week won’t lead to weight loss, at least for me. Perhaps paradoxically, the fact that I do it so consistently has left me in better physical shape to such a degree that my most frequent stretch of ride (the 2.5 miles between home and work) no longer provides sustained aerobic benefit. I get out of breath, I get my heart pumping, but I’m not suffering. On the other hand, isn’t that the point — to develop healthy habits that stick, becoming routine rather than burdensome? I’ve developed a healthy habit that I derive pleasure from sustaining, and which has positive-feedback effects (for instance, on the days I ride, I tend to eat less, not more, and I crave fresh fruit, which I now keep in the house).
I would like to be thinner. On the other hand, weighing all the studies against each other, I suspect that I get more than enough benefit from biking 50 miles a week (and possibly much more than enough) to overcome the “drag” imposed by those extra 30 or 40 pounds. And, based on my experience, losing 40 pounds and keeping them off would require a degree of dedication that would be highly disruptive to my life. I suspect that when I go in for my physical this year, my cholesterol levels and other bloodwork will look good, and I can guarantee that if they put me through a cardiac stress test, I’ll ace it — and that’s something that in my whole life, until last year, I would never have been able to say. So, in keeping with my 2012 resolutions, let’s celebrate that success of mine, which may prove to be life-extending.
So I was back at the gym today, for the first time in an embarrassingly long time. I used to do a full hour of alternating run-walking on the treadmill without any particular trauma, but today it was all I could do to walk a couple miles and spend 5 minutes on the abdominal machine. Still, it’s as much about the routine as it is about exactly what you do, right? (I’m expecting you all to hold me to that in the coming weeks.) So I’m here at the coffee place around the corner from my gym, having a cuppa and a gigantic glass of water and feeling special about myself.
In fact my goals are not particularly ambitious: a few (say, 6) months from now I want to weigh 15 or 20 pounds less and be able to keep it off. Given that my lower-body muscle mass is continuing to build (at the margins) because of my daily cycling, I’ll probably actually have to lose somewhat more than that in order to end up where I want to be.
And yeah, you’d think that cycling 30 miles a week, as I’ve been doing consistently for a long while, would do something to my weight, but either (1) everything I’ve lost has gone directly into new muscle, or (2) I’m eating enough to cover the incremental exercise, or (3) when you mostly do short rides (under 2 miles) in city traffic, you never get your heart rate into the zone where it does you any good. Obviously option (1) is the sexy one, but I’m afraid that options (2) and (3) are significantly more plausible.
Not that the cycling doesn’t have other benefits, which I’ve catalogued endlessly and tediously elsewhere. It in itself just won’t make me thin.
Oh, and — forget about the whole “no eating” thing. Portion control, sure, smart choices at the margins, of course, but food is the whole point of life!
So my big bike day was sort of a bust. Sort of. I did bike to work (about 3 miles), and then I biked up to a meeting on the Upper East Side (6 miles), but due to a lack of time, I had to skip the 10-mile ride to Gowanus and take the subway instead, capping off the day with a short ride at the very end. Still, a 10-mile day is nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone like me who has a history of detesting any activity that makes me the least bit tired or sweaty.
In related news, my car now officially lives in Manhattan!!!, in one of those parking lots with the electric lifts so they can stack cars one on top of the other. So when I want to use it, instead of a 25-minute subway trek, I now have only a 5-minute ride up the super-duper M15. Exciting! This means, unfortunately, that I now have to fight with the CIty of New York online to get my Manhattan resident parking tax rebate. Given that my car registration shows a PO box, I predict a bureaucratic pain in the ass ahead. We’ll see.
And on the subject of the car: my mechanic in Gowanus for some reason is in love with my car — I feel like I should charge him for the privilege of working on it. Every time he touches it, he says “it runs like a dream” and “it looks like you keep it garaged.” I swear, I don’t, I leave it in an open lot for weeks or months at a time. But it’s nice to hear.
Oh, and one more thing: there were apparently RATS living in my engine, but we’ve caught that problem in time, fortunately. (Yes, this is a thing. Google it.)
Today I had to take my car in for service on the way to work (involving going to the lot in downtown Brooklyn, calling a tow truck, waiting for it, riding over to Gowanus and dropping off the car, and then heading to work). I had the brilliant idea of biking instead of taking the subway, and it turned out very well — by the time I got home tonight, I’d ridden 12 1/2 miles (more than I thought it would be) and I didn’t even feel tired.
As usual, the hardest part was getting on the damn bike. Once I did that, everything else sort of fell into place. I confess I walked the bike up the steepest part of the Brooklyn Bridge incline, but I don’t think that’s even a problem, since by then my heart rate was up in the fat-burning zone anyway. The ride to work through Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights and over the Manhattan Bridge was very nice, under perfect skies and shade trees. I detoured past the bike shop on Court Street for a minor repair (and to pick up a bike horn, since after all horns aren’t just for clown bikes, and a saddle bag).
The ride to work was almost 7 miles, but it didn’t feel like it, and after my ride home (about 3 miles, including a detour to the ice-cream truck) I feel like I could go out again, which is the whole point — make your body hungry for exercise (and, after it, watermelon and seltzer) and you end up in a virtuous cycle that brings your weight down and helps you feel better. (I note I’m feeling better on less sleep than usual.)
Tomorrow if the weather holds I’m going to risk something even more ambitious: I have a meeting in the East 80s, then have to pick the car up in Gowanus, and I’m considering doing the whole day by bike, which would be something like a 20-mile day, probably more miles than I’ve done in a day since the last time I rode from Belmont to Walden Pond, which I note was during the Reagan Administration.