11/09/2004

Underwhelmed

Over the past few weeks I've been seeing friends I have not seen for a long while, specifically, before I began the weight plan. So I've been kind of eager to get some real feedback on how I look and how I'm doing.

I guess I expect too much. Usually it is polite enough conversation, but that's it. Which makes me wonder what I was expecting in the first place.

At a party a few months ago, I ran into an old work colleague who literally transformed herself from a maternal blob of goo into a svelte fitness coach. I'd not seen her for years, and I was (I felt) appropriately impressed and told her so. Maybe I'm the exception for noticing this kind of thing, I don't know.

The other theory that I hold is that, outwardly, I remain a thinner fat man. One hundred pounds overweight is twice as bad as 50 pounds overweight, but those 50 are still pretty bad pounds. My gut is still a big handful of spongey flab. I've got 200 sticks of butter form-fitted over my torso. Yes, I'm a very tall man, so I can "carry it," but still...

So maybe they're reacting to what is before them, not the transformation from what I was.

Halfway Mark

Another morning weigh-in and a big surprise: I lost more than 2 pounds. In fact, the dial stopped at a very nice round number. I've lost 50 pounds. I'm halfway to my goal.

Success is a great motivator. My unbroken no-cheat streak is now being matched by my never-miss-a-workout streak. Whether it is the dark before sunrise or after sunset, I go to the gym twice on weekdays, and a third time on a weekend day.

I suspect my increased weight loss this week was due to extending my "cardio" portion of my workout. I get on a cross trainer, grab the handles and set it for "cardio." It measures my heart rate and increases resistance until my heartrate is at 144 bpm. Then I just swivel swivel swivel while watching CNN, New England Cable News, ESPN, ABC, or the Travel Channel.

It can't just be a matter of calories burned. I think by working out like this, I'm setting in motion the right chemistry to lose weight during the rest of the week. I have nothing to back this up but the simple math that five to ten extra minutes on a bicycle can't burn the calories alone.

10/26/2004

Twenty Days in October

It has been almost three weeks since my last post. In the many blogs I've followed over the years, the usual explanations offered upon the bloggers' return are either (1) loss of mission, loss of energy, loss of interest, (2) bad news in the bloggers' lives, or (3) newfound "busy"-ness caused by a great change in those bloggers' lives.

I've not lost interest in continuing this blog because I like the way writing something down gives concrete form to an inchoate notion in my mind and, by solidifying it, makes it "real." With this focus, you clear room for more ideas rather than stewing, fretting, sulking, etc. There. I said it. What's next.

There's no bad news in my life. In fact, things are going great, never better.

I never like the "too busy to blog" excuse when I read it, so I hesitate to offer it here -- yet that is the reason. A few huge things have been going on:

1. October in New England fills your weekends with once-a-year activities, especially when you have a child whom you wish to show the best of the world. Autumn only lasts one month in Massachusetts: September is more like a "post-summer" than autumn, while November is more like a "pre-winter," especially now that Thanksgiving is an official gateway to the Christmas holidays. Sure, there is cheating a few days in either direction, but when you think of autumn foliage, apple picking, "Fall Festivals," hayrides, Indian corn, and so on, you're thinking of four weekends in October.

2. Our local sports teams have never been more successful, and I've been watching a lot of the games and savoring the local coverage. The Red Sox beat the Yankees after being down three games in a best of seven championship series, and now they're two games ahead in the World Series. The Patriots have been undefeated for a record 21 straight games. This is soaking up a lot of time -- but I wouldn't miss it.

3. An opportunity arrived at the office. I spent an entire three-day weekend researching and polishing a presentation. I delivered the presentation, and it went over so well I have a new job. I can't be more excited.

For my career advancement, I give credit to my new lifestyle. I am awake longer, and my alertness is unprecedented. In conversation, the words just spill out, well-formed and well-chosen. Plus I have an inner confidence I never possessed. I know I'm doing everything I can to have an attractive appearance, which means I have nothing to be embarrassed about except that I waited so long. (And I'm over that.) I work out, I eat right, I sleep, and now I am alert, energized, positive, and feeling very alive and in-the-moment.

In the adventures of Diet-Man, things have never been better. I took a long weekend to entertain my sister from Arizona, who arrived craving moisture, crooked roads, and seafood, and we were able to supply all three in abundance with a stay on Cape Cod. I did not break any of my diet rules except those concerning moderation and alcohol, but I did skip a workout. Each night I drank all the red wine I could, and each meal we ate out I pretty much feasted on the low-carb options. I really pigged out on lobster salad, fish stew, Portuguese pork chops, and a big steak dinner.

Needless to say I got a huge lift from my sister, who was very happy to see how good I looked. Nothing like positive reinforcement to raise the spirits.

Upon my return, my weigh-in last week showed I had not lost a single pound. I weighed exactly the same as a week ago -- a plateau. I expected a gain, but even so, this week I resumed my routine. This morning's weigh-in showed I lost four pounds.

I conclude that the alcohol really did "stall" my fat-burning metabolism process, but that once the stall was broken it surged back. I'm down 44 pounds now, and back to an occasional glass of wine.

10/06/2004

Winter clothes

We had our first frost last night and it was a chilly, foggy morning. For the first time since April I had to put on a coat. I dug it out of the closet and swung it on without thinking. It fits. Better than I remember.

When you gain weight, it accumulates gradually, and the small adjustments and indignities you endure seem manageable because they too accumulate gradually over a long period of time. If you were to gain the weight all at once -- imagine waking up with an extra 40 pounds -- all these changes would seem much more shocking. But, being spread out, they aren't so bad. It's the same in the other direction, I'm sure.

My leather jacket (one I've had for many years) used to stretch uncomfortably around the waist and I could feel my gut rummaging inside the lining as I walked. That feeling is suddenly gone. For a moment, it felt like I just woke up and lost 40 pounds.

I also seem to have acquired a habit I need to break. When I put the jacket on, I grab the two low corners in front where the zipper meets. Unconsciously, I grabbed the ends and swung my hands out to really yank the waistband out, then whipped the points together in front. Only problem is, I don't need to stretch out the waistband anymore; the jacket falls together naturally without yanking.

Some kind of empty feeling. (How droll.)

10/04/2004

Atkinz

A prankster concocts a phoney Atkins menu for TGI Fridays and sends them across the nation for random insertion. One of the "new" selections: The "Bacon Churner," pictured here: two sticks of butter drizzled with fried bacon.

10/02/2004

Essentially Sweet

I've lately been pondering the essence of sweetness. One of the rules of my diet is avoid sugar in most of its forms (sugar, evaporated cane juice, turbinado sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, juice concentrates). When reading a nutrition label,

[l]ook for words that end in "ose" or "ol" like dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, glucose, lactose, mannitol and sorbitol. These are all forms of sugar. Syrups such as corn sweetener, sorghum syrup and high fructose syrups are sweeteners that are often added to drinks. Brown sugar, molasses and honey may be "natural" but they all give you the same calories as regular table sugar.

To return "sweetness" to my palate, I've been using sugar substitutes -- Splenda and Nutrasweet. By completely excluding real sugar, my palate has learned to accept Splenda as tasting like real sugar.

Have you ever had the experience of ordering colas from a restaurant and wondering if what you've just sipped from your unlabelled paper cup or glass is your "real" Pepsi or your friend's Diet Pepsi? I think this happens most often with fountain-served colas, where you're never sure that the establishment isn't trying to save a few cents by adjusting the amount of cola syrup in the drinks. I bet a really weakly mixed Coca Cola tastes a lot like a Diet Coke in these circumstances.

Up until recently I operated under the assumption that a sugar substitute was, well, a poor cousin to the real thing. After all, when your palate has just taken in a slice of chocolate cake with buttercream icing, a sugar-free chocolate candy tastes weird.

But maybe the problem lies in the relative sweetness scale. A molecule of sugar has a perceived sweetness rating; fructose has another, sorbitol another, and so forth. If you have X number of units of sucrose, you need twice as much maltose to approximate the same sweetness. But maltose may impart other flavors beside "sweet": maybe it has a burned quality, or a hint of spoiled salmon (who knows). So now you have to rejigger the other flavors in what you're making to compensate, and your simple substitution has gotten a lot more complicated.

Try this thought experiment: take three cups of coffee from the same pot. Add a teaspoon of sugar to one, a teaspoon of granulated Splenda to the second, and a teaspoon of mystery powder to the third. Sample all three.

The mystery powder is sugar that has been magically stripped of its insulin-triggering properties. You get no high, no sugar crash, no endorphin tickle. It's just "sweet" as you've always remembered. You're not feeling any physical "reward" from this product and your blood chemistry is as undisturbed as if you were drinking tap water.

Does it "taste" the same?

My theory is that when I really crave sweets, I am not craving just the taste experience but the whole physical reaction. It's a chemical pleasure I've gotten used to and want to return to.

If this is correct, then it doesn't matter if one day a chemist discovers a way to de-sugar-fy a sugar molecule the way we decaffeinate coffee, because we aren't craving the sugary taste: we want the sugary high.

And if that is the case, we're moving beyond the realm of self-discipline and stick-to-it-iveness, aren't we?

After all: do you know anyone who can't go a whole week without a salad?

9/29/2004

Stair Master

This isn't a blog about big issues. I'm just trying to capture all those easily overlooked aspects of a life change I thinkg pretty much anyone can accomplish. And the supply little differences is inexhaustible.

At my office the second floor is separated from the first by a pair of staircases framing a grand atrium-like lobby. There are 15 steps on either side. If I need to speak to someone about one of my projects, I usually end up going up the stairs, even if it is just a little thing.

It was not too long ago that I would top the stairs and be out of breath. I'd cover it up by holding my breath or suppressing my gasping (not wanting to appear as unfit as I was), but if I got into a conversation I was screwed. I literally had to stop talking to breathe, which made me more than a little self-conscious, which adds stress, which made me find it harder to get to the point. Face it, it was a mess.

I just noticed over the past few days that I've got so much energy that I try to take the stairs as fast as I can, with a satisfying THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP as I do it. At first I did it to see if I could, and now I'm doing it because I can. And I'm not gasping at the top, either. In fact I feel kind of OK.

I'm still months and months away from being "in shape," but the changes so far have already made a difference.

9/28/2004

Tired

Last night our son woke up several times and wanted to share the experience. When I am fully awakened I find it difficult to get back to sleep, so I ended up working from 3AM on today.

Today was the first time I was going to try a morning workout. By "morning," I mean when the gym opens (5:30AM) to wrap up by 6:20AM so I can get home and shower and get the boy ready for daycare. I was on the dark, foggy streets at 5:15AM, waited a little to get in, and did my full workout only skimping 5 minutes on my cardio.

Once home I showered, dressed, got the boy to daycare, returned home to receive a plumber, rushed back to the office, worked nonstop (10 minutes for lunch) on a variety of zany things, picked up the boy from daycare, drove home, rushed to a hardware store to buy something they did not have in stock, and returned home for dinner at 7:15.

On my workout card, the instructions say to start doing two repetitions of my exercises. Before I only did one, I guess to break in on the equipment. Doing the same stuff twice as much was a challenge and except for two already puny muscle groups I was able to do it without hurting too much.

But I noticed something today: I'm tired. Really beat. Ready to sleep on my feet. Just punked out.

I haven't felt this way in a long while. When I started on my diet, by omitting all sugar highs and crashes I seriously screwed up my body's signals for telling me when I was hungry. All my cues were mixed up. I'd be going along and suddenly feel like dropping dead for lack of food. No appetite, just a switch from nonhungry to very hungry. That settled down and I started to learn new cues for being ready to eat.

What I find interesting is that a similar situation occurred with the concept of being "tired." I have loads of energy but I've not been tired like this. And when I remember fatigue, I think of the daily "sugar crashes" I'd have where I needed either coffee or more sweets to perk myself up again. That's not happening any more. My system is so even-keeled that I only feel tired when I have some real reasons to be. If I skip on sleep, I'm otherwise OK through the day. I'm rarely "dragging."

This has paid huge dividends at work, where mental acuity formerly came from the bottom of a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee.

By the way, I plan to work out three times a week: once in the early AM, once in the evening after work, and when I can fit it in on a weekend. I think this minimizes the impact on my wife's schedule, who also works hard and has not been drafted to daycare while I have "fun."

9/27/2004

Grilling to Perfection

I grill every week, sometimes twice, and with repetition my techniques are getting more and more well-honed.

Hardware: I use a Weber Silver One-Touch, a housewarming gift from my parents. I've had it for two years and have already replaced the grille once. I use a Weber chimney starter instead of lighter fluid and an inexpensive fireplace lighter because I got tired of firing up matches that blow out in the teasing wind. The vents are always open.

I take three or four paper towels from the kitchen and give them a light spritz on one side from a can of aerosol canola oil. That little bit of oil makes the paper act like a candle and keeps it burning long enough to set the coals off. (I picked up this tip from Alton Brown.)

I load the chimney up to the top, sometimes heaping a little over (give the coal a shake to help it settle. I've tried cooking with different amounts of coal depending on what I was cooking, but that increases the unpredictability. If you start with roughly the same amount of coal each time, you can more easily adjust cooking times and food placement than when your fire varies by 200 degrees from fire to fire. Cutting down the variables is a way to get consistently good results.

I use wood coal bought by the sack at Whole Foods or Trader Joes or the local hardware store. I prefer it for several reasons: (1) the bags are lighter than pressed briquets and it is easier to handle them; (2) they burn hotter (though that means they also burn shorter); (3) they burn cleaner without any oily smell.

Once the fire is lit, it usually takes about 15 minutes for the chimney to be ready. I use this time to put all the food on aluminum-foil-lined plates, ready for delivery to the grill. The hamburger is seasoned, the steaks coated, etc. etc. Everything must be ready to cook.

Another advantage of the chimney is that all the coals are lit at the same time and burn down together. (I think that enhances the overall heat produced.) I remember setting up barbecues where the goal was to build a pyramid of coals and get them started with lighter fluid and fanning. The coals on the edges did not catch until much later on while the coals at the bottom were already past peak.

The fire is ready when a blue flame starts dancing at the top of the chimney. Another way to tell is, if you wait too long, the chimney starts to glow orange and begin to bend in the heat.

Wearing a work glove, I grab the chimney by the handle and up-end it into the grill, keeping my head away from the sparks and ash. I then use some old tongs to push the coals around and distribute as needed -- usually I make an even layer, but on occasion I will go for a "hot zone/medium zone" by banking the coals. I then put the red-hot chimney somewhere safe to cool off.

When I am cooking for the week, I plan out my food and the desired heat. For example, yesterday I grilled two beefsteaks for dinner that night, a porterhouse and a strip steak, both coated with salt and crushed pepper (four minutes per side); a tuna steak (four minutes per side); eight six-ounce hamburgers; twelve sausages (7-9 minutes), then some asparagus (5-7 minutes). The steaks and tuna got the first, hottest heat; then the hamburgers, with the sausage ringing the grill; then the sausage moved to the center for finishing; then the asparagus.

In this situation, I added another few handfuls of coals to the already hot fire before putting the grill on. Put on too much and it starts to smoulder and issue an off-putting smell until they heat up. But adding fresh coal to the fire lengthens the grilling time overall.

Once the coals are distributed, I throw the grill on top and let it heat up. I then brush it with a copper wire brush to get rid of any food debris or fat from previous cooking. If I am cooking fish, I may give the grill another scrubbing midway to avoid imparting off flavors to the later foods.

The last most important piece of equipment I use is an electronic timer. I usually get distracted with so many small things to tend, so if I just use my watch I will forget whether it was four minutes or three since the second hand passed the 12. My timer faithfully counts down what I want it to, and after a while it has gotten so that I'll trust the timer over my own inspection of whether a piece is "done" yet.

Something to keep in mind: your food will continue to keep cooking when you take it off the grill. A thick cut of steak needs five minutes or more to "settle down" and bind up, and its internal temperature will continue to rise for a few more minutes. So if it is perfect when you cut into it on the grill, it will be overdone when it reaches the plate.

That's all I can think of regarding grilling without getting into specific recipes. None of my stuff is at all expensive, and with practice you will get amazingly professional results.

9/24/2004

"There's no 'moderate' button."

My first "real" workout took place last night. This time I remembered the lock. It was 8 minutes of moderate cardio, one loop at the weight stations doing 16 reps, then 18 minutes of heavy cardio.

It took a much longer time than I'd thought because I had to think through every step -- there is no "numb routine" yet. Find the chart in the bin and go to the floor. Return for a clipboard. Double back again for a pencil. Try to figure out where to put the pencil while you exercise. Say "fuck it" after dithering for all those minutes. Stuff like that.

I started on a treadmill and pushed a bunch of buttons to get it going. It furnishes a range of speeds and I picked one at the middle.

Six miles per hour? How fast is that? Holy crap it's too fast too fast too fast where's the OFF button PHEW!!! Two miles per hour was too slow. And so on.

It took five tries to get a speed and setting that seemed OK. And all the while, this was going through my head.

I watched a little TiVo last night -- I had to see Survivor -- but afterward had some trouble getting sleepy. Once I did go to sleep, I had not slept more deeply. Pure tonic restful sleep. The workout had to have had a role in that.

Keeping Score

On Monday I had a physical exam and they took some blood for standard test. I mentioned my fear I was verging on diabetes, or pre-diabetes, or early pre-diabetes, and that that was a factor in my deciding to shift to my current diet, so I think the doctor ordered a sugar test to be sure.

After eleven weeks of no carbs (well, 20 grams a day) and no exercise, here are the results:

Weight loss: 30-35 pounds
Blood pressure: 120/60
Cholesterol: 187
Glucose: 96

I am stunned at the cholesterol result. I have been eating a three-egg cheese omelette every morning for eleven weeks. Plus, the day before the exam, I had had two egg meals, quite accidentally. I spent the week worrying that I had messed up my blood before the test by eating six eggs the day before -- it is a reasonable position.

To be fair, maybe my cholesterol would be far lower if I weren't on the plan -- I have no idea how to test that other than to try some other diet for a few months and take another test. But what would be the point? At my current levels of ingestion of meat, fat, butter, oil, and sodium, I fall well into the "normal" range for all of these markers of heart health.

What is going to change? I have begun a conditioning regimen. Thirty minutes of cardio three times a week, plus weight lifting. And I saw there is a volleyball game on Thursday nights at the Y that I might join. I have read that exercise brings cholesterol down. So let's see in a year how I am doing.

9/23/2004

Workout Man!!!

My first workout and orientation and took place Tuesday night at 7PM. Going in I was in a very distracted state. When you don't have a routine down, every step feels conspicuous and self-conscious. And boy was I self-conscious: clean underwear? Check. How high should my socks go? Should my legs be so paper white? Sure, it's New England.

Once I got there I realized I forgot my lock. I memorized the combination and told my wife where to find it just in case. I brought the combination, but forgot the lock. D'oh.

My interview was conducted with a well-conditioned staffer who seemed to listen and adjust his "ideal" workout to my needs. He seemed surprised by the amount of time I said was able to devote -- perhaps his other clients are in a much greater hurry. I listened carefully, and he seemed to reciprocate.

I was worried about a lot of things. I'm a tall man and, decades ago, I found the equipment to be poorly sized for me -- grips in the wrong place, seats too high or too low, etc. I was afraid after all my psyching up, I'd not be able to use a few key pieces of gear. Turns out I was wrong -- with the settings at maximum, everything worked the way it was supposed to.

The next fear was of looking like a completely unconditioned pussy. I mean, I am a completely unconditioned pussy, but I didn't want a lightweight setting on the bench press to telegraph it to the world. (Perhaps the next big fitness idea will be a merger of a gym and a porno video store: all the weights will be wrapped in brown paper so no one can see what you're lifting.) I soldiered on and tried to immerse myself in the arcana of technique and muscle groups.

Some of the initial settings were too low, others seemed low but on the 15th rep got harder, and still others felt good after 5 and killed me after 8 reps. The instructor was exactly what I needed: clinical and professional and without a whiff of judgment as I tried to gauge my ability.

My lower back muscles are in terrible shape and I may only do the lightest exercise down there. I found my left leg going numb and the "tender" area of my lower back to start throbbing -- clear signs, if I were moving televisions or pushing wheelbarrows, that I was overdoing it and should rest up. This is something I have to watch out for. It really woke me up to how these machines target specific muscles.

I took my first ride on the elliptical machine -- the whing-whang device you see in rows of 12 with svelte aerobicizing women using in complete asynchronous rhythm. The thought necessary to coordinate all those motions pushed out any feelings of looking stupid. Are there "masculine" and "feminine" pieces of gym equipment? "Free Weights Are From Mars, Elliptical Machines Are From Venus"? I'll have to keep an eye on that.

At the end of the lengthy visit I did not exactly have a good workout, more like a runthrough of one. Yet that night I slept more deeply than I have in a long time, and the next day I was literally exploding with energy. Partly a physical release, partly an emotional release. Now I need to craft a schedule: one early morning session, one after-work session, and one weekend session.

Oh, one more thing about the shoes. It turns out my shoes are running shoes. They have little cleats on them, but look otherwise like sneakers. They are Nike Air BRS 1000s (go look them up yourself, I'm not your goddam search engine). I may have to buy real cross trainers.