February 12, 2011

Visual aids

Last week, Amy reminded me of one of my very first posts in which I put together a visual to show my weight loss goals. It was pictures of five-pound bags of sugar.

This was what I wanted to lose long-term:

210 pounds of sugar
It amazed me: "That's not even my weight - that's the weight I had to lose!" And at the time of the original post, my total loss was 13 pounds.

thirteen pounds, more or less
About six months later, this is now my loss:

twenty one point two
I think visuals like this really help me, because something I find really strange about losing weight is that when I look in the mirror, I can't always see the changes. (And I'm still really kind of tempted to go to the grocery store, load up 21 bags of sugar into the shopping cart, and take a picture.)

I found a great list here on this discussion board of different ways to visually represent your weight loss. My 106 pound loss is the same weight as a two-month-old horse, plus a chihuahua, plus a guinea pig. Or a 5000 BTU air conditioner, a 5-gallon bottle of water, and an average housecat. Or four two-year-old children, an ostrich egg, and a rack of baby back ribs.

It's a little silly, but I love it.

Adjusting my self-perception is something else I need to work out with my emotional weight loss - one step, I think, will be buying a full-length mirror. My bathroom mirror at home is only chest-up, and perhaps it's because my loss has happened so fast that my mind still needs to catch up, but whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror at the gym, it surprises me - am I really only that wide now?

What about you? Am I the only one who has trouble seeing that my body has changed? Do visual aids help anyone else?

February 11, 2011

Roses and thorns

A couple of NSVs for this week: a few co-workers whom I have not seen in a while both told me that I look great these days, which put a smile on my face. (Even though one lady's phrasing was a little awkward: "You've lost weight - you're so pretty!" - I smiled and focused on the positive.)

The other one, though, is a bit more of a personal victory. I love cheese, but I have not kept it in the house since August because it is a binge trigger for me. Usually when I want some cheese, I will buy a single stick of string cheese at the grocery store. But last week when I was running my errands, I bought a 12-pack of string cheese, just to see if I could handle it - and it has been a total success. It isn't screaming to me like it used to, which is huge progress for me in the right direction - in the past, a 12-pack of string cheese would be gone in a matter of minutes!

I weighed in this morning at 239 - a three pound loss for the week, and a new decade, finally! I'm pleased - I did about average with exercise this week, but I think what really helped was that I tried to make my dinners more balanced - fewer carbs than I had been eating lately, and more protein. artwork by kurt halsey dot comI find that eating the majority of my carbs earlier in the day and most of my protein later works really well for me.

Also, not an official goal, but something awesome worth mentioning: I have lost 106 pounds of the 210 I set out to lose. That's slightly more than halfway done! It is definitely a good feeling to know I'm on the other side of the mountain now, but at the same time, there's a lot of anxiety. Pardon my mixing metaphors, but I think Loretta put it the best way: right now, I am in the middle of a vast ocean. I'm far enough from the place where I started, yet still not quite able to see where I aim to end up. The challenge is trying to stay afloat, to just keep rowing even though land is still so far away.

February 10, 2011

Tri me!

After my spur-of-the-moment triathlon, I decided to start tracking my workouts. Initially, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could complete a "real" triathlon's worth of running, biking, and swimming within a month. There are several different race lengths:

tri me!
Those lengths are for running, swimming, and biking, respectively (I converted kilometers and meters to miles). Here is my chart for January:

not too bad
I ended up passing the Ironman lengths for both running and swimming, but only got about half of the biking done. And some people do this in one day! Holy mackarel. I would like to do a triathlon one day, I think. I definitely need to get better at swimming before I do it!

It's interesting, because in general I don't like tracking - I tend to get obsessive over numbers - but I really enjoyed marking my runs, rides, and swims down. I liked being able to look back at the end of the month and see most of my workouts, though I didn't keep track of using the elliptical or Wii Fit. So I made another Excel sheet for February and figured I'd keep tracking this month, too, adding in columns for Wii, elliptical, and weight training.

The chart really got me thinking, and I have decided on a small personal challenge. Since my highest recorded weight was 345 pounds, I want to try and run 345 miles in 2011. It evens out to 28.75 miles per month, which I think is totally do-able, especially with my preparations for Shamrock Shuffle - in January I logged 29.33 miles, which included my 5k on New Years and a couple of long runs for the 8k race training.

What about you? Do you set personal goals/challenges for workouts? Do you do them monthly, seasonally, yearly?

February 9, 2011

Eye of the tiger

One of my favorite modern French films is "Persepolis," an animated film about a young woman's life growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi.

As a child, Marjane has two obsessions: "shaving my legs one day, and being the last prophet of the galaxy." Her faith is an extremely important part of her life until she becomes overwhelmed with the tragedies that have been affecting her family, and she begins to yell at God, screaming at him to leave. For her safety, her parents send her to a French school in Austria; upon returning to Iran several years later, Marjane finds herself in a deep depression, and God reappears for another reassuring conversation (and brings a friend):
God: Why are you here, my dear?
Marjane: Well, I'm dead.
God: Don't you know your time hasn't come?
Marjane: It hasn't?
Karl Marx: You have to pull yourself together.
God: Yes! He's right for once!
Karl Marx: You have a lot to do. Get moving!
God: Go and do what you have to do.
Karl Marx: Remember, the struggle continues! Right?
God: *sigh* Yeah, the struggle continues.
This dialogue is followed by one of the greatest recovery scenes in a film, possibly ever:

Last month, after the stress of my visit with my family and everything that happened with Jon, I was in a weird mood, and it was really hard to shake. I had to get out of the rut. I needed to stop feeling bad about myself and come back to life. One day, I woke up with a quote from the movie in my mind, from one of God's earlier conversations with Marjane:
That's no way for a future prophet to behave ... have faith in my justice. You cannot wield it. Your duty is to forgive.
Cue my "Eye of the Tiger" moment.

I went online and looked up what distances I needed to do for a sprint triathlon. 5k run, 20k bike, and 750m swim. Then I went to the gym loaded with adrenaline, and I just did it. I ran on the track, then I biked on the recumbent bike, and then I swam in the lap pool. And I came out of it feeling strong and infinitely better than I had for the rest of that week.

My family drama and bad dating decisions can hardly compare to what Marjane was going through, not by a long shot. But still, it's very comforting to know that sometimes, all you really need is a reassuring conversation and a little faith ... with honorable mentions going to a nice hot shower, exercising, and getting back doing what you love and you're best at. Whenever I start feeling frustrated, sad, or angry, I think of the "Eye of the Tiger" recovery scene - and I pick myself up, dust myself off, and do whatever I can in order to start feeling better about myself.

February 8, 2011

Father of mine

My father had a heart attack in 2006 that he couldn't feel because of diabetes-related neuropathy. He cannot feel his legs from the knees down (or his feet at all), his arms from the elbows down (or his hands at all), MA grad, summer 2010and his vision is lousy at best. He had to retire from his job because he can't stand for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone walk.

All things considered, it seems logical that this is not the kind of man who should get into a pickup truck on a Saturday morning and take off for a road trip to Florida. Right?

There are over 1300 miles between the front door of my parents' home in Connecticut and my grandparent's winter home in West Palm Beach. The directions have fewer than five steps thanks to I-95 going down most of the East Coast, but still, this is not something someone in my father's condition should have done. It's not safe for the other drivers on the road, and it's not safe for him - and the drive down is only half of the story.

After my grandfather passed away in mid-January, my father and his brothers and sister have been working to finalize all the paperwork and settle his estate. This is somewhat challenging, given the strained relationship my father has with most of his siblings (a very long story for another day). And the lingering question was, who is going to close down the house in Florida? Of the eight living siblings, two are mentally ill and incapable of the task, and five have full-time jobs, wives, and families. So my father was the one delegated to the task. My father is not retired because he wants to be. My father is retired because he is physically handicapped. Is this task so urgent that it can't wait until the brothers can get some time off of work and take turns spending a week down there?

Evidently so. With little notice, my father packed up a bag of his things and headed south. I got a phone call from him last Tuesday asking me to find prices for a GPS navigator that announces directions, and when I called my family on Saturday morning like I always do, he had already gone. mystic aquarium 1992He had purchased a small pay-as-you-go cell phone at Walmart that he still wasn't quite sure how to use when he left that morning, and no one heard from him for days.

I am, by nature, a worrier. I am the kind of person who has to have definite plans and extremely well-organized schedules, so spontaneity makes me a little anxious; add in my already-present fears about my father's health, and I'm pretty much a wreck. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something bad is going to happen - between thoughts of him driving, not controlling his diabetes, and having to do all his errands himself, I've already imagined every single one of a million awful possibilities. This is a man whose hands are covered in wounds from burns after picking up pans he couldn't feel were hot, and now he has to cook for himself. This is a man who has tracked blood around the bathroom floor because he didn't realize he had stepped on a razor in the shower, and my grandfather's bathroom is not nearly as handicap-accessible as the one in Connecticut is. If something catches on fire, my father can't run for help ... he can barely dial the phone to call for someone.

I finally got a call from him last night to check in. He spent Saturday night at a hotel, arrived at the Florida house on Sunday, and spent Monday running errands. From the sounds of it, he's there to stay for a while (a month, at least). He needs to clean up the place, then close it down and get it ready to be sold. While he works on that, he wants to clean up his own act a little via eating better and exercising. And while I would normally approve of these steps, I am not quite sure they are steps in the right direction, given the fact that he is down there completely by himself. surprise 50th birthdayI'm worried that he'll overdo it and get hurt. I'm worried that his body will react negatively like it has done in the past and he won't be able to get things regulated before it's too late.

The true heaviness to this issue comes from one of my father's other Florida goals, which is a temporary separation from my mother. I'm not quite sure if I've explained this before, but my parents got divorced when I was in seventh grade, but then got back together when I was in high school - they are not remarried, but they have been living together for the past few years. It's been really great, as well as truly challenging, but lately the stresses have been outnumbering the positives, and everyone needs a bit of a break from each other.

I want my dad to lose weight. I want him to eat healthy food and be as active as he can. And I want my parents to get along the best that they can. But at the same time, I'm not sure his being in Florida is a solution to these problems.

February 7, 2011

WWW: Week Six

My picture for the week:

domo arigato ♥
This picture never fails to put a smile on my face. All my friends from college and I were RAs together, and even though it was a stressful, miserable, low-paying job, we made it a lot of fun. This picture was from a mandatory team-building social function. The invitation said "dress to impress," so we all got 80s prom dresses and asked folks if they were impressed or not. It was ridiculous and totally fun.

What have you done this past week to help you achieve your goals?
(2) Yesterday's long run was unbelievably awesome. 3.75 miles in 45:33, which means an average pace of about 12:09. This was such a great run - I had been dreading going to the gym because the snow was making me feel a bit grouchy, but this run gave me an incredible runner's high. I felt unbelievably happy afterwards (and during, of course, but especially after!). It was totally what I needed.
(3) No jobs on the horizon, but I'm putting together a presentation for a conference in April that will look good on my CV - not to mention it will be a great opportunity for local networking!
(4) My students had a snow day on Wednesday, which I believe was the first in the history of the university. jetMOne of my students made a little photo project in French about himself as a snow angel and e-mailed it to me that night - I completely loved it. I was so proud - things like this make me feel like I do well at job; my students enjoy this material so much that they use it even when they don't have to, and they share it with me.
(5) My first postcard reached the Netherlands! This week I'm sending some to China, Finland, New Zealand, and Virginia (USA).
(7) My tax return got direct deposited Saturday morning - woo hoo! So far, I bought two sports bras, because I desperately needed them.
(8) I got hit with an urge to create this weekend. I went to the art store and got some Sculpey for a clay project to work on later this week, and then last night I started working on a painting based on one of my late-night Post-It notes. (I keep Post-Its by my bed for the random thoughts and ideas that wake me up in the middle of the night. It's a bit strange, but I love it.)
(9) I totally didn't do anything to make me feel gorgeous this week - I meant to go get my eyebrows waxed, but my Saturday errands ended up taking all day. This week, I'll do two!

New month! Fresh starts! How are you feeling in February?
I feel pretty good - I'm just hoping that the weather doesn't get to me too much. This weekend was tough because there's still so much plowing and shoveling that needs to be done, so getting around is difficult. I usually walk everywhere, but it's even tough with the CTA. A bus went right past me on Saturday as I was heading to the store, so I ended up walking - only about a mile and a quarter, but to get there you have to walk in the street since the sidewalks are buried, plus one part of the trek goes over several highway on- and off-ramps ... super scary when the weather is nice, but when the odds of slipping and falling are high? Terrifying. I survived, though!

Are you competitive? Do you find that seeing how well {or not so well} others do pushes you?
It depends. I'm a little competitive with games - not excessively, just enough to be fun. In terms of weight loss, though, I'm trying not to let my focus be on what everyone else is doing. I want everyone to succeed, and I can't let myself think less of my progress because someone else did something more or better or faster. I've been meaning to write a post about this for a couple weeks now: my tendency to compare myself and my successes/failures to others.

What is your favourite outdoor winter activity?
Sledding! I grew up right near a golf course, so if it snowed a decent amount, my dad would take my sisters and me over and we'd sled down all the big hills. I haven't been sledding in years, and would totally love to go again.

What would be your ideal way to spend a Saturday night?
My ideal Saturday would have some sort of awesome adventure with people I love. When I was in college, my friends and I would "nomad." We weren't partiers and we didn't drink, so basically, we'd roam around campus being crazy and taking pictures, or we'd drive around aimlessly and have ridiculous adventures and sing as loud as we could to really awful mixed CDs. Being young and carefree - it was the greatest time of my life.

February 6, 2011

Chicken cacciatore

Yesterday was incredibly productive. I ran errands all day, trying to restock the house because I've been too busy to shop. Usually grocery shopping is just fresh fruit and vegetables since I keep my pantry and freezer pretty well stocked, but every few weeks I need to replenish my supplies: more meat to freeze, more yogurts for breakfast, more Lean Cuisines for lunches, and odds and ends like spices. So I went to a few different stores, trying to get my kitchen in working order. I also ended up making not one, but three new recipes, all of which I would call successes. So, great day all around!

I woke up early and decided to make whole wheat spinach pancakes for breakfast. I saw them a little while ago on A Merry Life and was totally fascinated. I did my usual improvising, using frozen spinach instead of fresh and not combining it all in a blender or food processor (I wanted more texture to them). And oh, were they delicious!

yes i picked it up and bit it before i remembered to take a picture. i was hungry and they were darn good!
I ate them with some syrup, which was how Mary had hers, and it worked surprisingly well. Next time I make them, though, I'll probably try some sort of savory dip. I'll have to think about it. But there will definitely be a next time!

As promised, I looked through some of my mountains of cookbooks to find a good recipe for this week, and I ended up picking out a few in Helen Gurley Brown's "Single Girl's Cookbook" that I want to try. I chose chicken cacciatore since I had most of the ingredients, and while it came out well, it reminded me an awful lot of sausage and peppers. Next week, I want to try something totally different - diversify a bit, you know?

oh my goodness, yum
1/4 cup olive oil
1 chicken (3 pounds), cut into serving pieces
2 medium onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, sliced
2 green peppers, cut into strips
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried orégano
(her accent, not mine. Is that right?!)
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine
Heat oil in a heavy skillet and brown chicken pieces on all sides until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken and pile on paper napkins or paper towels. In the oil remaining in the pan, cook onions and garlic until onions are clear and limp but not brown, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet; add tomato slices, pepper strips, and bay leaf. (You know by now that to prepare a pepper you remove seeds and white ribs, then slice it.) Mix all other ingredients except wine together in a small bowl and pour over chicken. Cover pot tightly and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, until chicken is almost tender. Uncover the skillet and pour in the wine; stir it into the sauce. Let the mixture simmer gently, uncovered, for another 20 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings; each serving has approximately 564 calories, 26 g fat, 202 mg cholesterol, 3.3 g fiber, and 68 g protein

(That's just the chicken, veggies, and sauce - serve it over rice and you're looking at even more calories. So, it's a "sometimes" meal. But it was good to try! The portions are pretty big, though, so you could totally stretch it to 8 or even 10 servings.)

I totally love the aside about the pepper. For my version, I didn't use a whole chicken, just boneless skinless breasts that I cut up into smaller pieces. I also omitted the wine step entirely because I didn't have wine in the house and buying a bottle to use a half cup seemed wasteful. I consulted with my mom who said it wasn't necessary since it was part of a sauce, so you can substitute white wine vinegar, chicken broth, or water (I doubled the tomato sauce).

This recipe was part of the "Foreign Food is Fun" section, and paired it with an antipasto appetiser and served the chicken over parsley rice (the recipe was simply rice with parsley stirred in). I made plain rice and it was pretty darn good!

While that simmered, I made low-fat double chocolate chip muffins from a recipe posted earlier this week by Ellen at Fat Girl Wearing Thin. I stuck to her original recipe with the exception of using eggs instead of egg substitute and skim milk instead of almond milk, and I added 2 teaspoons each of ground ginger and cinnamon. I make an unbelievably delicious ginger and cinnamon chocolate cake that is completely off-limits these days, so I wanted to see how the spices would work with these muffins for a guilt-free replacement.

in flippin credible
Oh boy, did it work! Delicious spicy chocolate-ness. Ellen said to let them sit overnight, and she was definitely right - I had one for dessert that was still warm from the oven, and it was good, but the one I am eating right now for breakfast this morning is even better. I opted not to dust them with confectioners sugar, only because nine of them were put in sandwich bags and frozen for days when I'm wanting a chocolatey treat.