Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Few Quick Oatmeal "Recipes"

I love oatmeal and eat it almost every morning.   But I also like variety, and have found ways to spruce it up and make it a complete meal with protein powder.  The only brand I use is Beverly International, since I know their quality is sound.  And for my oats I use their UMP (Ultimate Muscle Protein), which is mainly casein.  I am sure other brands of casein protein would work, too.  Casein works much better with heat than other protein powders. 

Anyhow, here are a few of my favorite "recipes".  I usually make these with 1/3 C of dry oats, but sometimes I'll got down to 1/4 C or up to 1/2 C, depending on my carb targets for the day:

- Peaches and Cream Oatmeal:
Cook oats with a little extra water (to absorb the protein powder).  When done, stir in-
     * 1 scoop of vanilla UMP
     * pinch of salt
     * 1 peach, diced with skin on
     * 1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional, but I like the flavor this healthy fat adds) OR 1 teaspoon butter (if you use salted, omit the salt)
Put in an microwave-safe serving bowl and microwave for about 30-45 seconds to heat it back up, as the peaches will have cooled the oats down.

- Oatmeal Peanut butter Cookie Oats:
Cook oats with a little extra water (to absorb the protein powder).  When done, stir in-
     * 1 Tablespoon natural peanut butter
     * Salt to taste
Mix well to distribute the peanut butter evenly.  Then stir in:
     * 1 Scoop Vanilla UMP
     * 2 Tablespoons raisins

Chocolate Oats:
Cook oats with a little extra water (to absorb the protein powder).  When done, stir in-
     * 1 teaspoon coconut oil
     * pinch of salt
     * 1 scoop chocolate UMP
     * 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder (optional, and when I use this, I often add a teaspoon or so of calorie-free sweetener to help offset some of the bitterness of the cocoa)
- If you like, substitute 1 T of natural peanut butter for the coconut oil.

Snickerdoodle Oats:
Cook oats with a little extra water (to absorb the protein powder).  When done, stir in-
     * 1 scoop vanilla UMP
     * 1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter (if the butter is salted, omit the salt)
     * 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
     * pinch of salt

Apple Pie Oats:
Place oats in the pan you are going to cook them in.  Cut up an apple into very small pieces and add to the oats.  Put in less water than you would usually cook the oats in, as the apple will cook down and add to the liquid.  Cook oats, stirring often (unless you do them in the microwave, then just let 'em cook), until done.
When cooked, stir in:
     * 1 scoop Vanilla UMP
     * 1 teaspoon butter (if it's salted, omit salt)
     * 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
     * pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
     * pinch salt

I'll be that as you start using more variety with your oats, you will start coming up with your own combinations.  I'd love to hear what you create!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Only Undertake What You Know You Can Maintain

One lesson I have learned the hard way in my fitness journey:  Don't take on anything to lose weight that you aren't willing to do on a permanent basis.

If you do a bunch of nutty stuff to lose weight, you are very likely to gain the weight back once the nutty stuff is ceased. Why?  You didn't learn a darned thing about how to exist in your real, day-to-day world. 

I've been heavy and I've been very thin, and here is what I know: The stuff you did to lose weight is the stuff you will have to continue to do to maintain it. 

The fact is that the difference between weight loss and weight maintenance for me is about 300 calories a day.  Maybe.  This is two cookies.   So keeping up the weight loss methods, with a cookie or two (or whatever else equals 300 calories) added in, is what I must do to stay at my preferred weight.

Consequently, before I give up carbs after lunch, I ask myself:  Can I live like this for the rest of my life? 

Do I really want to live without ever eating sugar again?

And before I go to two workouts a day, I have to be honest about if that's something I can keep up after the weight is off.

If it's not, I don't do it.  Maybe it means carrying around some excess weight a bit longer.  That's Okay.  I'd rather find and adapt to liveable solutions than go through the frustration of gaining back some or all of weight I'd sacrificed so much to lose.

It all goes back to that overused term "lifestyle".   You will need to make changes, but find methods that fit into your lifestyle, or that you can build a new lifestyle around.  Trust me, you will save yourself a lot of frustration this way.

And, honestly, I think taking on methods that can't be maintained is the main reason there is such a discouragingly high percentage of weight regain.

The difference between maintaining and gaining is separated by a VERY THIN line.   Make sure you don't make it even thinner by setting yourself up for failure with changes you can't maintain.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My 4-M Method of Goal Setting

When it comes to fitness and weight loss I have learned that if I have a specific and measurable method of both setting and looking at my goals it not only helps me with achieving and believing I an accomplish them, but also with visualizing and staying encouraged along the journey.  I call it "My 4-M Method of goal setting".  With this method, I break my goals down into four categories:  


For the purposes of this blog, and because I'm currently trying to lose fat (again!), I will give examples of weight loss.  But you can adapt this to whatever goal you are trying to achieve, be it a level of musculature, running a marathon, or even something non-fitness related like getting a degree.

Let's cover them one by one:

The first goal, Micro, is something that is easily acheivable and very much within reach.  For me this is every 2 1/2 pound mark.  So at my current weight of 170,  "Under 170" is my micro goal.  After I get there, it will be "Under 167.5", then "Under 165", etc.  When I can tell I am getting very close to my Max goal this will get narrower, since I lose much slower when I get leaner.  I'll probably set my micro goals in 1-lb increments at that point.

The next in line is the Mini goal.  Mini is something that is juuuuuuust out of reach, but you can see it's attainable.  Usually for me this is the 5-pound mark (Under 170, 165, etc.). Mini lets me say I did something that would be worth mentioning to others.  "I just lost fifteen pounds" sounds so much more impressive (and less weird) than "I just lost twelve and a half pounds".

The second to biggest goal, Moderate, is something that isn't quite as easy to achieve and is a fairly impressive milestone. With weight loss, for me it's usually the next size down.

Now for the biggest goal: Max. In short, max goals are where you want to see as the end result of your current fitness journey.

Often at the beginning of the journey I'll have more a a general idea of what this goal might be.  For instance, right now I know I want to have a figure something like the actress Tamara Taylor's:

Isn't she stunning? 

This is a fairly general goal for several reasons- While I believe I can achieve a look very similar to hers, I am NOT her. Specifically I am more muscular than her, have a (much) bigger bust-line, and we are of different ethnic backgrounds. But "Tamara Taylor More Muscular" is not an unrealistic look for me, since we have similar bone structures, height, and age. It gives me a general shape to keep in mind.

Another reason this is a general goal is that I don't know at what exact weight, body fat percentage, or even size (although I suspect it's my coveted size six) I will look like this. Nor am I sure of how long it will take to get a similar look. When I get closer to being there I will be able to narrow it down more, but for right now saying I want to look like her sister, sans skin tone, is about as specific as I can get.

All of these goals are fluid and move as I progress, with the possible exception of my Max goal. But even it is subject to change if I get close and realize it's unrealistic or I'm not expecting enough of myself.

I guess my reason for categorizing goals like this is that it gives me reasons to celebrate alone the way, instead of just trudging along until I get to my ultimate goal. And I DO celebrate. Even if it's just to take a minute to sit alone, smile to myself, and feel truly proud that I made it past another goal. The more I do this, the more I am encouraged to press on.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Miraculous Menopause!

In case the title wasn't enough, any men reading need to be informed that this blog is about "the change".  Should male-types choose to continue reading, consider yourselves warned.

In November or 2013 I posted  this blog on not having the horrible side-effects of menopause since getting into shape. Today's blog is "The rest of the story".

A year and a half ago I had my last cycle.  They'd been sporadic for years, and even though some doctors tried to tell me I wasn't in pre-menopause, I knew better.   I'd had signs since I was 34 that menopause was going to come early.  I couldn't have been happier when I hit the one-year mark for being period-free last November, making me inarguably through menopause by medical standards.  I did a little dance of joy.

I had someone once wonder aloud if my lack of cycles had something to do with my leanness and activity level.  No way.  During the 11 years leading up to the cessation of my cycles I was both obese/sedentary, and extremely lean/active.  Right now I am about 20 pounds over where I want to be.  And my cycles are gone.  Kaput.  Hasta la vista.  Buh-bye.  So obviously, it has had absolutely nothing to do with my fitness or body fat level.

Between menopause and aging I have found some wonderful benefits:

- I'm a lot nicer on a regular basis.  I had cycles from hell- This is not much of an exaggeration.  They were horrible.  To the point where my family wanted to get away from me.  I understood because I would have left me alone, had that been an option.  I would go into rages, cry at the drop of a hat, and be inconsolable.   It was terrible.  I did get some relief from taking iron pills (turns out my heavy cycles were making me iron deficient), but it never completely released me from my hormonal torment.  Now that I don't have those massive hormone surges going on any more I am more "level" and therefore better able to manage my emotions.

I read somewhere once that an early menopause can  mean a shorter lifespan.  I can say with utmost honesty that if that is the case I would much rather live a shorter life happy than a longer life miserable.

- My cycle was really heavy to the point where sometimes I wondered if I was hemorrhaging.  My sheets were very familiar with the washing machine, regardless of how much I "reinforced" myself.  Not having to deal with that anymore is fabulous.

- I get to use moisturizer!   May sound like a silly benefit, but up until not long ago I was always an oil slick.  People would talk about how good moisturizer felt and I didn't get it.  All it did was make me slimy.   I love that I can put a moisturizer on, feel it sink into my skin (which would now be classified as "normal"), and enjoy that feeling.

- I no longer have to wash my hair every day, since reduced oil production means it no longer looks like a bunch of greasy strings less than 24 hours after washing.  I can go every-other day before it looks that way now.  Big time saver!

- Zits are (almost) a thing of the past.  The occasional pimple still sometimes rears it's ugly head, but as for the multiple volcano zits I used to sport on a regular basis?   Gone!

- I can go without foundation and not look horrible. After 30+ years of slathering the stuff on I am no longer a slave to it. I either had to wear it before to cover my horrible acne or combined it with powder to soak up the oil from my face.  Now I can just wear sunscreen and feel good about the way my "real" skin looks.

- When I do wear foundation, it's a moisturizing formula.  This is cool because moisturizing foundation doesn't stick to my skin and dry before I am done blending it like the oil-absorbing varieties did.

- My body fat is distributing a bit better.  I'll always be bottom-heavy, but now when I gain fat I get a bit more in my upper body.  This is nice because I don't feel quite as disproportionate any more.  My shadow on the ground more resembles and hour glass with more sand on the bottom than a bowling pin.  I like that.

- I'm not so concerned with my appearance these days.  I'll never be someone who is Okay with looking sloppy.  But needing every hair in place and worrying about people seeing spider veins on my legs?  Nah.  I'd rather let it go and just enjoy myself.

Getting older isn't that bad, it turns out.   In a lot of ways, it's beneficial.  I'm happy to be 47 and through menopause.  Now if I could just lose these blessed 20 pounds again.......................

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sugar is NOT My Friend!

I won't say I gave up refined carbs for Lent, since I am not Catholic.  I will, however, say that I gave them up for approximately the 6 weeks before Easter in an effort to become more of what I believe God created me to be.

I'm a firm believer that God calls me to be a good steward of this body He has entrusted me with.  The truth is that I hadn't been doing a good enough job of that in the eating department. I didn't particularly like the idea of giving up refined carbs (white flour, sugar, white rice, etc.), but I really did feel that to do so would do nothing but good things for my health, so I relented and committed.

I found myself surprised by a bunch of things in the process, and have arrived at a conclusion as a result. (You will probably guess the conclusion, but I'll save it for the end of this blog, anyhow.)

Surprise #1- Giving up refined carbs was not as hard as I thought it would be. I was anticipating/dreading horrible cravings and withdrawal-type symptoms. Really, these were minimal. This was a relief.

Surprise #2- I lost NO weight in the process. I thought by giving up such non-nutritive food I might have a weight loss to report, and I do not. I am EXACTLY the same weight that I was at the beginning of the 6-week period. Turns out, you can get ample calories without processed carbs. Imagine that!

Surprise #3- My joints didn't hurt as much. I have arthritis in a knee, and some aches and pains in my upper right side due to past injuries. (These have nothing to do with weight lifting, by the way. I always hurt myself by doing normal stuff like walking down the street or talking on the phone.) Anyhow, I started noticing about a week into my "no refined carbs" period that I wasn't aching as bad. It never went away entirely, since the arthritis and injuries will always be there, but dang! Did it get a LOT better! I started doing some research and turns out that arthritis is a inflammatory condition. As a matter of fact, most prior injuries are aggravated by inflammation. Refined carbs are inflammatory foods. So it makes perfect sense that my condition improved.

Surprise #4- There is sugar in all sorts of stuff I normally eat and consider healthy. Case in point: I was munching away on the organic whole-grain bread I always buy. Suddenly it occurred to me that it takes some kind of sugar, whether white or molasses, to feed yeast so that it can rise. I took a look at the bag and, sure enough, "Organic Cane Sugar" was listed in the ingredients. Dang. This meant that bread also exited my diet.

Surprise #5- Sugar-free "treats" (i.e. candy) give me gas. Not worth it. 'Nuff said.

Surprise #6- Fried foods don't necessarily contain refined carbs. I had pretty much given up fried foods prior to my "no refined carbs" implementation, but suddenly I found myself gleefully filling in the carb gap with french fries. Thankfully I was able to identify this as problematic and knock it off in fairly short order, but I can see where that could have caused me to emerge from this whole thing with diminished health and a higher body fat percentage.

If you are paying attention, you have noted that in addition to the refined carbs, I also wound up giving up bread, sugar-free "treats" (which really left me nowhere to go at the movies but water, since I also don't drink soda), and fried foods. My very satisfying consolation was that I knew none of these "sacrifices" were bad for me. 

Surprise #7- My sleep improved. A LOT. I have often had issues with waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep for an hour or more. The only bonus to this is that I got a lot of recreational reading done. A few days into giving up refined carbs I was sleeping like a baby every night, not needing naps during the day (I used to nap like I was 85), and loving it! You know how much more you can get done when you aren't staggering through the day and have an entire extra hour in the afternoon to accomplish things? I didn't associate this with sugar until last night, which I will explain in the next paragraph.......

So, on Easter I allowed myself to eat refined carbs again. It actually kinda started the day before, because I was baking for Easter dinner and took a few licks and tastes. I could feel I was starting to mentally "let go", knowing that the next day I could eat whatever I wanted. That night I wasn't sleeping as soundly as usual and woke up several times aching where those old injuries are. I didn't make the connection until last night. I'd eaten plenty of goodies over Easter Sunday. My upper body was aching so bad that I went to bed thinking maybe I should have taken a Tylenol PM. I slept fitfully and finally woke up for real at 1:30am KNOWING I should have taken a Tylenol PM. The pain was easily twice what it had been the night before, and I was simply NOT sleepy. I read for at least an hour before I was able to go back to sleep.

And, turns out that when you haven't had refined carbs for a while they cause gas, too. I am certain that didn't help my sleep state, either. emoticon

And now I sit here, aching as I type, occasionally stopping to rub out or rotate my shoulder. I was hurting so bad when I woke up this morning that I foam rolled first thing. I almost lost my cookies when I lifted weights this morning, and all I had to eat for breakfast was the smallest bowl of oatmeal imaginable. I'm pretty sure that this is my digestive system continuing it's rebellion.

Conclusion? I'm going back to my "no refined carbs" rule. I've always been able to reason myself out of things like drug use and bulimia (neither of which I have ever done) because I could see nothing truly good that would come of it other than momentarily pleasure or relief. The negatives far outweighed the benefits. And now I see the same applies to refined carbs. Now, I'm not going to go checking Organic whole grain bread labels.  But when it comes to things like desserts and white bread, it will do nothing but benefit me to cut them out of my diet almost completely. If something is new, or it's a holiday and I know I won't see this food for another year, I'll try taking just a bite or two and leaving it. Honestly, I could have done that yesterday and been just as happy and a lot less miserable.

My point is not that everyone should give up refined carbs. We each have our own fitness path to walk. But maybe my experience can give someone else an "aha" moment and help them to not hurt, too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stability Ball Crunch Pointers

When doing ab curls on a stability ball (the big ones full of air), make sure you extend back over the curve of the ball, and only come up to where your head is just barely above parallel with the ground.

I see so many people start with their torso parallel with to ground (or higher!) and wind up almost sitting up on the ball at the top of the movement This pretty much negates the advantage of having a ball. You'd get a more intense ab contraction if you did regular ab curls on the ground.

Also, keep in mind that the closer together the legs are, the harder the move is. So legs together from heel all the way to upper inner thigh is the most advanced method of doing stability ball crunches.

Additionally, as with any ab exercise, keep the abs tight and engaged throughout the movement. When you don't let momentum take over and instead actively use muscle all the way through, the exercise becomes both more challenging and more effective.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

You Can't Cliff Note Lasting Fitness

The other day on I posted this status update: "You can't 'Cliff note' fitness. If you only learn what you should do without the why, you won't stick with it because you won't know why it's important."

I have had many people tell me that they don't want to read a book or get informed about how to make their own diet or exercise plan. "Just tell me what to do and I will do it", they say. They'd rather not be bothered with taking the time to learn the details.

While, to a large degree, this kind of attitude is what keeps us personal trainers employed, it's also what tends to keep well-meaning people from reaching or maintaining their goals. Look, if a person doesn't understand the mechanics behind why what they are doing is working, they won't feel compelled to keep it up once they have reached goal.

I give long pause to eating buttered popcorn because I am fully aware of the reasons why the combination of carbs, fat, and sodium is going to cause a scale hike that will take a couple of days of disciplined eating and water consumption to undo.

You can't go into denial about stuff you have full knowledge of. This is a powerful tool in the battle of maintaining your goals once you have reached them.

I know it can be boring. At the age of 19 I started this whole weight-lifting thing. Back then we didn't have women's fitness magazines that were designed to engage the mind of a female. We had Flex and Muscle and Fitness- both geared primarily towards men. I would force myself to read the details in the articles that talked about why what they were suggesting worked. I read books on fitness and proper eating, forcing myself to pay attention in the more boring parts. After a while, as I started to understand more of the terminology, it got a little more interesting. But trust me, some of this stuff is still about as fascinating as reading the prescription information that comes with your antibiotic.

However, twenty-eight years later this discipline has given me a no-excuses ownership of the shortcomings that have led me to struggle with weight gain. This has been extremely facilitative in initiating change. Without this information banging around in my head, and growing as I have continued to educate myself, I am sure my struggle with excess body fat would have been even greater.

As a trainer, I love it when my clients ask questions. The people with the curious minds who inform themselves are much more likely to stick with the program and get good results that last.

So educate yourself. Turn into a giant two-year-old by learning to ask "Why?". Ask your trainer why you are super-setting chest press with step-ups. Look up the reasoning behind the eating plan you are using. Read articles. Read books. Don't blindly follow; Educationally follow. If for no other reason than to enable yourself to be able to make your own exercise and eating plan if, God forbid, you can no longer afford to pay for assistance.